Friday, October 30, 2009


"The body is a model which can stand for any bounded system. Its boundaries can represent any boundaries which are threatened or precarious."
--Mary Douglas, Purity and danger: an analysis of concept of pollution and taboo

"The ordinary margins of the body, those orifices where things enter and leave are places of danger, all the more so when those margins malfunction or when an ordinarily less permeable boundary, the skin, becomes compromised and therefore vulnerable."
--Patrick Nugent, "Bodily Effluvia and Liturgical Interruption in Medieval Miracle Stories."

Prayer sheet with the wounds and the nail, issued by JP Steudner, Augsberg, late seventeenth century

A manifestation of sympathetic magic was the widespread use of the weapon salve for healing in the 17th century. The weapon salve was applied not to the wound, but to the weapon that caused the wound.

--Sir Walter Scott, The Lay of the Last Minstrel

Sunday, October 11, 2009

cunning, ash

"the [virtue] of the ash tree"

--from an 18th c. scottish cunning man's book of herbal remedies

"Whan some tempest doth aryse in the ayer we oughte anone to make a fyre of four staues of an asshe tree in crosse wyse aboue the wynde and thenne afterwarde make a crosse vpon it, and anone the tempest shal torne a syde."
--from the 15th c. Gospelles of Dystaves

"Beware of an oak, It draws the stroke. Avoid an ash, It courts the flash. Creep under the thorn, It will save you from harm."
--William Henderson, Notes on the Folk-lore of the Northern Counties of England and the Borders (1897)

"How to get wound wood: To cut wound wood, Go out and hunt a small ash tree. On Good Friday, before sunrise, take a sharp hatchet or axe and cut off a branch or the whole tree with three strokes-- it is to be noted that if the tree does not fall after three strokes the wood is useless. After cutting the wood rightly let it lie until the sun has risen and shines upon it, then cut the wood up into small pieces and you have the true wound wood. Preserve it well. If you should hack, stab, cut, or pinch yourself, so that the flow of blood is not easily stilled, lay the wood upon the wound so that the wood becomes warm and the wound will heal without festering."
--Thomas R. Brendle & Claude W. Unger, Folk Medicine of the Pennsylvania Germans, 1935