thesis, adieu! also spancel and T.H. White

April 19, 2007 at 1:58 am (folk magic, reading notes)

One way or another, good or bad or somewhere in between, the thesis is done.  I turned it in for binding so at least for the time being, it’s off my desk.  Sigh.

As I now have to catch up on about two weeks’ of grading, I am still swamped, but at least I get to write in pencil for a bit.

In unrelated news, I am curious about a passage in T.H. White and thought I’d air the question I had in reading recently, pasted from another source which shall remain unlinked (of my authorship and maintenance, though, of course):

I am absolutely certain that I have read this somewhere besides T.H. White, so I thought I’d tap the collective brain of my brilliant and well-read friends list.

That part where Morgause takes the “spancel” (the tape made from the skin of a dead man) and uses it to catch a sleeping Arthur around the neck and thus make him fall in love with her — does this have a source?  I thought it did, but back when I first read this book, I didn’t realize that “contemporary witchcraft manuals” often had no problems with taking stuff out of fiction to weave the stuff of their spells and speculations, so I might have the cart before the horse, or however that metaphor would go.  If the place I read it got it from White it annihilates my working thesis. But I’m still interested in discovering the origins of this bit.

Anybody know or know where to look?

ETA: I should have been more specific — I’m certain I read it in relation to using a gruesome sort of cord or tape or ligature made of skin in a love spell of the compelling type before. The source was something occult-related, probably some non-academic reporting of a supposed ancient witchy thing or other.  That doesn’t mean I’m not interested in where *that* may have come from, but what I’m hoping is that there is a similar Gaelic spell or medieval grimoire thing that might speak of the uses of the flesh of the dead to compel love.

So.  Clueless here, but flipping through some folklore in between ever so studiously researching and grading (ha!).



  1. Bebopalula said,

    The spancel is noted in Piers Anthonys book, “Current Events”. However in this book the spancel was created by Morganna, and was taken from a Living man, who died as a result of bleeding to death from the spancel being taken from him. According to the book, Morganna was the first to use the spancel, created it for the purpose of making unsuspecting Arthur fall in love with her, so therefore it must have come from her teacher the sorcerer Merlin.

  2. Eamonn P. Kelly said,

    This is an Irish folk custom referred to in Dinneen’s Irish-English dictionary under ‘Buarac”
    ‘Buarach bháis, an unbroken hoop of skin cut with incantation from a corpse across the entire body from shoulder to footsole and wrapped in silk of the colours of the rainbow and used as a spancel to tie the legs of a person to produce certain effects by witchcraft (Con. Folk tales).’ (P. S. Dinneen, Foclóir Gaedilge agus Béarla an Irish-English Dictionary (Dublin, 1927), 136).
    Hope this is of use to you,
    Eamonn P. Kelly,
    Keeper of Irish Antiquities.
    National Museum of Ireland

  3. John Khasseyan said,

    It is also referred to as “the spanchel o’ death” and the “burragh bos” by Rosa Mulholland in her short story “Not to be taken at Bedtime” of the late nineteenth Century

    • Karma said,

      Thank you, John, for the reference! This has been on the back burner for me as a query, but it’s definitely still percolating back there somewhere (in another life I was a folklorist I think. Or perhaps a witch).

  4. homilies, spancels, procrastination, folklore, and nábrókarstafur « Slouching Towards Extimacy said,

    […] while back I posted inquiring about the lore behind TH White’s mention of Morgana capturing Arthur’s affecti…, a sort of tape or ribbon made from the skin of a dead man.  I got a few alluring tidbits from […]

  5. Barry Murphy said,

    Caesar Otway it was, I think, in ‘Sketches in Erris and Tyrawley’ from the 1830s, that wrote about the custom of stealing spancels from dead bodies in the graveyeard at Cross Abbey, Co. Mayo, Ireland. Sorry about the lack of precision.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: