After a brief hiatus, we’re ready to roll right into Chapters 22-23 of Shadow of Night — we meet the Rede, have a run-in with Hubbard, and spend a little time with our good friend Mary Sidney.
“Are there any men among the Rede, Goody Alsop?” I asked, taking her elbow.
“Only a handful remain. All the young wizards have gone off to university to study natural philosophy.”
During the Renaissance, “natural philosophy” encompassed much of what we consider the physical sciences–physics, geology, biology, etc.–as well as theological and philosophical questions about the nature of the universe. Often described as the link between Aristotelian models of theoretical science and the experimentation of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the study of natural philosophy in universities arose at a time when society demanded a greater number of educated citizens to fill its bureaucracies and administrative posts. Between 1500 and 1625, the number of universities in Europe nearly doubled. Oxford and Cambridge came into being in the 11th century, but the two universities established new colleges during the Renaissance to cope with the influx of students. Brasenose, Christ Church, Corpus Christi, Jesus, St. John’s, and Trinity Colleges were all established at Oxford in the 16th century. Notably, the Renaissance saw a change in the nature of scholarship at universities — students and professors began to add to the body of literature with commentaries and histories of their own rather than relying on classical texts. Should you be interested in learning more about the Renaissance from Oxford faculty and friends, podcasts.ox.ac.uk has you covered.
“Sex and dominance. It’s what modern humans think vampire relationships are all about,” I said. “Their stories are full of crazed, alpha-male vampires throwing women over their shoulders before dragging them off for dinner and a date.”
While people love to talk about the parallels between A Discovery of Witches and Twilight, our friend Jean at Daemons Discuss is right — the romantic vampire image dates to the 19th century and the height of the Victorian period. While there’s certainly debate about how frank Victorians were (or could be) about their sex lives, much of the evidence we have from the literature of the upper classes suggests that sex was taboo. While the idea of Victorians covering “sexy” table legs is a myth, there is evidence from the testimony of Victorians (letters, diaries, etc.) that people were “emotionally frigid” and “factually uninformed” about sex. The concern over syphilis also led to a bit of paranoia about sexual contact and masturbation and various and sundry desires of the flesh.
Enter John Polidori’s The Vampyre (1819) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) — stories that lay the groundwork for the modern vampire myth. Where Stoker’s Dracula is a ghoulish creature of horror, Polidori’s vampire, Lord Ruthven, was a broody, handsome aristocrat based on his friend, Lord Byron. In contrast to Stoker’s feral, skulking predator, Polidori’s vampire is elegant, magnetic, and civilized. The vampire, Lord Ruthven, seduces and plans to wed the sister of the narrator of The Vampyre; he is charming, intelligent, irresistible, and dangerous. The Public Domain Review published this fascinating article on how The Vampyre may represent a fictionalized version of Polidori’s relationship with Lord Byron, which is well worth your time.
There’s some interesting psychological writing on the romantic attraction of the vampire myth and its resurgence in the last twenty years (note, I take issue with the framing of this article as “Why Women Love Vampires.” I will withhold my opinion on the underlying research, but I think it’s fair to say that male-identifying people are pretty into vamps, too). From a literary perspective, I think modern vampires tap into the desire to have conversations about big ideas (eternity, morals, sexuality, identity, the discovery of the self, civilization v. barbarism) in the context of a romantic, idealized partner.
If you haven’t quite quenched your craving for vampire fiction, Barnes and Noble has a list of the 10 Best Vampire Novels No One Has Read. AbeBooks also has a list of vampire books across a range of genres and A Love So True has a great list of vampire films you might like to check out, including the Tom Hiddleston/Tilda Swinton film Only Lovers Left Alive.
“‘Tis a pity she was not here when the Armada came,” Elizabeth said.
“So it’s true? The famous ‘English wind” that blew the Spanish ships away from England’s shores was raised by witches?”
In May 1588, King Philip II of Spain sent 132 vessels to attack Elizabeth I. Despite years of planning, the invasion of England failed — largely because of the weather. The fleet, or Armada, failed to pick up Philip II’s army in the Netherlands and then fled north to avoid a storm. The Spanish fleet attempted to head home via Scotland and the western coast of Ireland, but it hit violent weather that killed some 6,000 sailors. You can learn more about the progress of the Armada from NASA. Sadly, they don’t mention any of the English wind- and waterwitches that helped sink Spain’s hopes.
“Just trying to figure somehting out,” Matthew said, sliding the paper away.
“Something genetic?” The X’s and O’s reminded me of biology and Gregor Mendel’s peas.
Gregor Mendel, an Austrian monk, published his “Experiments on Plant Hybridization” in 1865 after he spent nearly ten years breeding and studying pea plants to track the inheritance of various traits, like seed shape, flower shape, and plant height. Sadly, his work wasn’t widely publicized and his attempts to replicate his experiments with hawkweed failed — apparently, hawkweed genetics are more complicated than those of your average pea plant. Even so, Mendel’s work on genetics was more-or-less correct, if simplistic. You can learn more about Mendel’s method in this TedEd talk.
You could also learn more about genetics from the fabulous lecture Dr. Shelli Carter gave at All Souls Con 2018. The videos are live (and free!) here.
We spent a pleasant afternoon discussing new ways to make the arbor Dianae, but it was over all too soon.
The arbor Dianae is a dendritic amalgam of crystallized silver created when you place silvery and mercury in nitric acid. You can watch one grow in this video. As a part of the alchemical process, Diana’s Tree was thought to advance the pursuit of precious metals derived from non-precious sources. In Mary Sidney’s time, the experiment would require forty days — Deb posted about the correlation between the forty days required to produce Diana’s tree and the forty days between the beginning and end of A Discovery of Witches in her Shadow of Night Real-Time Reading post.
[Marjorie] told me that the herbs were important to her magic — agrimony to break enchantments, lacy feverfew with the white and yellow flowers still attached for protection, the sturdy stems of rosemary with their glaucous leaves for purification and clarity.
We haven’t had an herbal digression for a while, so here goes:
Agrimony: Associated with thankfulness and warding off evil spells.
Feverfew: Used for hay fever, headaches, a relative of chamomile.
Rosemary: Associated with commitment, fidelity, intellect, constancy. Used as an astringent and tonic.
Elm: Inner strength, intuition. Tonic and astringent.
Adder’s tongue: Associated with jealousy, used to treat wounds and skin ulcers.
Boneset: Used as a stimulant and febrifuge (meaning that it induces sweating and thereby breaks fevers).
Groundsel: Symbolic of health and healing, traditionally used to heal illness of the stomach.
We talked about all of the symbolism in Chapter 23 in Episode 30 – The Symbolism Buffet, so I won’t go any farther for now. We’ll pick up with Matthew and Diana when they visit the unfortunate Doctor Dee on Saturday, 26 January. Lucky for you, that’s also when we’ll do our live tweet of Episode 1×02 of A Discovery of Witches TV. Join us at 1pm PST/4pm EST/9pm GMT using the hashtag #ccalchemy — it’ll be great fun.
In the meantime, you can always find us on our Facebook group, the Chamomile & Clove Clovers or via e-mail at email@example.com. Give us a shout — we love hearing from you.