[from the medical records dept] Go! In The Name Of The Devil, Go!

[now is the time for the Alienist’s annual Halloween repost… arguably NSFW]

It’s late October. You will be encountering witches with broomsticks and bubbling cauldrons before long. For that reason, you should be aware of what it is that you are actually seeing. There is much more to this (sordid) story than the sanitized Disney-esque version currently fed by modern commercialism.

The Disney-esque:

Old hags travel on broomsticks because they look aerodynamic, can function as seating, and are symbols of innocuous female domesticity gone very bad. As for those cauldrons, they’re filled with some non-specific brew that contains eye-of-newt and toe-of-frog, plus a pinch of black magic that is never clearly delineated.

Oh that it were that simple.

First a little background.

Historically, witches have been perceived by society in two (usually female) forms: those hooked-nose warted old hags of whom we’ve spoken – think Shakespeare’s MacBeth and the tales of the Brothers Grimm – but also as attractive temptresses, the vixen mistresses of Beelzebub himself. As recently as WWI, common Halloween postcards showed many witches as beautiful Gibson Girl sorceresses with blushed cheeks and ample curves.

Over time, though – thanks in large part to puritanical American mores – the laughably ugly caricature became the preeminent version in the Western public’s eye.

In distant epochs, at just about any point on life’s continuum, strong-willed women who were feared or disliked by the locals for whatever reason could arguably fall into either one of the two broad witch categories. Bummer.

In his seminal work, Discovery of Witchcraft (1584), self-declared expert Reginald Scot claimed that women were particularly at risk of becoming pawns of Mephistopheles “upon the stopping of their monthly… issue of blood.” Apparently post-menopause allowed black bile to accumulate and melancholy to take root, the Devil’s favorite cocktail. In add’n to this dangerous chemical shift, the physical changes that a woman might expect after menopause, such as osteoporosis causing a ‘dowager’s hump,’ tooth loss, and the growth of facial hair, produce those oft-recognized stereotypical characteristics of the old hag witch.

As for the hotties? Forget the black bile… the other way in which women were ‘turned’ by Satan was through sexual intercourse, a more likely trap for the young and fertile than the wizened. Much early artwork depicting witches, titillating by olden standards, shows them frolicking in the nude. For example, check out the paintings of Spanish artist Luis Ricardo Falero (d. 1896), some of which are in the Metropolitan Museum in New York City – he mirrored the era’s beliefs by painting his witches as voluptuous and alluring.

Witches, Falero, 1878

Witches, Falero, 1878

Witch, Falero, 1880

Witch, Falero, 1880

Now what of those broomsticks?

One of the earliest references to flying on a broomstick was through the (admittedly torture-induced) confessions of a suspected male witch, Guillaume Edelin, of Saint-Germain-en-Laye near Paris, in 1453.

Edelin confessed to flying on broomsticks, and even mentioned watching his “aged mother straddle a broomstick and whisk up the chimney and out of the house.”

This isn’t necessarily fabrication, fantasy, or the occult. There is a very real postulated connection between witches and broomsticks, though to understand it, we need to know more about the ubiquitous cauldrons, and what it was exactly that was brewing inside.

The use of hallucinogenic plants and fungi by shamans goes back to humankind’s pre-history. In Europe, such flora grew and was widely available – wolfsbane (Arnica montana), jimsonweed (Datura stramonium), hemlock (Conium maculatum), henbane (Hyoscyamus niger), nightshade (Atropa belladonna), and mandrake (Mandragora officinarum) all come to mind.

And there was rye, the primary grain from which bread was then made. Susceptible to a fungal disease known as ergot (Claviceps purpurea), European rye was so commonly tainted with it that until the 1850s, people thought that the purple ergot that grew on rye was actually a part of the plant.

Ergot contains a number of hallucinogens. And it seems that not everyone who experienced ergot poisoning minded the experience; in fact many sought these LSD-like substances in order to induce deep sleep as well as altered consciousness.

But as with LSD, these agents can alter the perception of reality in small doses… and kill in larger amounts.

Johann Weyer, in his encyclopedic Praestigiis Daemonum (1563) opined that it was these very ingredients that were found in witches’ “flying ointments.”

Flying ointments?!

You see, drinking a potion containing toxins could prove fatal rather quickly. Those practicing the Dark Arts, or more often those free spirits merely curious, learned that making a paste of psychoactive ingredients suspended in animal fat, and then applying it carefully to one’s mucous membranes – ideally through the rectum or vagina – allowed for careful titration and less risk of overdose. One could then more safely experience the resulting hallucinogenic trip and ‘take flight.’

Some well-respected members of society (read: men, non-witches) were also investigating the properties of these lotions and potions. One such inquisitor was Andres de Laguna, the early 16th century court physician to Pope Julius III. He became interested in an unusual substance taken from the home of a woman accused of witchcraft. He tested it on another woman with the following result: “No sooner did I anoint her than she opened her eyes wide like a rabbit, and soon they looked like those of a cooked hare when she fell into such a profound sleep that I thought I should never be able to awake her…. However, after the lapse of thirty-six hours, I restored her to her senses and sanity.” His notes reveal that the substance was composed of “soporific herbs such as hemlock, nightshade, henbane, and mandrake.” Germanely to our discussion, the test subject was not at all pleased about being woken up. She reportedly said to de Laguna, “why did you awaken me? Badness to you! And at such an inauspicious moment [just as] I was surrounded by all the delights in the world.”

But how did de Laguna anoint the subject? How might “flying ointments” best be applied to delicate areas? And why the association with broomsticks, which would be a bit, er, unwieldy?

One explanation is that plants used in these preparations would have been gathered and stored in bound bundles known as whisks. The whisks may have been boiled whole in large kettles, releasing their active ingredients into the broth and soaking the wrapped handles of the whisks in the process. A witch’s later application to her body of the (phallic) handle, known as a stick, staff, or broom, and now coated in psychoactive oil, would have done the trick quite nicely. And over time, illustrations of witches’ accessories showed an evolution from the original hand-held whisk to the full floor-sweeping broom.

Those early nude depictions of witches? Several exist that illustrate nubile young females rubbing their genitals with something from a small pot as they “prepare to fly.”

Perhaps period authors can better explain.

• From the court investigation of the accused Scottish witch Alice Kyteler in 1324: “in rifleing the closet of the ladie was found a pipe of ointment wherewith she greased a staffe upon which she then ambled and galloped.”

• From the writings of the Frenchman Jordanes de Bergamo in the early 15th century: “witches confess that on certain nights they anoint a staff and ride on it to the appointed place, or they anoint themselves in… hairy places” (use your imagination).

• In 1477, one Antoine Rose under torture confessed that “[the Devil] put his mark on [me], on the little finger of the left hand, and gave [me] a stick… and a pot of ointment” whereby she smeared the ointment on the stick, put it between her legs, and exclaimed, “Go, in the name of the Devil, Go!”

• An account by Giovanni Della Porta in the 16th century affirmed that the application of the salve by one woman had the result that she claimed that “she had passed over both seas and mountains.”

• Herr Weyer noted that once these ointments were applied to the genitals, it produced “a sensation of rising into the air and flying.”

In 1966, modern researcher Gustav Schenk applied such a suspension under his arms and described the subsequent sensation: “Each part of my body seemed to be going off on its own, and I was seized with the fear that I was falling. At the same time I experienced an intoxicating sensation of flying…. I soared while my hallucinations — the clouds, the lowering sky, herds of beasts, falling leaves, billowing streamers of steam and rivers of molten metal — were swirling below.”

Through the prism of modern sensibilities, such self pleasuring is not nearly as shocking to some as it would have proven to an ostensibly devout Christian audience of centuries ago. Then, that a woman would dare to engage in such liberties with her own body and mind would be nothing short of the Work of the Devil. No doubt there were women who were tortured and killed because they dared to push such boundaries.

But luckily this witchy review ends on a positive note. Our 15th century accused, Antoine Rose, escaped execution, vanishing mysteriously from her holding cell after her torture and conviction.

“Go! In the name of the Devil, Go!”

[Have an idea for a post topic? Want to be considered for a guest-author slot? Or better, perhaps you’d like to become a day-sponsor of this blog, and reach thousands of subscribers and Facebook fans? If so, please contact the Alienist at vadocdoc@outlook.com]

[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]

[from the medical records dept] A Modern Ozymandias?

[the Alienist is still on sabbatical, but this essay, originally from the year before last, is one of his better ones]

I met a traveler from an antique land
who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
tell that its sculptor well those passions read.
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
the hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings!
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
the lone and level sands stretch far away.

Once the ubiquitous symbol of the Communist World, Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, a.k.a. Lenin, has had a rough time of late. Certainly there remain places where he is still revered, at least officially – parts of Russia proper along with some former Soviet republics and satellites (e.g., Belarus, Cuba, Tajikistan) and a few far eastern workers’ paradises (e.g., Vietnam). But for the most part, the political system he championed has wound up in the dustbin of history.

[sidebar: ironically, Trotsky first used that phrase in reference to Capitalism’s perceived demise]

Into that same dustbin went a lot of likenesses of Lenin and his cronies, torn down in frenzy, left and right, as the Iron Curtain crumbled.

The Man

The Man

I fully understand the passions that symbols evoke, but as a historian, I hate to see ‘history’ destroyed. Better to put these images in collections for the benefit of future generations to learn about the Second World than to annihilate them as scrap metal.

Some of those fallen did find their ways to new leases on life.

Both England and the Netherlands have museums with statues of the USSR on display.

The Ukrainians tossed Soviet era ‘stuff’ into a lake near Tarhankut, and now divers can see Lenin and all of his friends in the underwater divers’ playground.

Those sculptures which have been saved are not all in museums or underwater parks, though. There is a gigantic Soviet-era image of The Man in Seattle. Delhi has a large icon downtown, as do Kotka, Finland; Vittsjo, Sweden; Quebec City; Bilbao, Spain; and both Cavriago and the Isle of Capri in Italy. Imposing visages of Lenin are displayed outside the Communist Party headquarters in both Athens, Greece, and Montpelier, France.

There’s a large Lenin simulacrum on a rooftop in Manhattan (while photos of it are widely available on Google, I can’t locate the address).

There’s his bust on the roof of the old Soviet Antarctic station, with snowdrifts now up to the chin.

His metal representation is located at both the Tropicana Casino in Atlantic City and the Mandalay Bay Casino in Las Vegas – the latter being headless because the cranium is kept inside the walk-in freezer of the vodka bar.

But even if you firmly adhere to P.T Barnum’s old saw that there is no such thing as bad publicity, the alloy Comrade Ulyanov located at the entrance to the Kremlin will test your resolve. Not that Kremlin… this is the famous gay bar of the same name in Belfast, Northern Ireland, which regularly dresses their bronze doorman in all manner of drag for special occasions.

On my last visit East, it was Lithuania’s treatment of Lenin that I wanted to see. Near the resort spa town of Druskininkai there exists a rural landscape that has been converted into a wonderland of rejected political detritus. Grutas Park, unofficially known as Stalin’s World, is an open-air repository of relics of the USSR. After Lithuania regained its independence in 1990, most things Soviet were taken down and dumped. Entrepreneur Viliumas Malinauskas saw an opportunity, though, and purchased these relics, for what was probably a pittance, with full government approval. I suspect that transporting the artworks – many of which weigh tons – was the most expensive part of the project. The Soviet-theme park was thus created in the wetlands of the Dzūkija National Forest, and is an easy day trip from the capital, Vilnius.

You arrive, find a spot for the car, and walk past some pastures leading to the ticket booth. Suddenly you’re transported into a gulag-esque environment. There are wooden-plank and concrete pathways winding through the forested landscape, and periodically you stumble across barbed wire fences and old guard towers on which are mounted 1950s-vintage loudspeakers playing propaganda and revolutionary music. Interspersed along the paths there are almost 90 busts, monuments, and larger-than-life-sized effigies of the pantheon of Soviet civilization: Lenin, Stalin, Beria, Marx, Engels, Kapsukas, Dzerzhinsky… the gang’s all here.

Uncle Joe at his namesake park

Uncle Joe at his namesake park

[another sidebar: what was particularly funny is that the missus recognized many of these works from her young adulthood, exclaiming in surprise more than once, “oh, I wondered where that statue went…”]

Stalin’s World has not been without controversy, however, and some ideas originally meant to be part of the visitors’ experience were never allowed. One example was the proposal to have transported visitors from their vehicles in a Gulag-style train, since period locomotives and boxcars are on-site but not functioning. Perhaps that idea was a bit too fraught with realism?

Founder Malinauskas won the 2001 IgNobel Prize for his brainchild. But then the capitalist lawyers moved in; since January 2007 the enclave has been in dispute with the Lithuanian copyright protection agency because seven of the (now ancient) surviving artists – or their heirs or estates – are claiming that Stalin’s World is in violation of their intellectual property rights by displaying works without expressed permission.

Keep in mind that Lenin was, himself, a lawyer.

Grutas Park, though, is a finite space, and there were an awful lot of iron dictators out there. What to do with the inevitable excess? Are they all destined for the melting pot?

Fear not! Though they deny it, North Korea’s attempts to earn foreign currency have included exporting excess statues of Kim Jong Il, minus the heads. Apparently, there’s a market for such glut in Africa; those skilled in socialist artistry (on loan from Mansudae Studio and the University of Fine Arts, both of Pyongyang) weld the cranial likenesses of local despots onto the necks of suspiciously-Korean looking metal bodies to give them new (local) life. For example, in the middle of a traffic circle in Kinshasa, Congo, is a 25’ statute of a dour-looking Laurent Kabila, that country’s former strongman. With his finger raised to the sky, a small book grasped in his left hand, and dressed in pleated military slacks and a buttoned-up jacket, the corpus has a decidedly juche look to it. On top, though, is a bald and grumpy-appearing Kabila noggin, perhaps ever so slightly out of proportion.

[note to potential sub-Saharan heads of state: it seems that Korean artisans have had difficulty making realistic looking African features on the heads and faces of these regifted statues, resulting in the need for corrective weldings on more than one occasion. But you get what you pay for…]

Finally, let’s not forget Ronald McDonald’s statue in all of its neo-Socialist glory, beckoning to the horizon, outside his namesake eatery on Wangfujing Street in Beijing. That particular Mickey-D’s is just a hop-skip-jump from Mao’s own mausoleum and the Forbidden City walls.

No joke. There’s a commie-looking hamburger clown in the Chinese capital. And the last time I checked, Comade Ronald was still there, looking toward the very bright future.

Is there any doubt who won the Cold War?

[Have an idea for a post topic? Want to be considered for a guest-author slot? Or better, perhaps you’d like to become a day-sponsor of this blog, and reach thousands of subscribers and Facebook fans? If so, please contact the Alienist at vadocdoc@outlook.com]

[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]

Self Preservation

The following is a true story. Some may find it distasteful, unprofessional, unethical, and all of those other ‘non-PC’ adjectives. I offer it without commentary, merely to illustrate the lengths to which overworked, exhausted, and stressed people will go in their attempts at self-preservation.

While a senior medical student at UVa, I did a six week stint as an acting intern at the Medical Center of Louisiana at New Orleans – you know it as Charity Hospital.

Charity Hospital

Charity Hospital

Even in those pre-Katrina days, Charity was at baseline a chaotic zoo. The currently extant but abandoned Art Deco building, constructed in 1939, was at its opening the second largest hospital in the U.S., with over 2600 beds. It was so large that it hosted students and residents from not one, but two, medical schools (LSU and Tulane). I was with the former, on the pulmonary service.

In 1988, we used to say that Charity offered “state of the art medical care… from 1940.” That wasn’t entirely inaccurate. While the trauma unit was well known and highly regarded because of the constant stream of knifings and gunshot wounds that showed up on the doorstep, other aspects of the physical plant left much to be desired. For example, on the pulmonary service where I worked, those with TB were put in ‘isolation,’ which in Charity parlance meant pulling a floor-to-ceiling curtain all the way around their bed. No joke. We’d be rounding past patients coughing and hacking with nothing but a gossamer-thin curtain between us. Today, such patients are put in sealed rooms with negative pressure airflow, but back in the 1980s, the curtains were the best that Charity could offer. It’s a miracle that I never seroconverted.

[gross humor sidebar: the house staff referred to the 24-hr cafeteria in the basement of Charity as “the fistula” because “it’s always open.” If you don’t get the medical double-entendre there, look up the definition of ‘fistula’]

Anyway, there was a senior resident at Charity whom I knew – let’s call her Dr X – who found herself one night in a particularly difficult bind. She hadn’t slept in ages (these were the days before there were rules about how many hours a resident could work without a break). She hadn’t eaten either, and she had ten admissions waiting to be seen. It was after midnight, and the pager kept urgently demanding attention for all of the new problems on the inpatient wards.

And then Mrs Y died. Dr X went to see her and she had expired. She was elderly, very ill, and death was not unexpected, as she was DNR (no-code). Still, this came at the worst possible time for Dr X. Stopping to do the death certificate and all of the related paperwork would have set her even further behind answering pages and seeing new admissions (forget about eating and sleeping).

In Charity Hospital in those days, there were few orderlies available, so most times the residents themselves hauled patients onto gurneys and transported them wherever they needed to go within the complex. It was hard physical labor, but often a better choice than calling and waiting for an orderly who might never actually arrive.

Then, with apologies to Dr Seuss and the Grinch, “[S]he got an idea. An awful idea. [Dr X] got a wonderful awful idea.”

Mrs Y had not been dead for long. She was a small woman. Dr X moved her onto a gurney with a pillow, covered her with a blanket, and wheeled her along the darkened labyrinthine halls and onto an elevator. It was in the wee hours of the morning and there were few people around. She took the elevator down to radiology and pushed the gurney to xray. She quickly completed a request form for a chest film, tucked it under the pillow, and left Mrs Y on the gurney outside the radiology suite along with several other patients who were lined up for studies. All was quiet. Dr X returned to the ward to answer pages and see new admissions.

Within the hour – now pushing 3:00 a.m. – Dr X rec’d a page from radiology. The technician’s voice on the other end of the line said, “Dr X? I’ve got some bad news. You ordered a chest xray on Mrs Y a while ago, but she has died. I’m really sorry to report this.” A brief moment of silence was then followed by, “Dr Z [the radiologist] will take care of the paperwork down here.”

Which was exactly the plan all along. Mrs Y went to her reward, and Dr X lived to fight another day.

[Have an idea for a post topic? Want to be considered for a guest-author slot? Or better, perhaps you’d like to become a day-sponsor of this blog, and reach thousands of subscribers and Facebook fans? If so, please contact the Alienist at vadocdoc@outlook.com]

[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]

[from the medical records dept] Jeannette Rankin and the House Powder Room

[the Alienist won’t be wordsmithing much for the next week, and is recycling past materials; this originally was posted in late 2012, but some interesting add’n information has been added for your enjoyment]

Consider Room H-235, located next to Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol. H-235 is now known as the Lindy Boggs Reading Room, named after the prominent female representative from Louisiana in the 1970s and 1980s. That so-called reading room is what has been called by media outlets, “the only bipartisan meeting space in the Capitol building solely for female members,” and “America’s most powerful ‘powder room.'”

You see, it’s the House’s first ladies’ restroom, borne out of necessity as the number of female reps grew to double digits after WWII. Despite their growth in numbers, for years there had been no designated loo for the women. The Boggs Room with its two stalls (!) was set aside for its intended purpose only as recently as the 1960s (its name came later). And today, with 79 female reps, it’s a bit cramped in there.

And it isn’t even all that close to the House chambers, being at least a five minute walk through throngs of camera-toting tourists.

Building a new ladies’ restroom was at first considered too expensive. Since the Capitol is a (protected) historic edifice, plumbing would have had to be circuitously rerouted to avoid rare architectural features and wall murals, the cost of which was estimated at the time at many hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Before long, though, the (male) House leadership had to grudgingly pay up. So now there is also Room H-211, inside the Speaker’s Lobby and much closer to the House floor. As of July 2011, it sported four add’n stalls and two sinks.

Whom, you might ask, do we have to thank for all of this?

None other than Rep. Jeannette Rankin (D-MT), the first woman to be elected to the House, and (somewhat infamously) the only dissenting vote for declaring war against Japan following Pearl Harbor.

Jeannette Rankin

Jeannette Rankin

It wasn’t that she forgave Japanese treachery, but rather that she believed Roosevelt had provoked the Pearl Harbor attack as a way to get involved in the European theater of war as well. She wasn’t about to cooperate with his perceived subterfuge.

Rankin was not only a lifelong pacifist, but amazingly is the only member of Congress to cast ‘nay’ votes against declaring war in both WWI and WWII. Although some male colleagues had joined her in voting against WWI in 1917, most political observers saw her votes as evidence that women just could not be entrusted with the difficult decisions necessary for leadership on a national level.

Though Montanans voted her out of office in 1919, they reelected her to the House in 1940, unknowingly just in time to cast that second and sole ‘nay’ vote.

When the 1941 crowd outside the House learned of her ‘nay’ vote, some threatened “to get her.” Rankin had to hide in a telephone booth – not the restroom – and call the Capitol police to escort her to safety. She was regularly vilified in the press – usually called “Japanette Rankin” – but yet stood her ground and never apologized for her votes.

Still, she was fully aware that she had committed career suicide. She chose not to run for reelection in 1942.

As a private citizen, she continued to be an active advocate for pacifism, and led a campaign against the Vietnam War in 1968 when she was in her late 80s.

She was considering yet another run for office in her early 90s because of the growing involvement of the United States in southeast Asia. However, she died in 1973 at age 93 before declaring her candidacy.

Her likeness was then placed in Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol twelve years later.

Right next to Room H-235.

[Have an idea for a post topic? Want to be considered for a guest-author slot? Or better, perhaps you’d like to become a day-sponsor of this blog, and reach thousands of subscribers and Facebook fans? If so, please contact the Alienist at vadocdoc@outlook.com]

[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]