Healing, Protection and the Spirit World

Healing, Protection and the Spirit World

Illness affects everybody, regardless of whether they lived in the past or the present, near or far away.

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Practical Medicine and Hygiene - Roman chatelaine set

Practical Medicine and Hygiene - Roman chatelaine set

Practical Medicine and Hygiene - Roman chatelaine set
(Location 1 of 16)

This chatelaine set, consisting of tweezers and nail cleaners, would have been used on a regular basis to maintain an individual's personal hygiene, helping to stave off illness.

Practical Medicine and Hygiene - Tudor Drug Jars

Practical Medicine and Hygiene - Tudor Drug Jars

Practical Medicine and Hygiene - Tudor Drug Jars
(Location 2 of 16)

These were used to hold apothecary's remedies and homemade medications.They were found by archaeologists excavating a rubbish pit of an Exeter merchant's house in North Street.

Representing the Threat of Unseen Forces - St Peter Trampling Devil

Representing the Threat of Unseen Forces - St Peter Trampling Devil

Representing the Threat of Unseen Forces - St Peter Trampling Devil
(Location 3 of 16)

An explicit manifestation of this force is the traditional Christian representation of the devil. This late medieval carving of the devil being trampled by St Peter (the patron saint of Exeter cathedral) must have been a reassuring figure for the people of Exeter, as it demonstrates the Church's dominance over the Devil and its consequent protection of the faithful.

Representing the Threat of Unseen Forces - Bellarmine Jug

Representing the Threat of Unseen Forces - Bellarmine Jug

Representing the Threat of Unseen Forces - Bellarmine Jug
(Location 4 of 16)

Sometimes chaotic and threatening forces are imagined as a wildman. The mythological wildman, with his bushy beard, represents the antithesis of civilisation and order.

Representing the Threat of Unseen Forces - Elizabeth Flaye Portrait

Representing the Threat of Unseen Forces - Elizabeth Flaye Portrait

Representing the Threat of Unseen Forces - Elizabeth Flaye Portrait
(Location 5 of 16)

At other times, the impending threat of death is represented in a literal way: the depiction of skulls, or the inscription 'memento mori' (Latin for “remember you will die”). The skull in this portrait serves as a reminder of the inevitability of death, and viewers of the time would have been struck by the briefness of life and how earthly pleasures are worthless in the afterlife.

Interacting with the Spirit World - Ampulla

Interacting with the Spirit World - Ampulla

Interacting with the Spirit World - Ampulla
(Location 6 of 16)

This ampulla - or container for holy water - is medieval, but practice of ascribing sacred qualities to certain water sources is pre-Christian. Holy wells were usually connected to a saint, and the water from the well was thought have healing powers. Pilgrims came to holy wells seeking cures for illnesses, and took some of the water home with them in ampullae.

Some ampullae continued to function as holy objects long after the pilgrimage, and their healing power benefitted both the pilgrims themselves and other individuals coming into contact with the ampullae who did not go on the pilgrimage.

Interacting with the Spirit World - Nkisi

Interacting with the Spirit World - Nkisi

Interacting with the Spirit World - Nkisi
(Location 7 of 16)

For the Bantu people of the Congo Basin, minkisi (power figures) are thought to be inhabited by a powerful spirit. Healers pound pieces of metal into the figure to interact with them during rituals. This nkisi contains a medicine substance for healing purposes.

Interacting with the Spirit World - Cobra Demon Mask

Interacting with the Spirit World - Cobra Demon Mask

Interacting with the Spirit World - Cobra Demon Mask
(Location 8 of 16)

This hand-carved mask was made in Sri Lanka in the early part of the twentieth century and represents a serpent demon or naga raksha and it demonstrates the evil power of snake poisons. The cobra often appears on makes used in healing ceremonies, where the poison is driven out of the victim. Made of soft kadura wood (Nux vomica) it is painted in a traditional style. Masks, like this example, represent the eighteen disease demons who are responsible for causing illness, such as stomach aches and blindness, misfortune and death. Such masks would also have been worn for dance dramas called Kolam Maduwa.

Votive Offerings Given in Exchange for Healing - Votive Arm Figurine

Votive Offerings Given in Exchange for Healing - Votive Arm Figurine

Votive Offerings Given in Exchange for Healing - Votive Arm Figurine
(Location 9 of 16)

Perhaps the person who left this votive model of an arm in Roman Egypt was suffering from an injured arm, and their offering was an explicit request for what they needed in return. Alternatively, it may have been given in thanks for healing.

Personal Protection - Faience Wadjet

Personal Protection - Faience Wadjet

Personal Protection - Faience Wadjet
(Location 10 of 16)

This wadjet - or eye of Horus - amulet protected the wearer against ill health. In Egyptian mythology, Horus' injured eye is healed by some of the other gods, and so the wadjet was associated with healing. Materials are important in amulets. The wadjet is made of faience, a blue-green coloured ceramic, which for the Ancient Egyptians held great significance as the colour symbolised regeneration.

Personal Protection - Fortuitious Lion

Personal Protection - Fortuitious Lion

Personal Protection - Fortuitious Lion
(Location 11 of 16)

Wrongly described as a 'money cat' by Europeans, this seventeenth century Chinese amulet once served as a protective device for a young lady. Reflecting fortune, power and strength, this amulet would have been positioned at the head of her bed to ensure not only good health but more importantly success in producing healthy children. Lions in Chinese culture were seen as natural symbols of auspicion and protection against evil spirits. This is one of the reasons that the lion was incorporated into imperial architecture and Buddism when it arrived in China during the Han dynasty.

Personal Protection - Ere Ibeji Figure

Personal Protection - Ere Ibeji Figure

Personal Protection - Ere Ibeji Figure
(Location 12 of 16)

Nigeria has the highest rate of twins in the world, and the south-west of Nigeria, which is home to the Yoruba-speaking people, still produces the highest number of twins. For example, in a recent study from Igbo Ora, 158 twins are produced per 1000 births, compared to 5 twins per 1000 births in Europe. This is an unusually high figure but the ratio is usually 4:1.


Among the Yoruba, it was believed that twins shared a single soul and if one twin dies an ere ibeji figure is carved to represent the dead twin - but it appears as an adult. This is done after consultation with the babalowo (a priest who specialises in Ifa divination). A sculptor is then commissioned to make the figure. Once completed, it is therefore washed, clothed and fed in the same manner as a living person. Ere ibeji means 'sacred image' (ere) and 'two are born' (ib-eji). The decorated carving was made to protect the life of the surviving twin. This particular figure is decorated with dark blue dudu beads, which express profound visual and sensory meaning found in Yoruba belief. Twins were considered auspicious and were believed to ward off evil, however, because they were also fragile (prone to death at a young age) they believed to bring instability in the form of disaster, death and disease. Up until the late nineteenth century the infanticide of twins in Nigeria was a common practice.

Personal Protection - St Anthony Finger Ring

Personal Protection - St Anthony Finger Ring

Personal Protection - St Anthony Finger Ring
(Location 13 of 16)

This ring is decorated with tau crosses, which are symbols of both the resurrection and of St. Anthony, who was thought to provide protection against disease. The ring afforded the wearer the protection associated with the tau symbol.

Protection of Buildings - Medusa Faces

Protection of Buildings - Medusa Faces

Protection of Buildings - Medusa Faces
(Location 14 of 16)

These tiles once decorated the roof of the Roman bathhouse in Exeter. They show Medusa-like faces, and may have been used to intimidate evil spirits, protecting the people within the bathhouse.

Protection of Buildings - Wyvern Weather Vane

Protection of Buildings - Wyvern Weather Vane

Protection of Buildings - Wyvern Weather Vane
(Location 15 of 16)

Similarly, this wyvern weather vane stood on the East gate of the city to discourage any evil spirits from entering the city.

Protection of Buildings - Stained Glass Angel

Protection of Buildings - Stained Glass Angel

Protection of Buildings - Stained Glass Angel
(Location 16 of 16)

Angels are a common motif in churches, and the museum has many examples in many different media. These other-worldly creatures were thought to protect people on earth, and so their depiction in churches was reassuring.

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My Healing, Protection and the Spirit World Notes

Healing, Protection and the Spirit World

Healing, Protection and the Spirit World

Illness affects everybody, regardless of whether they lived in the past or the present, near or far away.

Different people have engaged with the spirit world in different ways with the common aim of receiving healing and protection.

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