medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture
[It] deals with such subject matter as bread, famine, hallucination, fantasy. 
This is not such an arbitrary grouping as it looks. If the weather at harvest time is wet, rye has a nasty tendency to host a parasitical fungus called ERGOT. It is characterised by "black spurs" on the grain. If this gets into food, it has a very nasty effect. It causes cattle to abort. In humans it causes hallucinations and nerve damage (depending on the amount ingested), sometimes even death. Some have suggested that the experiences of the notorious "bewitched" of Salem was the result of ergot poisoning. But its most ambiguous use is in the realm of midwifery. (presumably Salem did not have an experienced wise woman who could identify and warn about the infestation.) In carefully controlled amounts, the mediaeval midwife could use in to "bring on" labour when a woman was dangerously overdue. By the same token, it might also be used as an abortifant... It was dangerous and could result in maternal death but was part of the apparatus of the "female underground" until modern times.
Brenda M. Cook
"I care not if you bridge the seas,
Or ride secure the cruel sky,
Or build consummate palaces
Of metal or of masonry,
But have you wine and music still,
And statues and a bright-eyed love,
And foolish thoughts of good and ill,
And prayers to them who sit above ?
To a poet a thousand years hence.
James Elroy Flecker, 1884-1915.
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