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  • 70 Million Dead in One Second September 8, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern
    70 Million Dead in One Second

    The year is 1908. You are walking through a jungle territory in southeastern Cameroon in central Africa when you hear the sickening smack of the machete on flesh. Expecting the worst you emerge, your rifle half lifted, but see only a local hunter with a kill. He has taken a chimp in a trap and […]

    Dead Hands, Live Wens: Latest Record? March 3, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Dead Hands, Live Wens: Latest Record?

    There is a well attested belief that the bodies of executed criminals could heal certain illnesses. This led in past centuries to bits of executed felons being bought, sold and even eaten. Though the most gentle version was as simple as going to the gallows and begging the hangmen to let you run the dead […]

    British Iron Age Peyote February 28, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient
    British Iron Age Peyote

    There are lots of internet sites out there talking (and sometimes raving) about how to have visions courtesy of plants that grow in the British and Irish countryside: the ‘fruits of the forest’ as Beach’s disreputable younger brother calls them. This is not the aim of the present post. Rather it is to ask: what […]

    Dying from Fright: Women and the Weak Minded? February 14, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Dying from Fright: Women and the Weak Minded?

    A lazy morning and so Beach inspired by his recent post of a girl who died of fear decided to look a little deeper. How many people really die because they are frightened? To carry out a half decent experiment he surveyed the British press from January 1850 to December 1859. He ignored probable urban […]

    Death by Boggart (or Meningitis)? February 7, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Death by Boggart (or Meningitis)?

    This is a one of these stories where the problem is not with the facts but with interpretation. As it involves human facts it is not a very happy story: be warned a little girl dies. We are in 1871 in Ashton-under-Lyne just outside Manchester. Mr F. Price is the coroner and he held his […]

    Bosom Serpents and False Operations January 20, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Contemporary, Modern
    Bosom Serpents and False Operations

    Bosom serpents refers to the belief that an animal, typically a reptile or amphibian has taken up residence in a human body. Two truisms to start with. First, there is no way that these animals could live in a human body. Second, if the patient believed in the BoS, the doctor had to deal with […]

    Seneb the Egyptian Deneg December 4, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient
    Seneb the Egyptian Deneg

    Seneb’s tomb in the Giza Necropolis offers the first realistic portrait in history of someone suffering from dwarfism. Seneb is sculpted seated to the left of his wife and where his feet would normally be shown coming down to the ground there are two of his three children; an unconventional touch. Size is often misleading […]

    Blood and Judges: Murder Will Out November 3, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Blood and Judges: Murder Will Out

    There is the old folk belief that blood calls out for justice. If Beach murders his father-in-law (random example) and then successfully provides an alibi he will soon be undone. The local magistrates will call Beach forward and demand that he lay his hand on dead dad and then poor, much provoked Beach will be […]

    In Search of Chinese Tooth Worms October 22, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary
    In Search of Chinese Tooth Worms

    Last month Beach took some time to look up, while recovering from toothache agony, traditional tooth cures. He was particularly impressed by the widespread belief in tooth worms, the little parasites which apparently cause toothaches. These non-existent parasites were believed in throughout Euro-Asia-Africa and can be traced back to Babylonian times: it is always a […]

    Ghost Pills! October 6, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Ghost Pills!

    How do you get rid of supernatural worries: call the priest, the alienist or the local bobby? Why no, you buy a tube of nineteenth-century vitamin pill, of course! This at least was the solution offered by one Irish newspaper in 1840. The belief in supernatural appearances has generally prevailed during the superstitious ages has […]

    Fried Mice and Urine Mouth Rinses: Traditional Toothache Cures September 28, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Fried Mice and Urine Mouth Rinses: Traditional Toothache Cures

    Beach has been living toothache hell for the last two weeks. A wisdom tooth had to be extracted and that was just fine: a bit of anesthetic and POW. But then the jawbone became infected and said bone had to be scraped with little in the way of laughing gas. Painkiller, antiobiotics were rushed in […]

    Where Animal Cruelty and Folk Medicine Meet June 5, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Where Animal Cruelty and Folk Medicine Meet

    Britain’s glorious nineteenth century included many unsavoury episodes. But one of the more winsome aspects was the promotion by Britain’s London and southern provincial elite of the notion of cruelty to birds and to animals, the idea that animals and birds could feel pain and that the brute creation should be protected from its even […]

    Ash Magic April 27, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Ash Magic

    Your little boy is ill. The doctors can do nothing (this is the nineteenth century) and money is, in any case, short. What on earth do you do. Well, the folk answer, and one that is almost certainly as efficacious as Victorian medicine, is to look for an ash tree. This account comes from Somerset […]

    How Gerbils Killed Millions February 25, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    How Gerbils Killed Millions

    One of the most exciting areas of plague research in the last year has been the question of what transmitted the Black Death from central Asia into the distant but well populated margins of Euro-Asia in the fourteenth century. The answer which has been patly trotted out for over a hundred years now is that a rat […]

    Green Children of Woolpit 3: Why Green Skin? January 24, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Green Children of Woolpit 3: Why Green Skin?

    Of the green children of Woolpit William of Newburgh writes: Ex his fossis tempore messis, et occupatis circa frugum collectionem per agros messoribus, emerserunt duo pueri, masculus et femina, toto corpore virides, et coloris insoliti, ex incognita materia veste operti. John Clark translates this, in his recent brilliant essay, as: ‘Out of these ditches, at […]

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