keeping it together

The Magic of Fastening

The most mundane, everyday things can be transformed into magical objects simply by analogy, and that is what makes this form of magical activities so relatable. Fastening something is one of those acts that can carry a deeper meaning, and the object that goes with it becomes important, too: there is magic in clothing pins!

I talked about the magic of tying and girding in another blog post, and pinning your clothing together works along the same lines. The clothing pins that are used to keep fabric together, can be transformed into very powerful magical objects when they are used in ritual. The analogy is of course very clear: a clothing pin holds two separate pieces of dress together, and so it would also be very useful in rituals to keep persons together. When you fasten a fibula (see how to do that here), you actually have to carry out a number of steps: it does not close automatically by itself. And that is where the magic is, in those acts of deliberately fastening…clothing pins are the perfect object for love-magic!

The Romans already used their pins or fibulas (the Latin word is still in use to indicate these pins) as such. Some 2,000 years ago, you could buy an inscribed fibula to present to a lady: it would say something like ‘Hello, gorgeous!’, or, if you were bolder, ‘mix yourself with me’ – I’ll leave it up to you to figure out what they meant by that! The point is that the fibula would work as a magical tool. [1] Once the lady in question would pin her clothes with it, it was hoped your relationship with her would immediately grow stronger. Some 1,000 years earlier, three imported bronze fibulas were left behind in a shallow pit on the edge of a moor in The Netherlands. They were a gift to the gods, or whatever beings were believed to inhabit that place, and they were a precious gift, too. Those fibulas were imported from Scandinavia and did not form part of traditional dress in what later would become The Netherlands: a treasure worthy of the gods. [2] You’ll see it in the collage below.

Gloomy photo of a swamp with a Bronze Age jewellery hoard

In a different world and a different time, fibulas have a very similar protective power. In Morocco, clothing pins are considered powerful because their sturdy pin has the power to harm the evil eye, a meaning also found widely in the rest of the Maghreb. [3] Many shapes on fibulas are designed to attract good fortune and to keep evil at a distance, while their triangular form alludes to the powers of the number 3 (see more about the magic of numbers in this blog post). Fibulas are also the perfect piece of jewellery to attach amulet boxes to, which would be suspended from either the fibula itself or from the chain between them.

But here as well, their importance as something that holds to halves together, shines through. The fibulas are part of the dowry, given to the bride by her husband and his family, and here the magic of pinning reinforces the bond between both the husband and wife and their respective families. Adorning the bride with her jewellery, including fastening her fibula set, was part of the transformative magic in Libya, which would accompany the bride during her transition from unmarried girl to married woman. [4]

And that power of fastening is found as a theme in other parts of the world, too. Belt buckles function in much the same way: they, too, hold something together. As such, it became very popular as a form in European rings from the 17th century onwards. The belt buckle symbolized eternal love and loyalty – even beyond death, which is why you will also find it in mourning rings. Together with the shape of the ring itself as an endless cycle, the belt buckle firmly connects two halves for all eternity.

So whether it is clothing pins or belt buckles: by fastening something, humans have tried to influence the natural course of events for millennia!

Find out more about the histories behind amulets in the e-course on Amulets and Magic in Jewellery!

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[1] Peter Wells notes that fibulas in Europe’s prehistory, when they are depicted, are always shown ‘open’, and wonders if that has something to do with magic: nothing is definitive yet, nothing is sealed, the future is open. Wells 2012, How Ancient Europeans Saw the World, p.111.

[2] I wrote about these in Bos, J. & S. van Roode 2019. Landschap vol Leven. BLKVLD Uitgevers Publishers.

[3] Cynthia Becker, Amazigh Textiles and Dress in Morocco. Metaphors of Motherhood, in: African Arts vol 39 no. 6 (2006), p. 44

[4] Elena Schenone Alberini, Las mujeres Libias en la litteratura oral. Ritos de paso y roles de genero, in: Orafrica no 6, 2010.

Sigrid van Roode

Sigrid van Roode is an archeologist, ethnographer and jewellery historian. She considers jewellery heritage and a historic source. She has authored several books on jewellery from North Africa and Southwest Asia, and on archaeological jewellery. Sigrid has lectured for the Society of Jewellery Historians, the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden and the Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center, among many others. She curates exhibitions and teaches online courses on jewellery from North Africa & Southwest Asia.