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But I just still to this day, don't really know what we did. I guess we had to. I thought we had to prepare things better to use books and like have dossiers with us. I got a question for you. You can find out the answer in the break that comes in this podcast. But this is one that you can try and look up using your Vodafone Unlimited data. I'd Professor Bartlett on the podcast the other day, and he's identified 27 female monarchs in medieval Europe, 27 queen pregnant women actually ruled in their own right in medieval Europe, but none of them were from Ireland.
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She's been on this podcast so many times, she might as well be hosting it. Professor Susana Lipscomb's one of my oldest friends in history. She's incredibly talented. She's a Tudor historian. She's also a TV presenter, broadcaster. And on right. She received the ultimate accolade the other day from the one and only Hilary Mantel. Author of the greatest trilogy of books in the English language, she wrote back on her books, Anyone who's interested in the subject, go and read the wonderful Susanna Lipscombe.
I mean, you can die happy when you get that written about you from such a genius.
So this is an episode about one of our latest books. She's produced A History of Magic. If you want to get a history hit TV and become a subscriber like thousands of people at the moment.
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Professor Susana Lipscomb, welcome back on the podcast. Thank you. It's a delight to be here. It was obviously I mean, you've been on so many times must get very boring. But you've reasoning behind this time is because you keep writing these goddamn books, which is extraordinary how.
Well, this this time. This time. I've just written the foreword. I haven't written the whole book. But, you know, I'm trying I'm trying your house and, you know, starting a family.
I don't know how you do it, really. This is kind a history of magic and superstition.
If you hold the view that I do that once we understand something, we call it science, but like magic doesn't really kind of exist. So why write history? But what's the point?
Well, I suppose throughout the centuries that have passed, there's been so much that people didn't understand. Right? There's been so much that's been inexplicable. And magic helps you tilt the balance in favor of trying to control what you can't control. I think I think that's why people have wanted to harness the power of magic and, you know, whether that's trying to control, you know, life after death or try trying to or whether it's about trying to protect your crops or trying to get pregnant when you can't get pregnant or to help your child get well when they're sick.
I think a lot of it is about power, really is about power and trying to trying to ensure that there's some recourse when there's so much that's beyond one's own agency.
And so presumably, what studying people's magical practices, if that's the right word, presumes that tells us a lot about the society that they're from.
Yeah, it tells us about their concerns and their preoccupations. And it often tells us a lot about those who don't have access to mainstream power and that society as well, although sometimes magical medical practitioners were really at the heart of things. But a bunch of the time also, they were people who otherwise, you know, didn't have access to any public power and so were attempting to use magical practices in order to to change that as well.
Let's go back to the beginning, because this book is such a fabulous, comprehensive survey. Let's go back all the way. What about an ancient world that what's going on with the magic in the ancient world? Because I'm on Twitter at the moment. It's a hot day in the UK and everyone is talking about animal sacrifices and randomness and stuff. And it strikes me when you look at divination, people looking at entrails of animals, you know, the ancient authors are full of magic.
Yeah, I should have looked up and see if there was any specific cues, you know, for for dry spells. But yeah. And if we go back, the earliest opportunity to find in history of practicing magic appears to be about 4000 years before the common era. So ancient Mesopotamia, modern day Iraq. And there's evidence there from the palace library of an Assyrian king called Ashburnham Powell, who had hundreds of clay cuneiform tablets in that library, and they are inscribed with spells and incantations.
So, you know, we have to go a pretty long way back to get to the beginnings of magical practice. And then, of course, we got ancient Persia. Herodotus talks about the Magi in ancient Persia who are interpreting dreams and who are in turning over the flesh of sacrificial animals. And accusations of sorcery in ancient Persia were pretty serious that you could if you were accused of sorcery, the you could have molten metal poured over your tongue to determine guilt.
I'm not quite sure how it would go, but that's what they did. And then in ancient Greece, as far as I can tell, is the first time we see the use of wands and also potions. Again, looking at the odyssey, that odyssey, we've got Odysseus taking a potion made of Mieuli, which are kind of magical herb to stop Sesi turning him into a pig. And one of the key concepts in ancient Greek magic is about binding.
So trying to bind. So the physical or intellectual attributes of your victim to your own will. So, you know, whether you've got clay or metal figures that are literally sort of bound and we found them or we found papyrus with incantations on that start, I bind or whatever, and a lot of that is imported into ancient Rome. One of my favorite things about ancient Rome is the use of amulets is quite popular there. And it was normal for Roman boys to wear the Bullah, which is a feather shaped charge to protect against evil spirits.
But the book also covers, you know, sort of ancient Japan, for example. And that's an amazing example where you've got a cult practitioners on the R.G. who are mainstream practitioners. They've become court officials. There's even a divination bureau that appoints them and that exists get this, up until 1868 when the Emperor Meiji disbanded. So a divination bureau and they they're doing things like exorcisms and rituals to determine whether X person can come into the court and that sort of thing.
That's very cool, when you were working on this project, were you struck by what joins us, what binds us together as humans, our common humanity?
Yeah, I think so. It feels really amazing to look at all the examples or, you know, there are the rituals and the spells and the incantations. Whatever it is, the practices themselves may change, but they have on the whole sort of broadly similar concerns. And it is incredible when you have a look at a survey like this to see similar beliefs popping up all over the place. And it obviously is sort of difficult because you don't want to focus on the similarity.
To the extent of ignoring the particularity, you know, if you think of the Pitt Rivers Museum like that was criticized for years in Oxford because it gathers together, say, like all of the fetishes that or, you know, all of the shrunken heads, like from different places and makes a parallel between them. But at the same time, you know, so, for example, I've got really fascinated in reading this book about practices relating to divination.
One of the things that we most can't control as humans is that we live in linear time and we can't see the future. So we have been fascinated with trying to predict what it's going to be and people have used all manner of things. So in ancient China, they would cost Yaro Stork's Clearmountain. I put this on Twitter a few days ago and someone tells me you can go into a Chinese medical shop today and buy Yaro Stork's, you can still live anywhere.
Or again, back to Holmer. You know, we've got divination there. Achilleas is said to consult, is told to consult or he suggests or a consulting interpreter of dreams to try and figure out why the God Apollo is angry with the Greeks and ancient Greek. They were particularly concerned with observing the flight of birds to try and define the future or ancient Rome. They are interested in animal entrails. So the color of levels, which is called Harris by sea in the Mexico, the Aztecs, they scatter maize kernels and patterns on the ground and some of these things just got the most fantastic names.
You know, my favorite I think, is from medieval Byzantium and it's called Chromosome Immanency, which is interpreting horses names. Although the Byzantine also have Pelloux Mansi, which is about interpreting inadvertant bodily twitchers. Well, that is interesting because, of course, now we're told that the great powers all have special bodily twitch experts who are reading body language are the prime ministers and presidents are. So that is actually surely come back into fashion. So, OK, what about that love divination?
There's a lot of alchemy in the book is not alchemy feels like a kind of gateway drug to science, but and the alchemy especially. You're so immersed in the 16th century, you must see the alchemists. I mean, there was a sort of respectability of alchemists, wasn't it? Yeah, there certainly was.
I mean, in the 16th century, it's mainstream. And actually one of the reasons we don't perhaps perhaps we don't know as much about this as we could do is that one of the major sources used for the 16th century is the state papers of all gathered together and calendared. I put in chronological order and typed up basically in the 19th century. And these 19th century men choosing which state papers were important, didn't think the ones about magic were that important.
So there's a whole there's a lot of stuff in the manuscripts that hasn't really made it into much of the normal discourse. But yeah. So Dr Jondi obviously famously an alchemist, but also people like William Sesto and Thomas Smith, the Queen Elizabeth, the first court was riddled with Alchemist's and she actually had our chemical laboratories at her court. But it goes back much further than the word. Alchemy comes from alchemy, which is Arabic, and it means transmutation.
So it's about trying to change one substance into another. And you're absolutely right about it being a sort of gateway to science, because people like the 9th century Arab scholar Arazi were basically early chemists. So they are people who are coming up with the idea of having laboratories and distillation. And and it's actually even practiced in ancient China even before that as well. But the in the Renaissance, the focus becomes it comes to trying to find the philosopher's stone so that the the the the thing that will help you change base metals into gold and will help you cure illness and attain immortality.
And that's the focus. And the other thing to connect this with science is that people go on believing this for quite a while. Sir Isaac Newton, you know, one of the founders of the scientific revolution, was an alchemist. He undertook our chemical experiments. He read alchemical texts. Heard of him?
Yeah. No, I mean, that's something that I think about relationships.
So the question I posed at the start of this podcast was why in the whole of Europe are there Quin's regnant during the medieval period, but not in Ireland? And the answer Professor Bartlett gave me is because it was customary for Irish kings take many wives. So there was never a shortage of sons, whereas over in England, over in France, elsewhere, those those kings, they just had one wife. I mean, the old mistress, like Henry, the first and a lot of legitimate children, but they were excluded from the line of succession is an island.
Plenty of wives, plenty of sons, no shortage families. Fascinating. You know what? Usually Vodafone unlimited data have a little Google. Prove me wrong. Send me a tweet. I'd love to know if there are any queens. Let your whole family follow their curiosity when you bring everyone's plans together on our multi mobile read family plan. Such Vodafone read family for more. Fascinating. What about a case so another thing you cover, which I like, is most of us stone objects, objects, magical objects I see in honor of this interview.
I'm wearing my lucky charm. See this? My my kids made me this little shell necklace, and I had this strange attachment. So I'm not really an object kind of guy, but I have this strange attachment and it's like a charm. And so I thought, like, this is my little bit of magic. What kind of things have you. Have you come across.
Yeah. Yeah. So I mean, it's a crucial thing. So warding off evil really. So basically stones and objects can often be thought to be receptacles of magical powers. In ancient Greece, you've got haematite, which was thought to protect unborn babies and jaspar to cure stomach infections. In ancient Greece, Gayed was thought to keep away evil spirits. And in medieval Byzantium, Sardonic was thought to help protect against miscarriages, so quite often you would wear one of these because you could put it in a piece of wood or a piece of bone and then you could wear it just as you're wearing your shell.
And and obviously, the modern version of these are the kind of talismans of St. Christopher's, you know, medallions or those caps with the rays pores you see in shops often or lucky mascots of sports. But the other thing about it and then also in the 16th century, it's quite often things like witches, bottles and shoes in chimneys and silver coins and stuff to protect against malevolent spirits. But this idea goes back to ancient Egypt, scarab beetles or ancient Islam, perhaps the hand of Atama.
So it's been really common. And I think one of the things is. One of the parts of it is basically, I think at the heart of the idea about objects as intermediaries is that they they this transference, so they will take the evil spirit as opposed to you. And in a similar way, it's been through things like, you know, you could use objects or animals to heal yourself. If you had Plake buboes, put a live chicken against those plate buboes and the owners will transfer to the bird or more malignantly poppets.
So, you know, voodoo, those figures shape to look like somebody and you do harm to that doll in order to do harm to the person. And this is but this is going on. What's amazing is how many places have poppets like around the world, how common this is. And, you know, you find it in Haiti and but you also find it in 16, 12 in Lancashire in the Pendle, which draws, you know, clay figures being pricked with a thorn or a pin to cause pain.
Well, you once tweeted a royal advice, a manual pamphlet written about how to cure aching stomach. And that was a lie with a beautiful maiden. But that does to remind me of Herberton, because this is magic is triphosphate, isn't it?
Because some of it, like poppets, is just balls. And in others it was obviously canel was true because science. So herbal healers and remedies, we now go, oh, look at that. You know, it turns out that that is like an antibiotic or an anti school Buteyko. So that's a whole part of magic that's been hived off and turned into science, hasn't it? So you cover that as well, I presume?
Yeah, I think that's right. I in fact so well, to quote you back it yourself, I remember once you gave a talk about the value of history and you were talking about how we so often say that history is not useful because so much of it, when it works, it's become something else. So, you know, the historical experiments with, you know, alchemy becomes chemistry. And then they're like that's how subjects like, you know, actually is ours, really.
But so, you know, or whatever it is, the successes of of things. So, yes, absolutely. Therapeutic qualities of plants, you know, sage to heal fevers, Oliviera to treat burns, things that work. But also, you know, for example, Basil, to calm your mind now, I quite often put a few drops of basil oil in, you know, one of those diffusers in here when I'm trying to focus. And I think that's fine.
I think that works. But it was also thought they'd create wealth. And so far it hasn't managed to do that. But you know, all perceptually, which there's thought to be an aphrodisiac. Misato was thought by the Druids, the Celtic Druids to bring fertility. And then one of the sort of most difficult plants of all was Mandrake, which was thought to be an aphrodisiac and thought to be a cure for sterility. But it was also thought that it would scream as you pulled out of the ground and its scream would kill anyone who heard it.
So so I guess I don't know what's going on there. Is that just so you don't try anyway? But the thinking behind that is sympathetic magic. So the idea is that, as you well know, that the that the healer would find something in nature that looked like the ailment and then use that as a cure. So in medieval Europe, to cure jaundice, for example, they would try making a potion of mashed earthworms and old urine, the idea being that the yellow colour would act to cure the yellow tint of the jaundice.
And Mandrake is supposed to be shaped like a human body. So it's supposed to cure lots of things. Crikey.
And we should talk about magicians and witches. Do you see a similar thing with that you do in religion, with the priesthood, where some societies develop kind of a quite hierarchical structure and you've got which is and where is that new training and a separate caste where others are a little bit more Protestant about it and where everyone can kind of do magic. I mean, you must be must see that in different cultures. Yeah.
So I mean, in Slavic culture, what sort of modern Ukraine they had though, the witches and wizards, I suppose, or male witches as well were called Volkova and that was both men and women. And they would in doing things like divination and protecting against bad spirits and healing all the standard stuff. But they were also said to be able to shape shift into becoming bears and wolves. And they were supposed to have dragon ancestors. But the most famous of those as a woman, a wild old woman called Baba Yaga, who still appears in Russian folk tales, flying around in a mortar with a pestle.
But yeah, in some places. So, I mean, the those Japanese the Japanese divination bureau I talked about, that's all men, but in some places are women. So in the North, Magic Sword. Is some of the most revered were female wand carriers who had a long bluecoats which were lined with white caps, fur and black lamb's wool, and they also can shape shift. The shape shifting, it seems, is one of sort of the if you're in the higher echelons of witchery or wizardry, you know, shapeshifting and, you know, making things invisible.
Yeah, you've talked to me a lot about witchcraft and its persecution and perhaps less humorous way in some century France.
But I mean, what other kind of spells? I mean, a lot of as opposed to medicine and putting is it putting the evil eye on people? Is it like sort of both for good luck and bad luck? And then the love comes to love because that's nice. That's nice magic, I think, isn't it.
Yeah. Love spells. Well, it depends. I mean, it depends what you do I suppose. But yeah, there's all sorts of things that can be done to try and cure sickness by tying, you know, herbs and salt into a cocktail that's fairly benign, you know, burying a dog. Not so benign, but love. Right. So there's a medieval Jewish love spell which in which you feel an eggshell with your blood and the blood of your intended is there's not much clue about how you get that.
But once you've got that, you write both your names in blood on the show and then bury it. And that apparently promises instant results.
When you and I have talked a lot about, you know, obviously a world expert in The Tudors and your recent book is astonishing on France or French history as well. So please go back and listen to those podcasts. So we're not going to talk too much about that period, because I actually would love to go on to something that I seen a little bit recently. I've had friends and close people to me that have lost loved ones and they're quite fascinated by spiritualism.
The idea that you can talk to people after death.
And it's very difficult for me because I know a little bit about it and I know that particular it was particularly popular after the First World War with these vast numbers of bereaved families were frankly taken for a ride by various sort of spiritualists who said, you know, I can I can talk to you or you could talk to your deceased son, you know, these young boys through me and stuff.
So I'm quite right.
It's been tricky because that seems to linger in our society's urge to speak through mediums.
Is that something that recent or has issues all the way back through history in its modern form, the idea of having senses that you can communicate with the dead through a medium in the West that's been since about the 40s. There was a couple of sisters in New York called Maggie and Kate Fox who claimed they could commune with the dead. And then it got particularly popular in America following the American Civil War, exactly as it did after the First World War because of all these lost loved ones.
And it gained popularity because. Celebrities endorse it and back to the science magic question, what's really interesting is you've got people like William Crookes, who was leading chemist, the president of the Royal Society, supporting spiritualism, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the man who invents, you know, the most forensic minded detective of the age. And Conan Doyle was also a member of something called the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which was a kind of esoteric, secretive society that you had to be initiated into, and that assumed that there were planes of consciousness and that you could rise sort of to a mystical awakening through that.
So there was a there was a sense in which there was, I think, a hunger for this sort of spiritual belief in the 19th century. And if you think back towards the beginning of the 19th century and the 18th century, Gothic literature, of course, is very popular, I think, of the cost of Otranto and Frankenstein and all that, so that there's a real tending towards that that spiritual nature. And I think I think I think ultimately just boils down to the fact that death just seems too final and that we don't we don't understand.
My let my lovely literary agent died two months ago. And I remember the night I heard the news just going for a walk and thinking and just really genuinely asking the question. But but but where has she gone? Do you remember what that was like? And really being faced with the most basic of ideas of of loss and of the fact that everybody I love will die if I don't die before, you know, before that. And I think it's just it's just such a hard idea to grapple with.
So it makes a lot of sense that people are looking for an answer. And I think you're completely right that lots of people have taken people for a ride as a result of that, have played on that loss and been total charlatans.
What and we got Joan Friedman on the list had come and gone straight for it. He just thinks is this is this is magic, just a way for intelligent people to gain influence within their societies. Like after working on this project, are you left thinking all these know, all these so-called magicians and things? They're just looking to get to trick people and game influence and power?
I'm sure that's true of some people. I'm sure there were people for whom that applies. But I also think that there were people and this is this is where we have to start to grapple with these with the reality of different people's beliefs about things. There were people who genuinely believed that they were, which is or was it or, you know, soothsayer's in the past that they weren't seeking to hoodwink anybody, that they weren't trying to manipulate the systems of the society, that they genuinely believed it and others believed it to.
Then you have to start to look at the world in a slightly different way. And people, you know, not just confessing under torture, but genuinely confessing without torture to say, yes, I am a witch. That makes you think about people's frameworks of belief as being very different from our own, Adrian says.
What's the sort of dividing line between belief in magic and religious faith?
Yeah, it's a really good question because quite a lot of the time they've been really blurred lines. So, for example, much of what we call voodoo, but more properly called voodoo and belief is syncretic. In other words, it takes elements of Roman Catholicism, mixes them in. And there are you know, there's an 11th century English spell as a cure for dysentery, which in which you are you know, you have to dig up a bramble root, which is a hard thing to do and say the Lord's Prayer nine times and then boil up the root with mark water and milk until it turns red.
And so there's you've got that combination of here, go do something in nature and have some incantation, except the incantation happens to be a prayer. Right. So you've got that absolute overlap and the line between magic and miracle basically depends on the view of the eye of the beholder. I think. So we were talking about amulets and objects, but you've got someone like Charlamagne owning a couple of crystal spheres in which one of them's got a bit of the true cross and one of them's got, you know, a relic of the Virgin Mary.
And he thinks these protect him. So it depends who's drawing the line between the two, what is considered orthodox and what is not.
Well, you know what, everyone? Thank you very much, Professor Lipscomb. That was fantastic.
So what is the book called? OK, the book is called A History of Magic. Witchcraft and the Occult is published by Dekay. And you can get it in all good stores. Although I would particularly say that there's a shop called Foxley Books up in North Yorkshire, an independent bookshop I've teamed up with. If you want me to sign a copy or dedicate it, I will put a book plate in it if you buy it from them. So look them up.
What's your next big project? Next big book is about six women who aren't that terribly well known, they were married to this big fat chap at the beginning of the 16th century. He killed a couple of them, divorced a couple of them. One died in childbirth and another survived. I wonder if you can get Suzy.
Professor Lipscomb, thank you very much for coming on this podcast.
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