Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tear Bottles

The first documented reference to collecting tears in a bottle appears in the Hebrew Scriptures. David prays to God, “Thou tellest my wanderings, put thou my tears in Thy bottle, are they not in Thy book?” (Psalms 56:8, approximately 1020 BCE)

Tear bottles, or lachrymatories, also abound in stories of ancient Egypt and Rome, as well as Middle Eastern societies.

Around 100 CE many of these small bottles were found in tombs. Because so many glass vials were found in tombs, the theory was developed that they were part of the mourning ritual. It was believed that mourners would fill the small glass vials with tears and place them in burial tombs as a symbol of love and respect. Sometimes mourners were even hired for wealthy funerals. Those crying the loudest and who produced the most tears received the most compensation. The more anguish and tears that were produced, the more valued and important the deceased person was seen to be, or so the stories go.

Glass blowing was prevalent during the Roman Period, and continued throughout most of history. Byzantine (East Roman Empire) Glass was well known, and even in Western Europe after the withdrawal of Roman power there, the Franks continued the tradition. Examples of glass blowing in the Islamic world, and to the East, in China and Japan are all attested. The western European Renaissance saw a tremendous upsurge in glass blowing, especially in Venice, where it is still famous today.

Because tear shaped bottles were an extremely popular shape during the Roman Period, it is debated whether or not the bottles were actually used to hold tears, possibly being used for perfumes and medicines instead. For instance, bottles found during the Hellenistic Period (300 CE) were very large, about 11-25 cm tall, and therefore would not have been very practical to hold tears.

The story of tear bottles continued unabated. During Victorian Era funerals, lachrymatory were distributed for guests to catch their tears in. The bottles held special stoppers, and it is said that when the tears evaporated, the period of mourning was complete. Stories have also been found of soldiers during the U.S. Civil War leaving their wives with tear bottles as they departed for battle. It was hoped that the bottle would be full upon their return, to show their wives love and devotion.

Therefore, while the exact origin and historical use of bottles to catch tears still remains a mystery, it is certain that they were an important part of legend and popular culture of the time.

Please visit the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum to view some examples of Egyptian and Roman glass tear bottles in our Daily Life Gallery.

-- Jen Slauter, Docent

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Volunteer of the Month: Silke Higgins

Silke Higgins began in our Volunteer Program just a few months ago in July. Her work supplements her studies at San Jose State, where she is working towards her B.A. in Anthropology (with an emphasis on Archaeology), by being a positive and enthusiastic presence to both staff and guests here at Rosicrucian Park.

While Silke might be one of our newest volunteers, her contributions have been prodigious! They include reorganizing the museum’s Curator's Library, assisting at workshops, giving talks, aiding with staff projects and putting in many over-time hours at our events and festivals. She will volunteer in whatever capacity she is needed, from the complex set-up and takedown of events to developing talks and being a professional and informed resource for our guests, assuring that both knowledge and fun are part of their visit.

Silke’s fascination with Egypt began at a early age. Originally from Germany, Silke grew up reciting king lists and memorizing random Egyptian facts while other children played. Stories from ancient Egypt enchanted her throughout childhood, while the lion-headed goddess Sekhmet captured her heart and imagination.

For Silke, Sekhmet represents the ancient concept of Ma’at, a true symbol of balance. Her surprise and delight were magnified when she found a small, almost perfectly preserved statue of Sekhmet in the museum’s collection, and further, an entire gallery dedicated to this deity. This small Sekhmet statue, RC #1, the first artifact to come into the museum’s collection has been enthralling people all the way back to the time of the Museum’s founder, Harvey Spencer Lewis.

The statue sat on H. Spencer Lewis' desk at the headquarters of the Rosicrucian Order, AMORC during the early years of the 20th century. When greeting visitors, he would point to Sekhmet and say, "Here is the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum!" From his vision, our present Museum has grown to be the largest display of ancient Egyptian artifacts in Western North America.

Besides the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, Silke has been a frequent visitor to both the Berlin and British museums, but by far her most memorable experience occurred in Köln (Cologne) where, as a grade-schooler, she came face to face with King Tut’s mask on its travels through Europe.

Silke is a true people-person and finds day-to-day enjoyment while walking about the museum and partaking in other activities that allow her to interact with guests. She easily draws people into her tales by sharing her knowledge and joy of the artifacts.

In her own words, Silke describes the museum as “A joyous place! It rewards educating people about a time so long ago, but is still so vivid in everyone’s eyes. Who doesn’t know something about ancient Egypt? It’s rewarding being able to bring it to life and make it real for our guests.”

Danke Sehr! Silke for your volunteer service at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum!