Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Cruentation

The title of this post is a new word I learned this afternoon. Actually, it is an old word for an even older superstition. Here's how I came across it....Last night, the phrase "Murder will out" - meaning that murder will always be discovered - popped into my head. I thought it was a quote from Shakespeare, but the expression has also been used by Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1343-1400), Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616), and others. I learned from Wikipedia that the proverb is associated with the belief that a corpse will bleed when in the presence of a murderer. Googling that idea led me to the on-line version of a treasured book that is in my permanent collection, Vampires, Burial, and Death by Paul Barber. Barber rationalizes the "common European belief" by pointing out that the accused murderer was often compelled to manipulate the corpse, which would cause the blood to flow. Another link, which quotes The Oxford Companion to the Body by Colin Blakemore and Shelia Jennett, reveals that the superstition of a corpse's wounds bleeding in the presence of the killer was popularly accepted as proof of guilt until the 19th c. and was called cruentation. Hits on that word didn't reveal anything further, and then ensued a fruitless search for a historic image to accompany this post. What I did find was this terrific illustration by Jonathan Burton.

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