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  • Weighing Witches April 16, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
    Weighing Witches

    ***dedicated to Theo*** How do I know if, c. 1750, old Mother Shipley down the road is a witch. Obviously the dying chickens, my children’s illnesses, the unpleasant cackling, the noises in the night are all clues… But we are in the eighteenth-century so how do we introduce science into this? In other ages witches […]

    Death As A Basketball April 14, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Death As A Basketball

    Death by basketball… We examined this quaint pre-Columbian custom just last week. But what about the strangest death of them all death AS a basketball? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com The place is Central America and we are in pre-Columbian times again. This is the epoch of the great ball games of the Maya and […]

    Fairy Witches #3: Meilyr of Wales April 12, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Fairy Witches #3: Meilyr of Wales

    The third in our series of fairy-witches is a certain Meilyr, who died at Usk Castle in 1174. True, in the account that follows, taken from that old cobbler-merchant Gerald of Wales, no fairies are mentioned and no maleficium (the normal defining feature of a witch). But there is something in Meilyr’s relations with the […]

    The Hallucinogenic Mushrooms Are More Rainbow Coloured on the Other Side of the Fence April 11, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Contemporary, Medieval, Modern
    The Hallucinogenic Mushrooms Are More Rainbow Coloured on the Other Side of the Fence

    Hallucinogens are frequently found in the traditional religious life of hunter-gatherers and rural communities. There are, of course, literally hundreds of different ways of intoxicating yourself ranging from toad glands to nutmeg, from jimson weed to ergot spores. And naturally, these techniques which, depending on your point of view, canker or enhance reality, are important […]

    Juliana Jumps April 8, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Juliana Jumps

    In 1119, a woman jumped off a castle wall, in Normandy, and, against the odds, escaped from her father who intended to kill her. However, before we get to this noble’s life-saving acrobatics some background and be warned as most things to do with the Normans it is complicated and bloody. Juliana of Fontevrault was […]

    The Evils of Chess! April 7, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Medieval, Modern
    The Evils of Chess!

    Chess! The taut, horrid syllable is enough to unveil the rotteneness at the heart of that most dreadful of games. Avoid it! Turn from it! Ostracise those who play it! Ok, Beach is playing out here, but he recently came across this extraordinary quotation from an Anglican vicar from Essex, at the death of his […]

    Death By Basketball April 6, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval
    Death By Basketball

    Humanity is extraordinarily ingenious in terms of the different ways it has found to execute people. We’ve reviewed on this blog before elephant executions; Mike Dash has recently given space to the Viking’s blood eagle; there is necklacing in Sub-Saharan Africa (a lynching rather than judicial capital punishment); the brazen bull in ancient Greece (another […]

    British Witch Initiation c. 1970 April 3, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Medieval
    British Witch Initiation c. 1970

    Witchcraft became a force to be reckoned with in Britain after the Second World War. There is a lot of writing, but most by the witches themselves (who can’t be trusted) or by CofE bishops who are just too silly for words because they take said witches seriously. Intelligent third-party descriptions like the following are […]

    The Lonely Cottages: Ancoats March 28, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    The Lonely Cottages: Ancoats

    Beachcombing has a bit of a thing about unsuitable placenames: placenames that may once have been efficient but that by now are simply inappropriate. A favourite example of this is Ancoats in central Manchester. Ancoats for those who have never had the chance to walk on its dirty cobbles was once one of the most […]

    Decisions Within March 26, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Medieval, Modern
    Decisions Within

    History takes place between societies, within societies and among groups of individuals. Historians have proved quite competent at measuring these interactions. But what happens when history takes place strictly within a single human heart, in a place where there are no records, no archives or scholars with searchlights, when one decision changes the track of […]

    The Name ‘America’ and Amerigo Vespucci March 22, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
    The Name 'America' and Amerigo Vespucci

    There are perhaps a score of different theories as to where the word ‘America’ comes from. These range from various Amerindian etymologies to a Bristol-based merchant with the surname Ameryk! The theory which enjoys the greatest prestige though is that America is based on a feminised Latin version of Amerigo, as in Amerigo Vespucci, the […]

    Capital Problems March 19, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Contemporary, Medieval
    Capital Problems

    Capital cities should represent a country. They should be the head that directs and controls: unless you live in a properly federal society and there are none of those left. But what happens when capitals come to outweigh and dominate the country that they stand in? Take an example from close to this blogger’s home. […]

    Mass Misunderstandings and Worse March 12, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval, Modern
    Mass Misunderstandings and Worse

    What is a Catholic or an Orthodox Mass? Well, it is essentially an act of magic, a miracle, the bread and the wine that are brought together become the flesh and the blood of Christ, which Christians then devour. Put in these brief, crude terms Christianity is a cannibalistic and highly unpleasant: though, of course, […]

    Zen Letters and Names March 10, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
    Zen Letters and Names

    The Zen letters are the now lost and the perhaps never existing fourteenth-century missives that described a Venetian visit to the northern Atlantic and perhaps to New England or Canada. A supposed outline of them survive in a sixteenth-century publication by Nicolò Zen, a scion of the family. NZ describes the northern Atlantic and offers […]

    Review: Witches, Fantasies and Fairies March 8, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
    Review: Witches, Fantasies and Fairies

    In 1966 Carlo Ginzburg, a WANW Italian historian, published I Benandanti. In this book, Ginzburg argued that a group of sixteenth-century Friulian peasants, who believed themselves to have  super powers – they could fly and fight witches – were the last traces of a pre-Christian fertility cult in the region. Ginzburg went on to argue that […]

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