How would you like to walk around with a little mummified mole paw in your pocket?
In traditional English folklore, it was believed that these moles’ feet would protect the owner from toothaches and muscle cramps. This magical remedy was particularly prevalent in the East Anglia region, where many would wear a mole paw amulet hoping to ward off the debilitating tooth pain. In Cornish tradition, it was also believed that bags of moles’ feet would help to bring out the first teeth of small children.
But why the magical link between moles feet and teeth? As early as the first century CE the Roman writer Pliny the Elder suggested it as a treatment for toothaches. Some folklorists believe this was a form of sympathetic magic, because dried moles feet sort of resemble teeth in a jaw.
During the English witch hunts in the 17th century, moles feet played a role as evidence in several witch trials. Cecily Arnold, for example, was found with the forefoot of a mouldwarp (an old Middle English term for moles) in her pocket, while she was being investigated for witchcraft. A suspected Scottish sorcerer named John Fian was also accused of carrying moles’ feet in his purse, which were supposedly “given to him by Satan.”
Today, moles’ feet amulets can be found in museum collections around the UK, as strange and fascinating relics of traditional folk medicine and magical beliefs. Many were originally collected by Edward Lovett (1852-1933), a prolific English folklorist who collected hundreds of examples of magical charms and amulets from East London in the early 20th century. Wouldn’t that have been such a fascinating job?
These moles’ feet amulets are from the collections of the Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford; Wellcome Collection, London; Science Museum, London; Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Bocastle, Cornwall; Horniman Museum, London ;and the private witchcraft collection of Malcolm Lidbury. Aren’t they strangely cute, in a way?
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