Ring-Dancing Monkeys and Black Death Rubbish

At Got Medieval, Carl Pyrdrum re-debunks the persistent, authentic-sounding story that the nursery rhyme “Ring around the Rosies” has anything whatsoever to do with the Black Death of the 1340s.

It does not.

As any good English plague survivor********** could tell you, the plague was caused by sin and best warded off by extreme piety and making sure your humours were in balance.***********

His version includes dancing monkeys, a feral cat, and Lancelot.

Here on the banks of Hardscrabble Creek, which is starting to rise as the snows are melting, we are fairly suspicious of authentic-sounding stories about surviving medieval practices. See also St. Patrick and the “snakes” who were not Druids.

“Wicca Man” Trailer

Here is the trailer for the new British documentary on Gerald Gardner, theatrically introduced by Ronald Hutton rather like an episode of the archaeology program Secrets of the Dead.

Britain’s Wicca Man – (C) Matchlight from Matchlight on Vimeo.

I am happy to hear Professor Hutton say that Wicca was developed in the 1940s—I would say the very late 1940s at that, definitely post-World War II.

It is time to give up on the whole legend of the hidden coven at the Rosicrucian Theatre, of Gardner’s 1939 initiation at Dorothy Clutterbuck’s house, of the 1940 Lammas working against a possible German invasion, and all of that.

There is no evidence for any of it except Gardner’s say-so, and if those things happened, they do not gibe at all with what we know that Gardner was doing in the 1939-1947 period, namely trying out a variety of different esoteric groups before he “found” the one that he liked—Wicca.

Another “Celtic” Illusion Shattered

This may come as a shock to some, but the Asterix the Gaul comics do not present an accurate view of the ancient Gaulish people, according to a new museum exhibit in Paris.

No dolmen-moving, etc.

Next thing, they will be telling us that Vikings did not wear horned helmets like Hägar the Horrible.


What Was Ancient Roman Childhood?

Historian Peter Thonemann reviews books on childhood in the Roman republic and empire in the TLS.

A lot is about trying to uncover the Romans’ balance between sentimentality and utility, particularly in the upper classes:

House-reared slaves, as Beryl Rawson shows in Children, Memory, and Family Identity in Roman Culture, could play a variety of roles in the Roman elite family, from surrogate son to erotic plaything. What is difficult for us to deal with is the notion that, as in the case of Statius’s beloved boy, they might have played both roles simultaneously.

And the inevitable problem:

Needless to say, both of the books under review see Roman children through the eyes of their parents and owners. How could it be otherwise? Aside from the odd cheeky remark about enjoying Cicero, the voices of ancient children are lost for good. A rare exception comes from the temple of Sarapis at Memphis in Egypt, where, in the mid-second century BC, an eccentric recluse called Ptolemaios faithfully recorded the dreams of two little Egyptian twin girls, Thaues and Taous: “The dream that the girl Thaues saw on the 17th of the month Pachon. I seemed in my dream to be walking down the street, counting nine houses. I wanted to turn back. I said, ‘All this is at most nine.’ They say, ‘Well, you are free to go.’ I said, ‘It is too late for me’.” It is salutary to be reminded quite how little we really know or understand about the experience of childhood in antiquity.

Read the rest.


‘The Magical Battle of Britain’

“The Battle of Britain” usually refers to the German bombing campaign during the summer of 1940, planned to lead into a seaborne invasion across the English Channel.

Gerald Gardner claimed that the “Southern Coven”  performed a ritual in the New Forest at Lammas 1940 against the threatened invasion. Based on my reading of the evidence, or lack thereof, I don’t think that this ritual took place as he described it.

Nevertheless, telling about the ritual fifteen years after it supposedly happened was part of his claim that Wicca was an indigenous British religion  that could repel the “foreign invader,” Christianity. (And if alive today, Gardner would probably add Islam as well to the list of invaders.)

Whereas we have only Gardner’s after-the-fact claim that the Lammas 1940 ritual occurred, another esoteric group was indeed fighting Nazi Germany on the astral plane—Dion Fortune’s Fraternity of the Inner Light.

“The Magical Battle of Britain,” by Dave Evans and David Sutton, is available at The Fortean Times.

The authors describe how Fortune’s group conceived of their magical battle, designed to strengthen British will power and stop the invasion, even if its effects are hard to quantify compared to those of the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force, and the Army.

Some of her followers believe that the workings ruined her health, leading to her death a few years later.

And they quote a well-known scholar of esotericsm who comes to this conclusion:

Possibly such tales of magical warfare are simply one of the ways, as esoteric scholar Professor Wouter Hanegraaff describes, in “which magic­ians seek to legitimate magic to the wider society as well as to themselves” in the modern era.

Learning History through Pop Tunes

Via Sightless Among Miracles, a link to a group of history teachers’ remakes of music videos to teach history.

French seismologists have probably noticed disturbances near Toulouse caused by  medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas spinning in his grave after having been  memorialized to the tune of “Venus.”

The rap-style delivery of Middle English in Canterbury Tales is excellent, contrasting nicely with the tune, which is The Mamas and the Papas’ “California Dreaming.”

Check out the whole YouTube channel. You won’t be wasting your time.

(The real rap-ready early modern English poet is John Skelton, but that is another story.)

San Francisco, Market Street, 1905

A few months before the great San Francisco earthquake and fire, someone mounted an early movie camera on a street car and filmed as the car rolled down Market Street toward the Ferry Building.

Pretty much everything in this movie was destroyed on April 18-19, 1906. It’s a lost world.

I find this movie to be almost hypnotic. The policeman in his helmet … lots of free-range kids about … oh my god, they’re going to hit that horse … no, they didn’t… there goes Martin Eden himself, crossing the street with his manuscript.

Part of the same movie is here, but with period music of the early 1900s. Seems less elegiac and more long-ago.

Departed Pagan Elders

On the home page of the Green Egg (now free for download), see a list of “departed Pagan pioneers, founders, and elders.”

I do not think that Dorothy Clutterbuck belongs there, however. She was the unwitting victim of Gerald Gardner’s Gemini sense of humor, I think. But aside from her, these pioneers deserve to be remembered.

The End of World War 2 in Honolulu

VJ Day, Honolulu Hawaii, August 14, 1945 from Richard Sullivan on Vimeo. (The sound track was obviously added later—those 1940s home movie cameras did not record sound.)

Catharine, my stepmother, was there, I think. After her first husband, a Navy ensign, died when his ship was torpedoed in 1942,  she ended up in Hawaii working as some general’s secretary.

I wish she were still alive that I could show it to her and get her reaction. She had just bought her first computer a few months before she died in 2003.

That is all.