Magic Onion (E.B. Tylor)

h/t Samuel Spinner

On old thing in mint museum-comdition here at Pitt Rivers Museum

Onion stuck with pins and a metal coil, used in sympathetic magic [SM 07/01/2008]

Place details: EUROPE. United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland / England Somerset near Wellington Rockwell Green. Cultural Group: European, British, English: Local Name: Unknown. Materials: Plant Bulb / Metal Wire / Paper Plant / ?. Processes: Written / Coiled / Bound / Inscribed / ?. Dimensions: max L = 85 mm Max W = 50 mm Maker: Unknown Field Collector: ?Edward Burnett Tylor When Collected: By 1891 Other Owners: John Milton; by 1891, Edward Burnett Tylor PRM Source: Dorothy Tylor and executors of Anna Rebecca Tylor Acquired: Donated (Bequeathed) 1921

KEYWORD: Religious Object / Inscription / Amulet / Inscription / CLASS: Religion / Writing / ?.

Object description: Onion stuck with pins, used in sympathetic magic. The onion has a piece of paper wrapped around it. The paper has the name John Milton written on it and it has been pinned to the onion. A piece of wire is pushed through the onion. One end is coiled, the other has a hook on it. [SM 07/01/2008]

Publications history, trails & websites: Discussed on pages 389-90 of ‘Exhibition of Charms and Amulets’, by E. B. Tylor, in The [of the Second International Folk-Lore Congress held at the Society of Antiquaries, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, from Thursday 1 to Wednesday October 7 1891], edited by Joseph Jacobs and Alfred Nutt (London: David Nutt, for the Organizing Committee, 1892), pp. 387-93. Tylor writes: ‘A similar charm [to 1917.53.600] now exhibited is interesting from the fact that not only its genuineness, but its exact history, is known. It is an onion stuck full of pins, and bearing on a label the name of a certain John Milton, a shoemaker in Rockwell Green, the hamlet where the onion was prepared to bewitch him. In a low cottage-alehouse there, certain men were sitting round the fire of logs on the hearth, during the open hours of a Sunday afternoon, drinking, when there was a gust of wind; something rustled and rattled in the wide old chimney, and a number of objects rolled into the room. The men who were there knew perfectly what they were, caught them up, and carried them off. I became possessed of four of them, but three have disappeared mysteriously. One which has gone had on it the name of a brother magistrate of mine, whom the wizard, who was the alehouse-keeper, held in particular hatred as being a strong advocate of temperance, and therefore likely to interfere with his malpractices, and whom apparently he / designed to get rid of by stabbing and roasting an onion representing him. My friend, apparently, was never the worse, but when next year his wife had an attack of fever, there was shaking of heads among the wise. That publican-magician was a man to have seen. He was a thorough-going sorcerer of the old bad sort, and the neighbours told strange stories about him. One I have in my mind now. At night, when the cottage was shut up, and after the wife had gone to bed, there would be strange noises hard, till the neighbours were terrified about the goings on. One night his wife plucked up courage and crept downstairs to peep through the key-hole, and there she saw the old man solemnly dancing before the bench, on which sat “a little boy, black all over, a crowdin’ (fiddling) to ‘un.”‘.’ This is presumably one of the ‘Charms’ listed under Tylor’s name on page 460 of ‘Catalogue of the Exhibition of Objects Connected with Folk-Lore in the Rooms of the Society of Antiquaries, Burlington House: Prepared by the Chairman of the Entertainment Committee’, same publication, pp. 433-60. [JC 23 11 2007, 7 12 2007]

Discussed on page 246 of ‘Documents of British Superstition in Oxford (A Lecture Delivered before the Oxford University Anthropological Society, on the 2nd of November, 1949)’, by Ellen Ettlinger, in Folklore, Vol. 54, no. 1 (March 1943), pp. 227-49: ‘The fourth object in the Pitt Rivers Museum that was used as a malignant charm is an onion, stuck full of pins, and bearing on a label the name of a certain John Milton, a shoemaker in Rockwell Green. E. B. Tylor has handed the story of this onion down to us: In a low cottage-alehouse in this hamlet certain men were sitting round the fire of logs on the hearth drinking when there was just a gust of wind. Something rustled and rattled in the wide old chimney, and a number of objects rolled into the room. The men who were there knew perfectly well that these stabbed and roasted onions were personifications of the enemies of that publican magician, who wanted to get rid of them.’ [Unsigned, no date; JC 23 11 2007]

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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2 Responses to Magic Onion (E.B. Tylor)

  1. dmf says:

    like a scene from a D&D campaign

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