Although at first sight the badges seem incredibly rude, they do in fact tell us a great deal about medieval popular belief. Essentially, the function of these badges seems to have been apotropaic; that is, items that would, through their obscene imagery, deflect the unwanted attention of the ‘evil eye.’ The idea being that the evil eye would be so transfixed by the obscene badge that it would avoid the badge’s wearer. The principle of using obscene imagery to deflect evil spirits was well known from Roman times, having been described by Plutarch, and perhaps surprisingly survives to this day in some Buddhist countries. As deflectors of bad luck the badges would, by definition, be bringers of good luck, perhaps more specifically in the search for love or sex!
While some of the badges are explicitly sexual, others seem to incorporate a certain amount of humour, and it is difficult not to imagine the medieval badge makers really letting their hair down with the designs of these badges and simply having some fun!
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