steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

Ancient Air Looms

A few years ago I wrote an article on the relationship between Mind Control, Hypnosis and Enchantment in children's literature, which involved trying to find out when the earliest example of mind control actually was. The idea of enchantment, whether affecting the body or the affections, is of course ancient. Love potions, for example, are mind control drugs of a sort - but examples of the total control of one person's mind by another, a la Fu Manchu or the Demon Headmaster, are harder to locate. In fact, I couldn't find any, pre-Mesmer (but maybe you know different?).

One footnote that got written too late for inclusion referred to the earliest real-life example I came across, which was the case of James Tilly Matthews - a paranoid schizophrenic (to use anachronistic terminology for a retrospective diagnosis) who was convinced that his mind was being controlled by a gang of Jacobins working an "air loom". Using a combination of cutting-edge technologies derived from Lavoisier, the Jacquard Loom, and Mesmerism, these monsters were able to implant thoughts and even cause death - and, as far as Matthews was concerned, they were working their evil magic on, amongst others, William Pitt the Younger, in a plot strangely preminiscent of The Manchurian Candidate. For the full, fascinating story, which includes an account of a pioneering approach to mental illness in the early nineteenth century, I highly recommend Mike Jay's The Air Loom Gang. Amongst the lethal operations at the gang's beck were a) kiteing, an early version of the ear-worm, where an idea is forced into the thoughts of the victim, where it "floats and undulates in the intellect or hours together; and how much soever the person assailed may wish to direct his mind to other objects, and banish the idea forced upon him, he finds himself unable"; b) Thought-making, which involves the victim's thoughts literally being "sucked out" and replaced with another subject, and c) Lobster Cracking - in which the pressure of the magnetic atmosphere is increased, "so as to stagnate his circulation, impede his vital motions, and produce instant death." Napoleonic steampunk on the non-fiction shelves - who could resist?

Anyway, I'm posting this because I've just learned that artist Rod Dickinson actually built an air loom, based on Matthews' descriptions, in the early 200os. Is this not the coolest thing? I long to try it out.

In other news, my daughter has just asked me, why do people cry? What is the evolutionary advantage of secreting salt water from one's eyes in moments of sadness, pain, or proximity to onions? This is firmly in the category of things I ought to know but don't. Can you enlighten us?

ETA: Tear theories found so far:
Tags: links, my writing
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