The Spirits of Crossbones Graveyard

The Spirits of Crossbones Graveyard

Time, Ritual, and Sexual Commerce in London
Sondra L. Hausner
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 08/29/2016
Format: Paperback 10 b&w illus.
ISBN: 978-0-253-02136-6
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Every month, a ragtag group of Londoners gather in the site known as Crossbones Graveyard to commemorate the souls of medieval prostitutes believed to be buried there—the "Winchester Geese," women who were under the protection of the Church but denied Christian burial. In the Borough of Southwark, not far from Shakespeare's Globe, is a pilgrimage site for self-identified misfits, nonconformists, and contemporary sex workers who leave memorials to the outcast dead. Ceremonies combining raucous humor and eclectic spirituality are led by a local playwright, John Constable, also known as John Crow. His interpretation of the history of the site has struck a chord with many who feel alienated in present-day London. Sondra L. Hausner offers a nuanced ethnography of Crossbones that tacks between past and present to look at the historical practices of sex work, the relation of the Church to these professions, and their representation in the present. She draws on anthropological approaches to ritual and time to understand the forms of spiritual healing conveyed by the Crossbones rites. She shows that ritual is a way of creating the present by mobilizing the stories of the past for contemporary purposes.

Author Bio

Sondra L. Hausner is Associate Professor in the Study of Religion, St. Peter's College, at the University of Oxford.


“In one sense this is a book about the role of sex work in English society, past and present. At the same time it is a profound meditation on how such work sheds light on changing relations between community and capital, on how ritual is a source of both repetition and creativity in contemporary England, and on how anthropology and history can talk to each other in productive and deeply nuanced ways. . . . I read it in one sitting, which was an unusual pleasure.”
 — Simon Coleman, University of Toronto

“Hausner's is an affectionate and sympathetic portrayal of the Crossbones ritualists, and it is excellent to see this tradition receiving scholarly attention”
 — Reading Religion

“This monograph would be best for people grounded in anthropology, religion, and English history, but offers many insights to nonexperts. It would be a good addition to any university library.”
 — Religion and Gender

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Table of Contents

Introduction Set And Setting
1. The Myth of the Winchester Goose
2. Medieval Bankside
3. Shamanism and the Ritual Oscillation of Time
4. The Virgin Queen and the English Nation
5. Southwark, Then and Now
Conclusion Making the Present
Epilogue Crossbones Garden

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