Friday, May 30, 2014

Fending off the Evil Eye

The Evil eye is found nearly in every culture with the earliest reference found in the cuneiform script of Sumerians, Babylonians and Assyrians, around 3000 BC. The ancient Egyptians used eye shadow and lipstick to prevent the evil eye from entering their eyes or mouths. Both the Old and New Testaments mention the evil eye. Superstitions surrounding the evil eye strongly persist in Mediterranean countries. Overlooking describes the deliberate use of the evil eye and was thought to produce such misfortunes as illness, poverty, injury, loss of love, or even death. The power of the evil eye was so greatly feared in the Middle Ages, witches had to walk backwards toward their judges. Almost anything could cause the notion that some person possessed an evil eye. Seen looking at children or livestock prior to illness or death was definite confirmation. Strangers were viewed with great suspicion and anyone with unusual characteristics such as the colour of their eyes was in danger of being classified as evil eyed. Some babies were thought to be born with the evil eye, corrupting everything they looked at. These children were referred to as demonically possessed. The evil eye was likely to strike in good and fortunate times. Many of the family's riches were deliberately hidden from children just in case they gave them the evil eye. Likewise success was never bragged about. The community would seek help for their wise elders in matters of the evil eye, animals under the spell were referred to as "blinked". Amulets were used in antiquity as protection.

In Roman times the phallus was used as protection from the evil eye. Today Italian men will still hold their genitals as protection from evil or any misfortune. Another name for Priapus was Fascinus and some referred to the evil eye as fascination. Spitting is thought to be a powerful aversion to the evil eye. Frogs and horns were common shapes used by witches. Horse brasses on the harness were thought to protect from the evil eye as was tying ribbons on children's underwear. Garlic and the shamrock have also been used as a protection and many gardeners plant jack beans around their gardens to the same effect. Hindus believe barley can help and represented a symbol of thunderbolts of Indra. Other cures against the evil eye include reciting incantations usually passed down from mother to daughter within the family. Italians will often put a few drops of olive oil in a bowl of water (occasionally salted) The oil may scatter, from into blobs or sink to the bottom. The formation is then interpreted to determine the source of the attack. Once this is done more oil is added to the water while reciting the incantations and making the sign of the cross on the victim's forehead. If this fails a powerful sorceress is sought for a more effective cure. Shoe superstitions like ‘first footing’ were used to ward off the Evil Eye.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The origins and practice of hogmanay

Although the well known Scottish tradition of Hogmanay (originally a type of three cornered, biscuit) is celebrated on New Year's Eve, its origins are age old and grounded in Celtic culture. Despite the long association with the Scots, Hogmanay is not a Scottish custom but practiced, all over Europe. The following is a brief outline of Hogmanay, custom and practice.

Hogmanay was first recorded in 1604 in the Elgin Records as hagmonay (delatit to haue been singand hagmonayis on Satirday) and again in 1692 in an entry of the Scotch Presbyterian Eloquence, "It is ordinary among some plebeians in the South of Scotland to go about from door to door upon New-years Eve, crying Hagmane." Etymology of hogmanay remains obscure and may arise from a French, Norse or a Goidelic (Insular Celtic) root.

The Festival of the Dead
In the old Celtic calendar, New Year fell on the 1st November and was called Samhain. This was an unreal time, when one year turned into another. A twilight zone where spirits of the dead and those not yet born walked freely among the living. It was a time of plenty as the stocks were returned from the hills before the severe winter ahead and a great time for kinship as the hill dwellers came to the gathering. The celebration of the dead is found throughout the Celtic and Hispanic world and lasts from Halloween to New Year.

Samhain was a time where darkness of night was thought to prevail over the lightness of day. Lun the Sun God was defeated by his darker side and became the Lord of Misrule. Good people needed the comfort of their own kind and protection from the evil forces of the dark. Much of the sacred symbolism of Samhaimn can be found in the customs of Halloween and Hogmanay.

First Footing
In the New Year many cultures believed the first foot to cross the threshold brought the house good fortune for the coming year. "First footing" is an ancient custom and tradition demands the first person to pass the threshold must be a sonsy (trustworthy), a stranger of dark complexion and full head of hair, carry a lucky talisman. It was considered very unlucky to have a first fit who was a person with fair complexion. Suspicious people refuse to leave their home until they were first footed.

The Talisman
Bearing gifts echoes the 8th Century beliefs of the Vikings that good luck charms made the New Year a thriving one. Black bun (pastry covered rich current bun), and wassail (hot toddy) represent food and sustenance for the coming year. The coal symbolized good luck and prosperity.

Foot Arch
In the Isle of Man (UK) a good first footer was a man of good appearance and dark complexion with in-steps high enough to allow a mouse to run through. The significance of the arched foot remains unclear but early Christians believed men were made in the image of God and the Christian Foot had a perfect arch. Flat feet or splayed feet were considered the sign of evil and hence unlucky omens.

The Evil Foot
Functional feet were important to the early Christians as walking was the only means to spread the Gospel. Subsequently well formed feet became associated with joy and happiness. Literature abounds with reference to this. Prior to modern medicine illness and deformity were regarded as a form of demonic possession. Many contagious diseases of the time left deformities like flat feet.

After the Bells
First footing remains a strong tradition in rural areas. The modern interpretation is after hearing the Bells of the New Year ring, friends visit each other's homes sharing goodwill and treating them to intoxicating liquor. The Celts held alcohol in very high esteem and was an important part of ritual. In the past first footing had practical purpose to small communities which allowed everyone in the village to meet the New Year with good cheer and d more importantly be able to leave their abode after being first footed.

New Year’s Family Dinner
In Scotland families gather on Ner’day (New Year‘s Day) and feast like the traditional Christmas Day. This represents the modern “gathering of the clans.” Certain foods are thought to bring good fortune for the New Year. These include a thick and tasty bowl of Scotch broth: Steak pie and a Clootie dumpling (a sweet fruit pudding). It is not uncommon in Celtic tradition to have an extra place set at table for unexpected guests.

Auld Lang Syne
Auld Land Syne is a traditional air given lyrics by Robert Burns but this was not traditionally sang at Hogmanay until the 20th century after it was played at a New Year celebration in New York. The song and sentiment expressed was perfect for the occasion and have been associated ever since.

Monday, December 30, 2013

A brief history of Christmas

Celebrations in mid winter predate Christian times by millennium and whilst Christmas became a Christian festival many of the original superstitions of pagan times are still observed. The following presentation is but a brief introduction to the topic.

The Egyptians
Celebrations at mid winter predate Christian times by millennium and whilst Christmas became a Christian festival many of the original superstitions of pagan times are still observed. Four thousand years ago, the Egyptians (3110- 30BC) celebrated the rebirth of the sun with a festival that lasted 12 days to reflect the 12 divisions in the sun's calendar. Evergreens were cherished because they symbolized the season to come. Using palms with 12 shoots to represent a complete year they decorated their houses with greenery in a similar way to what we do now.

The Zoroastrian Tradition
The Babylonians (1750- 529 BC) celebrated renewal of the year and the same festivities were later adopted by the Persians (529BC - 637AD). Persian New Year and was one of the seven most important festivals in the Zoroastrian tradition. Special food was prepared for the feasts that followed and singing and gift giving during the winter solstice became an established practice. December 25th was the day to honour the harvest god, Saturn, and Mithras, the god of light as far back as 336 AD.

The Festival of Saturn
In Roman times people decorated their homes with greenery but the usual order of the year was suspended and grudges and quarrels forgotten. Wars were interrupted or temporarily set aside and merriment of all kinds prevailed. The Festival of Saturn (Saturnalia) was the Roman mid-winter ‘festival of misrule.’ Thought to have started in Persia the custom temporarily subverted social order during festivals. Subsequently masters and slaves exchanged places. The same practice continued throughout the Middle Ages during other festivals such as The Festival of Fools.

Saturn and Mithras
The 25th December was used by pagans to honour the harvest god, Saturn and Mithras, the god of light. Pagans prepared special food, decorated their homes with greenery, and joined in singing and gift giving. After Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, the celebrations and customs became part of the Christian way.

Festival of the Dead (Samahain)
According to Celtic myth Lugh, the Sun God was defeated by his dark side and become the Lord of Misrule. Good folk needed the comfort of their own kind and protection from the evil forces of the dark. Samhain was the great gathering of the clans and if you watched The Highlander film or TV series you will of heard of the Great Gathering. Well there was such an event and it took place in the mid winter. Samhain was celebrated on three levels. It was a time of plenty as the live stock were returned from the hills before the severe winter ahead; it was a time of great kinship, as the hill dwellers came to the gathering; and was the time of year when the darkness of night prevailed over the lightness of the day.

The Festival of Light
In pre-Christian times, Samhain was an unreal time, when one year turned into another. A twilight zone where the spirits of the dead and those not yet born, walked freely among the living. Halloween or the beginning of the Festival of the Dead and Hogmanay , the end as beginning of the New Year. Many rituals and superstitions from that time still prevail and are incorporated into modern Christmas customs. Christmas was called the Festival of Light in the Western or Latin Church. Lighting candles and lamps helped return the light and warmth as well as chasing away the spirits of darkness.

The Birth of Christ
History shows that December 25 was popularized as the date for Christmas, not because Christ was born on that day, but because it was already popular in pagan religious celebrations as the birthday of the sun. Fixing of the date as December 25th was a compromise with paganism. Christmas was not observed in Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire, until about 300 years after Christ's death. In 274 C.E., the Roman emperor Aurelian established a feast of the birth of Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun), on December 25. Christmas, the argument goes, is really a spin-off from these pagan solar festivals.

A famous proponent of this practice was Pope Gregory the Great, who, in a letter written in 601 C.E. to a Christian missionary in Britain, recommended that local pagan temples not be destroyed but be converted into churches, and that pagan festivals be celebrated as feasts of Christian martyrs.

Christmas Day
Christians celebrated Christmas Day since 336AD and the earliest known Christmas Day celebration in England was in the city of York in AD 521 by King Arthur. By the twelfth century Christmas had become the most important religious festival in Europe. The obsolete feasts of antiquity were gradually adapted to the main events of the life of Christ. This was probably done to attract more followers. In retrospect it is very difficult to separate occult beliefs and the sacred doctrine since they have become complexly intertwined. Although merriment and religious devotion were not associated in the early church, ultimately they were incorporated due to political pressures.

The Three Wise Men
In the Scriptures, Mathew described the peripheral events of the birth which have been systematically embellished by the faithful. According to Mathew 2:1

‘Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the King, behold, there came wise men (Magi) from the east of Jerusalem.’

There is no mention in the Scriptures of the Wise Men being Kings; nor were they named. These details were left to wide interpretation which was possibly done for the best ‘political’ reason as the Gospels were spread. For instance if the Wise Men were Kings then this would obviously unite the populous from various geographical locations i.e. Balthazar was the king of Arabia; Gaspar (or Casper) the king of India; and Melchior was the king of Persia. There is no confirmation of the way the Wise Men travelled to Jerusalem albeit Mathew wrote they had navigated by following a star. Chinese Christians believe at least one of the Magi came from China and cite anecdotal evidence about Liu Shang, the chief astrologer during the Han dynasty. Liu Shang discovered a new star the Chinese called the "king star" - which became associated with the birth of a new king. According to contemporary reports the astrologer was absent from the China’s imperial court for almost two years shortly after he discovered the star. Some Chinese Christians believe it is possible Liu Shang travelled the Silk Road to Bethlehem.

Unlike the modern interpretation of the Christmas Nativity, it appears only shepherds were present immediately after the birth and the Magi did not arrive until the Twelfth Day. Dedicated followers of the Scriptures commemorated this event with the exchange of gifts on the 6th January.

Nativity Scene
Most of the nativity scenes were painted in the 15 & 16th centuries and Christmas cards depicting them becoming popular only in the 19th centuries.

The Twelve Days of Christmas
To promote universal celebration of Christ's birth the main churches eventually agreed to accept Twelve Days of Christmas. In the Western Church this ran from Christmas Day until Epiphany, (January 6th). Some believers consider the first day of the Twelve Days of Christmas begin on the eve of December 25th with the following day considered the First Day of Christmas (December 26th). Eastern Orthodox Christians use a different religious calendar and celebrate Christmas on January 7th. They observe Epiphany or Theophany on January 19th. In the Western church, Epiphany (Three Kings Day) is usually celebrated as the day the Wise Men (or Magi) arrived to present gifts to the young Jesus (Matt. 2:1-12). In Spain this is known as la Fiesta de Reyes, el Dia de los Tres Reyes, or el Dia de los Reyes Magos and in Holland, Driekoningendag.

Traditionally at the end of the Twelve Days a feast was held and gifts were given. People ate cake (King Cake) and drank alcohol on Twelfth Night. King cake is still used as part of the New Orleans’ Mardi Gras. Once December 25th became acknowledged as the main festival day, then exchanging gifts became part of the celebration. As the Twelfth Day marked the end of the Christmas celebrations then all Christmas decorations required to be removed from the house otherwise misfortune would follow.

Puritans banned Christmas
In 1644 the English Puritans forbid any merriment or religious services by Act of Parliament. This was on the grounds that it was a heathen practice, and ordered Christmas to be kept as a fasting day. Charles II revived the feast, but the Scots adhered to the Puritan view and did not celebrate Christmas for several centuries.

Modern Christmas
Modern Christmas was introduced in Victorian Times. Queen Victoria spent long holidays with her German relatives and always enjoyed the decorated the mid winter festivals. She particularly loved the Christmas Tree and insisted in having one in Buckingham Palace where she and Prince Albert decorated it for the Royal children. The Royal couple were so popular loyal subjects took to the custom and every home had one. Initially they were decorated with flags of the Empire but when Woolworth's offered coloured lights, these were used instead. In the Royal household of Queen Victoria this custom was observed throughout the twelve days of Christmas. These sentiments are very similar to the cheer promoted in the greeting of today's Christmas cards.

Scottish Christmas
Christmas was banned in Scotland after the Reformation and Presbyterian ministers visited their flock to check they had no festive foods in the house. The Scots rejected the celebration of Christmas because there was no reference to it in the New Testament. Christmas was just another day with faint echoes of bonfire ceremonies, more related to pagan sun worship than celebrating the birth of Christ. Many viewed the English celebration as an attempt by the English to emulate Hogmanay. Others viewed it, as a time for Victorian ‘do good’ers’ to exercise charity to the less privileged. Christmas in Scotland did not become a public holiday until 1958.

Colonial Christmas
At first Christmas was a time for colonists to link with their homes and families. Scottish tea planters in the east ate plum puddings and turkey dinners long before their relatives gave recognition to Christmas Day. The first official Christmas celebrated in Australia was Dec 25, 1788 at Sydney Cove. No Christmas cheer was shown to the prisoners on that day with the exception of Michael Dennison who had been sentenced to 200 lashes. In the spirit of the season the prisoner was given 150.

The Christmas Tree
The origins of the Christmas tree come from Germany when St Boniface was converted to Christianity. After he came upon a group of Pagans worshipping at an oak tree he cut it down and when a fir tree sprung up from the roots this was taken as a sign. By the 16th century fir trees were brought into the home and it is reputed Martin Luther was the first person to decorate the tree with candles. The lights which decorate the Christmas tree is a remnant of paganism.

The Electric Christmas Tree
German settlers are thought to have taken the decorated trees to North America when they emigrated. In the early 1800s when the first lit tree was erected outside a church, many parishioners protested because they felt the action was pagan. The introduction of electricity meant it was much safer to illuminate the tree. Soon ever town community council had civic displays, all trying to compete with each other.

Tree Decorations
Horns and bells were traditionally used to decorate the trees, the purpose of which was to frighten away evil spirits. Later these ornaments took on a Christian message i.e. heralding the birth of Christ. Originally fairy like figures were used on the trees but later these became angels. The origins of tinsel relate to the time when Europeans let their animals into the house. This was done because the birth of Christ took place in a stable. The story goes women did not want spiders in their homes, but when a spider spoke to the baby Jesus, he was allowed to go to the Christmas tree on the night before Christmas. By morning his web had turned to silver with the rising sun. A spider's web on the Christmas tree is thought to be a sign of good luck.

Carols (songs of joy)
Families sang carols (songs of joy) and clapped their hands to keep warm. The custom started in England and most carols were written in the nineteenth century. These scenes were depicted graphically in the works of Charles Dickens’. For the first eight years of the author’s life it snowed in London. This was quite unusual but clearly left a lasting impression with scribe.

Christmas Fayre
The English enjoyed Christmas Dinner on Christmas Day whereas many European countries feast on Christmas Eve . It is thought King Henry VIII may have been the first English monarch to have turkey for Christmas although goose was the predominant roast until the Victorian era. For Catholics fish pie became popular after the Reformation and later ham also enjoyed common. Wartime rationing meant sausages became common Christmas far. Post war rising cost of goose saw chickens and turkey rise in popularity sealed with the introduction of freezers. Christmas pudding dates from medieval England.

The Yule Log
The pagan festivals which predated Christianity included many superstitions which eventually became part of the Christmas tradition. The Yule log was a Norse custom and burning of the Yule was a celebration of the sun during the winter months. Most ancient superstitions surrounding Yuletide were concerned with the darkness and the evil it was thought to harbor. Many superstitious people keep a piece on the log from the previous year, as a lucky talisman. According to tradition it was extremely unlucky for a barefooted woman or a squint eyed man to see the yule log; and a flat footed visitor to the house whilst the log was burning was a very bad omen. The log has subsequently influenced other Christmas traditions including desserts such as log shaped cakes.
The Evil Eye is well documented in occult culture. Keeping Christmas cake or the remains of the Yule Log under the bed was also thought to help get rid of chilblains.

Yule logs were traditionally burnt during the winter festival and the ashes and embers were kept for good luck for the following year. It was a very bad omen if the Yuletide embers were touched by either a flat footed woman or a man with a turn in his eye.

Christmas Crackers
Christmas crackers were an attempt to make a log shaped novelty similar to the Yule log. At first sugar almonds and love messages were placed on the table then when the 'snap' was invented, the now familiar cracker was introduced. Instantly these became popular with families and were used in all manner of celebrations. Later these became exclusive to Christmas.

Christmas Cards
The first Christmas card was printed in England in 1843, when Sir Henry Cole, director of The Victoria and Albert Museum in London, became weary of hand penning Christmas greetings and commissioned illustrator John Callcott Horsley to design a printable card. The card caused an uproar. Henry Cole’s Christmas card cost one shilling, a week’s pay in the 1800s. The postal act of 1840 brought about the penny post, which allowed mail to be sent anywhere in England for a penny. Cards became even more popular in the UK when they could be posted in an unsealed envelope for one halfpenny - half the price of an ordinary letter.

Religious themed Christmas cards were popular.

Christmas Gifts
An old English saying was "If you do not give a new pair of shoes to a poor person at least once in your lifetime, you will go barefoot in the next world."

This belief may be the reason why Christmas gifts were exchanged by the middle classes so as to avoid poverty. In any event many people gave presents to the poor and miniature shoes became popular gifts for good luck from the 18th century onwards. One reason why miniature shoes were given instead of the real thing might be because superstitious people believe if you give a friend a new pair of shoes then they were sure to walk away from you. Wearing new shoes on Christmas Day was also thought, by many, to bring bad luck. The traditional Greece custom of burning old shoes during the Christmas season to prevent misfortunes in the coming year shares a rationale with the belief the shoe contains the spirit of the wearer and foul smells repel evil.

In pagan times, mid winter was always associated with spirits and monsters that were on the prowl. During the Feast of the Dead (Hogmanay) Druid priests cut down mistletoe which grew in sacred oaks with golden sickles. These were used medicinally and helped infertility.

Trolls , Kallikantzartoi and Julenisse
Many European cultures have mythical creatures who do mischievous things to the unsuspecting at Christmas time . The origins are probably pre Christian and relate to the Festival of the Dead.

In Sweden it was believed evil trolls roamed the countryside between cockcrow and daybreak on Christmas Day.

In Greece there are wicked elves called Kallikantzaroi. In order to keep them from causing trouble in the house traditionally a large log called a skakantzalos (Yule Log) was burnt. Sometimes old shoes were burnt in the hope the smell would keep the wicked elves away. Greek children born on Christmas Eve or Christmas day were often feared to be Kallikantzaroi and as a precaution all children born within the Christmas festival were bound in braids of garlic or straw and their toenails singed.

In Scandinavia, the Julenisse are little people who live outside but during the winter festivities sneak indoors to cause mayhem. The elves are practical jokers and do mischievous things like hide shoes, or blow out candles. To avoid their attentions it is important to leave out a bowl of rice pudding and if they are kept happy then the children of the house find the occasional treat or lost coin. Julenisse wear woolen clothes with red caps, and long red stockings and wooden clogs.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Monday, December 20, 2010

Feet and Footwear: A Cultural Encyclopaedia: Great resource

Feet and Footwear: A Cultural Encyclopedia. by Margo DeMello is a fascinating read and must for all interested in feet and shoes.
It is an exhaustive A-Z cultural encyclopedia covering all aspects of the human foot. A wide range of international and multicul- tural topics are covered, including foot binding, fetishes, diseases of the foot, customs and beliefs related to the foot, shoe construction, myths and folktales featuring feet or shoes, the history of footwear, iconic brands and types of shoes, important celebrities associated with shoes, and the types of footwear worn around the world.

Dr Margo DEMello is an anthropologist/sociologist who teaches at Central New Mexico Community College has also written Bodies of Inscription: A Cultural History of the Modern Tattoo Community.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Origins of which shoe to put on

There is no surviving artefacts or descriptions of Jewish shoes from the period of the early Bible (Nahshon 2008 p2). However footwear does hold an important significance to early Israelites. According to the Scriptures, God gave man a ‘coat of skins’ to wear.

"...Unto Adam and also unto his wife did the Lord God make clothes of skin and clothe them..." (Genesis 21:3). Once the Hebrews acquired the art of tanning they used thick hide for sandals. The Biblical sandal was either leather or wooden footboards held to the foot with finer leather thongs Nahshon (2008).

The lyric in the Song of Songs (circa 900 BCE ) confirms sandals were worn by the high born.

"How beautiful your sandaled feet, O prince's daughter! Your graceful legs are like jewels, the work of a craftsman's hands.” (Song of Songs 7:1).

One of the earliest known depictions appears on the Assyrian Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III (circa 841 BCE) and depicts Jehu (son of Omri) bringing a tribute the Assyrian king. Jehu is prostrating himself in homage and is depicted wearing up-turned pointed shoes. These were fashionable with Assyrian royal families and may not be representative of ordinary shoes worn by Jews.

By the 8th century BCE concerns were expressed by elders as to the irreverence of decorated elevated sandals worn by young women. (Isaiah 3 16-20).

Later during the period of captivation in Egypt, Jewish slaves were taught the craft of Egyptian sandal making and took the trade with them. The fleeing slaves were wore sandals (Ex 12:11).

"This is how you are to eat it: with your loins girt, sandals on your feet and your staff in hand, you shall eat like those who are in flight. It is the Passover of the LORD.”

According to the Holy Scriptures Moses wore shoes when he approached the Burning Bush (Exodus 3:5).

"Remove your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground."

This was repeated again, at the confirmation of Joshua as the new Moses.

'And the captain of the LORD's host said unto Joshua, Loose thy shoe from off thy foot: for the place whereon thou standest is holy. And Joshua did so.'
Josh 5:15
Possibly the first shoe miracle to be described was n Deuteronomy 29:15

“During the forty years that I led you through the desert, your clothes did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet.”
Hence forth footwear and bare feet took on major symbolic significance in the Jewish religion. These are seen in the Torah , (Laws of Moses) and the Shulchan Aruch, (Code of Jewish law) which was written in the 16th century. Every day event were to be seen as something to worship the glory of God including putting on sandals. The Jewish laws prescribed the order in which you put them on. The right went on first followed by the left. (Shulchan Aruch/Orach Chaim 2:4). The left shoe was to be tied firs and the whole process reversed when taking the shoes off (Shulchan Aruch/Orach Chaim 2:5). It is thought this custom was based on the belief the right side was more important than the left and subsequently the right foot should not remain uncovered while the left was covered. Shoes were tied from the left because knotted teffilin was worn on the left arm. This refers to the children of Israel being out of Egypt as an act of God. When walking outdoors, Jews were required to cover the entire body including their feet (Shulchan Aruch/Orach Chaim 2:6). By the end of the first century CE shoes were considered an item of sensuousness, comfort, luxury and pleasure. Rabbi Akiva (ca.50–ca.135 CE) instructed his son Joshua not to go barefoot.

In the Talmud (200CE – 500 CE) (Shabbat 129a) it declared "A person should sell the roof beams of his house to buy shoes for his feet, " which if taken literally would again underline the importance of footwear in the Holy Land. Scholars and thise well versed in Jewish Law (Talmid Chacham) were never to go out wearing shabby or worn out shoes. Much later the Kabbalists considered the body as "the shoe of the soul," to protect it during its journey in the physical world.

According to Nahshon (2008) the primodial connection of the naked or semi naked foot to the land became an important element of Israel’s Zionist pioneer culture. Walking barefoot symbolically intimated one of three states: the lack of social status, an act of humility, or reference to the Divine. A common punishment or judgment was being forced to go without shoes.

'At the same time spake the LORD by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, Go and loose the sackcloth from off thy loins, and put off thy shoe from thy foot. And he did so, walking naked and barefoot.'
Is 20:2

Captives went barefoot and their footwear was often taken as a trophy.
'And the men which were expressed by name rose up, and took the captives, and with the spoil clothed all that were naked among them, and arrayed them, and shod them.'
2 Chron 28:15

The Jewish custom of not wearing shoes was also taken as a show of remorse, penance or mourning (Book of Isaiah 20:2). In Talmudic times both the pall bearers and the mourners went barefoot. When David was in mourning he went barefooted.

'And David went up by the ascent of mount Olivet, and went as he went up, and had his head covered, and he went barefoot'
2 Sam 15:30

Jewish Law determined wearing leather shoes was not permitted during the period of the seven days of mourning (shiva,). For practical reason when shoes were allowed the custom was to place a little earth or pebble in the shoes to remind the wearer that they are in mourning. Jews are buried in a shroud covering the feet and the corpse id never dressed in leather shoes.
In the laws of halitzah when a married man died childless and leaving an unmarried brother, the brother was obligated to marry his widowed sister-in-law. This was called a levirate marriage and was primarily to continue the family linage.Deuteronomy (25:5-9); and Book of Ruth 3:4. If the brother in law refuses to marry the widow a ceremony involving the halitzah shoe was undertaken. The shoe worn on the right foot of the male was made from the skin of a kosher animal. It was like a moccasin made of two pieces and sown together with leather threads with long ties. The widow places her left hand on the brother in laws calf, then undoes the laces with her right hand before removing the shoe from his foot. She then throws it to the ground, and spits on the ground in front of him. The beth din then recites the formula releasing all obligations. Here the shoe is a symbol of transaction and reference is made in Biblical times to shoes and sandals being used to seal bargains.

Human beings intrinsically used their bodies (or parts there of) as physical measurement of the known universe and so it would see perfectly logical to extend this to describe all human endeavours. The idea our ancestors described the universe with reference to the human body would give credence to the argument when describing faith there would be a head of a religious order; and feet, or the foundation of followers. This would translate into concrete iconoclasts as found in talisman of faith e.g. Statue of Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro. The absence of sophisticated transport in Biblical Times required walking as the primary means to spread the Gospel. By implication this would necessitate healthy feet and encourage protection of them. No surprise, perhaps to find reference to feet and sandals became closely associated with evangelism within in the New Testament.

Nahshon E 2008 Jews and shoes Berg Oxford.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Miniature Shoes: What's that all about?

Giving miniature shoes is an age old custom. In antiquity funereal jars were made in the shape of boots and were kept as keep-sakes in memory of the dearly departed.

By the late 18th century in England, Prince Frederick Augustus (Duke of York) got engaged to Frederica Charlotte Ulrica Catherina (1767-1820). The lady had dainty feet which captivated the Prince who wanted her to have special bridal shoes. The royal shoe maker was consulted and six new pairs of tiny shoes were promptly made. At the time newspapers were unable to comment upon the beauty of the royal person so instead heaped praised upon the charm of her "neatness" and petite shoes. Frederica was no raving beauty and had rotting teeth by all accounts. However as a result of the media interest copies of her purple leather shoes (13.97 centimetres long), sold in their hundreds and miniature replicas became a must to have. Miniature shoes were made of silver and porcelain and many were used as pin cushions. The popularity of all things oriental saw miniature porcelain lotus shoes as keep sake in many European houses. The gift of a miniature shoe would generally well meaning and the sign of real friendship.

After George du Maurier (1834 – 1896) published the novel Trilby (1894 ) it had enormous success. The story involved an Irish girl who goes to Paris during the Belle Époque. There she falls under the control of Svengali (evil hypnotist). One of Trilby’s eccentricities was to flash her bare feet in public. At the time this was considered as rude as baring bear bosoms or flashing a bare bottom. The popularity of Trilby (novel and play) became international and caused public riots whereever the play was performed (because of the barefoot flashing). This caused the fashion for foot and shoe shaped objects such as snuff containers and hip flasks to become a gentleman’s must have accessory. By this time the miniature shoes had taken on a more risqué meaning. Miniature tight laced ladies boots or even a full leg were also popular. Foot shaped sausages and ice creams became a real novelty which attracted much attention among those familiar with the book and play. It is reasonable to assume the same population were familiar with Freud’s Castration Theory.

The tradition of giving a shoe to mark the completion of a business deal dates to Biblical times and supplies the origin to the custom of the bride’s father passing a shoe of his daughter to the groom. This marks the exchange of fiscal responsibility. In the past brides were considered property. Today the custom is still followed more usually in the form of a miniature shoe . As gifts these are good luck charms.

Finally there is a superstition to not give shoes to friends at Christmas time. The belief is the friend would walk away from you. The origins are unknown but in less enlightened times it was understood whatever station you were born into was your destiny and helping people rise above this was not the right thing to do. The belief may have come from the wealthy classes who lived in abject fear of being overtaken by the lower classes.