The Holder and the Crusher

This device has a long history. It’s a tool used by cooks, magic maidens and healers. Thousands of years ago, the Aztec and Maya used a similar utensil made of basalt for cooking. Evidence reveals Native Americans created mortars in bedrock and used a pestle to grind acorns and other nuts.

The mortar is a strong bowl, or as history has shown, an indent in a hard surface with the capability to hold material. The dimension of the vessel varies, ranging from the size of a dessert bowl to a barrel. It’s usually made of hard wood, ceramic or stone.

The pestle is the fat round-ended stick or club which grinds, crushes and mixes the material in the mortar.

Mortar and Pestle
Two examples of wooden mortar and pestle found at Port Royal, Nova Scotia.

From its conception, mortar and pestle were used for the purpose of creating medicine. The close relationship between the pair continues, and the mortar and pestle image often appear on medical prescriptions.

In fiction, characters who work magic are often well-versed in the use of the tool. They crush herbs and other plant material to create potions and magical pastes. Some prefer wooden mortars, but many prefer the roughness of stone. In a pinch, it can also be used as a throwing weapon.

The young haulfin in Shadows in the Stone happened upon one while visiting the Midway Keep…

Isla had reached the end of the room. The centre display unit ended, leaving a path to the opposite side. Natural light poured in from two tall windows. Sundry items—lanterns, candles, flint and firesteel kits, tinderboxes, hand mirrors and folding knives—filled the tables near the openings. On the sill sat a miniature statue of a dragon beside a small dish and pestle akin to what Alaura used to mix herbs. Three books similar in size leant against the glass frame.

If your stories contain magic, healers or herbs and your characters have never used a mortar and pestle before, perhaps you could introduce them to the tool.

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