What’s special about the badger?

The European badger (Meles meles) is a nocturnal animal. (Photo by BadgerHero – CC BY-SA 3.0)

One of the magic objects in the collection of the National Museum of Finland is the foot of a badger (Meles meles; Fin. mäyrä). It belonged to the cunning man Juho Sarkkinen in Tohmajärvi and came to the museum in 1905 after Sarkkinen’s death (KM F1553). According to the museum catalogue, the foot has been used in a ritual to punish a thief: When someone had stolen a bird from a snare the cunning person went to where the snare was and put on furry mittens; while keeping a frog in the left hand and the badger’s foot in the right hand he gathered feathers of the stolen bird with the badger’s foot; the feathers were put into the mouth of the frog. After this, the frog was put into an alder “coffin”. This was done in order to cause sickness to the thief and the furry mittens were needed to ensure that the cunning man did not accidentally catch the sickness himself.

In the Finnish collections studied, this object is unique. However, there is some folklore about the use of body parts of the badger in the archives. For example, one account explains that when conjuring up the power or beings (Fin. väki) of the forest to aid a cunning person, one should put three wood ant queens into the bladder of a badger while offering silver to the anthills and chanting an incantation. The badger bladder should be kept inside the nesting bladders of a bear, a wolf, a fox, a wolverine, a dog, a cat, an otter, and a stoat (SKVR I4. 1. Vuokins. Meril. n. 342. 88). Excluding the dog and cat, the animals mentioned mainly dwell in the forest and thus they may simply be material manifestations of the power of the forest in this ritual.

A badgers foot amulet from England. The Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford.

Still, the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford houses three badger foot amulets. Two of these are from England and one is from Italy. Unfortunately, the online database of the museum gives no additional information on these objects. The same applies to the six badger hair or skin amulets in the collections. These are all from Italy. A search through the literature shows that badger’s foot amulets have been used in Spain in a similar way as rabbit’s foot amulets to prevent the evil eye. Moreover, during medieval times in Europe, the badger was thought to be a hermaphrodite and it was used to cure impotence. It is likely that the nocturnal animal was seen as a liminal creature in other ways as well. However, the lore about the special attributes of the badger is difficult to find and much of it may have been lost.

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