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Coronavirus: advice from the Middle Ages for how to cope with self-isolation


Enclosing of an anchoress (14th century).
Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 079: Pontifical, CC BY-NC-SA

Godelinde Gertrude Perk, University of Oxford

The pandemic of COVID-19 is often called “unprecedented” – and for many people cooped up in their homes in different countries, the experience is both unparalleled and challenging. But in late-medieval Europe, individuals self-isolated professionally. Some people – women particularly – permanently withdrew from society to live walled in, alone in a room attached to a church.

Guides for, and texts written by, these female “anchorites” – as the women were known – from Britain and continental Europe give us descriptions of their way of living and recount their reflections. So what can these medieval women teach us about how to cope with self-isolation?

These anchorites chose to be confined in these cramped cells for many reasons. According to medieval religious culture, a life of prayer on behalf of others vitally supported society. Isolation empowered women to express their love for Christ, and minister to their fellow believers through their prayers and counsel. Anchorites were even presented as possessing “super powers” of interceding for the deceased in purgatory.

Furthermore, in the late Middle Ages, devotion among laypeople – people who are not clergy – flourished. Life as an anchorite offered laywomen an option to express this piety, but offered more freedom for individual contemplation (and solitude) than a nun’s life.

Warnings in guides for anchorites also hint at less spiritual motives. Life as a recluse, paradoxically, situated anchorites at the heart of their communities and could transform them into religious celebrities. Their cells often faced busy roads in bustling cities and doubled as a bank, teacher’s cubicle, and storehouse of local gossip.

A king consults an anchorite.
Beinecke MS 404 (Rothschild Canticles), Yale Library

Don’t expect comfort

The 13th-century, medieval English guide for female anchorites, Ancrene Wisse, warns recluses not to look for comfort. Instead, the anchorite should remind herself that she was enclosed not just for her own benefit, but for the sake of others too.

She is told to “gather into your heart all those who are ill or wretched” and “feel compassion”. By self-isolating, the anchorite “holds [all fellow believers] up” with her prayers. Now, nurses and doctors are urgently calling for a similar commitment from the public, when begging “Stay home for us.”

The Wisse’s advice has a flavour that feels equally relevant today. Self-isolation may be easier to bear if instead of seeing it as a stretch of boring but comfy nights in, you recognise it as an unpleasant, stressful experience – but also visualise all the people whose health you are protecting by staying home.

Acknowledging vulnerability

The earliest-known English woman writer, Julian of Norwich (c.1343–c.1416) – an anchorite – likewise encouraged readers to acknowledge their own vulnerability, but suggested perceiving it as a strength. She assured readers in her late 14th-century or early 15th-century text, A Revelation of Love, that suffering and difficulties will not defeat them:

Christ did not say, ‘You shall not be perturbed, you shall not be troubled, you shall not be distressed,’ but he said, ‘You shall not be overcome.’

Modern statue of Julian of Norwich at the west entrance to Norwich Cathedral.
Evelyn Simak, CC BY-ND

Julian promises that readers will experience emotional turmoil during any crisis but will ultimately conquer it. This promise parallels modern survival psychology. When adapting to life during a crisis, acknowledging the challenging circumstances as forming one’s real life now is essential. Yet one should simultaneously remember that one is doing one’s utmost to return to a better, pre-crisis style of living. Only by acknowledging our vulnerability – both physical and mental – and consequently taking action to protect and care for others and ourselves, will we make it through.

A reconstruction of Julian of Norwich’s cell at St Julian’s in Norwich.
Godelinde Gertrude Perk

Guarding the senses

According to manuals for anchorites, they should guard their metaphorical windows (their five senses) and actual cell windows, to prevent falling into temptation and being distracted from their prayers and meditation. The Wisse declares: “disturbance only enters the heart through something … either seen or heard, tasted or smelt, or felt externally.”

The external world can upset one’s interior world. Dutch anchorite Sister Bertken (1427-1514) recounts this confusion in a poem:

The world held me in its power
with its manifold snares
it deprived me of my strength.

Yet this nervousness about the effect of sensory input can also be understood as a medieval analogue to a warning against fake news or anxious over-consumption of news. Several guides recommend having a female friend scrupulously guarding the anchorite’s window, refusing to allow access to visitors who spread gossip and lies. Social media today can be a little like such visitors.

The Enclosure of Sister Bertken.
Photo by E de Groot & S Pieters, University of Utrecht

Keep busy, keep sane

Anchorites and writers of manuals for anchorites also reflected upon how to keep sane. Keeping occupied prevents one from climbing the walls. British Cistercian monk, Abbot Aelred of Rievaulx (1110-1167), tells his sister, an anchorite, in A Rule of Life for a Recluse that: “Idleness … breeds distaste for quiet and disgust for the cell.”

Routines are key. Anchorites recited sequences of prayers, psalms and other Bible readings at fixed points of the day. According to modern survival psychology, dividing a problem or stretch of time into manageable steps is crucial when faced with a crisis. Equally important is performing each step one by one, never looking further ahead than the next step.

Mentally absorbing hobbies, such as crafts, gardening or reading, are another time-honoured strategy for dealing with self-isolation. After recommending sewing clothes for the poor and church vestments, the Wisse assures anchorites that keeping occupied will shield their minds against temptation:

For while [the devil] sees her busy, he thinks like this: ‘It would be useless to approach her now; she can’t concentrate on listening to my advice.’

These suggestions are easily translatable to today. After all, according to survival psychology, performing manageable, directed actions with a purpose is crucial in crises. Incidentally, the Wisse also recommends keeping a cat.

On the one hand, self-isolation can feel limiting – Julian of Norwich also felt that: “This place is prison,” she said, referring either to earthly life or her cell. But the cell’s cramped space also granted medieval women a paradoxical, spiritual freedom. In his letter to the anchorite Eve of Wilton, the 11th-century monk Goscelin of St Bertin exclaims: “’My cell is so narrow,’ you may say, but oh, how wide is the sky!”The Conversation

Godelinde Gertrude Perk, Postdoctoral researcher in Medieval Literature, University of Oxford

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Ancient spells and charms for the hapless in love



Magic was an every day part of life in the Graeco-Roman empire.
John William Waterhouse

Adam Parker, The Open University

Valentine’s Days is not all love hearts and roses for everyone. For the hapless in love, the day can be a yearly reminder of failed romances, unrequited love and the seemingly unending search for the illusive “one”.

Such problems of the heart span cultures and history. The inhabitants of the Graeco-Roman world suffered the same heartaches and the same emotional highs and lows as we do today. While we are left with apps to swipe on, a greater belief in magic in this period provided interesting opportunities to find love.

Hope was placed on spells, mysterious words and magical objects to grant the gift of love on their users or to take it away from rivals.

Ticks and fish blood

The Greek Magical Papyri are a series of ancient spell books from Egypt from between the 2nd century BC and the 5th century AD. They are a sort of do-it-yourself guide to magical rituals that offers solutions to problems like finding a thief, keeping calm, curing fevers and demonic possession. Unsurprisingly, love charms feature prominently.

Depending on the lengths a hopeful lover was willing to go (and their level of lust/obsession/desperation) there was something for all levels of effort. Some spells are “simple”: “To get a certain [her] at the baths: rub a tick from a dead dog on the loins.”

Others require a bit more preparatory work. One advertised as the “irresistible love spell of attraction” asks the unlucky lover to use fish blood to write a spell invoking demons on the skin of an ass. They must then wrap it in vetch (a plant with pink flowers) and hide it in the mouth of a recently deceased dog.

Harpocrates seated on a lotus.
The Met Museum

Most spells required a special ingredient to be used in a specific way in combination with arcane words. These spells don’t leave archaeological traces for us to find. One love spell asked the user to have an iron ring inscribed with Harpocrates (the Hellenistic god of silence) seated on a lotus in their hands while they shouted magical words at the moon from a rooftop. Several such gemstones matching this description have been found.

Love potions themselves have a long history and are discussed in several ancient texts. A Demotic (written in ancient Egyptian) spell proposed the following method:

Take the fragment of the tip of your fingernail and apple seed together with blood from your finger… Pound the apple, add blood to it and put it in the cup of wine. Recite [the given spell] seven times over it and you should make the woman drink it at a special time.

This visceral recipe is a variant of a spell that also added semen, and the hair of a dead man to the mixture.

Rings, curses and more blood

Polemious’s gold ring.
The Trustees of the British Museum

A gold ring found in Corbridge, Northumberland, in 1935 is inscribed in Greek with ΠOΛEMIOYΦIΛTPON, “The love charm of Polemius”. Polemius was a man who either wore this ring to enhance his allure and sexual qualities or gave it to the object of his affections. If it was the latter, it may have been given conspicuously as a gift or hidden on or around them as a clandestine token. It is a uniquely personal object from the edge of the Roman Empire that speaks of the unfulfilled desires of a Greek-speaking man over 1,700 years ago.

Curses were used in the ancient world to condemn thieves, protect businesses, ruin rival chariot teams and to create better opportunities for lovers. Sometimes a desired partner was already in a relationship, and cursing their partner (to discredit, harm or kill them) offered a chance to change this. A lead curse tablet from Boetia, Greece, was written by someone jealously in love with a man called Kabeira and tries to damn his wife Zois:

I assign Zois the Eretrian, wife of Kabeira, to Earth and to Hermes — her food, her drink, her sleep, her laughter, her intercourse, her playing of the kithara, and her entrance, her pleasure, her little buttocks, her thinking, her eyes…

Curses were personal, private contracts between a person and a deity. The leaden tablets were often folded over and sometimes pierced with a nail, which often went through the written name of the curse’s target. They were thrown into rivers, sacred springs, hidden in secret places and even dug into the graves of the recently dead.

Magical and medicinal means were also suggested for resolving relatable problems in ancient relationships. Aelius Promotus, an Alexandrian physician, recommended that barley soaked in menstrual blood and wrapped in mule skin could be tied onto a woman as a contraceptive.

Opposingly, Marcellus of Bordeaux (4th-5th century AD) suggested that a waning sex drive could be cured by finding the right aphrodisiac. He suggested wearing the right testicle of a rooster in a pouch around the neck.

Roman magic may have been a cathartic experience for the heartbroken or an exhilarating one for the lovestruck. The idea that people will do whatever is within their power to find love belongs to a long and ever-evolving tradition. These spells, rituals, tokens and curses highlight the essential nature of love and heartbreak in the ancient world and implicitly connects our cultures across time.The Conversation

Adam Parker, PhD Candidate in Classical Studies, The Open University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Rare Purple Flags



History repeats itself. That’s bad news for the 2020s



When there are too many elites in a society, competition for power makes existing problems worse.
Francisco Goya / Wikimedia

David Baker, Macquarie University

What will happen in the 2020s? If history is any guide (and there’s good reason to think it is), the outlook isn’t great.

Here are some big-picture predictions: stagnant real wages, faltering standard of living for the lower and middle classes, worsening wealth inequality, more riots and uprisings, ongoing political polarisation, more elites competing for limited positions of power, and elites co-opting radical movements.

Thanks to globalisation, all this won’t just happen in one country but in the majority of countries in the world. We will also see geopolitical realignment, dividing the world into new alliances and blocs.

There is also a low to moderate chance of a “trigger event” – a shock like an environmental crisis, plague, or economic meltdown – that will kick off a period of extreme violence. And there is a much lower chance we will see a technological breakthrough on par with the industrial revolution that can ease the pressure in the 2020s and reverse the trends above.

These aren’t just guesses. They are predictions made with the tools of cliodynamics, which uses dozens of case studies of civilisations over the past 5,000 years to look for mathematical patterns in human history.




Read more:
Cliodynamics: can science decode the laws of history?


Cycles of growth and decline

One area where cliodynamics has borne fruit is “demographic-structural theory”, which explains common cycles of prosperity and decline.

Here’s an example of a full cycle, taken from Roman history. After the second Punic war in 201 BCE, the Roman republic enjoyed a period of extreme growth and prosperity. There was a relatively small divide between the richest and poorest, and fewer members of elites.

As the population grew, smallholders had to sell off their farms. Land coalesced into larger plantations run by elites mostly with slave labour. Elite numbers ballooned, wealth inequality became extreme, the common people felt pinched, and numerous wealthy people found themselves shut out of power.

The assassination of Julius Caesar was a key event in the decline of the Roman republic.
Jean-Leon Gerome

The rich resisted calls for land reform, and eventually the elites split into two factions called the Optimates and the Populares. The following century involved slave revolts and two massive civil wars.

Stability only returned when Augustus defeated all other rivals in 30 BCE – and ended the republic, making himself emperor. So began a new cycle of growth.

Booms and busts

Demographic-structural theory looks at things like the economic and political strength of the state, the ages and wages of the population, and the size and wealth of the elite to diagnose a society’s health – and work out where it’s heading.

Historically, some things we see today are bad signs: shrinking real wages, a growing gap between the richest and the poorest, rising numbers of wealthy and influential people who are becoming more competitive and factionalised.

Another bad sign is if previous generations witnessed periods of growth and plenty. It might mean that your society is about to hit a wall – unless a great deal of innovation and good policy relieves the pressure once again.

We are living in an unprecedented period of global growth. History says it won’t last.
SRC / IGBP / F Pharand Deschenes

The modern global system has experienced a period of growth unprecedented in human history since 1945, often referred to as the “Great Acceleration”. Yet in country after country today, we see stagnant wages, rising inequality, and wealthy elites jousting for control.

Historically, periods of strain and “elite overpopulation” are followed by a crisis (environmental or economic), which is in turn followed by years of sociopolitical instability and violence.

Elite competition makes crises worse

Factional warring after a disaster in a top-heavy society makes things much worse. It can keep the population low for decades after the initial catastrophe, and may only end when elites are exhausted or killed off.

This underlying cycle fed the Wars of the Roses between the Lancastrians and Yorkists in 15th century England, the struggle between the Optimates and Populares in the Roman Republic, and countless other conflicts in history.




Read more:
Computer simulations reveal war drove the rise of civilisations


In a period of growth and expansion these dynastic, political, and religious animosities would be less pronounced – as there is more of everything to go around – but in a period of decline they become incendiary.

In different regions and time periods, the factions vary widely, but the ideological merits or faults of any particular faction have literally no bearing on the pattern.

We always massacre each other on the downward side of a cycle. Remember that fact as we embark on the pattern again in the 2020s, and you find yourself becoming blindingly angry while watching the news or reading what someone said on Twitter.

A connected world

Because the world’s societies and economies are more unified than ever before, the increasing political division we see in Australia or the United States also manifests itself around the world.

Violence between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Trinamool Congress in Bengal, political polarisation in Brazil following the election of Jair Bolsonaro, and less public conflicts within China’s ruling party are all part of a global trend.

Trigger events

We can expect this decline to continue steadily in the next decade, unless a trigger event kicks off a crisis and a long period – perhaps decades – of extreme violence.

Here’s a dramatic historical example: in the 12th century, Europe’s population was growing and living standards were rising. The late 13th century ushered in a period of strain. Then the Great Famine of 1315–17 set off a time of strife and increasing violence. Next came an even bigger disaster, the Black Death of 1347–51.

After these two trigger events, elites fighting over the wreckage led to a century of slaughter across Europe.

From my own studies, these “depression phases” kill an average of 20% of the population. On a global scale, today, that would mean 1.6 to 1.7 billion people dead.

There is, of course, only a low to moderate probability that such a trigger event will occur in the 2020s. It may happen decades later. But the kindling for such a conflagration is already being laid.




Read more:
Big gods came after the rise of civilisations, not before, finds study using huge historical database


Technology to the rescue?

One thing that could reverse this cycle would be a major technological breakthrough. Innovation has temporarily warded off decline in the past.

In mid-11th century Europe, for example, new land-clearing and agricultural methods allowed a dramatic increase in production which led to relative prosperity and stability in the 12th century. Or in the mid-17th century, high-yield crops from the Americas raised carrying capacities in some parts of China.

In our current situation, something like nuclear fusion – which could provide abundant, cheap, clean energy – might change the situation drastically.

The probability of this occurring in the 2020s is low. Nevertheless, innovation remains our best hope, and the sooner it happens the better.

This could be a guiding policy for public and private investment in the 2020s. It is a time for generous funding, monumental projects, and bold ventures to lift humanity out of a potential abyss.

Sunlit uplands of the distant future

If you look far enough ahead, our prospects become brighter.
Shutterstock

Cheer up. All is not lost. The further we project into the future the brighter human prospects become again, as great advances in technology do occur on a long enough timescale.

Given the acceleration of the frequency of such advances over the past 5,000 years of history, we can expect something profound on the scale of the invention of agriculture or the advent of heavy industry to occur within the next 100 years.

That is why humanity’s task in the 2020s – and much of the 21st century – is simply to survive it.The Conversation

David Baker, Lecturer in Big History, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


The Dark Ages



Comments


Due to the increased volume of spam posts and propaganda from other websites (including those of a ‘Christian’ nature who think it is acceptable practice to spam others) I am attempting to tighten up the protocols for comments on this Blog. I don’t want to stop comments altogether, but sadly, that may eventually happen. It seems there are some idiots (I am being kind) who want to continue to attempt to post their propaganda and nonsense on this Blog via the comments, even though they never get through the moderation process. I am fed up with having to work through all of this rubbish (and that is generally what it is). I understand there are some genuine people out there that will be inconvenienced by this ‘tightening’ up in the comments process here and I really didn’t want you to have to endure this moving forward. I am saddened that this has had to happen.


England – Late Bronze Age Must Farm


The link below is to an article that takes a look at Late Bronze Age ‘Must Farm’ in eastern England.

For more visit:
https://archaeologynewsnetwork.blogspot.com/2019/06/the-short-life-of-must-farm.html


Limited Posts During Personal Maintenance Time (Annual Leave/Holidays)


It’s that time of year when I take some time off for a variety of reasons and tasks – in short, it’s annual leave time. Yes, some much appreciated time off work. Last year I attempted a holiday and nearly died – diseased kidneys, blood poisoning, and internal bleeding – all a result of a kidney stone. What followed was months of illness, as that experience proved a catalyst for an old illness to make a renewed appearance also (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – CFS). Finally, in the last few weeks, I have been reasonably well and have been working at a frantic pace, trying to make up for lost time.

So now I hope to enjoy these next few weeks, do some traveling (including to the previous destination that I never arrived at due to falling ill on the way), get a bit of personal things done (yeah, including a host of medical stuff) and really, just to relax and have a break – an enjoyable break in fact.

So what does this mean for the Blogs? Well, I was going to continue to post in a haphazard manner over the next three weeks, but have since thought better of it and will not do so. So no new posts for the next three weeks – there may be some still to appear on one of the Blogs that I scheduled in advance, but you won’t hear much from me during this period. So enjoy the break from me, as I enjoy the break from everyday usual life.


No Posts This Week


I have been battling poor health now for months and I have reached the point of peak exhaustion (if that is a thing). I’ll be taking extended leave during May, along with a lengthy break from the Blogs, with the aim being that of taking the opportunity to recover and recharge the batteries. However, I also need an immediate break and so will not be posting to any of my Blogs this week. I have to try and get through work through April, in order to get through to May and my extended break. This may prove to be a very difficult task and even perhaps prove unattainable, yet that is the goal. Each day closer makes the remaining time that little bit easier to contend with. So, in short, there will be no posts for the remainder of this week and I will then start to bring the Blogs back ‘online’ again after that – at least until my extended break in May.


Silly Season Break


Just a quick post to let everyone know that this Blog will be on a break from now, over the silly season and should return early in the New Year. This isn’t so much because of Christmas and the New Year directly, but because my work schedule is so great and I won’t have the time to put in on the Blog during this period. I would have liked to keep up the posts, but it has become clear I just can’t keep it up at the moment – it is far too busy at work and with increasing staff shortages over the next couple of weeks, it will not get any easier.

Let me also take the opportunity to wish you all a happy and safe Christmas, and New Year period. Enjoy this time with family and friends.


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