Monsters Or Mouthwash?

You know not by what a frail thread we equally hang;
It is said we are images both – twitched by peoples desires;
And that I, as you, fail as a song that men time agone sang!

-Thomas Hardy, Aquae Sulis

When I first heard that gargoyles were added to medieval cathedrals to ward away evil spirits I thought, sounds legit. After all there are plenty of examples of what’s known as apotropaic magical symbols, which are intended to ward away evil. And what better way to keep away demons than to have some demons perched on your building to say, “No need to come here, guys, we got this one covered”? Then I started doing some reading about gargoyles and their history and things got a little more complicated. Why some—but hardly all—gargoyles take demonic shapes isn’t clear, and their original purpose was to serve as decorative water spouts. The word gargoyle probably derives from the Latin word gurgulio which means “throat”, although weirdly enough it also means weevil, maybe because the Romans couldn’t keep the bugs out of their bread and swallowed so many, but that’s another story. And it’s the same root word that gives us gargle and gurgle.

Anyway a lot of gargoyles are also strictly ornamental, so why did workers carve these creatures? Maybe there was some lingering pagan influence, or maybe they were created by artists who were just really into that sort of thing–the Gothic period must have been a pretty good time to be a goth–or maybe they were just expressions of the id, of our deepest fears and desires.

12 Comments

  1. floweringink

    Very cool post, Christopher!!!!! I love your curiosity, the way you look at things from the inside!

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I’m so glad you enjoy it. Curiosity is a wonderful thing.

      Reply
  2. Tom

    “the Gothic period must have been a pretty good time to be a goth” 🤣🤣🤣

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      And speaking of goths and names that takes me back to high school when a friend of mine, also named Chris, said, “Going down the hall and yelling ‘Hey Chris!’ is like going to a Cure concert and yelling ‘Hey, you in the black!'”

      Reply
  3. BarbaraM

    I’m normally not too into graffiti because either I don’t understand it or can’t make out the words (if there are words). These, however, are actually beautifully done. I could really use a portable one of these to carry with me and stick it wherever we live. Along with my mezuzah.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      It’s amazing what a lot of graffiti artists can accomplish in a space where they’re less likely to be discovered, which is where these were taken. And that’s one of the tragedies of graffiti artists. They should be able to brighten the world with their art rather than hiding it. There’s always room for art. And room for mezuzahs.

      Reply
  4. mydangblog

    I don’t know where you find such interesting graffiti, but these gargoyle style images are pretty cool!

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I have to take a few risks to find some graffiti, but, as you can see, the payoff is worth it. I especially like the giant tentacle.

      Reply
  5. Ann Koplow

    Monstrously entertaining and enlightening, Chris.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Your comments, like gargoyles, ward off evil.

      Reply
  6. Kristine @mumrevised

    The most interesting street art you have found so far!

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I found kind of a treasure trove of art in an abandoned warehouse where the artists clearly work freely. This is one of several posts inspired by it.

      Reply

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