Throughout history, using legend and lore, we have sought to understand this night-time adventure. Witches have been condemned as the conjurers of nightmare sleep paralysis and faeries blamed for time loss or sleep-walking; we convince ourselves that ghostly spirits visit us at night with messages of hope or portents of danger.
In this illustrated lecture, Dr Romany Reagan will explore the creatures and meanings that fill our dreamscapes, from mediaeval British horrors to 19th-century curiosities and theories—and how these nocturnal happenings can play out in our waking lives.
Dr. Romany Reagan is an Arts Council England-funded research fellow with Museum of the Home, studying the hidden histories of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, from mediaeval cunning women and herbal witchcraft to 19th-century feminist botany. Her research has explored the layers of heritage within Abney Park cemetery and an occult literary heritage of London’s Stoke Newington area, as well as ‘earth mystery’, psychogeography and folklore, legends and lore from the British Isles.
This event is part of the Museum of the Home’s Festival of Sleep, running from June through September 2022.
‘Hail the Highgate Vampire! Goth kids, cemeteries, and the search for the secular sublime’
Through repetition and shared community lineage rituals become codified in society. The lines between acceptable and unacceptable ritual tend to follow the law of established shared-heritage practices going unquestioned, winning validity over recently invented rites. From media-hungry occultists battling it out with mock satanists in Highgate Cemetery in the 1970s to 21st-century wiccan white witches in Abney Park cemetery today, older sites of ritual continue to draw new practices. Our Victorian garden cemeteries offer the pull of an historical site with the aesthetics to match. From their crumbling chapels to their Egyptian follies, new rites fit into the old ways. This talk will take you on a journey through alternative meanings of space as practitioners search for the secular sublime.
Written accounts of witchcraft, witch trials, cunning folk, and folk magic were largely recorded by the Church, with all the prejudices associated with a one-sided narrative. Given these practices were handed down generation to generation through oral histories as a form of intangible heritage, only the Church’s ‘official’ version of these practices has traditionally survived as our record. Luckily for researchers, instructions for creating witch bottles were written down and tangible items such a old shoes and written curses were tucked into walls kept safe from destruction in their hidden places. Stepping away from the ‘official’ texts to these scraps and personal finds can help us learn from another perspective about these practices, offering a fascinating look at the fears—and sometimes wrathful vengeances—secreted away in hearths and walls by our ancestors.
The following is an excerpt from a talk I gave at the Museum of the Home (formerly the Geffrye Museum) in November 2019, ‘Witch Bottles & Worn Shoes: Home Protection Folklore Practices’.
The forests are stripped of their leaves, the earth lies frozen, the rivers are frozen with the cold. And fog and rain, together with the excess of endless nights, have robbed the earth of its joy.
–Matthäus Merian, 1622
The time period now commonly agreed—by historians and climate scientists alike—to be the ‘Little Ice Age’ lasted from between 1300 and 1850 A.D. The cooling was only slight (ranging from 2-5°C, depending on the region), but it was enough to slam Europe, and much of the Northern Hemisphere, into a climate event that saw unprecedented storms, unseasonal frosts, and ruined crops. “This decrease was large enough to leave Iceland completely surrounded by ice and to freeze the Thames in England and the canals in Holland routinely—both otherwise unheard-of events.” (Oster 218)
While there was a general cooling over the course of this 500-year period, there were two cold snaps in the 16th and 17th centuries that further strained hardship to the breaking point. Here I have gathered the research of economists, meteorologists, and historians to tell the story of the Little Ice Age and how people offered up their neighbours for slaughter in the hopes of a summer that would never come.
In 2002, scientists recreated a #Shakespearian #lovepotion ❤️ Studies of #midsummernightsdream led them to create the elixir used on #Titania 🧚 Queen of the Fairies to make her fall in love with the first person she saw. In the play, the mischievous character #Puck was instructed to find a “little western flower” and produce a magic potion from its juice. The brew is applied to the sleeping Titania’s eyes and she falls in love with Bottom—despite the fact that he has been given a donkey’s head. 🐴
The Royal Society of Chemistry says research of the play’s text revealed the wild pansy—or ‘heart’s ease’—was the basis of the potion. It was used in old folk remedies for cardiac problems—so, problems of the heart!
Fragrance company Quest International was then asked to create a #perfume based on this fictional potion. Dr Charles Sell, head of organic chemistry at Quest, said: “There are scores of references to plants and herbs in Shakespeare, who was obviously very knowledgeable about their real and mythical potency.” The resulting perfume was called ‘Puck’s Potion’, but it had a powerful, old-fashioned parma violet smell, and they opted not to commercialise it.
You’ll have to rely on your wit and good looks instead this #ValentinesDay ! 😉❤️ Painting: ‘Scene from a Midsummer Night’s Dream, Titania and Bottom’, Edwin Landseer, 1851
“For centuries, #Alewives dominated the brewing industry.🍺 Professional brewsters and alewives had several means of identifying themselves and promoting their businesses. They wore tall hats to stand out on crowded streets. To signify that their homes or taverns sold ale, they would place broomsticks—a symbol of domestic trade—outside of the door. 🐈 Cats often scurried around the brewsters’ bubbling cauldrons, killing the mice that liked to feast on the grains used for ale. “If all of this sounds familiar, it’s because this is all iconography that we now associate with witches. 🧙♀️ While there’s no definitive historical proof that modern depictions of witches were modelled after alewives, some historians see uncanny similarities between brewsters and anti-witch propaganda.” – @addisonnugent @atlasobscura https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/women-making-beer Image: #MotherLouse #Alewife by David Logan (1634-1692) Wellcome, Wikimedia Commons #witches #folklore #brewing #feministemployment
A common home protection folklore practice was to conceal shoes behind walls and in chimneys. Why the shoe? 👢 It’s the only garment we wear that retains the shape, the personality, the essence of the wearer. According to footwear historian June Swann on a number of occasions she found that the bereaved had no problem dealing with the deceased’s belongings, until it came to the shoes, and then would ask, “Would I take what we want for the Northampton Museum and dispose of the rest?” Most hidden shoes have been discovered around fireplaces, hearths, and chimneys 🕯️—understandable when the hearth was the centre of the home before 21st century heating made most rooms habitable in winter. ❄️
In some parts of Northern England it was thought that sleeping in moonlight could make you blind, cause birth defects or alter mental health. Many thatched cottages have extra thatch extensions projecting over upstairs windows to protect moonshine from falling on sleeping inhabitants. 🌚🌜