Friday mystery object #95 answer


Since Friday was the 13th I gave you a mystery object inspired by the theme of superstition (at the suggestion of the @museumgeekgirls). I asked you to identify what this specimen was, where it was from and what powers were attributed to it:

As it turns out you all did a great job of identifying what these severed feet belonged to and there were some fantastic suggestions about the possible uses of these rather macabre charms.

Dave Hone immediately spotted that these were the paws of a Mole Talpa europaea Linnaeus, 1758 and jonpaulkaiser added the detail that the Mole was an albino (the fair hairs led some to suggest a Golden Mole). Jack Ashby managed to work out which particular superstition these paws were harvested for – a charm against cramp, but Helen, Moley and Rachel all had alternative suggestions that would be equally efficacious (i.e. none of them work). Matt King made a suggestion that might actually work when he said:

I reckon it’s a lucky charm to stop moles from ruining your lawn!! (particularly that actual mole!).

The idea that carrying a mole’s paw could have any health benefits (beyond placebo) is clearly nonsense and for cramps seems to be founded in sympathetic magic (after all, moles are presumably unlikely to suffer from cramp given their ability to tunnel persistently).

This system of seeking  cures for ailments by using the supposed properties of an animal seems stupid and cruel, particularly when you consider that items need to be removed from live animals for the magic to work.

This specimen was acquired around 1911 and you would hope that 100 years later people would have worked out that there’s no real benefit to this kind of superstitious nonsense, but alas that’s not so. Even in the UK there are still people that subscribe to similar superstitions about magical powers bestowed by the bodily products of animals. Here are some great examples of ‘provings’ from the pseudoscience of homeopathy:

Mind Themes of Badger

Mind themes of Sparrow

Mind themes of Cockroach

Much as I hate ridicule as a form of argument, there are people recording their random thoughts and feelings after taking a vanishingly small amount of something on a sugar pill and that is then being prescribed as a treatment for real illnesses – and that’s ridiculous.

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