coromandal


take one child, her blood, a candle, some bread
April 27, 2008, 4:42 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Unbelievably, the nursery rhyme LondonBridge is Falling Down is connected with human child sacrifice. It seems rivers felt transgressed against by bridges and that the spirit of the offered child helped maintain functioning relations between the realm and governance of the city and that of the river. And, it wasn’t only the Thames that had a blood thirst: apparently quite a few European rivers developed refined, and costly, palates.

So, the child is set apart, taken from life, to mediate between human political need and the anger and unpredictability of a water god. I guess it’s the innocence and purity of the child that the river wants, a perfect substitute, or at least something as close to perfection as possible.  And, in theory,  a child fits that requirement well.

It makes me wonder whose family had to suffer, how that particular child was chosen, what was the relationship to society of the child and her parents before the murder, after the murder? One guess is low born, outcast, but just good enough (blonde curls?) to assuage the angry river.  A second could be zealous parents and possibly higher born. In either case, like religious parents who set aside one son for a lonely celebate life in the priesthood.

Except that she doesn’t mention the human sacrifices. It was apparently customary in the long ago and far away to secure a building or bridge through sacrifice to the deities of the area or river. The preferred offering involved children, their blood, or, if possible, the sealing in of a child with a candle and hunk of bread at the foot of the bridge. When the Bridge Gate at Bremen was demolished in the nineteenth century, the skeleton of a child was indeed found implanted in the foundations. Nor are songs about bridges falling down unique to Britain, with examples coming from Italy, France, and Germany. The idea behind the sacrifice was that the spirit of the youngster looked over the bridge using the light and stayed awake by eating the food.

In Romania it was believed that the sacrifice of a person’s shadow to a building or bridge would do the trick. People would be enticed to stand over the foundation and their shadow measured. This written measurement was then buried with the foundation stone. Sadly, it was also believed that the person whose shadow was buried in such a fashion would die within forty days of the building’s completion. So-called “shadow traders” still existed in Eastern Europe until the nineteenth century, and people would shout out warnings to those passing freshly erected buildings to beware in case someone stole their shadow. These are interesting, if gruesome, legends, but there is scant evidence linking London Bridge specifically to such practices.

“Rivers and child sacrifice,” you might scoff. “Dark Ages stuff!” Except that in the twenty-first century such practices still take place. On 21 September 2001, the headless torso of a young boy was found floating near Tower Bridge. He had been used as part of something called a muti ceremony, in which the body parts of a child are used for medicinal purposes or to bring good fortune to a business enterprise. Police throughout Europe believe that there have been perhaps a dozen such cases .

~from Heavy Words Lightly Thrown by Chris Roberts, Gotham Books, a division of Penguin Group (USA).

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1 Comment so far
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nice blog! good article

Comment by London Photographs




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