Let Them Be Scared: Häxan and The Witch

 

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OK OK.   Hollywood has done it again.   This Friday Feb. 19th marks the opening of Robert Eggers’ new horror flick, The Witch.  Judging from the trailers, this movie will apparently be another  ‘thriller’ about those evil  women who  fucked goats and terrorized New England towns.

 Watch The Witch trailer here:

As I have stated in other blogs, the origin of the scary-old-ugly –baby-eating-cauldron-boiling-genital mutilating-witch  (yes, all that!)  was first promoted in books like  Malleus Malificarim (The Witches’ Hammer) and Daemonology.

Lancashire Witches 1612 Public Domain

 The former –  Malleus Malificarum – was  written as a witch hunting manual by (you guessed it!)  church people.   Namely, two monks;  Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger.   Kramer and Sprenger were monks of the Catholic Dominican Order. (Apparently they never took the vow of poverty, as their book became a best seller, hot off the Gutenberg press.)   These two also happened to be Inquisitors for the Pope.  We know of course that NO ONE expects the Spanish Inquisition 🙂  but neither  did anyone expect the German Inquisition, which, in the 15th century was just as bad. The Burning Times of the 15th – 17th centuries were indeed akin to Nazi death camps.

The second most popular anti-witch promo book was written by King James I of England.  Daemonology  was a detailed study of the dangerous practices of witches. Apparently the king was an expert on this.  For more information on James and his book, please see my blog ‘Shakespeare and the Witches’.

And then of course there were the good old Salem Witch Trials, a devastating scar on America’s back which ended in the hanging deaths of nineteen innocent people and the jailing of hundreds.  Not to mention Giles Corey, a stubborn man who, upon never declaring his guilt, was crushed to death with boulders.

But back to Hollywood.   After all these centuries, they apparently still  cannot shake this image of the evil  witch.  Ah, quite alluring, isn’t it?  Not only the scary old hag casting a hex, but also the young beautiful vixen who may invade a man’s bed at night, forcing herself upon him.   Against his will of course.   Don’t laugh.  Bridget Bishop of Salem proper was actually accused of this.

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Maybe some of the medieval witches actually WERE a bit evil.  I’d be evil if they came after me with a stick and a stake.  I’d be evil if they jailed me, took away my land and then made ME pay for my own room and board. This was, of course, in the luxurious rat infested cell, where women enjoyed sumptuous meals of brack-water and moldy bread, while they awaited an unfair trial.  Yes.  That was Colonial law in 1692.  Prisoners paid their own room and board.

I am neither promoting nor panning ‘The Witch’ movie,  having not seen it myself.  However, if you are in the mood for some good campy (and free!) entertainment, be sure to check out ‘Häxan: Witchcraft Through The Ages’.  This is a silent film made in 1922.  You can decide for yourself the film’s intent, although I suspect it was to suggest the ridiculousness of witch persecutions.  Watch the entire movie here:

 

To further embrace your dark side:

 

Also, an interesting interview with director  Robert Eggers can be found here.

 

 

   

“Familiars, of course, do the dirty work.  We just command them.”

a Jasper 1

My Bloody Valentines: Lupercalia, Romulus and Al Capone

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Yeah. It’s not all hearts and flowers and Fanny Mae.  But you already knew that.  The origins and subsequent ‘celebrations’ of St. Valentine’s Day have lent themselves to some pretty gory stuff.

Take for instance the feast of Lupercalia,  the original Pagan feast upon which St. Valentine’s Day is  based. You remember the Bard’s famous play ‘Julius Caesar’? It begins on Lupercalia. Soldiers  Flavius and Marullus  ran into some trouble, due to it being a feast day.

FLAVIUS:  Hence! home, you idle creatures get you home: 
Is this a holiday?…

 MARULLUS:  You know it is the feast of Lupercal.

The real trouble, of course, will come a month later, at the Ides of March with the murder of Caesar, but Lupercal serves as foreshadowing.  Trouble in the streets, the natives getting restless.  What exactly was the feast of Lupercal?  There are, reportedly, a few different origins and a few different celebrations.

On February 14, in ancient Rome,  tribute was given to the goddess Juno, the patron of marriage and fertility.

JUNO

Activities involved a lottery in which young girls’ names were written on slips of paper and thrown into jars to be picked out by the boys. Chooser and chosen would then be partnered for the duration of the  Lupercalia festival. If you liked  your partner, great. But if not, you were stuck.

On February 15 the celebrations continued in honor of  Faunus or Pan, the god of shepherds,  which  honored fertility and the beginnings of spring. It was also a dedication to Lupa, the she-wolf who suckled the infant orphans, Romulus and Remus,  the founders of Rome. Yeah them!

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They are pretty popular. Even had some bronze dedicated to them.   Hence the name of the festival, Lupercalia, or ‘Wolf Festival’.

What exactly went on during this feast? Oh plenty!

The festival rites were conducted by the Luperci — the ‘brothers of the wolf’ (lupus) or high priests of Pan. These priests  dressed only in a goatskin as a tribute to Romulus and Remus.

The festival began with the sacrifice of two male goats and a dog. Next, two young  Luperci were led to the altar, to be anointed on their foreheads with the sacrificial blood, which was wiped off the bloody knife with wool soaked in milk.  (Interestingly, sheep and milk play an important role in the feast of Imbolc.  See my previous blog for more information.)

Next – oh this is the fun part – the Luperci guys cut throngs from the skins of the animals and ran around in the streets chasing women.

loin cloth

Interestingly, the goat throngs were called ‘februa’.  Girls and young women would line up to be touched by the februa.  This was thought to ensure fertility, prevent sterility in women and ease the pains of childbirth.

Shakespeare’s play has a reference to this belief as well:  Caesar instructs Marc Antony to touch his wife Calpurnia with the throng  in order to help her conceive:

CAESAR (to Calpurnia):  Stand you directly in Antonius’ way,
When he doth run his course. Antonius!

ANTONY:  Caesar, my lord?

CAESAR:  Forget not, in your speed, Antonius,
To touch Calpurnia; for our elders say,
The barren touched in this holy chase,
Shake off their sterile curse.

All righty then.

Enter Saint Valentine.  Who was he and how does he fit in this scenario?

St-Valentine

Valentinus was apparently a very romantic bishop who performed secret illegal marriages in opposition to reigning emperor Claudius II.  Claudius’ empire was on a decline due to oppression from the Gauls, Slavs, and other opposing forces attempting to overthrow Rome.  He needed all the power he could get and felt that married men could  not possibly be good warriors, affections being mainly on their wives.  So he banned marriage. Valentinus, a champion for true love, would have none of this!  Valentinus was  eventually arrested and sentenced to death.

But it wasn’t that simple.  As fate would have it – Valentinus fell in love with the jailer’s daughter during his confinement.  Before his death, Valentinus  is said to have asked for a quill and paper. He wrote a farewell letter to his sweetheart from the jail and signed ‘From Your Valentine’. The expression stuck! 😛

Saint Valentine is believed to have been executed on February 14, 270 AD.

Later, when Christianity spread through Rome, the priests moved Lupercalia from February 15 to February 14.  Around 498 AD, Pope Gelasius declared February 14 as St. Valentine’s Day to honor the martyr Valentinus and to end the pagan celebration.

In Chicago we have our own version of Valentine’s Day, commemorated by the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.  On this day in 1929, famous gangster Al ‘Scarface’ Capone staged a shoot out against his rival Bugs Moran.   Posing as police officers, Capone’s men  infiltrated a garage on Chicago’s north side which was a base of Moran’s operations. They then lined Moran’s men against the wall, pulled their tommy-guns and aimed, resulting in the bloodiest annihilation in gangster history.

massacre

For a detailed account the strong of stomach can watch this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iC2FZO0hoNA

Al Capone was never convicted of the murders, but later he went to Alcatraz for – guess what? Income tax evasion.

But enough about that.  Best to keep it to the hearts and flowers.

During the age of chivalry and courtly love, the St. Valentine’s tradition began to take on a more romantic meaning. In the Middle Ages, Valentine began to be celebrated as a heroic and romantic figure amongst the masses in England and France.

Remember Geoffrey Chaucer?  He did more that write the Canterbury Tales.  UCLA medieval scholar Henry Ansgar Kelly, author of “Chaucer and the Cult of Saint Valentine”, credits  Chaucer as the one who first linked St. Valentine’s Day with romance.

Chaucer

In medieval France and England it was believed that birds mated on February 14. Hence, Chaucer used the image of birds as the symbol of lovers in poems dedicated to the day. In Chaucer’s “The Parliament of Fowls,” the royal engagement, the mating season of birds, and St. Valentine’s Day are related:

“For this was on St. Valentine’s Day, When every fowl cometh there to choose his mate.”

valentine

Ah, the birds and the bees. They may be a bit wiser than humans after all 🙂  So  on this Valentine’s Day, don’t forget to count your blessings and share the love.