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Posted in Historical articles, History, Mystery, Royalty, Superstition on Monday, 10 June 2013
This edited article about Nostradamus originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 286 published on 8 July 1967.
Michel De Notre Dame – better known to the world as Nostradamus – was born on 13th December, 1503, at Saint-Remy in Provence, France. When he died, 63 years later, he had gained a fantastic reputation as a man who could foretell the future. Even today many people believe in the predictions he left behind.
As a young man, Michel studied medicine at Montpellier, and, after qualifying in 1529, became famous for confining an outbreak of plague in that area.
Though he continued to practise as a doctor, he became more and more interested in astrology and other ‘arts’ which, because of their strangeness, were held in superstitious awe in those days. He also began to publish almanacs predicting future events and these so impressed Henry II that he called the prophet to Paris to foretell the lives of the royal children.
In 1555, Nostradamus published the first of his ‘Prophetical Centuries’. These were books containing a hundred (a ‘century’) of strangely-worded verses. Each verse was supposed to be the key to some important event in the future. A typical verse reads:
‘The young lion shall overcome the old one
In martial field by a single duel
In a golden cage he shall put out his eye,
Two wounds from one; then shall he die a cruel death.’
This verse was remembered in 1559, when Henry II was jousting with a young guards captain at a tournament. A splinter from the captain’s lance entered the king’s right eye, causing him to die in agony ten days later.
In unravelling the prophecy, people saw the ‘golden cage’ in the verse as referring to the gilded helmet worn by the king.
After this, Nostradamus was regarded with the greatest respect and was appointed as the first physician to the new king, Charles IX.
In all, Nostradamus wrote about 1,000 verses, covering events until the year A.D. 3797 So far enthusiasts have linked 200 verses with events which have already taken place. The execution of Charles I of England was said to have been predicted in the line: ‘The Senate of London will put to Death their King’.
When not making up riddles about the future, Nostradamus is said to have been a cheerful man who lived happily with his wife and six children. Towards the end of his life, he was afflicted with gout.
In 1566, he wrote in Latin on a calendar at the end of June: ‘My death is near’. He died a few days later on 2nd July.
Posted in Historical articles, History, Magic, Superstition on Thursday, 30 May 2013
This edited article about Agnes Samwell originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 273 published on 8 April 1967.
Arresting a witch
Agnes Samwell, on this day of our Lord 4th April, 1593, you stand accused of the frightful crime of witchcraft . . .”
The voice of the clerk echoed through the Huntingdon courtroom and all eyes swivelled to the prisoner, a bent old lady known as Mother Samwell.
As various witnesses gave evidence against her, the members of the grand jury shuddered in superstitious fear. In those days witches were not odd characters in fairy-tale books but – in the minds of most people – persons who had made a pact with the devil, and who could cast spells. Because of this widespread fear of witchcraft, many innocent people suffered.
The case against Mother Samwell was based on the fact that the children of a well-to-do neighbour had developed fits. Doctors could find no reason for this complaint. But their parents began to wonder when one of the children, coming out of a fit, pointed to the unfortunate Mother Samwell and said: “Did you ever see anyone more like a witch than she is?”
Rumours spread that Mother Samwell had bewitched the children. A friend of the family, Lady Cromwell, sent for Mother Samwell, cut off a lock of her hair and threw it into the fire – a practice which in those days was believed to be an antidote to such spells.
Unfortunately Lady Cromwell was taken ill soon afterwards and died. Mother Samwell was blamed. She was taken before the Bishop of Lincoln. Terrified by her arrest and the dreadful things that had been said about her, the old woman broke down and confessed to the Bishop that she was indeed a witch.
Mother Samwell, her husband and daughter were immediately thrown into Huntingdon jail, where the old woman withdrew her ‘confession’, saying that she had been frightened out of her wits and did not know what she was saying at the time.
At the trial one witness stated that he had called Mother Samwell ‘an old witch’ and soon afterwards his horse had died. To him it was obvious that the horse had been bewitched out of revenge.
On such evidence Mother Samwell, her husband and daughter were found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.
Nowadays, ‘witchcraft’ is very much a thing of the past. The last ‘witch’ to be executed in Britain was Janet Horne, who was burned at the stake in 1727, in Scotland.
Posted in Famous crimes, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Royalty, Superstition, World War 1 on Monday, 20 May 2013
This edited article about World War One originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 260 published on 7 January 1967.
Princip shot the Archduke and then his wife, by Neville Dear
The whole of the Austrian Royal Family was opposed to the marriage. Archduke Franz Ferdinand, it was pointed out, was heir to the thrones of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, but Countess Sophie Chotek was merely a lady-in-waiting. If the marriage took place, she would be treated as a ‘commoner’, and not as her husband’s equal.
Despite this threat, Franz Ferdinand married his Sophie on 28th June, 1900.
As they were leaving the church, an old gypsy woman burst through the crowd and ran up to the Archduke.
“Tell your fortune, Your Imperial Highness?” she asked.
Franz Ferdinand nodded his permission and held out his hand. The gypsy gazed into his palm and then looked solemnly at him.
“You will loose a great war,” she prophesied.
The young newlyweds turned to each other and laughed; they were not going to let anyone – the Royal Family or a gypsy – spoil their happiness.
But their joy was only to last until their 14th anniversary when the tragic consequences of their marriage brought about the start of the First World War.
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Posted in Ancient History, Historical articles, History, Medicine, Plants, Religion, Superstition on Friday, 10 May 2013
This edited article about vegetables originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 250 published on 29 October 1966.
Pythagoras taught his followers that the spirits of the dead lived again in the bean, by J Armet
In the ancient world, some vegetables were gods, but beans were hated as if they were devils, and even to pronounce their name was forbidden to holy folk. It is almost certain that the species of bean singled out for distrust was our field bean, a close relative of the broad bean, because this has a black spot which aroused alarm, and botanists agree that it is one of the oldest of all vegetables.
The Hebrews knew the field bean 1,000 years before the birth of Christ; it is spoken of in Homer’s Iliad, and specimens of it have been found in the excavations of Troy and in the Lake Dwellings of Switzerland. This means they must have existed in that country around the Bronze Age.
Exactly where the bean’s birthplace was is not known. Some botanists say Asia, others northern Africa, and still others that it came from some region south of the Caspian Sea.
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Posted in Ancient History, Historical articles, Magic, Medicine, Nature, Plants, Superstition on Thursday, 9 May 2013
This edited article about vegetables originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 248 published on 15 October 1966.
The Temple of Apollo where golden radishes were offered to the Greek god, by Ruggero Giovannini
Everyone knows that radishes are good to eat, but did you also know that they have the power to warn you if a witch should happen to be hiding in your chimney? We had never suspected it, until we read this sentence in an old English book: “a wild radish, uprooted with the proper incantations, has the power of revealing the whereabouts of witches.” Unfortunately, the author forgot to add “the proper incantations”. Very annoying, as we have always wanted to see a witch!
From another book, written about the same period, we learned that wearing a garland of flowering radish around one’s neck, would repel demons. Odd that the flowers should drive them away and a ripe radish tempt them out of their hiding places!
Although the radish has been cultivated for well over 4,000 years, its appearance has changed very little. Botanists do not agree on its native land. Some say China, while others insist on Western Asia as its birthplace.
They were cultivated in Egypt at the time of the earliest Pharaohs and esteemed highly because of the abundance of oil in the root. A variety of radish is cultivated today by the Egyptians for that very purpose.
Greece, however, gave radishes their highest honours. One Greek philosopher wrote an entire book about them and in their offerings to Apollo, the Greeks again demonstrated how highly the radish was regarded. It was their custom to present these gifts in the form of carvings, the metal chosen representing their ideas of the value of the plant. Turnips, for instance, were carved out of lead, beets from silver, but pure gold was chosen for the radish.
Few vegetables have had more extravagant claims made for their curative powers than this one. In fact, reading the long list, the radish seems to be able to cure almost every illness in life, the only drawback being that it was considered bad for the teeth. One physician wrote that you could handle poisonous serpents and scorpions safely, if you took the precaution of first rubbing your hands with radish juice, while another actually wrote that if you merely dipped a radish in a glass of poison, you could drink it and go happily away. We sincerely hope that none of his patients tried it.
A very charming legend about the radish has come down to us from Germany. The soul of the radish, so they said, was an evil spirit named Rubezahl, with a bad habit of taking what he wanted, regardless of other people’s rights. Rubezahl fell in love with a princess, kidnapped her and shut her away in a great tower, surrounded by miles of woods. The poor princess was very lonely and frightened and grew so thin and pale that Rubezahl worried for fear she would die. So he touched a radish with his magic wand and turned it into a cricket, first warning the princess that when the leaves of the radish began to wither, the cricket would die. The princess asked the cricket to find her lover and bring him to rescue her, so the cricket set out, chirping loudly as he hopped. Unfortunately, he could not find her lover before he died, but as he told every cricket he met and they told their friends, the story still lives. If you listen closely on a summer evening to the cricket’s song, you will hear all about the plight of the poor princess and the wicked radish, Rubezahl.
Posted in Historical articles, Medicine, Plants, Superstition on Thursday, 9 May 2013
This edited article about garlic originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 247 published on 8 October 1966.
A string of garlic hanging in the kitchen of a fairytale Princess by Ron Embleton
In Egypt, the garlic was numbered among their deities and the Egyptians swore their most solemn oaths on the plant. Being a practical people, they ate it as well. The Great Pyramid of Cheops has an inscription on its base, giving the amount expended for garlic, onions and radishes to feed the labourers who built it.
The garlic and the onion are about the same age. Both are known to have been cultivated for over 4,000 years, but their birthplaces seem to be in doubt. They probably came from Asia, although botanists point out that garlic was widespread along the Mediterranean from the earliest times.
Garlic was a common food for Roman soldiers, sailors and field labourers as it was believed to make them fearless and strong. It was also plentiful and cheap. The Romans even used it to suppress their crime wave! When a criminal wished to be absolved from his crimes and the evil in him driven out, he was fed garlic as a purifying agent. History fails to give the prescribed quantity, or to say whether the cure was always successful.
In spite of the respect paid by the Romans to the virtues of garlic, they do not seem to have liked its odour any better than we do today. No one who had eaten it recently was allowed to enter the temple, dedicated to Cybele, the mother of all the gods.
According to ancient writers – Egyptian, Greek and Roman – the medicinal uses of garlic were many and fantastic, but the writers usually specified that the plant must have been sown when the moon was in the right position. One claim was that three cloves of garlic, beaten up in vinegar, would cure the worst toothache – or you could put bits of it in the cavity. It was also recommended as a cure for a cough and as a tonic.
Even today, many European peasants esteem the medicinal virtues of garlic highly, and in Ireland, where it is called ‘The Devil’s Posy’, there are persons who still believe that it will cure rheumatism, and that a wreath of garlic flowers around your neck will keep evil spirits away.
Strange how superstition clings! An English writer, around the end of the 1500s, asserted that a miner should always put a small piece of garlic in his pocket to defend him against the assaults of evil spirits lurking underground. In this, of course, he was only repeating the old Roman belief that the plant had the power to drive out devils and purify a criminal.
Posted in Animals, Biology, Legend, Superstition on Tuesday, 7 May 2013
This edited article about the basilisk originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 245 published on 24 September 1966.
It sometimes happens, although very rarely, that an elderly domestic hen may begin to grow wattles and to crow while still laying eggs. It may also happen that an elderly barnyard cockerel may lay a kind of egg. These things merely indicate that the birds are undergoing a change of sex in later life.
These things were noted by people living many centuries ago. They did not understand what was happening, so to them such events seemed miraculous, and they invented a legend to explain them. The legend was that the egg laid by an elderly cockerel would hatch and from it would come a rather terrifying creature which was half cockerel, half serpent. This cockerel with a serpent’s tail they called a cockatrice or basilisk.
The basilisk was the epitome of everything evil and was said to be so deadly that, if it looked at a man, he would drop dead. It was generally believed that there were basilisks all over the country, in hiding.
There was, however, an ingenious knight who had the idea that, if he made a suit of armour composed of mirrors, he could rid the country of basilisks because, whenever he confronted one of them, the basilisk would see its own image in his armour and would itself drop dead!
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Posted in Animals, Birds, Nature, Superstition, Wildlife on Thursday, 25 April 2013
This edited article about the owl originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 233 published on 2 July 1966.
Barn owl in flight
The Ancient Greeks revered the owl. They made it the companion of Athena, the goddess of wisdom. The modern city of Athens has an owl as its symbol.
But owls have not always been given so high a place. In this country, in the Middle Ages, they were birds of ill-omen, whose hooting foretold death.
Now that we know owls better, we can see why there are these contrasting points of view.
Owls hunt mainly at night, for small animals such as mice, for birds and insects, and even, at times, for fish. By night they are eerie, mysterious birds. Their flight is silent, due to the thread-like filaments edging their flight feathers. They seem to come from nowhere and disappear to nowhere yet, in the spring, the still night air resounds to their weird calls.
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Posted in Ancient History, Archaeology, Art, Arts and Crafts, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Superstition on Thursday, 28 March 2013
This edited article about Tutankhamen originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 214 published on 19 February 1966.
Peering into the stone-walled room by the light of their torches that morning of February 16, 1923, Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter gasped at the mass of treasures. Their torch beams played over gold-painted couches carved in the shapes of animals. There was a golden throne, and gold-plated chariots; vases, caskets, and a profusion of rich furnishings.
All these were valuables which the Egyptians had buried with a Pharaoh whose reign ended in 1355 B.C.
At the far end of the room, twin statues of the long-dead Pharaoh flanked a door which opened into another room. This was the burial chamber and it was almost filled with a huge gold-sheathed shrine. Within the shrine was the mummy of the Pharaoh, in a case of solid gold set with precious stones.
Opening off the burial chamber was another treasure house of golden shrines, chests, statues of ivory and delicately carved models of all the things the Pharaoh had known and used during his lifetime.
Few archaeological discoveries have so electrified the world as did the finding of the tomb of Tutankhamen. The tombs of greater Pharaohs had been discovered in the Valley of the Kings at Thebes, but they had been stripped of their treasures by vandals centuries previously.
For Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon, the discovery was the reward for seventeen years of patient work. When they began their search in 1906, in the Valley of Kings, archaeologists thought that nothing more of importance remained to be unearthed.
Posted in Famous crimes, Historical articles, History, Religion, Revolution, Royalty, Superstition on Monday, 11 February 2013
This edited article about the Russian Revolution originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 130 published on 11 July 1964.
Rasputin was shot in the back by Prince Yusupov, by Ken Petts
The opera house in the Russian city of Kiev was a scene of dazzling splendour. Nicholas II, Tsar of all Russia, occupied the royal box with his two eldest daughters. Below him, in the stalls, sat his Prime Minister, Piotr Stolypin, surrounded by nobility.
Everywhere, as the lights went on for the second interval, jewels glistened and fine dresses rustled. Suddenly, two shots rang out. The Prime Minister clutched at his heart. Slowly he turned his face towards the Tsar, made the sign of the cross, and sank slowly, dying.
Around him there was pandemonium. Women screamed. Men fought to lynch the assassin. The orchestra struck up the national anthem in a bid to restore order, and finally brought the evening to an end.
Stolypin, a huge black-bearded man, had been Prime Minister for six years since 1905, when the Tsar crushed the angry rising of the Russian people.
After the revolution the Tsar was forced to yield some of the power he had wielded so mercilessly. He founded the Duma, Russia’s first parliament, and in Stolypin had a Prime Minister anxious to introduce reforms.
Stolypin’s plans made him many enemies. Revolutionaries despised him, and eventually plotted his murder. But no one hated him more than Gregory Rasputin, a man so evil that he succeeded by a series of wicked intrigues in eventually commanding more power than the Tsar himself.
In the Siberian village where he was born, Rasputin was feared as a rowdy and a drunkard. When, in 1903, he arrived in St. Petersburg, Russia’s capital, he resembled a tramp, his long tangled beard hugging his chest and dirty hair reaching his shoulders.
For a time Rasputin became a monk. Then his fame as a mystic reached the Empress Alix, the Tsar’s wife. Her son, heir to the throne, suffered from haemophilia, a blood disease so serious that from the slightest cut he might bleed to death. The Empress believed that Rasputin could cure him, and soon the uncouth monk occupied a prominent place at her palace.
In the Empress’s eyes he could do no wrong, even though he behaved like a savage and could barely read and write. He rarely washed, and smelled vilely. When eating soup, his favourite dish, he cupped his hands, sank them into the bowl and lapped from them like an animal. But for all his barbarous manners he had the cunning of an arctic fox. One by one he removed his rivals. Step by step he undermined the Duma.
So scandalous was his behaviour that for a time he was banished to Siberia. A lucky stroke brought him back.
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