• Paul

TAKE A LEAP


As well as sounding like some kind of adorable rabbit-like creature you might find in Middle Earth, a “leapling” is someone born on February 29. But not only do leaplings get to make hilarious jokes about drinking alcohol at the age of 5 and celebrating their coming of age when everyone they grew up with is gearing up for retirement, they were also once widely considered to be blessed with unusual talents and incredible curative powers—powers, it was said, that often bordered on the magical.

This particular bit of folklore seems to have developed around the time that the Romans introduced their concept of leap years to the ancient Celtic Britons, a people whose culture held that the timing of a person’s birth throughout the year could determine their personality and character traits. Ultimately, a tradition soon emerged in ancient Britain that anyone born on February 29, an extraordinary day that only came around once every four years, must indeed have rare and magical abilities.

And if that person happened to be an identical twin, then holy moly—we’re talking seriously next level magic.

By the Middle Ages, this belief had established itself so firmly in European folklore that twin leaplings were highly sought after for their supposed magical and curative properties—as were, moreover, their bodily fluids.


Medieval twins. Loved a drink. Clothes, they were less a fan of. (Wikipedia)

In 1532, Roderick Amery of Lincoln—a self-styled “man of medycyne”—published a vast landmark guide to all the traditional lotions, potions, and old wives’ cures of the day; to cure a crippling bout of “St. Anthony’s fyre” (a poisoning better known as ergotism today), Amery explained, one would:

Take blood of th[e] leapling twynne (to weight 1 jigger) mixed with clove, butter and chopped onion (both to weight 2 tower-ounce).

(A “jigger” being a unit of volume equal to about 42 millilitres, and a “tower-ounce” being roughly 350 grams).

The hapless patient was to boil this bloody mixture and consume it as a soup. Although by the time they’d actually managed to find a leapling twin and extract a jigger of their blood, St. Anthony and his fire might have already caught up with them.


#medicine #history #Europe #science

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