Category Archives: Magic and Alchemy

Love Magic in 18th century Russia: a Search for Passion in Russian History

Elena Smilianskaia

'For a Love Potion' M. V. Nesterov (1888) (www.artcontext.info)
‘For a Love Potion’
M. V. Nesterov (1888)
(www.artcontext.info)

Love magic has existed in human history from the very start, and it continues to exist today – the Recipes Project has already featured some fifteenth-century English love spells. It is not very difficult to find a person who guarantees a client ‘true’ love potions and very effective love spells in any city of the world. The texts that ancient and contemporary magicians use in their ‘craft’ have a lot of commonalities, including:

  • A desire that a love object looks at you and will ‘never tire of looking’
  • A desire that a love object forgets all his/or her relatives, primarily a father and a mother, and thinks only about you
  • A desire that a love object can neither eat nor drink in his/her love fever
  • A love fever being compared with madness, or with fire.
  •  

    So if we state that all of these concepts from love spells are the same for different cultures and historical periods, then we must conclude that human expressions of love passion do not dramatically change over time and it is hardly possible to find a specific transition in the sphere of love. Alternatively, we must try to compare cases of using magic in love and verbal descriptions of love feelings for each concrete period and specific culture to prove that we can talk about the transformation and the evolution of love spells (although very slowly and primarily in the external sphere, in ‘the clothes of love’). I prefer the second way.

    In eighteenth-century Russian magic texts a person who has fallen in love can find not only a description of their extreme feelings but a hope that magic would either help to overcome this ‘sinful passion’ or to make the object of their passion share a love. It also helped to comprehend why one’s affection so influenced human life and behavior.

    There are cases in which an individual was sure that love magic was definitely the origin of an otherwise inexplicable passion: one example that I like very much comes from 1740, when a peasant named Vasiliy Gerasimov at last understood why his daughter lived with a church sexton Maxim Dyakonov: he found Maxim’s love spells. By 1740, Vasiliy’s daughter had already had two babies with Maxim, but only a sheet of paper with the text of a love spell explained everything…

    'The Sorcerer at the Wedding' V. M. Maksimov (1875) (WikiCommons)
    ‘The Sorcerer at the Wedding’
    V. M. Maksimov (1875)
    (WikiCommons)

    It is also notable that very often love itself was considered to be an illness and was cured the same way: not only by a witch or a sorcerer, but by an ordinary healer. It was also thought that love spells might cause diseases in a human body (there are some court cases mentioning that a woman under the effect of love magic ‘swelled up’ and suffered from physical pain and only counter-magic rituals could help her).  In a lot of situations when a woman became a klikusha (a kind of witch), the community was convinced that somebody (a man of course!) had wanted to bewitch the woman, making her unable to resist passion and evil intentions.

    Magic was always suspected when feelings were out of control. For example, when in 1737 a servant-maid named Ustinya Grigorieva fell in love with a soldier, she considered her ‘great pangs’ of melancholy to be magical in origin. In her testimony during the trial she described her actions.  She reported that she had thought: ‘this soldier or somebody else has bewitched her?’  and so she went to the sorcerer Masey who read a spell over wine, put an unknown root into it and gave the wine to Ustinya to drink – and… she became free of her love pangs and the feeling of love itself.

    Condemned by the Orthodox Church, passion and erotic love in traditional Russian culture were considered for a very long time to be sinful, demonic, and therefore connected with magic. But in eighteenth-century Russia, magic provided a way for people to comprehend the origins of passion, and its influence on human behavior, as well as the means to control that behaviour.

    This post is the sixth and final in this month’s series of posts on Russian recipes. Previous posts have introduced early modern Russia, told us how to feed our servants, how to get over hangovers, how to heal foreigners, and how to cook in the Urals.

    Exploring CPP 10a214: Lady Honywood, Continued; or On E. Layfield’s Gout

    By Rebecca Laroche with Hillary Nunn

    In my entry in April, I introduced a medical practitioner, Lady Honywood, who had recipes attributed to her in The College of Physicians of Philadelphia manuscript owned by Anne Layfield.  Lady Honywood’s reputation as a devout nonconformist and medical practitioner have been recorded in the diary of Ralph Josselin. Her recipes appearing in another recipe book not only give us more evidence of her practice, but also reveal something new about the Layfield manuscript.

    Three recipes attributed to Lady Honywood appear in the 1680 manuscript compiled by Johanna St. John, which has been discussed at length in a previous post by Elaine Leong.  These recipes are scattered throughout the St. John manuscript and are treatments for three very different conditions.  The initial Honywood attribution, which appears early on in the manuscript, is an “admirable thing for a cancer.”  This was the second time that Johanna St. John had recorded a recipe for cancer on that page – the first being attributed to a Lady Temple:

     
    Honywood recipe in St John copy
    Wellcome MS 4338, digital image 0010.

    As the two recipes that frame these are for the sore breast, the implicit location of this canker is on the breast as well.

    The next lies amongst a series of cough medicines, “For the Cough of the Lungs, / which has cured thos that have died one gene / ration after another”:

    Wellcome MS 4338 digital Image 0068
    Wellcome MS 4338, digital image 0068

    The recipe record, while short, gives testimony not only to the recipes efficacy, but also to Lady Honywood’s acumen.  She, after all, has cured a disease that had been plaguing a family for decades.  The final recipe bears full transcription because so brief and carries a tinge of magical thinking (see posts by Laura Mitchell on this site),  “Lady Honywood to prevent miscarying,” which reads simply “A dryed Toad & hang it about the wast.”  [1]

    In isolation, these three Honywood recipes are of a piece with many we have seen:  two medical practitioners exchange their knowledge, and one, under different topics, has organized that knowledge along with others she has gleaned.  When we put these recipes next to the Layfield manuscript, however, we gain new insight into how and why the Layfield recipes were collected.

    The Honywood recipes in the Layfield manuscript are not the same as those that are found in the St. John recipes.  As a reminder, the first two of the three Honywood recipes collected by E. Layfield were for the gout, the second for the King’s evil.  While E. Layfield and his wife Anne may have practiced medicine among their acquaintances, this document begins to reveal itself as a more local document, as gout seems to be one of its central concerns.  While only four recipes address gout in the Downing half of the manuscript, and then often amongst a list of other ailments, seven recipes are listed specifically for gout in the smaller Layfield section, and one of these (within three pages of the Honywood recipes), “An excellent Receite for the Goute, to giue ease,” ends with this attribution and testimony: “Master Rob. Wingfeld gaue it me with / much adoe, & great intreaty, at  / Sir Rich. Wingfelds at Easton / Its singular good, I haue tryed it.”[2]

    Who the Wingfelds were and where they lived are subjects for further research and another post, but what we can tell from this entry and the collection of Honywood recipes is that the compiler E. Layfield suffered from gout himself, and he asked for recipes from members of his circle for some insight toward relief.

    [1] Wellcome MS 4338, fol. 206.

    [2] The Historical  Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, MS 10a214, fol. 224.

    Introduction: “Russian Recipes” at the July Recipes Project

    By Clare Griffin

    Dear Readers of the Recipes Project Blog,

    Earlier this year I was asked to put together a series of posts on Russian Recipes. But how to introduce the posts to help non-Russianists grasp them? Through all the organising and writing of this ‘special edition’ of the Recipes Project, this has remained the hardest thing to pin down. What, fundamentally, were the central aspects of early modern Russia, and how to do them justice in one introduction?

    My solution is the following brief travel guide for the curious visitor to Russia c. 1690. Hopefully this will provide a useful introduction as you peruse our featured posts on “Russian Recipes” this month.

    L0004274 Map of Russia lent by Dr. Schuster.
    Russia in the Early Modern Period
    (Wellcome Images)

    Location:                                         

    Although having its roots in the early Medieval princedom of Kiev, by the early modern period Russia meant a tsardom centred on the more northerly Moscow, hence its other early modern name, Muscovy, although there was a large and growing empire far to the east of that city. Travellers arriving after 1703 would be more likely to head to the new capital of St Petersburg, modestly named after the reforming Tsar Peter the Great.

    800px-Russian_Empire_1745_General_Map_(HQ)
    The Russian Empire, 1745
    (Wiki Images)

    Laws:

    Staying within the bounds of local law is key to any successful journey, and early modern visitors to Muscovy had to bear some important points in mind. Movement across the borders and within the country was strictly controlled, and documentation was necessary to avoid arrest. If you were caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, you had to take care not to have roots or herbs on your person, as those could be cause for accusations of witchcraft.  Although there were many foreigners in Muscovy, interaction between them was not always encouraged; if you were a foreign visitor, Russian servants would not stay in your house overnight, as you were considered to be a heretic, and excessive contact with you was thought to be dangerous.

    The Population:
    The Russian population was distinguished in several ways. In terms of dress, Muscovites wore traditional clothes; as a visitor, you would have stood out!

    Bojaren
    Russian Noblemen
    (Wiki Images)

    Russians rarely knew foreign languages, although this was changing throughout the early modern period, as increasing numbers of “boyars” – as Russian nobles are called – kept collections of foreign books alongside other exotic foreign objects such as clocks.

    Russia was not as culturally homogenous as you might think. Several courtly families came from outside the Moscow lands, including from Kazan’ and from the Georgian royal family. Outside of the court, the atmosphere was even more mixed, as the empire encompassed various races, nations, languages and religions, who were mostly left to their own devices, provided they paid their taxes on time.

    There was also a thriving foreign community in Moscow, with merchant strongholds in Kholmogory and Archangel, the most important port. These communities dated back to the 1550s, when English merchants accidently found the northern coast of Russia while searching for China. Although the English were dominant for some decades, the Dutch and the Germans also had a significant presence in Moscow, where they had their own churches and community activities. Some people even put on amateur performances of Western European plays in their own homes.

    Sight-seeing:
    There were many wonderful sights in early modern Russia.

    Ushakov's Archangel Michael and the Devil
    Ushakov’s Archangel Michael and the Devil, 1676
    (Wiki Images)

    Early modern Russia was a very religious society, and churches played a large role in Russian life.  Services could go on for several hours. Churches and monasteries were also used in religio-political ceremonies, such as when the Tsar paraded through the streets of Moscow. Icons were similarly important. If you were an early modern visitor to Russia, you might be lucky enough to see the work of the great seventeenth-century Russian icon painter, Semyon Ushakov.

    If you ventured outside of Moscow, you could have visited many wonderful sights in the early modern Russian Empire. To the East and South, you could have travelled to the towns of Kazan’ and Astrakhan, both former khanates but a part of the empire since the sixteenth century. You might even have gone on to distant Siberia!  Although partly used to exile prisoners, Siberia was also valued for its wildlife.  Siberian furs fetched high prices in Western Europe.

    We hope you enjoy your visit to early modern Russia!

    Posts in the series: 

    What to Feed the Servants in Sixteenth-Century Russiaby Carolyn Pouncey

    A Medieval Russian Hangover Cure, by Darra Goldstein

    How to Heal a Foreigner in Early Modern Russia, by Clare Griffin

    A Modern Culinary Manuscript from Russia’s Ural Mountains, by Aleksandra Ippolitova

    Love Magic in 18th century Russia: a Search for Passion in Russian History, by Elena Smilianskaia

    Recipes against the Supernatural

    By Catherine Rider

    I’ve been thinking recently about a kind of recipe I’ve been collecting for some time, with an eye to using them in a future project: recipes that protect against evil spirits and other supernatural entities. These take the form of charms, made up of spoken and written words, rather than more conventional mixtures of plants or animal parts.  As Laura Mitchell has noted before on this blog, many medieval recipe collections (such as the one in the Wellcome Library pictured below) include charms alongside other remedies.

    L0013901 Charm to staunch blood, 15-16th century
    Charm to staunch blood, 15-16th century. Wellcome Library MS 406. Image Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

    Research by Lea Olsan, Eamon Duffy and other scholars has shown that although some medieval physicians and churchmen were uncomfortable with charms, most writers accepted them as legitimate cures for certain kinds of illness, including bleeding, toothache and epilepsy. They were also often regarded as a mainstream part of religious devotion.[1] Charms to ward off demons are not very common – nowhere near as common as charms against toothache or bleeding – but I’ve found several examples in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century recipe manuscripts.

    The version given, in Latin, in a fourteenth-century recipe manuscript published by Fritz Heinrich begins ‘In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen,’ and goes on to list a series of saints and other objects of devotion commonly appealed to in late medieval prayers: Virgin Mary, the four evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), the Cross and the Passion, and the Five Wounds of Christ. This prayer is to be written down and God is implored to protect the person who wears these words when they are ‘sleeping, waking, drinking, eating, and especially dreaming’, ‘from every malign demon and every malign spirit and the instigations of the devil.’[2]

    This charm, and others like it, are raising quite a few questions for me:

    • Bishop exorcising possessed men, 15th century. Image credit: Wellcome Library, London.
      Bishop exorcising possessed men, 15th century. Image credit: Wellcome Library, London.

      They’re not that common.  Does that mean that demonic assault was not regarded as a common condition?  We do find accounts of ‘possessed’ people in the miracle collections kept by saints’ shrines, so clearly the idea of demonic attack was not unknown.  However, these cases may have been notable because they were unusual, not necessarily because they were common.

    • What symptoms or conditions were attached to this charm?  The reference to sleeping and ‘especially dreaming’ suggests bad or troubling dreams, rather than an illness. Another possibility is the medical condition which medieval physicians called ‘incubus’, in which a person feels a presence pushing down on them in their sleep.[3]  It is usually equated by historians with the condition now called sleep paralysis.  Educated medieval physicians generally argued that this condition had physical rather than supernatural causes, but they also noted that ‘some people’ believed demons were behind it.
    • There are also questions about continuity and change over the longer term.  Do we get more of these charms from the sixteenth century onwards, when we see rising concerns about witchcraft and more intellectuals taking an interest in demons and demonic illnesses? We know that magical illnesses continued to be a concern and Jennifer Evans discussed some early modern remedies for them in 2012 in a column for the Societas Magica newsletter.Also, what happens to this kind of medieval charm after the Reformation?  Did it appear too Catholic with its saints and Latin?  Were there Protestant equivalents?  Or did it continue to be copied despite its old-fashioned elements?
    • Was this charm used? And, if so, how? It would need someone who could write it down, and ideally someone who was familiar with Latin. By the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, that could include some medical practitioners and educated laypeople, but clergy also owned manuscripts of medical recipes and might be best placed to use this kind of charm.

    I don’t have the answers to these questions yet, but in the long term I’d like to build the charms in to a larger project on supernatural illnesses in medieval medicine and I’m hoping that small pieces of evidence like these might eventually start to offer a bigger picture.


    [1] See for example Lea Olsan, ‘Charms and Prayers in Medieval Medical Theory and Practice’, Social History of Medicine 16 (2003), pp. 343-66 (on medical writers); Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580 (New Haven, CT, 1992), ch. 8 (on charms and religion).

    [2] Fritz Heinrich (ed.) Ein Mittelenglisches Medizinbuch (Halle, 1896), p. 166.

    [3] Maaike van der Lugt, “The Incubus in Scholastic Debate: Medicine, Theology and Popular Belief,” in Religion and Medicine in the Middle Ages, ed. Peter Biller and Joseph Ziegler (Woodbridge, 2001), pp. 175-200.