Alright, time for one little confession…
I’m the BIGGEST King Arthur fan.
I’ve read every relevant book I’ve managed to get my hands on, I’ve watched every TV and movie adaptation (I’m looking at you Sean Connery) and I’ve visited a ton of historical sites that were allegedly visited by King Arthur. I’ve even written a book that incorporates the Arthurian Legend, which you can find right here!
I’m not ashamed to admit that I once got into a heated argument with a university classmate about whether or not King Arthur broke the Laws of Chivalry before in his life. She insisted he did, I insisted he didn’t.
Long story short, she was wrong, and I was right. Period.
Having said that, the Arthurian Legends are full of interesting characters that come with their own unique stories.
And my favorite (second to King Arthur, of course) has to be the fabled Lady of the Lake.
Who was the mysterious woman who not only gave King Arthur his magical sword, Excalibur but kidnapped Sir Lancelot as a child only to later cure him of his madness?
The Lady of the Lake may have been a Celtic goddess in origin, perhaps even related to the Gwagged Annwn, the lake ferries in modern Welsh folklore. According to Ulrich, she was a fairy that raised Sir Lancelot from birth and was the mother of Mabuz, identical to the Celtic god Mabon.
The Lady of the Lake’s character is super ambiguous, even in her most early appearances in the legends and stories. In the French Vulgate Estoire de Merlin, she loves the enchanter and seals him in a beautiful tower, magically constructed, so that she can keep him for herself forever. She would visit him regularly and ended up giving her love to him.
In the continuation of the Vulgate, known as the Suite du Merlin, the relationship is very different. When Merlin shows her a tomb of two lovers, magically sealed, she enchants him and has him cast into the tomb on top of the two lovers, whereupon she reseals the tomb and Merlin dies a slow death.
Alfred Lord Tennyson turns Vivien into the personification of evil. Edwin Arlington Robinson, in the poem, Merlin, makes Merlin’s “captivity” voluntary, and his Vivian is less of an enchantress than an interesting woman whom Merlin truly loves.
So, who is the Lady of the Lake or Vivien? Was she good, evil or a bit of both? Perhaps she was a combination of many imaginative tales and came to be popularized as one of the primary characters of the Arthurian legends.
The Lady of the Lake has been known by many names. The most common are Nimue, Viviane, and Vivien. Nimue became the most popularly used name for this character from Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur.
Morgana Le Fay was also, at some point, theorized to have been the Lady of the Lake, though that theory never gathered a lot of momentum due to the overwhelming lack of writing to support it.
Morgana le Fay is, in Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, Arthur’s half-sister, the daughter of Arthur’s mother Igraine and her first husband, the Duke of Cornwall. She is also presented as an adversary of Arthur’s: she gives Excalibur to her lover, Accolon, so he can use it against King Arthur and, when that plot fails, she steals the scabbard of Excalibur which protects Arthur and throws it into a lake.
Despite the motif of Morgana’s enmity towards Arthur and Guinevere, she is also presented as one of the women who take Arthur in a barge to Avalon to be healed.
Although the Lady of the Lake is most famous for giving King Arthur the sword, this title has been used to refer to many different people: water fey, an enchantress who Merlin fell in love with, etc. It makes sense that she’d have multiple names because it actually wasn’t the same person in all these legends.
Since no one actually knows the origins of the Lady of the Lake legend, people have theorized that she originated from the Celtic Water Goddess, Coventina, as it is believed the name Viviane stems from Co-Vianna, which is a variation of Coventina.
Nimue, the woman who sealed Merlin in a cave (or a tree), put him under a spell and deprived King Arthur of his services (but later on rescued the King twice, with one time being from Accolon, who -as mentioned above- was given Excalibur by Morgana Le Fay), is also mentioned as one of the maidens who aided King Arthur’s passage to Avalon.
Let us be honest here.
In one way or another, everyone's a “freak”. No two bodies are the same; we all have unpleasant, wonderful, shocking and extraordinary features; we are all unique. But for centuries the word 'freak' has been used cruelly to describe people born with 'abnormal' features, or those able to perform extraordinary physical acts by contorting or misshaping their bodies.
Exhibitions of live human curiosities had appeared in traveling fairs, circuses and taverns in England since the 1600s. These included so-called giants, dwarves, fat people, the very thin, conjoined twins and even people from exotic tribes. Freak shows were a particularly popular form of entertainment during the Victorian period, when people from all classes flocked to gawp at these unusual examples of human life.
A variety of factors fueled this fascination with all that the world had to offer—from the rise of photography to Darwin’s theory of evolution. Little wonder, then, that touring attractions of the exotic and sideshows that displayed the human form in all its variety and deviation flourished during the Victorian Era.
The maestros behind these touring attractions were well aware of what their spectators wanted, and set out to prove that their particular sideshow was the biggest, strangest, and freakiest of the bunch. Perhaps the best-known barker of the era was P.T. Barnum, a man who spun elaborate—and often entirely fabricated—backstories for his freaks in order to draw an audience.
But the impresarios weren’t the only ones making money. Victorians were so taken with the stars of the shows that freak show paraphernalia became a hot commodity. Freak trading cards were wildly successful and some performers – such as Isaac “The American Human Skeleton” Sprague – even composed biographies to be printed in pamphlets along with their pictures and sold at each performance. While profit was split between showmen and performers, the entertainers often fared better than their management.
The physical display of people considered to look different or unusual has a long history. In the medieval and early modern periods, people who looked different – with, for example, birth defects – were considered ‘monstrous’ and attracted lots of attention. Much of it was unkind; they would be mocked and ridiculed at best, considered possessed or demonic at worst.
For a long time disabled people had been used as entertainment: the ‘court jester’ of short stature being a prime example. During the 18th and 19th centuries people who were considered different, particularly those with a physical disability, tended to be displayed more systematically in both Britain and the US.
From the 1840s, the word ‘freak’ came into popular usage. From then on, these displays or performances were openly discussed and advertised as ‘freak shows’.
It is difficult to emphasize how popular these shows were. Because they were often touring shows visiting large cities and small villages alike, they attracted thousands of people each year. This was helped by the low entry fee, with some charging only a penny for admittance. They were also accessible; you did not need to be highly educated to enjoy the freak show. They appealed to every class, and to adults as well as children.
Although freak shows were primarily for entertainment, in the Victorian period they also became bound up with ideas about science. People who were considered different could also be displayed for apparently ‘scientific’ purposes. They could be poked and prodded, asked questions and otherwise interrogated physically and verbally. This was the case with Joseph Merrick, the ‘Elephant Man’.
Originally, Merrick was displayed in a small and, by all reports, seedy sideshow in Whitechapel. Among the visitors to this freak show was Frederick Treves, a doctor at the nearby Royal London Hospital, who wanted to see Merrick as part of his medical curiosity. It was Treves who eventually ‘saved’ Merrick from display after his escape and abandonment at a fairground in France. Nonetheless, the alternative life he provided for him, as a semi-permanent resident in the hospital, still involved being examined by multiple people.
In the early 1880s a young girl called ‘Krao’ was taken from her home in Laos, then a vassal state of Siam, to the cold metropolis of Victorian London by William Leonard Hunt, a showman known as ‘the Great Farini’. The girl, probably about four at the time of her capture, was of unusual appearance. She was covered in thick dark hair and rumour had it that she had ‘a double row of teeth’, ‘pouches in the cheek’ and ‘double-jointed knuckles’.
Krao was exhibited by Farini at the London Aquarium in a display that labelled her as ‘The Missing Link’ between animals and humanity. She drew large crowds and attracted huge attention in the press and periodicals.
In the period when Krao was being exhibited, Britain had been gripped by a controversy surrounding Charles Darwin’s claim that human beings had evolved from other species. Many were shocked by his findings and refused to believe in the theory of evolution.
Furthermore, Darwin’s inability to pinpoint an exact evolutionary stage between the human and the orangutan led to much skepticism about the whole of evolutionary theory and generated much public interest as to where that so-called missing link might lie. That Farini was able to tap into this topical concern in the way he marketed Krao says much about his skills as a showman.
There have always been people with bodily difference, including, for example, that of not being able to walk or work, or the visible difference sometimes discussed as ‘deformity’. But in the Victorian period these differences were concentrated on and commented upon more and more.
The reign of the freak show waned at the dawn of the 20th century; by the 1950s, it had all but disappeared. A number of factors led to its decline – including shifts in public interest, charges of exploitation by journalists like Henry Mayhew, and the rise of television.
Between popular murder scenes and freak shows, those Victorians surely knew how to chose their entertainment, didn’t they?!
Written by Patricia Haverton
Ah, the Regency Era!
A time of luxury, elegant balls, and proper manners!
A period of extravagant dresses, hearty dinners…
…and murder scenes that served as entertainment!
Oh, you heard that right!
For all its glamour and obsession with decorum, the Regency Era became the birthplace of a few very strange, and dome downright inexplicable things!
Let’s take a look at a few of them!
Regency society decreed that a lady must not walk or ride along St. James Street in London where a number of the famous men’s clubs such as “White’s”, “Boodle’s” and “Brook’s” were situated. A lady risked her reputation and being impertinently ogled if she dared venture into this male precinct.
St. James was the gentlemen’s preserve. For a woman to simply walk down St. James’ Street was considered a social solecism. Even more so, for a woman of quality to be seen entering a gentleman’s lodgings or area of entertainment, alone, would mean swift and certain ruin.
A celebrity chef is a kitchen chef who has become a celebrity. Today, chefs often become celebrities by presenting cookery advice and demonstrations, usually through the mediums of television and radio, or in printed publications. While television is ultimately the primary way for a chef to become a celebrity, some have achieved this through success in the kitchen, cookbook publications, and achieving awards such as Michelin stars, while others are home cooks that won competitions.
The idea of the “celebrity” chef emerged during the Regency with the most famous being Marie-Antoine Carême who charged astronomical amounts of money for his services, wrote bestselling cookbooks and was employed by both Napoleon and the Prince Regent.
It cost at least £15 – an average working man’s yearly wage – to light a ballroom with wax candles for one night. Candles were sold in four-hour or six-hour burn lengths, and they dictated the length of the ball. One can imagine the delight of walking into a ballroom and finding the room ablaze with six-hour candles, and the disappointment of finding only the four-hour kind in the candelabra.
I can’t imagine how high the electricity bill would have been…
Pineapples were very exotic and so expensive that hostesses used them as centerpieces on their dinner tables to show their wealth. They were hardly ever eaten as they were too precious and were often passed from hostess to hostess to use as decoration until they rotted.
I do love tea, and I simply can’t imagine re-using the tea leaves, but that is precisely what happened during this era, when tea was an expensive import.
The common scenario went like this – the first use was made by the householder. After they had enjoyed their tea, the housekeeper would collect the leaves and dry them out, whereupon she would enjoy the second steeping of the leaves. She may then pass them onto some lucky individual among the members of staff who had fallen into her favor, blessed to enjoy the third use of the tea.
It was not scandalous for ladies to show their ankles. In fact, several drawings and engravings of the era show ladies with skirts barely reaching their ankles. Since their dancing slippers were similar to today’s ballerina flats, the ankles were clearly visible. As shoe styles changed from slippers into the boots of the Victorian Era, it also became a sign of modesty to keep one’s ankles covered. Hence, showing ankles was scandalous during the Victorian Era, but not the Regency Era.
Due to the Napoleonic Wars and subsequent blockages, wheat was hard to come by. This meant that bread, a main staple in the Englishman’s diet, became scarce. In an attempt to prevent a massive shortage, Parliament passed the Stale Bread Act. This outlawed the sale and/or consumption of fresh bread, and only allowed stale bread, or bread baked more than 24 hours ago, to be sold. Apparently stale bread filled bellies faster than fresh bread. Penalties for the offense were severe, but as you can imagine, it was very hard to enforce due to the poverty rates. The government repealed it about a year later, but the shortage persisted until after the war ended.
Austen wrote that "to be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love", and country balls were seen as an excellent way for Regency women to hook a husband. The food on offer was "fancy" finger food that could be eaten without too much mess. Like…
…chicken stuffed with hogs' tongues.
The upper classes liked to swan around at balls, but rural communities had more practical methods of helping people find a match. If a girl's parents approved of a boy, he'd be invited to stay the night in her bed. To prevent premarital hanky-panky, they'd be sewn into a bag with a seam down the middle to keep them on their own side.
Ah, what a time to be alive! 😉
Written by Emma Linfield
“Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork, and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg, and owlet's wing,—
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.”
Never heard of this before?
You must be thinking this is some kind of witch’s spell, right?
A nefarious potion boiled under the full moon as a hag throws all kinds of bizarre ingredients in a bubbling cauldron…
Sorry to disappoint you!
These few lines were actually written by William Shakespeare. In Macbeth, to be specific.
Now, I can’t really say what Shakespeare did in his free time, but I’m pretty sure that potions and outlandish-sounding witchcraft weren’t among his list of hobbies.
In fact, the above quote from Macbeth isn’t witchcraft at all!
I know, I know. Toes of frogs and tongues of dogs are not exactly the ingredients you’d want your daily green smoothie to include. And well, that “hell-broth” part doesn’t really create a good first impression.
But hear me out!
Chances are, you have been using “eyes of newt” and “lizard’s legs” for years!
No doubt some country folk in the Middle Ages thought these names were literal, given that witch hunts were a favorite sport at the time. In fact, in addition to midwifing babies, having knowledge of herbs and plants was reason enough to accuse a woman of being a "witch."
Witches were persecuted to hell and back, especially in England, during the infamous Witch Hunts. Thousands of women -and men- died horrible deaths at the hands of self-proclaimed witch hunters and “priests.” If you’d like to read an article on the matter, click here!
Medicine women, with their vast knowledge of herbs and their medical properties, very often found themselves on the receiving end of extraordinarily harsh punishment for practicing their trade.
And the strange names given to plants certainly played a part in that.
Medicine was and still is a difficult field to master.
Back then, with their very limited resources, people had to rely on the gifts offered by Mother Nature herself in order to cure their ailments. At some point, some laurel in a pot of boiling water along with some lemon and honey and poof! A cure for headaches.
Of course, in the absence of labs and test bottles, people had to rely on experience to decipher which plant helps with which ailment. And that, my dear fellow, was quite dangerous!
Some plants can be toxic if consumed in certain forms, others can kill a grown man if the dosage exceeds a certain amount. Others are not fit for human consumption in any way, shape or form.
And that’s when medicine men and women said, “Enough is enough! We need to do something so that people without any knowledge won’t meddle in our affairs and get themselves killed!”
Enter the peculiar names for common plants that to this day, we use in our cooking, our medicine, our drinks.
And here are a few that you might recognize!
Adder’s Fork: Adder’s Tongue
Eye of Newt: Wild Mustard Seed
Toe of Frog: Bulbous Buttercup Leaves
Tongue of Dog: Hound’s Tongue
Chamomile: Blood of Hestia
Valerian: Bloody Butcher
Cedar: Blood of Kronos
Yarrow: Devil’s Nettle
Parsley: Devil’s Oatmeal
Rosemary: Dew of the Sea
Foxglove: Fairy’s Finger
Motherwort: Lion’s Ear
Shepherd’s Purse: Mother’s Heart
Common Stonecrop: Mouse’s Tail
Dandelion Leaves: Priest’s Crown
Field Clover: Rabbit’s Foot
American Valerian: Ram’s Head
Fern: Skin of Man
Flowering Spurge: Snake’s Milk
Knotweed: Sparrow’s Tongue
Wild Lettuce: Titan’s Blood
False Unicorn: Unicorn’s HornRowan: Witchbane
When a specific part of an herb needed to be used, they were referred to usually as a body part.
Inner part of a blossom: Eye
Leaf: Paw, Foot, Leg, Wing, or Tow
Roots and stalk: Guts
Dried Herbs: Hair
A bud or seed: Heart
Phrases such as those mentioned above could have been and probably were used to name the plant by using a descriptor that would be easy to remember, and easy to teach to others. Other plants were given names descriptive of their uses; still others, for something they generally resembled.
The bottom line is…
Next time someone asks you for an herbal tea or a leafy cocktail, you know how to name them…
“Hi, darling! Can I have a cup of chamomile tea?”
“Oh, certainly! Just let me see where I put that jar of Hestia’s Blood…”
Written by Hanna Hamilton
Ah, Gretna Green!
Who hasn’t heard of it?
If you’ve read one Regency romance in your entire life, then chances are you’ve heard of Gretna Green.
The place of forbidden love.
The “nest” where lovers would go to get married, away from the scorn of society.
Do you have a secret lover that your parents disapprove of? Are they trying to push you into a marriage of convenience? Are you looking for a way out?
Time to get to Gretna Green, lovebirds!
In the middle of the 18th-century, lords approved new laws to tighten marriage arrangements.
In 1754 a new law, Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act, was brought into force in England. This amendment required young people to be over 21 years of age if they wished to marry without their parents’ or guardian’s consent. The marriage was required to be a public ceremony in the couple’s parish, with an official of the Church presiding. The new law was rigorously enforced and carried a 14-year sentence of transportation to the colonies for any clergyman found breaking it.
The scottish law, however, was different: you could marry on the spot, in a simple “marriage by declaration”, or “handfasting” ceremony, only requiring two witnesses and assurances from the couple that they were both free to marry.
This marriage contract could be made wherever the couple liked, in private or in public, in the presence of others or no-one at all.
The ‘irregular marriage’ ceremony would be short and simple, something like:
“Are you of marriageable age?”
“Are you free to marry?”
“You are now married.”
A wedding in the Scottish tradition could take place anywhere on Scottish soil.
Such a relaxed arrangement within reach of England, soon led to the inevitable influx of countless thousands of young couples running-away to marry over the border.
Why Gretna Green? Gretna Green was the first village in Scotland and conveniently situated on the main route from London into Scotland. Traveling to Gretna Green along the Great North Road was no mean feat back then. Today, it takes a little over 5 hours to travel the 326 miles from London to the Scottish border town. In 1818, it took an average of four days, with carriages traveling an average of 6 miles an hour. Frequent stops to change tired horses and rest for food and an overnight stop for a room at an inn added to travel time.
However, should a virginal heiress spend at least one night on the road, her reputation would be lost, even if she slept in a separate room from her paramour and was chaperoned by her maid.
Forbidden romance and runaway marriages were popularized in the fiction of the time. I’m sure you’re very well acquainted with ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen.
Even though the presence of a third party was not required, English couples usually preferred to keep some English marriage traditions and so looked for someone in authority to oversee the ceremony. The most senior and respected craftsman or artisan in the countryside was the village blacksmith, and so the Blacksmith’s Forge at Gretna Green became a favorite place for weddings.
The tradition of the blacksmith sealing the marriage by striking his anvil led to the Gretna blacksmiths becoming known as ‘anvil priests’. Indeed, the blacksmith and his anvil are now symbols of Gretna Green weddings. Gretna Green’s famous Blacksmiths Shop, the Old Smithy where lovers have come to marry since 1754, is still in the village and still a wedding venue.
Who doesn’t love them?
No, seriously, do you know anyone who doesn’t love castles?
If you do, send them my way and I’ll have a word!
From the Middle Ages to today's world, planned communities and system of the social order of medieval life have become romanticized, transformed into a time of honor, chivalry, and other knightly virtues. Castles represent power and strength, safety and protection. They represent an era long gone, and legends of old that to this day capture our imaginations.
In three words…
Do you know what else castles are?
Can you guess?
I’ll give you a hint: it’s transparent, and it can pass through walls.
You’re starting to see it, right?
Yep! Castles are breeding grounds for all kinds of ghost stories!
Hundreds of years old, the walls of castles are drenched in history and in the memories of the people that lived within them. Coupled with secret corners and squeaky noises after dark, it comes as no surprise that many people “see” all kinds of ghostly apparitions in the corner of their eye.
But we’re not here to talk about every castle today.
No! Today we’re here to talk about one specific gem of a fortress and its eons-old but very much “alive” tenants!
Welcome to Warwick Castle!
Warwick Castle, which proudly displays more than 1,000 pieces of arms and armor in the Great Hall, possesses an extensive history spanning more than 1,000 years. Warwick Castle was associated with various historic events including the Norman conquest of England, Hundred Years' War between England and France, and the War of the Roses. Following the War of the Roses, a peaceful existence began at Warwick Castle. Moreover, it served as the home to the mighty Earls of Warwick.
It does sound like the perfect place for a ghost, doesn’t it?
And this castle houses at least a few of them!
Roger de Beaumont
In 1088, Roger de Beaumont was made the 2nd Earl of Warwick. Later, in 1119, he established the Church of All Saints within the walls of Warwick Castle. However, the Bishop of Worcester was not very keen on the idea of a church being in a castle and had it removed in 1127; an act that pitted the nobility against the established Church.
In 1153, the wife of Roger De Beaumont made a huge mistake when she gave the castle to the invading army of Henry of Anjou—later Henry II—after they convinced her that her husband had been killed.
In a bizarre turn of events, a not-yet-dead De Beaumont died from shock upon learning what she had done.
Most inhabitants of Warwick Castle that followed after reported seeing the frustrated spirit of Roger, wandering the halls and lamenting his losses.
Sir Fulke Greville
Sir Fulke Greville was granted Warwick Castle by King James I in 1604. At the time, the place had been unoccupied for 14 years and was in a ruinous condition. Fortunately, Greville, as well as a being a fine poet and playwright, was a rich and influential man, who slowly converted Warwick Castle into the most princely seat within the midlands part of this realm.
Seven years later, thoughts of his own mortality led Greville to draw up a will. He had never married and had no children, so he decided to make slight provision for his servant, Ralph Haywood. Haywood was not impressed with the paltry bequest and, in a fit of rage, stabbed his master while helping him dress at his house in London. It took the unfortunate Greville a month to die, his agony compounded by the surgeon's insistence on packing the wound with mutton fat.
He was brought back to Warwick Castle, and his tomb can still be seen in nearby St. Mary's Church. Greville's ghost returns to the castle to walk the room that was once his study. Here witnesses have reported catching fleeting glimpses of his sad shade staring at them from the dark corners, or feeling his presence.
According to legend, Moll Bloxham was a witch who placed a curse on Warwick Castle.
After being caught stealing from the Earl, Bloxham was captured and sentenced to endure a publicly humiliating torture where she placed a curse upon Warwick. Soon after Bloxham was gone, a great beast began to prowl the grounds of the castle. The beast has been described as being a great black dog with piercing red eyes. The beast was eventually defeated after being coaxed into the river where it perished, yet Bloxham’s legend continues to live on. A ghost named the Lady in Gray who materializes throughout the castle grounds is believed by some to be Moll Bloxham.
In the coldness of the castle’s depths rests its former dungeon. While haunted by the tortured souls who met their demise while imprisoned within these depths, a different kind of spirit is responsible for the majority of ghostly activity. A dark and aggressive presence in the dungeon is thought to be that of a former jailer. This sinister ghost has been sighted behind a metal gate in the dungeon and is responsible for poltergeist activity, growls, scratches and forming into a shadow figure.
In 2009 it was decided to build a new feature to the castle and that was the Dungeon attraction, where the idea was to create a torture chamber where workers from the castle dress up and basically scare the socks of the visitors.
During its construction Site manager Paul Woodfield was left petrified when he spotted a strange figure in the hallways at the site. He was so scared he immediately upped tools and ran away in fear.
It seems like Warwick Castle has a long and tumultuous history, and the ghosts to prove it!
Care to visit? 😉
Written by Emma Linfield
I’ll be honest with you; as much as I love the Regency and Victorian times and their gossip-loving nobility, I would not have thrived if I had been born back then.
Why, chances are, I would have given my parents’ a whole lot of things to worry about and I certainly would have ended up a spinster.
With lots of horses.
Which doesn’t sound so bad right now, actually, but oh dear! It would have been a curse back then!
Daily life in the Victorian Era was strictly regulated, with very particular rules of etiquette that were not to be breached, even during leisure time. In the mid-1800s, visits to public parks, libraries and halls increased (always chaperoned, of course!), however, that did not mean that social rules got any laxer.
Unbecoming behavior, such as public meetings with unmarried men, lapses in decorum, or unsuitable attire were still very much undesirable and forbidden.
Do you know what else was considered unbecoming behavior?
(I want to make a flower crown, sue me…)
Having said that though, there was a number of indoor and outdoor pastimes that people of all ages and social standings liked to indulge in, some more than others. Obviously, most of these activities were only accessible to the upper classes, but these social restrictions weren’t enough to stop people from having some much-needed fun.
I’ll go as far as to say that some of these pastimes became “the rage!”
And some of them were weirder than others…
It sure does!
But I’m telling you, this really used to be a thing!
With fewer parks, gardens, and museums to choose from, many Victorians sought to have a good time in graveyards.
Sprawling “rural cemeteries” began cropping up in Britain after 1830. Groups would pack lunches and have picnics among the tombstones. Afterwards, they might go hunting or have carriage races on the grounds. Cemeteries became such heavily-trafficked destinations that guidebooks were distributed to visitors at some of the most famous locations.
Croquet was introduced in England in 1856 and was probably brought to America in the early 1860’s. It was considered particularly suitable for women since it required considerable skills but not too much strength or technique.
(Victorians believed women were deficient in both. Like my iron deficiency, huh?)
Although croquet was never a popular men’s game, it had both social and economic advantages: men and women could play together, and it required little equipment and no special clothing.
In the 19th century, “fern fever” or pteridomania caught England by storm. It was so prevalent that it was even given an official name: pteridomania. The phenomenon took off in 1829 when a British botanist named Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward started cultivating the plants in glass cases (later known as Wardian cases; today we call them terrariums). Soon enough, Victorians around the country were hunting desirable ferns to grow in their own homes. The hobby was especially popular among women, perhaps because it offered them a socially acceptable excuse to be outdoors unsupervised.
When it came to the taxidermy of creatures of the Victorian period, some had more dignified afterlives than others. Positioning stuffed animals in typically human scenarios became a popular theme within the artform—and it was indeed an artform. Popular taxidermists like Walter Potter and Hermann Ploucquet put an extraordinary amount of effort into making their scenes come to life. Memorable pieces from the era depicted ice-skating hedgehogs, a classroom full of rabbits, and a wedding attended by kittens decked out in highly detailed garb.
Consider me adequately creeped out…
You can add seaweed to the list of plants Victorians were obsessed with. After collecting the specimens, scrapbookers would paste the multi-colored strands onto sheets of construction paper. The designs were more aesthetic than educational, with the seaweed sometimes arranged to spell out words or form images.
Though using human hair in art and jewelry dates back to ancient Egypt, the practice soared to new heights with the Victorians. Snippets of hair were woven into rings, necklaces, pins, watch chains, and other unique pieces of ornamentation. A lock of hair taken from a living loved one acted as a very personal version of a friendship bracelet. Hair cut from the deceased, meanwhile, was often made into keepsakes for those coping with their loss.
And here’s a bonus fan fact, that might not be related to the Victorian Era but I still find it interesting!
Did you know that scientists nowadays can turn human hair into diamonds?!
Ah, I saved the best for last!
These days, “seances” seem more like the stuff you see in teen horror films, with a group of unsuspecting teenagers breaking out the Ouija board and unleashing unspeakable evil upon the world. But during the Victorian Era, attending one was a major event. At the time, Spiritualism—a religious practice focused on contacting the dead—was extremely popular. Spiritualists would host intimate séances at home, or go out to see mediums perform otherworldly acts on stage. In addition to moving Ouija boards, mediums would summon disembodied hands, levitate tables, and cough up ectoplasm during communions with the dead. Or at least, that’s how it seemed to participants who bought into their tricks.
Yeaaah, thanks, but no thanks!
Victorians sure did know how to have fun, didn’t they?
Why, what could possibly be more exciting that human-looking deceased animals or eating your lunch among the tombstones of strangers?
On a second thought, I’ll stick with my books, thank you!
Written by Hanna Hamilton
Let’s be honest here.
There’s something exquisitely graceful about a beautiful, well-dressed lady waving her fan bashfully.
With uses ranging from the practical to the symbolic, fans have been playing the part of the link between cultures for thousands of years.
They can keep you cool in hot weather, serve in religious ritual, display sophistication and wealth, or function as an advertising medium. Perhaps the most enduring role of the handheld fan is as the symbol of wealth or Royalty, which stretches as far back as the ancient civilizations of Egypt and Babylon and continues even to this day.
However, there’s one lesser-known fact about fans that you probably haven’t heard of before.
Fans had and, to this day, still have their very own distinct language!
As it turns out, Regency and Victorian Era ladies were experts at it!
And today, I’m going to walk you through this unique code of courting, flirting and secret messages!
Carrying the fan, open, in the left hand: “Come and talk to me.”
Touching the tip of the fan with the finger: “I wish to speak to you.”
Letting the fan rest on the right cheek: “Yes.”
Letting the fan rest on the left cheek: “No.”
Drawing the fan through the hand: “I hate you.”
Drawing the fan across the cheek: “I love you.”
Presenting the fan shut: “Do you love me?”
Twirling the fan in the left hand: “We are watched.”
Twirling the fan in the right hand: “I love another.”
To fan very slowly: “I am married.”
To fan very quickly: “I am engaged.”
To put the handle of the fan to the lips: “Kiss me.”
To open the fan wide: “Wait for me.”
To place the fan behind the head: “Do not forget me.”
To do so with the little finger extended: “Goodbye.”
Carrying the fan in the right hand and in front of the face: “Follow me.”
To press the half-opened fan to the lips: “You may kiss me.”
Clasping the hands under the open fan: “Forgive me.”
To cover the left ear with the open fan: “Do not betray our secret.”
To hide the eyes behind the open fan: “I love you.”
To shut the full open fan very slowly: “I promise to marry you.”
Drawing the fan across the eyes: “I am sorry.”
Touching the tip of the fan with the finger: “I wish to speak to you.”
Number of sticks shown: Corresponding hour to meet.
Placing the fan near the heart: “You have won my love.”
Have you ever watched the “Victoria” miniseries? Or the “Crown”? Or any movie or TV Show that deals with the British 18th and 19th century?
If you have, then I’m certain your head is already filled with images of grand manors, elaborate balls, flamboyant dresses and impeccable coifs.
The truth is though, that the Victorian Era was certainly weirder than that.
Much, much weirder…
And today I’m gonna walk you through a few things that might sound downright bizarre to you rears, but they were definitely a thing back then!
Welcome to the dark side!
Victorian women were obsessed with bright eyes.
They admired them, craved them, and apparently, they were willing to do anything to attain that seductive, doe-eyed look.
Even drown their eyeballs in the distilled essence of a toxic plant!
You see, belladonna might mean “beautiful lady” but there’s a pretty good reason why this plant is also called deadly nightshade.
While the use of these eyes drop did indeed dilate the pupil and give the eye a certain glow, they also had a plethora of adverse side effects. Blurry vision, red dry skin, fever, rapid heartbeat, difficulty with urination and sweating, hallucinations, spasms, mental health issue, and, if used over a prolonged period of time, even permanent blindness and coma.
If that ain’t a bargain, I don’t know what is!
Yes, you read that one right!
Victorians had a penchant for the bizarre and the unusual.
Among other things that would be considered utterly preposterous nowadays, the people of that Era liked the disheveled look of a hermit.
Large landowners in the 18th and 19th century were unusually fond of the eccentricities of forest people, and they often employed people to assume the role of the live-in hermit.
Picture this: you’re walking down a cobblestone path, with fragrant flowers arranged beautifully all round you. You’re whistling a happy tune as you walk, perfectly content.
And then, the whistling turns into a scream.
Because right ahead, staring at you is an old man with a long beard, tangled hair, and wearing dirty, Druid-like clothes.
These hermits would often spend decades living in an aristocrat’s garden. When they no longer could perform their duties either because of age or sickness, they were given sums of money large enough to get them through the rest of their days.
I do wonder what was written on that job description!
Now, considering how big of an issue eating disorders are nowadays, this particular “craze” makes you wonder what exactly were the Victorians thinking back then.
Fasting Girls were women who appeared to possess the ability to survive without sustenance of any kind. “Appeared” being the keyword here. Obviously, these miraculous women were frauds down to the very last one, pretending to possess the unearthly power to live off on nothing more than air.
Of course, as you can imagine, once the show was over, these “special” women ate a feast all on their own.
Why would they day such a lie, I can hear you asking…
Money, fame, the chance to be picked by a rich nobleman as their personal entertainer.
Perhaps the most famous of Fasting Girls was Mollie Fancher, who supposedly lived fourteen whole years without touching food.
Victorians had a thing for medical therapies.
From hydrotherapy to pelvic finger massages, the people of the Era had a penchant for turning new inventions into medical treatments (many of which were entirely unsuitable for the ailment they were supposed to be a treatment for).
Why would electricity be any different?
Electropathy involved using electricity to alleviate medical problems ranging from gout, muscular weakness, rheumatism and torpid liver to (of course) hysteria.
Essentially, patients paid to be given electrical shocks. Willingly. And they paid for it!
Strange timed indeed!
Compared to modern attitudes, the Victorians had a morbid fascination and peculiar obsession with death.
And professional mourners, also known as Mutes, were all the rage.
They would usually just stand in their mourning clothes around looking very sad and miserable. Walking around with a big stick, they would follow the hearse and coffin.
Considering the number of deaths during the Victorian Era, demand for the job was high.
I have to give it to Mutes though, they sure did know how to be fashionable!
Yes, you read this one right too!
Apparently, normal dental care was just too mainstream for Victorians.
Back then, toothpaste was not overly famous or regularly used (no surprise there), and instead, people chose to use a homemade tooth powder, which often included cocaine as an ingredient.
I’m not entirely sure why that was, though I presume it served as a numbing agent for the gums.
Even more disturbing was the dental care products that were used on children.
Those were almost entirely made of cocaine!
Oh dear! Can you imagine that?!
So, tell me! Did you know any of these strange habits from the Victorian Era?
Do you know any peculiar fact that belongs on this list?
Oh, please do tell!
Written by Emma Linfield
Ever since I was a kid, I have been super into Christmas and I mean annoyingly so. The kind of annoying that makes your friends roll their eyes in a “we’ve been through this already, but your fascination is cute, so we let you get away with it” kind of way.
In a way, I’ve always felt a bit sorry for November. Between Halloween and Christmas, November seems to fade in the background as “that month before the holiday season.” Which is a shame as November is a pretty great month!
When those first November winds start blowing, we get cozy beneath a blanket with a good book and a cup of hot, pumpkin spice latte, and what’s better than that?
We also bring out those fluffy sweaters and there’s nothing on this earth that can convince that there’s a single bad thing about sweater weather!
But the holiday season has always been my favorite time of the year for more reasons than just one. Christmas is a time where people come together despite their differences and who they are. We decorate trees, put up colorful fairy lights and listen to Christmas carols while unwrapping presents.
We also bake apple pies! Let’s not forget the apple pies!
People simply seem happier during Christmas.
There is something about being around family, seeing decorations and being home that makes me happy. I would describe myself as a relatively happy person, but December just put me in an exceptionally good mood.
Is there any better feeling of quality time than around the holiday season? For me personally, there really isn’t. I feel so at peace when I’m surrounded in a room with people I care about. I love the quality time with my family, friends, and co-workers at things like holiday gatherings and parties. It’s a special time where people can get together, reconnect, and enjoy themselves.
But quite possibly the best part of Christmas is feeling the joy of giving. I’ve always considered myself a giver with both my money and my time and the time around Christmas is no different. There’s just something about giving someone a present and watching their whole face light up with excitement. There’s no greater feeling than giving to those who are less fortunate and seeing the kind of impact you made.
What do you know about this wonderful holiday though?
Do you know how it started? What it meant to our ancestors?
Or even how people celebrate it in different parts of the world?
Let’s dive deeper, shall we?
Yule, or Winter Solstice traditions are many and generous, and are shared not only with Christianity with the birthday of the Christ Child, but with many pre-Christian Pagan traditions and indeed more recent ones. It is difficult sometimes to identify their sources, but they are all very familiar in our Western culture even if we don't recognize the symbology behind them.
Evergreens represent everlasting life and were traditionally hung around doorways and windows. Each has a symbolism of its own.
Greatly revered by the Druids, this is the healer and protector. It is carefully cut to ensure it never touches the earth. Its “magical” properties are believed to be connected to the fact that it lives between the worlds, between heaven and earth.
It was traditional to make wreaths from evergreen. Coupled with the circular shape of the wreath that symbolizes balance, internal peace, and spiritual continuity, the evergreen created the Wheel of Life. These were hung on doors or laid horizontally and decorated with candles.
It was introduced into modern times by the German Prince Albert in Victorian times and it has certainly taken root and become an integral part of celebrating Christmas.
Why, you can’t have Christmas without a Christmas tree! (What a terrifying thought!)
In ancient Rome, pine trees were an essential part of Goddess groves. On the eve of the Midwinter Solstice, Roman priests would cut down a pine tree, decorate it and carry it ceremonially to the temple celebrations.
People decked their homes with boughs of evergreen trees and bushes in pots. Pines and firs were cherished as a symbol of rebirth and life in the depth of winter. It was the festival of Saturnalia. Pagan families would bring a live tree into the home so the wood spirits would have a place to keep warm in the cold winter months—food and treats were hung on the branches for the spirits to eat
It is traditional to light a special 'Yule Log' on Christmas Eve and keep it burning through the 12 nights of Christmas until Twelfth Night.
Traditionally, a huge log would be selected in the forest on Christmas Eve, decorated with ribbons, and dragged back home. This was known as 'Bringing in the Yule Log'. The magical properties of the Yule Log were said to ensure good luck in the coming year to all those who lent a hand at pulling it over the rough ground.
Once the Yule Log was brought to the fireplace, a blessing was said over it, asking that it should last forever. Wine was poured over the log at this point to make it feel welcome. It was then placed on the fire and lit with a torch made from a piece of wood left over from last year's Yule Log.
After lighting, it was kept burning throughout the twelve days of Christmas.
The Celts believed that, for twelve days at the end of December, the sun stood still (which is why the days grew shorter and shorter). If they could keep yule logs burning bright for those twelve days, then the sun would be persuaded to move again, and make the days grow longer. If a Yule Log went out, then there would be terrible luck.
For Christians, the symbolism of the Yule Log was that it represented the need to keep the stable warm for the Infant Christ.
Above all, Yuletide is a Celebration of the return of the Light, the promise fulfilled of Light birthing out of Darkness.
It is a time to share love and celebrate with our community of family and friends!
And the Wheel Turns...
Written by Hanna Hamilton