A very peculiar practice

The poet Phillip Larkin wrote that ‘Sex was invented in 1963’, a wry nod to the lingering influence of Victorian morals on 20th century Britain. But earlier centuries were often much more licentious than we think. The seventeenth century writer John Aubrey compiled a series of accounts of English folk traditions under the title Remaines of Gentilisme and Judaisme in which he describes an unusual practice:

Young wenches have a wanton sport which they call moulding of Cockle-bread, viz. they get upon a table-board, and then gather up their knees and their coates with their hands as high as they can, and then they wabble to and fro, as if they were kneading of dowgh, and say these words, viz.

My dame is sick and gonne to bed,
And I’le go mould my Cockle-bread.

I did imagine nothing to have been in this but meer Wantonnesse of Youth …But I find in Burchardus…one of ye articles of interrogating a young Woman is, “If she did ever, subigere panem clunibus, and then bake it, and give it to one that she loved to eate: ut in majorem modum exardesceret amor.” So here I find it to be a relique of Naturall Magick, an unlawfull Philtrum.

Aubrey presumably reverted to Latin to conceal the details of the ‘wantonesse’ from unlearned readers: subigere panem clunibus translates roughly as ‘place buttocks on bread’. In other words, the practice mentioned by Burchardus (writing a century earlier) was an amorous spell that consisted of a woman moulding bread dough with her buttocks, baking it and gifting it to the (presumably unsuspecting) object of her desire. All this was ut in majorem modum exardesceret amor – ‘in order to inflame greater love’!