Folk Charms and Folk Magic in BEWITCHED

Congratulations to “Alexis G.” the winner of Sandra’s giveaway. Thank you to all who participated.
“Bullock’s heart pierced with large nails & thorns, found in a chimney in a farm in Somerset, placed there to cause harm to s.o.”

This intriguing object – a brownish lump stuck with various nails and thorns – can be found in one of the display cases in the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. There the bullock’s heart is in good company, for it is surrounded by several other objects stuck with nails, thorns, or both: a shrivelled sheep’s heart, a shrivelled pig’s heart, an old onion, and, perhaps most fascinating (and revolting!!!) of all, the “object said to be a toad, stuck with thorns for withcraft purposes.” By now, all that remains of the poor toad is something that looks like a blob of molten tar with various pointy bits sticking out of it.

Clearly, folk magic is not for the faint of heart.

All these objects give us a fascinating insight into the beliefs and superstitions of people in the past. Such beliefs survived particularly long among the common people in the countryside, where they were recorded by folklorists and anthropologists in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Many folk charms reflect the worries of farmers and fishermen, who were dependent on the goodwill of Mother Nature: lucky stones were buried in gardens and on fields to ensure a good crop; and the fishermen of Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, never went out to sea without a few tiny bone models of fish in their pockets.

Many of the folk charms I saw in the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1998, when I spent three weeks at a language school in Oxford, are referenced in my romance Bewitched. After a magical mishap that turned her uncle’s house blue, Amy, my heroine and a real-life witch is stripped of her powers and sent to Regency London in order to be introduced into polite society – and to find a suitable husband. Throughout the story, the “real”magic – the powers Amy has lost, the love potion that makes her fall in love with a man she has detested at first sight, the evil forces that follow her from London to the Fenlands, where they threaten all she holds dear – are contrasted with simple folk beliefs and folk charms. Thus, Amy happens to be present when a kitchen maid lays out her plans on how to stake a slug:

“I lets it crawl over me skin ‘ere. Look.” She waved her hand in front of the cook’s face. “‘Ere. And then all I needs ta do’s stick the slug onna thorn. And as soon as the slug’s dead, the wart’ll be gone!” she ended triumpantly.

The intended fate of the poor slug reminds Amy that for real magic you don’t need to torment a hapless animal:

Instead, it was all a matter of skills and talent. And concentration. Of course, there was the accident with the portraits and, even worse, the accident with the frog. But that had been years ago, and her cousin Coll had been just thirteen and believed he could transform the frog into a prince. After all, you always heard about how it was done the other way around, didn’t you? Amy’s nine-year-old self had found it endlessly entertaining to wade through the ponds on the estate with her horde of cousins hunting frogs. However, the entertainment value of the experiment had rapidly sunk when they later were all covered with sticky blobs of frog remains. Transforming a frog into a prince had turned out to be slightly more complicated than they thought.

If you ever happen to be in Oxford, pay a visit to the Pitt Rivers Museum and look for the glass jar containing a black (now white) slug impaled on a thorn.

By the way, this was how I learnt the word slug back in 1998.


Author Bio:
Sandra Schwab has been enchanting readers with her unusual historicals since 2005, when her first novel The Lily Brand was published. She lives in Frankfurt/Main in Germany with a sketchbook, a sewing machine, and an ever-expanding library.

You can find her online at www.sandraschwab.com. Or you can chat with her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SandraSchwab.Author and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ScribblingSandy

The slug on a thorn can be admired here.

And Bewitched is available here on sale for $0.99!


Giveaway:
Would you like to win a magical swag pack consisting of a signed paper copy of Bewitched (first edition from Dorchester), German tea, and German chocolate? Then enter the giveaway here on JPR with a comment or email! (I promise I will not include any hearts stuck with nails and thorns in the package!)

Giveaway ends 11:59pm EST Sep. 28th. Please supply your email in the post. You may use spaces or full text for security. (ex. jsmith at gmail dot com) If you do not wish to supply your email, or have trouble posting, please email maureen@JustParanormalRomance.com with a subject title of JPR GIVEAWAY to be entered in the current giveaway.

4 comments

  1. Museums are so great…they have such unusual things. Lol. I love unusual!!! Good luck with your book! Lexi(at)paojava(dot)com.

    • Thanks, Alexis! This museum, in particular, is a house of wonders. They have the strangest things on display (in one of the drawers beneath the display cases rests Geordie, the voodoo doll *g*)

  2. Intriguing info

    bn100candg at hotmail dot com