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Tiger Pillow

A poem or saying inscribed on a pillow soothed the owner.
China, Octagonal Pillow, 12th-early 13th century, stoneware with brown and white slip

African headrests are powerful objects. The figures on this Luba headrest are female ancestors who literally and figuratively support the chief.
Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Headrest, about 1880, wood, beads, and string


key idea
The Power of Pillows

Pillows with magical powers appear in many Chinese folktales and superstitions. There is a tale about the adventures of a man who could climb inside his pillow and be magically transported to other places. One of the legendary Taoist Immortals is said to have used a pile of three books of Taoist teachings as his pillow, to inspire “pure and elegant” dreams. A folk medicine recipe called for filling a wooden pillow with herbs and other substances. After a year of sleeping on the pillow, the recipe claimed, “white hair will turn black, new teeth replace those fallen out, and hearing and sight will grow clear.”

The scholar Kao Lien, writing in 1591, recommended porcelain pillows because they “brighten the eyes and benefit the pupils.” When night comes, he claimed, “one can read finely printed books” using such a pillow. He also noted that porcelain pillows offered soothing coolness during hot weather. Although this pillow is stoneware rather than fine porcelain, it too would have had that cool quality.

January 2007