Madrid is a walkable town. Most of the city’s interesting barrios are clustered close together, and even if you have to take a quick trip on the bus or Metro, you’ll find that each barrio has all you need within an easy stroll. That makes Madrid feel a lot smaller than it is, because you can shop, dine, drink, work, and go to school all in the same barrio.
Several tour companies offer interesting walking tours of the city, focusing on Madrid’s history, nightlife, or culture. The latest addition is The Making of Madrid, which specializes in history. I recently took a tour of the working class barrio of Lavapiés, known for its left-leaning politics and large immigrant community.
Last week I looked at the new exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, Spellbound: Magic, Ritual & Witchcraft. It’s such a compelling collection of folk magic through the ages that I wanted to look a bit more in detail at a few of the magic books that were included in the exhibition, along with some of the art that belief in witchcraft inspired in pre-modern times.
In last week’s post about Zaprice Castle, Slovenia, we looked at a well-preserved Renaissance fortification protecting the important crossroads of Kamnik. Two earlier castles can also be visited in this town, is an easy day trip from the capital Ljubljana.
Mali Grad (“Little Castle”) is an obvious landmark visible from most of Kamnik. It’s situated atop a small hill overlooking the town. All that remains today is a reconstructed tower, a few foundations of walls, and a medieval chapel.
Mali Grad is first mentioned in 1202 but dates to perhaps a generation or two before then.
Yes, I just shared a painting of a goat pooping out gold on Black Gate. That’s OK because it’s, you know, art.
This is hanging on my brother-in-law’s wall here in Madrid. It belonged to my late father-in-law, Paco Piñuela, a prominent artist in the Seventies and Eighties. When he wasn’t painting, he was rummaging through Madrid’s great antiques/flea market, the Rastro. Thus we ended up with lots of random things in the family, including this odd piece.
I had never heard of a gold-pooping goat, and besides the date on the panel there’s no other information about this piece. So I decided to Google “gold pooping goat” and see what I got. I like to live dangerously.
Happy Halloween! Well, it was yesterday or today or tomorrow depending on where you’re from. Anyway, it’s time to see something freaky. This is a traditional Irish Jack-o’-Lantern made from a turnip. Turnips and beets were the popular plants to make Jack-o’-Lanterns out of before pumpkins became available in European supermarkets.
This nineteenth century example is from the Museum of Country Life in Turlough Village, County Mayo, Ireland. The Irish say they got the tradition of Jack-o’-Lanterns because of the deeds of a certain blacksmith named Jack. He managed to trap the Devil through some means (stories vary from fooling him into turning into a coin or climbing a tree and then trapping him with a cross) and in return for freeing him, got the Devil to promise not to put him in Hell.
Once Jack died, Heaven refused to take him and Hell couldn’t take him either, so now he walks the Earth in a Purgatory of his own making. The Devil gave him a bit of a fire in a turnip to help him light his way at night. He’s been called Jack of the Lantern, or Jack-o’-Lantern, ever since.
For many of us, the Celts are an enduring fascination. Their art, their mysterious culture, and the perception that so many of us are descended from them makes the Celts one of the most popular ancient societies. So it’s surprising that the British Museum hasn’t had a major Celtic exhibition for forty years.
That’s changed with Celts: Art and Identity, a huge collection of artifacts from across the Celtic world and many works of art from the modern Celtic Revival. The exhibition is at pains to make clear that the name ‘Celts’ doesn’t refer to a single people who can be traced through time, and it has been appropriated over the last 300 years to reflect modern identities in Britain, Ireland, and elsewhere. “Celtic” is an artistic and cultural term, not a racial one.
The first thing visitors see is a quote by some guy named J.R.R. Tolkien, who wrote in 1963, “To many, perhaps most people. . .’Celtic’ of any sort is. . .a magic bag into which anything may be put, and out of which almost anything may come. . .anything is possible in the fabulous Celtic twilight.”
Oxford is one of the most popular day trips for visitors to London thanks to its beautiful university and world-class museums such as the Ashmolean and Pitt-Rivers. It’s also worth staying overnight so that you can take advantage to the surrounding area, which offers some pleasant country walks.
One of the more enjoyable is a two-mile stroll along the Thames (locally called the Isis) that takes you to the hamlet of Binsey and the medieval church of St. Margaret’s. Set amid trees in the peaceful English countryside, the church makes for a relaxing stop and you can visit an Anglo-Saxon holy well that’s been an object of pilgrimage for centuries.
Are your cows dying? Do your chickens no longer lay eggs? Are you suffering from gout, shingles, or a really bad case of the clap? Do you suspect a witch might have it in for you?
Never fear, for now you can piss your troubles away with the witch bottle! Put your urine and a few other knick knacks into a jug, and that troublesome witch will go curse someone else’s farm. Or better yet, die.
Witch bottles were one of the many articles of folk magic used in England in the early modern period. Like with all folk practices, the details varied widely while retaining some basic similarities. A victim of the witch, or a special witch hunter, would fill a bottle with the victim’s urine. Other articles might be added such as bent nails or pins, thorns, hair, fingernail clippings, and bits of naval fluff. The bottle was then carefully stoppered.