Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace


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Monday, June 30, 2008

The Ancient Ritual of Footbinding

WARNING: Some may find the pictures I will have displayed throughout this blog disturbing.

I first became enamored with the Chinese culture when in high school our history teacher assigned us the book Spring Moon, by Bette Bao Lord. It was also in the book that I first learned about foot binding.

Now, I haven’t read this book in over a decade, but I will be reading it again soon, and today I will present to you the ancient ritual of foot binding.

Women in China bound their feet for over a thousand years. There are several stories explaining why the custom began, but no one can say which one is the true reason. One tale, which is documented during the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279) is of Prince Li Yu (R. 961-975) falling for a concubine, Yao Niang, whose tiny feet made her look like she floated as she danced, and was called the “lily-footed” woman. Women began to bind their feet to emulate in dance and grace the style of the concubine. Another story is that an had a clubbed foot, and in order to make herself appear beautiful and un-deformed, she asked her husband to order foot-binding to be mandatory. Another story is of a sleepwalking empress with fourteen inch long feet. It was decided her sleepwalking was from her large feet and so a surgeon was summoned to cut off part of her feet, making them 3 inches long. She was very pleased and did not sleep walk again, however she was not pleased that all the rest of the women in the palace still had naturally long feet. It was decreed from then on that all women must have small feet.

Foot-binding was more than just a beauty regimen. It was a way of life, and would be very difficult to get rid of. Because it was such a popular ritual in society, men would not marry a woman who did not have her feet bound. Starting among the upper class it trickled down to even the lowest classes as it was then seen as a way to marry into the upper classes. Small feet were so coveted, that fairy tale stories of peasants marrying upper-class because of their tiny feet did come true. A precedent was set, and girls at a very young age would have the painful ordeal of getting their feet bound. Men found the short steps in the gait of woman with bound feet to be erotic, calling it the “lotus gait.” One rumor is that the new way of walking would tighten a woman’s vagina, thus making her grip her husband’s penis during intercourse more tightly. This is because after the feet are bound and you can’t walk part of your lower leg muscles atrophy. When they begin walking again they use the muscles around their hips and buttocks to walk, which builds up those areas.

The foot fetish was extreme. Men liked to do things with the feet, touch them with their unmentionables, kiss them and caress them…The feet were considered to be the most intimate part on a woman’s body, kind of like breasts are today. Her shoes, like a bra or panties…

Have you ever seen an ashtray, pipe, dish, etc… in the shape of or designed with the “lotus shoe?” I recall many of these items in my grandparents home since my grandfather was stationed in China for a time.

Not to mention that crippling the woman did not allow her to participate much in anything having to do with politics. Women were mostly restricted to their homes as their dependency on their families was so strong. If they did venture from the home they had to have an escort help them, since they were so unstable on their feet. Most would be carried or ride in a sedan, for they couldn’t walk for long periods of time.

The Chinese are not the only ones with the painful rituals for beauty and social status. Think of women and corsets, plucking, waxing, dyeing, surgical enhancements, piercings, tattoos, high-heels. And don’t forget the saying, which I have said myself plenty of times when brushing the knots out of my daughters hair, “pain is beauty.”

***Groan*** I will never say it again!

During the 17th century, the Manchu’s tried to abolish the foot-binding practice, but it continued into the 20th century when a real movement began to end the act. In 1911 when the Qing Dynasty came to an end, and the new Republic of China government banned the practice. Some still bound their feet in secret and still live today.
The process of foot-binding was very painful. The mother or grandmother of the girl would be the one to perform the binding between the tender ages of four and seven years old, before the arch of the foot had a chance to develop. Binding would be done in the winter months when feet were prone to be numb from cold, and the pain would be less extreme.

The feet would first be soaked in a warmth concoction of herbs and animal blood or warm water, then rubbed with ointment and massaged. This step would help remove all the dead skin on the foot. The toenails would be clipped before short. Then the four smaller toes on each foot would be broken. While this process was taking place the mother/grandmother would have been soaking 10 foot long bandages in the herbal liquid. She would then take these bandages and wrap them tightly from the broken toes to the heel. This would cause the bottom of the foot the bend concavely. Several accounts reported the breaking of the foot to bend it in half as well. The feet were then forced into 3-inch long “lotus shoes.” The feet were rebound every 2 days. Blood and puss would be washed from the feet. After two years of this, the feet would be about 3-4 inches long which was the desirable length. To keep them this size, the foot-binding would continue for another ten years.

For a woman who worked in the fields or somehow managed to refuse the traditional practice, she was often teased, and almost always looked down on. Names such as “lotus boats” would be referred to her feet. Mothers would refuse for their sons to talk to these girls, because of their non-bound feet.

Foot-binding caused a lot of health problems for women. If the feet were not bound properly, blood circulation would be cut off so badly that toes would die, fall off, the skin would rot, gangrene would start in the foot. Such bad infections could cause the woman to die, and some did. Infections would happen quite a bit from the un-cleanliness of the feet. Because it took so long to bind the feet, most women would along unbind them every two weeks to wash them. In that period of time, quite a bit of bacteria and other things can grow in the folds and creases of the bound foot.

Women with bound feet are not only more likely to fall and break a hip or their back because they are not as balanced on their feet, it is actually proven that they have lower hip bone and back bone ratio than women with unbound feet. Women with bound feet also have difficulty in squatting, which is necessary in numerous daily activities.

I myself, am naturally a clumsy person. I couldn’t imagine if my size 9 foot shrunk to 3 inches! I would not make it more than one or two steps without falling… How about you?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

History of Weddings: From the Middle Ages to the Present

Have weddings changed all that much since the Middle Ages? Let’s take a look and see…

We still have the huge feasts which are accompanied often by rowdiness and drunken states. Music and dancing are done by all. The bride has her ladies in waiting, the groom has his attendants. The bride sometimes still wears crinoline and hoops… Most people still get married in churches. If you’re Catholic, you still need an annulment vs. a divorce. Marriage is still considered a contract under the law…

Here’s a closer look…

Medieval Weddings

During the middle ages, we saw the rise of marriage laws. In 1076, The Council of Westminster made it a law that marriage must be blessed by a priest, and in the 16th century it was said that the marriage must be performed by a priest with witnesses present. Contracts and legal documents started to be drawn up, similar to today’s prenuptial agreements, marriage contracts and licenses. Dowry, property, rights, etc… would be contained in these documents.

Believe it or not but in the Middle Ages, a woman’s beauty regimen prior to her wedding is very similar to what I did before mine… Her face would often be painted with some sort of cosmetic (discussing cosmetics at a later date). She might sun-bleach her hair. Some women plucked their hairline. In the middle ages, it was considered fashionable to have a high forehead. Now this one I didn’t do, but I have a friend who wasn’t very fond of her widow’s peak. Hair would be worn loose or with a garland of flowers. This might be the only flowers adorning a bride. Some carried a sachet of herbs and potpourri, but not the traditional bouquet that contemporary brides carry.

If a woman came from a wealthy or noble family, she would have a nice hot bath, followed with some flower and herb scented oils. If she wasn’t, she would be dirty…but still get some sort of perfume to cover the smells. It may be foul to think about, but if everyone is dirty, then it’s just normal.

The finest silks with gold or silver embroidery would be worn. Brightly colored fabrics were popular. Men would wear their finest court attire, or even a newly made set of clothes. Jewelry, furs and elaborate belts adorned every noble body.

Today white is the symbol of purity, and most wedding dresses made in this hue. In the middle ages this wasn’t so. Bride’s would wear blue most often, as blue was the symbol of purity. If her gown was not blue, she would wear something blue, like a ribbon on her person. Hence today’s, “something blue.”

The garter also became popular in medieval times. As guests followed the bride and groom to their room, where they “put” the couple to bed, overzealous guests would grapple with the bride’s gown, trying to take something for good luck. That’s when the garter became popular, so people would then try to take it. I wonder how shocked they’d be now if they saw a modern groom, buried deep under his bride’s skirts, pulling out the lacy garter with his teeth? “Oh, heavens!” **crosses self** That would be hilarious.

Peasants usually could only afford to wear their everyday clothes, perhaps the one good outfit they saved for church.

For a person of noble birth, their wedding may take place in the castle or manner. As long as it was blessed by a priest, it wasn’t necessary for the ceremony to take place in a church. Great feasts would follow, with fools, minstrels, musicians, and other entertainers.

Today’s tiered wedding cakes actually stemmed from the Middle Ages. Guests would bring little cakes and stack them on top of one another. The bride and groom would then try to kiss over top of the cakes without knocking them to the ground.

Guests included inhabitants of the residence, other nobles and distant relatives. Invitations were not sent out.

The noble wedding was rarely one filled with love. It was an arranged marriage.

Now peasants were a little different. They would often marry for love… or perhaps a quick love-fest that resulted in pregnancy would push them down the aisle. Despite differences, peasants still considered marriage to be a legal contract, and there were some who also suffered through an arranged marriage. Betrothal ceremonies would be held in the home, attended by some of the villagers. A village tradition was the shower the bride and groom with seeds of grain to wish them a fertile marriage…not so unlike throwing rice, which is going out of style…

Rings were exchanged amongst the wealthy, however among peasants, often the groom would break a coin in half keeping one side for himself and giving the other to his bride.

Elizabethan Weddings

A lot of the customs from the middle ages were still upheld during Elizabethan times. Religion still played a major roll in weddings, and ceremonies would be conducted by a priest, most likely in a church. A procession would take the bride from her home to the church.

Prior to marrying, a Crying the Banns would be done. This was the couple’s announcement of their intention to marry. Should anything bar that from happening, it would be brought up during the banns. This custom still occurs in British churches today. The announcement would be made in church, three Sundays in a row. Anyone who married without conducting the Crying the Banns, their marriage would be considered illegal. If they lived in different parishes, the banns would need to be cried in both.

If someone needed to get married right away however, they could be issued a Marriage Bond, by the bishop. The marriage bond contract required only one week of Crying the Banns. Fun Fact: William Shakespeare and his wife elicited a Marriage Bond from the bishop for their own wedding.

Weddings were held in the mornings, before noon, and the feasts took place afterward.

Flowers played a bigger part. The bridesmaids would be in charge of making bouquets for guests, and to make the wedding garland, which was rosemary and roses. The bride would carry her garland until after the ceremony, where she would then place it on her head.

The cost of the wedding fell to the bride’s father, however in small villages; neighbors may prepare food for the feast, sort of like a pot-luck dinner. Another tradition stumbled into Elizabethan times as well, the bride ale. A bride would gather in a courtyard and sell ale to as many people would buy it, for as much as they would pay to finance her wedding.

Invitations were still not sent out. People knew of the wedding and they would attend. If it was to be held at court, courtiers knew to go. Sometimes little notes might be sent out, but nothing formal. Strict social order is observed in the church, nobles up front, peasants in the back.

The marriage contract was still very important, with details of the dowry and jointure (what the grooms family would provide to the bride should she become a widow).

Engagement rings were not yet popular; however diamond wedding rings could be seen.

Regency Weddings

During the Regency, weddings became mostly private affairs, and even if held at church was not attended by that many. A very popular place to have a wedding was at St. George’s Church in Hanover Square. In fact, in 1816 there were 1063 weddings held that year in the church. According to the Hibiscus Sinesis website, with that many weddings in the year, it was a rival with a Las Vegas wedding chapel.

It was during the Regency-era that white wedding gowns began to stick. Wearing white was popular during that time anyway, so it wasn’t only a wedding gown thing.

Reading of the banns was still done in the Regency-era but there were also a couple of other ways you could go about it. There was the common license, which was obtained by a bishop or archbishop. The couple had to be married in a church or chapel where either the bride or groom had lived for four weeks. The third way was a special license, which was issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Doctors Commons in London. The special license allowed the couple to marry anytime, anyplace.

Weddings were still done in the mornings and could be followed by a breakfast feast.

Victorian Weddings

Queen Victoria is often given credit for making the white wedding gown popular since she herself wore white to her wedding; however there have been many royal and non-royal brides before her that did not wear white.

Flowers began to play a bigger part in the wedding. The church or chapel would be decorated with them. Men would wear a flower in the lapel of their frock coat or morning coat. In the country, a bride would walk to the chapel on a carpet of flower blossoms.

Church bells rang to alert the people that the wedding was taking place, and to ward off evil.

By 1880, weddings could be held as late as 3 o’clock in the afternoon.

Scottish Marriages

In Scotland marriages were a lot different. There were not all the rules that applied to England. In Scotland a couple was considered married if they announced it to witnesses, and then consummated the marriage.

In England, people would elope to Gretna Green in Scotland to avoid the laws and restrictions. These marriages were considered legal in England, although they were discouraged. Sounds vaguely like a Vegas wedding…

So you tell me, have weddings changed all that much?

Monday, June 2, 2008

Part IV: Journey to a Tourney - A Peasant's Experience

Arthur raced along the dirt road as fast as his nimble legs would take him. He’d finished his duties in the field in just enough time to hopefully make it to the list fields before too many of the jousts were completed.

It was his favorite part of a tourney. Well, that and the nice big jug of ale and leg of fowl he’d inhale.

He prayed he wasn’t too late. Whoever won the joust today, he was going to beg to allow him to be his kipper. Aye, he knew it would be hard to gain his employ, kippers were fast losing their popularity with chivalry taking the front row. But if that were the case, maybe he could become a servant of the knights, even if it only meant shining the armor. He was sure he couldn’t be a squire, and knew he’d never be a knight. Only kings and royalty could knight peasants. Even if he were to become some sort of assistant to the knight, that still placed him no where near King Edward II… However the king was known to favor lower-born vassals than those born of nobility. That was definitely something to think about.

The life in the fields was no place he wanted to be. At five and ten years of age, he’d already figured that much out. Now he wanted to serve a knight. He’d enjoy seizing the armour and other accoutrements from fallen knights. He’d even learn to fight. And if the mighty knight took mercy on him, and gave him the duty of kipper, he would be forever in the man’s debt.

His mother, before she’d passed had, often told him she’d named him Arthur, after King Arthur of Camelot. She’d brewed in him that he could be better than the sorry life she’d been able to give him. And then she’d passed, not six months ago. Poor sorrow filled woman.

Now he was alone, since his father had died shortly before her mother. Being the youngest and only boy in his family, his five older sisters had already married and had babes of their own.

He vowed on her deathbed, that he would find a better life for himself. It was then word of his master, Lord Gloucester’s tournament came about, and he knew just how to make a better life for himself. Since the winner was to be the new Captain of the Guard to his lordship, Arthur felt certain he’d be able to convince Lord Gloucester to give him up as a field hand. It wasn’t like he’d be leaving the service of his lordship anyway. In fact, he’d be adding the lord’s safety. That was just how he planned to persuade him too.

The surrounding fields of the tilt-yard were filled with knights, squires, horse masters and amourers. Practicing, retrieving, filling, and grooming. Arthur felt a surge of excitement. He’d made it just in time!

Finding a nearby bucket of water by some knight’s horses he dipped his hands in to wash the grime away. He wiped the dust from his rough woolen tunic and stockings, using some of the water to scrape away some stains. It had been at least seven months since his garments had been washed…and he only had the one pair.

Running his wet hands through his hair, he hoped he looked presentable enough when he introduced himself to the knight.

“Any idea when the jousts are startin’?” Arthur asked a squire as he walked through the throngs of people.

“’Bout an hour,” he said before scurrying off.

Arthur couldn’t wait to be rushing about doing his new masters duties. Oh the rush of it! Fulfilling his dreams, what he was born to do!

A minstrel strolling by stopped Arthur. “And what be yer name laddie?”

“Arthur,” he replied, not sure why the minstrel would stop for him.

“Arthur, eh? You look in a hurry, might I entertain you before you scurry?”

“I have naught to offer ya,” Arthur said plainly.

“’Tis just as well, I’m new and need to practice a few.”

Arthur stifled a laugh and the minstrel’s attempts to rhyme.

“Suit yourself.”

The minstrel tapped his foot, and began a ballad…

(Borrowed from the Poet’s Corner, website sited at the end.)

"As noble Sir Arthur one morning did ride,
With his hounds at his feet, and his sword by his side,
He saw a fair maid sitting under a tree,
He asked her name, and she said 'twas Mollee.

'Oh, charming Mollee, you my butler shall be,
To draw the red wine for yourself and for me!
I'll make you a lady so high in degree,
If you will but love me, my charming Mollee!

'I'll give you fine ribbons, I'll give you fine rings,
I'll give you fine jewels, and many fine things;
I'll give you a petticoat flounced to the knee,
If you will but love me, my charming Mollee!'

'I'll have none of your ribbons, and none of your rings,
None of your jewels, and other fine things;
And I've got a petticoat suits my degree,
And I'll ne'er love a married man till his wife dee.'

'Oh, charming Mollee, lend me then your penknife,
And I will go home, and I'll kill my own wife;
I'll kill my own wife, and my bairnies three,
If you will but love me, my charming Mollee!'

'Oh, noble Sir Arthur, it must not be so,
Go home to your wife, and let nobody know;
For seven long years I will wait upon thee,
But I'll ne'er love a married man till his wife dee.'

Now seven long years are gone and are past,
The old woman went to her long home at last;
The old woman died, and Sir Arthur was free,
And he soon came a-courting to charming Mollee.

Now charming Mollee in her carriage doth ride,
With her hounds at her feet, and her lord by her side:
Now all ye fair maids take a warning by me,
And ne'er love a married man till his wife dee. "

Arthur didn’t quite know what to make of the ballad…now at least he knew two noblemen with the same name…

“Thank ya for listening!” the minstrel called after him as Arthur hurried through the crowd. “Was it any good?”

“Aye!” He yelled without turning back. He wanted to make sure he got that big jug of ale, and a steamy leg of fowl before the jousts started. He didn’t want to miss a thing!

He patted his pocket where his coins jingled and smiled. “I’ll have a jug o’ale,” he said smiling at the brewer.

“Ye got the coin fer it, boy?”

“Aye.” He dug into his pocket and handed the man one of his coins.

Taking a swig of his ale, he sighed. His day was going splendidly so far. Now, onto the fowl leg. He weaved his way through the crowd, sipping on his jug, and watching the entertainments. As he waited in line for meat—the aroma was delectable—he observed a nearby bear-baiting.

The large bear stood on its hind legs, chained to post in the middle of a marked off circle. The crowd stood back as four large and snarling hunting dogs were let loose on the fearsome creature. He swatted at them, sending one of the dogs through the air, its yelp of pain was quickly silenced as it landed, either dead or unconscious on the ground, far out reach of the bear.

The other three dogs either not sensing their own danger, or angry over the fourth dog’s injuries, crept low to the ground, slowly gaining inches on the bear. They circled him; their mouths pulled back, saliva dripping, canines bared. An ominous noise emanated from them, growling that meant most certain death.

The bear didn’t seem the least frightened by their aggressive behavior, and instead, opened his mouth wide, and letting loose a roar that chilled Arthur to the bone. This was a fight to the death, and he wasn’t sure who would win.

“Boy, what ya want?” His attention turned back to the sweaty cook.

“I’ll have a leg o’fowl.”

The cook simply wiggled his pudgy fingers, obviously wanting to be paid before he handed over the mouth-watering meat. Arthur eagerly dug in his pockets and produced the coin needed. He nearly spilled his jug of ale in his haste to sink his teeth into the juicy leg. Mmm… Absolutely delicious…

He rushed through the mob to make sure he had a good spot by the tilt-yard in which to observe the joust. He wouldn’t be allowed a seat, and although he was tall for his age, he’d yet to fully grow into his man’s body. He would need to have a space up close. Elbowing his way through, he made it to the front of the fence. He munched on the rest of his meat, and drank his ale until not a drop or bite were left.

Then he settled in to wait for the announcement of the knights, which didn’t take long. The fierce warriors were all the more impressive on horseback as they rode into the lists. Murmurs went through the crowd as the knight called Devereux bowed to the lord and his lady. He tried to listen, but couldn’t make out what the mass of peasants were saying. All he could make out were clipped words, “bold,” “favor,” “tokens…” What could it all mean?

Arthur’s eyes glued to the field, as the knights began to charge. He was mesmerized by the event. It had been several years since he’d been to a joust. He recalled bits and pieces, but most of all he’d remembered the thrill of the event, and it was that feeling that now raced through his veins.

“Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!” he shouted with the crowd. It look liked Sir Devereux would be his champion.

“Whoop! Devereux! Huzzah!” The crowd around him joined him in his cheers. They’d seen it too.
He needed to practice what he would say when he approached Sir Devereux later. He hoped he could convey all he needed to. The might knight had no idea how one yay or nay for him, could change the course of Arthur’s life.

Ballad Borrowed from : http://www.theotherpages.org/poems/ballad01.html#006