On Dildos and Penance

Last week on twitter I had a little chat about the presence of dildos in the penitential of Burchard of Worms, which raised some questions.

For those who have managed to escape the morass that is the twitter hellscape, a brief recap before we get on to making a historical point™. Burchard of Worms was the Bishop of Worms, which was an extremely influential Holy Roman Imperial city, and which we generally think of now in relation to the Diet of Worms, where Martin Luther (who is just a second-rate Jan Hus, but whatever), was tried. Burchard, however, was working five blissful centuries before Luther came on the scene, i.e. at the end of the tenth and beginning of the eleventh centuries, and he was massively influential in making canon, or Church, law. He is also very well known for making his own penitential.

For those who were not raised Catholic, a penitential is – more or less – a book that gives guidance to priests who are giving the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which was known as the Sacrament of Penance in the medieval period. This is where Catholics (aka any non-Orthodox Christians in the medieval period) go into a little booth and tell a priest what sins they have committed. The priest then tells them what penance they have to do in order to be forgiven of the sins and reconciled with God.

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On St Nicholas

Today is St Nicholas Day! Hooray! As a person of the Czech persuasion, St Nicholas day (or Mikuláš) has long been a thing for me, celebrated in the family with stockings full of sugar and oranges, and if you’re lucky enough to be in CZ with a huge-ass street party where everyone is dressed up like St Nicholas, angels, and demons, and enjoys freaking kids out like so:

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Considering bad motherfuckers: Hildegard of Bingen and Janelle Monáe

I, like all the best people, have spent the last month or so being absolutely amazed that there was a time before Janelle Monáe’s ‘Dirty Computer’ existed, and that apparently there was music before now. It’s a lot to deal with, you know? Obviously, this album is important for a number of reasons, the most pressing of which is that it BANGS. However, it is also an amazing record of queerness and female auteurship in a male dominated society.

And of course, all of this is rather like the work of Hildegard of Bingen.

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On Jerusalem and the Apocalypse, or, why you should be deeply unsettled right now

Ever since Constantine the Great converted to Christianity, it has not been possible to simultaneously be both a Westerner and view Jerusalem as simply a city. Part of this, obviously, has to do with the fact that some of the more memorable parts of the life of Jesus took place in Jerusalem.* The other thing is that Jerusalem is absolutely integral to the Christian idea of the Apocalypse.

Now as a sane, happy (I hope, anyway. I believe in you.) person, you may not quite get why we should give any fucks about the Apocalypse. Why worry about the end of the universe? Why does that come into play at all in the day to day life of your average Christian? These are good relevant points that we must cling to in order to continue to fight off overwhelming feelings of dread in the nightmarish hellscape that is the current political landscape.

Trouble is, Christianity as a religion is obsessed with the apocalypse.

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A short history of Jan Hus, the Protestant leader you’ve never heard of, or, Martin Luther jacked Hus’s whole style

So because it is 2017, we are currently living through a cruel time in which people are attempting to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. This, in and of itself is problematic as hell, because it feeds into the idea that the study of history is a study of Great Men™ who came along in a manly way and moved the world forward. That ain’t the case. History is really more of a study of a number of trends. It’s looking at a million pieces of day-to-day writing and interpreting them in their context. Sure, dudes came along who – given this context – were able to influence society. However, society as a whole was not a blank slate, just waiting for some guy to come swing his dick around in order to change course.

This approach also massively privileges not just dudes, but *specifically* white dudes from Western Europe. Not because they necessarily achieved more than dudes from other parts of the world (AHEM – Alexander the Great v. Genghis Khan), BUT because the West has dominated the political sphere since the age of colonialism and therefore privileges its own history above the history of other places.

A part of this is a collective social tendency to privilege one’s one society because one is a part of it. We can’t escape culture, even if we can critique it. Another part of this is that historians are basic too, and don’t want to learn the other languages that it takes in order to do the work to study certain things.

The lionisation of Martin Luther and Reformation is a perfect example of how major social and religious movements get lost in the Great Men narrative in order to allow for ease of research.

Continue reading “A short history of Jan Hus, the Protestant leader you’ve never heard of, or, Martin Luther jacked Hus’s whole style”

Sex and the (medieval) city: social hygiene and sex in the medieval urban landscape

I gave a talk for the London Science Museum Lates on medieval sexuality and the ways in which cities responded to what were considered the competing needs for sex and a harmonious Christian landscape.
Included: swearing, manuscript pictures of penises, and a lot of talk about sex work.
Enjoy!


For more on sex work in the medieval period see:
These hoes ain’t loyal – on bad bitches and prostitutes in medieval and hip hop culture
On sex work and the concept of ‘rescue’

For more on sex and attraction in the medieval period see:
On women and desire
The history of penis in vagina as default sex at Bish!
On incels and courtly love
On courtly love, sexual coercion, and killing your idols
On the ideal form of women
On power and entitlement to the bodies of lower-status women, or, the thing that IS actually medieval about Trump
On Hotline Bling and courtly love