Thursday, October 9, 2008

Magical Thinking and Cornish Witchcraft

An article in the November/December issue of Archaeology Magazine talks about witchcraft in Great Britain. Recently, an archaeologist uncovered strange pits while doing work to extend a barn on her property in Cornwall. She has since brought students out to help her uncover several more pits and an ancient spring, all filled with what she believes is evidence of witchcraft spanning many centuries, including the 20th.

Many of the pits were lined with the skin (including the feathers) of a swan, on top of which were placed varying amounts of eggs almost ready to hatch, pebbles, and bird parts and claws from various types of birds. The spring was lined with quartz and contained things like nail clippings, human hair, straight pins, and small pieces of cloth. Part of a cauldron was even found.

Quoting from the article, the archaeologist, Jacqui Wood, said:

"Over the last 30 years I've been quick to dismiss ritual as an explanation for unusual archaeological finds. It usually means that the archaeologists can't think of anything better. So now it seems especially ironic that I end up with a site absolutely full of ritual."
The earliest dates for the pits are the mid-1600s. Whatever was being done here was important enough for the practitioners to risk being pointed out as witches. The 1600s were a dangerous time to be caught doing anything with a pagan tinge. It was doubly risky because swans were symbols of royalty and owned by the crown. And apparently whatever these practices meant is still important. One of the pits dates from the 1950s. It was lined with the skin of a dog and contained dog teeth and the baked jaw of a pig.

Old magic and magical thinking is still among us.


joco said...

Truly inconsequential, I reckon ;-)

We have quite a few of those pits on the estate where I have my studio. Most likely clay or chalk pits, where they dug their building material.
An odd body here and there, I grant you. But that was just their way of liming the flesh.

The 1950's ones are from the military doing target practice from the air.

Would you be interested if I stirred myself and did a post on our local sites of ancient interest? To me they are so familiar, but I suppose if it is new to you, it might raise a smile.

BTW, my head is filled with this short story. A novel by now: every long walk I take delivers a new chapter. But getting it down on paper takes hard graft. These people floating through my head: rather tiresome actually.
Feel free to zap this

ICQB said...

Hi joco,

I would be VERY interested in a post on your local sites of ancient interest. How lucky to be so familiar with them that they might seem ordinary or ho hum to you.

It does take a bit of doing to take the things out of your head and put them on paper. Hard work, actually. But well worth the effort. I hope you steal a little time here and there to write that short story/novel up.


Sarah said...

Hi icqb, did you get the article from Pagan Dawn? Jacqui Woods is an amazing archaeologist and has written a book on Prehistoric Cooking which is really good.

I wondered if you'd tried making the herbal vinegars yet? I've made loads this year if you need any help.

ICQB said...

Hi Sarah,

I didn't get the article from Pagan Dawn. I got it from Archaeology Magazine, which I subscribe to. The cookbook by Jaqui Woods sounds like something I'd like to get ahold of - I'll look around for it.

I haven't tried making the vinegars yet, but they are still on my mind and I've been reading more about them. I was considering making some to send along with other gifts at Christmastime. I will certainly keep you in mind when I begin in earnest - if I have questions I'll know where to go!

Thanks so much for stopping by!