The Artifacts & Hilda Bewildered Now Available On Steam

The Artifacts man walking over the mountains

We are looking forward to offering our products to readers who don’t have access to the walled garden of Apple. The Artifacts is now available on Steam.

Steam is a digital distribution platform for purchasing and playing video games. But we are going to put interactive picture books on there. On Steam they are called visual novels.

We have now released Hilda Bewildered.

Next job, Midnight Feast.

Watch this space.

Taking The Veil by Katherine Mansfield

The Vale of Rest 1858-9 Sir John Everett Millais, Bt 1829-1896

Taking The Veil” is a short story by Katherine Mansfield, published in her collection The Dove’s Nest. Our main character Edna should be feeling great right now. She’s eighteen, she’s beautiful and she’s in love. One slight problem. She is about to become a Bride of Christ, also known as taking the veil. (Or so we think from the title!)

Mansfield was expert at varying emotional valence from scene to scene on the page, and “Taking The Veil” is an excellent example. Check out “The Swing of the Pendulum“, “The Singing Lesson“ and “Bliss” for others.

WHAT HAPPENS IN “TAKING THE VEIL”

What outwardly happens: A young woman called Edna walks from the library to the cathedral holding a black book. She sits in the garden and overhears the choir practising. The main story takes place inside her head. The outward story is underwhelming so, in order to work, the story inside her head is melodramatic. In this parallel ‘head story’, Edna even dies from an illness after rescuing a small animal.

Whether Edna’s fantasy happens in the veridical world of the story, or whether it happens only inside Edna’s mind, for storytelling purposes it doesn’t matter.

That is a useful takeaway point for writers when crafting highly imaginative characters like Edna, who looks to the rest of the world like a staid young conservative Catholic girl on the brink of marriage, but who on the inside is absolutely roiling.

ESCAPE INTO IMAGINATION

Perhaps “Taking The Veil” came about because the unconventional ‘remittance woman’ Katherine Mansfield, the writer, wondered if even her staid, gender-conforming counterparts also experienced ‘break-free’ fantasies. For a conventional girl, what might a break-free fantasy have looked like? We have an example in Edna. Ironically, comically, Edna’s idea of breaking free is to join a nunnery.

The story structure is similar to a carnivalesque children’s story such as Cat In The Hat or The Tiger Who Came To Tea. A character goes about their regular mundane life but an imagination (or imaginative) character appears out of nowhere. Our main character has fun living a completely different life.

The story ends with a return to safety and to the mundane realities of the real world. (It’s basically a home-away-home structure.) In picture books for toddlers, the aim of these stories is simply to have fun. But in a lyrical short story such as this one, the main character escapes her mundane life via a fantasy, and by doing so she does learn something. In this case, Edna will reminds herself of her love for her fiancé. I argue below that this is not an epiphany, per se. Edna is not a self-aware character, and experiences no true self-revelation. But the melodrama does become increasingly melodramatic until she feels quite downcast, at which point she snaps out of her diverting fantasy.

MANSFIELD AND CATHOLICISM

Unlike her fictional creation of Edna, Katherine Mansfield herself was not a product of a Catholic educational system. She attended Wellington Girls’ High School, a New Zealand public school. But Mansfield was no doubt surrounded by Catholicism later, especially when she lived in France.

The French literary movement at the beginning of the 20th century was hugely influenced by Catholicism. This return to Catholic ideas was a reaction against the Positivism, Naturalism and materialism of the 19th century. Ironically, many right-wing, Catholic, French literary critics were reacting against Modernism at the time but loved the stories of Katherine Mansfield. This is ironic because Mansfield was later regarded as an author working at the vanguard of Modernism (which they said they despised). For more on that see Katherine Mansfield: The view from France by Gerri Kimber.

Katherine Mansfield was in essence a queer leftie. If she’d lived in our time she’d have had her septum pierced and would be sporting sleeve tattoos of carnations and birds. “Taking The Veil” isn’t a story about the Catholic tradition of becoming a nun. Nor does it make use of Catholic symbolism (unlike, say, horror from the West which is full of it). Mansfield wasn’t able to view Catholicism from the inside, and neither can I.

STORY WORLD OF “TAKING THE VEIL”

Instead, Mansfield is exploring the tumultuous feelings of being young and in love, falling in lust in an instant, but also being afraid of matrimony and sex. Mansfield juxtaposes temporary sparks of lust against the long-term, safe kind of love, and explores how a young Catholic woman might tame these emotions into something acceptable, something safe to show to the world. In order to explore these ideas in fiction, the context of a restrictive Catholic tradition comes in handy.

The story opens on a beautiful, utopian day.

IT seemed impossible that anyone should be unhappy on such a beautiful morning. Nobody was, decided Edna, except herself. The windows were flung wide in the houses. From within there came the sound of pianos, little hands chased after each other and ran away from each other, practising scales. The trees fluttered in the sunny gardens, all bright with spring flowers. Street boys whistled, a little dog barked; people passed by, walking so lightly, so swiftly, they looked as though they wanted to break into a run. Now she actually saw in the distance a parasol, peach-coloured, the first parasol of the year.

How does Edna really feel?

Edna’s positive view of her environs even as she (ostensibly) feels like crap must be a close cousin to pathetic fallacy, in which a character’s environs afford insight into their internal state. Is Edna really all that miserable? I don’t reckon. Here’s the clue:

Perhaps Edna did not look quite as unhappy as she felt.

Inversely, perhaps Edna did not feel quite as unhappy as she looked. At any rate, Mansfield is telegraphing that this character is not as she appears. I put it to you that Edna’s world looks great because Edna feels great. (Later in the story it becomes clear that Edna takes a Gothy delight in her own melancholy.)

Today Edna is playing a role. She’s trying ‘nun’ on for size, probably inspired by the book she’s got out of the library. And how are nuns supposed to act? The archetypal nun emanates a staid, steady, calming presence. This may give an overall impression of sadness. Our cultural notion of nuns is key here. Despite a century between Mansfield and the contemporary reader, my expectations of ‘proper nun comportment’ are no doubt shared by Edna. We all make use of pop cultural stereotypes and scripts. When Edna tries ‘nun’ on for size, she is also trying on ‘sadness’.

At the story’s opening, I suspect any negative feelings derive from Edna’s nervousness at the prospect of married life. Perhaps this is a story about the Fear of Engulfment.

Fear of Engulfment is the specific female fear of being impregnated and then having to give birth, over and over and over, perhaps until the day you die. It’s easy for many womb-owners to forget the extent of this ancient fear now, but until recently this state of being was reality for any sexually active heterosexual cis women. Fairy tales such as “The Frog Princess” are said to be about the Fear of Engulfment.

Of Katherine Mansfield’s short stories, “Psychology” is a good example of a character’s fear of engulfment. The main character in “Psychology” has her own way of enjoying a sex life without penetrative sex. Edna’s way is similar — she enjoys the platonic company of a safe man (in this case her fiancé) while enjoying a fuller sex life in her head.

STORY STRUCTURE OF “TAKING THE VEIL”

WEAKNESS/NEED/PROBLEM

Edna is at an age where she’s inclined to fall in lust easily, and now she has to do something with those massive feelings.

To an outsider, Edna doesn’t have many problems. She’s in the prime of her life. She has plenty of body confidence. She knows she’s beautiful. She’s engaged to be married to her childhood best friend. She’s clearly upper middle class. We know this from mention of a nurse (ie. nanny).

Edna’s Imaginary Audience

At first the following paragraph reads like a wise statement offered via an unseen narrator, but after the description of her book, when we are firmly inside Edna’s head, we realise this entire passage describes how Edna perceives her own self:

Perhaps even Edna did not look quite as unhappy as she felt. It is not easy to look tragic at eighteen, when you are extremely pretty, with the cheeks and lips and shining eyes of perfect health. Above all, when you are wearing a French blue frock and your new spring hat trimmed with cornflowers. True, she carried under her arm a book bound in horrid black leather. Perhaps the book provided a gloomy note, but only by accident; it was the ordinary Library binding. For Edna had made going to the Library an excuse for getting out of the house to think, to realise what had happened, to decide somehow what was to be done now.

This paragraph shows that, in common with other young adult characters across Mansfield’s short stories, Edna views herself through the lens of an Imaginary Audience, constantly perceiving herself as if from another’s point of view. This is common in the years between adolescence and young adulthood, when we’re checking ourselves in shop windows, entering crowded rooms with excruciating levels of self-consciousness, wondering how we are perceived, wondering if we’re acceptable.

Some commentators pinpoint this as a feature of narcissism, but narcissism is quite different. Imaginary audience ‘syndrome’ (not a syndrome) is more to do with navigating the world in a newly adult body, and the lack of confidence that naturally attends lack of life experience. Until we’ve worked out who we are, we’re more inclined to reflect off others, using other people as our mirrors.

The problem with perceiving yourself from another’s point of view: When it becomes habit, you become disconnected from your body. Peggy Orenstein wrote extensively about this in her book Girls & Sex. (Here’s no coincidence: Peggy Orenstein wrote her BA dissertation on Katherine Mansfield in 1983.) Girls and women are highly sexualised, valued for appearance over all else. When this becomes internalised, women across a culture can lose touch with what they really want, and who they really desire.

So I consider Edna’s imagined audience and disassociated view of herself highly problematic for Edna.

DESIRE

Because she is so dissociated, Edna doesn’t know what she wants, who she wants or what constitutes enduring feelings. (This does change at the end.) It’s up to us to understand Edna’s stage in life and what she wants. How is this achieved? Via narration. If we don’t interpret the irony (Mansfield’s main ironic delivery method) we’re not going to understand Edna.

NARRATIVE IRONY

If we take a look at Mansfield’s other work, we know she was an expert with narrative irony: a writing technique in which a character presents the reader with a ‘fact’ or statement that isn’t true within the world of the story. Key point: there’s no narrator winking at the reader signalling that we are not to take the judgement at face value. Questioning everything is the responsibility of the reader. This is in line with the literary Impressionist view that there is no such thing as the real truth anyhow.

Everything we know about Edna is a deduction based on very little by way of backstory. Mansfield preferred to simply present readers with a situation almost as if the characters have been birthed for the purposes of the story at hand. In other words, her characters are presented in statu nascendi. In “Taking The Veil”, where backstory occurs, it only takes us back in time as far as the play, in which Edna falls in lust with the actor. We get a few snippets of conversation from the time Edna tried to break up with Jimmy but we don’t know when that happend. The dialogue remains suspended in space-time.

At the story’s opening, Mansfield has decided to trick readers into ‘knowing’ this about Edna:

  1. Edna is about to become a nun. (A deliberately tricky title!)
  2. Edna is in love with a flesh and blood boy.
  3. Edna has very recently fallen ‘in love with’ a stage actor.
EDNA’S SEXUAL ORIENTATION

When analysing characters in a text, commentators are inclined to assume everyone is sexual. We are also inclined to assume that if we love someone romantically then we must, at some point, want to have sex with that person.

Here’s where my reading of Edna becomes very modern, and although Mansfield was ahead of her time, she didn’t have access to our modern terminology. I wonder if Mansfield meant to put Edna somewhere on the asexual spectrum, specifically at the aegosexual part of it. (This is a new word and there are other terms which may eventually replace this one.)

In short, aegosexuality is an orientation (inasmuch as straight/gay/bi are also orientations) in which someone isn’t interested in participating in sex acts with other people, but will think and fantasise about it. An aegosexual individual will fall romantically in love as easily as an allosexual (non-asexual) individual . The object of affection may be someone they know from real life, or might be a celebrity or a fictional character.

For more on this orientation, Radio New Zealand’s Bang! podcast features an interview with someone in her thirties who identifies as aegosexual.

For me it’s a lack of interest in anything physical, but the fantasy or conceptual element is there.

Rosie, interviewed on RNZ’s Bang! podcast

Alternatively, Edna may simply be a product of her ultra-conservative times, yet to experience her ‘sexual awakening’. I suspect this is the dominant interpretation ie. Once Edna gets married and learns to share sex with her husband, she’s going to be just fine.

OPPONENT

Any love story requires a romantic opponent. At first glance that’d be the boy Edna has known her whole life. Edna’s in love with Jimmy, but in a comfortable, queer-platonic way. Even his ‘smooth-feeling handkerchief’ is comforting. This isn’t going to provide much drama for the purposes of a short story, though we do get a glimpse into the time Edna tried to break up with him. This story isn’t about Edna’s conflict with Jimmy. This is about Edna’s psychology which led to the temporary break up with Jimmy. The human oppositional aspect is very much backgrounded.

So what of the psychology? Why is Edna wrestling with herself? Supporting my own theory of aegosexuality, if Edna were a straight allo-girl wouldn’t she just marry Jimmy? The conflict and drama of this story is all inside Edna’s head. Clearly, societal expectations don’t line up with how Edna feels on the inside.

As object of her romantic fantasies, Edna fixes (for now) upon the unavailable, purely hypothetical actor she saw at the theatre the other night. We learn via Edna’s free indirect speech that she’d drop Jimmy in a heartbeat if the actor were to show any interest in her. But again, we are not supposed to trust Edna’s narrative about herself. She describes a fleeting feeling rather than a real possibility. The actor is unavailable because he and Edna are separated by a stage. Moreover, he plays a blind man, implying another barrier between them forever. Edna regards him as his an entirely fictional character, not as a flesh and blood actor. If “Taking The Veil” were a modern story, Edna might have seen him on TV and fell equally in lust.

Later in the story we learn we were right to suspect a disconnect between Edna’s fantasies and Edna’s real world spectrum of possible actions:

The man she was in love with, the famous actor—Edna had far too much common-sense not to realise that would never be. 

Chocolate has a long association with lust, which explains why Mansfield (melo-)dramatised the very small act of Edna taking a chocolate almond from a box. In storytelling and in pop narrative (especially around pop cultural ideas about premenstrual pain) chocolate is often considered a sex substitute, as well as an aphrodisiac. This makes me wonder how long chocolate has been thought of in this way. How did Katherine Mansfield think of chocolate?

PLAN

What might you do if you were a beautiful, Catholic, 18-year-old woman who loves being in love but doesn’t ever want to have sex?

Joining the convent looks like a pretty good option, right? Even more so in an era when getting married was one of the very few routes to financial security for women, who were universally expected to get married and have babies. Becoming a nun and living in genteel poverty was one of the few socially sanctioned non-marriage options for Catholic girls.

BATTLE

The whole entire narrative is an inner battle but what’s the climax of it?

The moment Edna decided to join a convent seems impetuous on her part, coming about purely because Edna happened to be sitting in the garden of a cathedral. In stories, self-revelations must follow battles (yeah, it’s a rule) and Katherine Mansfield uses a few snippets from the break-up conversation she and Jimmy must have had at some point:

” But, Edna! ” cried Jimmy. ” Can you never change ? Can I never hope again? ‘:

Oh, what sorrow to have to say it, but it must be said. ” No, Jimmy, I will never change.”

SELF-REVELATION

Rather comically, Mansfield uses the background choir practice as a leitmotif. Their ‘ah-no’ is purely tonal, without semantic meaning, but to Edna listening from out in the garden their ‘ah no’ sounds like a cry for help. Notice too how the ‘little flower’ falls. Mansfield really liked her flower motifs:

Edna bowed her head ; and a little flower fell on her lap, and the voice of Sister Agnes cried suddenly Ah-no, and the echo came, Ah-no

At that moment the future was revealed. Edna saw it all. She was astonished ; it took her breath away at first. But, after all, what could be more natural? She would go into a convent… 

Why wouldn’t Jimmy believe his fiancée she says she’s breaking up with him? Because it is pretty unbelievable for the era, is why. Jimmy is Edna’s best chance at a conventional life. And she does love him. In those times, in that part of the world, a girl like Edna would need some good reason to break up with Jimmy. But she is not sufficiently self-aware to understand what that reason might be. (Jimmy has no hope.) So she will settle for an ‘excuse’ rather than a reason. Hence, the convent.

Has Edna experienced a genuine self-revelation? I don’t think so. The literary Impressionists didn’t really think that people changed just like that. Self-awareness is a slow, piecemeal affair and we get ourselves wrong.

But the reader does experience a plot reveal at this point. (Speaking for myself, anyhow.) It is now revealed that Edna’s decision to join a convent is as impetuous (and temporary) as her lust for the actor, symbolised also by the flower which fell (a universal symbol of impermanence).

Mansfield had experience in the theatre, on stage herself, and though it’s not obvious to a modern audience now, her writing was clearly influenced by stagecraft. (Not obvious now because every writer is influenced by stage craft.) When Edna sees her future, she is imagining the whole thing playing out as if she is watching herself on the stage.

We already know she’s very good at viewing herself like this, because Mansfield introduced her as a girl with an Imaginary Audience at the very beginning of the narrative. Note the melodramatic touches:

How can they add to her suffering like this ? The world is cruel, terribly cruel! 

Edna clearly takes delight in her own melancholy.

Unlike grief after the death of someone or something known, melancholy is the feeling you get when you’re grieving for something and you don’t know what that something is.

I wonder if there’s an English or borrowed word for this. Masochism is too strong; schadenfreude only describes taking delight in other people’s misery, and that’s not quite the same even in reverse. For now the best I can say is that Edna has Goth sensibilities. She’s clearly been reading Gothic literature (hence the melodramatic touches and the graveyard and the church…) but I’m talking about the 1970s and 80s Goth now.

A big part of Goth sensibility: Finding pleasure in their own melancholy. Another big thing for Goths: rebelling against society’s pressure to conform to gender norms. Imaginatively, Edna would like to rebel in some way. But I doubt she has the imaginative breadth to imagine what true rebellion might look like. Rebelling by escaping to the hugely restrictive institution of the nunnery is a comically ironic thing to fantasise about. Many goths were into death chic (hence the black clothes and white faces). As Edna sits in the graveyard contemplating her own death, yeah, Edna’s sure into death chic. Case closed. Edna is a Goth.

The final paragraph of “Taking The Veil” plunges the reader into a that confused space Edna currently occupies: Is there really a family visiting the graveyard crying about their only daughter, or is this part entirely in Edna’s imagination? (It’s not a binary distinction — it could be that Edna sees three people and pastes identities onto them.)

Whether Edna remains alone in the graveyard or not, she experiences another revelation: To break off her engagement with Jimmy would be to wound him forever. She doesn’t have it in her to do that. She will not become a nun. She will make Jimmy happy and become his wife.

NEW EQUILIBRIUM

Sideshadowing: If Edna were to spend the rest of her life as Sister Angela, I’m sure her sparks of lust and secret fantasies would make the whole thing bearable. For Edna, perhaps the prospect of marrying Jimmy is on a par with the prospect of joining a nunnery. She may expect both situations to be restrictive and physically unsatisfying.

Extrapolation: Since we can never really know how others experience their sexuality, it’s worth pointing out that not everyone’s life is a trajectory towards satisfying penetration within the Sanctity of Marriage. Even after marriage, Edna is just as likely to continue as she is right now, seeking pleasure imaginatively.

This theme of secret fantasy life as a means of getting through marriage has been explored by various writers, especially woman writers, notably by Alice Munro in her story “Cortes Island“.

The header illustration is by Sir John Everett Millais, Bt The Vale of Rest (1858–9). I’ve chosen it because of the nuns, but also because Mansfield’s story is about a burial — a burial of big, nascently (a)sexual emotions.

Symbolism of Black and The Night

Across the globe, black has negative connotations. This is probably because night-time is black, and historically night-time is the scariest, most dangerous time for humans. Our eyes have evolved for daylight. That’s why I’m combining ‘night’ and ‘black’ when delving into symbolism.

Black is not technically a colour, rather an absence of colour. Artists are often advised against using black out of the tube. Instead we are to mix a dark hue from other colours. More interesting blacks are achieved if they are red black or blue black, say. This is debatable advice.

Black Tree 1903 Joan Gonzalez 1868-1908

Other associations with darkness and black:

  • evil and general badness
  • mourning and funerals (especially in the West)
  • anything taboo
  • depression (e.g. Black Dog)
  • witchcraft (e.g. black cats, black cloaks, cauldrons)
  • goths
  • secrets/cloaking/mystery

There are cultural variations on black. For example:

  • In Japan, black indicates wisdom, maturity and high accomplishment, hence black belts in martial arts.
  • The Cathars were a dualist medieval religious sect of Southern France. Like Japan, the Cathars also used black to mean perfection and purity. (Today purity is most often symbolised using white.)
  • Though black is generally considered bad, black cats are lucky in the United Kingdom and in many parts of the world. Black contains layers of flipped symbolism.

Associations With Night-time

  • In English we say night ‘falls’ but actually it rises, emerging first in the valleys. 
  • Fading rays are known as ‘sun suckers’
  • Eventide is an archaic term — Irish people have a saying that bushes and men look alike. Italians say hounds look like wolves.
  • Night feels palpable, like some sort of dark mist. The Old Testament talks about darkness that befell Pharoah’s Egypt. 
  • Night Vapours: Noxious fumes are widely thought to descend from the sky. “Night fogges” and “noysom vapours
  • Shakespeare — “the daylight sick”. “Make haste, the vaporous night approaches.”
  • Noctivagator was a Latin term used to refer to people who walked around at night causing trouble in the Middle Ages. It was later replaced by nightwalker in England in around 1500. 
  • Linkboys were orphans and urchins, paid to carry lights for pedestrians. They were not well trusted, sometimes leading customers straight to pick-pockets.

Ancient Times Of Day

Before the industrial era nightfall was known as ‘shutting in’. Watchdogs have been let out by nightfall, so it is time to lock yourself in for the night.

  • Gloaming (twilight, dusk)
  • Cock-shut/cockshut — twilight
  • Crow-time — evening
  • Daylight’s gate — The period of the evening when daylight fades; twilight. From the early 17th century.
  • Owl-leet — perhaps Lancashire dialect for ‘owl light’, when owls come out
Barney Sheppard Sings in the Gloaming ?circa 1889-90 Phil May 1864-1903

Darkness and Fear

All humans seem to fear the dark, probably an instinctive thing after many generations of learning to fear things which emerge in the dark. But not all cultures fear dark equally. Fear levels depend on the cultural narratives around night-time.

Also, cultures change across time. Modern cultures fear dark less than earlier cultures — in this modern era there is no true darkness in populated areas anyway.

People weren’t really afraid of the dark until the END of the middle ages. Before then the dark was considered a peaceful time. Then we got vampires, werewolves, witches and all sorts of horrible night creatures and people actually believed these things existed, outside a few analytic mindsets. A great number of people sat on the fence, agnostic about the existence of such things. Others were absolutely terrified by their own supernatural beliefs, sometimes to the detriment of others:

On a winter night in 1725, a drunken man stumbled into a London well, only to die from his injuries after a neighbour ignored his creeds for help, fearing instead a demon.

At Day’s Close: Night in times past by A. Roger Ekirch

Since people were so scared of the night, this was excellent for pickpockets and thieves, who were able to utilise that and almost always used the cover of darkness to commit their crimes. It even became a separate crime. Housebreakers worked in the daytime, burglars by night between 1660 and 1800.

Lighting 

The inverse of dark is of course, light.

Light in earlier eras was expensive. Rich folk in the middle ages moved from tallow (which burns smokily, depending on the mix) to beeswax when they could afford it. Beeswax has a pleasant aroma and burns cleanly. In America where there are plenty of pine forests, candlewood was used. Some cultures made use of a particularly oily bird. It gets quite grim, actually. Apparently thieves in the sixteenth century sometimes used the fingers of babies, mostly to scare people they burgled into complete submission. The ‘hand of glory’ was a candle made from the severed hand of a hanged convict. It was turned into a candle using tallow also made from a hanged corpse. Once lit, it was supposed to render the members of the household unconscious. (If this actually worked, I don’t know how it didn’t render the thieves unconscious as well.)

Carrying a candle at night was thought to be a bit wasteful (as was burning a candle during the day ‘burning daylight’) because a moving candle uses more fuel unnecessarily. This meant that people made their way to bed in the dark and more than people are these days, were very familiar with the layout of their homes. They would know how many steps were on the staircase for instance. They might clap in a new environment to gauge the size of the room. In other words, even sighted people used some techniques nowadays really only understood by visually impaired people. 

Compared to today, neighbours were very neighbourly, helping each other at night. But more so than today, they were very wary of strangers and would not venture outside to help someone they didn’t know. 

Like clothes, even lights were regulated according to social rank. Rich people were allowed to carry more lights at night than peasants. 

Without electric light, pre-industrial people were able to distinguish between different levels of darkness. For example there was pit-murk (a black gloom) and a different shade of darkness with a full-moon out. Lowry, darkling, pitch dark (in reference to the tarry resin of pine trees.” Blind nights. 

Curtains

Curtains weren’t a thing until the 18th century. When people first got them, neighbours assumed the worst regarding what was going on behind them. At that time everyone knew everyone else’s business. That’s not to say people hadn’t wanted privacy. The reason privacy became paramount then and not at any earlier time is because that’s when people started to accumulate personal possessions of their own. The words ‘privacy’ and ‘private’ didn’t exist in English until the 1400s. But by the time of Shakespeare these words were known and used by everyone. 

Devil’s Work

In earlier eras across Europe, there were laws about what jobs were allowed to be done at night. Basically, working at night was considered very suspicious because night was for the devil’s work. People were even beaten to death for working after dark. However, you were allowed to work if it was in service to a noble family. You were also allowed to work if you were preparing for a carnival or fair. Depending on the culture, exemptions were made for overnight working. In Sweden and Amsterdam for instance workers were allowed to make beer overnight because beer was very important. 

Although work was generally not allowed at night, ‘day-labour’ really did mean from dawn until dusk, until modern labour laws came in. Just as well for the superstitions, I suppose, or the working class would never have been afforded sleep.

According to some belief systems, prayer, piety and church attendance can protect you from sin (darkness) because your body emulates light. Take the following from a Pentecostal churchgoer in Papua New Guinea:

When witches confess, they say things like: “When we encounter people who follow Jesus, when we would like to get close to them, there is a light! A strong light! It reflects against our vision, and we can’t get close to them.”

Becoming Witches

See Also

Header painting: Past and Present, No. 2 1858 Augustus Leopold Egg 1816-1863

Symbolism of Arrows

arrows

The arrow is both a weapon and also a sacred symbol. Divination with arrows over the years affects how we think of them and use them today.

Arrows As Symbols of Flight

I’ve written before about the Symbolism of Flight. Anything that flies, or finds itself up in the air, can be imbued with all similar associations depending on context.

Arrows As Symbols of Penetration

As a weapon the arrow symbolises the power of the person carrying it (along with the bow). Goddess of the Hunt (Artemis/Diana) carries an arrow, as does Eros, a less violent god who uses it to pierce people’s hearts with love. At first this seems sweet, though it may be a phallic symbol, since love overlaps with (penetrative) sex. Could the Valentine’s Day heart and arrow be a covert symbol of sexual union?

Arrows As Symbols of Direction

In ancient times, Arabians, Chaldeans, Greeks and Tibetans used arrows to try and tell the future. They would shoot arrows into the air and try to read a meaning from the direction of the arrows or from their positions in relation to each other. This was known as belomancy.

If you were lost in the forest and needed to learn your way home, according to belomancy you could throw an arrow onto the ground and just follow its direction home. I wonder how many people met a sorry death in the wildnerness over many centuries of belomancy.

Crossed Arrows

According to belomancy, guess what crossed arrows meant? It meant ‘no’. (It might be ‘no’ if the arrows were simply touching.)

Later they’d write words or occult symbols onto the arrows to make answers more meaningful. For example,God orders it me on the first arrow, God forbids it me on the second arrow, and the third would be blank. The arrow that flew the furthest indicated the answer. Or, maybe they didn’t bother flying the arrows at all, instead drawing them. (The lazy belomancer’s trick.) Not sure why they bothered with a third arrow left blank. If that one got drawn or flew farthest they’d only have to do it again.

There’s actually mention of belomancy in the Bible, in the Book of Ezekiel.

Game shows like Wheel of Fortune have a much longer history than I thought. Even drinking games like Spin the Bottle have an air of belomancy about them, with a bottle instead of an arrow determining the ‘fate of true love’.

This symbolism works both physically and metaphorically. Arrows shooting high into the sky symbolise the link between Heaven and Earth. Equally this might symbolise inspiration (an idea) or a message being carried directly to the Gods, who are supposed to live above the earth.

Arrow As Quick-wittedness and Intuition

Arrows travel quickly off the bow and are naturally used to symbolise swiftness, sureness and related attributes. This association can be seen in the Sagittarius astrological sign.

  • The Sagittarius hybrid creature is always shooting an arrow from its bow.
  • Sagittarius comes from Latin sagitta, which means arrow.
  • Sagitta comes from the verb sagire, ‘to perceive keenly or quickly’.

Header photo by Vek Labs 

Difference between amulet and talisman

amulet talisman

The amulet and talisman are both charms worn on or near the body. They mean basically the same thing: Jewellery with magical significance particular to the owner or wearer. It might be something similarly portable, like a stone.

Charm powers fall into two main categories:

  1. brings luck (auspicious)
  2. averts evil (apotropaic)

Amulet comes from late 16th century Latin but talisman comes from an Arabic word meaning ‘magic picture‘.

For this reason, if a charm has a picture or an inscription on it, say, the names of the spirits, the Seal of Solomon or other mystical symbols, it’s more likely described as a ‘talisman’ than an ‘amulet’.

Amuletic and talismanic are the adjectives of amulet and talisman. Apotropaic is the adjective of ‘apotrope’.

Apotropes are specific kinds of amulets designed to ward off evil. The word comes from Greek and means ‘turn away’. This amulet features a protective symbol such as an eye. Eyes are thought to ward off the evil eye by staring right back at it. Or it might feature The Hand of Fatima.

Bigghes are ceremonial jewels worn by queens (the crown, garter, necklace, bracelet) and also witches. (See: Glossary of Witch Words)

The Bulla was a charm given to Roman babies. ‘Bulla’ means ‘bubble’ or ‘knob’. This was a sealed locket containing magic spells specific to the child e.g. symbols of protection or wishes for wealth. The Bulla was made out of leather or even gold, depending on the wealth of the family.

When Roman boys reached puberty they offered their bullae to the gods. Girls weren’t considered grown until the eve of their wedding, so kept it until then.

We can see a similar culture at play in a European fairytale such as Sleeping Beauty, in which the princess is given beauty at her birth (with a Deal With The Devil type trade off). Philip Pullman also uses a tangentially related concept in his Dark Materials series. In that case, the ‘charm’ is connected to a person’s character as well, forming its essence.