The Devil's Bath: Curse-craft and Humoural Theory

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The Devil's Bath: Curse-craft and Humoural Theory

48.00 60.00

A self-contained one-off class introducing the Four Humours of fiery choler, airy blood, watery phlegm, and earthy melancholy, and exploring how they can be manipulated to both heal and harm. This class-bundle combines a two-hour long-form illustrated lecture with downloads of full scans of twenty-three early modern primary sources on occult medicine, cunning-craft, cursing, witchcraft, astrological magic and physick, (including fully searchable txt files scans of these sources), along with the illustrated slides themselves, and a fairly extensive list further recommended reading. No prior knowledge of humoural theory or the Four Elements is assumed.

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Humoural theory is often discussed as simply a medical application of the Four Elements; and indeed, the moistures of the humours were strongly understood by this kind of occult philosophy. However, amongst the thermodynamics of passions and constitutions, amongst the hot, cold, dry, and wet influences that could elementally heal or harm, underlies the principle of equilibrium which ensured proper functionality. The four humours must be properly balanced, and while each person might have a unique elemental make-up - running naturally hot-headed or cool-tempered and so on - it was the balancing and unbalancing of humoural dispositions, stimuli, and influences, actions and re-actions, habituations and unaccustomed shifts that made working their magics so effective. To know how to balance the scales of well-being was to know how to tip them...

 The tools and techniques of the hexing humouralist are a substantial toolbox. The sorcerous use of the angry gaze could literally “look daggers”; many varieties of erotic-malefic “love-apples” employed various bodily secretions; talismans could be constructed to make the target afraid of their own body; and inciting dangerous melancholy could encourage all sorts of fascinating suffering. In this recorded illutstrated lecture Dr Alexander Cummins will present these four elemental-humoural forms of cursework, and explore the underlying occult philosophy and magical application of humoural theory in medicine and maleficia.

 Much early modern magic operated upon human subjects in manners apprehended and analysed through the lens of humoural theory. Humoural theory was the dominant medical model across Europe for over 1500 years, and engaged with through a variety of sorcerous methodologies. The four cosmological Elements’ corollaries in the moistures of mammalian bodies could be altered, innervated, or ennobled by magical materia and ritual. Most obviously, medical amulets attempted to re-balance a patient’s humours; to regain a vital equilibrium thought to underlie good health.

 Conversely, many talismanic objects and sorcerous actions were employed to unbalance, debase, corrupt, or otherwise curse their targets’ humours - resulting in impairment of bodily functions, cognitive or emotional faculties, as well as spiritual debilities. Souring a target’s yellow bile would embitter their relationships in choleric rage. Overly heating or sweetening a victim’s sanguine humours could drive them insane with love-sickness. Infliction of fear, shame, and anxiety were inherently phlegmatic operations. Lastly, the griefs and sorrows of melancholia - ‘the Devil’s bath’ - could move a target to suicide, as well as attract the hauntings of unclean spirits.

In examining this topic, it is hoped students will be furnished with a good understanding of how to apply the classical understandings of elemental and planetary virtues of pre-modern occult philosophy and magical activity in understanding ill-health, disturbed well-being, and extreme states of impassioned experience and expression. The humours are not merely a way of applying elementalist readings to the body, they are a means of understanding the instantiated effects of the Four Elements themselves in the world through our embodiments of them.