“Human Blood and Woman’s Milk”

Tegernsee Abbey today. It no longer houses a monastic community.

Tegernsee Abbey today. It no longer houses a monastic community.

Richard Hoffman published a translation of a fragmentary text written around 1500 AD, which has become known as “Tegernseer Angel- und Fishbucklein.” In his book, Fisher’s Craft and Lettered Art: Tracts on Fishing from the End of the Middle Ages (1997), Hoffman identifies the text in English as “Tegernsee Fishing Advice.”  The “advice” is that presumably recorded by a Benedictine monk at the Tegernsee Abbey in Bavaria, in the late 15th century. The advice was probably intended for one of the fishermen licensed by the abbey to provide food for the monks.(117) Interestingly, much of “Tegernsee Fishing Advice” is devoted to fly fishing. This means that fly fishing was not just a pastime of nobility in 15th and 16th century Bavaria; it was also used to acquire food by peasants such as those working for the Abbey. A passage from the translated text, dealing with flies, follows:

Thereafter, as soon as the brooks become small and clear, like in May, [whether it] is the first month or second, then see to it to put ‘stone bait’ on the feathered hook which should be tied with yellow silk and with pinkish-coloured silk around the ‘heart’ [and] with a black one mixed around the ‘heart.’ (141).

However, the monks also provided fishing advice for fishing in still waters that is even more surprising to read:

If you want to catch fish in still waters, in brooks, or in lakes, then take and prepare a bait this way. Take human blood and woman’s milk together in a vessel, and take raw barley and cook it very well and completely and press it in a mortar while still wet until it all becomes like a gruel. After that press it through a cloth, and if it will not go easily through the cloth then add to it a little of the liquid in which it was cooked so that it does go through easily.Take that very thing [that was] pressed through a let it parch and dry up completely, and then make it into a fine powder. Then take that [powder] out and the above-mentioned blood and woman’s milk and stir it [all] together then, and make something like a gruel. Then let that become very hard and dry in the air. Thus it is ready. …. To that thing [will] so rush all the fish which live in that same water, and they will not turn back until after they have come into the trap. (171).

Today, we often think of fly tying as a time-consuming passion. But just you try making a complicated bait from human blood and woman’s milk.

4 Responses to ““Human Blood and Woman’s Milk””

  1. Tippets: 15th Century Fishing, New Mines Raise Concerns, Stream Etiquette | MidCurrent Says:

    […] is an ancient practice, and some of the techniques used in the Middle Ages may surprise you. Kenov Lokensgard does some digging into sporting texts […]

    Like

  2. New Discovery of Early Fishing Text | The Literary Fly Fisher Says:

    […] in the Game Fisher’s Diary episode below, the notes are similar to the text identified as Tegernseer Angel- und Fishbucklein, dating to approximately 1500. This latter text was probably created as a guide to fishers employed […]

    Like

  3. Never Yet Melted » Haslinger Breviary Says:

    […] predates the patterns listed in both the Treatyse of Fysshynge with an Angle (1496) and the Tegernseer Angel- und Fishbucklein (1500), the two earliest sources of artificial fly patters post Classical Antiquity, which featured […]

    Like

  4. Yale acquires Haslinger Breviary | The Literary Fly Fisher Says:

    […] the dates identified above). Hoffman is known in angling literature circles for his amazing book, Fisher’s Craft and Lettered Art: Tracts on Fishing from the End of the Middle Ages, and other […]

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