Tuesday, 4 September 2018
Spellbound: Love Locks, Lockets & Handfastings
Can magic make love last forever?
Spellbound: Magic, Ritual and Witchcraft, the exhibition currently on at the Ashmolean in Oxford, is about the subject of magical thinking - the natural instinct we all have to feel that acts, rituals and objects have power to help us in supernatural ways. Even if intellectually we don't really believe in magic, our feelings tell us it might just tip the odds in our favour and give us what we wish for.
Some of the most prevalent folkloric practises, superstitions and magical beliefs relate to love. Spellbound compares the modern fashion for couples locking padlocks inscribed with their names on bridges, in the hope it will increase their chances of an enduring relationship, with historic examples of love tokens.
Hundreds of magic rings, seals, brooches and lockets engraved with mottoes and lines from famous romances survive from times when those found practising witchcraft were persecuted. The words on them range from hope - ‘Joy without end’ - to warning - ‘Desire no other’. Despite risks, in times of stress and heightened emotion, people have resorted to magical intervention to achieve their desires. Love spells have always been one of the things witches and cunning folk have been most asked for.
A similar ritual to those engraved seals and lockets has developed in recent years by couples attaching inscribed padlocks to city bridges and throwing the keys into the river. The inscriptions on locks from Leeds Centenary Bridge include, ‘I wanna lock your love’, ‘LOCKED + SEALED’ and, ‘Be Mine’. While in many cases this is done just as a symbolic gesture, the outcry at the removal of locks, in spite of the obvious problems they cause for structural engineering, and authorities’ reluctance to simply destroy or dispose of them, suggests people attach significant emotion to the ritual. The exhibition suggests the locks might be considered modern magic objects.
I don't believe that magical marriages or ritual love pacts are unbreakable. If a relationship breaks down, then sometimes the best course of action is to formally dissolve the partnership. I would, however, say that if you performed a significant ritual to be joined in love to another person, you should do an equally significant rite to end the vows made and to go your separate ways in peace, without ties.
But what do you think? Can magic make love last forever? Do leave a comment.
Pictures: Gold locket in the form of a miniature padlock with the inscription ‘sauns repentir’ (‘without regret’), mid- to late-15th century, © British Museum, London; Contemporary ‘love lock on Leeds Centenary Bridge, 2016, image courtesy of Ceri Houlbrook; my own handfasting, image by Mel.
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