The Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things

Magical moles’ feet

Photograph of two mummified moles' feet used as magical amulets
Moles’ feet amulets from the collection of the Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford.
Picture of a small mole paw with a metal flower mount, with museum tags.
Mole paw pendant with a metal clasp in the shape of a flower, collected in France, 1931. Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford.

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.

Horniman Museum, London.

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?

Photograph of two mummified moles' feet
Mole’s foot amulet, carried loose as a cure for cramp and toothache. From Downham, Norfolk, October 1910. Science Museum, UK (A79966). Purchased in 1930 from Edward Lovett’s collection of British amulets and charms.
Two mole feet used for the treatment of cramps, from Sussex, UK. Collected in 1911 by Edward Lovett. Collection of Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford.
Photograph of a mole paw with silver mount, tied with museum labels.
Mole paw pendant with silver mount, collected in France. Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford.
Photograph of nine pairs of moles feet charms against an orange background
Moles feet charms collected from Widow Morely of Atcham (known to some as a witch) in the early 20th century. From the collection of Museum of Witchcraft and Magic.
Photograph of two moles feet in a small museum box with handwritten label
Two forefeet of moles, carried as a cure for toothaches. Collected in Norfolk by Edward Lovett, 1911. Collection of the Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford.
Photograph of a mole foot with a disintegrating cotton pouch, tied to a small round handwritten label
Forefoot of a mole, carried as a cure for cramp. Hung in a bag round the neck, under clothing. Donated in 1909 to the Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford.

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?

If you’ve gone this far into an article about weird little mole paws, you’re just the delightfully strange kind of person that I like best! Subscribe to The Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things below, or follow me on Instagram or Facebook to make your life a little bit weirder.

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