It’s a hallmark of humanity to mourn and honour our dead: all cultures do it, they have done it throughout time. Here, in the west, our trends have changed a lot over time, and some of the ways we did it in the past may look foreign to us, now, but it’s really the same thing at the heart of it.
Past eras, especially the Victorians, which are beyond the scope if this post, are notorious for the macabre fascination with death. There are a lot of reasons, ranging from poor heath care to shifting religious philosophies to lowgrade carbon monoxide poisoning to the rise of industrialisation and the distancing of ourselves from the natural world. The truth is, with our technological and social advancements, we are removed from death. Most of us are not surrounded by it or haunted by it anymore to the degree that we were in the past. So, death was never far away for them, and life was so delicate and uncertain. Your loved ones could be gone with no warning and no way to say goodbye. So, finding closure through long and complicated mourning rituals was one way to cope with the trauma.
If you think about it, wreaths, jewellery, post mortem photography, etc, aren’t that different from putting a sticker on your car. It’s a way of taking someone’s memory with you wherever you go.
So, now I’m gonna go into some symbols we commonly see on mourning jewellery of this era.
Hair was crazy popular. It was one of the easiest pieces of physical relics of the person to get. It was often woven and set behind a piece of glass or crystal, but sometimes it was actually used to created intricate scenes like paintings, or just simple chunks of curls encased in glass.
The image of the dead person’s eye was also a common image. Eyes are the windows of the soul, they say, as well as an easily identifiable feature. Not to mention, the obvious visual of the deceased watching over their surviving loved ones.
Jest is a black volcanic stone. It feels almost like plastic in its texture and weight, but it is a stone. It is shiny and black, so it gives the feeling of fancy gemstones, especially during the periods of heavy, black-only mourning.
Silver represents the moon, is naturally antibacterial, and is less opulent than gold, so it was a favourite base material for jewellery.
The people of the past did not shy from the macabre in their mourning jewellery. Skulls, skeletons, and coffins are undeniable clues that a piece if jewellery is for mourning.
Acanthus is a lush leafy shrub, popularised by Corinthian columns of ancient Greece. In funerary art, acanths represents remembrance.
Pearls also symbolise the moon, but also tears and the sea. Pearls and garnets are very common in mourning jewellery
By the beginning of Magic Beans, Lady Johanne Blodden is a widow, having lost her husband 7 years previous, during the Ettin Wars. Though she had no real affection for him in life, she is a proper lady, and so wears a mourning brooch to honour his memory, as was expected of a widow. Her brooch features a grey eye, modelled after his portrait, shaped like a teardrop, and ringed in pearls.