Thursday 20 August 2020

London Lore Tarot & Folklore: Glass Bead Necklaces

In the Covid pandemic, a charm against chest infections from 100 years ago seemed particularly pertinent when I drew a card from the London Lore Tarot. It was the Glass Bead Necklaces card. The book that comes with the set explains:

"In west London of 1914, children could be seen wearing blue and yellow necklaces of glass beads as they played. These necklaces were a charm against illness, to protect against bronchitis. It was said they should never be taken off, not even while bathing."

I had heard of this custom before. It was described by folklorist Edward Lovett, in his 1925 book Magic in Modern London, and you can see examples online via the Wellcome Collection. The website explains that the beads were usually blue rather than yellow, and could be bought widely at market stalls in London. 

There's absolutely no scientific reason why glass beads of any colour would protect against infection, but people obviously drew reassurance from wearing them. It was a time before the National Health Service, and poor people could rarely afford good medical care, and often lived in cold, damp, overcrowded housing. The perfect places for chest infections to spread.

In the London Lore Tarot, the Glass Bead Necklace card relates to The Star in more traditional decks. In the Rider-Waite-Smith deck it shows a woman with two bowls of water, kneeling by a pool in starlight. She pours one into the pool, and the other onto the land. It is generally a positive card. Although in some interpretations it can be about coming to terms with loss, it is normally taken to represent hope for the future and the balancing of common sense with faith and intuition. 

In the current pandemic, we do need to use common sense and do what the health professionals recommend. However, it is also important to hold onto those things that give us reassurance and comfort, even if that is just something we feel brings us luck, makes us happy or is related to our faith. 

Back at the start of the pandemic, someone I know who works in the NHS sent her friends a list of things to put in a go-bag, to take if we had to be rushed into hospital. Obvious items were toiletries, nightclothes and changes of undies, but the list also included a comfort item, such as a soft toy or a photo of a loved one. I knitted myself a small doll in bright colours with a happy smile, designed specifically to cheer me up. I'll blog more about that another day, but this tarot reading made me think of it. 

If you have something that gives you reassurance, even if it has no practical purpose, that's still OK - and that is what this card is about.

Picture credits: Top: London Lore Tarot, Glass Bead Necklaces. Bottom: Glass necklace worn to prevent bronchitis, Greenwich, London. Credit: Science Museum, London. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

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