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image magic


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In magic, injuring a model injures the person it represents, especially if it incorporates his hair or fingernails, or is given his name. In 963 a woman was executed by drowning for driving nails into an effigy; in 1578 a plot against the Queen was feared when three wax figures were found in a dunghill, transfixed with pig's bristles, one with ‘Elizabeth’ written on the forehead. Clay images could be burnt, or laid in water to disintegrate. Alternatively, images could be buried or hidden, causing lingering sickness to the victim; this may be the purpose of the 18th-century doll hidden in a house in Hereford, with a written curse pinned to its skirt.

A Yorkshire farmer in the 1850s, suspecting that a certain man with the evil eye had bewitched him, made an image from a mixture of ‘pitch, beeswax, hog's lard, bullock's blood, and a small portion of fat from a bullock's heart’; this was heated over a fire of wickenwood (= rowan) at midnight, and a pin driven into its eye. Next morning, the suspect was blind in one eye (Blakeborough, 1898: 199–200).

In the 1960s, two of Ruth Tongue's Somerset informants told her:There was a bad woman in our village—a witch who could do things. She didn't like my mother, so she made a wax doll and stuck thorns into its legs, and my mother had the screws (rheumatism) in her legs ever since.I know a woman who lives near me, and she said:‘I don't like that there Mrs—,so I be going back home to make a moment of she and stick pins in it.’ I never dared ask if she did, but the woman was took ill after that. (Folklore 74 (1963), 323)

There was a bad woman in our village—a witch who could do things. She didn't like my mother, so she made a wax doll and stuck thorns into its legs, and my mother had the screws (rheumatism) in her legs ever since.

I know a woman who lives near me, and she said:‘I don't like that there Mrs—,so I be going back home to make a moment of she and stick pins in it.’ I never dared ask if she did, but the woman was took ill after that. (Folklore 74 (1963), 323)


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