Research mathoms III

I’ve been noting what’s NOT in Burgs & Bailiffs Trinity : The poor pilgrim’s almanack, or, The handbook of pilgrimage and relic theft. But what’s in there? Here’s a screencap of the table of contents. It doesn’t list sidebars, but it does drill down to the section headings within the four main essays: On the road (which covers travel generally); Death, Burial & Grave Goods; Furta Sacra (all about relics and their theft); Into the catacombs (all about catacombs); Whither pilgrim? (a gazetteer of shrines, holy wells, tombs, and other pilgrimage destinations); and Relics & Clerics (which offers a revised clerical spell casting system and a completely different kind of cleric that is dedicated to pilgrimage). Click to embiggen.

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Here’s one more mathom.

Beheaded martyrs

If you read much about martyrs, you will quickly notice that a large number of martyrs went through multiple executions before being really, sincerely martyred. They might be broiled, beaten, shot with arrows, crushed, hung, trampled by animals, or have any number of brutal treatments and still survive until they are finally beheaded. While we might be tempted to imagine the persecutors shouting “There can be only one!” scholars speculate that the beheadings are often later additions to the stories, because by the Middle Ages, only beheading was considered an appropriate execution for high-status individuals. For the saints to be killed by lesser — even common — means was incongruous with their status as God’s elect, so the hagiographies were amended to end with a more aesthetically pleasing (to the generally noble or high-ranking patrons of the scribes) death.

More fancifully, the trope of saints being beheaded also spawned another category of saints: celaphores. These were saints who are depicted — visually in icons and statues, or narratively in their hagiographies — as carrying their own severed heads. Celaphores are often said to have carried their severed heads to their burial places, in some cases preaching as they walked; most famously, St. Denis of Paris did this, but folklorists have counted more than a hundred cases. Apart from making memorable miracles and dramatizing the saint’s power over death, this behavior helps legitimize the final resting place of a saint, and discourages further translation.

 

 

 

Published in: on December 13, 2016 at 8:00 am  Comments (2)  
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Research mathoms II

Here are few more sidebars, etc., that didn’t make it into The poor pilgrim’s almanack, or, The handbook of pilgrimage and relic theft. (#shamelesscommerce) The illustrations here and in the other Research Mathoms post were not necessarily meant to be in it though — we used only black & white or greyscale images that were in the public domain or under CC license.

The incorruptibles 

Many saints were found to be “incorruptible” when exhumed. In a few cases this meant that the corpse remained largely untouched by decay for a very long time — perhaps perpetually. The bodies are often displayed under glass. But most incorruptible bodies eventually decay. The designation that a saint’s body was “incorruptible” required only that the corpse look fresh when first exhumed. Decay may set in almost immediately. The relics would be encased in reliquaries, or possibly chased in gold, or covered with wax to represent the appearance of the body when it was exhumed.

St. Cuthbert being exhumed and found incorrupt (image from Wikipedia) — 

Note that “incorrupt” is a relative term. Here’s an incorrupt saint, St. Zita. Not too bad for a 750 year old corpse.

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Fantastic relics

In addition to the relics of saints and Biblical figures, some collections at shrines included unusual items such as Griffin’s claws, phoenix feathers, unicorn horns, and other parts of monsters — collected by pilgrims in foreign lands, sent as rare and valuable tributes, or even as trophies from the ordeals of saints. One church boasted that it had the tip of Lucifer’s tail, lost in a fight with a Syrian hermit. Some such objects were reputed to have their own occult power to heal, but most were simply exhibited along with the fine clothes, jewelry, and other valuables offered in honor of the saint.

Alicorns — the supposed horns of unicorns, most often in the form of narwhal horns or vessels carved from rhinoceros horns — were a highly valued item both because of their intrinsic worth (princes would pay up to 20 times their weight in gold for them, and a large narwhal horn could weight over 12 pounds) and for their supposed magical properties. St. Denis cathedral near Paris had a 7 foot long, 13 pound alicorn among its treasures; St. Mark’s in Venice had two alicorns, each about a meter long and supposedly looted from Constantinople in 1204, plus another of a later date that was two meters long; other impressive specimens were in cathedrals and churches at Milan, Raskeld, St. Paul’s in London, and Westminster Abbey. Alicorns were thought to cure or prevent poisoning and pestilential disease. Unscrupulous guardians might sell filings from the horns for quick cash, and there are records of alicorns being gilded or chased in silver to prevent this. Griffin claws — the horns of ibex or buffalo — were thought to neutralize poison too.

There were also an array highly unusual items with supposed supernatural origins in various church collections. A ray from the star of Bethlehem, objects given to saints by angels ranging from clothing to clocks, body parts from angels, the foreskin of Jesus (as well as many other unlikely mementos of his infancy and childhood), feathers (!) from the Holy Spirit, and even fire from the Burning Bush were all inventoried in various collections.

 

Corpse Roads and Lych Gates

The local parish church held funeral rites and everyone who could afford the fees would prefer to be buried in the parish graveyard. However as small villages sprang up further and further away from the central parish church, it became necessary to establish roads leading from the villages to the church. These roads would be used solely for transporting the dead for burial, as the presence of a corpse was unlucky at best and potentially dangerous at worst. Moreover the ghosts of the dead were thought to wander the corpse road for as long as the soul was in purgatory — potentially many years. For these reasons the corpse road was always laid out in unwanted and otherwise untraveled land. The corpse road was also kept as straight as possible, even if it meant cutting through difficult terrain or crossing streams, because it was thought the ghosts traveled only in straight lines, and no-one wanted the ghosts to wander off the road. Corpse roads always led to a Lych Gate, the gate to the burial yard (“lych” meaning body or corpse).

Lych Gate at St. Mary’s, Wendover (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Published in: on December 9, 2016 at 8:45 am  Leave a Comment  
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Research mathoms I

Burgs & Bailiffs Trinity comes in at 128 pages. I wrote a fair amount more that did not make it in to the final version, because of space limitations (essays too long to be sidebars or boxed text and too short to be appendices), because they didn’t quite fit in the flow of the work or ramble a bit off topic, and in one case because a table was far too complex to fix in the page layout. Maybe some day an expanded edition will be possible (and I’d probably add some revised bits from Burgs & Bailiffs 1 and 2). But in the meantime I’ll post some research mathoms here on the blog: tidbits too good to leave on the cutting room floor. (The last one I thought made it in, so my apologies if anyone was thrown by the December 6 post. Having looked at the final draft I can confirm that it DOES detail fun stuff like the saint whose miracles include striking down his own family and making a pope crap out his intestines, the “code” used by funeral bells, and more. But here are some mathoms:

Jinn shrines

There are a number of sites in the Moslem world where the jinn are appealed to for intercessions. Illnesses, especially mental illnesses, are often attributed to evil jinn, and supplicants visit sacred places where the jinn congregate. In Baduan, India, for example, the shrines of several sufi mystics are visited for this purpose because the king of the jinn is said to hold court in a nearby banyan tree. Those suffering from mental illness are brought by their relatives, who make offerings to the jinn and hope to elicit their mercy. As unorthodox as this sounds, the jinn are thought to have mostly converted to Islam in Muhammad’s time, so there is nothing heretical about appeal to them.

(See Sadakat Kadri’s Heaven On Earth: A Journey Through Shari’a Law from the Deserts of Ancient Arabia to the Streets of the Modern Muslim World. Farrar, Strauss, & Giraux, 2013. The introduction describes the author’s visit to such a shrine in Baduan and the place of jinn in shari’a law. Mostly excerpted here)

Animal catacombs

The Egyptians rather famously mummified various animals and placed them in human tombs. However perhaps less well-known are the animal catacombs under certain temples. One temple at Saqqara has a so-called “Sacred Animal Necropolis” with separate catacombs for falcons, cows, ibis, dogs, and baboons. The baboon catacomb has three levels with hundreds of mummies of olive baboons and Barbary macaques. These primates were raised at, and kept in, the temple for their entire lives. Similarly the falcons and cows were kept at cult sites for ritual purposes. The cults eventually abandoned the site some time under Roman occupation. The “Dog catacombs” — sacred to Anubis — include burials of foxes, jackals, cats, and mongooses.

Who stole Santa Claus? 

In the Middle Ages, Saint Nicholas of Bari (now known more popularly in the English-speaking world as Santa Claus or Father Christmas) was revered by sailors in particular because he once calmed a storm at sea while on a voyage to the Holy Land. The 4th century holy man and bishop lived and was buried in Myra, Lycia (which later would become part of Turkey). His tomb became a popular pilgrimage site. In 1087, after the Turkish conquest of Anatolia, Italian sailors and merchants from Bari rescued one half of his skeleton (despite the resistance of Orthodox monks at his shrine), ostensibly because of fears that the Turks would interfere with pilgrims or desecrate the shrine. During the first crusade, a party of Venetians rescued the other half of his skeleton and set up another, competing shrine in Venice. But the relics at Bari continue to excrete myron as they did at Myra, while those in Venice do not. The faithful would attribute this to St. Nicholas’ desire to be in Bari, while skeptics and Venetians might point out that the myron is actually water, exuding from the marble of the tomb which is, in all fairness, below sea level.

Some of St. Nicholas’ bones in Antayla, Turkey (from Wikimedia Commons)

Published in: on December 7, 2016 at 3:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The poor pilgrim’s almanack

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To no fanfare, my first game book — Burgs & Bailiffs Trinity : The poor pilgrim’s almanack, or The handbook of pilgrimage and relic theft —  has become available via The Lost Pages! So you can get it now in PDF, or pre-order the printed version and get the PDF along with it.

Paolo Greco, proprietor of the Lost Pages, did a bang-up job laying out the text, which was sort of complicated because the original manuscript had dozens of footnotes and sidebars, as well as some really big tables. Not everything could make it into the final product, so once I see the final product myself I’ll post some of that material here. I’m thinking of some of it as “research mathoms” — stuff I found or created that’s too good to throw away entirely but which didn’t fit in well enough to keep, either in terms of flow or formatting, like the giant table of carrying and pulling capacities for animals ranging from rats to elephants (if you need to know how much a goat can carry, how heavy different types of camels are, or how much traction a moose can pull with, it was in there!). So watch this space for research mathoms…

I eventually envisioned this as a sort of source book like the ones Steve Jackson has been producing for GURPS — chapters of informative text that is as well-researched as I could manage with gameable material (rules). I tried to keep it as system-neutral as possible, but really it’s meant for the, ahem, World’s Most Popular Fantasy Roleplaying Game, in the B/X or first Advanced edition. Thus the sidebars, dozens of brief “adventure seeds” like the GURPS sourcebooks, and so on. I’m not an historian by training but I do read a lot, and did my research at one of the largest public research libraries in the US, where I was also working.

I’m not sure what else to say about this, and as I’m on my lunch break now I don’t have time to get long-winded anyway, but for what it’s worth here’s an excerpt from my foreword, which really explains the project:

Although I’ve always been a big fan of Dungeons & Dragons, another game has long haunted me: Fantasy Wargaming, by Bruce Galloway (and others). That infamous rule book has haunted me because of its unfulfilled promise — the idea of an historical, logical setting for adventures like those in D&D. In part FW failed to fulfill its promise because it was a haphazardly presented system of rules, and frankly the rules seemed unnecessarily complicated. But the real failure was that the game focused strictly on recreating medieval legends and sagas, which while interesting, were too esoteric for someone used to simple generic fantasy to get a handle on. My forays into running FW were pretty disastrous — I subjected my players to retreads of Viking sagas and Beowulf, which were OK for what they were but did not deliver the exploration and adventure we expected from a fantasy game. What I didn’t know then was that all the elements of dungeoneering could be realized in an historical setting. There really were adventurers who entered subterranean mazes, seeking treasure and braving dangers (real and imagined). They could be rogues, warriors, holy men, or magicians, just like in D&D. They might be seeking gold and gems, but they might just as well be seeking items with supernatural powers: the relics of saints. To find these underground complexes — catacombs — the adventurers would undertake long, perilous journeys: pilgrimages.

While this supplement could be used simply to rationalize dungeoneering in historical or pseudo-historical campaigns, the medieval superstitions and practices detailed here should also inspire new and interesting adventures, over land, at sea, and in town and city. Pilgrimages to shrines and other holy sites, whether for secular or sacred purposes, invite all manner of encounters and obstacles that will create exciting adventures. Lastly, the veneration of shrines and relics suggests a new conception of divine magic and clerics: the pilgrim miracle-worker. Paolo and I are excited by the idea of clerical magic which is grounded in historical beliefs, completely different from the usual wizardry and spell-casting that games use for secular magic-users, and which provides a justification for adventuring holy men and women. We hope that you will find ideas you can adopt in your own games, whether you follow the historical precedents herein or reskin them for your fantasy world.

Published in: on November 30, 2016 at 12:56 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Coming soon…

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Published in: on November 17, 2016 at 7:38 pm  Comments (3)  
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Badasses of the old west

Badasses of the old west : true stories of outlaws on the edge, edited by Erin Turner

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Man, the title and cover really oversell this book. It’s actually a collection of short profiles of criminals of the nineteenth and early twentieth century.  I’m not sure I’d have counted coastal Oregon in the 1920s as part of the “old west” but one of the longer entries chronicles an escaped convict who spent weeks on the lam there, forcing people to cook for him at gunpoint whenever he stopped at a house. Other criminals that are included don’t really seem to rise to the level “outlaw” status — a burglar who murdered a sleeping woman with a meat cleaver, a man who went on a drunken rampage robbing some railroad employees and shooting his brother-in-law, and several other cases of murder. There are a few bona fide famous outlaws mentioned — the James brothers, the Apache Kid, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, as well as infamous killers like John Wesley Hardin and William Quantrill. A few of the less well-known characters are pretty interesting too — Old Tom Starr and Dart Isom, for example. But all too many seem to have been selected for their evocative nicknames rather than their deeds: “Bad Eye” Santamarrazo’s crime was trying to poison a miner, and “Rattlesnake Dick” Barter murdered and dismembered an eccentric old man in order to take over his farm; in both cases these were the only crimes the subjects committed. Worse, a lot of them seem to be included simply because the writers found a lot of details about their trials and executions, which make for pretty uninteresting reading when the criminals were spectacularly inept. So it’s really a very mixed bag, some of it entertaining and some it boring.

I’m not sure what I was expecting, exactly; maybe tales of men who were “badass” by some standard other than simply being killers. Really the vast majority of the people profiled sound like sociopaths and bullies. Most of the killings are ambushes or surprise attacks on unarmed men. I know that this is the reality of most crime generally and most of the killings in the Old West. I guess I was hoping they would be enough true stories where a gunslinger did something that actually was “badass” to fill a book. You know, stuff like this. Evidently not. I know, I know. Most of the people from history who we think of as “badasses” were actually sociopaths and bullies. The “most badass” warrior cultures — Vikings, Romans, Spartans, samurai, knights — were basically sociopaths and bullies who won more by surprise, material wealth, and ruthlessness than courage or toughness. That’s pretty much how human history works. Still, the Old Western idea of a tough individual dies hard, and maybe if we pretend the intent behind this collection was demythologization, it works. Except that the obviously amateur and amateurish articles don’t really address the question, and it’s more on the editor for pretending these are about badasses rather than a collection of crime stories.

I also wish the articles were signed, rather than just having a list of contributors on the copyright page, because the style and tone of the articles varies a lot. I get the impression that the publisher or editor just wanted to cash in on a great title and classic photo for the cover (a cowboy standing on the saddle of a horse and aiming straight for the camera with his gun), reprinting chapters from various “Outlaw tales of…” books in the publisher’s stable. If this is meant to be a “best of” collection, I’ll skip the books they’re excerpted from.

Published in: on February 27, 2016 at 10:44 am  Leave a Comment  
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A 7th century D&D party

A cleric, a thief, and a fighter (or possibly an assassin) set out to slay a dragon (or a “Gargouille,” depending on your source).

From Ebenezer C. Brewer’s A dictionary of miracles (1910):

“What renders the name of St. Romanus [aka St. Romain] especially memorable in all France, is his victory at Rouen over a horrible dragon, of a shape and size hitherto unknown. It was a man-eater, and also devoured much cattle, causing sad desolation. Romanus resolved to attack this monster in his lair; but as no one would assist him in such a dangerous enterprise, he took with him, as assistants, a murderer condemned to death, and a thief. The thief, being panic-struck, ran away ; but the murderer proved true steel. Romanus went to the dragon’s den, and, making the sign of the cross, walked in, and threw a net over the beast’s neck. The murderer, then taking the net in his two hands, dragged the monster through the town into the market-place, where was a huge bonfire. Into this bonfire he led the beast, there was it burnt to death, and then thrown into the Seine. All the people thanked the saint for delivering them from this pest, the murderer was set at liberty, and Romanus appointed a day of public thanksgivings. — Propre de Rouen.”

No word on the dragon’s hoard, but the murderer was pardoned for his part in slaying the dragon, and after Romanus’ death there was annual procession of his relics ending with the pardon of a convicted criminal.

A surprising number of saints took an active role in slaying or banishing dragons. A pretty good list is here.

Published in: on July 8, 2015 at 8:47 am  Comments (5)  
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Spartacusploitation

So I’ve been watching some of the Starz series Spartacus: Blood and sand (actually each season seems to have a different subtitle…).  I’m sure I’m not the first person to notice that it kind of veers between frenetic splatter-action and soft-core porn. I’ve read they intentionally emulated Zack Snyder’s 300 film in the first episode or two, and it shows. The action sequences also owe something to Tarantino’s Kill Bill — geysers of blood, a bit like old samurai films, and crazy stunts, more like the Shaw Brothers’ work, only less of it. The special effects are not always convincing but they certainly out-splatter pretty much any other film in the “peplum” genre. The sex scenes — and there is clearly a quota that each episode must meet, with four or five topless scenes for the lead actresses and full frontal nudity for at least one actor or extra — are a little off-putting, juxtaposed as they are with ultraviolence. In fact about half of the sex scenes are intentionally repulsive, and this actually works in the show’s favor. The decadence of Rome is meant to be shown in a repulsive light. Moreover, despite the exploitation levels of sex and violence, the show is not that bad. Some of the acting is quite good — John Hannah and Lucy Lawless tend to steal the show in their scenes, but the whole cast is reasonably good. The plot is melodramatic and violent, and kept my interest. It also really works as an indictment of Imperial Rome. You can’t help but hate the Romans. They are portrayed as relentlessly decadent, greedy, venial, lustful, and basically evil in every way. A show about a bloody slave revolt probably has to dehumanize the Romans some in order to make the rebels into heroes. It’s too bad the show has to get so much history wrong.

Actually it gets a fair amount of the history right, in terms of the Roman world. Rome really was very dependent on slavery (a fact that Hollywood has usually been unwilling to depict). The show emphasizes the horrors of slavery pretty well, though I’m not sure if slaves were quite so callously killed on a whim as the show suggests. The sets are convincing. The costumes of civilians and nobles are generally accurate, and military kit looks right too (hell, the Romans’ shields are oval rather than the usual later imperial rectangle we see in every movie).  The gladiators’ equipment is mostly correct too, in so far as they depict mostly depict real gladiator styles. (The axe-men I’m very dubious about — the show keeps depicting guys with a huge battle-axe like something you’d see in a video game, and they also have several gladiators fight with a pair of double-bitted axes. Granted they look awesome, but like the guy with a medieval flail in the Russell Crowe Gladiator film, it is just Hollywood being Hollywood. The hoplomachi are depicted as fighting in melee with their spears rather than casting them — that seems possible but it’s not how I usually see them depicted.)

I like the very formalized manner of speaking the nobles usually use — I’m not sure if it would really be common in private conversations but it does class up the dialogue, even with the occasional gratuitous but hilarious cursing.

The main things I think the show gets wrong, unfortunately, are pretty central to the plot. First, the show depicts Romans as being pretty shameless about sex. Every party involves live sex shows. This helps establish the ruling class as decadent. But Caligula, Tiberius, and Nero actually shocked the Romans with their orgies; the show suggests everyone in Rome was pretty much on their way to a brothel or stumbling home drunk from a party out of the movie Caligula. Yes, the Romans had a pretty open attitude about sex and fewer hang-ups than we do in the U.S., but I don’t think they were all voyeurs and exhibitionists as the show suggests. Also, while slaves could be used for sex, it was considered somewhat shameful for a free citizen to do so, while the series suggests it was normal and acceptable.

Secondly, the show depicts most gladiatorial bouts as being to the death. Historians who have studied the actual records of the Roman games have concluded that very few bouts ended with the death of a gladiator. Certainly there were times when there was massive loss of life, but those would be the “re-enactments” of battles (staged by condemned criminals) and executions by beasts or gladiators (the latter of which do figure occasionally into the show). So we see death after death in the arena and almost no defeated gladiators being given the chance to submit. I suppose that helps elevate the drama too, but the arena was terrible enough without exaggerating the lethality for gladiators. In reality the gladiators more often “fought” animals or prisoners than other gladiators, and they rarely killed other gladiators.

Now I know that most “historical” shows and movies are terribly inaccurate and I’m not someone who can’t appreciate them as drama. In fact, Spartacus does a pretty good job of creating really compelling characters. The bad guys are interesting. The good guys are interesting. The situations they find themselves in, or create, are interesting. If you can accept that this is a drama which plays up the exploitative elements, you will find this show pretty enjoyable.

 

Published in: on June 10, 2015 at 8:00 am  Comments (2)  
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The woman who would be king

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Hatshepsut was a pharaoh in Ancient Egypt. The most interesting thing about this pharaoh is that he was a woman, and despite her nephew and successor’s efforts to eradicate inscriptions and monuments relating to her rule, we know enough about her for her to be the subject of this book. Actually this book is largely composed of speculation and inference, as all of our understandings of the pharaohs must be, since the Egyptians mainly recorded accomplishments and praise, rather than any minutia about everyday life, motivation, or really the human side of the these god-kings.
The author, an archaeologist and Egyptologist, is clearly very knowledgeable about Egyptian daily life and religion, and her speculation is careful and convincing, perhaps most of all because she admits to many lacunae and areas of uncertainty. This book is a fascinating account of daily life in the royal household of ancient Egypt, and if anything goes into more detail than the casual reader can possibly digest. I eventually found myself skimming the details about ritual practice and some of the architectural projects. The author goes into a lot of disturbing detail about royal incest and the extremely sexual nature of some of the temple duties of priestesses and queens, but the intent is not to shock or titillate so much as provide a more complete picture of Hatshepsut’s world. (Still, it does make me wonder if the people who keep trying to appropriate Egypt’s legacy — Freemasons, Afrocentrists, etc. — understand what they are actually in for!) Cooney’s asides about Victorian museum curators hiding away certain ithyphallic reliefs and statues of Amon and Min due to their rudeness injected some humor. There is also a bit of gruesome detail about the prevalence of disease and parasites in ancient times, and a matter-of-fact but gory description of the embalming process, neither of which you’ll want to read while eating.

I read an uncorrected proof (through the Goodreads “first reads” giveaway), which had a few plans but lacked any illustrations. I assume the finished book must have a number of plates or details from the statues, inscriptions, and monuments to which the author constantly refers.

The author makes some great observations about the tendency for people — historians and regular folk alike — to ascribe bad motives when a woman expresses the desire to rule, but unfortunately is unable to really connect these observations to Hatshepsut specifically. From what we can tell, her rule was extremely effective, bringing wealth and prestige back to a tottering empire, and innovative in terms of reorganizing the political hierarchy to ensure loyalty to the pharaoh. She also has the distinction of seizing a throne without spilling a drop of blood, and in fairness to her and her nephew, I should point out that Thutmose III did not try to eradicate her memory entirely, but only conceal the fact that she rules not merely as regent during his toddlerhood but as full pharaoh for her entire lifetime, once she took the throne. This was not so much to destroy her legacy as to reaffirm his own legitimacy, and took place many years after her death, which Cooney interprets, quite plausibly, to mean that Hatshepsut’s rule was popular.

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I usually append some thoughts about how one might find some grist for D&D in my book reviews, but I did not find myself taking any notes while reading this book.  I would absolutely recommend this book if you intend to run a game set in a Egyptian style ancient kingdom, or if you were going to run the “Valley of the Pharaohs” game. It might also be source of ideas for a campaign involving courtly intrigue, and the intersection of religious and political power, since Hatshepsut had to work so hard to hold together her unique and unprecedented place.

 

Published in: on October 23, 2014 at 9:56 pm  Comments (1)  
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St. Guinefort of Lyons

This is what they did recently in the diocese of Lyons. When preaching there against sorcery and hearing confessions, I heard many women confess that they had carried their children to St. Guinefort. I thought he was some saint. I made inquiries and at last heard that he was a certain greyhound killed in the following way. In the diocese of Lyons, close to the vill of the nuns called Villeneuve, on the land belonging to the lord of Villars-en-Dombe, there was a certain castle whose lord had a baby son from his wife. But when the lord and lady and the nurse too had left the house, leaving the child alone in his cradle, a very large snake entered the house and made for the child’s cradle. The greyhound, who had remained there, saw this, dashed swiftly under the cradle in pursuit, knocking it over, and attacked the snake with its fangs and answering bite with bite. In the end the dog killed it and threw it far away from the child’s cradle which he left all bloodied as was his mouth and head, with the snake’s blood, and stood there by the cradle all beaten about by the snake. When the nurse came back and saw this, she thought the child had been killed and eaten by the dog and so gave out an almighty scream. The child’s mother heard this, rushed in, saw and thought the same and she too screamed. Then the knight similarly once he got there believed the same, and drawing his sword killed the dog. Only then did they approach the child and find him unharmed, sleeping sweetly in fact. On further investigation, they discovered the snake torn up by the dog’s bites and dead. Now that they had learned the truth of the matter, they were embarrassed that they had so unjustly killed a dog so useful to them and threw his body into a well in front of the castle gate, and placing over it a very large heap of stones they planted trees nearby as a memorial of the deed.

But the castle was in due course destroyed by divine will, and the land reduced to a desert abandoned by its inhabitants. The local peasants hearing of the dog’s noble deed and innocent death, began to visit the place and honor the dog as a martyr in quest of help for their sicknesses and other needs. They were seduced and often cheated by the Devil so that he might in this way lead men into error. Women especially, with sick or poorly children, carried them to the place, and went off a league to another nearby castle where an old woman could teach them a ritual for making offerings and invocations to the demons and lead them to the right spot. When they got there, they offered salt and certain other things, hung the child’s little clothes on the bramble bushes around, fixing them on the thorns. They then put the naked baby through the opening between the trunks of two trees, the mother standing on one side and throwing her child nine times to the old woman on the other side, while invoking the demons to adjure the fauns in the wood of “Rimite” to take the sick and failing child which they said belonged to them (the fauns) and return to them their own child big, plump, live and healthy. Once this was done, the killer mothers took the baby and placed it naked at the foot of the tree on the straws of a cradle, lit at both ends two candles a thumbsbreadth thick with fire they had brought with them and fastened them on the trunk above. Then, while the candles were consumed, they went far enough away that they could neither hear nor see the child. In this way the burning candles burned up and killed a number of babies, as we have heard from others in the same place.

One woman told me that after she had invoked the fauns and left, she saw a wolf leaving the wood and going to the child and the wolf (or the devil in wolf’s form, so she said) would have devoured it had she not been moved by her maternal feelings and prevented it. On the other hand, if when they returned they found the child alive, they picked it up and carried it to a swiftly flowing river nearby, called the Chalaronne [tributary of the Saône], and immersed it nine times, to the point where if it escaped dying on the spot or soon after, it must have had very tough innards.

We went to the place and assembled the people and preached against the practice. We then had the dead dog dug up and the grove of trees cut down and burned along with the dog’s bones. Then we had an edict enacted by the lords of the land threatening the spoliation and fining of any people who gathered there for such a purpose in future. —  De Supersticione, Stephen de Bourbon

It’s probably worth noting that the legend of St. Guinefort, like so many saints, grew out of older folklore. There is a pretty solid disentangling of the story at Lapham’s Quarterly. Basically, the ‘faithful hound’ story (which has Welsh, Indian, and other versions) was apparently incorporated into the story of an actual saint, and garbled together.  The healing ritual described by de Bourbon is itself probably a sensationalized version of an older pagan ritual, as de Bourbon was a sort of inquisitor, rooting out heresy.  So there is probably a “real” saint somewhere … filtered through folklore, superstition, and an inquisitor’s penchant for finding the Devil behind things.

As far as I can tell there were not a lot of animals revered as saints. In fact the only other case I can think of is St. Christopher, who was often depicted as dog-headed (but ultimately still human).

The hagiographies of many human saints involve many animal-related miracles, such as animals raised from the dead or healed, animal companions, and extraordinary encounters with helpful wild animals.  For example several Irish saints resurrect animals like geese during their lives, and a number of English saints, working posthumously through their shrines, raised cattle and horses from the dead. Other saints speak with animals, are given warnings by birds, or are offered protection by wild animals.

Published in: on August 18, 2014 at 11:17 am  Leave a Comment  
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