Four weeks after John-the-Baptist’s Day, the ecclesiastical calendar commemorates Mary Magdalen. While John preached repentance; Mary Mags (if we believe she was the penitent prostitute) practised it. There is a fabulous Rubens painting in the Scottish National Gallery, depicting Herodias spiking the tongue of John-the-B with a fork as his head is presented to her husband, Herod, on a dish by sumptuously-dressed Salome. The symbolic message of the jabbing fork is clear: that will teach him to speak out.
The witch’s gag or ‘branks’ in the museum is another horrid symbol of how, in the past, women have been silenced. Some of these awful contraptions had spikes that, when inserted into the mouth, would pierce the “gossip’s” tongue if she talked. Whether these so-called witches, loose-tongued, or accursed women were truly evil, touched by spirits or just plain misunderstood is hard to say. Jesus Christ was reported to say, ‘let the one without sin cast the first stone.’ Tell that to the tabloid journalists, 2000 years on.
Madeleine and the Minister
Quoth he: I’ll mak ye haud yer weesht,
an’ he straps the branks on ma heid.
Kens Ah’ve blether fir the baith o’ us;
gin Ah clype oan - he’ll be deid.
His creeshie words are sleekit as oil,
but it’s me wha greets an’ begs.
Ye’ll cry me a gossip, but hae a wee keek
at whit lies between his legs.