It sounds like a Buffy prop, doesn’t it?
But no, it’s real, just like the Warren Cup.
However it’s considerably younger.
It was made in the mid-800s in Germany (which may explain its craftsmanship and longevity?)
No one knows precisely why it was made but we can make an educated guess as to for whom.
Carved in the centre of the four-inch rock crystal disc are the words “Lothar, King of the Franks, caused me to be made.”
The Lothar the crystal refers to was probably Lothar II, Charlemagne’s grandson.
As king he was desperate to divorce his wife and accused her of committing incest and practicing abortion. She went to trial over these claims but in 865, Pope Nicholas I forced the reluctant king to acknowledge her innocence and reconcile. (Sidebar: What an asshole.)
The crystal first appears in the written record in the mid-tenth century Chronicle of the Benedictine Abbey of Waulsort, located on the Meuse river in the middle of the what we could consider the Charlemagnian empire.
It got to the abbey by way of the Count of Florennes, who swapped it for a horse with a canon of Rheims and then promptly changed his mind, showing up with a large retinue at the doors of the canon’s cathedral. When the canon refused to come out, the Count set fire to the cathedral, smoking the poor churchman out into the arms of his thugs who took the crystal back.
Towards the end of his life the Count came to regret this action and pledged the crystal along with crate loads of other booty to the abbey when he founded it. This paying for violent lives by the building of abbeys became popular due to Norman influence. It is what happens when formerly-pagan Norsemen (“Norman” means “North Man”) converted to Christianity. It’s why there are so many beautiful Norman abbeys in the north of England. Because they did this and then atoned for it. They carried over their transactional relationship with their ancestral gods into a new religion that arguably made it easier to live a conquering life and still have a clean soul. (Learn more in this amazing documentary.)
The Lothar Crystal stayed in the abbey for eight hundred years, being worn by the abbots when officiating at Mass. When the abbey was sacked during the French Revolution it was thrown into the River Meuse by terrified monks and lost. It received its crack during this time.
In 1855 it reappeared at an auction at Christie’s of London where it was snapped up by the British Museum for £267. The man they bought it from only paid £10 to a Belgian dealer for it who in turn only paid 12 francs from the unknown person who allegedly fished it from the river.
The story of Susanna
The Lothar Crystal depicts the Story of Susanna and The Elders from the Apocryphal Book of Daniel.
Susanna is bathing in the garden when two elders see her and attempt to coerce her into sex. When she refuses, they threaten her by claiming they will spread the story round that she was meeting a young lover in the garden. She still says no.
Susanna goes to trial and just before she is about to be put to death, Daniel says the old men should be questioned separately. Their stories don’t match. Susanna goes free.
According to orthodox historians, the best guess as to the Lothar Crystal’s original purpose is that it began life as a talisman of justice, showcasing to the universe that the chief royal virtue is bringing justice to the realm.
But of course, the story has eerie parallels with the court of King Lothar II and his accusations against his wife.
Indeed, Valerie Flint suggested that the crystal was made as both a solid apologia between the king and his wife during their brief period of reconciliation and also as a talisman of protection for the royal couple.
Here is why the Lothar Crystal qualifies as a Real Life Magic Artefact. Because I think she was right. And also because I think the fact that she was right points to something much bigger, something of interest to anyone involved in Western magic.
What isn’t mentioned in the orthodox version of the crystal’s story is that this type of rock crystal was long used as a magically protective substance in the region. What also isn’t mentioned but is most certainly to be inferred from its subject matter is just how recognisable this apocryphal story would be in the ninth century.
We underestimate the role of the Apocrypha today because we are seeing things on the other side of some stringent Protestant reformations that got rid of everything interesting: incense, funny dresses, weird books that aren’t official, saints that never existed, etc.
Yet at the time this talisman was designed so that whoever looked at it would be all like “oh yeah, Susanna and the Elders. I get it.” Remember our ancestors had a much healthier notion of the mythic.
Why is this important?
Well, if you take one step to the left or the right of the canonical Biblical books, you start to get really interesting stuff like reincarnation, the female side of God, magical tips and tricks and, post-Nag Hammadi, potentially the ‘true’ story of Mary Magdalene. You get a veritable soup of sorcery and magical wisdom.
- So we have Christian kings creating justice talismans out of magically significant material. (Potentially under the orders of a Pope.)
- We have talismans depicting stories from a vast magico-mythic narrative that would have been instantly understood in any court in Europe.
The Lothar Crystal, like Al-Andalus, is another example of the persistent writing out of magic from European history. Historians will go to almost any length to avoid admitting just how prevalent and consistent magic has been in Western history. (Why would we be different to anywhere else in the world?)
It’s particularly frustrating/amusing in the case of the Lothar Crystal because it’s a magical story carved into a magical object. You can feel it throb from across the room in the British Museum. Sorcery never went underground. We just aren’t looking at it right.
Lothar Crystal: Further Resources
- A History Of The World In 100 Objects. The crystal makes it into this amazing radio/book series from the British Museum and the BBC. Listen to its episode here. Also you can zoom waaaaaay in on a high-res picture.
- The radio transcript. Just in case you can’t listen to it for some reason.
- The British Museum page for the piece. If you’re in town (or planning a museum heist), this page shows you where you can find it.
Today, the only remnant of the kingdom of Lotharingia is in the name of Lorraine. So it’s quiche for me tonight. And a glass of wine raised to King Lothar II.
You were an asshole, but you had good bling.