26 November 2014

Cures and Curses: Dwarfs, Imagined Curses

By Kathryn A. Kopple

A cultural history of dwarfs presents the challenge of a scarcity of information. The bibliography on dwarfs is far from extensive and openly contested. .  A paragraph here, a scholarly article there, a handful of books does not a history make.  In place of history, we have a mixture of fact and fiction.  For centuries, dwarfs have been co-opted via the popular imagination for the production of myth.  All myths imply a cultural viewpoint, perceptions that stand in for reality.  The object of myth, if it is prevalent enough, comes to form part of our collective experiences.  Didn’t we grow up with dwarfs? Hey ho, hey ho.  Don’t we have a sense from tales and movies that we would recognize a dwarf if we met one?  Surely, as a society, we are no strangers to dwarfs?  Aren’t all dwarfs more or less alike? A culture in search of an embodiment for its fascinations with the body has repeatedly looked at dwarfs to satisfy its assumptions.
     To locate dwarfs in history, we begin with image itself.  The article “Dwarfs in the Arts: Diego Velázquez” informs us that before written material appeared about dwarfs they could be found in artwork.  Apparently: “Images of dwarfs were plentiful in the ancient world.” The article goes on to list the ancient cultures, east and west, old world and new world, that etched dwarfs into pottery, painted dwarfs on stone and canvas, entombed dwarfs with royalty. Frankly, it’s not much to go on. How do we know that we are looking at dwarfs? The very term “dwarf” as it originates in Old English denotes simply a “very short human being.” How short is short? Again, assumptions come into play—or interfere as the case may be.  We come to these images with definite notions of what “dwarf” signifies—our own cultural sense of smallness.  We draw very quick conclusions.  If a very short person is carved in stone that person must been a dwarf.  In all of this—call it “projection”—we create a semblance of history that may apply to dwarfs but to any ancient Egyptian considered uniquely small.   Point being that semblances may be deceiving. 
     During the Renaissance, dwarfs appear to take on a greater corporeal presence in European society.  We hear more about the “court dwarf,” those persons who were valued by royalty precisely because of their diminutive stature.  Living at court, in palatial splendor, hardly secured the dwarfs’ position in society.  They were victims in the ignominious history of human trafficking: nobility purchased dwarfs to keep or trade, prize or disdain, tolerate or eliminate.  However much dwarfs may have been coveted they were servants, and certainly no better off than slaves.   Some dwarfs, and they were the exception, became companions or secretaries. The majority spent their time at court as buffoons. 
     The close association between the various traditions of the carnival and dwarfs brought them into disfavor with religious authority and made them targets of superstitions of all kinds.  During the reign of Isabel I of Castile, a friar lamented the money spent on costumes for dwarfs; the clownish attire only made them look crazier—something the friar regarded as a waste with respect to persons who were already “locos” or lunatics.
     Disparaged though dwarfs may have been there is a lacuna of information with respect to these madcaps.  The household records of Isabella I mention a dwarf named Velasquillo, who served at the behest of Ferdando the Catholic.  We know nothing of where he came from; what his full name was; or how long he remained at court.  In fiction, he is the protagonist of my novel Little Velásquez which is set in 15th century Spain, during the thirteen years leading up to the conquest of Granada.
     In writing Little Velásquez, I made use of the chronicles and historical accounts pertaining to the era.  The chronicles are often confused with history when, in truth, they are hagiography.  History attempts to provide us with a verifiable record of the past; hagiography is an idealized version of the past.  Confusing the two leads to regrettable misconceptions—as to treat hagiography as history is to perpetuate myth.  The very word “chronicle” should inspire a healthy skepticism.   Little enough information exists about dwarfs without further muddling the facts.  I could point to the following: “… Frances de Zúñiga , one of the most famous Spanish dwarfs…  commonly referred to by the diminutive Francesillo.”  Except that we will never know whether Zúñiga or anyone else referred to him as Francesillo.  A diminutive does not a dwarf make.  Sources indicate that Adolfo de Castro bestowed the nickname Francesillo on Zúñiga, the author of a burlesque chronicle of Charles V, in a prologue to an 1855 edition. By then,  the jester had been dead for three centuries.
     Why should an oversight such as the one above matter?  Because the historian—despite calling  Zúñiga brilliant—asserts that he could be wicked and cruel.  He made verbal “assaults” on other people’s appearances that may have stemmed from his own “sensitivity about his body.” Given the predominance of physical humor of the most scatological kind prevalent during the 16th century,  Zúñiga can hardly be treated as an exception, much less an exceptionally disturbed dwarf.
      A far more hair-raising story of a dwarf can be found in a critical history of Spanish literature.   It falls into the category of tales about devious dwarfs.  A dwarf arrives on mule at the palace of a king. His appearance among the fair nobility provokes disgust.  From his head to his toes, he is a grotesque figure.  Based on his appearance alone, the dwarf should be cast out. The benevolent king instead makes the dwarf his guest.  The dwarf feigns gratitude when, all the while, he is plotting mischief.  He sets his sights on the comely queen, entering her bedchamber at night. The queen fends him off and sends him packing minus a tooth. The king summons the dwarf, whereupon he learns the queen is the reason for his injuries.  This arouses the king’s suspicions since he also learns that the struggle took place in the queen’s chamber.  A trap is laid for the queen.  The next day, while the king is at Mass, the dwarf steals into the queen’s room again.  They are discovered by the king.  For the sin of adultery, the king decides that the queen must be burned at the stake.  She is stripped to her camisole in preparation for her ordeal.  The king decides that she is too pure and beautiful to have had carnal relations with a dwarf.  She is spared. The dwarf is not so fortunate.  He is burned to death—destined for an eternity in hell. 
     The stigma cast upon dwarfs has a long tradition, one in which the Church has played no small part.  Dwarfs subvert the natural order of things, and not only in appearance but by their temperament and behavior.   As with itinerant actors, those who made a name performing in public, dwarfs make fools of themselves and others. They live by their wits. They embody irreverence, bawdiness, lewdness, debauchery, so on and so forth.  Small in stature dwarfs are ever associated excess. Hardly surprising, then, to read in a history of the “juglares” or minstrels  a tale in which a “boy” in the service of the King of Galicia was castigated by none other than the Almighty for making a joke about a saint.  From the famous portraits by Diego de Velasquez to the “Song of the Dwarf” by Rainer Marie Rilke, dwarfs embody the fallen condition of humankind. Velázquez’s dwarfs are among God’s unfortunates; they are to be pitied lest God find us unworthy of his mercy.  The anguish expressed in Rilke’s poem is an elegant expression of acute moral self-abasement.  
      Or we could do just as well to consider the words of a man and poet—considered one of the great geniuses of his times—who is often and misleadingly called a dwarf:  “Honor and shame from no condition rise.  Act well your part: there all the honor lies.”  Alexander Pope.

Kathryn A. Kopple is the author of Little Velásquez, a novel set in 15th century Spain.              

25 November 2014

Medieval curses and some forms of protection against them by Lindsay Townsend

Medieval people believed in magic, both good and bad. Spells and charms cast with evil intent were called curses and several have survived from that time. The Anglo-Saxons believed in both charms and curses, including a curse chanted against a wen or boil. The little wen is told to go away, to become smaller and vanish into nothing (Her ne scealt thu timbrien, it says - “Here not build your timbered house.”)

The Vikings also believed in the power of words and words for magic and curses. In one saga a witch called Busla issues a curse against King Hring, who has captured and threatened to kill Busla’s foster son. The curse is chanted at night (a good time for such dark matters) and Busla’s magical threats are made manifest.  In lines of poetry, the witch claims that her curse will cause Hring to go deaf, make his eyes to the leave their sockets,  make his bed like burning straw and make him impotent. In addition, any horse he rode would take him to trolls– and more.
“Shall trolls and elves and tricking witches,
shall dwarfs and etins (giants) burn down thy mead-hall…”
 The king is still reluctant and  Busla chants the strongest part of her curse, magic so dark that she does not utter it at night but which will cause Hring to be torn into pieces and flung into hell.  Faced with these gruesome outcomes, the king swears an oath to release his captives. The witch then stops the curse.

Curses could be used both as items to propel malice and as a curious form of protection. Curses were often attached to medieval and Anglo-Saxon wills, mostly to ensure the last wishes were observed, or for more day to day purposes.  The will of Siflaed (composed between 1066-68, soon after  the Norman conquest of England, which may explain the strength of the curse)  states “Whoever alters this, may God turn his face away from him on the day of judgment.”   The Will of Wulfgyth, dated 1046, promises that anyone who detracts from his will shall be denied all human comfort and joy and be delivered into hell “and there suffer with God’s adversaries without end and never trouble my heirs.”  

This form of invoking God by means of a curse to protect others remained popular throughout the Middle Ages.  In 1407, the Will of Thomas of Tyldeslegh gives a hundred shillings of silver to a John Boys to make him an apprentice in a trade and “If anyone hinder this, may God’s curse be upon him.”
Curses could be used by medieval people everywhere and in all circumstances. When a monk  in 1420 discovered that the monastery cat had peed  on the manuscript he had been copying, the monk cursed the cat and recorded his curse—with a small drawing, showing pointing hands toward the cat pee—
Hic non defectus est, sed cattus minxit desuper nocte quadam. Confundatur pessimus cattus qui minxit super librum istum in nocte Daventrie, et consimiliter omnes alii propter illum. Et cavendum valde ne permittantur libri aperti per noctem ubi cattie venire possunt.
Which translates as:
Here is nothing missing, but a cat urinated on this during a certain night. Cursed be the pesty cat that urinated over this book during the night in Deventer and because of it many others [other cats] too. And beware well not to leave open books at night where cats can come.

Curses as medieval swear words can be found in this article here:

The ultimate curse could be considered to be excommunication, where a person and a person’s soul is cut off from God and the comforts and body of the church. This was feared as a terrible punishment but was not seen as being permanent, since a person could make amends and have the excommunication lifted.  Bishops and popes used excommunication as a political weapon and means of control.

 Objects could also be used in a malicious way. An amulet containing such vile materials as human waste, a splinter of wood from a gibbet or menstrual blood might be hidden under a bed to cause anything from impotence to sickness. Corpses of dead animals, such as black mice, were sometimes wrapped in cloth and buried under a threshold to create trouble for the inhabitants. Sympathetic magic, where a witch would ‘milk’ a knife stuck in the wall of her cottage, would enable her to steal milk from a cow. In Lucerne in 1486 2 women were accused of making hail by pouring well water over their heads. In Coventry in the 14th century a sorcerer created a wax figure of his neighbor, then drove a spike into the figure’s head and then heart. The neighbor died. In the 1130s the Jews of Trier were accused of making a wax figure of the archbishop and melting it in a fire to cause his death.

Some people were believed to have the power in themselves of cursing others, particularly if members of their family had been accused of sorcery. In 1454 at Lucerne a woman called Dorothea  was widely believed to be an ill-wisher—her mother had been burned as a witch and Dorothea, being unpopular, was accused in her turn.

Certain things were considered to be inherently cursed or evil in the Middle Ages. The wood of the elder tree was believed to be unlucky (it was said Judas had hung himself from an elder tree)and it was also thought to be a witches’ tree. Elder wood can easily splinter, so strictures against its use were in some ways sensible.  Juniper was another plant with a mixed reputation. Although a sprig of juniper was believed to protect the wearer from curses, to dream of juniper was said to foretell bad luck or a death.

What could protect against curses? Rowan was said to be a strong protector. The rowan tree, taken from the Norse “runa” meaning charm, was often planted close to houses to protect the household  against evil. Around Easter time medieval people would make small crosses from rowan wood to give further safety to the house.

Illness, famine, flood, plague and all manner of misfortunes in the Middle Ages were believed to be either due to God’s anger (as with the Black Death) or the result of a curse. Given the state of knowledge about the natural world at that time, the idea of deliberate evil by a person (or in some cases an animal) makes a strange kind of sense. Moreover people were comforted when they could use prayers, amulets, witch bottles and, in extreme cases, the law to protect themselves against the occult forces.

24 November 2014

Curses and Cures: Roman Spell Tablets

Ancient Roman spirituality religion was an interesting blend of superstition and quid pro quo. The Roman relationship with the supernatural was based less on mystical communion than a divine bartering system: I perform the correct ritual, and you give me what I want. Magic was an everyday factor of Roman life, from amulets and charms to fortune telling and spell casting.

votives in the shape of body parts
(source: thevotivesproject.com)
Amulets were worn for protection, luck, and good health, much like religious symbols and devotional medals today. They were also left in temples and other sacred places as votive offerings when petitioning a deity. Such offerings usually illustrated the request, such as the body part in need of healing. Votives could be made from just about any material, from clay or wood to stone, ivory, glass, metal, or even gems. Amulets were popular in jewelry, especially pendants and rings.

Amulets and votives could be used as-is, but spells had to be more specific, especially if that spell was a curse. Curses had to be written, usually scratched on curse tablets called defixiones made from inexpensive metal like lead or pewter. Illiterate people either visited the local magic shop to pay for a personalized spell or employed ancient copy-and-paste from other tablets. Composition wasn't as important as identification - the simplest curse might be nothing more than the target's name.

curse tablet with nail holes for added
oomph (source: wikipedia.com) 
There seems to have been little fear of karmic retribution; people freely cursed business competitors, political opponents, romantic rivals, personal enemies, anonymous criminals, basically anyone who pissed you off. (Vendors hung out near sporting events selling curses against each competitor to fans of the opposition!) You could turn it up a notch by adding symbols, writing the spell backwards, piercing holes in the metal, or providing a helpful drawing of the requested retribution. Completed spells were buried, thrown into water, or left at a temple or sacred spot. Curses were also left in graves to seek justice on the behalf of the deceased or protect the tomb from grave robbers. 

A cache of such tablets was found in the temple of Sulis Minerva at Bath, England. Minerva being a logical kind of gal, most of these curses aren't about jilted lovers or jealous rivals but requests for justice, as if the goddess were a divine Don Corleone. Here's a great one cursing a jewelry thief:
as long as any person, whether slave or free, keeps silent or knows anything about [the theft], may he be cursed in his blood and eyes and every limb, and have all his intestines eaten away if he stole the ring or knows about [who did].

Another man was not happy after having his clothes stolen from the public bath:
deny sleep and health to the one who has done me this wrong, whether man or woman, slave or free, unless he reveals himself and brings these goods to your temple.

curse tablet condemning
the unfortunate Dr. Porcello
(source: livescience.com)
This tablet from Italy is the ultimate Yelp review. It curses a veterinarian named Porcello, who apparently did not treat someone's pet very well:
Destroy, crush, kill, and strangle Porcello and his wife Maurilla: their souls, hearts, buttocks, livers...
Now that is an unsatisfied customer.

Unsurprisingly, love spells were as popular as curses. There were spells to increase attractiveness or sexual prowess, to punish infidelity or get revenge after being jilted, to prevent a lover from straying, and of course to ensnare your object of desire. Virgil described "tying the bonds of Venus" with special ribbons, binding the subjects together forever. 

In the Roman world of spiritual quid pro quo, the quickest way to a desired outcome was a magic spell. The votive offering and the defixio were two of the most ubiquitous means of Roman curses and cures.

Heather Domin writes historical, romantic, and speculative fiction. Her upcoming novel THE HEIRS OF FORTUNE, set in Augustan Rome, is soon to be released. 

23 November 2014

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Shirley Graetz on SHE WROTE ON CLAY

This week, we're pleased to welcome author Shirley Graetz with her latest release,  SHE WROTE ON CLAY. Join us again on Sunday for an author interview, with more details about the story behind the story. One lucky visitor will get a free audiobook copy of She Wrote on Clay. Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's post or Sunday's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

Set nearly 3,800 years ago on the banks of the Euphrates, the novel traces the journey of Iltani, a gifted girl from a scribal family, who dreams of becoming a scribe. In order to fulfill her destiny she enters the gagû, becoming a nadītu, an elite class of monastic women. There, she is expected to lead a sheltered life and be cared for by her aunt and taught by a fellow nadītu-scribe. But life is not that simple; she is soon forced to deal with many unforeseen misfortunes.  After eventually reaching her goal, she is invited by a male scribe to take part in engraving the stele for King Hammurabi; an invitation which will cause turmoil and uncertainty in her peaceful existence.
            The unique feature of She Wrote on Clay is not only the exceptional account of the nadītu women, but also the integration into the plot of original Akkadian material (cuneiform letters, contracts etc.), vivid testimonies, which are rarely encountered by anyone outside the field of Assyriology.

**Q&A with Shirley Graetz**

What got you interested in women who lived 4000 years ago in ancient Mesopotamia (Iraq)?

I was studying Assyriology- that is the history of ancient Iraq which is also called Mesopotamia.  I was learning cuneiform script and the ancient language Akkadian. These languages were spoken over 4000 years ago.

While searching for a topic for my MA and PHD thesis, I came across many women who were writing different kinds of letters to all sorts of people.

Among these women were the naditu women, a class of monastic women whose lives really intrigued me. I started to read more and more about them and the letters, sales contracts, adoption contracts and inheritance contracts that they wrote. The fact that all of these ancient letters were written in cuneiform on clay fascinated me even more.

Did women really know how to write back then?

Well, actually most of the people 4000 years ago did not know how to read or write. The cuneiform script was hard to learn as it included more than 600 signs. There were schools called E-Dubba- meaning- the house of tablets- in which boys from affluent families would learn how to read and write and then became scribes. They would write documents for the temple or the kings or for anyone who would pay for their services.

Although only boys went to school, it was not forbidden for girls. Thus we know of some women who became scribes, especially amongst the naditu women.

You were studying for an MA and PHD - how did you come to write a novel?

My academic studies only answered some of my questions concerning the naditu women. These dry studies did no address questions like: What did they feel? Were they happy? Did some of them want to escape their status of being a “nun”? Did some regret never having married and not having children? All these questions were churning around in my head.  And one day, the story just burst out on paper (not cuneiform) to answer all these unasked questions.

Is writing a novel different than writing an academic dissertation?

In academic writing, everything, every thought and claim has to be with proved with references to previously written material. One is not encouraged to use one's imagination. Writing a novel is just the opposite.  There is the plot, which is influenced by historical sources I use, but the sources are full of gaps. There are many questions I had to answer using my imagination. Although all the characters are based on a specific historical source, it is not enough. I had to get into the character's skin and flesh them out so that they would seem real. 

At the beginning I felt uncomfortable that I was not using footnoting each sentence. But in a novel, references are background, not foreground.   

Was the research for your novel different than for your academic studies?

Of course! In academia you usually focus on a narrow topic. For my novel I had to widen my research. I had to learn about details of the life back then, such as kind of food did they eat, what clothing they wore. I also had to absorb details concerning the architecture, art, life, customs, and religion of this time period.  I had to learn about what it meant to love, give birth and die for these Mesopotamian women. For instance, in order to imagine Iltani’s house (the heroine), I looked at many house plans and eventually I drew a plan of her house. That way I could imagine it every time I was describing a scene in the book. I looked at a hundreds of artifacts from that period in order to get a sense of their style and their craftsmanship.

How did you find the time to write both a novel and a doctorate? 

I got up very early (4 o'clock in the morning) and wrote my novel until I had to get my children (3 little children) off to school. I then went to the library to work on my doctorate. Although both were labors of love, I felt driven to write the novel—after all I wanted to know what would happen to my creations, and every morning I would learn a little more.

Find the novel here: http://www.amazon.com/She-Wrote-Clay-Shirley-Graetz/dp/0989263126 

22 November 2014

Curses and Cures: Superstitions

One of the most powerful superstitions among the indigenous people of Australia is the concept of ‘pointing the bone’, often called ‘singing a person to death’. To grasp this concept requires an understanding of the traditional aboriginal mindset. This is most important because of its isolation from that of modern Western thought. We need to realise that religion and the Dreamtime myths are at the core of traditional aboriginal society.

The fact that tribes interacted for trading or ceremonial purposes meant that a common set of religious beliefs about the Dreamtime came into being. The aborigines have lived in Australia for at least 60 000 years, that huge time span allowing the uninterrupted belief in an essential harmony between human beings, the land and the Dreamtime. Ellis (1984), Flood (1983) and Stanner (1979), in important studies explain that the Dreamtime is a number of things unified in one. It is a sacred, heroic time long ago when spirit beings began all phenomena. They set the stars in their courses, created the earth, and all material and spiritual life. They created laws (or rituals) to provide meaning to, and to perpetuate this way of living. They stored spirit power in animals, plants and sacred sites. The Dreaming refers to an aborigine’s awareness and knowledge of the Dreamtime, and is a metaphor suggesting that this awareness is enhanced by dreamy, quiet, vague and visionary fantasy or trance states. The land and rituals serve as reminders.

There is “a oneness of person, body, spirit, ghost, shadow, name, spirit site and totem” (Stanner) in aboriginal beliefs. The Dreamtime is not an historic event but corresponds to the whole of reality. It is eternal. It is “a vertical line in which the past underlies and is within the present” (Elkin, 93). Corroborees are the most common means by which an aborigine acts as, and becomes, a spiritual being or totem.

It is clear that the power of belief is much more deeply rooted in the traditional aboriginal mind than it is in that of Westerners. Messing with that mind is a serious dislocation of traditional beliefs. Rituals involving fear, isolation and suggestion are the province of senior men like the medicine man or sorcerer. (One term is distinguished from the other by his attitude to evil; the medicine man heals, the sorcerer destroys). His power is drawn from faith, ritual and special knowledge of the Dreaming. He is the individual who can examine the mind of the dead to determine whether foul play was involved in a death, and he is the one who can cast spells.

Where a society’s understanding of itself relies pretty much on belief and the mysterious knowledge of a medicine man there is only a small step to accepting that a man can be cursed through the casting of spells by a sorcerer or healed through the powers accepted as the province of the medicine man. Just how this change – from sickness to health or from a state of fitness and joie de vivre to depression and death – can be brought about is not important. What is the central focus here is that a mind that believes that some other man has the power to heal or destroy will respond according to that belief system. One that does not believe is perfectly safe. (In 2004 Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard, upset some aboriginal elders to the point that a ‘bone’ was pointed at him. He is still very much alive in 2014).

So what is the process? John Godwin (163 – 76) and Ronald Rose (30 – 36) describe, in separate publications, one case that they have researched. What is detailed here varies little from other accounts. The gist of what they have to say is repeated here in my words. "Bone pointing" is a method of execution that, if prepared carefully, never fails to kill its victim. It consists of a powerful curse and a method of application. The so-called ‘bone’ may be human, kangaroo, emu or even wood. The shape of the killing-bone, or kundela, varies from tribe to tribe. It can be anything from six to nine inches in length and looks like a long needle. At the rounded end, a piece of hair is attached through the hole, and glued into place with a gummy resin from the spinifex bush. Before it can be used, the kundela is charged with a powerful psychic energy in a ritual that is kept secret from women and from those who are not tribe members. To be effective, the ritual must be performed faultlessly, the victim must know he has been boned - gossip, rumour or just a whisper can start the sometimes fatal process of autosuggestion, and he must be born into aboriginal culture and believe absolutely the lore and consequences of being boned.

The bone is then given to the kurdaitcha, who are the tribe's ritual killers.

The name, kurdaitcha, has been used by Europeans to mean the slippers the killers wear while on the hunt. The indigenous name for the slippers in Northern Australia is interlinia, while in Southern Australia the term is intathurta. The slippers are made of cockatoo (or emu) feathers and human hair—they leave no footprints. The killers’ bodies are coated in human blood and kangaroo fur, which is stuck to their bodies. Masks of emu feathers complete the ritualised costume. Kurdaitcha hunt in pairs or threes and are relentless in the pursuit of their quarry.

Once the man is caught, one of the kurdaitcha goes down onto one knee and points the kundela. The victim is said to be frozen with fear and stays to hear the curse, which takes the form of a brief piercing chant. Then, task completed, the kurdaitcha return to their home village and the kundela is ritually burned.

The condemned man may live for several days or even weeks. But, he believes so strongly in the curse, that he will surely die. It is said that the ritual loading of the kundela creates a "spear of thought" which pierces the victim when the bone is pointed at him. It is as if an actual spear has been thrust at him.

The ‘enlightened’ Westerner may have some sympathy for another point of view. From 1969 to 1980, H.D. Eastwell, a psychiatrist, studied aboriginal men in Arnhem Land. Sorcery syndrome (gross fear of death) was common. Symptoms were agitation, sleeplessness, visions, and protruding eyeballs. Fear was precipitated by trauma, for example, death or serious illness of a close relative, or a dispute over wives. A few victims died. Eastwell (1982) concluded that since the victim was outcast and deprived of water, dehydration rather than fright may have caused death (5 – 18).

A sorceror’s curse can be a deadly weapon. It works because a deeply-entrenched belief system is violated by an inimical intruder. Making and using the bone is said to be dangerous knowledge and unless the incantations and movements are precise according to ritual the curse can rebound with devastating results. The only ways to effect a cure are the retraction of the curse by the sorcerer who laid it, or the effects nullified by one at least equally well versed in the lore. Without this intervention, the victim’s future is grim.


Eastwell, H.D. (1982). Voodoo death and the mechanism for dispatch of the dying in East Arnhem. American Anthropologist, 84, 5-18.

Elkin, A P (1969). Elements of Australian Aboriginal philosophy. Oceania, 40, 85-98.

Ellis, R (1984). Aboriginal Australia; Past and present. Sydney: Shakespeare Head/Golden Press.

Flood, J. (1983). Archeology of the Dreamtime. Sydney: Collins.

Godwin, John. Unsolved: The World of the Unknown, pp. 163–76 Rose, Ronald. Living Magic, pp. 30–36

Stanner, W (1979). The Dreaming. In, White man go no dreaming, 23-40. Canberra: ANU Press.

Ian Lipke became a teacher of primary children in 1958, transferring to secondary schools in 1964. He has taught in schools in remote and metropolitan areas of Queensland, Australia. He left school teaching in 1977 to lecture at the University of Queensland and at Queensland University of Technology. Throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, he was a deputy principal at several high schools, before retiring to manage his own tutoring business. In 2006, he returned to postgraduate studies through research at the University of Queensland. His whole life has been devoted to academic studies, which he very much enjoys. He is the author of NARGUN.                       

21 November 2014

New & Noteworthy: November 21

Blythe Gifford’s next Royal Weddings book, WHISPERS AT COURT, is scheduled for release from Harlequin Historical in June, 2015. Set in medieval England in the court of Edward III, it tells the story of an English countess and the French hostage she at first hates, but comes to love. Their story unfolds beside a real historical love story, that of the king’s daughter Isabella and the French hostage she eventually wed. See www.blythegifford.com for more details.

Kim Rendfeld continues to write about the history behind her latest release, THE ASHES OF HEAVEN'S PILLAR (2014, Fireship Press). Her recent guest and contributing posts include "A Visit That Changed a Life and Led to Sainthood" about the founder of St. Riquier Abbey for English Historical Fiction Authors, "Say What? Lots of Languages in Charlemagne’s Realm" for Anna Belfrage’s blog, and "Sturm: One of Charlemagne’s Lieutenants in Spiritual Warfare" for Tinney Heath's Historical Fiction Research.

If you'd like to meet Kim in person, she will be at the Friends of the Library author fair and book sale 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, November 22, at the New Castle-Henry County (Indiana) Public Library, about 50 miles east of Indianapolis.

20 November 2014

Excerpt Thursday: SHE WROTE ON CLAY by Shirley Graetz

This week, we're pleased to welcome author Shirley Graetz with her latest release,  SHE WROTE ON CLAY. Join us again on Sunday for an author interview, with more details about the story behind the story. One lucky visitor will get a free audiobook copy of She Wrote on Clay. Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's post or Sunday's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

Set nearly 3,800 years ago on the banks of the Euphrates, the novel traces the journey of Iltani, a gifted girl from a scribal family, who dreams of becoming a scribe. In order to fulfill her destiny she enters the gagû, becoming a nadītu, an elite class of monastic women. There, she is expected to lead a sheltered life and be cared for by her aunt and taught by a fellow nadītu-scribe. But life is not that simple; she is soon forced to deal with many unforeseen misfortunes.  After eventually reaching her goal, she is invited by a male scribe to take part in engraving the stele for King Hammurabi; an invitation which will cause turmoil and uncertainty in her peaceful existence.
            The unique feature of She Wrote on Clay is not only the exceptional account of the nadītu women, but also the integration into the plot of original Akkadian material (cuneiform letters, contracts etc.), vivid testimonies, which are rarely encountered by anyone outside the field of Assyriology.

**An Excerpt from She Wrote on Clay**

At this point in the novel, Iltani is living in the gagû and eagerly awaits her first lessons with her tutor (Amat-Mamu) who has been hired by her father to teach her. She is taken to her house by one of the servants.

            Translations of original ancient texts and words in akkadian are shown in italics.

* * *
            Amat-Mamu’s house looked enormous. From the courtyard, Iltani counted five entrances to the different rooms, more than her own family had. The servant led her to a room full of tablets that were scattered on wooden shelves along the wall and packed into reed hampers on the floor. Everywhere she looked, she saw clay tablets in different sizes.
            “By Šamaš and Aja!” she exclaimed in astonishment. There were far more clay tablets here then her father had. She had never seen so many in one room before.
            “Please do not touch anything until Amat-Mamu arrives,” said the servant, and with a nod of her head, she left the room.
            Iltani had to fight the urge to pick up one of the tablets. But she would never have done such a thing without permission. There were several cushions on the floor and beside them a small basket and a pile of styluses and unshaped reeds. Iltani tried to imagine what they would do this first lesson. Perhaps Amat-Mamu will be interested in what she has learned with Abu, or ask her to inscribe a few signs. That’s what she hoped at least. Whatever happened, she told herself, she would do her best and not take offense if Amat-Mamu treated her harshly, as Abu had warned she might.
            “Ah, you’re here,” said Amat-Mamu hurriedly as she walked in. Amat-Mamu was shorter by a half a head than Iltani. She was a compact, plump little woman, with grey hair secured tightly in a knot.
            “Your first lesson will consist of watching me write an urgent letter,” she said taking clay out of the hamper and a few reed styluses. “Don’t just stand there,” she said beckoning Iltani, who was too perplexed to move. “And whatever you see, you must not, I repeat, you must not say a word or make a noise, even if you’re startled.”
            Iltani followed Amat-Mamu out of the house, fearful and disappointed. Where was her teacher taking her? She was walking so fast Iltani could hardly keep up. So they would not read or write anything today, it seemed.
            Amat-Mamu did not slow down or talk as they crossed the gagû. None of the houses looked familiar and Iltani was sure, that left alone here, she would have been terribly lost. They stopped at a small house. “Not a word,” Amat-Mamu put her finger to her lips as they entered the courtyard. The house was even smaller than her aunt’s, and badly in need of repair. In the courtyard stood an older nadītu, holding a clay pot over burning coal. “She is inside; she awaits you. I have given her a soothing remedy to drink, but the bruises and wounds . . . are very bad. She will need time and my best herbs to heal.”
            Iltani was frightened. What had happened? Apparently something very bad. But who would dare hurt a nadītu? They . . . we, she reminded herself, are under the protection of Šamaš and Aja. Anyone who tries to hurt us will incur the wrath of the gods.
            As they entered a small room, Iltani, following close behind, saw a woman sitting on a mattress. The woman’s eyes were red and swollen from crying. But what was worse, there were raw lash marks on her arms and legs. It looked as though she had been severely whipped. She was dressed in a thin white shift that revealed the bleeding gashes on her back. Iltani was so distressed by the sight she wanted to run away.
            “Tell me what happened,” Amat-Mamu said soothingly, no longer brusque.
            Eli-eresa, the young nadītu, spoke slowly.
            “I sewed a garment for a man named Sin-iddinam and delivered it to him. He promised he would pay me the following day, but when I went to collect what he owed me, he did not pay. A day passed, a week passed, still he did not pay. I sent three messengers and they all came back empty handed. When three months had gone by, I went to see him again, but he would only agree to pay me half the sum.
When I went to see him again, instead of paying me what he still owed me, he gave me a thrashing.”
            The room was so quiet Iltani was afraid they could hear her breathing.
            “And what is worse,” Eli-eresa continued, “he bragged that he beat five other nadītu. How could such a thing happen? How did we not know of this?” she asked in anguish. “Why did those nadītu not report it to the overseer, Rapaš-illi-Ea?”
            Iltani was so shaken she barely noticed that Amat-Mamu had had been taking down Eli-eresa’s story on a clay tablet.
            “Here, I have written a letter,” said Amat-Mamu.
“Not to the overseer but to a judge. I’ll deliver it to him myself if you like. Shall I read it to you?”
            Eli-eresa nodded.
            To my lord say; thus (says) Eli-eresa.
            I sold Sin-iddinam son of Ilšu-bani, a citizen of my city, Sippar, a garment. After he wore the garment for three months, he paid me a lower price, holding back half a shekel from the original price of the garment. I went to him, to remind him to give me the rest of the money, but instead he beat me viciously; as if I were not a servant of Šamaš. He has treated me in a way which is not acceptable in this land! The next day I went to him, and said: “Why have you treated me this way?”
            Thus he said: “I have beaten five nadītu of Šamaš, besides you. I will pay only those I wish to pay! No one takes anything from me.”
            My lord, you are my judge, pass a verdict on the case I have with Sin-iddinam.

            As they were leaving, Iltani noticed the older nadītu was smearing a brown ointment on Eli-eresa’s wounds. This woman looked familiar, yet Iltani could not remember from where.
            Amat-Mamu was silent all the way back and Iltani was too distraught to ask any questions. Just before reaching the house, Amat-Mamu turned to Iltani and asked: “What did you learn today that is worth remembering?”
            Iltani was speechless. What had she learned today that was worth remembering? Nothing about the art of the scribe. What she had learned was that all her notions about the life of a nadītu were perhaps the notions of a silly child, provided to her by her trusting Abu. That was her lesson for today.

            Amat-Mamu observed her, waiting for a response. As none came, she said: “A scribe should be seen and not heard. And our services are not limited to those who pay us to write down and witness their business contracts. As nadītu scribes we must help our friends. I know that you will never forget what you saw today and that will make you a better scribe. A scribe whose hand competes with his mouth is indeed a scribe. A scribe who writes without error and without asking the speaker to repeat himself need never sew garments for a living.” 

Amat-Mamu held Iltani’s gaze until Iltani looked down at her feet and said, “Yes, Mistress, I understand.”

Find the novel here: http://www.amazon.com/She-Wrote-Clay-Shirley-Graetz/dp/0989263126