A witch whistle or ‘heksenfluit’ made from a rat’s paw and carved bone. Made in 19th century Belgium, and purchased by the Museum aan de Stroom in Antwerp in 1964.
I’ve seen this described on the internet as a flute used to summon witches on the Sabbath. However, according to the museum, this magical flute was actually used to dispel diseased rodents during a rat plague. (Which is possibly even weirder?)
The whistle bears the inscription: ‘Siffle un deux trois / Vient au Sabbat / Sorcier larva Rat’. In the event of a rat plague, one called on a ‘shipper’ who possessed the magical power to move the rats to another place.
During the mid-19th century, a third wave of bubonic plague swept the world, transmitted by fleas on infected rats. It hit China and India particularly hard, and spread to port cities on trading routes with them. Antwerp, however, wasn’t too badly bedevilled by the plague. Thanks rat flute!
On a related note, I was thinking about putting my daughter in piano lessons but it seems like learning to play the witch whistle is a much more practical life skill.
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