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W'itchcraft and Magic in Europe

Volume 3.The Middle Ages


Ceneral Editors

tsengt Ankarloo (lJniversitv of Lund)

Stuart Clark (University of Swansea)

withcraft and n.ragic lie in Hebreu'and other

,ur( r('n( Nt':u' llrrstcrn r'ultures and in the Celtic, Nordic, and Gertnanic
Ir,rrlrtrorrs ol tlrt' r-orrlirrent. For tr.vo rnillennia, European folklore and
rrtrr,rl lr.rvt' lrr't'rr irrrlrrrt'rl lvitlr thc belief in the sr-rpernatural,yielding a rich
lrrrvr' r,l lrtslot tt's.ttt,l lnl,tg('s.
ll rr,lt,t,tlr ,tnrl ,\lrryir irt l'.rrropt t'orrrlrines traditional approaches of politi, ,rl, l, r,,,rl, ,urrl :rrr r.rl lrrs(,,r r,rrrs r,vitlr ;r critical synthesis clf culturai anthro;rrr1.1,,1. lrr,,l,,t r,.rl 1,r1, 1r,,1,,1i1', ,rn,l gt'tt..lct- strtclics.'Ihe series provides a
111.rlr'rrr, ',r lrr,l.rrlt .urvt'\' ,l tltc sttpt't-tt.tttrr:rl belieft of Europeans frott-t
,nr, r.nl lnn(., l, tlrt l,rr'sr'rrt ,l.rv. l:.rt lr volttrrtt' of this ambitious serics
r.rrl,urr,, tlrl rl.rl. ,,1 ,lrslrrrr,.r rtrlr,',1 s, ltol.trs t'ltosctt firr their expertise in f,

l'lrt'rrrots oI


\Mitch cra{:t and Magic in Europe

The Middle Ages


l),rtlt( rrl,tt ('t.r ()l t('l',t()tl



Vrl. -l
Vol. 5

Wrtr lrt r.rl( ,rrrtl M.rsrt rn l:uropt': lli[rlit':rl lttcl l)aqan Societies
Wrtt ltt r',rli rrrttl Mrrgit irr lirrrol.rc: Arrcicrrt (lreece and Ilonre
Witr Irt r':rli .rrrtl Mrrgic irr lirrrol.rc: The Miclclle Ages
Witclrt'r:rtt urrd M:rgic in Etrnrpc: Thc Period of theWitchTrials






The Eieirteenth and Nineteertth

Vol. (r Witchcraft and Magic in Er-rrope: The Tkentieth Oentury

lllll A'l lll()Nlr l)l{lrSS


First published in 2002 by


Continuum intprint

The Tower lluilding,



York Road, London SEl 7NX

O The Contributors 2002


British Library Cataloguing in publication Dara

catalogue rccord -for this book is auailable

_from the British Library

Iilrr.qt Ankailoo and Sntdrt Clark

l'n l(





485 89003 B HB
0 485 89103 4 PB

All r irilrts *'st'r'vt'tl. N. p;111 .f this publication may be reproduced,

.r rtllrt'v,rl svst('r)1, or transrtrittecl in any form or by any n1e:rns,
t'lt'i rrrrrrt , rrrt't lrlrrit ul, plrot.,c'opyinla ()r otherwise, without prior
Pr,r'rrrissiorr irr writing fn>nr the publisher

\l()r('(l il)

l.,,tn'tr Jolly, Uniuersity of Hatuaii

lr,rPtt'r 1: Definitions of Magic

I I rstoriographic Models


2: Ileliefs about Magic: Conceptual

Shifts and the Nature

of the Evidence


llrt'(lonversion Phase and the Early MiddleAges

l',rr,rtlisnr Shifts in and after theTwelfth Century
I lrt' l{ise of Magic in the Late Fourteenth and Fifteenth



.l: 'fhe Practice of Magic: Popular and CourtlyTraditions

I\lr',lrt'rrl Magic: Healing Body and Sor.r1
'l rt'lrvt'r us lronr Evil': Protective Formulas, l\ituals,



rrrr r

lt't s rrncl Talisn'rans

( '.rr(nrllirrg tl.re Future: popular Forms of Divination

( )r t rrlt I(rrowledge: Sorcery and Necromancy

l,rrirr' :ls Elttertaillnlent

I'\I{ I '.


(,tIIt,tt itttt


rrrrrl lrorrrr.l irr (ir.t..rr llr-it:rrrr lry

llookt r.rli (ll,rrlr) I rrl



l?mtdvcyt', L;rttd LJniyt'rsity

Irrtr,rrltrt titltt

TVpesct by (loltrrrrrrs l)csiqrr Lttl, I{errtlitrs




Irr r.rr,,t's of



'tlrc I)lst


Wrtr lrt r':rli <tr' liolltl,\tttr?

I lr.rl,lct l: 'l'lrt' ( )ortt r'1rt <tl''liollrlr'ttttt:

I lrr' ( ottt ('l)l ol"lit,llrl,',rttt

Mt'rrl,rlrlrt's .rlrrl llt'lrt'li




LVitclrcroli and Magft in Europe:Thc Middle Agcs

Speaking Out
Fate and l)estirry
I)rosperity and Enr,1.
The Hunran Soul






(.lrapter 2: Superstition and Magic in the Gernlanic Law

(.lr:rpter 3: Early Canon Law and Carolingian Legislation to



Ti,olldt|nr l\ituais: Practice ancl Performance

l)crfirrnring Scidr: For Better or'Worse

'l'hc Mythical C)risin of Scidr
Irn'r, jrr:'['he l)rinre Sci dkorra
( )r)inrr: Mytlric:rl (lhie fiain and Mtster of Seidr
( it'rrrlt'r.,rrrtl tlrt' l'clfirnrrance of Scidr in Mytholoeical Narratives
I lrt"ll.r,liti.rr .f',Sr,ir)r ls :t l)ivinatiorr llitu:rl ir-r the Saga Literature
l,,,rlr;,,rrr', I itrl Vt,rlv:rls l)crfirrrrrence of Scidrat Herj6lfsnes
l rr',;rrt'rrt 'llr,'rIr,.s irr Ar't'otrrrts of Scidr
I lr, ( rrlt ,,1 rlrt. I i,r/ri.rrrtl ()tlrcr l)rivute llituals

iuld Thirteenth

l r lot I tt,',1 M.rlt'r.',rlt'n,-t'

lr.rlrlr,rr rr .rrr,l lrrs l:oslt.r'rrro(lrt'r Iiiglrtirrg thc Or-rtlaw C]rettir
K,,tl.,, ll ll tl,rt rrrs ,\r'ir)r'l\vir't'rvitlr lris F;rrrrilv
n l)(
'ltol),tt( n ( ts .rrrtl l{ itrr.rls
l irtllrlrttttt,ttt,l I ot'r'

l l,.rl ,,r l)t


ro\': l lrt.Arrrlrrsrrity o1'l)t.r-tirrrrils.-frolld6mr

(.lr.r1r1t'v .i: 'l'lrt' I t'g,rl (.orlr': I,rrv.rrrtl li'i.rl

I lrt' ( lr.rl I .rrv I r.rrlrtrt'rr


( lrilpter 6: Sorcerer andWitch

( lrlpter 7: Superstition, Magic andWitchcraft







Bibliographical Note





Iidtuard Pct c rs, ( I n i lc s i t y ttf- Pu n s ), Iyu i,t

Ohrptcr 1: Strperstitiorr urrd M:rgit'fiorrr Atrgtrstirrt'to Isitlor-t'ol'



rrf the


Sorrrcthirrs Hrrs Flappcnccl

( luilt rncl llesponsibilities

5: Politicat Sorcery






( ll)lpter


'l'lrc Sor'rll ( )r-q.rrrizrrtiorr ot'tlrc l-lrrv

'liill lrrtl l{itrrll





.lripter,l: The Legal andTheological Literature of theTwelfth

Knowledee ancl Destiny: Tiolldrimr Beliefs in the Old Norse






theT[rn of the Fourteenth Centtlry 218


on the Eve

Bengt Ankarloo and Stuart Clark
'|he aim of this volunre is to demonstrate how a common European concept of n-ragic enrerged during the Middle Ages; how the classical and
(lhristian heritage frorrr the late Ror.nan empire was fusc-d with local and
rcsional creeds in the r.rrissionarv areas of central and northern Europe;
i,r,hat such a regional, non-Christian belief-systern could look like, using as
:rn exanrple the rich n.raterial fiom the magic lore of pagan Scandinavia;
lrow the Chr-rrch modified its attitude rowards magic in conract with other
trrditions, sometimes by absorbing thern, sollletintes by trying to suppress
tlrerrr; and how Church and State, centralized po\vers in a decentrahzed
llurope, in which er-npire gevc way to nation statcs and tire political nrultiplicity of late nredieval Europe, gradually sharpened their attitude to nragic
in seneral, and to sorcery and witchcraft in particular, paving the way for
the violent outbreaks of rvitch persec-utions in early rnodern Europe.
While doing all this we should nevertheless renrember that by narrowly
fircusing on magic we run the risk of overst:rting its place in nredieval consciousness, and in the source nraterial it has left behind for us to explore. In
lris essay on the place of nragic in legislation and poiitics Edward Peters
rightly points out that'superstition, rragic and witchcraft [were] not always
nratters of gre:rt concern to ar-rthorities. Even in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the laws and theoretical literature concernirrg sorcery and
r.r,itchcraft ren'rained a very srnall part of an immense literature that was
chiefly devoted to the social and spiritual life of Christian Europeans.'
Another caveat is called for as r.l,ell. The rerrn Middle Ages Qnedium
rtt'uum) canre into use in the seventeenth century to designate an enlptiucss, the long parenthcsis frorn the fall of theWestern Enrpire to the revival
classical culture in the l\enaissance. To this ernptiness, this perceived
.rbsence of artistic refinenrent, werL. L'ventually added other deficiencies


'rrch as grors igrror.lnce. supcrstitiorr. sot'ial oppression, and dev.rstatirrg

r,vars and epiden.rics. This crr.rdc ntisrepresentation of a historical period
('ol11prisir1g over a thousand ye:rrs has now gcuerally been :rbandoned, but
tlte uneasy f':eling of sortrcthing chrk rind sirristcr still clings to tlte terur
rtredieval, lrrd rrll tltc rttorc strorruly'uvltt'rr it is rrsc,l irr t'ornrectir-rn wid-r
Irtltgic rrtcl witclrcrlfi. Wc un' rt'Pclttctlly lt'rrrin,lt',1 ol'tlris rrlrrrost srrbc'on,
st'iotts tl:tttut'r of'sirrrIlilit'.tliott vu'ltt'tr lltt'.trrllrols ol'llris l',rlurnt.t':rrrtrorr trs

Witthtra.fi artd Mttgic in Europe:The Middle Apes

asainst too easv generalizations about n'redieval rnentalities and ideas i1 the
of such a cornplex ancl ntr-rltiflrrior-rs history as that of rlagic ancl
witchcraft frorn St Augustine to rhe xt[alleus Maleficaruru.ln the words of


Kare, Jolly, 'the European-encoded ideas of nraqic as derronic, evil and

fearful, as rnedieval ancl backward, as r"rnscientiflc, irrational and uncivilizecl,

as solnethins "other", are hard to exorcize.These notions of nragic pervade
the way we think as rloder,s and are inerained in nroclern scholarship of

the Middle Aees.'

For nragic is in the mind.As a historical categorv it is constantly createcl
and recreated. lt can therefore be understood only in relation to other categories which are also undergoing this process of continuous reclefinition.
Son.retimes it is not only in relation to, but in direct opposition to certairr
concepts that it gets its nreaning: nragic is not relision, nor is it sciencc.
Sttch a tripartite and nrutually exclusive subclivision of the rlental rvorld
rv;rs krrrs used by scholars trying to envisage the historical developr.nent of
lrrrrrrls tlrirrkirrg ebout the,"vorld around hinr as a consecutive series of cosrrrt,logit's strrrtirrg in tl.re nragic mode and ending, triunrphantly,in the scit'rrtilir'.'l'lris is thc l.rositivist paradiunr as fornrulated by Conclorcet :rncl
( ()nr((' .rrrtl (lrr' s.r'i;rl lnthropologists of the late nineteenth century. Maeic

rrr llrt'ir vir'rv u,.rs;rssocirrtcrl rvitlr errrly n1alr as he childishly tried to niake
\('n\( ()l tlrt tl.rrrqr'r's:rrrtl r'xigt.ncics around hint. Lr so far as nragic is still
l.rrrrtl rrr nr()r(' .r(l\'.rr( t'tl sot'it'tir's, it is, thercfore, according to this vicw, to
l',' r,'t',,rt,lt',1,r\.rtr.rt.r\"rsrrr. tlrc l:rst rcll)nllrts of a superannuated mentalitl,.
I lr, , r rlr( r\rrt ol tltt' positir,'ist tlcvcloprrrerrtll paradigrn has resr-rltecl in a
l('n(l('n( \, itr lt't t'rrt st'lr6l:trslrip t6 jispensc altitgether u,ith the ternr
'lll,lt',1( ,ts ,ttt .tlrsolrt(t' st it'rrtilic (:ltcg()ry. It is rio longer regarded
as a r-rseful
I..l rrr tlt'sr r.rtrirrq t t'r-trrirr lrclrcfi rrrrd prectices in the past. But the concept
r(s<'ll lr,rs.r lrist.rv. lt lrls lrccn usctl in thc past in a polenrical anc] deroeal()r\' \vily to ctttpltusizc ccrtnirr rlspects of those beliefs that rvere consiclerc-d
to lrt'otrrsidc thc rrcceptecl w,ay of thinking abor-rt the rvoricl.The history of
rnrrr-lic has, thcrefbre, increasingly beconre conceptr-ral history (,r.
llL'.qrillsptsdiclttc to use the terrn coined by the the Gernran historrar.r
l{cinhard Koselleck, rvho defined the gcnre).The purposc is no longcr to
give an account of lvhat rnagic was, br-rt of'r.vhat it -uvas perceived to be at
any eiven tirne.

In the Middle Agcs ,ragic was rejccted as n.,,religion, becrruse the

nrain concern of the titncs was true religion.Today r,ve conclcrrrrr rrr.rgic.rs
non-science because our faith has long been in science.Trrkc tlrc (-ltcgory
olsuperstition.To thc rtreclieval scholur it nrennt thosc pnrcticr..s :urtl bclicfi
that were outside or in ol.rposition to (llrristilrr dot'trirrcs.'lirtl:ry sul)r'r.stition'insteacl ltlearls c()ttccpti()l)s rvitlr rro firurrtl:rtiorr irr, or rrr rlilr't't r'orrtr:rvctltitltl ill, logicill :rrrtl st'icrrtifit' krrorvlctlgt'. l;irsl rrrt',1rirrri'ir r',.lrqr,rrrs', tlrr'
rv<lrtl srt[,t'rstititlrr lrrrs t.tkr'tt ott (ltt' rtrt'rrrrrrrrq ol'ilr'.rli,rrr.rl',,r 'rrnsi lr.rrlilrt'.



In both cases truth finds its identiry with reference ro its perversion, i.c.
to the untrue. There were ditTerent ways of handling this dichotorty, the
extreme alternatives being inclusion and violent rejection. Missionary
Christendorn transformed and incorporated bits and pieces of pagan iore
ar-rd practices; and medieval magic used elenrents from the Christian Mass.
This syrnbiosis of opposing but closely related doctrines gives rise to ambiguities and doubts. The borderland between orthodox and heretical positions is sometiures so narrow that it takes a real expert, a demonologist
inquisitor like Bernhard Gui for exanrple, to tell which side anyone rs on.
But the representation of this opposition between true religion and false
nragic is altogether the work of a learned elite of church nren and universiry
scholars,'the cierical elite whose literate voices dominate the surviving evi.lcnce'. It is doubtfirl rvhethcr this durlisnr pitting saint ageinst rrrlgician
sives a true picture of popular attitudes and practices. Furthermore, this
learned and clearly visible opposition between magic and religion is blurred
by the revival in the twelfth century of the classical concept of natural magic
rs a particular cognitive skill, the ability of philosophers to rnanipulate the
natural world to create effects that appeared as miracles to ordinary people.
This 'white'magic eventually gained a certain position by being entertair-red both at the new universities and at the royal and noble courts. A
doctrinal precondition for this was the emerging distinction between the
strpernatural and the occult, between the divine, and by extension saintly,
rcalnr of true r-r'riracles and the immanent secrets still to be found and used

rn the sublunar world. That is why a nroclern scholarly tradition, r.nost

yrrorninently represented by Lynn Thorndike, has studied this rleclieval
u,hite n-ragic as a kind of proto-science with experinlental procedures as a
ke'y element. But this 'white' tradition was open to criticism from the
qlrardians of faith. ln 1217 the bishop of Paris issued a formal condemnation of 219 propositions drawn frorn the work of ancient thinkers. And
'l'homas Aquinas, in a farnous dictun.r,
declared that 'everything that visibly
()ccurs in this world can be the work of denrons'. The devil could interr,'ene in the course of natural causation, thereby lvorking what seemed to
Irtrmans to be wonders.
Nevertheless, the sophisticated and versatile definition of 'white'n.ragic
rrright have opened the way for a r-nore relaxed and tolerant attitude of the
, hurch to popular supcrstition ls a nrinor aberration but for ariother
r))portant change of focus taking place with the appearance in the high
Middle Ages of organized hcrctical lr()vclncllts. Larse scale cloctrinal dis\cl)t wils sudde rrly sccl) t() bc tlrrc:ttoting rhe vcrv firunclati<tns of society,
the Clhurc[r itselIls wcll .rs rrll OIrr-istirrrr st:rtt's. It bccurrrc:l nllttcr of great

()llcenr filr tlrosc in prlr,vcr t() [)r()t('(

l (ltt' 1rt':rsltntry rrrrtl tltc grorvirrg

ttrblut Prolctltriltt fi'ottt tltt'tt'tttpt.rtiorrs ol srrIrvt'r'srr.,t'( r'('('(ls. l{t'jt't-tiorr w.rs

g,rilrirrg gtrrtttttl,rs tlrt'(llrrrlt'lr torrsolttl.rlt'tl rts 1ro111r()n.ln(l st'r'rrllr-r-trlt.r's


Witchcra-ft and Magic

in Europe:T'\rc Middlc Agcs

orglnizcd royal judiciaries throughout their territories. Magic became ultinrrrtcly both a spiritual and physical crinre, especially, of course, in its
tlcrrrorrized forr.r'rs of sorcery and witchcraft.
'l'hc account of medieval rnagic given in this volunre is indeed a complt'x onc. It is certainly not the grand and simple story of a journey from
,l:rrkrrcss towarcls light, but a survey of multiple tendencies, of contrasts and
oppositiorrs bctwccn learned and folk traditions, between a
. lrrssi.'ll--(llrristirrr treclition and di{ferent substrata of Celtic, Cermanic and
Slrrr,'ic 'p:rg:rrrisrrrs'.'lhese shifting paradignrs of n'ragic are developed in a
rrrrrltiplit'ity ol- sorrrr'es-sernrons, laws, learned treatises, and, towards the
t'ntl ol tlrt'pr'r'iotl, cvcn in court records produced by the inquisition and
(ltt' st't ttlltt' (-()ults.
It',rvirrs,rsirlc (lrc rrotiorr of-prclgress there is still the problerr-r of devel()l)nr('n(.rl strrgt's :rrrtl lristoric;rl periodization. Are there tiures of crucial
(r'rrrrslor-rrrrrtiorrs? ls tlrc tirrrirrq of- these transformations the sanle over the
wlrolt' lirrrrrpc;rrr rrrc;r?'l'lrcsc r'orrrplexities notwithstanding it is possible to
rlist'r'rrr Ilrc rrruin r'lrrrrrt'tcristic's ol clifferent periods within the medieval
rrrillcrrrriurrr. -)olly rccogrrizcs tlrrce: first, the early missionary campaign
witlr lccultr.rmtiorr, iln rcc()l)ulr(:ldrrtion betlveen Chistian and pagan farth,
as its pervacling strrrtcgli then the twelfth century renaissance, when
scholasticisnr uncler thc infltrurcc of cl:rssic:rl, Arabic and Jewish thinking,
reflecting on the nature of knou,ledge, cleveloped a nlore complex model
of nragic including the natural or 'white' varietyi and finally the cultural
dislocation associated with the denrographic and econonric crisis of the
mid-fourteenth century, wl-ren magic was gradually being interpreted as a
coherent and organized demonic cult, pointing the way to the early modern consciousness with its'heightened discourse over r,vitchcraft and the
increase in accusatior.rs of witchcraft and heresy'.
This tirnetable is, of course, valicl only for ',vest-central Europe. In the
trans-Elbian and Baltic north the impact of Christian acculturation wes
first felt in the high Middle Aees. The case of the Scandianvian north is
particularly interesting as an exanrple of this later incorporation into the
European nrainstrearn. At least in the eleventh and probably long into the
twelfth centLlry, pagan and Clhristian culture lived side by side in the north.
The literate Christian elite was. therefore. as in the case of Sr.rorri
Sturluson, closely farniliar rvith the heritage of the olcler pagan culture
with its cosrnological and heroic poerns and the i'aruily sagls produced for
and centred around the chieftain clans, the ruling strata o1 Viking socicty.
This happy overlappir-re of pagan rrncl nrissionrrry Christiarr culturc has lelt
behind a rich source nraterirrl ftrr thc stucly oIrr rrrlgrc tmr]itiorrnvhiclr was
still unafhctccl by chssii:ul lrrrl (lhristiln irrHrrt'rrt't's, rrrrd wlrich, possibly,
corrld tcll us s()nlctl)ir)g:t[rorrt tlrt'rrngic plcvrrilirrg irr tlre (;('nlriulir'.ll'c.ls
olccrrtr,rl IirrroPr'Irctirrc tlrt'v lvt'n'( ]lrr-rsti.rrrizt'rl. It rrrir.r,lrt Irt' n'u,rrrtlirrg t<r

, r,nrl):lrc the r,vorld of magic in the scattered legal and ecclesiasticai sources
,,1 rlrt' carly Middle Ages with the trolld(imr of pagan Scandinavia, where
',r,ilr'( ('s are abundant. In fact, the list of knowr] practices in the early

,,,ntirrcntll Germanic law codes is long. The practices and beliefs con,l, rrrrrt'tl there include a large number of charn'rs, and the practices of ritual
l'l, rsrrrg arld cursing, healing, divining, lot casting, fortune telling, stornr
ru\rlg, herb lore, and the use of anrulets and talisrnans. But Catharina
lr rrrtlvcre in her essay on the Old Norse trolldtimr concept is carefui to

r\,'r(l \u('h cornparisons. The theoretical and nrethodological pitfalls are

r,,(' rr.lny to allor,v for a direct juxtaposition of eleventh century Iceland
urrl, \,rv, sixth century Saxonia. Br-rt in recompense the material allolvs for
,r, .,,lnrir'.rhly plasti,' inrage o[.ln aristocratic peasenr rocicty whcre nr.rgic
\\ r'.,u) inrportant and on the whole toleratedpart of daily life even among
tlr, r rrlirrg elite and across the gender lines.
ll r r,rdizrrtion pays attention to discontinuities, to the enrergence of new
l,rr,r(lrsnls ancl dratnatic social transformations. Still, there are qtrestions
rl,,,rrl t'orrtinuities and long-range developnrental tenclencies that are legitrr rt( t() usk, in particular in a series of six volunres like this one, stlrtiirg
ir rtlr llrt'elrly beginnings of European w'itchcraft ancl nragic and ending in
rlr, 1,1,'qq'116. One sr-rch set of qr-restions about continuities rnight deal with
rlr, ,,,rrvcrging factors rvhich encouraged the linking of sinrple popular
, r,,.lr.rrrti rituals with the sophisticated depravity of dernonic worship and
rrtrr,rl rrrrrrcler, in short the relationship between popular rnagic lore and
rlr, lr',rrncrl cloctrines as they emerged in the late Middle Ages and were
lrrllr t'rrrployed during the great persecutions of the sixteenth and sevenr, , 11111 t t'rrturies.'We ate intrigued to learn, for instance, that the identificarr"n ()l s()rcerv ancl magic with heresy and both rvith drabolism increased
tr,,rr tlre rnirl-trvelfth centurv on; arrd that in 1217 confession in church
,r r', rrr.rtlt'rrranclatory for all Christians at least once a year.That of confes.,,r l)('(.urrc orrc of the rut'rst important pestoral roles for the clergy.The
,r',',r.n,u'\' zeal of this period of the high Middle Ages, rvhen the mendi, rrr ()rllcrs wllkecl the streets to fight against the sin of heresy, can be
,,,rrrl,.rt'tl to the intense clerical cncrgies nrobilized by the Protestant and
r rtlr,lrt rcfirrrnltious of the early nroclern period. In the satne category is
rlr, olrrt'lr,.rtiorr tlut thc litcrrrtrlrc of canot.t 1aw and incluisitorial procedure
1,, trrr'r'rr the lltc thirtecnth ancl the early fifieenth centuries laid down
l,,,tl1 111.' srrlrstlntive :rntl Proccrlurrrl gnrr-rnc{rvork f<rr tryine both heretics
ur,l ,,()r( ('l-r'r's, p:rrticulrtrlv :rs it c:rrric to cousicler tlrc latter urrilty clf iclolatry
rrr,l r rol.rtiorr of'tlrc Irir-sr ( lorttttt;tntlrttcttt.
\i t rn llrr' t'rrtl it rrrust [rt' r"'rrrplr:rsizt'tl tlr:rt tltt' t'ss;tys irr this voltttrrc
,lr,,rrl,l l,t'r't'.rrl ;rs r'otttri[ruti()ns (() llrc lristoly ol'trtrrgir'irr tlrc MitldlcAces
rr rt\ ()\\'rr lig,lrt. I ookrrrg irr(o tlrt'l).rsl ,u)(l lirrtlirrg orrly tlr.rt rvlrii'lr lr:rs lctl
ll1, l() llt, 1rt1'.1'111, tltt' lltt'r llls()ls ()l ,,tttst'l','t's,,1\ ll \\'('lt', is .tttotltt't'tltst()rtr'rn r)l lttslorY tlt,rt r^,'r'slr,,trltl lt1 trt,tvotrl.'l ltts,.ttt,,ttlY l,.',lottt'tl \\'('l).lv


Witchcra.ft and Magic

in Europe:The Middle Ages

t('nti()l) to all those tendencies and sensibilities that did not survive, that
[)('l'isl I c(l rrncler the inrpact of reckless acculturation perpetrated by colorrizr'rs ot' vurit'rus creeds and persuasions: conquistadors, explorers, mission-


.rt it's ruttl

sc lr

r> I



A,Icdieval A,tagic: Def nitions,

Beliefs, Practices
Karen Jol1y

Nl,rgic is inore a concept than a reaiitr,:The tcrnr i. .r w.r),()l (,rt(.1,,r,,

\\'r(l(' itrrry of beliefi and practices, ranging fronr rrstrologv ,rrr,l .rl, 1r,.,
,lr,rrrns ;rnd anrulets, to sorcery and necrornancy, trickcry rrrrtl (,nr(.rr,url
nr( n[,as practised by both laitv and ciergy,by those of higlr:rrrtl kru, so, t,rl
.t.rtus, educated and uneducated, and fbund in diverse sorlrces;rrrtl ,.,,rr
t, rts, including scicntific and r.nedical treatises, litr-rreical ancl otlrt,r rr.lr
1',r,)us docunrents, and iiterary texts. Horv cert.rin praeticcs irr rrrcdicvrrl
Irr.lre conle to be labelied rnagic. as opposed to scientific or relisious,
'li'l)('rlLls cln the perspective of the person usins the label, whether rr
rrr,',licvrrl co[rlnentator or a urodern scholar. Consequently, the sttrdy cli
rrr,rrqit'is the study of the systenrs oltthought that deflned rnagic in prrticu1,, \v;rvs, and the changes in thcse svstenrs over tinre.The concept of rnasic
r, tlrr'rr, a rvinclow into n.reclieval mentalities precisely because it rvas (and
r',) .r problentatic and er,,olving category in European history.This deflnilr,rl.ql 1)1o[]snr is furt]rer complicated rvhen exantining tire conrn.ron and
, (,rltl)' tr:rditions of nragic because they raise issr-res of class: those of the
lrl( r.rt('e'lite lvl.ro donrinate the."r,ritten sorrrces privilege certain rationalirrr'\ ()\'cl- others, making various distinctions between dc-rnonic nragic and
r lrrrstiun rliracle, natural verslls surpernaturel forces, black versus u,hite
,r,11,,r(', and hiqh and lorv fonns, nloreover, literary treatltlcnts add a flcrr.1;.11 sl9111snt to r-nagic.rs cnterrlrnnrcnt or trickery, particularly in the
,,,rrlt envirollluents. consequently, these variecl sources for ntagic rllay ()r
nr,rv r)()t reflect the reality of cornnron practice, for u,hich rve have less
'lrrr'r't evirle,ce. As a co,seqlrerce, n'rrch of the str-rdv ,f popular a,d
,,,rrr.tlv nr:igic rnr,rst consider the inrpact o[ tlre perceptions expressecl in
lrrr'r,rtc soLlrces: religious legislatior-l reearding nraqic, tlre'tlgh'tradition of
rrr,rrirr'/science anrong intellectuals, ancl the literarv use olnragic, treatecl in
!,r(,rt('l- tlepth in other essays of thrs series. Moreover, thcse perceptrons arc:
lrrrtlrt'r elaborated in the e:rrlv rloclern ancJ Moclern periods, cre.lting
rrr.(lrcr layer of rneanings thrt irnpinges on the scholarlv treatnient of


u,, t t-.

llrrrs, vanous authors, both nredieval and rnoclern, Llse the constrllct

,rr.rrirr' in difIereilt ways to clescribe c<>llectively a qroup of practices that

rlr, .rrrtlrors want to lirrk under this rubric as c)xceptional. what is exceptrr,11.1l ;1[11;111 rnagic in these clefinitiorrs ustrally arises fionr a perceivecl dif:
lr'rr'rr('c itr ntagic's rationrrlity. Maeical nroclcs of retionality oftcn involve e
tt,tl of- krrorvirtg cetttrerl irr thc principlc that n.rture contains hiilclen
\ u llr('s tlrlt prlrctitit)l)e t'\ ('.u'l [ros:rss ()r tilp fi)l- pnlctic:ll prrrposes, goocl or

rll Mlrgic

lts;trr lrltcrrLrtc rlttittrr:rlitV cllterq('s irr |t.s[.,rnst'[() \()n)e ltorlt)a-

lr\'( ( ilt('g()rV, ittt il('('('Itlt[tlc rv.ty

o1' krrorvirrg firr t'r:rrrrPle , rcvclrlcd, reliicrrtillt l.:rrou'lt'rli1t','l'lrrrs r,u'lr1t Iroltls tlrc
[rr':rt tir't.s (oq1'111,., r]t.lrr.rrtl* rrIon tlrc tlrt'or-t'ti.-

r',t,tts krtotl'lt'tlq..' ,rt- lr'rrt'ttt'tl.

ol t'rr'ltrtlt'tl, rl.rrqir',rl
,,rl li.rrtrt'rvorl. ol llrt'l)( r'\()ns



rlrt' rt'rrrr nr.rr,,ir.,rrrtl irs ()l)l)()\itr.,

Witclrraft and l4ogic irt Etrrope:Tlrc Nliddlc Agcs

r,vhcthcr that bc religion or scicnce. Further, social distinctions play intc>

thcsc vicrvs, prrrticularly r'vhen a literate elite cmployins emergcnt religious
or scierrtific rationalities dorrrir-rates rl.re disc--otrrse, often leavir-rg the con'rrrrorr pr:rcticcs of urrrgic in an cxclucled category, as dcmonic or lorv nrgic
'u,t'r'strs tlre r)rorc progrcssi.ne thinking of religion and science.
( )orrscrltrcrrtly,, thc use of the
rnaqic in nrost of the sources tells us
rrrox'llrorrt tlre u,orld vicr.vs of "vord
those using it than about actual pr.rctices.

'l'lrrrt [reirrg tlre cuse. it is c-ssential to distinguish befiveen modern and

rrrt'tlit'r,,rl rrotiorrs olrn:rgic, arrcl to dissect sclnre of the processes th;rt pro.lrr,.'rl tlrt'sc rrotiorrs. lrefilrc cxrrnining actual practices that were classified
.rs srr, lr. Sintt' tlre ('()nstlu('t is so c'leeply enrbeddecl in the knorvledge sys*
(t'rrrs ol lrrrnrp,.'.1;1 Iristory, tlte topic of rtragic is central to the stucly of
rrr.',lrt'r.':rl r'trlttrr-t'.'l lris t crrtrrrlitV is evident in three interrelated w'ays.
l;irst, nrrrgit'is triticrrl to thc rrioclerr) study of nredieval thousht because
ol'tlrr' ur'ste r.rr irrtt'ller'ttrrrl rrrodcl of 'progress'that posits cleveloprnent from
rrrrgic tlr-orrglr rcligiorr to scicrrce. l'lris paraclignr of n.ragic as an earlv developrrrcrrtul strlsc ()t'rrrtionrrlity' rftccts tlrc way liroderlriry conceptualizes the
Midcllc Ages u,ithirr thc l:trgcr scopc of L,r-rropean history. For ex:rn.rple, if
nragic is constnrccl rrs a first stage prececling progress to a seconcl stalle of
reiigion, ti.ren the process o[ '(]hristi.rnizution' is understood, by both
nrcclicvJ Christian atrthors ancl rnany rnoclern schcllars, as the triulrph of
'religious thir-rkins' ol,c'r'rrragical thinking.' hr so f:rr as lragic persists, it indicates a l:rilure of thc' religion. In this anachronistic paradig1l1, the so-callecl
Christian Midclle Ages, with thcir rctcntion of rnagical thinking, slor'ved
dorvn or even itnpedecl the nr:rrch of prouress tor.vard scientific ratiolralit\,.
Seconcl, magic is central tcl thc stud,v of medieval society l)ot only
bcc;ursc of thcse probienratic nrodern constrLictions of progress, but also
because tl.re conceptualiz:rtion of lrlagic wlrs e central issue in the Middle
Ages as rvell. Changing clefinitions of rnagic r,r,.ere indeecl p:rrt of the cultural shifts in the period 5(X)-1500, especially irr the intellectual chenges
that ir-rcreasingly separated ancl ileflnecl elite, acadeillic cultures fi-onr popular cultures, eviclent in the evolving clistinctions betrneen high lnd 1or,r,',
white ancl b1ack, natural and lrnnatural rnasic.
T'hircl, the stucly of nreclieval nragic in colltext highlights the convergence of three lines of l:aclition in European societies: thc classical or
(]raeco-llorran heritage, Christian beliel arrcl prlcticc, rrrrd krcrl 'incliceuous' (Oeltic, Ccrruenic, Sl:rvic, Scanciinrrvi:rn) tr:rditiorrs. -l-he corrrplex
ilrterplay bet'nvecn thcology, nrctlicirrc encl lirlklorc, tlrc tcrrsiorrs [retrvcerr
orthodoxy ancl l-reresy, antl thc qrorvinq gup lrctrvr'r'rr poptrllr rrrrrl tirnrurl
religion are rel]cctiorrs of tlris rrrultit'trlttrr:rl lrcrit:r{t'tlr:r( r'rrrt'rgr's rrr llrc



Irt liglrr ot' tlris pltt'ttotttt'ttologl' ol'

t.tt-ottgr'tl :tl)Pf():r( lt 1,, ll11'


nr,l!t,l( . lltis t'rs.rv l,rLt's :r tlu-t'r.'

(, ('\.unrunli tl liotrt llut t' lrt tsl)tr ttvt'r,

Medieual Magic: Definition.s, BeliaJ:,


lristoriographical, conceptual and contcxtual or pragnlatic. I)art One,

'l)cfinitions of Magic,' exarnines thc rvicJer historiographic issues in the
:trrdv of nragic as a relative terr.n, focusing on solne nlajor shifts in this
r r'r)trlr),partly as the result of influences frorn crlltrlral anthropology as u.ell
.rr clranring conceptions of medieval Christianity. Part Tho,'Beliefi abor-rt
IV,rsic,'proposes a theoretical model of paradienr shifts in the Mrcldle Ages
tlr,rt caursed redefinitions of the concc'pt nragic in the donrinant clisconrses
,'l (lre period.These shifts are located at the initial conversion periods, in
tlrt' trvelfth-century renaissance, and in the charged environnteirt of the fiftr't'nth century. PartThree,'The Practice of Magic', exanliltes the particular
l,r.r(ticcs associated with nragic in the conrlnorl ancl courtly traditions in
Irvt crtesories, healir-rg, protection, divination, occr-rlt knor,vledge and
, rrlt'r'tainrnent, r.vith examples drawn fi'orn Ireland to l{ussia, Scandinavia
rr, l1;111r in the period 500-1500.
l lris tripartite approach is ir.r sonre ways like eating an artichoke, bv
,trrpping the outer layers of the moclern constructs to exp()se thc irrncr
rrr,',lrt'v:rl, predorninantly Christian, croncepts arising out of the heart of the
nr,rl(('r', nragical practices thenrselves. Much of what lve take to be the
, ,',('r)('c of rnagic practice r,vill turn out to be only the outer 1:iyers of per-

,,lrtiorrs of rnagic, each giving a 1t1ere taste of ectual practices and beliefs
(lr.rt .rr'(' no longer available to us directly.

Medicval Mapic: Definitiorts, Beliefs, Prattices


Definitions of Magic

'l'lrc (ircck prule(ct ancl Latin magia contain within them the seeds of the
lr:rrrrrlisrrr firr rrr:rsic :rs cieveloped in succeedins ages, primarily the sense of
'otlrcrrrcss' (t-trck 191t5: 3-9, 25-16, Mathiesen 1995:757:Tavenner 1966:
I li). Mluic is rrrost olten a label used to identify ideas or persons rvho faIl
orrtsiclc tlre rrornrs of society anci are thereby r-narked as special or nonrrorrrr;rtive, eithcr for the purpose of exclusion or to heighten a sense of
nrvsterious power inherer-rt in their status. This alien quality of nragic
rrppcirrs rlso in the Clhristian tradition.The three Magi at Christ's birth are
ccltrcatecl l)ersi:rrrs, foreigners in the l\on-ran u,orld, who enter the story as
keepers of the arcane knowledge of astrononry/astrologv, creatinq a tension
magi as both sorcerer and rvisenrcn
(Jacobus cleVoragine I-1, 1993: 1:7t)). Christian resistance to the krnd of

irr the Christian tradition of the

secret knorvledge ancl nranipulative power inrplied by tire iabel rrngrr-s is

evident in the Nerv Testanrent storv of Sinron Magus (Acts 8: 9-25), often
elaborateci r-rpon in later legends and aclaptecl in saints' lives (facobus de
Voraginc 89, 1993: I:340-50; Ferreiro 199(r). Sinion's attenlpts to buy
clivine power frorn the Apostles to supplernent his own nragic:rl prowess
contribntes to the clichotonry bet'uveen rnagic as derlonic and heretical
versus the rrriraculous and divine po\\rer bestowed by Ciocl.This distinction
beconres flndamental in the rninds of nredieval European clerics. In theorv, a sharp line cxistccl betweer-r rnagic as illusions of the devil and the
ver:y real, divine power exhibited in the Eucharist ancl irr lniracles perfi,r'rrrcJ bv s:rint'.Tlris et,'lcsiastic.rl .lrralisrrr pittinq:lirrt :tglin:t rrr.tgieian a frgure often denronized rvith the other scapegoats in nredieval society.
heretics,Jer,vs and rvitchcs - is;r porvcrfr.rl model, but shor"rld not be taken
at f:rce value or applied too 1iterally to popular practice. Popr-rlar culture, of
u,hicir the connxrn traclition of nr:rgic is a part, is an :rntorphor-rs entitv
that cxists in :r symbiotic relationship r,vith the nrore clearly articuleted fornral culttrre pronulgatccl bv the prirnarilv clcrical clitc whose literate
rroicc-s clonrinrrte the survivin g evi clcnc c.
Poptrlar practices in nrcdicval Errrt>pc, inclrrcling firlk krror,vlcdge of
rrrcclicirul rcrriedies, spcciul pl;rrrts or I'rolv placcs, rrrrrrrlcts, t'llrnns rrrttl
curscs, oftor rrrisc out of tlrc ( lcltic, Sr'lrrrtlirr:rvi:rrr. ( ie rrrr:rrrir' :rrrtl Sl:r",ic
r'ultrtrt's ol- lruropt'.:rs rr.'.'ll rrs tlcrivc supl)()rt firrtt rt'sirlttrtl ( itrrt'r'o l(ottt;ttt
tt':rtlitiotrs. lrtttrrpl'.111 t,t't tt,rr'trl,u lrrrrgtt,rr{..'s in tlrc Mitltllt'Arit's lt.rtl rto u'ottl

tlnt fi-urctioned iike'magic'to elrcompass these various practices undcr a

rirrgle rubric of probleiratic or excluded practices; rather, classical rragia
rrrtertwined rvith paganisrn and l.reresy as large categories of exclusion
(Mr.rchenrbled 1994: 9). Supcrctitio was olten used by churchnteir as a
rrrilder term of opprobriunr to inclicate the illogicality of false belief
(lirown 199(t:35).Thus popr-r1ar practices are only niagic in so lar as the
, lrrssical Christian ternplate is inrposed on thenr by cl.rurchnren, rvho do sir
lirr different reasons, r'vith diiferent results, in dilferent contexts.The sanre
.rPplies to practitioners of such arts, r,vho fall under a variety of condenrnat.ry labels in lar.vs, canons, and senno.s - as sorcerers, lvitches. deathrvtlrkers, masicians and diviners, rvith strong associations

lvith heathenism

we knorv very little about these put:rtive nraciciens

l,cyond the condemnations; the unifving labels of rragicians or heretics
,,nlv tel1 us sonlething abor-rt the lvorld vielv of the ecclesiastical authors.
.rrrcl heresy. Flou,ever,



r.odern scholarship is confro,ted with two i.tertwini,g

interacting in rnedieval Er-rrope: the continuitv of folk practices that

,rn' rapidly absorbing and adapting Christian and classical ide:rs, ancl the
slufting paradignrs of nragic developed in serrnons, lalvs ancl tre:rtises as a
rr':ry of categorizing illegitinrate versus legitirnate knowledge and priicticc
l,rrrtl as a way of establishing the authority of the church over knorvledge).
l'lrerse latter, authoritarian nrodels donrinate the .,vritten evidcnce; conse,lrrcDtly it is easy to assuirle these intellectual distinctions about rnagic perr.rtlecl medieval society. However, popular practices of heahng, clir,'inatron
()r'protection frorn invisible forces, less readilv accessible in the surviving
(l()crlments, do not ahvays fit neatly into these intellectual categor.ies. The
',r'rrrbiotic relationship between the comnron tradition and the ehte definitr()r)s of rnagic, each shaping the other, creates a large grcy area of popular
l,r.rctices in Christian Europe that are not clearly nrasic or nriracle, but iie
r)r) :l spectrum in between.The popular practices lyinu across the rniddle of
tlrrs spectrum, while often conservative in handling traditionrl knorvledge,

.rr(' constantly adapted to changing circunrstances, inciudins the ecclesiasti, ,rl lnd intellectual winds of change. In tr-rrn, the intellectual changes in the

rrr.ruic-religion paradier.n, evolving out of new assulr)ptions about knor.vl,,lqe and nature, tl'ren seek to recategorizc cristing pr.rctices tos-ards one
, ntl of the spectrunr or the other.Thr,rs, the degree to rvhich Er.rropean folk
Ir'rttcclies adapted to a Clhristian worlci viclv creates a colttestccl zone in the
,lr;rrrging clefin'itions of ntagic over thL- corrrirrg ccntur-ies.

I I ist ori qqru1tl r ic


l'lris corrtplcxity of prtttitt't,t't-srrs tlrt'or'1 is rrot lirrritt'tl to tlrt'rrrt'tlrcvrrl

It't iotl itst'lf . l ltt' stlllst't1tt('ttl ('\'()lultott ol llrt' rrr,u,,ir' rlliriion :t it'rrt r.

Witdrrali trntl



in Europc:Tlte MiddleA,qes

c'listirrction in early tnodern and nrodern European intellectual history has

lcfi its stanlp on scholarship and still donrinates the way scholars approach
rrrcdievul practices.Thus, another reason why some rnedieval popular practices errrn the clesisnation magic, in addition to the donrinance of medieval
(lhristirrn r,r,riters, is the subsequent elaboration of this Christian ll1odel of
'rrrrrsic versus religion'into the nrodern (and now disputed) paradigr-n of
'proUrcss' firln nragic to religion to science. In this evolutior-rary view.
rrrrrqic is ntariipulativc in its focus on eflective results, conrpared to the supplic.rtive qr-rality clf religious prayer; and rnagic rs unsystenratic and irratiorul corrrp:rre'cl to the rationality of scientific thought.
'lhe chii:f inrplication of this view of magic as incoherent ancl unsystcrrrrrtic thouqht irr tieed of replacement by religion and science is found
irr thc notion of rrragic as degenerate religion. If people 'fa1l back into'
rtrrrnipulative, sr.rperstitious rituals and prayers because they have 'lost' the
religiotrs lt1eanil1g, they have in effect degenerated into incoherence
(Merrifreld 1987: 6,36). This 'orisins' bias privilegrng the original over
sLlb.seqLrent meanings aiso r,vorks ilr reverse: when religions like
Chnstianity take over an older practice and 'Christianize' it (Christmas
trees, for exanrple), the r"r-roclern tendency is to see this as the retention of
pallanisllt rvith a veneer of Christianity, rather than as a transforrnativc
process iri r,vhich old and new ideas interact to create a new and nlcrningful ritual with ties to the past.
A second problematic assunlptioll of the magic-religion-science evoltttionary paraclignr is the oft cleploycd distinction betweett rr.ranipulation and
sr.rpplication as the dividing line between nragic and religion, charnr and
prayer. The historical evidelce, ho'uvever, coltritrs lllore grey areas than
clear examples of one versus the other. To cite jLlst one pair of exarnples,
note the coercive po\\,'er of the prayers of saints found throughout hagiographical literature - the saints'holiness and hetrce closeness to God allows
thenr virtually to cortrpel Clod to do their will - r'vhiie at the sanre tiure
charrn rituals incorporate supplicative prayer, appealing to the Creator of
all nature to cnlpower the natural elenrents w-ith healing virtr-re.'lo call the
nranipulative saints nragic-r'vorkers is to make nonsense out of the
ntedieval world view they represent; likcrvise, to cttcliorize rrledicir.ral
rerrtcdies enrploying charms with Christian prayers as 'magic' is to rlriss
sonrerhing esscntial in thc developnlcnt of religious thought rn the Middle


this nugic-religion-scietrce proqrcss view is \o


entrcltcthcc-l in iuoclerrr conscicllsntrss, sollrc sense of how tl-ris lllodel wilri

deployccl in rrinetccnth ;rncl trventicth-r:enttrry scholarship, rtrtci lrorv it is
notv clisl-rtrtccl, is :t ttcccss:rry prclirrrilt:lry t() cx;ttttittittg tlrc lrrt'dicv:ll cvi-

dcrrcc.'I-lrc Iirrrope:rrr-t'rrcodctl itlt':rs of-tnltgir' :ts tlt'tttotttt, t'vil rrrrtl li'ltlfirl,

rrs rrrctiir'vll


lrlrt k'nr,'.rrrl, rrs uttst

it'rrtilir', itt.tltott.tl


trtt, tviltzr.'tl.


cu al



: D c fi n i t i o r s, Bc


fs, Pra

ct i


st>rrrething'other,'are hard to exorcize.These notions of niagic pervade tl.re

way we think as nrocierns and are ingrained in nrodern scholarship on the

Middle Ages.

Modernity l-ras two nrain attitudes to$.arcls the rrredieval past tirat have
,rrr inrpact on the str-rcly of masic, one erlrphasizing continuitv rvith the
Midclle Ages b1, identilying nrodern roots in the period, the other ernphasizinq discontinurty with the past Lry highlighting the otherness of the
Middle Ages (Freedrrian and Spiegel 1998). In the r:ontinuity vier.v, r,r,ith its
( ()ncrern lor establishing the roots of rnodernity in the nredieval past, ntlgic
lr.rs either been nrarginalized as peripheral to progress or as an earl1,, ancl
lre nce disposable, stage of prouress in rationalitv. In particular, the cournron
trrrciition of magic beconres in this vier.v a renrnant or leltover of supcrstitroLrs thinkins superceded by nrore in.rportant intellectr:al developnrents.
With the rise of social;rnd cultural history ancl tire studv of rtrentalities,the
,,tltcrttc:s' vierv oi rrrerliev;rl culture l)ls .',,nrc nrto grelter pr()r)lir)e r)c(..
, rrrphasizine its dissonance rvith ltlodernity bl,brineing into the centre of
tlrt' stage elerucnts of popular cllltlrre such as nragic and other fornrs of
,lrssiclence in the Middle Ages, evident in tire rvork of Enrlnanuel Le l{oi
I .rtltrrie, Carlo Ginzbltrg, and Michel Foucault (Muir and Ruggiero 199'l ;
llrrrrt 'l 9tt9). In this vieu,', rnagic as r,vell as religious lllvsticisur and other
,lrstinctively tron-nroclern phenorrrcna beconre alternativc rationaiities
lr()nl u world now lclst to us, the path not taken by the rise i>f scientific
r,rt ionalisrn (Murray 1978 104).
I he implications of these ditli:ring viervs on the relation betrveen
nr,rtler-nirv and the nrec-lic-val can be tracecl in twentieth-century historiogr.r1rl1y ef pxsic, fi'ont the evolutionary model of r.nagic-religiou sciencc irr
rrrtlrropology to the post-lnodern dcconstruction of that urodei.
l he evolutionary nrodel of progress itr rationality lronr r.nagic through
r,lrqion to science enrerged in iate nirleteerlth and earlv twentieth-centurv
rrrtlrrcpoiogical str:dies (Tylor ltl89; Frazer 1911; Malinor,vski l9,11t). In
1,.ut, this maeic-religiorr-science r-icrv is a product of early nroclern
I ur()peall intellectual historl,end the constrllction of a prouressive rationrlrtv fl-ottr tl-re l{enaissance ancl llelbrmation through the Enlightennrcnt
r,' 111.' Scientific l\evoh.rtion, and influenced in the nrodern period by
l,,, rrtlo-l)arwinian notions of social evolution. Ilut the vierv of nuqic as
l,r rnritivc thought'is llso tlre procir-rct of Etrropean contact rvith othcr cu1trrr's tlrttrLtgh colonizatiort rtrtcl (lhristiarr nrissions.Tlre ccllonial and nris.rr rrr ctlirlts t() lssess tlcvckrpnrcntrrl phascs irr hunr:rrr societics basccl on a
I ur()l)('.ln rrrode l lcd tlrcrrr to cutcgorizc non-rrrbrrn. rrorr-litcmte socictics
,, , lriltlr-crr', or'prirrritivu', t() sc(' rlrcir rrorr-( llrristirtrr [rclicti rtnd pr'.rcticcs
,', nr,rgir', rrol rt'liqion. rrrrtl to rrssor'irrtt' tlrt'ir lifi'style ivitlr 'l)lrk Aqe '
I tu,rPt'. Wlrilc t':rrlv .ttttlttrrIologis(s n' jt'r'tt'tl tlrt' Politit rrl rrrrtl n'ligiotrs cle trrcttl\ ol tltt'sr't'.tt'l\'('n(()unl('r's ttt.rtt t'llirrI lo t'sl,rlrllslr,t rrt'trtr';tl,rllrjt'r'tivt'


M e di eyal Ma{

Witchcrali and Magic in Europe:The Middlc A,ges

vicw oi huuran societies, they clid not escape the prclgressive developmental bi:rs inrplicit in the nragic-religiou-scietrce model thev produced.
Fr.rrther, this iclentification of sonre llon-western cttltures with pre-modern
Etrropc also reversed itself, as n'redieval Europe becalne the site of the
'prirtritive' in the European past and therefore subject to arlthropological


: D e.fi ni



s, Bc I i e-li, Prd


ce s


rrrrsystenratic and its clecline under the pressure of ruore coherent religious
scientific rationalities, linking the decreasc'ir-r clerical claims to superrr.rtural power with a decreasc-'ir-r ruagical arts. Flint'.s equally erudite and


o[ early nrecliev:rl Europc exarnines the period of rise in

rrr;rsic befbre the decline clescribed by Tl'rornas. Flint aclopts a r.rniversalist

,lctrriled stucly

irrition of nragic as prcternatural control over nature, simiiar to

sttr cly'.


It was in the context of this dortrinant paradigm of rllagic-religron-scicncc rhrt Lynn Thorndike wrote 'I-he Place of l[agic in the ln.ttllectual History

l'lrornclike, br-rt goes on to explore the problelllatic rlature of nragic ls a

lrrstorical construct in relatior-r to religion and science, acknowleclging the
,l,rrrsers of a single definition (Flint 1991:4). LikeThonus, Flint sees nr.rqic
rro[ so nruch as a systelr'r of thought but as a historically conditioned set of
l,lrcl)on)ena lacking coherence; this incoherence of magic is the result of
.r, t rrlturation between the religion of Christianity and the rnagic of pret lrristian practices and beliefs. This rise-and-fall ruodel of nragic, like the
, \'()lutionary-prollress ntoclel of ntagic-religion-scrcncc, presupposes that
reiision car.r be distingr-rished fronr one another according to
'rr,rqic and
,, ,r rrc universal formu]a.
l{ccent anthropological theory, however, has challenged that presuppo,rtrorr by denronstrating th:it the m:rgic-relision-science clistinction is the
l,r,,..luct of historical lorces in early nrodern European history and is not a
,rrrrvcrs:rl phenonrena (Geertz ancl Thonras 1975: 71,76-77; Hsu 19B3;
l,rrrrbiah 1990; Herbert 1991). It beconres an anachronisrn, therefore, to
nr(.lsure nledieval Europe by the, stanclard of a later period and define its
l,, lrt'fi aird practices as rlragic. Horvever, the implications of this anthropo1,,,,,1..,,1 deconstruction of nragic-religion-science have lrot yet been fully
r',',r'ssed in the lleld of history or nteclieval str-rdies. Meanwhile, other schol,r'. irr serrrch ola univers:rl paradignr have turncd to ne\&,nrodels in literary

ol l:uropc (1905) and produc-ed his rnagisterial niultivolume -Fli-sfory ttf Magic
arrt! l:xpt,rinrcrrtal Sdencc (.11)23). Thornclike prcsetlts rllagic prinrarily as a

prinritive philosophy of the preterltatllrel, but secondarily as a tradition

th:rt ntarrifl'sts itself in literate historic periods in residual shreds of beliefs
:rnd practices, and in attenlpts by intellectuals to rationalize and define the
perenletcrs of the preterllatural. As a consequence of these traits, tuagic in
Thornclike's view lacks rvithin itself any coherent systenl or rationaliry but
survives rvithin nrore organized systelns (reiigion or sciellce) as a rel"illlant
of the prirnitive past. Yet rvhile sonre of the ternrinology Thorndike
employs betrays an essentially r-rineteenth-century sensibility ('prirnitive')
and progressivist notions, nonetheless his conclusiolt that the history of
magic in Europe is bor-rnd up with that of science, folklore and religion
stillholds.The premise of urriversality, and the probleuratic nature of r'vords
such as 'occult' and'superstition' in his work should not obscLlre trvo innovative arguntents ilt Thorndike'.s approach. First is his thesis that r.r'ragic and
experir-ncntal scicnce are intiurateiy conllected lvithrn the context of
rrr.dieval Christian thought; and second is his r,villingness to allow a definition of rnagic to ellterqe fronr the texts over tin.re, to the point of Jsserting
that any understandir-rg of the tr'velfth and thirteenth-century views could
only be Llnderstood by looking at the preceding centr-rries and traditior.rs
(hence his rnultivolullle work). Despite the now-disputed anthropological
nloclel of nragic he enrploys,Thorrtdike\ work has endurin5l valLle becatlse,
as a historian, he allou,ed the texts to speak frorn their own contexts. His
focus on the complex cclnjunction of magic at"rd scierlce in the twelfth and
thirteenth centurics, as a fbrl.native period for the development of
European theorics of knorvledge and systelr.rs of thotight, in nrany ways
laid the grounclwork lbr the later challenges to the nlagic-religiot.t-scicnce

it is hard to escape the pervasive influetrce o{'this trt.tivcrsaiizing paradigtn evetr iu lllorc recellt attellrpts to alter it. The rvtlrk of
Keith'Ihonras, Rc/iqiorr tiltd tltc l)rclinc ttf l,Lo.qic (1971), anc'lValerie Flint,
'1-lrc Ri-sc of' L,la,qit in I:arly Mt'dicuttl Itrntpc (1991), significantly rrrotlifies the
relati6nslrip bet'nvccrr rrragic, religion rnd scicttcc in [itrrttpcltr lristory by
sullgcstilrg r'risc lrr(l f:rll'prrr:rdiurrt.-l-ltotttls'.s book is rt ttt:tstt'r.lirl sttrtly tll'
tlrc c;rrlv ttt,ltlt'rtt t'volrttiolt tlf-tltt' ('()ll(('pt ot'tttltgit 'ts itttoltt'rt'ttt :ttltl

,tr,lrcs, religious studies and sociology, but nonetheless continue to

to nragict definirr.rl. In literary approaches, senliotics endeavoLlrs to chart or conlpare
rrr,uiit''s etlicacy to enrpirical science (Noth 1977; Mathiesen 1995).
',,,, i,rlosical approacl'res to religion otFer systentatic ways of treatinu ntagic
,rr,l lclision togethcr and bypassing the distinction between the two, evr,l, rrt in Ninian Sntarti six clinrensions of rvorld viervs, Jantes Russell'.s
ll\Vli rrrodel, andJacob Neusner's netrtral rr-rbric of 'nrodes of rationality'
r',nr,u'r 1983,J. Cl. l\ussell 1994; Neursner l9BC): 3-7,61-131).T}rese e{forts
rrr r t'ligrous stuclies reflect ttre scarch to find :l colllnron grorlnd or
I .rr1 .11116i",,, tobtrlo ctn ivhich tc> placc thc varicties of belieli and practices
, rllt tl rulLric t>r rcligiorr (Forrcrrrrlt 1970: xv-xxiv).
A virrlrlc altcrrrlrtivc, ltor.vcvcr, is to rc'jcct lrry cf]irrt to lirrivc at e rlltiver.rl ,lt'lirritiorr of'ntugit' ;rrttl irrsterrtl lvork t<lr.r,:rrtls t'orrtcxtulrl cleflnitions of
llr( (()n(-('l)t. lt rs iD tlris trrt'rr:r ttl'tr r'orrtt'xtuillist:l[)[)11)irr'lr tlrlt tltc otherr( ',\ ()l tlrc Mrtltllt' Aqt's r'oltt't't'g('s \\'ttll rrt'rv t'llirr(s to rrntlcrstlntl
,,t, ,1t,'t',rl nr,tt]r(. Sorttt' tttt'rltt't'.rl lus(,rt t.ur\, t('\l)()t)(llnll t() , lr:trrqt's itr
, rrrplrrrsize incoherence and non*rationalitv as essential

Witrhua.ft dnd llagic in Ernttpc:T'he Middlc A.qes


anthropology, have rejected the notion of nragic as essentially unsystenratic,

lior)-rltional ancl irrcoherent colllpared to the rnore rationai and syrtenutic
nrturc of reliqion (Kieckhefer 199'lb: 81zl). I\ather than reading nragic .rs
cithcr 'strrviving' clespite inroails fi-onr rcligion. or religion 'conrpron-rising'
itsclf trv acconlrroclating magic thinking. the shiftrng notiolls of Christian,
pagan and nragic can bc explicated in terrns of dvnarnic interactions anild

thcir irrherent


The 'subtelranclu Jttr.rction of



Belief: about Magic: Conceptual Sttilis and the

lJature of the Euidence


horrrologies', in I)eter Bror.vn's terr.ni.no1og.v, allorvs so-called pagan belicfi;

or nragic thinkinq and rcliqion tc'r'sidlc'r,rp to each other'(Bror'vn 1995:
l2 13). lrr a sinrilar fashion. Alexar-rder Murray suggests that rrvoicling the
tu,o-sitlet.l vieu, of uragic versus relieion allor,vs us to see the'reiigious aspirltions' c:lf rnagic and points to the conrplexity and inconstancy of
rrrcrlicval beliefi arrd practices: 'Evervr>ne, intellectual or rustic, actually
rlccepted both nrocles of thinking, nragical and non-ntagical, but in ratros
u,idcll' diflering, rnd, in each person, r.virh a boundary oi uncertairrq'
betr.veen what they did and dici not believe' (Murray 1992:2()3-1).
Clultural studies in general, or ethnohistory'in particular, ofler an opportunity to study magic in a broader c()ntext, lor example by exaurining popLllar religion as Gibor Klrniczav has done (Klauiczav 199()).
In sum, the rnost recent r.vork is lnore concerrred u,ith conrmonalities
and accornntodation than u'ith tletining bourrrhrics betweerr magic erid
religion. in part because all such bor-rndaries are artificial and all definitions
sLrspect.The shared sround oiboth religion:rnd nragic - whether one calls
it rvorld viervs, mocles of rationaliw or beliefi and practices - is bcconring
the centre of atterrtiorr in current scholarship (Meens, 1998).This is abr-rndantly clear in Richarc'l Kieckhefbr's il'ta11it in the l.Iiddlc,4.gc-s, rvhere ru.rsic
is a crossroads central to a rnedieval culture that is alien and 'other' to a
nrodern rnentalitv. If nragic is a r,vay of 'understanding hor.v cliflerent cu1tLlres rclate to or)c another', therr the str-rclv of rrredievirl nragic is a rnulticr.rltural studv focused on the interactions betr.veen different trlditions,
classes and regions (Kieckhefer 1()90: 2; Mucherubled 1994: 11,317*2()).
Consequentlr,. the study of nreclierral rrrrrqic rnelns E-nq.r{ilig in conceptr.ial
history: History of colrccpts traces not <lnlv intellcctual constructs br-rt llso
popular noticrns - in cffect. the fr.rll conrplexity of cncodecl bc-liefs and
idcas across the social spectnln rlld in al1 nreciia, rvhettrcr wrrtteri or
vistral. abstract or concrcte (J\ussell 191t7:9).As a conccpt, lnasic has a history and a tradition fronr u,.hich changine definitions eurerse.The tbllowing section (Prrt II) iooks at tl.ri: bro:rcl picttrre of tlrat trldition in rrreclievll
Europern history, nrarking oLlt cc-rt:rin phlscs r'vhcn historical conclitiorrs
bnrrrrtht thc concept oi rrr.rrlic irrtrr contcntir)n ilnd hcrtt't' prr>r.itie cviclcnt'c
firr thc wrlys tllc (()l)cept rvrrs cvolvirrg.'l'hcsc ('()l)t('\ts tirrrrr tltc [rlsis firr
uttrlcrstlrtttlir)g tl)c ('(),))n)(),) :rtttl t'ottt'tl\, pt':tr'tir't's ol' tttlrgir' rlrrtlirrctl irt


I lrrt'e peri.ds in rredie'al Enropealr history corstitute phases

of change
l,,r 111(' concept of nragic, the conl,ersi.n period, the tweifth-ce,tury renrr',\,nr('e. and the late-ftlurteentl-r rnd earl1,-flf1..rth_century cultural
, .rlr()ns. In each of these eras, chanqing
econor.r.ric, social, political,
rrrtr'llt'ctttrl encl religiotts conditiorrs cansed shifts in both belicfl,rn.i p.^.rrr r'. M.re i,portantly, each of these periods involvecl
sorre kind of
'lt rr.rtttic cross-cultLtral exchartge accornpaniccl by'tensions betweep ciillcr, ,t t'rrditions. c)ut of these periods, nerr', sourctinres
conrpcting, conceprri,rl\ ()i tttasic, reliqion and science energed (KieckhefLr t,.lVti: ZZ;. fSis
, , rr()l) sllrvevs the corrditions in these tl-rree shifts
and the attendant
'l'rttgc's that enstted in the {bllo$'ins periocl. Thc flrst conceptrrai s}rift,
,lrrrrrrg the cclnversio, phase, is ,ot elsilv databre because of regional
l'| ri rr(cs.br'lt tlccurredvirriously in the centuries between
rina 3()-0 utd.cirrd
| | l)l ) ils cliftcrcnt European cuiturcs canre to terrns with Christiar-ritv.
tlrr', |111q5,s, act--ulturation-is.r prourinr,r)r
[r.lttcrrl, as oidr,r belicti anci prac_
rr, ( \ l)rqalt to adapt to the new religion.The seconcj shift
is located in the
rrr' llilr cclltltrv retraissltrcc, br-rt h.rc{ u.ide-rarrginu inrplications beyorrcl
, lr,,l.rsticisrn. Sch'lastics redefi'ed the nature ,rf k,rirwlec-lee,
irr part
tlrr',11s11 Arabic anci
Jelr.'ish influcrrce; they also fbstcrecl a dir.,ide lretween
, rrrr.rl alrd strpernatural and increasctl the c-listance bctrveen thc nu.rch
'rt ltolistic poptllar expericnce of llarrlre ancl intellectual apprehensiols
"l rt.ttttt-e in Aristotelialt terllrs.Thc thircJ shift occr-rrs alrridst iadical social
,r,,1 P,rlitical dislocation in thc late Middie Agcs, beginning cinrr
,r lr, rr rrr;lqic beconres a coherent and orqlnized clenronic
,,1 , lrrrrr'lr :rutlroritics r,r,,ho proscctrtcci it. Significantly,
lav people,.s concep_
rr".\ ()l rlrcir rclati.rrship t. thc rrrtr'rial rv.rlrl rvcre c,hnr-qin[, at the sa,re
Irrrr'(lr.rt I{crrlriss:rrrcc'lrtnn:trtists tvcrc cxpcrinrcnting,urtl-,,r"* ways to
r r.rt ttl,ttl.ttc tltc n:rtrrrlrl rvorlti.
t ltltll), r'lrotrglr, tlrc Lrr-gcr l)irtt(.1.n evitlr.rrt in tlrcsc tlrrec pltascs is
rrr' rt.l\llls [rttllttittt'ttt't' t'l'ttt.ttii,- .rr ,r tl,'tirrrrblt' plrqrrorrrt'rr9tt rl,it]tip
!'r'r\\lltu tt-rrtli(iorr ol't;tttott,rltsnr. trrlrrrirr.rtirrr:, irr tltt' lrrtt. Mitltllc Agcs irr

llrr ( ilr('rg('r)t t' ol tlrt' l(r'tt,riss.u)( (' ,,,//(/r\. ll, tlrt.rr. rrr.rriir. ,rs ,l (-()r)stl.p(.t
rr',,.,'tltilitrrl tl)(.Ml(l(llt'Argr.s. tl rlot.r \() lt lltr.torrlt,rt ol stlr.rrtrlrt.


Witthcrali and Magk in Europc:The Middle Ages

dcvclopurent and reaches its peak at the brink of the early modern period,
in a 'uvay sin-rilar, and parallel, to the heightened discourse over rvitchcraft

lncl the increase in accusations of witchcraft and heresy. The concept of

rrrasic in the Middle Ages is a procluct of these intellectual and lega1

The Crutuersion Phasa an.d thc Early Middle Ages

Irr this first phase, the late antique synthesis of biblical arrd classical conwith Celtic, Germanic, Scandinavian and Slavic
pcoples t}rrough conversion. The Ceitic inhabitants of the llritish Isles
converted in the fifth century and produced an influential bilingual writtcn (lhristian culture; chartns and other formulas appear in the later texts
of the invading Anglo-Saxons, and Irish penitential literature, inch-rding
prohibitions against nragic, spread to the continent.Various Goths, Franks,
Angles, Saxons and other Gertnanic Jroups gradually converted to Roman
Christianiry sometimes lrom Arianisltt, over the course of the fifth and
sixth centuries, producing the bulk of the synthesized RonranClhrrstian-Gerrnanic literature in England, France, Clermany, Iberia and
Italy (Behringer, Muchernbled, Sharpe, and Bethencourt in Muchembled
1994 65-7 , 10()-2, 133-4, 159-61). The later Scandinavian conversions, in
Sweden, l)enrnark, Norr'va1', and Iceland, left a larger body of evidence of
pre-C)hristian practice enrbedded in the written traditions of the Christian
era - rllnes, sagas of the gods and heroes, chartns and an.rulets (Attkarloo in
Muchernbled 1994 195-7 }\audvere in this volurne). ln eastern Er-rrope,
Slavic groups in Poland and lJohernia and the invading Magryars in
Hr.rngary converted to llornan Christianity in the ninth and tenth centuries, r,r.hile the Scanclinavian-Slavic kingdom of Rus under Prince
Vladimir chose Eastern Orthodorry (Klaniczay in Muchenrbled 199'l:
215-1 8). Even iater, in the thirteenth centtlry, the conversion of pagan
Baltrc peoples like the Lithuanians introdr.rced new elernents, or hitherto
lost cor-nponetits, of pre-Christian practice that survive better in the rnore
highly literate cnvironment of the high Middle Ages. In rnost of these
cases, the converting rulers purposely aligned thernselves with an international church body, either thc Ronran or the Byzantine, that then entered
the region as an authority figure r,vith pernrission to introduce their own
ideas ir-rto the indigenous culture, creatins a tensicln between local/pagan
and outsider,/Cll'rristian in the ot'tgoir.rg process of cotrversion alld necotiation.
Oouserlrrcntlv, trvo kirrrls of clrly rrrctlicv:rl cvidcnce srtrvivc fiortt thesc
convcrsiorr syrrtlrcscs ot' ll.onrrrrr ( llrlistiurr :rrrtl irrdigcrr()tls pr:lcti('es, fl-ortt
r,vlrit'lr tlrr"' lrt'girrninq\ ()l .r ( ()nulr()n tllrtlitiott ol- ttt:tgit irr littropc
cepts of rrraqic intersected

Mcdieual Magic: DeJtnitiotrs, Beliefs,



('nlerges. On the negative side are larvs, canons, penitentials, saints'lives,

\('nllons and other treatises that condernll a range of practices; these
\()rrrL-es derive their notions of magic from the iate antique ll.ornan
t .lrristian tradition supplenrented by intriguing, but by no nleans coml,lt'te or reliable, references to and descriptions of 1ocal practices con,lt'rrrned as demonic. p.rgan supcrstition. On the positive side,
lr,rsiographical literature, n.redicinal nranuals, and liturgical rituals rvritren
,lorvn prinrarily by clerics indicate at least a textualized, Christianized set
.l practices that may partially reflect comnlon practices and beliefs that
',,,rrre people in sonre places nright label n.ragic, but which were, at least in
rlr,'(lhristianized form we have them in these texts, acceptable to nrany.
llt't'rrrrse both of these types of sources are overr,vhelrtringly Chrrsti.rn in
rr,rrld view, they nrust be r-rsed w"ith care as evidence fbr rnagic in early
rrr,'rlieval Er.rrope.And yet since the practices listecl in these texts forrn the
l,rrlk of our knowledge about magic and are lviclely cited as evidence,
tlrt'ir use by modern scholars bears exarnining.
l'he period of European conversion to Christiarrity is one of the chief
l,()n)ts at which modern scholars argue for the continuance or rise of
rrr,rsic, based on the evidence of practices and belieft that seenr to be'nont lrr.istian'.Thus the problenr of nragic in the early MiddieAses is closely
, ('nr)ccted rvith the laruer question of the Christianization of Europe (Van
Inrlt'n 1986). The difficr-ilty with exanrining the continlrity of pret lrr.istian practices into the Christian era as evidence of rnagic or of the
,rrrvivll of 'paganisnr'is that this approach assunres t1:re binary thinking of
rrr, tlicval Christian writers (Stanle1, 1975).The ecclesiastical sources of the
lu \t tvpe, those condernning magic, pit Christian religion and true belief
rr:,unst pagan n-ragic and superstition, thus eliding the differences between

;,r, Ohristian religions ancl nragic.The essential divide for these Church
\\ rt('l's is bet.nveen Christian/religion/divine miracle and pagan/rnagic/
,l( nr()r)ic illusion. For exarnple, in Bedei account of the rnission to


he describes how Athelberht, king of Kent, received the nrission-

uv l)irrty of Ar-rgustine of Canterbury in the oper.r air because the king,

1,.,',,'tl on an old tradition of augur.v, fearec'l their rnalcficac arrrr (Bede,
L,lr';i,rstiral History l:25, 199,1: 39-40). However, as Becle points out, the
rr,,r)kc canre'enclowed with clivine not devilish power'carrying the cross
rrr,l singing litar-ries, a scene conrparable to (lonstantine's nriraculous vict,rrr :rgrrirrst the nragic-using rival erlrperors Maxentitrs anci Licinir"rs in
I rrrt'lritrs' biogrrrphy of (lonstantrnc (l: 27, 37 ,ll 1-7 in Jolly 19()7: 10-2).
I rl'.t'irrisr', (ircuory ot"Iirrrrs hls thc lJtrrgundirtn (]hristirrn princess Clotild
ur',urr{ rvith lrt'r lrtrsb:rrrtl, rhc Fnrrrkish kirrg (llovis, th:rt his iclols, specifietl
r', tlrt' l{orrrrrr rlt'itics.ftrpitcr, Muls :rrrtl Mcn'rrr1,, rrrt' irrrnror:rl, po.uvcrless,
rrr,l rvlt:rt tltcv tlo rrt'lrit'r't'is tlottt'tlrnrttrllt'ttt.tgtt:tl ;rrts'((ircgory ofTirttrs,

lltttit),ttltlttl;ntttkt ll:lli,l')7.1:lll .l.tl.llt'tlt',/:,,1t'ti,tstirtl /li.i/rrr),ll:10,


Wit&traft and l,Iagic in Eurttpe:Thc Middle A.qcs

l9<)1:87 9). Earl1, nredieval Clhristian historiar.rs likc Grceory ofTor.rrs and
lJcclc trsccl the 1abel nragic :is a r,vay of condenrnins paganisrn as false by
icL:ntifyinu it rvith magic :rs r pcJor.ltivc concept.
Whel we turn to the 'positive' eviclence of Clhristianized practices that
rrriuht ll.rpear niagical to soll1e, the problerrr of this binary thinking is cxecerbrrtccl by rncldern scholars, lvho reacl into the early rnedieval rejection of
rnugic as 'not religion' a rnodern rejection of rnagic as 'not science'.
l)r'rrctices found in the second type of-sources (hagiography, liturgical rned-

icinc) appear rrragical in the sense of unscientiflc rr-ranipulations of nature,

at lcast lronr a rnodern definition which sees nriracle-working s.rrnts rs
closelv resenibling nraqicians in their abilitv to trarrsfirrnr natural phenomcuu, but they would not necessarily appear nragical frorl the perspective of
rrn crrly nredieval Christian writer, rlho ic'lentifies nragic prinrarily rs utitheticrl to risht religion and venerates the saints precisely because of their
validlting nriracles. For cxample, usins the nrass or other liturgical forrnuIae to 'enchant' hcrbs for healing is a ritu:rl practised by early n'redieval
Clhristians that a later age lvouid classrf,, as rlanipulative magic and not
lecitinrate Clhristian religion. Sorne schcllars have interpreted these liturgical 'charnrs'as evidence of a sr-rrvival of earlier pagan,/rrragical beliefs rvith a
nrere Christian veneer and concluded that Christi:urization failed ro displace this nr:rsical thinking (Stornrs 1948; Jollv 1996: 100-1, 118-19;




alternative approach is to posit the existence of a fornr of

Christianit,v in late anticluitv ancl into the Mrclclle Ages that did believe in
the pou,er of r.vords fbr healing in a u,ay sirrrilar to local converts, and to
explore the possibiliry that folk practices such as charnrs .lre not essentially
religious in nirture ancl hence are free to adapt to a new religious svstelrl
flollv 1996) .The issr.rc in earlv nrcdieval Europe was not so tnuch'nvhether
worcls had power or invisible spiritual forces cxistecl - they certainlv did in
the nrinds of rnost Clhristian thinkers - but rr,/'ro-sc rvords ar.rd u,lro.sc spirituai
forces (drvine or den.ronic). Early nredieval Christi:rnity thus shared three
firndanrental assllnrptiorls r,vith local folk rvorlcl vier.vs: belief in the pow'er
of words, in the existence of invisible entities, ancl in the por,ver of hidclen
virtues in natural objects.
Whether these assurnptions corrstitute 'nr:rgical'or'religious' thinking is
hard to cleternrine, since botl.r the niagic thinkcrs and the religious
thirrkers. hotlr tlre loc.rl .'ulttrr.'iln(l tlr('nri'iiorr:rr').,1r('.r('tivc pili'tiLipJnt\
and menrbers of cou.rrrrtrnities coping with clrarrgc by ar1lrpting rtcrv to old
(Murrav'l 992; Nie 1995). In csscncc, rltrrirrg thc conversion phase, the
nlucrocosn) or llrrgcr r,l,orld vicr'r" slrificd to rr (llrristirrrr nrorrotltcisrtr, rvhile
tlrc rrricrot'ostt) of'cvt't'vtl:ry'pr:rt'tit'cs:rr'l:rptt'rl to tlris Itcrv ll'orltl vicu,.'fhis
plirrciplc rl,rrs firs(t'rt'tl st'll-t orrst iotrsly lry tltc rttissionrtrit's tlrr'trrst'lvt's, r'vitlr'rrt lirr t'r,rrrrPlt' rrr l\rIt' ( in'qorr"s l,rrnorrs .r,lvit',' (o Alrlrot Mt'llitrrs lo


Medicual Magic: Definitions, Bclich,



onvert terr-rples of idols into churches, keeping the custornarv festivities

rr"ith anir.nals now sacrificed not to the devil but in thanksgiving to rhe
,,rre God who gave the animals to hurnans as fuod (Bede, Ecclesiastical
Ilistory I: 3tl, 1994: 56-7). The doctrinal elc-nrents of Christianity, irs
rl()notheis1l1 and Christology, eventually dorninate. bnt the experiential
,liruension of religion shows continuitl', for exarnple, in the belief in invisil,le spiritual agents such as denrons or elves, or the reliance on words of
l)()wer in charins or in the Mass. Consequently, the ntajor shift in this
l,t'r'iocl is seen in the incorporation of Christian ntoltotheistic ritual and
rlrcologry into everyday practice and belief and r.,ice versa, evident in the
rt'rtualizing and legitinrizing of oral practices by literate Christian authors.
l'lrcse adaptations are cultr-rre-specific, but overall indicate a conscior-rs
,lt'sire to identi4, and build on the conrmonalities between Gerrnanic and
t lrristian practiccs rvhile at the sanre tin're confi'onting rhe ditTcrences

l,r'trveen pre-Christian ancl Christian beliefs (Karras 1986). In general,

tlrr'n, during conversion the cosnrology changes, but everyclay life and
l)r.r('tice lao on, including rr-iedicinal and protective rituals that nright in a
l,rtt'r age be classifled as ntagic but are here Clhristianized with the irrclu',rorr of appeals to the one Gocl, creator of all rratrlre, ancl reliance on the
Ir( )\vcr of the Eucl.rarist.
I Iowever, undeniably objectionable pre-(ihristian practices did conrinue
rrrtl rvere condentnecl by Christian leaders. l)ractices that seer.ned to cir, un)vent the power of the one God or his pricsts wcre lllore lroublesonre
r,, (lhurch leaders because they did not flt the Clhristian cosntology or did
n()t point to the centrality of the church and its altars.These, such as astrol,,r,r', divination, curses and gravevard ritu;rls were the iten.rs that earned
, lt ric:al condenrnation as magic.The rnost influential treatise condernnir.rg
rrr.rgic is IlookVIII ollsicbre of Seville's Etymolo,qics. He lbcuses on divinarrorr of l,arjous kinds, such as auguries, oracles aird necronrancy, as well :rs
, rt'crable rer.nedies' th.it usc incrntltions, signs and arnulets, rejecting thenr
r', lroth denronic in origin ancl unscientific in practice. Popular sernlons,
t,,r r'xanrple by Martin of [3raga and Agobard of Lyons, c]astiqated rustics
l,,r urr-(lhristian and illogical supcrstitio that inrpcrilled both sor-rl and bodv
r I lrllg:rrth 1 986: 57-(r,l; l)utton 1993: 1 89-91).
Sinrilar vie.uvs :rre exprcssed in early r.nedieval lar,vs and penitentials,
rr lrit lr tend to be conservative ancl repetitive, copying and builcling on
,.rr lr other (McNeill ancl Clanrer 1965). Burchard of 'Wornrs's masterfr-rl
,,,llt'ction rcflccts thc clorrrinltnt tlrrearis, contlcnrrring rrragic practices with
1,,rllr l{ornan errtl (icrrrr:rnic nrots, suclr lrs thc Ronran tlil,initory frJctice
,,1 .rtrguries :rrrtl ( icrrrrrrrrit' p:rg;rrr rituuls (McNcill arrcl (]arner 1965:
I ll -15). A ttttnt[rt'r ot'tlrt' lrrolritritiorrs firt'rrs orr prrurrrr rrtturls, such ns
Ittttt't':tl 'tvltkt's u,itlt tli:rIrolit,rl sottqs .ttttl tl.utt t's. t'.rtittq of]i'rirrgs to idols :rr
l.rrl)s, sllrirrgs, tr'('('s, s(()n('\,, r'.rssrt,,r,ls. lronorrlirril.fttpilt'r tltt l lrtrrstlrry (1.c.


Witchcrali and llldgic in Eurttpc:Tltc Middlc A,ges

Thor'.s l)ay), dressinll as a calf or stag on thc Kalertcls ofJanuary or beginnirrq r,velving that day for luck, wonlen rut.tning water under a dead n-ran''s
bier, or anointir-rg a dead ntan's lvotlnds to heal them in the next life. One
curior-rs practicc indicating anitnistic belief in nature spirits is that of puttirrs chilcl-sized bo'nvs arrd arror'vs arrd shoes in the barr.r for satyrs and goblins tt> play with, in order to bribe thetn to incrcase one's store, with the
sugsestion that they rvoulci do so by stealing fror.n one'.s neighbours. Other
strperstitions include behef in sllpernatural beings, such as werewolves,

rlllrorous forest nynrphs, and the three Fates, sisters for whorn wonlen set
e xtni places at the table. A disturbing nuttrber of Burcharclt iterns concern
rittrals perfornred by wollren in death rituals and love nragic, as well as
bclicf in wolltcn being:rble to ride with cletlons at ltight with the Ronran
l)ilna or the (lennanic witch Hulcla. I)riving a stake through an unbaptizccl infint or a ntother ancl infant dead irr childbirth to prevent harrnful
revcllauts is condenrned, as is burying a baptized child rvith a rvax host in
the left hancl and a 'uvax chalice in the other. The nrost ctlrious ritual he
clescribes, for getting rid of alt ttn\\rallted husband, involves the wotlran
stripping naked and coated .,r,ith horiey, rolline in grain, and then nl:rking a
deadiy bread fror.n the flour, rnilled backrvards.These penitentials and laws
are intent otr condeiruting belief itt these practices as nluch as tl-re actual
practitioners. ln some cases, thc laws go so far as to condenln accusrrtiotrs
against rtragiciar-rs as clenronstrably false. For exanrple, Burchard condenrns
belief in wo11len dedicated to Saten being able to go otlt of the body, slay
baptized people and cook ancl eat their flesh, leaving straw or r'vood in
place of their hearts. Nor, according tc-r ]Jurcharcl, c:111 wolnen actually
harnt people bv cr-rtting turf fronr their footprirtts and tlsing it in magical
rituals, although, ironically, there are instances of Christian saints whose
holy footprints procluce miracles.
Thus rnuch of this criticlue in early nreclieval Christian literaturc identifiecl nt:tgic practices with paganisnr attcl assertecl that they are dernonic
ilh-rsions. This created a battlegrotrnd, then, bettveen the clelusory, evil,
denronic, pagan ntaeic ancl the very real, sood. Christian religion and its
rrriracles. For exltnple, in Gregory the Great's Ltfr'rll-St l3urcdkt, the saint
sees tlrrough the clcrtronic illtrsion of a kitchert fire that befuddles his
rrrorrks, a firc causecl by a heathen iclol br.rricd utlderneath (Dialogucs lI,
1959:75-6). M:rcarius likcu'ise has the s:rir.rtlv ability to pcrceive truly the
fbrnr of a girl believecl by everyone else to have beetl turned by rrr.rgic irrttl
a horse; ntaking the sign of the cross renloves tl-re deitrsiorl (.Alfric 19(r(r: I:
47()*1). C)onsecluentlv. the con.rrrron Christiarr view of '"vitches encl rrtagicians as esL-nts oIthe clevil is th:rt thcy do hrtrnr prirrtrtr-ily throtrglt clcccp-

tion or crcrrtirrg illtrsiorrs in tltc rrrind. (llrristi:rnitr,'rt'tttlt'r^s tltr'ttt porvcrlt'ss

by dcrryipg tltcir cllicltc1,;rrttl p1<yp11s,iltg rt stttrstittrlt'.'l lrt',rrttitl6tt'trt ttt.tgit'
is tlrerr rtrltrti[i'stt'tl irr tltt' rttirltt ttlotts 1"'rr't'l ol lltt t'ttt' ( iotl 'ts u'it'ltlt'tl lly



M agic : D efin

itio n

s, Beli e;fs, Practi

ce s


lrrs saints and emissaries. For example, rn a typical hagiographical account

,,1 tlemon possession, frorr-r sixth-century Gaul, St Eugendus heals a tor-

rrrcnted young wonlan (Hillgarth 1986:14*15). Others had attempted to

, \()r'cize the demon using written forrnulas hung around her neck, but the
rlcnroo jeered at therr by pointing our the sinful failings of their authors;
,,r,rrry such papyri amulets containing written forrnulas from saintly per',,'rrs survive. However, no amount of saints'papyri would satisfy this
,l, nr()r, who revealed that only one would work, that of Eugendus, whose
\\rttcn exorcism subsequently drove out the denron even before the text
t,.,r hrlf way back to the wo1r1an. Clearly Eugendus'written formula, and
rrV .tlrcrs frorrr saints. Jre operating as rerl sotrrccs oI tlivirre power in
, ,1,position to illusory den.ronic power.
lir clll both the saint'.s etTorts and the den-ront activities nragic would
r, n(l('l-the story non-sensical. However, one can still raise the question:

rrr'rt' c:rrl| rnedieval Christians perpetuatine x ncw fornr of 'Christian

for exar.r-rple, by encouraging idol worship in the reliquaries of
rrrrts? lJernard ofAngers in the eleventh century confronts the issue lairly
,lrr,, tlv in hrs defence of St Foy (Sheingorn 1995: 77-9).ln the midst of
r,, ,)ur)tinll nunterous stories of Foy punishing those who deny her power,
lrrrtlt'r'her or show disrespect to her shrine, Bernard r,rses his own initial,
,lr,,l.l1ly doubt about saints'idols to argue that it is'an incradicable and
,rr.rr('cr.rston'r of sirnple people'that does not, in fact, contribute to lapses
rrt(, l).lqrnism. In fact, he seents intent on demonstrating the validiry of
r, lrr r t'vcn fur intellectuals like hirnself, moving them beyond the reahn of

l,',1,r r l.rr- supcrstitio.

I lrt' sclflconsc--iousness with which early medieval Christian writers distr,,,,,rrrslrcd between magic and religion is instructive. One clear result of

,lr rurng the battle lines

in this way was to open the door to the power of

ofTerecl the porver of Christian
,r,rrls ,rr)tl rituals as substitutes for believers, both in the realnr of religious
I'r r, lr( (' :rncl in folk medicine.Just as Pope Ciregory advised the English
ril.,r.n t() convert pagan sites and ritr-rals into churches, so too the great
rr,,r()r).u-v to the Saxons, Boniface, fought pagall practice by displecing it.
lrr rlr, l.rrrr.us srory of the oak toid by wiliibald, Boniface was so disgusted
, rtlr rlrt' t.orrtinuecl precticc by colrverts of clivrnation, legerdernain, incanrrrr,,n\..rrrgrrrics ancl other practiccs clrried out at trees and springs that he
rrlr Lttl tlrc (),rk r.lf-JuPitcr with rrn rx flolly 1997: 20t3).After it nriracul,,,r,lv lt'll irrto tiltrr erltrll lt'rrutlrs, I]onif:rcc built un ()ratory front it.While
,rl lltr' ,,ttt' Itltrttl, rlllrr))'\('ru()n r,r'r-itt'r-s rorrndly t'orttlcnrrrccl the cor-rtinucd
firtrrrrl in :rtrgrrrit's, irrvor'rrtiorrs lrncl chltrrtrs,
l,t tr ltr r' ,rl-tlt'vilislr
tlr, t ,rlr,r trlqctl (llrristi;rrrs t() r('s()r'l to tlrt'porvt'rlirl srrltrs lurtl irrr':trrt:rtiorts
,,1 lltr' t tttss, tltt' (lrt't'rl,,rtt,l tlt.' Lottl's l)t.rvt'r', lrsu)1,, (lrt'sr' lrlcssirrgs ()ver
lr, rl,', trrslt',rtl ol tli,rlr,rlrt.rl ;r.1,,s11 orrt.s (MtNt.rll .rrr,l (i.rrrrr.r l,).il.i: .l | 2).

I l, r"rr.u) ritual. Early nredieval Christianity


Mcdieual N[a,gic: Definitions, Beliqfi,

Witdrrraji ond Magir in Europe:The Middle A.qcs

As substitr,rtions ancl as antidotes, these Christian prescriptions functioned

efTicaas wortls of pctwer, but unlike the denrot'ric incantations, they were
cious rlther than illusory or deceptive because
(iocl, creator of all things.
The binary structr-rre of demonic nragic versus divine miracle, harrnful
incantatiotr versus efTrcaciclus prayer is clear in early medieval Christian
writings, as is the transfbrmative power of christianity. The repetition of
thc sante condenrnations in the surviving docun'rents, using the same ianindisgage to reject pragic,/paganisn as demonic, illgsory and deceptive,
cates I don.rinant traditior'r irDposed on the
rrbovc. l)agan r.nagic, Germanic or classical in
tory lists. In all oither" cases, rire Christian cosmology is asserted as oblit...ii,.,g, clenronizing, or denroting pre-Christian coslnological structures,
rvhile farticular fbi-k pracrices, such as blessing herbs, were ad3usted to frt
that Cirristian cosnrology. This paradignr shift resulting from the conversiotr phase colours everything we read about popular practice in.the early
H,lidile Ages and suggests caution in makins assertions about tl.re actual
practice of magic in this Period.
Paradigm Shifts itr and alier thcTbellih Ccntury

tencled to conlbine or overlap

categoiies, trvelfth-century thinkers tended to expand and redefine cat.gorr.r.The pre-twelfth century v.iervs described above mergecl so-called
,r".ioo, forr-ns of rlragic under the rubric of condemned'
.l.rror-,ic, illusory practices. The poit-twelfth-century world, a period of
rapid i.telle.rrri ih"r-rge under the impetus of a variety of ecorrornic,
pragic in nelv ways
social, and cross-cultural influences, began to defrne
(high and loW
ancl to make distilctions between ditTerent kinds
inrplicationswhite ancl black), definitions that had far-reaching
changes alltong the intelligentsia had the efrect
practic-e of .,r.igi. as a subitratunr that, rvhile maintaining continuity of
p...ti.. with the pasr, appears curiously clillerent in the light of the new
icholastic defrnitions p.opourrcled by the elite.The creation of a high, scientifrc study of sonr.,t ing that rnight be called magic (for example, astrology) stands in contrast to what no* becor-,res the low, practical etTorts tlt

lf early meclieval Christian writings

th.'cor,rrrron cunning rrran or wontan. This has the etTect of crerting ;r

new c{irtrension in t}ie good versus cvil distinction. Conrnron nugic is
wrolg becanse it is illitciat,r rts lvell as -sllrcr.s/ilirr. Sitttttltrltleotrsly, a cotrrtly
.,rd lii"...V trrrrlitiorr ol tttrtgic t're:tted ;rrr rlrfitit.i:rl lvorltl wltcre p()w('r
t.ok orr ot-cult tlirrrcrrsiorrs, tir- gootl or ill. ltl ttt:tttY'nvtlYs, tltc cotrrtly
tt.rtlittlrt,,1 1t.rqi, l),t\ tll()r('ill (()lllll)()lt \\llll lll('tttt,'ll,'ttt.rl tlt'tttqt'* tll



rlr,'high Middle Ages, creating a gap berween itself and the comrnon

'l'lrcse distinctions evolve graduaily

over the course of the thirteenth
,, rrtrrry, but are the product of changes beginning in the twelfth century
r,'rr,rissance' (Benson and Clonstable 1982; Ward 19t12). This changing
rrr'nt:llity is the result of three nrain currents: the new urban envircnilri nts, the reforfr nloventetlts and the development of Aristotelian logic
', r'trs early ntedieval Augustinian thought. First, the econorlic ancl social
,lr.rngcs of the eleventh centllry toward urbanisnr created new classes of
1'r rrple, r,vith nerv needs, and ne.nv distir-rctions betrveen urban ancl rural,
rr rtlt tlte corlsequence that rr-rral herbal rledicine no'uv existed in relatior-t
r, l()\\.ns lnd cities, with their imports and tracle connections. Second, the
r,l(,rn) ntoventents that sousht to purify the Clhurch fronr secular influ, rr, r' irnLl establish its prin-racy in relation to secular authority, r,vhile pri-

,,rrrrly concerned with the Llpper echelons of



in ternrs of the reforn-r

,,1 ,lt'r.sv and increasingly specific lifestyle recormnendations for the iaitv.
llrrr,l, the ner.v schools of thought and the subsequent inrportation of
, Ir',,r,.r1 and eastern Mecliterranean learning through
Jervish Arabic
to new con',ur(
,,l,rrrrrrs of scicntia, knor.vledge, ancl nerv ways of classifying nragic rs an
l rt, ll1'1'111',1 categorv.
llr,' offlcial Church stance regarding nragic shifted from a denronic
r , '( r.rti()l] with paganisrn to a demonic association r,vith heresv (f . B.
I'rr,',, 11 19t30: 52-8; Peters, in this volunre). However, the bias of these
r,ll,r.us sources towards binary thinking nrakes it dilficult to ascertain
tlr, r,.rlity of popular practice, if only because rnost of the cases of
1,r,,,( ( utioll arise, and are dealt with, on a loca1 and personal level, rather
tlrrr r)n .rrr irrstitutic'rnal level.The sources for condenrnation of heretical
rr,,rrr'llreless had an inrpact on the local parish leve1

urr1,.r( irrclucle lar,vs, c:inons, parochial harrdbooks, inclr-risitorial records

rr,l ,r'r'n)()nS. Although the denronic contponent of nragic sttll incltided

rlr, rllrrsorv clr delusional quality, increasingly popular stories of diaboli, rl nr,l,,r('incliclte the reality of these activities ar-id therefure the guilt of
rlr, ',.r( ('r'crs, rvitcl-res, hcrctics, Jews ancl Muslinrs lvho are accuscd of
l,r r, rr\rr)q tlrcru. For exantplt: thc popular Coldut Legend presents
l'' l,'lr.rtrtttte cl :ls :l sorccre r, rvhilc l)cter the Vetrerable 's tracts against Islar"r-r
l,r, ,, nt rt .rs rr dirrbolicll ltcrcsy (f:rcoirus clcVttrasine 1993: Il: 37(); Tolan
rr I ( rrt'rrr l()()ll) .'l'lrc rrrcrrt:rlity t'trltiv:rteri lrv rcligior.rs leaders to corlnl, r r, I lr('t1'sv, lrrrtl lry tltt'r'lrctot'ir'ot-tlrc ()rtrslrlcs, ('rc:ttcs lrrr crrvirrtnnrent
It rrrr',lrl rvitlr spiritrrll lrrrttlcs, olit'tt gettirrg orrt ol'tlrr't'orrtnrl ol(]hurch
I' r,l, rr l'lrt'tttost irtsitliotts ts tlrt'lrloorl IiIrt'l ,rr{,rirrst.fcw,s tlrrrt :rccusccl
rlr, rrr ,rl rrsirrr-1 tlrt' lrrrt.lr,rr.isl ',r,,rlt.r- lirl tli,rlr.lrr,rl r rtrr,rls ,rrrrl str.:rlirrg
I lrrr,lt,rrr lr.tl,it's l() lrt'rlorrrr lr,rrr rlr, Itl('\ (Nl.rr, rrs l().\l"i: l2l l).


Medieual Mqqk: Definitions, Belic;fs,

Witchcrqft and Magk in Europe:T'he Middle Ages

Although condemned by Church authorities as a r1yth, this potent

storyline recurs in hagiography and sermon literature, drawing on latent
Christian fears of 'the other'in medieval society and leading to virulent
attacks on Jewish contnrunitics.

condemnations of magic as
groups as diabolical
heresy and the popular outbursts attacking
and thirteenth
magicians, the cornmon tradition of magic
in the danBoth
centuries becomes inseparable from popular
gers of diabolical magic in one'.s neighbourhood
i..orrr. to Christian antidotes are

In the context of both the oflcial church

rnedieval populace, both urban and rurai.What increases the tension, though,
over these practices and beliefi, is the increasing lega1 and theological distinctions that marginalize or demonize popular practices as heresy or as ignorant
superstition. Sorr.re practices accepted for centuries now coluc under censr1re, as various folk remedies, herbal preparations and rituals nrildly condemned as ignorant superstition are now identified with denronic heresy. It
is also possible, though, that attention paid to popular practices by church
authorities concerned with heresy actually increased popular belief in diabolical practices. This phenomenon is particularly evident ir-r the way that

many of the popr-riar stories mirror not so rnrrch earlier ancient, preChristian rituals but appear to be perversions of Christian doctrine and ritual generated in these centLtries by a predorrrinantly Christian society
increasingly obsessed with establishing and maintaining that identity. For
exarlple, the accusation of misuse of the Eucharistic host in Satanic rituals or
in popular practice parallels the increased er-r-rphasis on the power of the Mass
by the Church and in popuiar devotion evident in Eucharistic miracles.
Within the courtly environment, a distinctive set of traditions about
magic evolved, connected to the earlier popular trends but altered by the
dynarnics of court life. On the negative side are accusatiolls of rnagic and
witchcraft nrade against persons in power, against a backdrop of court
intrigue that purportedly includes astrologers and sorcerers among court
advisors, as well as the ubiquitous love lnagic. Astrologers and diviners in
particular became comnlon in the collrts of tweifth-century rlllers
(Kieckhefbr 1990:97).In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, however,
accusations of magic renained localized and conlparatively innocuotts,
compared to the development of an international inquisitorial process in
later periods. On the positive side, fascination with l1lagic is evident irr
courtly literature and entertainment. The ronlances of Alexar-rder tlrc
Great, Virgil and the Arthurian lltaterial, fanciful as they are, do reflcct
courtly interest in the power of objects sttch lls gelllst()lles, the potential f<rr
trickeiy ancl intrigue lbr.rrrrl irr illusory rtugir', rtrrcl rhc syrrrbolic: value of'
prophctic ;rrrrl visiorr;trv e x[rr'rit'n. t', surlgt'rtittg tltt' t'tttotivt' rtrrtl syrrrllolic
})()wcr ol'tlrt' ot t'ttlt.



When the literary and courtly evidence is correlated with the legal con,L'rrrnations, inteliectual distinctions, and popular practices, magic enrerges
r', ,rn ever nrore complex construct. It remains thoroughly occult, in both
rlr('scnse of illicit, potentially heretical activities and in the sense of tapping
lrr,lrlcn power to change the human condition,whether as a corlrmon per-


or a courtier

seeking to alter fate.

white and black nragic, is
l",,l,lcrnatized, both in the realm of popular remedies that use chants,
rrrrrrlcts or gelns and in the {antasy world of romance. In so far as lllagic
u,,rkr through appeal to denrons, it is clearly evil, but in so far as it taps
\ rrlrrcs in the God-created natural worid, it rnay be justified as a rreans to
rrr t'rrtl. Despite continued assertions from churchmen condemning magic
,, lrt'retica1, demonic, and uitirnately ill-fated and illusory, and despite the
r',( ()f a new rationalisr.n, refbrences to magic that actually urorks proliferate,
l,rrlrr'trlarl1, rlagic relying on the power of Christian rituals to coerce spirrtrr.rl lirrces like demons to do the will of the practitioner.'Why and how
tlr,',,' lirrms of rnagic develop in this high medieval environment continues


seeking material well-being

Nlorr-'over, the divide between good and evil,

r,,l11'.1 ptzzle.

'l'|rc Rise of Magir in the Late Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries

',,'rrrr'(lrins different began happening to and with magic as a concept in

rlr, l.rtt' firurteenth and fifteenth centuries, partly as the result of the earlier
rr, rrrlr t()ward a heightened interest in spiritual powers, and partly in
r, .1,(,ns(' to new conditions after circa 1350. In the realm of popular
l,r r, tr( (', the increase in lay literacy contributed to a proliferation of selflr, ll' rrr.rrrrrals in the vernacular oflering remedies and divinatory techniques,
1,,,1'rrl.rrizirrg what was once a magic tradition exclusive to the literate
, l, rlr (l(ieckhefer, 1990:63-64,72).The elenrents of this magic tradition
.r rr,,lrll intensely Christian, thor,rgh, and for the most part do not reflect
,,,rturrrty with son.re intact pagan religion surviving underground the
r r rrrr('5 sirrce conversion. Rather, late medieval popular nragic reflects a
,,1,lrr.,trt,rtcd synthesis of folk ways, classical medicine, and Christian
lrrurt,\ ur its use of herbs, blessings or adjurations, and rituaiistic behavr,,r , ( lt'r'icrrl iuvolvenrcrrt in nccronrrncy continued to draw on Christian
rrr,rrl u,lrilc irrtcllectrral rungic, cnrbodied in the 'Renaissance magui,
,,', 1,1||1'11 wrth scicrrtiflc cxpcrinrer)tetior). ()n the negative, prohibition
r,l,,111,11,11 :ts lt pltcrtorrrcrtorr tukes on;r lifi'of its own in the late Middle
'\1,,'. M,rrlit bt'r'orrrcs rrrorc tlrrn u list ol'otr.jt'r'rionlblr: practices in the

rrrrrl', ol rts pcrst't utors, [rtrt .rrr org;rrrizctl rlt'rrrorrir' st't't <tf'sorccry, witch, r rll, .rrrtl n('( r()nliln( y plosc't utt'rl llrlouglrorrt lrtrnlpt' :rs lrorlt herctical
rrrrl r rnurt.rl. M.rgit .l( (.us,ttr()r)s ntovt'tl oul ol lo..rl ,rll,rrr-s ()l)t() ll lilrqcr


Witchcra.ft and Magic

in Europc:'l-he Middle

Mcdieual Magic: Definitions, Beliq/i,


stage and were punished more severely - not as ignorant stlperstition, but
as evidence of rner.nbership in a diabolical conspiracy rvorthv of the death

penaity, visible from the inquisitorial records

of Bernard Clui to


Malleus Malcficarum.

In both the positive and negative sources, nragic in the late Midclle Ages
became ntore real than illusory; the realiry of ritual pacts r.vitl.r the l)evil
and the like becarne a donrinant lbature of late medieval and early tnoclern
obsessions r,vith r,vitchcraft. In the'clerical underworld'of necronrancy. rituals coercing angels, saints, ancl demons llranted occult knowledge and
power to those who possessed the ulanuscript or nlastered its texts
(Kieckhefer, 1990:151-75). In the Munich Handbook, a fiftcenth century
necrorrantic ntanual, the reader learns of techniqLles and fornrulas to prodr.rce illusior1s, in sonte cases akin to rather elaborate partv jokes, to colllnla1td spirits through conjurations, and how to clivine hidden knowledge,
including the future (Kieckhefer, 1997).The reality of this kind of nraqic is
rooted in a set of assumptions about the power of words and texts and the
existence of invisible spiritual powers and virtues which the nrasician can

Although late fbr-rrteenth cet-rtury condernnatiolls continLled to etnphasize the worthlessness of r-nagical practices rvhile linkin5l thenl to heresy, in
the filteenth centllry legislation against rlagic confirtns its reality rather
than denouncing it as illusory. In a 13U5 lllanual tor priests, copying lroln a
long traditic)I1 of such lltanuals, the priest rs told to warn his parishior-rers
not to practice incantations and sorcery since these arts arLr wortilless aS
cures and unlawful (Shinners, 191)7: 19). Hor,vever, a gelreration later,
Bernard of Siena's popular 1427 serrnon condettrning divination and
charms as heretical worship of the devil strikes a clifferent note (Shinners,
191)7:212_5). He asserts that those who clairn to have the por'ver to break
a charnr are obviously the kind of people who know how' ttl nlake one,
lurnping together maleficent ancl beneficent practitioners.'There is nothing better to do,' he trutnpets, than to cry out'Tb the fire' r,vith them, condemning thenr as heretics. Those who knorv of such practitioners and do
not accuse thenr are equally guilty of the crime, resLtlting in a lnultitude o[
accused, primarily wontel1, whose coufessions of horrible activities werc
accepted as proven when natnes of victims were verified. Accusations ol
witches kiiling chiidren for their blood, nraking sacrifices to the clevil, or
concocting unguents to nlake thernselves appear as animal illusioris led ttl
the stake. Bernardls call to accuse'everv witch, every rvizard, every sorcerer
or sorceress, or worker of ch:rrtt.ts and spells' :ls lln act of laith appeals to
both his aucliencc's charity, indttcing syll)pathy fi>r the heplcss victints tlf'
sorcery in their c()tt)ltrtlr)ity, rttttl ttt thcir picty', by :rct'trsirrg tllosc rvhosc
spclls tlcrry (iotl.'l'lris ir('('cl)t:ll)('c of-gtrilt rrrtr.l,'.rttst't1ttt'rrtly ol'tlre rc:rlity ot'
sstlr rrr:rqir-:rl po'uvcrs is tlLritc tlilii'rtrrt lirrtrl llr,'t'.rrlt'tttt',1t,'r'.tl rv.tt'ltittgs



,rsainst belief in the reality of such false accr-rsations rnade against persons
rrrspected of sr-rccessfullv performing such magic.A corner has been turned
Ircre, sonrewhere around 1400: the illusory nature of demonic nragic is no
Ionser a possibie defence.
At the salr1e time, late medievai r"nagic and nragicians were irredeernably
( llrristian in mentality, even if their practices were perversions of Clhristian

ritual or condenrned as heretical.The world of the saint and the world of

tlrc rrragician were remarkable sinrilar (Kieckhefer 1994). Both operated in
.r rnaterial worid that concealed and revealed a spiritual realm and yet both
rvere locked with each other in a battle between the forces of good and
, r,il. The consequence was that both saints and nragicians possessed the
n)('rlns to command these spiritual forces. Saints, existing in a blessed state
rrr the afterlife, could make denrons serve thenl or do their rvill, rvhile
rrr.rgicians, recognizing the suprenracy of Christian spiritual forces, utilized
.r\l)ccts of Christian ritual to coerce denrons to do their r,vill - sornetir.r.res
t,,r.:rllegedly good ends such as revealins the identity of a thief,but also for
',, 11-serving or even harr-nful ends, such as cursing an enemy. For example,
rr tlre condemned ,4rc l,'ttttoyia tradition, practitioners could :rcquire
l rr,rwledse of the seven liberal arts through special prayers. In a coniplex
r\\ rsl on this traditiort, the Libcr Visionum text clairrrs to replace the conrlt rr)r)ed ntagical art with a holy set of rituals and prayers.Their orthodoxry
r . ,rrrtlrenticated through a vision frorn the Virgin Mary, connecting rhis
rrr.rgical'practice to the visionary traditions prorninent in the late Middle
,'\r,,t's (Watson in Fanger 1998:163-215).
Iikcwise, Christian piety is the dominant context for many of the late
nr,,licv;il popular practices associated with nragic in the nrodern r.nind
tl..r,'t khefer 7992:242;Dufry 19c)2). The ernotionalisnr of late r-nedieval
I'ri tv. cvident in Eucharistic visions, devotion to the suffering Christ, and
llr, 1'11'gs5s5 of flage11ants, resonates with ntany of the 'ntagical practices'
r, lyrrrg on Christian rituals and nraterials, such as the Eucharist for healing,
lr,,ly 1;111 fordivininghcretics,orrelicsofthebioodofChristasanamuiet.
I lrrrs tlrc boundary between rlagic and religion is obliterated or crossed so
lr( (lu('r)tly as to make it irnpossible to tell where one leaves ofL

Altlrouqh the cvidcncc for popr-rlar and courtly practice of magic

lr( r(.tsc(l cxpctnentialll,, given the nunterous tracts, court records, ntanuals
rrrrl pop11l11- stories circtrl:itinu, it is clr"restionable whether an actual increase
rrr tlrt' lrrrtc'tit'c ofttrltgic occttrrecl as cause for this outburst in the literature
rl\ tcrs, irr this voltrnrc; Kicckhcfi'r 19()0:92). [r is lrore likely that as the
tlt, l.rrt' rtbtlttt tttugit' ittcrc:tst'rl, ltntl irlcrrs sprcrrcl rrrorc rlpirlly in Europe,
llr(,1( l)('()pl(' wcr'(' l):lssing strlrit's lborrt rrr,rgit so tlr:rt \vc lreltr llrorc
r, , ()ttttls ol-1lt'rsottt t l:ritttittg to lt:rvt' tltt' Porvt'r's .rssor'itrtt'rl r,vitlt rrr;rgicilrns
lr('(.ttt\(' it ttorv ltl('illts stltttt'tltint-,, tlttil.' s;r,', rlir' lo ttt,tk,.' srr<'lr :t clltittt.
\\ lr,rl rs tttosl t lt;rt.rt t('t lsl t( ol tlris I)t'r rotl, lrout'r,t'r. rs llrt. st.t'iotrsttt'ss of-


l4titclrcra-li and \'lagiL:


Europe :Tlrc Middle A.qcs

magic and its potential to both enlpower and to disrupt Christian societyl
Anyone can now perforrn rnagic, lvith a littie traininll or access to a text,

endorving ordinary 1ay individuals with the power to heal or harm

through appeals to occult resources. On the other hand, tl-re d;rnger of
magic. or the perceptior-r of danger fronr very real magic,increases. In earlier
centuries, Christian antidotes to magic as illusory were r11ore thrn powerful enough to coerce and contain den.ronic powers invoked through
mag;ic; in the tourtcenth and fifteenth centuries, any crisis (of which there
were ll1any, fronl natural disasters, famine, disease, political dislocation,
financial disasters and wars) was cause to accusL. sonle persons of membership in an occult conspiracy.The self-proclainred nragician w,ho concoctecl
love potions, herbal renredies, and perforrned illusory tricks was dangerously close to the heretic in a pact with the devil, rvhich cor.rld get the lay
nrag;ician in sorle trouble.
By the fifteenth centrlry, nragic was no longer, as in the earlier periods, a
list of superstitious and potentially lurmful practices needins to be eradicated through pastoral correction of the ignorant and through the elevation of Christian ritual as an antidote. On the one hand, magic and
magicians were everywhere throughout nredieval society and seemingly
impossible to eradicate. Now any lay person could clainr occult kr-rorvledge
to cure or curse. On the other hand, magic r,vas increasingly perceived as
part of a rnonstrous, dangerous pan-European cult threatening to destroy
Christendorn and needing to be stanrped or,rt. Popular religion, and popular practice in general. norv looked far diiferent in the eyes of those rl,ho
adopted this view - less innocent, rxore devior-rs, in need of harsher remedies. And once popr-riar cuiture adopted this ilttitude torvards magical practices, that it w'as a real threat to the cornmuniry that normal Christian
practice was not strong enough to coulrteract. nrass persecutiou \\,as an
inevitable outconle rn,henever economic, social or political dislocations
occurred, targeting minority groups of various ethnic and religious types.
In some sellses thel1, nragic as a sociai phenonrenon rises in the hte Micldle
Ages and reaches a peak in the early nrodern period, not as a consequence
of a now distant 'pagan' past but as the resr-rlt of a dominant Christian


The Practice of Magic: Poltulclr and Courtly


Alicr sifting tl.rrough the ,rodern layers of interpretation and medieval parthlt c.rnstruct rrr:rgic JS a catcgory. wc co,rc ro rhe rctull prr.ii..,
1.1111{ i11 r'nedical retitedies r-rsing hcrbs, scones. aninial
parts, incarptations
'rrrtl ritual actions, in protective anruiets and talisnrans, in divinatorv tech.r(lr..s, and in nranuals of sorcery and necromancy. whetl-rer all of these
l,r,r('ticcs belong in a singie category calleci magic is cluestionable (Murray
l't')2). fhe nature of popular pracrice is such that ir.io.r r-rut articulate its
,rrr,icrlf ing premises.Any shared asslllllptions rnust be derived either
, .rtt'gories created by medieval elites seekine
to define these practices in
,.rilc wr) or those creatcd by rnodern conl,,lentators extractirrg fiom the
,(,ur-('(js solDc unstated internal logic irovernine nragic
practices. As is evi*
,l, rrt Fronr the survey in Part II, the first path of looking at
literate elite
lr(.rtnrcrlts of rnagic is problenratic because these views &arrged radically
, ,r.r' [he course of the Middle
Ages, moving fronr a 1oose list oipractices i,
rlr, c:rr1y and high nredieval to a harde,ed vier,v of magic
the late
N'l r(l(lle Ages. Medieval labels such as sorcery,
witchciaft "r..,liin
:rncl ilcaltations
"r,lv qradually ca*re to be defined in clear ways, beginning as a series of
"r, rl,rppi,e desig.ario,s r-rsed ar different cinres in diir.re,,ri*"ys, ofte. in
rlr( ('(),text of rhetorical or legal condemnatio's of snch practrces.
l'r.rt tir'cs condenrned in the penitentiais find their comrnonality
in their
r"',,rr ntion rvith each othe-r throuqh conrnron thernes
of the dernonic and
tlr, rrrrrr:rtural,,rore than by specific definins feat.res. Usi,g these sources
r', r. \\1:ry o-i defi.ing p.pular pracices is best ai,oided, sinc"e they tend
r, ,r,l lrrtcr-definitions backrvard, as noted belor,v in Edward peters,essay.The
'r r.r)tl peth, lookinq for conlrron elenrents that define rnagical practices,
r' tlrt'r.t'firre tltot'e protrrisirts, even if it is difflcult to classifyfhese practices

ll rl( )

\ut)('itte gOf iC\.

llris tlrirtl scctior) thcrctorc rrrlkcs certain choices regrrrdi,g wl.rat con(rrill('s tl)e c()Irn()ll:rrrd r'ourtly trrrditions of nra5lic
rnJhu*io subdivide
t1t"1 1.1[1'q1lrics. lror tltc lrtrrposcs ot-tlris essliy, rrmuic c:onsists of practiccs
l"rrrrtl u'itltilr tttc'tlic'v;rl sor'icty llr.rt.rrt'irr sorrrc tlslriorr t'llssifl,-'cl as rri.rgic
,,r ,,lr.rlt. t'lr:rlrrt'tt.r'rstit.s :rssot.i:rtt'tl rvitlr rrr,rLlir. rrs tlcfirrctl by orre of tl-re

,l,,rtrttt,ttt( rrr<'tlit'vrrl
Ir.ll,rtlir]rrrs t.rIl1;11.,1,,,t1,,.1r,.,."i,,,,r r,...ti,',,,.-ilhi,.l fir.,,:;

Me dicual Magic :

Wittlrcraft and Magic in Eurttpe :'l-\rc Midtllc Ages


on practices excludes both tl-re high/inteilectual traditions and the legal

p.ohibirio,1r, both discussed elservhere, that helped create the conceptual
..t"g,rri., of r.nagic, although both rvill of r-recessity be brought in as
source material for popuiar practices.

pi^.ii..r do not fit

neatlv into bores, since there are a

nurnber of *ry, of ai"iairg up these practices, and even the distinctiorl
courtly traclitions and intellectual 'high'
between con1l1ton or'low'
nragic is problernatic, as is the division betrvcen 'rvhite' and 'black' nragic'
These populr.

corlrmon rtragic emerges as a separate category prinrarily in thc rlrinds of

posr-twelfth-cintury thinkers distancing thernselves fronr popttlar pr.rcticc
., th"y developecl theoretical nrodels for natural tnagic clerived fror-rr classipt-rscal. Arabic ani other eastern Mecliterranean sources conring into their
session. Nonetl-reless, shared concepts about
practices cross the boundary between popular and intellectual. Sirnilarly the
division between 'white' and'biack'nlagic is an efTort to isolate the practices
with a positive result through godly nleans front those rvith a purposely
ncgative or harntful etIect derir,'ed from unwholesonle, cletllonic ir.rlpr-rlses'
tii, .r, also be a grey area, hor,vever, as when someone tries to ac,quirc
good ends through Lad u.re"r-rs, or vice versa. The distinction is ilot always
fl.rr, ,, when a birh,rp asks a necromancer to use his knowledge of spel1s,
full of Chri.stian litr"lrgical formulas, to cail up det-uons anc'l lorce thel)r to

i.fbr,ration tirat will a11ow the bishop to deleat evil heretics

(oaesarius of Heisterbach v: XVIII , 1929: I: 338-.tl). The sanre nrrterials
ar.rd r.vhite nragic - healing through certain herbs
-.y b. used in both black
with spells and causing illness thror-rgh similar nle:llls. Magic practiccs call
thus be dividerj ...o.dirs to a variery of criteria, whether by their oriqins


or their soLlrces, or an eranrilatiotr of their lraterials, llleaos and results'

Tracking the origins of nragical practices, for cxample to their Egyptian'
Graeco-Iltman, Germanic, ileltic or Scandinavian roots is useful, but
because these traditions are so internrixed in adaptations rvithin Europe,
categories by origil do not represent a true ullclerstanding of nrcdieval
p.^.ii..r. For exa.rple, identifying the pre-Christia, origins of a 'paga.'
ue.r,.c.rl., charm founcl alongsiJe Lati, liturgical prayers in a tenthcentury nronastic manuscript does not explain how thc practicc wes
accepted as Christian by the people who produced the texts in thc tenth
century (Stanley 1975;Jo1ly iSq6). Moreover, similar practices are founc1
througirout the Mecliterrarrla,, regio,, fio'r Syriac,Arabic, Egytian' Greek'

Inclo-iuropean :rnc1 Slavic traditio.s rangi,e frttttr ancie.t sollrces to the

fifteenth ..,rr.,.y ancl recttrded as living practice right dow'rl to the presellt
(laster (197 l)'
celttrtrV rrs cvicierrt fclr cxrirtrplc in thc work of Moscs
allorl's tls ttl
(llrrssitvirrg tttrtqicrtl prrtcticcs ltccortliltq tcl ttreir tcxtttel
llS lll()rf
cv:rlttlttt'tltt'it'prorlttt'tiolt lttttl rtst'itt tltcir ttl.tltttr(ript
11.( (.nt w()lk in ttt't trrttlttlltit ltt,llttt:tls lt:ts slto'nvtt

Dcfi nitittns, Belia;fs, Practi



Magical practices themselves, and references to the practice of rnagrc, are

found in a wide array of manuscript types. Primary evidence of nragic :rctrlal remedies, formulas ar.rd rituals produced lbr someone to use - are
firund in medical hanclbooks both lay and clerical, in monastic and liturgical texts, as nrarginalia in other texts, in scientific treatises, and in specifically rr-ragic handbooks prevaler-rt in the late Middle Ages (necronrancers'
rrranuals for example). Secondary sources describing, and usually condenrning, n'ragic pr:rctices include the 1aw codes, penitentials, theological
trc'atises, sermons, histories, saints'lives and other religious literatr-rre, as well
:rs literature of entertainrnent such as fairy stories, rofilances and fables.
Magic practices thus occur in different contexts, whether r-nedicinal,
liturgical, scientific or literary. So, for exan.rple, Lynn Thorndrke'.s work dis-

earlier examined the phenornenon of nragic in the context of

('xperinlental science, treating thent together as a single area of study
('l-lrorndike 1923). Many of the incantatory healing rituals and fornrulae
lirund in the written evidence are heavily derived fronr Christian liturgy,
rrrrrking it difficult to study rnagico-nredical texts apart fronr the nronastic
( orltexts that produced the manuscripts (Murdoch I989, 1991).
l'rescriptions for physical ailments might include incantatory words otTensive to a narrow-lninded clergynran, while at the sarne tinre invoking the
rrriraculous power of a saint whose cult is pror-noted by the said clergynran.
A pilgrir-n's relic, authentic or not, frorn an authorized sirrine rnight be sold
,rs un amulet, spreading the saint's fatle at the sarne tinte that it rrks the
rtrnrdians of the shrine.
Exanrining the materials and results of nragic takes us closer to the practrt'cs thernselves, but is a very utilitarian approach that has a certain nrod, r'n bias to it, in that practices drawn fl'onr very ditlerent contexts are
r,,rrrtrped together. For example, l\ichard Kieckhefer divides his chapter on
llrc cottttttorl tradition of rragic into six groupings based on their n'raterials
,,r'tools: (1) nredicai magic using herbs and aninrals; (2) word magic such
,rs clrarnrs, prayers, blessings and adjurations, (3) protective objects, such as
,rrrrulets ancl talismans; (4) sorcery as a fornr of 'black'magic that nrisuses
tlrt'nreans ernployed in the first three categories; (5) divination and astrol,,sy; rnd (6) trickcry (Kieckhefer 1990:5(>-94). Sinrilarly, and ovcrlapping
rr itlr Kieckhefer'.s catcgories. practices cen be organized into groups
.rt t orclir.rg to what they endeavorecl to achieve as an outcolne rather than
tlrt' rrrcans they uscd to acl.rieve thenr. Braekman, for example, has a fourl,rltl schenra basetl on outconle, healing, protection, divination and enterl,unn)cr)t, whilc acknorvlecigins the potential tor both pc'rsitive and
rrr'g;rtivc ()utc()lncs wlritc or bl:rck rnlqic, thosc things borclering on the
rrrir..rt'rrlotrs vcrsils tll()sc tlr:rt f:rll otl-irrto s()rccry (llrrtckrrrrrtr 1991).
l{r't'ogrrizirrg tlltt tto orq.urizrrtiorrrrl st'lrcrrr.'is corrrplctcly srrrisflctory
ritvt'tt tltt'r):rtur'('()l llr('t()l)r(. tlrr'lirllorvirrg livr'st'ttiorrs tllglrrizt'populltr

Witchuaft arrl Mdgic in Europe :T'hc Middla Ages


outcome: l-realing, protectiorr'

practices according to the results or intendecl
each section' tl-re
clivination, occult t n,r*1.dg" and entertainment'Within
fronr one
,o.r..., and method, ,.. ""rrrirrecl, although they oft-e.
.",.gory to the next. For example, both healing a1ld
t,,t sir'i1ar .raterials'
occur in medical ,-,-r^,-,.,,atipt'


irlvisii..t. "U:..rs.Whi1e both use verbal and writlen formulas to countcr
to cure' rvhereas protectlve pracporior], or applied Ixtetnally as unguents
th" Same tools to rrrake atrrulets and
tices to ward off clisease ,,]d h",,-,.
with occult knowledge
talismans. Likewise, clivinatory prectices overlap
however' is nrore
.-.q.,i..a through sorcery or necromancy' I)ivination'
tneans for
;i;.ly ailied #th n"riiig and. protection in that it provides
cycles' the
in the nan'ra1-world' whether
reading signs as ,r.rniffi
on the
or rhe ent;ils of an animal. Some clivination
to the
knowledge of the skilled practitioner' a seer or srbyl'
to produce particLllar
Sorcerer whose o...,]t'k,,o*ledge is used
Necrornancy achieves
as theft detection, curses or lov! magic'

through calling up spirits such as cletnons or angels..Entertairrment,
over these ..,.gori.r,-b.J i" ter,rs of magicians
AstrologersJ sorcerers
audiences and iiteratrr.e
to astound or illusions to
and necronrancers at court *i-ght p.odrce tricks
rnagical practices
a.."*" willing audiences Liierary accounts of these also
contribute to
.J.., popular"and courtly perceptions of r-nagic anddangerous'
notions oinragic as mystcrious, illusory' porverftrl and

Metlical Ma,qic: Healiryq tsody and Soul

amorphous' cateMagic associated r,vith rnedicine is the largest' and-most

existing at the
gory of common ,rrrgil.l practices in the Middle Ages'
of illness'The
bou.dary between the- natuial and unnatural rnanifestations
illness is fuzzy otre. itl
distinction between n aterial and spiritual causes of
the disAges'
medieval medicine, f,tiitui"'fy in the early Middle
tinction is more b.ti'...' visibie and invisible causes'
cal rernedies identified iilness with speci{ic material
or alleviatc sylllpcure
combinations of herbs
cor.'pl:ri.rts)' Other
rhetic association (eg. liver of'the vultttre for liver
clves, clwarves tlr
ailnrcnts hacl invisib-** crluscs - frorlt .tit'bornc po'isotrs,
trl c()l)terrlct
tl.rat rccluirccl invisible lrclp firrrrr spirittrll tirrct's

(,irristi:rrr littrrgy. lrr (,lrrlstl.lll l)t,tt(ttt" ().tl rvrrs tltt'
1r'rt.tit.r. .r li.rrr

Mcdieual Ma,git: Definitiorrs, Belie,fs,



l)ivine Healer ancl the r-rltirnate source of health; consequently medieval

liturgy r,vas full of prayers for health and relief from infirmity, including
blessings and exorcisr.ns of patients and of objects and materials used in
lrealing, such as herbs, holy water and anrulets. This convergence of
( lhristian and Gernranic concerns is visible lor example in the exorcisrrs
of dernons and illness found in both liturgical and medical manuscripts
tlrat include Clernranic eives and nightnrares in their list of exorcised evils
(folly 1996; Hunt 1990: 80-1).
I}ecause of this duality of nrear.ring in healing, both spiritual and physi, rrl, we have a range of practices that nright be declared nragic in a later
,rgc. I{ituals derived fronr folk Gernranic practice as well as fronr Christian
l)r.rrctice show up in a variety of contexts. Although most rernedies are
lirtrnd in n'redical treatises, they can also appear in liturgical texts and as
rrr:rrginalia in religious texts. On the one hand, remedies for physical ailrrrcnts rely on classical nredical paradigms, evident in the rr.redieval lnanu't ript traditions of herbals, lapidaries, animal parts and practical nranuals for
lr('iltrlrent of both human conditions and illness in animals. Interlaced with
tlresc n'redical rer-nedies using natural materials are prescriptions that use
rrlrral actions and charms, sometinres derived fronr earlier Gerrnanic fblk
l,r':rt:tice. On the other hand, Christian relneclies occur in the context of
lrtrrrqical prayers fbr healing and in the margins of reiicious texts, curiously
rrrtcrnrixed aeain with Germanic components.This synthesis of Gernranic,
t lrristian and classical traditions in the early Middle Ages is unsurprising
rrr the context of a shared set of presunlptions abor-rt the integration of the
n.rturrll and spiritual worlds and the existence of hidden'virtues'in natural
,,lrjccts that can be tapped or activated throush ritual actions and verbal
lr )r n)ulas, a theory found in both Piiny and Augustine.
lrr the trvelfth century, a distinction between natural ancl supernatural
,nr('r-seLl among scientific thinkers that led to a greater distance betrveen
n,rlur-el renredies and those appealinu to sLlpernatural forces, rvith a conse,;rrt rrt tlistancine of elite medicir.re fi'om fblk nredicine. It is wise to keep in
rrrrrtl, horvever, that professional physicians in the early Middle Ages w,ere
rnr()n)nron and in the high Middle Ages they existed primarily in rarified
, rrr, irr:rrrnteltts, either as theoreticians in tl-re universities or :ls court physir r,urs to the highest nobility (l\ubin 1974,1989; Siraisi 1990). Most r.nedr,,rl pr:rcticc r,vas carricd out by rlore ordinary folk, such as herbalists,
l,.rrlrt'r'-surgcons arrcl sclure reliqious, llthor,rgh the clergv was prohibited
lr()nr []r':r('tisins rrrcdicirrc in I'l31 at the Council of Rheints, another indi,.rlr()n ()l thc irrtcllcctrrrrl scpuration bctwccn spiritual and physical con, ( rrs.'li) :l qrclt tlcsrcc, tlrt' prlt'ti<'es oilrcrbulists rncl ntidrvives, and hence
,,ltt'tt ol'\v()nl('l), :rrc rt'lltivclv irrvisiblc irr tlrt' Prcdorrrirr:rrrtly nrale clerical
t,'\l\ (lrirt stu-vivt', lltlr,lrtqlr rrrrlrt' t'r,'i,lr'n((' ls ,rl)l)illt'rrt in lrrclracological
r r rrlt'r)( (' (Wt'storr I()()5; Mt'.urr'\, l()tit)). Norrt'tlrt'l<'ss, tlrt' t'<trrtitrrrcrl


W'irclrrafi and A.4agk in Europe:'fhe Middle Agcs

existence in these rnanuscripts of fblk renredies ernployine ritualized cr.rres

not only grants these popr.rlar traditior.rs sonre authority but also sugeests

the existence of widespread orai traclitions involving'nredical nlagic'.

I-lowever, the components deenred mag;icai {iorn a modern medjcal
vier,v clo not all originate in pre-Christian folk practice; rather, a high percentage of the 'magical' ritu;rls ltound in nredier,'al nredicine have a
Clhristiarr basis,particularly in the use of Latin fbrmulas and the sign of the
cross. Moreover, hagioeraphy substantiates the power of saintly words ancl
actions in medicine. For example, Gregory of Tours tells the story of St
Martin taking pity on a wind-blown tree fhllen across the road (Gregory of
Tours, Confe-s.sor,.s 7, l9il8:25). Martin raises it by rraking the sign of the
cross over it. Subsequently, people scraped bark otFthis tree ancl dissolved it
il) $iltcr ttr rttukc rrrerlicinc.
(]iven this Christian r'vorid view dorninant in the sources, tlre 'magic'
conlponcnts of medicine cannot be easily isolated from the nreclical or
liturgical contexts in r,vhich these remedies occnr. Even trving to separate
these cornponents into categories is diflicult because the1, or.r1., to such a
lyeat extelrt. For exanrple, herbal renredies r,vith verbal fornrulas cen be
used both for healing and as amulets fbr protection against clisease or
harm; sonre of the sanle tools ancl rnethods useci for healing irr ruedicine
can also be used fbr causing iliness or harrn in sorcerv. Nonetheless, the
lbllowing analysis breaks medical nragic into two parts, nredical nraterials
and verbal formulas, even though they overlap within renredies. The first
part exar-nines renredies with ritual characteristics enrplovir)g herbs, stones
and anin'ral parts, rlerived from the classical tradition of herbals, lapidaries
and anirnal compenditrms, but also four-rcl in otl.rer rredicai treatises. The
second examiues the nruch larger category of verbal (orai and lvritten) forr.nnlas, often conrbined rvith rittral actions nsed to activate the healine
potential oIher-bs, stones end aninral parts.


ia Mt

dic a

: Hc rbs, Anh nals, Storue-i

The classical nedical traclition contribr-rted two nrein conceptual franreworks to nredieval nredicine: the idea of the four hurnours which medicine seeks to rebalancc, :rnd the nredicinal properties of natural objects
found in scientifrc compendiurns. Herbals, the anirnal books and the laprclaries are organized bv item and thus firnction nlore as refcrence works
than ecttral practical rnanuals. Altl-rough thc' rnedieval nrannscrifts ilrr'
copies of Latin, Greek ancl Arabic treatises, they sornetir-ues shorv enotrglt
innor':rtions and alteratit)ns tr) su{[ICst a cr)]rscious lpplicltiolr of sottre of
thc rorrcclies irr rnedicr':rl Europear) practi('c. Sorttt' oi thr' itenrr {rtitt
p()tcl)cy tlrr<lrrglr ritrr:rl:rcriorrs or vcrbul firrrrrrrl;rs, rrr:trltlitiorr t() pr()l)('r
pt't'P:u':t(iort o(- tlrt' substlttr'r'. ()(lrcrs litrrt (irrrt tlurrtrglr ,rssor i.t(iott, iilc'lrti.
lit'tl irr tlt,r,lt't'tt tltotrgltt lts'sytttP,ttltcl l( tll,u'.1(

Mtdicual l,lagit: Dc.firtitions,




Herbals are the

caregor)" crerived fi-or, a c.nrprex historv
(lreek, Rorrran andl,f.r.,.
Arabic trinsr,ission, printarrly f.o' th.'r"*ii

l)ioscorides, Apuleitrs Praro,icus a,d priny.
These herbal .or,rp.r.tiur.
.ccur in both an iiltrstratc-d tracrition an.r iri
,rr.,,r,.,r..ipt, *iirr.",

tirrrrs (Collirs 'l999). The first herb i, the psetrcJo-Aiureius
rhariurrt is
lrctolrY or bctottica,bishopwort in E.glish,
a,c-l its uses are inclicative of the
these texts (revrie,cl 1gg1). Iletory is
goocr r". r"rr or body
l'ccausc ir prote-s fro,r riocr,r,ar visitors
ancr frigiitenir;l;;rr* as welr
'rs heali,g head i,jr-rries, \o.e cyes Jncl c.lrs, noseblcecls,
roi.,th^.h., fatigue.
It'r'er, g.rt ancl irrternar airnre,ts of
trre loins ancr stonrach. It can arso ber
rrsccl as a purgativc against ingested
poisons ancl for
r'rri., varies dependi,g on the use, bur most involvesnake bite.The prepa_
drying .,ra porrrrairg
tlr. r..r to a powdcr and then conrbi,ing rt with
lrtltriil ('"vine, beer, honey. water); s,ch iii.xtr-rr.r "rrr..
ro. u,rtt,
, rtcrttal and internal use. Retol.r1,
also occurs in a ri,ide.rrrg. olre,reclies
rrr ,re'c'lical trearis.s orga,izecr by
exal,ple, in the Argro_
\'rr., l-ccrfibooa, be'tonv figures pronriientry For
ctrres ru.'irrurrit,t. .fitr._
rr()r)s' sLrch as r,adness, ,ight.rares,
and clerir.r,ic oppressiolt
[ory 1996:
I ]5).
Irr s,.re cases, the.c.ilection, preparation
or appricati., of herbal re,re_
'lr' s is acc.rrrpa,iecr by ritual ..,iori, and verbarlb.,,,r,-,r"..
1st.rr".a u77).
'\itlr.ugh llurchard of wor,s
co,denrnecr the use of i,cantations in cor_
l" rirrs ,redici,al herbs, he rrr:rnted that christiarl prayers
tha,king clod
l'r1 llig herbs were appropriaie, ancl
nuch of the nredical literlt.re follorvs


,or to ,re,tio,

of herbs found in Jitr.rrgical

chrisiian ,,ew of nredicinal herbs is
rlr( :rpocryphal legend of the uorrrnJesus
collectins herbsi.h, ,rorher
Nl'r'r" ill.strated in a fo:rt19grth-c.rtr.y
herbal show.i.g ch.ir, ,,ra H,r".y
l,l,.ssrrq herbs
',r.rrrtr;rls. Further substa.tiating this


(Kieckheler 1990: 6tj).

lrrssical kro'u'leclge or herbs, christia,

fbr.rurrrs a,d Gerr,arric ere_
'r'i',rs c()lr)e togethe-'r ilr i,,elry.of rhe:c prcscriptionr. nn..r.rrfl.ith. t-r.rb

to classicar herbars clerived frorr.r the brood

dragon. is uselr'l i, a svnrpathetic: way

'lt't'tt,iltiunt, according






""i 'r','rirrst wornls, onc of the rnost .orrrrrr.r,, conrpraints i, (ierrna,ic

"r"lrt.rl lore; but it is arso uscd againsr br>th nrigrai,e and toothache, ail_
rrr' rr(s .ftcrr ;rttributctl t,, ru,r.rrrr.
Narratil,c incantations dcrivecl from
t lrrrrtr.rr lcserrcls brirq.ut tlre irrhercrt'irt.es
llrr'st.r'v.f l)ctcr lrcrrrerl .f . t..th.chc lry-]esrrsofis this herb (r)into 1973).
re.ited in one popular
rr Irr( (lY' Atrtrtlter rt'cites l)s;tlrrl ()o:
l3 (srrlttr asltit/c,t tt lnsili-tctrtrr arttbttlaltis, ct
"tt'rrlr,tltis lrottt'ilt t't rrt',trottt,ttt).., ,,,'.,,' ;ll:lt l.(.(-urs ti.crltrcrrtr,y. irr .rcclical
' lr'rrrrrr ;rrrtl is orit'r rroll r':rvctr irr rrr,rrrrrsr'r.iPt iilrrrrrirl,rtiorrs,
with Jcsus
r'tr'l()ri.()rrrlv tt1'.t(lilrs ()rr tlrc lrt..rsrs (Srllt.r.
(r. C:rlli.c
,' ll:,1,,,i,
ll;)i '/) li.r' rrr.(lrt'r' t',1rr.rrlr (.rrr(),
t.rrrI1.11111, i,rt.,.,lirii, (rrt, rirrrr-(t.t,lrtJr


Witchoaft ttnd Ma,gic in Europe :Thc Middle Ages

century physician John of Gad<Jesden gave a renledy for nosebleed that

,..o-.r.r1ied collecting the herb shepherd's purse with recitation of the
our Father, Harl Mary and a special prayer to the Precious lllood (Hunt
1990:21 ; Shinners 1997:286).The herb r,vas then huns around the neck
like an amulet. Such prayers for staunching blood are very cotl.trtron in
medical and religious ntanuscripts, with obvious spiritual overtones connected to the Blood of Christ.
Like herbals, treatises explaining the nredicilal ptoperties of anirnal parts
transmitred classical knowledge into the Middle Ages, often in the same
n-ranuscript with herbals .The Medicina dc Quadrupedihu of Sextus Placitus
opens wiih an inrpeccable pedigree for these cures, attributir.rg them to
iesctlapi,-,s as trarxnritted frorn Caesar Octavianus to his friend the king
of the Egyptians (cockayne 1961: l: 326-73). Some of the ,remedies
involving-anintal parts are purely 'naturaf if bizarre fronr a nrodern perspective. For exarnple, a British colrpendiurn asserts that cat faeces are useful for cririns baldiress or fever (Kieckhefer 1990:66). But,like the herbals,
sor.ne animai-part .emedies involve r:ituai preparations and fornrulas. In a
Carolingian manuscript, an epistle containing seventeen ret-nedies from the
vultureivas inserted it the end of Dioscorides'Llatcria Medica and attributed to the king of l\onre as sent to the province of BabyloniaAlexandria,
giving it an exotic, Ibreign flavour (MacKinney i9'+3)' Anrong other
It ingi, it recomntends a special forlrula whel decapitatins the vulture itr
o.der to use parts of rts head or brain for correspor.rding hunrall complaints, s.rch as migraine: 'Atrgel Adonai Abrahanr, on your account the
word is completed.'Vulture body parts could aiso be used as anrulets for
protection ag"inst demons, thieves and sorcerers. l)espite these dubious
p.a.tic.r, these texts for the lnost part contain nrethods for extracting
iherrrical conlponellts frorn natural products, in nrost cases without tbe aid
of ritual, and, iespite their often rnistaken theoretical basis, fornr the foundation fbr later siientific experiments. For exanrple, Albertus Magnus furthered the scientific stucly of aninrai derivatives, as rvell as herbs arltl
genlstones, in his ,Book of Scrrel-s.The sharp line between science and magic
as cor-rstrued in nrodern tertns distorts the fact that rnuch of scic-ttcc
evolved from n-ragical experinrentation (Tarnbiah 1990).
Lapidaries list the u..ious r-rses of stones and get"ns, again clerived frorlt
classical Mecliterranean traditiolls and nrerged r'vith locai practice (Evlrrs
1922;Evans ancl Serjeantson 1933). Evidence for the use of stones in errrly
r-nedieval medical piactice, as for exaulple in the Arrglo-Saxo:n I'ccrltbook,
suggests a consciotts adaptation clf Lltin knort'lcclse tt> lilc;rl knowlcclgt'
6l;;"" 'l9t39). The lapiclary tradiriorr becrnrr rrruch rrrore highly tlcvcl''
6pe<l ip thc I-lish Middlc Agcs, [rcuirrrrirrg vr,'itlr thr'lrrte el('v('rltll-(:cllttlry
litrolr rrl .\/()/r(,.\ l)y llisltOp M:trhotlc ol- l\t'ttttt'r; rl('lllsl()l)('s w('l'(' ('()llltll()ll
rip)()ps tlrt' rr6lrility .rs prott't'tivt' ,rrttttlt'ts (l(it, klrt'lr'r l()()o: l{)2 5) I lrc

l[edieuol Mdgit: Definitiorrs, tselicfs, Pntcticcs


tlrcory of hunrours ailied r,vith a Christian cosrnology lies bcl-rind nrurch of

tlrc ntedicinal use ofstones.Jelvels seenred to contairr a concentrJted fornr
trf'1'rower greater than herbs, placeci there bv God for hunrans to use for
r'.rrious ills. For exarnple, the twelflh-century abbess, visionary, conrposer,
l,lrilosopher and herbalist Hildegarcl of Bir-rsen notes that stones are hot
.rrd l-runrid and thar the devil hates and avoids all genistones because tl.rey
r('n)inc'l hirn of rhe city of God (Hildegard, Ptttroltt,qid Latina c.XCyil:
l)-17-52; Boz6ky 1992: 88 9).Jacinth accorrp:rnied by a Larin narrarive
l()r'r)llll:1 is therefore useful

fbr clementi:r and nragic-indr-rccd fantasies. Like

lr,'r-bs and aninral parts, stones for medici.al use could be grouncl a,d put
rrr .r clrink to take internally, or could be placecl on rhe bocl1,, ofien as protr'r tive anlulets, as discussed below.
lt itrr,rl Pcfiitrtnancc:lMtrds dnd Siqns
.\s t'viclent in the discussion of nredical nrateri;rls above, the labe] 'masic'as
r;,|l;g,'l to the nredicinal r-rse of herbs, aninr:rl parts and stones is largclv
,lr'rrvr'd from the employnrent of ritual li>rrnulas or actions in the gatherrr1',, l)repar:rtion and applicatiorr of sonre of these natllral products. Lr r1:rnv
'r,rvs, this is an anachronistic nrcasLrre, in that it isolates otrt of contcxt
rr.ilrV rerlledies that only a later age r,vould consider nragic, u,.hcrcas in
tlr, rr..wrr tirne they r,vere considered part of healing nrethods.The por,ver
,,1 rror-cJs to effect changes in the rrraterial ,,r.orld, rrorv discreclited in rnocJ, r r \('iollcre, is the chief rerson r.vhv niuch of nredieval rnedicine is classirr,.,l :rs nragic irrstead of science. Nonetheless, the bulk of nredical renreclies
rrr tlrt'rttedieval traditior.r do not contain ritrral fornl-rlas, but use entirely
r,,rur'.11, if not scientifically reliabie, rnethods.Those remedies that do have
rr, lr l1.,1-111.,1,,s teud to Llse thern for aiLrrents tl-rat have an invisible cause

lrrlrorr)c poisons, for exanrple), a demonic association (strch as uiadness or

nrr',lrrrrr:rr"cs) or a pagan association (afflictions causecl by clc-nionizecl elves,
'r rr, lrt's'cllrses or sorcery).They also occur rvith the threc rlrost conrlnon
rrr, ,lrt ;rl c<:,nrplainrs, wornls, ble edinq and childbirth (lrinto 19j3), perhaps
l,r r,rr\r' these conditions ,vcre so nruch a part ol clailv li and freclr-rently
lrl, t lu (':lterling that recoursc to l-righer powers w:ls contlttolt.
Nlrrr'lr h;rs bec, ,rade .f tlre paga. roots of such verbal fornnrlas, high*
lr'lrrrrrg tlrc lcturillv very feu, chanus that lack any C)hristian conlponent
t,,1;1111 p1'i1v1lrrilv irr earlv nrcdiev:rl vcrrractrlar traditions, bgt alscl ip Latil.
llr, ,,ll t'itctl L;rtrn;rppcrl to Mothcr Iirrrtlr to blcss t]rc earth arrcl an adjuI rlr.lr ()l ltt'rtrs to lrrittq ottr tlrrir lrelling powers is firtrncl in a tu,elfth*cenr,rrr l,rglislr rrrrrrrrrst'ript (( lorrlton l()2li: -1 1-2). IIou,c,,,cr, tlris is l co1.1 tri
L l,r\\l(,rl tcxt lirrrrrtl irr ,rttt'lirtr'ol'tlrt'Irt'r[r:rl trrrr]itrorr, rurrl hcrrcc rs rrot
llr, 1r111111;1'1 ol' ( it'rtttrtttit P:rg.rrrisrrr sLu'r'rvirrg irrto tlrt' lriglr Mirltllc Agcs
rt ,,lllrr l()()()) . Mort.olt.l, ( llrlisti,rnizr'rl vt,r-siorrs ,rl srrr.lr l)1.:l),(,t.s tlt:lt
r,l,lt,tr l\4otlrt'r ll.rl(lr,rrrrl li.rlltr'r (lotl Protlrrtt'tl rrr t'.rrlv rrrr'rlrt.r,:rl tcxts


l,1r' i t c I



d X'l tt::i t

Mediclol Nlo.git: Dcfinitiorrs, Belicfs, Prdctircs

n E u r o p t :' I-li e I lliddlc'l.gc-s

en ollgoinq
altd Latill liturgical blessi.ngs of helts dentc-rtlstrrte
in.tl're colltext
nrocess flollv 1992).The reterrtir)n of
:i;l;.;."griirri","l"a rerreclies ,aise, ,,a,^i.luestio.s e1-d the
rf.rlp't-.rt*.n pre-Ohristian Clerm:rnic
Christi.rnitl,. For exartrple. the fanror.rs'Lav
,t . Nin. Tto'igs ,,,fWo.i.t.,' ott'-'t togerher
cl, G.cl using
thc Larrir,igd, rhat is ot6erwis(' niit "f ftrrt,ulas calli.g The (lermatr
197 1: 15{)-7)'

It rirti.,, p..y.., (Grattrll :urd Singer

fionr tenth-ce,tttrv Saxony .errate the f-etter-breaking
M;rJb..g .h..'r*
.valkvries,a,cl rel.rre the l-rorsc-sprai, chrrn-r ofwodar;sirui;;.";;; of'the
occttr elscrvhcre lvith christ sr-lbstituted for

charrrrs ftrr l-rorse .tp..in

4(13-5; Renrlv 1979)'

Wodan (Itanrpp 1961:241-65; vau Fl:rver i96-l:
Merseberq charnrs
'fhese nvo rcrllll:Illts of 'ut.ttor-tcheil' paganisnr

a product t>f'

irr the eighth-centtlry; )'et they arc arguably

rcprc\crlt :r filrnr <lf
tt,rrh-ce,turv hrstorical c-onditions in Saxorrl-rnrl nt.rrl
C.llristiatr reference lnd yct
schohrs now srlllqest thaf charrils hckillg rrrtV
r(rprcsL'l-rt ;1I1. alle gorize d
copie-cl r'vithin ;r Clirristi'rn "''"""c'ipt
i:ti.irtl.,nir"ri.n of tl.re oltier: tracliti.n lHoltot, 1993).'Pagarr'to the lllrlllllis
nr..,) th. lLtscnce of overt


script context.


Whllt is tuore sttrprising thlin the sttrr,ir,al oi these
of the bulk ilf'
renreclics is to recogllize t1.re tl'roror-rghlv Clhristian
in tlre elrly
char,r tirrr,ulas :,rcl their ck>scness'to litr.rrgical
partl1' tlrc
Micldle Aqes soon afrer co,ve.sior-r
function ctf the texts :ls prortlcts
(lhristianizetioll of lblk pr:icticc
The ter,ii.ology is .lso
r.rrher rl-ran li c.urplete rejectio. oi its r.et6tlc1s.
spcll (an Anglo-Saxott
.f...pri".. hrcantation ('lerivecl frorn the
.qrl1dor,'sone') intply
u,ord llso usetl o{. rhe (iospel), rncl chrrrnr
to the trtoclcrn rl,ir'r.l 'trr"gic; t" t'p1-""tt1 to
,r.,ry ,,,,-..11ec1 charrlrs "'iiplt'n' Stripture ttt'J
wrly 'lr
.rtrit. tir.r.gical pravers oien' tirnction l'hr:toricllly
charnrs, as etie,cti'e',-,,.r,r, of cure. Kieckl-rcter
to the'.pllticrtt' ;tttrt
betrvecn pL:tvers, adclressed tO floc1. blessirlgs, atlclrcsscd
1990: 6()). All
rrcljuratio'rs, ldciresser-l t. t1-rc i,festirg ag.:,rt
th:rt c()rrt'rlll
tl.,'r"a ar,., be tt>urrtl i, Lroth nrctlicll arirl littrrgicrrl
bcltrlll ol'
cx<trcisilts oi the d.'ril.i-rlcrri,tqs oi hcrbs


'I ltt' c'tttttttlt)ll :lsstlll)l)tiott ttt tltr"st' l)l'ilv('rs ;lll(l t lr.rlrtts, (.lrristirrrr ()r l)lr'
(llrlirtt.rrl ilr or-iqirl. is tlt'r( rvolils 'rrt' t'lii't ttvt' ltt P.rr ( it ttl.rr-. .lrl'rstr.rrr litct'-


lrl tltc
tlr.r( (.ltrrtti'rrr \\'()l(l\' l)l()ll()tlll(( ,l lr,' rlrr' ,lt'l-qv


l:trcharist or by saints in miraculous cures, are cft-ective, either il ct>ujnnctron r'vith n.reciicinal herbs or alone. St Monegr-rnclis healed blisters by
l,r'cprlring a pxste of leal'es ancl irer o'nvn srrliv:r, rnakinq the sign of thc cross
,rvcr the sore; she also blessecl water that healed sore thro:rts and fevers
1( ir-cgory of Tours, Colfi,ssor-s 24, 1c)88: 39-.+0). The relics of such s:rints
,,rrrtinued to otlcr the power for heafing after their rleath, as for cxaruple
rlrr' nredicir.re people obtaine'd fronr the nloss on St Tranquillus'tolltb
(( ;r'cgory of Tours, Corfcs-sor:r ,13, 19u8: 55). Ernpou.ered r:bject-orientecl
lrt,rlinq is thus foster:ed by C)hristiarl teachins. On the other hancl, St Foy
,,,ntmsts her painless r,erbal ibrnrulas to the tnlurlra olnrecJical treatlnents
,rr,l rvitches'cr-rres.'She doesn't scrape arvay diseases s.ith :rn iron hook, or
l\\rtter old witch's sonqs ovcr rottin- s-oLrncls, but rvieids all hcr power
rr rtlr r potent contnrand' (Sheingorn 1995:215).ln nranv ways, thc ac'lvcnt
,'l (.lrristirniry increased the use oi verbal forrrruies trecunsc of the prerlrrn)r)uilCe of the spoken and rvritten r,vord in Christian litr-rrp1,'ancl a the,,1,rr,.v that enrphasized C-hrist es Incarnate Worcl.Tlrus rhe opening rvords
,'t St -f ohrr'.s gospel, h princiltio erat wrbum,was a conul)on forrnula in renre,lr,'.. lroth spoken lnd u,'ritten. C]hristian rvords c'lorniuated literatc nrocles
,,1 tr.rrrsnrission, hence they firrrr the bulk of the nrartr-rscript evidence tbr

, r l,.rl healing forrnulas.

lristiarr stories also take over irr rvhat are clilecl'narrative charnrs'.:r
1lf svnlpathetic ruagic in lvhich the recitation of a story channels
lr, rltrrq power to the patient. A ferv Gcruranic sanrples sr,rrvive th.rt rcfcr,
l,,r r'1,,,rrr1.. toWodan, as noted above. I}-rt the vast nrajority in both thc
', r rr.rt rrlrrr lnd Lltin relv on Christian narl'ative and arc incrcdiblv populrrr
r,rr, rr tlre nunrber of versions and copies fioru throughout Euritpe that
,rrr rvt' fionl medier.al :rnd later periods. incltrding Ciernrany (Miillenhotf
rrr,l St.lrcrer'l u92; Stcinlneyer 19'l 6; Spamer 1958; Hartrpp 196 l),
',, rr,lr)irvirr (Ohrt 1921;Ilans 199(); Grartrbo 1990), the Netherlancls (v:rn
I I rr, r l()(r-l), and Errgl.rnd (Cockrvnc 196 l; Hr.rnt 1990). I{enredies
rr\,,l\ Ir)1{ the spertr of Lor-rginurs, lor exarrrple, are -uviclespread; irr one case :i
Irt, r'11 1'..'1,11,-celltrlry (lerntan version is close enougir to x contcnlporary
lrr,'lr',lr ()l)e to sLlggest clirect contact bet\vcelt the trvo traditions (Selrrrc'r
l't,') Most of these rerneclies t>ccrrr in rneciical collections, but others in
rlr, rrr.rrqirrs of religiotrs tcxts. For exlnrple, the Three Angels l)irrr.rtivc
,lr rr rrr tn Llttin occurs. :)r)l()l)g t>thcr- pllccs, in lr nvelfth-cclltrtr), (lerntlrn
ril rrrr',( t tl)t ()f St Ilcrlrlrrtlls scrltl()l)s (li:rrtsch 11i73: :15-6).
lr , Itls1'115,11ivc cx:tnrltlcs ot- tutrt'lrrir,'e firrrttrrlu inclrr.lc thc stolt' ofJcstrs
lr, 1111,,, St l)ctt'rls tootlt.tt'ltt', tltc storl' ot- l.ongirrtrs sl)c:lr firr strrtrnclring
1,1,,,,,1, tlrt''l'lrrct' Arrgt'ls rrrrrr':r(rvt' .rtljru'rrrq tlrt' st'r,t'rr rlt'nrorrs of illrrcss. the
l,'r,l.rrr l{tvt't'firrrrttrlrr lirt st:rrlrrtlrirrr-', lrl.r,,,l jrrst ,rs tlrt'r-ivt'r-stoorl srill ltl
l, rr, lr,tPtlsrtt,.rrr,l tlr,' \l()r\' ()l tlrt"'l lur't' ( iootl llrotlrt'rs'. 1'lr,' slor'\' of-tlrt'
I lrr,, ( Jootl llrollrt'r's',l,rtt's lo ( itr'r'1. .rrrrl lr1i1|1t.ut l( \t\ ,rl tlrt' lililr trtrrl


Nledieual klqqic: [)efinitirtrts, Belicfi,

Witdrcrali dnd l,Iagit in Lurope:Tltc l4iddlc Ages

sixth centuries, but shou,s up in Latin and vernacular traditior.rs throughout

Etrrope in the trvclfth and later centuries (Hartrpp 1961,'. 196-201; Ohrt
1921: 51; Boz6ky 1992'.87; Kiihler 1868: 184-U). In the narrative, three
brothers encounter Jesus on their way to gather healing herbs. Jesus offers
to give them a secret rentedy, if they swear by the crucifix and the tnilk of
Mary not to pass it secretly or sell it. In the rvound retned.v, wool soaked in
olivc oil fiorn the Mount of C)lives staunches blood rvhen acconrpanied by
a'just as'fbrmr-rla invokirrg Longi.rtus'spear:just as Longinus'spcar pierced
the side of Christ and the u,ound did not fester, so too this present r,vound
on the patient r,vill not fester because of the words chanted c>ver it, done in
the nanre of the Trirriw.
Narrative forttlulas arc' essentialll''hagiographic relicluaries' : their ritualizecl n:rrration or inrrocation of a saintly story contains a verbal relic powerftrl enouqh to curc. Often, the narrative lliaY be connected to actual
relics or the legencls of relic recroverv fioln the Holy Land, as in the rellledies rertcrencing the spear of Longinr-rs, the Hol,v Bloocl or the three nails
frorrr tlre cnrcifixion (Bartsch 1873:52; Boz6k,v 191)4:94). Oonsequentiy,
the cross, r,vhcther invoked in word or in si.gn, is one of the urost collunon
ancl pou.erful ritual actic'lt'ts incorporated ir-rto nredicinll renredies. Many of
the n.rcdical texts, like littrrgical texts, insert graphic crosses ir.rto the text to
intlicate the action of signing as part of tlie perfbrmance of the remedy.
For exatnple, C)arolingian charnts for heart problert-rs anc'l for eye problerns
col11binc a rltixtlrre of Clraeco-Lrtin eibberisl"r rvith crosses (llich6 1973),
as do nranv clf the Anglo-Saxon tltedical texts such as the l-eeclt|ooA and
l-dcmtn.qa (Cockryne 196 1: II; Grattan and Singer 1911), and on irlto the
later Midclle Ages in relnedies to \,'ard ofl evi.l in the forrn of serpents or
clernonic oppression (Gall6e i 887).
Moreover, irrvocatiot't of biblical ntrratives iir liturgical prayers or rtt
visionary literature is quite colttltlolt, so their appearance in healing renle-

of Clrristian influence as alrythillg else. Visiorrs

cxn substantiate the use of a biblical ttarrative in liealing, as ir-r the case of
the voung Gregory ofTours u,ho relieved his father's gout by follorving
thc instructions given in a vision, in a seenrins plav on his budding literacy
(corrfc.s.sors 39, 19u8: 51-2).The first visior-r referred hirn ro the biblical
story ofJoshu:r and told hinr to ptlt his tranle on a chip and place it untlcr
his firther's pillotl:The sec]ond visiot-r instructed Gregorv to Llse the rer.rlctly
front tl.re book ofTbbit. thlt is,br-rrnt ilroltra of fish gall, revealed toTbbils
clies is as nruch a product

by the archancel Ilaphael.This hagiographic tale conflrtns the ttse oFttrtt'rative chrnns lound in thc niedical nranuscripts, as r'vcll :rs lteirtu alt clrly
cxanrplc olthe hcrrling usr.s ()f thc'Tirbit nurntivc.-I'hc :rpocryplrll book ol'
-[irtrit t'6rrtrrir)s lll] cngilging lrrrd rrrt'rttrlr:ttrl,.' stoly ol'tlrc riqlrte'orrs'lirllitlr
blirrtlrrcss .'rrrrst'tl Irv lriltl tlrrlrPirrqs. lris sott lirtri,rs'.iotrrrrt'y rvitlr, rtttktto'uvtl
to lrirl. llrt. .tn lt:rttqr'l I{:r1rlt:rt'l. .rrrtl lris 511lrst'tlttt'ttt ttt.tt t i,ttlt' to tlrt' ill- lrltt'tl



S..rah, whose first seven grooms died

in the rvedding chamber throush the

of the denron Asmodaeus. Raphael, krro'vn in the Middle A-qes as
tlre'healing archangel', soives these problems bv instructingTobias to keep
thc sali, l.reart and liver of a fish he car.rght.The arorla of the burnt fjsh
lrver and heart drives offthe dcr.non on his rvedding nisht ancl the fish s:rll
rs used to cLrre his father'.s blindness.Aspects of this story sho."v r1p in wed,lirrq blessings fbr exorcizing denrons, i, eye remedies and, curiousry, in a
r.'rnedy for scaring birds arvay fronr the fields (Ciall6e 1u87: 457; Durlranr
llitrnl,1927: 145-7).
'fhe basis fur the power of narrati.r'r lies i. a particular view
of la.liulqe, that r'vorcJs represent reality and their perfornrance can therefore

,rlter realiry.This vier,v held su,ay frorn the early Middle Ages ancl renrained
rrrrchallenged in religious practice and popular culture into the early modt rrr rlild modertr per:iod, despite the advent of noniinalism w.ith its disjr-rnc-

rr()n between words and reality anrong intellectuals in the thirteenth

r'rrturl'.This power of words is visible in three healing practices: tl're use of



shape the actions desired, the use

of nrultiple languages,


tlrt' use of written words.

Vcrbal formulas shape actions both directly and irdirectly. As noted
.rl,tx'e. sor-ne narrate stories in an eflort to syllrpathetically reduplicate the
r,rr)seQlleoccs in the original events, such as staunching blood through ref*
, r('r)ce to (lhrist's wouuds. Sinrilarly, some charnrs rely on syrllpathetic
r"srrciation between the action of the words and the actions desirecl, as in
tlrt"rcc'luction'charrns where the perfbn.r.rer counts down to dinrinish the
',r2,'of a swollen gland or: to eradicate worrrls, alrnost all coulting dorvl
lr,rrrr nine, a nunrber considerecl significant in Gerrnanic lore (Lactttrn+,a i1
(;r.rttrrn and Singer 1971: 1u4-5; Hunr 990: 82-3). Curior,rsly,
Ir.r11 1116d..n Corsica record very similar reduction cirarnrs for worrns,
r,, rlirrrned by fenrale'signadori' (Ilertrand-Rollsseau 1c)78: 5u-64). other
r( nrc(iies use chant ancl poetic tbrms to qive rhythrn ancl shape to these

1',,1r'r'rfill w-ords. As a consequence, sonrc scholars include thesc charnrs,

,'.rr'.rcted frorn their nredicinal context, as exanrples of the aesthetics of

lrrr.tr'y (Dobbie 1942:116-28).otherliteraryschoiarsanalysethenrasoral

,'( rr'(' or using semiotics (Halpern and Foley 1978; Ncith 1977), while
rrr()r'(' l-ccent allthropolosical approaches note tlre sharnanistic fr.rnction of

lt cltrttrts (Glosecki 19u9).The perfbrnlative eiements of these relredies

lr,rlrl to recor)strLlct fhrrrr tlre tcxtual rcnlllill)ts wc posscss, since most oI
rlr('r.('('orcls:rrc tlcsigrrcrl to givc tlre csserrtiul irrgreclients fbr a particular
r, rttt'tly to a pntctitittltcr lvlro rvill krrorv lvlrut to rlo r,vith thr-'rrr.Tiurtalizipg
lrrrtls to'silrg tlris t'ltrtrrtt'or'rct'itt' tlris
Ps;rlrrr'lirllor,vt'tl by :rrr irrcilrrl do little
t(, ( ()nv('v tlrc plrrct'. tinrirrg, or lrr,<lv l,trrgrr.rrlt'ol'tlrt.Irt.r-tirr.nliu)(.c.
('lr.trttt rt'tttt'tlics :rlso trtrlizt'tl ,r \',ur('lV ol l.rrru,rr.rl1t.s, llotlr vt.r.rr:rt.rrl:rrs
rrr,l llrr'lt.:u'rrt.tl l.rrrqrr,rq,.. trl l.rtrrr. I lr.l,r,.rr,.rrr,l ( irt.t.k Mt.rlit.rl t(.\ts \v(.r(,



lfitchuaft dnd l'tagic in Luropc:1'hc Middlc



instructi'ons with Latin fornlulas or

frecluently bilingual, r'nixing vernacular 'l990:
91)'The vernacular generally
conrbining English and FrJnch (Hunt
rvhile the Latin the iitindicates everyday o, frrctical t'itgt i'-t orai culture'

have n1al1y cases- o.f translatio.

erate traclitio.s of (lhristi;i,ity; ,rii y., r.ve
bihnguality of
fro,r <tne to the other of sintilar f..rr.,.r1"r, indicatirrg the
translation of a Latin
those rvho transnritted these renreclies in writing.The
narrative charm, into the
formula, such as bt.r*g"t of herbs or a biblical
do*''*arcl spread of ciassical and Christian
vernacttlar denlonstrate,
a vcrnacular formuia, such
nractice. L)n the other hatrcl, the Latir-rization of
bce charm, seems ro shorv .rovement





other direction (Elsakkers 19'37)'

The Llse of' severai lirnguages, whether



Hebrew' Latin'

can iend the rer*edy

Sca.rclinavian rulles or celtic languases,
or at least the clainr to it'
:ruthc'nticity f-,y .pp..iit,g
or throughtrar.rsrnissiot]
Some of it conres out as gibberish, intentionally
.gibbcrish, trj modern eyes could be unintentionally garblederrors.-\)ghiie
clue to the ignorance, of the scribe,



also couid luncrion on principles


reduplicating sounds,

p.rro.,rr.,iu.'sound ."th". th.r, intelligibiliry. c)ften

as in this exa,rple fiorn
iryat1rr, ancl alliteratio, are central to these chants,
tt'Ut" nigl { efrth nrga efith fel ceid fe1' delf
the Laorurlqa nr. tn"ft,
delou delupin'; or
fbl cunrer orcggaei ceufor darcl giung farig widig
genitul catalo-n care trlst
one for .,r.r'tr'J,, horse''s feet,'Gel]eon genetron
nequer-requis attntil rnaris sc'-ltra
fabirt .trri. forrr*e naht ic forrune

t.udc,' (Cirattan and Singer 1971:179' 1u5)'

are nlostly drawn
Cireek a*c1 U.U..rr iror.1, ir', carly ,tedical rerneclies
use a'd
SobnuT'l''uoli' ltt'gt"nt' to""^into greater
sancttrs', or Adorui
i,*lfth t"'-'tuty *iih tht rise of universities ancl the
.n.. ,t.,.
the language of the
influx of learr-ring f.o"l 1t'"iti-t and Arabic sources' As
frequently h high alld late
divine na1.r1es and Clod's'apge1s, Hebrerv occLrrs
the Kabbalah, but it also turns
rnedieval ltecronlancy and in association rn'ith
used to write
.rf ir-r rr.,or".',..1i.,".y'.,'es of 'lir:rcles a,d healing'The scriptcases' the words
tn 1,ral1y
these 'foreigr.,' l.rrglrrg.' varies i, the uranuscripti'
errors' In soruc
are transliteratccl intJ the
Hebrew script are used, clemonstrating the erudition
ir-istances, Greek and

Hebrcw script does
,..ipr. O, the other hand, the appcarance of ireek and
script itself
not lrecessarily i,rplv-l'tt;;; ii" thosc languages'-The.physical
as an amnlet. Mark
nuy lencl authentici-ry ;; ;;.'renreclv ^r.,.1 b. enrployed
and tl.rc
Zicr has rr.tc6, fi*'exe,rplc, tl.rc c-uri.r-rs ,se of a ,rarruscript
it.l.,r.ru ,srr;ris ti>r hcrrlirrg irr l.tc tlrirtcerth-cer)tLrry E,gland
by 'rttribtrtg:titl
Sorrrr, ol- tl.|"r" lri, ,,,,,1
t lt;trttt sltys
irrg tlrt.ir. s()al-(.(, t. lrt'r.it.


Dc,fitritions, Bclicf:,



that an ansel brought the writing fronr heaven ancJ laid it on the altar of St
Peteri ir.r Ilome (Cockayne 19(r1: III: 232-5).The prayer, a combination c:lf
Latin aircl Greek, is ecluivalent to 'al1 thc psalrrrs in the psalter' :rncl to attendance at E,ucharist on the day of death. It is also good against airborne poisons and epiclernics, ilhre-sses and bad drean'rs. Tl.re angelic sourcc grvcs
essurance that the words are exact and pure heavenly ones, rather than corrupt hunran ones, despite the lhct they appear gibberish to r,rs today. A
fifieenth-ccrttr-rr1, English fbrntula was brougl-rt by the arclrangcl Ciabriel ttt
Susanna (Hunt 1990: 90-1). Others conre frorr.r fanrous ancient rulers and
exotic sources associ;rted with nrasic in leeend, such as Alexander the

One exarnple conrbining nral1y of these lingnistic lcatures corles fronr

the for.rrteenth-ccntury friar John of (lreenborough, rvho produced a

conrpendiurn of recipes including nrany oF the narrative charnrs discussed

in Latin,Anslo-Norr.nan :rnc1 English. ln the renredics for toothache
narrating how l)eter lvas cured by Jesus, Clrecnborough includes both an
Anglo-Nornran narrative, precedecl by a Latin lbrnrula asking for relie'f in
the nanre of 'Messias, Sother, Enruruel, Sabaoth,Adonav Panton, Craton,
Pernrocraten, Iskiros, agios, vnras, elevson, C)theos, Atl.ranatc-ls, Alpha et
( )rrrege. lco. r'errtti:. vitrrlus. rgnu\. honro, lir.'s. tr:iorr. qcrpcr)s. prirr: ct

novissinrus, finis, Pater et Filir.rs et Spiritus Slnctus, anren'.There fbllorvs an

appeal to the cross to rvard olf a[ evil and a list of saints (Hunt 1990: U6,
359; Shinners 1997: 2lt7).This iistine tenclencv is conrnron in nt.rny rellledies. Lists of the nanres of Clocl, ansels, and saints, lbuncl in nreclical rc1r1cclies and in necrornantic nragic. .rre in sonre rvavs sirrrilar to a nrarfvrology
listine the saints. [n other cases bocly parts, dcmons or other sonrces oi
afiliction are listed. particr.rlarl,v in exorcisnrs and protection remedies or
loricas discussecl belorv. P:irt of the functiorulity of the .nvords is to 'cover'
cverything or invoke all possible agencies.
While nrost of these forn'rulas are perfornrecl or:rlly as noted usually in
the instructions in thc renredy to chant, sing, or say thc words, sontc forrrrulas :rre prescribed as rvritten objects to be rvorn as anrulcts or to bc
crrten. Although nrost alrlLrlets are protectirre, for r.,r,arding ofF disease or
Irann as discussed belorv, sonre writtcn arnulcts are prescribed as cnres.The
r,vritten rvorcl as conrpared to the oral has thc addccl strcngth of bcing a
srrcred object, akin to a relic. 'Ihe written rvord has both pre-Christian
rrots, eviclent in thc Scerrclinrrvian use itf runes lor protcction ancl curc
(f(ieckhefe r 1()()(l: 17-(), 1 "1 1 ; ll.ludvcrc, in this volunie), but also Clhristi:rn
rrrots ir.r thc powcr of'the irrc'rrrnrttc W<rrd inscribed in Sc--ripture.An Anglolrish rrretlicll trerrtisc prest't'i[rcs u lvrittcrr clr:rrrrr rvr:rppcd aronuc] rr wolrlarl
:rs :t pnrtcr-tivr' ;rrrrrrlt't.'l'lrt' rvrlnls to [rc r,vrittcrr rle
rvitlt t rosst's. rvlrir'lr lirrrr'tiorr rrr rvr-itirrg lrkc tlre rrt'tiorr of
rigttittg.'l'ltt' l;rtirr lirt tttttlrr Ir.un('s tlrt' Iirrrttt', M.rrv Mo(lrt'r-ol'(iorl,.rntl

irr lltbotrr, ostutsi[rly


Witchcrali and Magic irt Ew<tpc:'flrc


Mcdieual llagic: Dt:finitions, Bcliafs,


very appropriate Ave Maria:

the bloocl of Christ, conclucling with tire
blessecl is' the truit of your wourb
blessecl are you .,-,"';;;;';tt"ta
(Hunt 1990:233).
are eaten and therefore rvork
In other cases, hor'vever, the written words
also for other n.rind-alterirtg
intern:rlly, usuaLiy ., ; t;;;y
to have an exorci:tic
Thornclike 1923: l:729-30)'They seenr


where the accused nrust eat bread

function, as evident irr'itr. *r*rJ ordeal,
In the Anglo-Saxon.Li:e,chb.ok, the
inscribecl with his crimes (Keefbr l99B).
paten ancl washtd into a drir"rk for fever'
rvords ofJohn 1: 1 are written on a
passage rs used flol1y 1996: 119'
rvhile iri the Lacnwrya. a longer
'o..u., in a l:rter Engliili ,ranuscript rvhere the
exorcistic power of 1oh, I
a bowi and adnrinistered to the
rvords are scrapecl ";i:';;Ji;'-'t
a demon tauqht it to a peri.rr-"lp"rr.rr"a'..,,i'"iticated by the fact tl-rat the rather obscure Anglo1990: 74)'ln
son alllictecl in this t"t ia'dwar{"
'-ilittftf'efer na,les
of the leee.dar-v Seve n Sleepers
Saxon rer.eclv agai,st
Maxinrianus' Malchus' Iohannes' Martirnianus'
of Ephesus


inscribecl on a r'vafer' followed by an

Constantinus an.l Serafio" - "t each
christian references (Laotutrga
6k1E;;;irrl, nrerrical charm lacking any overr
1977)' Presumably' although no
irr Grattan and Singer 1971:162-3; Stuart
ttt tt'.bt consurnecl by the patient' The
instructiotts .r. gr',.', it"
on bread in a Gerrtran fever rerr-redy
Seven Sleepers are ^L'o
the Eucharist and Christ as'Word
(Murdoch 1991: 3tf)'ih"-to']I"ttio'1s to
,..rr, ," be the obvious soLlrce tor these practices'
involving natural nlaterials and
While ,,ort .rf thtft pLftlt"*"t rituals'
good, healirrg pllrposes, sonre of t}re
words spoke, o, *.itt.,,, are use<l for
c,-lrse and thus i.[ it'"o the category
sanre techniques can be inverted to
and acl.lurations can cause iliness or bring

invisiblc asents of harrn on T

sorcery. Invertecl



lKieckhefer-, ^'-"t''
nragic i'-' tht next section
Consecl.rently, niuch of the protcctive
reiying-9" lht sanle" prlnclto coLlllteract these ..,rr., ,rd sorceries, often
knorvledge of herbs' animal parts'
ples discussed here i" f"'fi"g' classical
folklore ward off
and srones

if-r. ,t


.o.luin..i *iir, cf;.irrirn

ritural and G*ern-ianic

of invisible harm from hunran or spiritual

rls healing' protectlvc nragic
Operating on sonle of the saure principlcs
of illncss or harnr.tetore it relches the
seeks tct warcl off i'."'i'iblt tttt"'
.t.rri..l l,cl firlk prcscriptit>rls attcl

victinr, usirg ,r.r.,.,,r'^',rr.i...i.ir,

ohristrrrn c()lllp()lte

crrrlr.rr,vcrr.tl try ,.,r,,,,i-

.lr(' ( ()l)sll'tl( (t'tl

pr:rcticcs rrrclirtlc lltrtttlcts :ltlcl otllcr
ltt'ti.rrs' Atrrtrlcts
*,"11 ,, vcrtrltl tirrlttrtl.s ltrtcl 'ittt:rl
;lttitrr:tl p:rrts' ()l st()ll('s' rvllilt' t'rlisrrrill)s

1lts. T',hcsc


liolrl ltcrlls'



r'vritten 'nvords. These itenrs colrld be worll around the neck, wrapped
around the body, or contained in a ring.The concentrilted virtues of gernstones, often engravecl r,vith incantatior.rs, were popular anrulets and talisnrans anrons the nobility, while their less potent counterparts, herbs, rvere
lrore accessible to conlrnoir fo1k. Oral fornrulas recited for protcction
inclucle blessings, adjurations and exorcisrls, often conrbined with ritual
actions such as the sien of the cross. These preventive r]rca\ures ir.roculate
against disease, keep dernonic lbrces at bay, provide an antidote for curses
and sorceries and protect animals, fields and travelers fronr natural and
unnatural disasters. Sorue forrnulas, however, are all-purpose or serve several functions; thcse rcveal the basic principles underlying protectivc rtreqic
and are thus addressed first, lollowed by an exanrination of-specific protective rituals lbr disease and other natural disasters, and then counter-ntagic
for nralevolent forces such as dernons and sorcerl-.
,1ll-purprtsc Deuices

(lertain protective devices :rre ubiquitous and of great antiquity. Antulets,

tllisrnans, and fornrulas to deflect invisible attacks, sudden death or poisons
rurc common in rnany ancient and rnedieval cultures, Christian and otherrvise. For exanrple, Moses Gaster traced a nurnber of Sanraritarr anrulet
rrrtifacts and their uses (1971: l:387-161). Coptic'wizard's hoard'texts
tionr the fourth to seventh centuries give lists of angelic powers for the
practitioner to call Lrpon: onc protective rerrredy against bites, enenries and
lrad drearns uses Hebrew fon-nulas u,.ith honey, licorice root ancJ a hawk's
cgg (Mirecki 1994; see also Meyer and Smith 1994). Graeco-1\ornan,
Irgvptian and Hebrer,v adjurations, spoken or rvritten, calling on angels or
..luenrorrs and using ritual objects, can acquire protective knowledge fronr
tlre heavenly realm (Lesscs 1996). Clonsequently, it lvould be wrong to
,'onclude that European nragical clevices are a peculiarly Germanic perversiotr of the Jr.rdaeo-(lhristian heritage r,vhen these practices \\rere colrllrlon
tlrroughout other Christian and rronotheistic societies.
()ne major channel of transntission and developrnent of protective
( llrristian devices is the Celtic tradition, which drarvs on diverse sources
lirrrrr Latin. Greek, Hebrew ancl even Syriac and is transnritted from the
lrish to the Anelo-Saxc'rns:rrrc'l other (lernranic peoples on the Continent
(l.ttL'nurlsd in Clrattan ancl Singcr 1971 67-B). The /orica-i, for exarnple, are
pnrtcctive verbal 'shiclcls'that cnrbociy St Paul s instructions in Ephesians to
,rr.rrr oneself witli the :lrnl()rlr of (loc'l rrs spiritual protection against the
,lt'r.'il. The cighth-ccrrttllry Ftttlr l:iadt <>r'Thc I)eer'.s C)ry', known traditrorr:rllv rrs tlre IJrclstplrtte of- I)rrtrick, is thc rrrost tvcll-knolvn exanrple of
.rrr ()lcl Irislr /r,ririr (Orrrcy l()()ti: l17 -llJ). It oPcrrs with:t cornnranri forrrrttl:t irtvokittg tltt' li'irritv ,rrr,l tltc Irtt.rrrrrrtiorr. Irr (lrt' rrritltllc, thc praycr

tlrt l)l()l('(tlr)n\

iD.llr lil(.illl.rl()t\


it Itst







.Vcdieydl Nfagic: Dcfiniti<rtts,

irr Erroltc:Tlrc Middle Ages

firturtl ir.r Scandinavian :Ind clerlllanic fora reduplicrttiD{ plttcnt


in Grlttrrn
Latin prayers follou'a sinrilar pattern ot
o-f ci/das' for'rnd iD six
shielcting through repetition.The c)lci EnglishLorira
ranks of arrgels' prophets,
nranuscripts, calls o. heave,'s :rrrtry,, the ,.,a,.,led
danqers' enulllerat.p.rrf.. arrd saints, tbr clefencc against a.w1de rangc oi (lrattan
and Singer
ine all body parts external
fbrilulas, a Latin exorcisrn of
1L)71: 6g-7 1. 1 30-17). Two sinrilar prorecrir.,e
aSailsl all invisible evils,
t na" f..,..' ancl an Oicl English .,,r-,.-r",r,l forr,r,ila
rlratlttscript, a copv of Beclet
occur in the ,rarqins of ari',the. A,glo-Saxtt.
of bocly perts also
Erclesidstiul Hist()ry (Grant 1g7g).1h. .,].,r,r.ration
(ol1v 1996:
,t ot", .rp in Lrtiri in the l-eeclilt'''t''k ancl ir.r thc Leo'fi'ic 'Vfi-s-sa/
a vernacular traclition
1(r3-,{).This tppeers to t.re a case of tmnslation frorl
fi-om pauan to
to a Latin o,re , trrt it 'vor-lld be ,.rvise to essllule it trro'eci
Christianized clcltic tradichr.istian practice, since the source is tl-re-earlicr
resonates with
tion. The oral-perfbrmencc rsPects of these fornruhs
f,hristia,, liturgic-al practice lnore th:rl) illtythil)s
p6i1os.phy, gra'itated
christiar_r tr.,o.rgrri,-'1-,r.ticularly
pri,ciples,urrd r.rlathedivire
towrrds the noti.r-r of . ,.lr,ri
n:luled or described in
nratical proportlolls that have great power r'vhen
'tnagic'r.1.,"..' talisrDan ct>nstrttcted oi ttre letters
r,vords. For exarnple, the
the ilrst cerrtury
sATOR_Al\ElrO_.t,ENEr:ilprnn-ROTAS dares to
in rneclieval texts
.l ()19..
19-22). An applrent
A and O (for Alpha end
r,r,hen written out i,, ...,iifc"".' shtpe with
tl]athetrratical por,ver irr tireir
cr,,-..g.), it sl-rows ho* *.,.d, llsstl1l1e l logical,
in texts
p.r+i,ion. Liker,r.ise, :tnother coltlrllon protective device, fcrurrdbodv thc
of C]hrist\
fr.onr Iceland to the l]alkatrs, trsc.s thc ,....:i..,",,,.,t
(Riihler 1964)'The
nails of'the cross or the spe.rr
since nrultiplied
precise ,)eAsurenrelrf of in. cross
Sorlc of thesc
(by frftccn, fbr exlmple) it equals
but the.v rvere qerterally
scrolls u,ere ,v.app.d'.,r,ru,c1 libcruri,-,g ,.,o-rrr.,r,
L.,enetlcialbothforprotectionandprosperitl(Shirrnerstg')7:289-99)' in lrll.
Thc sigri of tlre cross is the llrost ..,],,,,.,,, rittral actioll
p-1..,i"J, as lvell ", ir."ii"g,
hagiouraphy to
christian liturgical fr".ri.., i.,rro,, literarure :rnd
Legcnrl ttJittl-ll:
the general public n1.,.tpu"d'
the protecttvc
.1. Vo..glr. cclntains ltulllerorls
tlf sillnirtg'
po\,ver of the cross. either as
aqrllnst sorccrers :r,cl thc devil.
tt'ortt tttltqic:rl fcttcrsbv scntlilrq " 'i'1"''
Ire st'ts tllc prisolr
lrre,rk tlr..tr.rrrls."l'lr. l.6rtl rrp'lroltls:rll ',vlro:rrt'lirllirrg'
( ir,rrtt,.t. ttt.tkt's (ltt'siqrr <lf tltc
r.rs lir't', (|.r..tr[rtrr.l..'V,...gi,,.

,r.,l.r' associated *.ith

lqZt, t;tl-:). Other loricrrs

and Singer

as rvell (Lartttrtrg,t





cross over his u,ine thus neutralizing the poison a nragiciarr placed in it
(frcobus deVoragine 191)3: I:241)).The hideotrs clragon tl'rat appears in St
Margaret's visious clisapl-,ears 'nvhen she nrakes thc sign of the cross; the
tlragon btilsts open tt> release her rvhen shc docs it again - althoueh

thrt this part ot the story is :rpocrvphal arrd not to be

taken seriously (|acobus deVoragirre 1993: I: 369). StJustina likeu,isc r-rses
the sign of the cross to rvard ofl dernons w,ho try to seduce her, callecl up
bv a powerful paqalr nragician flacobr.rs cleVoragine 1993: II: 192-5).The
rcrverse is also trr-re, since laiiure to perfornr :r blessing as an acknorvledeerrrent of (lhristis protection is danqerorrs, illrrstrated for exrrrtrple in the
storv of the nun r,vho rrte a little dernon on her lettuce leaf because, as the
V>ragine allorvs

tlcuron conrplained atierward. she fiilecl to bless it (Circgorv the Great

I 959: I B). Likeu'ise, in stories of srrints or nec:rotllancers corupellinu
tlctnons, one slip in orre'.s protective rittrlls allolvs the cleurorr to pull his
tnt:ks. Given thc irnportance of the sign o1'the cross irr popular Clhristian
litcrature, it is unsr.rrprising lo firrd siening as a col))r)ron rittral acriou in
l)11)tectivc retnedies or inscribetl cl'osses irr ar.nulets.
Hlgioeraphy ancl sernron literattrre also reveal the protective pos'cr o1,rrrselic and clivinc narlres as u'ell as the power oithe Eucharist and relics.
( )ften, ;r fi>rnrula is autl.rer.rticltecl by' a narrative explaining its tr:rnsnrission
lr.orn rrn angclic solrrce; tbr cxarr.rple, the nunrerical knorvleclee in the
nre:lsurenlent arnulets .,vrrs given tr> (lharlenr:rglle or Constantine Lrv an
rrrqel (Biihlcr 1964: 277). According to Jacobus cle Vcrrasine, tl're ansels
lr.rve powcr against dentor.ts iri three rvrrys. oiwhic:h one is
tlrrough inrpressir.rg o1l oLlr rtrinds thc ltenrorv of thc Lord's p.rssion.
'Ihis is what l\evelatiorr nre;rns r,vhcre u.,e read: 'l)o not harnr the cartl.r
the sea or the trees, till r.,ue have sealed the servl,nlts of our God upi>n
tlrcir foreheacls' [Iler'. 7: 3l; and in Ezcchiel we find:'Mark 7]a upon the
lirrei'reacls of thc rncn that sigh' [Ezck. 9:1].1itr.t is the Greck lctter that
is rvritten in the sl'rapc ol r cross. aud those uilro are nurked w,ith this
sign have no fear oi the avenginq angc'l. Hencc 'nve reacl in the sanre
'uporr r.vhorrrsocver vou sh:rll sec tl.re siqn 'lhr k111 l.rirn not.'
lrl:rr:e :
llrzck. 9: (rl flacobtrs de Vomginc 1()93: II: 206).

t'lrlistiart litcratur-c thelcfirrc firstererl thc talisnranic use of Clhristian rvorcls

.rr{l sigr)s, rrrost clc:rri1' cvitlcrrr irr the trsc of' rclics lnci the incrc.rsirrg
l,r,,rrrirrt'ncc oIthc M:rss:urrl tlrc fi'rrst of-()orprrs (]hristi (Kicckhefcr 1990:
)i SO). -llre prorrrirrcrrt't' of'piigrirrrlgc to holt, slrrincs corrtlining the
r,lrr's ol'srtittts:ts s()ur'('('s lirr irc:rlirrg t'otttri[rtrtt'tl to tlrt'rcplicutiorr of nou*
,rrrllrt'rrtit-:rtt'tl rt'lir's rrs u,t'll,rs llrt'tlreti ol',rrrtlrt'rrtit'.rlt'ti orrt's.
IlrLrs. tlrt' rittr.rl ol tltt' M,rss,rrrtl l'ut lr.rlis(it olrlt'r'ts u't'r't'ofit'rr Lrs.'<l firr
lrrolt'r lion. tlt'slrilt' ( ('l'l,ul) , lrtrr', lt Itrrrlrilrrt torts. lirr lltc vt'r v r('.ts()n tlr.rt tlrc
( lrrttr lt t.rrrrilrl tlr,rt tlrt' l,o\\'('l {)l llrr' 1,rtcrls rr'rrrlr'tl rrr tlr,' rr',rr,ls .rrr,l

Medieyal Magic : Defiritions, tscliefs, Practiccs

Wir.&craft drul Masic in EurLtpc:-l-he Middlc


tells the story of the poor wood-

rituals they performecl' Gregory ofTours

had the priest bless'his breakfast
nran who housed " t"*iiiig p'iest and
denrorx' discuss drowning the
crutnbs; later, invisibft trlil"i,'ptesumably
a rivei but catrnot because he carries the

woodman :rs he crosses

,i',""ptittt (Confessors 30' 1988: 44-5)'-Unsurprisingly'

errlpowered or blessed by placthe., a,rulet, ,r-td otnJ"oU;tt" *ttt often
canon law frequently
ing the.t under the "1itt d"ti'-,g Mass' Preacl"i' ''-td
out of church to use for other pur;.;;;h people fo.,ttt"ting tfe wafer
de lJor-rrbon teiis the story of
poses (Browe 1930) . Fo' "*"t'."p1e' Etienne
to increase his
who took th" *tft' i-'o"'" to place in his hives

crurrrbs blessecl fry

the tnan
bees' recognizing God rn their
bees'productirity goiif 1997:435-6)'The
attention and
built an alrar ;;:";;i the reiic. The ,riracle attiacted
The morai of the story
the neu' reliquary *ts t""'o"tcl to a church'
rr-ran rvas chastised for stealing the
renrains somewhat artrbiguous. The
the other hand' Etienne' as a
Eucharist and his g"ttli plan fails' On
heresy, is reasserting the
l)ominican preacher intent on stanrping out
b"td tnd wine into the body and blood
power of the priest ,o
many of these practices and
of Chnst. Since the Church is tire source for
and religion in these
to know where to draw the line between magic

Warrling off Disease and i'iatural Disaster

other inexplicable disasters in

Protection f.or-,, ii1,t", fl'gt", fanrine .ancl
those^irwisible forces
lift often had recourse to divine or spiritual agencies,
world view' God as Creator
that holcl the world togtthtt' In a ihristian
fallen' nonetheless functions on divine
nrade an orclerly ,',ntiJ?1"t, though
or appealing to thosc
prj".lpi.t and by hi' to'.'"t"i""d' donjr-rring' adjuring

or illness could wipe out a familv or
;I;;i;.;l]tru, *r,.L-""t
reductionist to suggest that medieval peoplc
vr11age. Holvever, tt would be
of adequate science to explairr
believed in r.nagic o...iigion in the absence
devised a new explanatory
,fr" ,rryr,..i"r'rirl fft' afihor-rgh nroderns have
experientially works in a very rcrtl,
system, a science tt .t our".urtly .rd
;i ii'o"ght ttTt" t.'o better explanation firr
rnaterial sense, this;;;;;
of God' than any other' Mediev:rl prxctices ti)r
chance or so-called
thar.reflected a larger bclicl'
protection o{fered, *.f"igwing with..rli,y
:rncl the huulatl corrclitiori' Likc
svstel11 about the ,rr,ui. of the coslltos
llx#;;;,,r*..ri..*r., si>ughr,rearir.gftrl cxple,ari.,s f.r. life
l)rotcctivc tlcviccs otli'rccl rt rcfi'r
crrr:cs, bcyorrtl .iust .,., i,,,l,.,.,".ii.tc curc.
llt'liclt systcrlr' wlrctllt'r
prlitrt to, urrd ,,'r",r.li,.|.1", tlf , thrlt l:lrgcr costtlic

t ritt'ri;t lirr
*"r.1'"i't,,l,iu" ()r ll()t is tirt'r't'li'*' tt.t tltt' s.lt'
s()( l('(\'
tttt'rtstlt'itt11 tltt'it lvorllr to tttt'tlit'v'tl

tlrt,st. tlcvit't.r


Physical ailments warded off by protective rituals or devices, like the

closely related healing rituals, were generally cornplaints with an invisible
cause, such as madness, poison or contagion. For exarnple, anrulets for
epilepsy, often associated with spiritual assault, could cure or protect
patients frorn attacks as prescribed by physicians, utilizing a furrnula r,vith
the names of the three rnagi (Kreckhefer 1990:77;Boz6ky 1994).Amulets
rund talisrnans were also fiec1.rently deployed fbr childbirth assistance. For
cxarnple, the life of St Margaret, protector of wornen in childbirth, otTers

protection in a prayer for those who carry her book, contributing to

parchment leaf arnulets (Boz6ky 1991). As noted, chilclbearing rernedies
rre one of the three rl1ost conlmon type of'r.r-redical nragic',in addition to
blood-staunching and wornl rer.nedies. I)espite the generally n.rale-don'rirrated textual tradition [or nredicine, thii exclusively female donrain
.rppears frequently in the texts and raises questions about Gmaie practitioners of the heahrlg arts, their access to texts, and their use of ntarruscript
l,urchment in talisnrans of this type (Weston 1995). They also show that
,rrre of the predorninant concerns of protective nragic is in prcserving and
rrrintaining lifb and productiviry.
A large nunrber of protective rituals were associated with agricultural
lrf.:, such as the protection of crops fronr pestilellce or vermin, the recovery
,rf lost or stolen animals and w.eather control. The nrost elaborate'fleld
l,lcssing'is the day-long cerenrony frorn an Anglo-Saxon text, the'.4,cerbot
l{itrial', a renlnant of which was retained into the nrodern period in
'l'lough Monday'
flollv'1 992, 7996: 6-1 1).The ritual cornbines appeals to
tlrc carth reminiscent of the Latin Mother Earth prayer, Christian fornrul.rs, rr Mass, ancl ritual actions to incite productivity. For-rr sods are takerr
lrorrr lbur corners of the field and taken into church where Masses are said
,rvt'r them. Samples of all forms of sustenance - honey, oil, ntilk from each
r1'1,c of anin.ral, yeast, woods and herbs - are anointecl with holy oi1 and
l,l,rt'ed on the sods.The siqn of the cross, as well as the narnes of the for-rr
r,,'spel ,nvriters, are used througl.rout the ritr-ra1, and a conrn-ron liturgicai
l.r'r)lllla drawn fron-r Genesis and repeated here ir.r both Latin and Old
I rrglish: Cyescite, grow cl tniltipliramini, and multiply, et replete, and frll, tcrrc,
tlrt' crrrth (for a nroclern exanrplc, sce l3ertrand-Rousseau 1978: 107).
I )t sPite earlier attenlpts to recollstruct a Gcrurlnic p.iq.rn oriqin for this
, ( r('r))ol)y, its cor.r.rponents crrllr be cle:rrly traccd to a Latin literate tradition
,l,,st'ly:rlliec'l rvith liturgicrll practicc. Far fionr beins evidence of the retenrr()n ()ipagrtnisrrr, tltis cercrrrorry is cvirlclrce of the Christianizing of rr.rral

lrr , rr't


I t'ss sPcctrtculltr protcctrvt' firrrrrrrl:rs :rrrtl rittr:rls rvrrrd ofF nlrtural

disaste rs

,,',rrrri ltoly olr.jct'ts, srrt.lr rrs wirx ()r'r'irrgirrLl <'lrurtlr hclls (l(icckhcfi'r 1990:
'i'i) l)r,rye ls rrrrtl t'xorr'isrrrs irr littrlrlir':rl rn.urtrst lilrts tlr-ivt' out of tlre ficlr-ls



lt rts t-rttlt'ttts ol lrirrls. llt'lir'l itt rrt'.rlltt't

rtt.rr:ir', ttltlrotrqlt


l,l:itdrrofi artd l.Ia.qir in

Eurt>pc:'Tlrc Xtliddlc A,qts

condemned in the penitentials, r,r'as rvidespread accorcling to tsishop

Agobard of Lyons (McNeill and Cianrcr 193ti: -131). l3r-rrcharcl clescribes rhe
details of a rain-inducing ritual perfbrnred by wonrel) (McNeil1 and
Garner 1938: 341).A gil is stripped and sent to gather henbane, which she
digs utrr r,r,ith the little frnger of the right hand and ties rvith a strins to the
little toe of her right foot. She then clrass the henbane in a procession u,ith
otl.rcr girls c:rrrvins trvigs and sprinkling water on her. The sirl is then
guicled rvalking backr,vards to the village. AsoLrarcl cc'rnclenrns the persecution of stornr-nrakers, those accused of destroying crops bv calltng up
destructive w,ir-rds, crrutions people against payinu u''errther rnagici.rns to
protect their crops fiom stornrs, and cxposes the ruyth oi a cattle-killins
dust,eviclentlv:rn actual scarc in li[() (l)r"rtton 1993: 189-9 1).He;rlst'l contrasts thosc r,vho curse at a storrll, blar-ning the person rvlro cause.l it, r,vith
those u,ho irrstead call on Clocl and his saints. Nonetheless. weather charnts
persist thrcluqhout the Midclle A{res :inc1 into the sixtecr.rth century, often
:rdjuriuuthe devil ;rncl his angels as the car.rsc oltrouble (Siller 1982).
Another c()nlrlron ti'pe of prL)tectivc tbnnula r,vards oft predltors. Sucl.r
lornrtrlas assist in the recovery of stolur eniruals or in the detection of a
thicf (Siller 19ti2: 13i-1). The Auelo-Srrxou l,acnrurya velsion fbr lost or
stolen c:rttle llarrates the birth olCtrrist, the rccovery of the cross, r reference to thc popular legend of Helen,;rntl inclucles a rrourbling reference t<r
tlre Jervs rrs Christ's killers and as thieves (Grattan anci Singcr 197 1:183).
L)ther versior"rs shorv the sarrre propensity to use Christian narraticln thut
connects to Clhristi:rn antiphons as r.vell as the porverfirl sign of the cross
(Ilarklev 1997; Hollis '1997: Hill 19713) One fi)urteenth*century Middlc
Engiish r)errative torrnula fionr a r:redical text protects aniurals against botlr
r,r,olf :rnd thief (Srnrrllrvood 1989). lt Lrscs r] conrbination of English rrrtl
Clernran charnr nroti6 thut shor,v thc sprrcad arrd interaction of these trrrrlitions, inclr.rding elcnrcnts of the Anglo-Saxon cattle theft and rec()\'o'y
charni and a rrersion oItire Jordar-r river firrntula.
Other proter:tive ritnals tbr rural lite inclucle the bee swann forrrrrrlrrs
notcd earlier :rnd jourtrey arlulets ;rncl charnts. One Old Engiish ntctrit,rl
journev charnr is found in the nrargin of a copy of Bede's Etclcsi,rstir,l
History. along u.ith other nr:rrsinalia that include cuttlc-the[t charnrs, tlrc
bee srvarnr fortuula. rernedies frrr sore eyes, iiturllical prayers lr-rcl horrrilics
(Grant 1979).The journer. charrt.r r-rflers protectiorr rvhile erl r()utc ,rs,rittrt
l rvicle range of cvils, both spiritual arrd phvsicll,:rrrd :rppe:rls to rt krrrg ltrl
of biblicel s:rirrts fi-onr Abrah.urr :iricl Isarrc' to thc four sospr'l rvrite ls,,rs r.v,'ll
as thc Trirrity :rrrtl lll (iotlls ;rrrgcls. llrrt rlrc pr'rfirrrrr.rrrt'c ol- tlrt' '"r'orrlr
tlrcnrselvcs ofiers porv,,'rtirl protettiorr (Nr'lsorr l(/li-l) .'llrc ()l)('ning irss('l(\,
'l gird rrrvscll- w'itlr tlris rotl llrrt'srrnr.r{rly tlrt' , rossl ,rrrtl srvt' ruvs.'ll rn(tr
( lotl's li'rrltt" ,rtttl l:rlt'r- lrt':rgs'l t lt.rrtt ,r vit ttrl 1, , lr:rr rn, I t,rt lv ,r vr( t()r-v l(|rlr
rv,,ttl t'i,tot 1',ttttl u',rtL vt, lorl''((.otls.rvnr' l')(,l l: iSS ()l)

Ifcdiat,,al ilttd,gic: Dtfinitions, I)th,el-s, praoiccs


Anro,g the ,obilit,v of r'e high Midcre

Ages, ge,rst.nes becarne poplrlar a,rulets, urd wherr irrr..ib..l
*ith'ro.rrrrlrr, fturctioned as tarisr,ars
(Kieckhefer 199(): ro2_,4). r'.ecio.rs
arrd serri-precious sto,es c.o,rrr
w'orn as rir-rgs or other-iewelrery, nor
orrv -rs
arcr starus,
but also fbr the heighiened p,;,;;;,
tha, herbs. Genrs cariied as a,*rrets
rvild beasts, fire. and assisr in ttr.n
a.t..ii.rn. Clerurs-e ofTilbury in
t lrir.rcerrtlr cc!)rllr\.
tlcL,rr.lc. th" ur",-,if*,,,.,.r,,"s lirr srrt.lr,rrrr the early
, rrt it'rrr .rtrrhr>rirv irr
r,c ner\()n i.,r.,n,,,,,' (;i;:.i;:,:l;" i';;:1.,;l;:i
lrr,po,uvered .,vith inscrib"i
,,r,,..ir, "i
t.lirrr.,ri. g.rrr, ,..u.J ., .ll_p,r.p,rr.
l)l()tectioll' c)tte of tnarty such rings still in existcnce,
a fbr.rrteenth_cc-,turv
i,scritcd,"irn,i". i..ip.,.. \,erses that fu,*io,,,,rr._
r'lt1ve protectio, charrrs. The
frrsr is Lukcr -t:^-]0. ,Il.t
l.r.r, p..".a througrr
tlreir rniclsr', a,d th. secorrcl
w,ri,l becanrc flesh,
(l(ieckhefer r()90: 102-'r, rvirh
pictrrre). Tbgether, these
,..r., suggesr
tlr.t t,e- wearer will_be able to p"*
,(..rg, ene,ries ^r.o
""frrrr,r.a, asJesus,
')crrnate .od, cricl.The. openirrg p.r\s,gc ois,1ut.,,rl' g;ili';;';
arrci orrrci.lr.,ir,, rr.,i,,r. it
is a rer,i,der of thc centrar
that word
.,,C.,r.d, and ,h;;;;.;';.,rcts




whether performed i, a ritual, spoke,

over .lr) a,rtrlct or carriecl ilr
rr,r'itte' for,r :rs taris*a's, r.,ah
*ord, have por,r,er becarse they conr-rect
tlre ,artit:ipant t() the c<.rsnric
strllcture oithe trni'erse. aonseclrientlli
''"rrrcr'vhat artificial to
it is
separate 'natural' c-lisasters frorrr
u,lraturar o,es, siace
el"rrerrts ha'e a rpi.it,J.-or)porc,t
e'ide,t i, thesc rit_
rr'rls' N.,etheless, assa.rt fr,r,,
r,al.r,.rl.ri n,.a., - cre.ro,s arcr sorcerers _
' .;111i1111e'q a rarge arrcl s<x,ewhitt separate .a,.go.y
rt rc'u,ire spiriruar prorecriori rt.,.,rugt, appears or,unratural crisasters,
to clocj a,cl counrer_
ll l, tqlc.

'I trtr'trt,'tl

r/tsa-'Ict:r': t)t(trt'iri\tn.ry\\rl tr(rtn,ic,ri.irrtt/I.



cuil pe.rp..itr,rtt,tl bv.lerrrorrs,,,.l,i fr" irrrrrnns
trvo clif_
li r( r)t sorlrces of har,, tlrey
are often connected i, trre protecti'e
r'tr 11.,11111". the'r. Thr- clcvii
arcl his ,ri,i.rs n".r" h.r.l respo.sible
'lrr('('t ilss:tLllts that dcltrclc pe.plels,ri,r.1s-.r, cause illness,
but increasi,g.ly
rrr rlrt'lrrediev.l pcriotr it ri.es
Lciiev..t ilrri'hr,,,Ar1 sorcerers crerivecr
l,',\\( t' ltr 1'1;p5.. lirrtn tlt,rst, \.il1t(,

(l(,li)()niL n

,rr) ^a,,r.rr. nc., r,.r,,.i:',1,'';',iil'il: l,:J)';ll,J:] 'i:: :lil::,,H_ l]*JX

'l' r,t,,I (llr.ir
rr lt)7ar: Agob:rnl i,, ll,,ri.r,, l()(l.l: ltJ()_9

Hor,vcr,er, t'e
,,rrlrrrtrt'tl tt'.rr lrirrq ol'tlr,. (,
lrrrr, Ir r.t,q.rnlrrrg tlrt. r1r1;.1111.11 tlrri..rt
l,,l r,' ,r ({)lr\(.t.il(.1(.(. ol llrt. ,1,,,,t,,,,1
.,,,J ;r1,rr,,.,1 tlui..rtr. llr tlt,. l,rte
Alr,l, llt'Agt.s,sor.t.t.t.t.r.s, u.rttlrt.s,ut,l
,,t1,,.,_, ,r,l',,,
l)t.llirr ,,, ,,',,f,,i,i,,t rrr:rr{rr.
\1'| r(
'l\\()( r,rtr'tl r'itrr .r \\'r(r(.\l)r(',r(r , trrr ,rr lrrr. ,r,.r,rr.
A ,,r r,,rrr rrrrrtitilr, .1.


Wirilcrali antl


in EttrLtpt':'thc Nliddlc

Medieual A,[agic : De-fi ni ti o ns, Belifis, practi


practices evolved throughout the Middle Ages, includilrg exorcisrns of

toth people and natural objects that providecl a spiritual shield fiom further Jenronic ntanipnlation, prayers and Scripturral fornrulas that scared off
denrons, altd protective words ageinst all kinds of enernies such as sorcerers
ancl witches. Tlrese practices coexistcd with stories of both necrolllancers
ancl saints who had the ability to conjr-rre denlous and force therl to do
their r,vill, along with lnanuals otTering forrlulas and rituals for doing so.
These are tre:rted below under nccro1l1ancy, btlt they provide an ilnportant

context for the collnter-nlagic offered bv protective devices.

Exorcisnrs are fbrms of adjuration in that they cclnllrand the infesting
agent to depart. The porver of the comntand is based on the nallles or
powers invoked, obviously in a christian context (lod, his angels, his saints
tr rheir relics. Sr-rch exorcisnrs are lbund not only in the Christian liturgy,
but also in nredical renreclies bar-rishing elves, clenlot'rs, poisons and diseases.
Within the liturgy, exorcislf is were perfbrnled not only oll persons - in the
baptisrn ritual for example - but also in the blessings of holv water, holy oil
and holy salt, as well as nredicinal t<tols sr-rch as herbs and Llngtlents
(Durlram c o ll cctar 1 ()92: 21 I _15, 226-35 ; i,/r-s.sa/ ot- Robert ttf J untii,qe s 799 4:
280-2; Lco.fric Missal 223-5; Lacnun,gtt irr Grattan and Silger 1L)71:202-5;
Kieckhefer 1990:77).These litr.rrgical r.nanuals also contain exorcisrtrs of
the instrunrents or nlaterials r-rsed in the judgement ordeal, irotr, water or
bread ancl cheese (Keefer 19911).These itetlls woulcJ 11eed to bc purified
and sanctifled so thet they lvoulcl report the truth about the accr-rsed. In all
ofthese cases, exorcisur itself, anci the exorcized itetlrs, catr serve as a llleans
as rvell as cure.
Exorcistic words are cottrmand forntr.rlas, thcn, tbr resistinla tl-re devil and
thereby :rvoiding the harrn he can cause. Any rlulllber of Scriptural forntttlas, spoken or r,vritten, c:u) ward off the devil, as cvidencecl in hagiograplry


and popular sernton literatLlre where the rl.rotiI is c]uite


(Thornp.son 1955-8:G303.16) . C)aesarius oI Heisterbach tells the stt)ry ()i;r

p,rrr.rr.cl wontalt who revealecl tl-re three words that bind the devil by
pointing to thell in the nrissal:'through Hirn, arld u,ith Hitl.r ancl in Hilrr'.
i..L..o.. to Mark 3: 7 ancl binding the'strot'tg l1tan', here seen as tltc
spiritual eneritv bor-rncl by the liturgical ir-rvocatiotr of the Trinity (V: X I I l,
igZg, tr 333). Cluriousl1,, the iclea of a clenron forced to reveal tl're trtrtlt
about hintsclf or how to bincl hirn is a conllnon nrotif in (lhristian litcr,r
tLlre, a nleans of sirowinc the suprenracv of (iocl atrc.l his tttcthtltls ovt't'
cletponic pow-ers. Li his lotrg sr:ctit'rtt cltl cletlttlrts (book V), ();rt's;rlitrs
rccorcls otlcr instances of clcrrrons scared otF bv rccitltiorts of holy rvotrls,
ilclscling tlrc porvcr of-[ohn l, irtvokirrg tlrc Word ttt:ttlc Hcslt. rttttl llltr
llcrrcdiitt,(192(): I:.155.37ti. Slil).Wlrrle l:rtirr litrrlsitrtl tirnnttl:t rvottltl lrc
lrcst krrorvrr lrv tlt'rijV rrrrtl rrrorrrrstits, tltt'tt rtst'itt r','tll.ttttl:tr litt't',rttll(',lll(l
irr r-t.1rt.,lit's slqg(.st\ g,i,lt's1,r-,',r,1 lt,tr\nu\slotl ()l lll( \(' pltt'.tst's irlto 1loIrtl,tl



cultllre and practice.-lhe pater Noster and the creed, rvhich

the canons
all christians shourd know, appear frequently, along with
phrases any regular artender at Mass could'pick
,rp'qrrtJ'...ily - tt.
sanctus. tinitarian fbrr,ulas, and names of cod, not to
rlrentlo, ihe ,ig,
of the.cross, perhaps the most instinctive exorcistic ritr-ral wher-r
with danger.
Revenants or reanir-,ated corpses are a related source of
spiritual har,r
in a physicai for,'r, often associated with de,ronic fbrces in a christian
view. Stories of ghosts, wraiths, and revenants in celric
and Scandinavian
tales remained popular in the medieval periocl, and i,creed
seenrecr to multiply in the late medieval and early ,,.,oi.rr-, period with stories
of corpses
yi11yu1ed by uragician,/scienrists, n-rixed r,r,iil, accorrnrs of vampires. The
()ld Icelandic draugr is a dangerous form ofrevena,t,
so,letinlcs issociated
with treasure-guarding (caciola, 1996: 15).Arthough christian
c<r,,rrentat.rs asserted that corpses that appeared to ,rove were reanir.rated
tlemonic possession, the belief in human reanimatio, * an
evil person
.cturnins to their body and harnring the riving persisted
,rri gr.*
tirroughout Europe in the twelfth through fifteenlh-cenruries
(willia,r of
Arrvergne and willia'r of Newburgh, ciscussed in caciola
f)9(t: 10_ 11 ,
l7-24). Many of these tales are horrific a,d do not posit a
clear antidote to
rv.rd off such evil, other than some .rentiorrs of .eturial
of the culprit or
,rther preventative burial rituals. In some ways, these
stories represent the
,irror opposite of saintt relics, especialy the incorruptibr.r,,r'irr* whose
'rscetic bodies shor'ved ncr..signs of ilecay.Although *rlli.,g.orfr",
l'r'irrg death in these,redieval stories, for the rnost part
th.y... not vam_
rlrres, blood-hungry revenants popurar in post-r,edievar literature.
l'trrPoseful reaninration of corpses thro'gh experinrentation,
or the artifi_
' r.rl creatio, of life fornrs as i, the Jewish t.l.lition of the golem or the
rrrirriature test-tube ho,runculus r.rrid. by paracelsus,
rpp..r, to be a
rr'lrrted motif associated with learnecr ,,en an.l
.*p..ir.ri.,-rt.tio, witJr
''rto'rarons (Higley, 1997). The 3o/e,r is given the spirit of rifb through
r'l,rci,g sacred Hebrerv worcls on its forehiad; the creatr.rre often is a prot.r tor for the rabbi and his people, even though it is
a terrifiilruiy a.,rg.r_
,,,rs procedure to perform.
Srrspicio, of harmfui sorcery is ,.t a unique trait of
christian society.
Nlrsic llt its roots in classical,Jtrdaeo-(lhristian ancl Clerpranic
lore stood irr
.rrrrbivalent position in relation to nt>rnrative behaviours.
('rics fi-orrr pre-olrristiarr (ic'rnr:rrric traciitiorrs enc.l
ancient Near
I tstt'rtl cttltttrcs fc'd irrto rrrcrlicvrrl clrlture.Wodcrr rvas the nraster ol
l"r nrulls urrr'l courrtcl--spclls, ;rr.r-ortling to St.urrtlirr:rvi:rrr
lorc. The last sec_
tr,,n ()f tltc II:ivltrrril lists t'iqltrct,rr r.lrrurts of'()t)irrrr (Woilcrr)
,rflerirru hclp
'r'.'ttttl ;tll kirrtls rlf ln,rrlrlt.. irr, lrrtlirrq l)lr)t(,(.1i,,r1 .1..1111r1 ,r,'..,1r,,,,r. ti.t(t.r.s.
specifiu that

trrr.s :rrrtl rvrtt'lr.s (l)rrgr' l()()5:

l l.r

5). ( i,rstr.r' tr..rr kt.tl ,r st.r.it.s r',f'r(<,rrr.rrr.rr


ivliddle Ages
l'VitctrcraJt and Magic in Europe:The

Mc dieua\ Magic : l)e_fini ti ons, BeIieJ:, Practircs

a chilcl-stealing witch (1 97 1: II:

,arrarive charms arrd amulets against
Christii" tl::,:1ts traceio:i-ii They contain both p"-th'ittitn,and
throughout Rornanra' southern
able to Assyria
the development

when he applied it to his food at his nepherv'.s house, he was horrificd to

discover that his fish shrivelled up into pellets like rabbiti dung, irnplicating lris nepheu,in the heresy (Wakefield and Evans 1991 254-6). He then
imprisoned the knights who had misled his nepher,v, and set fire to the
building. When the men appeared untouched. a riot ensned, rvith a mob
insistins this was a r.niraculous sisn of their righteousness. Undaunted, the
orthodox knight calnred the crowd, then took the advice of the archtrrshop and placed the rnen in a larger house around which he sprirrkled
holy 'uvater to counteract the rnagic of these heretics. When the house
rcfused to isnite. the angry mob broke through to free the nren, only to
flricl that their bodies rvere completell, burned u,hile the wood around
thenr renrained untouched. Thus the contest betw,een opposing spiritual
lirrces was often unclear in the popular mind, when miracles were the
[rroof of sanctity and righteor-rsness.


". ts;;;;;
of the verbal formula kto*"

Russia, the Balkans,

used for protection

(1971: I:288-337).

aud Svna'.He also traced

of divine nanes
as the'sivord of Moses" a list
as for healing
**tf-ttraft and other harm



Li-rc nf


spccitic' For exanrple' onc herbal

physical and spirrruat. while others are
name of Christ'

hat"l ru's'


conjuratiotr 1n a toLl;tee';;-t"'ltt"y
conquer hy lord
Amen. I conlure yor.r, herb, that I nrav
and stars '.. and "';;;;;""qttet
a1l laymen and all *,,""" t'-'d '11

., by mootr
'.''y who are against me' (Thorndike

talisman against
f.ri.'a. o.,Jfift..,-rth-ceutttry Patris By the
witches in the late ,;i;.;j
charin:'In notnine
a witch sounds likt ;;;;;;ff'ottt'i"
Christ * be a nredicine
oower of the Lord,
*o''-'d' of the Lord be mv medicine '*' Mav the
il"'-;.. t;;;;;;;t
Virgin Mary arcl and defend me from *t'v "ll1ql.i:"':no]|l:T"i"::l
+ Alpna
,rr"lig, spirit, a,rren' +A+G+L+A* Tetragran.Imatoll
(Kieckhefer r990: Sa-ii Both of these t*'t"'plt'
"og1: '"-d
:'."g;;i;t-.lmeclicine-and liturgy' charnr ^"j the protective
magic disoi
were interwov.,, "' '.t-'tditu^l 'Jtitty'
in the context of the
cussecl here only nrakes sense
.;;; earlier ,,d tl" necromatltic traditions
of the devil't
The beiief th" h;;;;;;';;t""
eventually to witchcraft trials' inqulstttotts
a socially air..rpti,," o'i, leading
gypsigs'.heretics and other marand urob persecutions tt'p"gotii"gJews'
tftJ'ir,tiaat. Ages, the accused s.rqi.alized groLlps. H;;;;1i;""gir"*
with ihe Church initirlly
1..., o. r'vitch held an anrbiguous position'
and rrccusatious of w-itchcratt therc'
teaching that such power *" ill''t'oty
these activities were harnrful becar-rse
{bre talse, bur larer il;r;;;;
The association
chan,elled a.rrrori."ror..-ir-rro society.
as early as the twelfth century' ltt
and demonic pacts r'vith
a conclemned wonran about tr> be
an incident at Rheims circa 1L76*8ti'
r-r.. accusers by throu'irg a brrll .f
rakel1 to ,h" R.rr., J.h.J ""a .r.rp.,l
sayi*g '.rt.h' and the, megicallv flying
thread our of ,rr. *i"J.r" 'uttt"t"'
by tl''t sanre evil
assisted, according ;r> ;ht
()91:211)-511 t:ltttt"l:l]:lt
Evans l
Sinron Magus to tty-1W'tttfleld
by ctlr-rrrl ()r gre:lter ;tssc'rtiotts of sptrt'
heretical sorcerY it'tftt" cotrlb'rted
(Kic..klrcf-'r 1990: tl2-5) . ['t:r cxrtrrrplc, ill
tu:rl authc>rity .,ri,rg".uilil.,. i.r.,l,
tttv,,l'ittg tltt' l):tt:tt'itrt' llt'rcsv' rttt ot'tlttl'
rr,othe r t*"lttl,-..'1t,,,'r'i,r.li..r.tt,
tlris Irt.rcsyi
tltlx krriglrt cltt'l.tetl..r,ttst.t.r.tt.'.1 s:tlt,ts.t llttltt.ttitltt.lq:ttttst









Controllhry the Future: Popular Forms



lvith healing and protection, divinatory practices helped connect everywith the cosnric structure.They provided rueaningful \\/ays to cope
rvith seemingly chance-driven events in a supposedly divinely ordered
rvorid. I)ivination does not necessarily mean predicting the future or layrr)g out sonreone',s destiny; rather it is most often a way to interpret signs
,rrrtl to make decisions as to a right course of action. Next to healing, divrn;rtit-rn is one of the nlost conulron realnrs of'ruagical practices',yet one of
llrr' llrost enrphaticaily reJected by Christran authorities, with or without
rlrc (lhristian conrponents that in healing could shift a renrecly from con,lt'rnned rnagic into acceptable Christian practice.
l)ivination operates on the principle th:rt the nricrocosnr and rnacroAs

,l;ry liG

' r)sl)) are interlinked, that hunran experience and natural phenonrenon are
nrtcrconnected, one retlecting the other. This holistic vier,v is compatible
rvrtlr animistic ar-rd polytheistic r,vorld views as w'ell as a lrlollotheistic belief
rrr :r c'livine crreator u,ho orders a1l things. Nonetheless,Judaeo-Christirrn







t,,r,'lring *enerally condenrned divination on the grounds that it denied or




divine rvill in favour ol hunran control and nranipulation.

'\rrqtrstine of Hippo contleurned c-livination in all its various fornrs and
,rl,l.riueci how cietrrorrs coutrivecl to fool pc()plc throtrgh it (Augustine
l')')5: 9()-101).Astlolouy, tlivirrltiorr [ry'st;rrs, or frr-('1]ic1i111rs basecl on lunar
l'.rttr'il)s wer(] strcr)r.rousl1' rr'jcc'tetl iry Olrristiilr) tcrtcltil)q, p:trtly 1r11 1.1gi1;r
tr.rltst grottttrls tlr:rt rlttt'st.itrtt'tl lrorv tlte st:lrs ()r tltt'rrroorr corrld possibly
rrllu('rl('('lrttttt;ut tlt'stirrrcs. Nottt'tlrt'lt'ss, tlt'slritc tlrcsr'r'orrtlcrlrr.rtiorrs,

ltt Isti:rtt t'ltlt'rttl.tt's < otrt1111(i11g li.rstt'r', r lr,rlttrrri lrrrr,rr , \', l,'s, ,rl listirrg slrfi'
,lr1's lirr'lrlotrtl lt'ttirrg t'.rsilv ,,rrrrt'irrlo rrsr',rs,lrvrrr,tl()t\.'(l('\'t(('s, Irrrrrgrrrg







l4/itrhcraft and Magk in



historical accounts' ,ir-rdicating.l-:t-,-t"Ot""'

for exanrple' the corruption at the
natLlre. Paschasius n'iUtt'"t mentiolls'
'soothsaying and sorcery in demand'
Carolingian .o,-,., *iii "ii rti"a' of
tte l)onrinrcan Etienne de
(Duttotr 1L)93:217).I;^thi tt*tttnth ttltlix
rncluding divtuatron and worship
Bourbon railed against village sorceries'
fatnous St Guinefort legend (Shinners
at elder trees in ,rroti"iot' 'i'i't' 't"
1991 : 460-l ; Schrnitt 1983)'
signifr-crnce in divinaMuch of the knowttJg" t"tdtd for interpreting
the lrterate. aud ofteu elite' practidon is found in .,ria.nli a.rigned tor
signs in the sky' in the animal
tioners. Charts a,,d 'nar'u'ls 6r reading
are fot]nd"i. special nranuals devoted
world, olr the b.dy ;;;-J"'itt'
to other nranr'rscripts' We
the subject o. ,, ,ho't t"'ti"' added
passed down orally' as gleaned
speculate .bo.rt kno-lJgt t"q
frorn references in ""'I'o" literature' penitelrtials
of Wonns concleurn a wide
Augustine of Hippo *J nttttt"ttl
reading atrguries, palnrs. and
Dractices fronr corrsuiii,,rg ,..rr,
rr.r.v'?',J,,,.,i.,.r.y dayr, times a,d signs.
high fornr of
of divin:rtion included not
;t teatli"g of oi"e"' and signs in nature' indiviners'
magic-science, but
devices' Finally' therl
11 occult
experience anci in t"i""t '-'-'t'-'-i'"dt
discern knowledge or acquire it in
those with th. speciai a;iii;' to
category of necrornancv'
,rr.vr, t"hi.h ,]rrie' offinto the next


ItJ aturc

it is
created lr'orld is orderly and that
Based on the proposition that the
high proporiion.of divination
connected ,o t-rrrrrr.rr^.'#;;.., a
nature fbr answers t"J la"itt' An adepico'''ld'"'d'
ancl the behaviour irnd
parterns, rveather, gt;bgital $enonSe'-'1'
oi natu're a.d correlations of cause and
anatonty of aninrals. Ob-servaiions
and scienrific inquiry. Uniquc
effect are comnlon irlii},""r." speculation
tides or colnets could bc
disrtrptive events "tf' t' earthquakes'.unusual
on the context' Patrick Geary explorcs
read irr di{Ierent *;;t, ;"P;'ding
the eleventh-century rnonk Arnoltl
the variolts .*pl""inty
r'o* n" sarv a dragon in the sky whilc
tried out *'t].. r'"" "'i'"'i;';
"y'tt"''th't points out'Artlolil is writing naturnl


travelling throurgh Panuonia'As.Geary

he is r.nore intent t>n clentonstrrtittl4
rrbout signs ,"d p";;;;,'."rr..r.r""rry,
ta Uy' th"Yl'1t thrt l literrrl' solitl
that the .ryrt.tti'-'" ipht*'' ^*'""t
the,r ((ic'rry' i''t'''+' l("1)' Sigrrs irr rtretlievrtl
ciragorr.,r,,ld p." tli;il
p.,tt'rrti;rIlv rrrlrrrV rrrc.rlrirrgs. l)ivi
tlrtltrglrt r,vcrc trtttltivltlcttt, c<ltttltirrilrg
tllc trrrly t'xPl:trt:tti.tt'
()r(. .rf',i,"'fr.,rrifriti,,.r, t,,,i 1,, ,,,,
r,.rti.rr wrls

Nledieual Magic: De-finitions, Beliefs,

cottinued to be
Christian texts and concepts' Divination
accusatiotls of magic in

",,a ''o"

along rvith

pl1v1tpe:Tlte Nliddlc Ages







Chroniclers trequently recorded unusual natural phenomena, sonretilnes,

but not always, correlating them to hunran events for dating purposes or as
onlens of good or i11. For example, the cornet drlwn in the bottom urargin
of tlte Ea&r,ine Psalter was noted as a portellt but lacks any interpretive siqnification (1992: 157-64). Thus observations of natural phenomena and
their interpretations can range in a modern view fi'om scientific to nragical, with a great deal in between.
Popular astrology, as compared to intellectual branches of astrologry and
astronomy, focused prinrarily on lunar cycles and their influence
(Kieckheter 1990: tt6).l'his led to 'good' and 'bad' days on which to do
certain activities, such as beginning a journey, although early medieval
churchmen railed against sr,rch beliefs as illogical, unnatural and superstitious. For exanrple, the Anglo-Saxon homilist Alfric of Eynshan-r, echoing
Augustine, condemned this practice of making decisions about jor-rrneys or
other lifb aflairs according to the sun, n1oon, stars or day of the week as
illogical. f{e countered that it is natural according to the divine order, ar.rd
rlot sorcery, to understand that the nroon atlects nature in the tides and in
the fact that trees cut down at full moon are harder (|o11y 199(r: 87-8).
Nonetheless, treatises expounding on the 'Egryptian days'were common
throughout the Middle Ages, especially those listing safe and unsafe days
for blood-letting, practised regularly in monasteries where calendars form
an important textLlal tradition for liturgical purposes. For example the
Progrostis b), the lv[oon's,4gc is found in two eleventh-centuryAnglo-Saxon
nranuscripts that, ironically, contain ,4lfrici own tract on dating, De
Tentporibus Anni, as well as a Horalogiutn and a calendar with diagrams and
charts for the lunar cycie, computations of time by shadorn.s, and calculations for Easter (Cockayne 1961: Ill: 150-73). Divination bv reading calendars, celestial patterns or weather phenomena continued throughout the
Middle Ages in a strong textual tradition, alongside new astrological tables
derived from Arabic leaming in the trvelfth cerltrlry. For exanrple, a {burteer)th-centrlry r.nanuscript charts divination by thunder, while a fitleenthcentllry leechbook lists thirtl,-two evil days on rvhich one would not want
to have blood let, start a journey or get nrarried (Burnett 1996: XVIII;
| )awson 1934; Kieckhefer 1990: 87).
l)lants. stones and animals coulcl also reveal vital information. One
physician recomrnended placing the herb vervain in a patientt hand to
srrin an accurate prognosis, because the person would speak his or her fate
truthfully as a conseqrlence olthe hertr; likewise, placing the heart ancl left
lirot of a toxd ()vcr a slccping pcrson'.s ntouth r'vill torce them to reveal
u,hrrtever you ask (Kieckhefe'r l99o: t'i()-9()). Oertrrirr gclristor)es coul<1 also
rrri.ltrce sonlc()nc to rcvelrl tlrc tlrrtlr ir n)ilqr)ct pl:rr'cd on thc he:rd of an
rrrrtrithtirl r,viti'rvill r';rttst'ltcl to l,rll orrt ol'lrc'tl (l(iccklrcfi'r l()()o: l0-+-5).
l'lrc rtrolc ('()null()ll firrrrr ol .rrrirtr.rl tlrvirr.rtrrlrr w,ls iruljury, tltt'r't';trlrttg tlt-















W'itchcraft and Nlagic in Europt':The Middlc Agcs

firrtunes in the entrails of anilnals. Augury dates back to the Greeks and
Romans, and was heavily condenrned by Christian conrnlentators; it is
unclear how r.videspread it was among Gern-ranic peoples. Less wellknown fbrms of divination fronr animals include scapulimancy, or divination b1, sheep shoulder blades, an Arabic tradition irnported into Europe irr
tl-re trzr,elfth century. althouqh Gerald of Waies claims the Flemings introduced it into England (Burnett 1996: XII-XVI). The logic behincl this
form of divination. as explained in Arabic treatises translated into Latin, is
that the drvinelv placed secrets of the upper world are brought down to
earth in rain and transferred throuql.r grass to herbivorous arrir-nals like
sheep (Bunrett 1996: XIII:35). Likewise,Williarr ofAuvergne posited that
aninrals and hunrans have a type of extra-sensorv perception that allows
thenr some premonition of future events (Kieckhefer 1990: 90). These
atterllpts to provide scientific theory behind divinatory practices are part of
the post-trvellth-cerltury intellectual world. In popular practice the belief
in the interconnectedness of things may have been nrore intuitive and
based on experience.
DiuinationJrorn Ifuman Experience and fuIan-made Dcuices
As noted above, natural phenornenon can be read as olrrens of good or

evil. Likewise, specific hunran experiences - a bird ca1l, a dream, finding rr

horseshoe - can be interpreted as a sign. Stories of good-luck objects thrrt
a person finds (a halfpenny, a needle, or a horseshoe, for exarnple) werc,
and are, comnron, despite attempts bv the clergy to demonstrate their
illogicality; usually such prirctices were condemned as superstitio rather thxlr
magic. One anecdote told how a priest encountered a wonlan who superstitiously crossed herself to avoid bad luck upon seeine a pricst; he thcn
threrv the woman into a ditch on purpose to give her bad luck, despite thc
fact that she had crossed l-rerself (Kieckhefer 1990: 8f3). Burchard urentiotts
the false beljefs in the success of a journey if a crow croaks from a persottlr
left side to their right, irr r.vatchinq grain jurnp on a l-rot place in tlre
hearthstone to preclict danger, or looking for bugs lrnder a stone outsidc rt
sick person'.s home to cleternrine if they'will getrvell (McNeill and (latrrcr
1965: 335,337). Caesarius of Heisterbach also u,arns about false signs rrrtrl

demonic tricks in an onrinous tale of a 1ay brother u,ho thought tlrc

twenty-c\,'o cries of a cuckoo nreant he wor,rlcl live twcnty-two lrt()rt'
years; unfortun:rtely, two vears later, in thc nriclst of a plartrrc'cl t\,velrty-ycirr
spree o1-worldly livirrg (he saved two yeal's at tlre encl for pcrirncc), tlrt'l;ry
brother drcd (Caeserins V: XVII, 1<)2()'. l::f37-fl). Norrctlrclcss, tlrr' (t'tt*
clcncv to reacl'chance'encountcrs lts siguificurrt :trttl ttl collcct rrrc:rrrirrulitl
ob.jccts tirr uootl lrrck corrtirtrrctl fo tlrrivt', rlorvrr to tlrr' prcscnt thy.
Mort' systcrrrrrtit' lirrrrrs li)r lnl('rl)r('(irtq ortt.'s tlt'stirry t'r'lit'tl ott r'lt.tttr
:rrrtl rtttrtr,.'t'it.rl svstcrtts. Iiottrnrt's.,rttlrl,rls,r 1,t rt,r,l ()r) l)illnls (tlrrtrrtrt;rncy),


l,[ e d i e ual L,{agi








: D c fitr iti o n s, B c lie fs, practice s


through nur,erological analysis of .anres (ononra,cy),

in dreanrs (oneiro_
mancy) or through taiking heads. Chiromancy,
traceable to classical ri,res,
becanre popular oniy in the thirteenth century,
as evidenced by numerous
scientiflc a.d divinatory treatises describing
it. Surprisingly, this system of
palrn-readirtg made its first appearance in
the m.tftl]i.Lrrt*

which Burnett links io John of Sarisburyf


v Ea,wine
ttirrit*, and the

c)anterbury clerical sphere of activity (Burnett

1996:X). Ea,ru,incarso has a
text on- onomancy' in part derivecr trom the
Arabic irr.udo-A.irtoterian
secret ,f secrers, but also containing
an earlier versro, of the .victorious a,d
vanquished' numerology systern (i3t rnett
1996: XI). fni, ,vrt.r_, for cleter_
,rining u'hich combatanr *.i11 win in a conresr
t; i.il i;'8.."t, Arabic,
Svriac, Hebrew, Russian, Spanish, Latin
and Engrish ranguages ard scripts.
Eadtuine includes four tabres that give
the numerical equivalents for the
planetary.weekdays. the vicrorio,s"and vanquishcd
,-,,r,rrd..r, iir" nu,rbers
to divide by accordi,g ro type of person ani the
,r.,rr..i.J.quivalents for
the alphaber. No insiructiol,s arc gir.en. btrt
we ca, deduce rher, from
other such treatises. rncrudi.g onoilantic
texcs founci in riturgical books
srch as tbe Lcofi.ic tlissal (Burnett 1L)96: XI:1,14).
The p.;;,i:; of ono_
rllancy is rooted in rhe sa,e presuppositions
,roied ir, ;;;;;:,;"" r,agic
trsing-rrragic squares and. nunrberr, th"i
i"rg.,age has a mathematical corre_
spo,dence. to realicl'.Thlking heads, ,rr..h"ii."i
ani,ratecLby a.rr.,o.,r,
rr androids are another source of inlbrrnation,icrols
generaily .rro.i"t.a *itt
lcarned experinrentation dating from ancient
so,rces such as Flermes
fr-isr,esistus and ofte,.
i, regends of tamous medieval scholars as
r)rfcronlancers (Higley, 1997 : 130_34,
These lbrms of divinrtory practice increasecl
in sophistication and use in
t'e high and late Mif1." Ages in professional tr:eatises.
For example, the
PhysicianJohn of Mirfeld ,-rr."d onon.,rncy as a means of nredical
rv'ile the dream book of Hans Lobenzweig oLrtrined
rr,rles for oneiro'l
').ncy great detail (Kieckhefer 990: t35-86; g9). charts of runar cycles,
.of lucky and unh,rcky clays, or maps of hancl_patr^ U...rr_,.
rrrcreasingly corrlnlon i, the rate t*.ifth
and tliirteen,lr..";;;i;r, in parr,
'rs we saw above, through the i,fl,x ofArabic
trarrsl:rtrr>rrs of classical sources. Thc
1rti4 'Letter of Toreio', "..,, "ri se,r by
..rqes and asrrologers
to pope Clenrenr III and otfrers, predicts
'rrrrcaiyptic doo, i, "lpl.t"
r186, based o, occ'rt krro-r.Jg. or rr?otogi..t
' r'r'rrrs (ciaster 197 1: II: gtJ5-1()04). A fourtee,th-c.,r,.riy H.ur"*
l"cicrl rext rvith chaldcan roors 'nvorks caiendricaily
uv .riig""rglrn.r,
rr.citic clays (G.stcr ra)7 1:r:33ii-55).Tl.xts with rgyptir,r,8r..-t
,,r Arabic roots gairrcd wiric crrrrcn,,r.,,,.r,.,n
tlte intellecttral clabblers of
t/rt'. lrrrc

Middlc Aqcs, tlrc r{e rr:riss.rt'c ,i,1r.,i (r(ieckhcfi,r

r990: 144-50).
li'r,'rrtist's r.vitlr t.lr:rrts. rtrrrl tli;rqr-:rrrrs Iirr.
irrtcrPrr.tirrg itrilividtrrrl c.rperi_
r'll( ('s :ll'(' t'lrlst'lv t't'l:ttr'rl to otlrcr
rrr.ur ru;rtlt. tlivirrrrtorly tl.vir.cs hrr c,rstrrrg


Mcdicyol llqqir: L)cfiritions, Beliefs,

W'itchctaft and Ma,gk in Plvltpe:The Middle Ages


Burchard-of Worms
lots, such as dice and geurstones (Braekman 1980)'
-sor/i_ the early Middle Ages the oft-condem.ed practice and5pvr('5
it to
the Scriptures
lcglmt, whereby one ranclorrll'-poir.rts to 1 !"-lrt "
It is
a,d Ganrer
decide an issue o, a.t.,''i""'a ftte (McNeill
."rv ,. see how this practice could enrerge trom nlollastic
.ori,"-ptrrion of the'scriptures. v"herebf a reader might
,p..f.l"g Jirectly ro him oi her in the daily reacling. Christia.
but also trans,ritted
o. revealed ,r.r,t-r, to.=iJ prinrarily ir-, ti,. Scriplures.
middle coLlrse ar'vay liom
through saintly visiotrs. Ho*tvtt' in charting a
chiruing speciai k,owlextremes, the church rvas ofren suspiciotrs oi-rhos"
authority but also to
;;;,,r;; o,-,ly to quell heretical challeDges to Church
the Christiarr clergy^
recourse to ,,,,gi.i^.,, ancl tlivin.ers as rivals to

Sybils and Diuinats

required profesional assisManv of the divinatory practices described here

i, readi,g the
irrr.., .irt-,.. in the fori, of a text or a person k,owledgeable
snrdy, often such persons
,igrrrwnl. sonle are learnecl in such nragic through
Gifred seers,are found in
were consiclered to h* ..gift" oilp.I-irl gno-si
rrryths. Gerrrranic
,,,r.y the Celtic, Scar"rdirraviarr and Gernranic saqas and
era was dominated by
and Scandinavian divinatioD in the pre-christian

me. appare.tly ti'teted the practice later' nrost\ in.sor(Jochens

...y ."a ,rr. ,-,-,"4., t-'.ti'ity co'lde''"td after Christianization
story olthe'Deluding of
1gg3). In the prose E6da,snoiri Stur-luson tells.the
of the '4sir'
king famous fo.'""git who travels to Asgardr' the home
both of
find ancl bring U..* t .,oit.dge {iom Odin. in,, his


seers or sibyls;

w-horn rvere gifted

ttre Poclic ErlrJo-s

the world

tale is interspersed with.quotations fronr

l'pl's1'6, the 'Sibyl's i'rophecy') that explain



..rrr. i,rro



th.org|, t6e

gorJs and goddesses.

Attribution of

the ancient Near East, aud surdivinatory powcr ,o *orr,..'-r, aiso clerives fror.n

Sibylline littbund in c)ld Slavonic and"Ron-ranian (Gaster L971:l:21,1-25)'
with oracles describing
erature in the Midcll; A;tt was general\ apocalyptic'
- Rnti.t-,.irt arrd the LastJudgenrent (McGinnofren
derived their insights
lr,t.gi.i.r-r, skilled
tronlconjurirrgspirits,especiellyclerrrot-ts'Thisarthasconretobeknowrr in
,, ,..ro',r,rcil ";u-tt,.,lt"tt t t"holt sphere of knowledge acquisition
aclditiort to loreknowleclge of events'



turd Nccrontnrtty

tlris krrtrrvlt'tlLIC pr.vitlc
.t.t.trlt l)()wcr.s. rrl.,g,.i,i,, ()l- s()r.( r,l.t.l.s r'1r,, l)()\\(.s\



their erpert services to othcrs, lor such trrsks as fintling a thief, recovering
lost propertr', or l.,erdrrnring'love rlagic'. Necromancy is a slightly rlrore spccialized ternt lor nrasic thet qains its power or knowledqe fronr con;urinq
spirits, u,iretlrer arrgels, denrons or ghosts; tire necronrancer forces thesc spirits to perfirrui atlrrzing fe;rts of tr-ansl)ot't;rtion or iilusion or to provide
knorvled{re of the secrets of the universe. Stories of necromancy and sorcer\,,
nranuals containing spells and colrjurations and persecution of known necrorrl:rrlccrs were on the rise frortr the thirteenth centLtrv reaching a pelk in the
fitteerrtl-r centrlr)'. For tl're lrrost pert, nredieval necronrancy is the product of

'clerical trnclenvorlil' (Kieckhefc'r 1990: 151-75). and is part of a literate

intellcctual traditit>rr of nrasic. Horvever, stories about <>ccult knowledge do
appear in popular literature, often as cautionarv tales in sernlons, and thus
Itave an influence on popul:rr prelceptions of rnrgic.
Occult kni)lvleclge is at the hcart oIthe way n.ragic is perceived as sonlething 'other' ancl denserous. f-he rnagician is one w'ho has access to secret
knowledge, often derived lronr ancient, foreign or sLlperrlaturll sources.
Eviderrcc fronr tl're earli, Middle Ages of pre-Christian Scandinavian and
Gernranic practices ofien associates wolllcn rvith the art of ktrorvirrg or

finclilq inforrrltion, :rs rn,ith the

nc>rns r,l'ho rve;rvc fates. Burchard of

Wornrs condeiurrs wolnen w,eavirrg webs vvitlr incantations and spurnine
urlgic skcins on thc first of Jarruary. The association of wonten, weaving

ancl uragic: is also docurirented in archaeologicai evidence of bracteates of

rveaving goclclcsses and the burial of spindle rvhorls rvith rvomen, as u,ell as
crvstal balls, r'vork boxes, and bags that rnight have had nredicinal or rnrgical functions (Wickhartr*Crou.ley l996; Meaney 19t19) .
With sorcer:v in qenerai, often ttre knolvledge sought is specific inforuratiorr. such ls flrrdinc a thief or lost ptoperry. Sortre o[t]re spells are sin.rilrtr to nrtrnttive chanrrs for healing. A popul:rr elenrent in these recalls the
stor:y of Helen tirdiui: thc true cross. In a tburteenth-century Flernish version, tire urlg;ician lies dorvn or1 the gr-ound arltts outspre;rd in cruciform
shape, for-rr tin'res pointing to tht: four conrpass directions, and callins on
thc earth to reveal the location of the stolen prcpert1,,just as the earth hid,
,rncl thcn c'livulscc'1, the true cross (Kicckhefer 'l 990:91)) .A rnore diabolical
lrr-occcinre is rer:ountccl irr the ()rnrdcs Chroniqucs r/c Sr Dcrrl-s (Coulton
1928: I:160-3) .A group of Clistercians hirecl throush an interrnediary:r

\()rccrcr to cltcl-r I thicf rvho ]rad stolen nroney trorn the abbey. They
lruried l bl.ick c.rt ur)Llergrotrrrl in a chest rlt a crossro:rds, including an rrir
pipc, rveter, arrrl lirocl irr thc torrrr of brcarl so:rkc.l irr chrisnr, consecrated
oil lrrtl holy rvrttcr. (Jlrfirrttrrtrttcly firr rhc conspirators, solnc slrcpl.rercls ar.rd
tlrcir rlrgs rlrscovct'ct'l tltr' t'lt [rt'firrc tlrc rt'tltrirr'tl tlrrcc d:rvs r,r,crc up; but
tlrt'l'lrlttl pl:tttrtcrl to flrrv (ltt't.rt,tttrl ttst'tlrc Iritlt'to lirrttr rr cir','lt',tltcrt clt

tltr'r'utls firorl rrtttl r'rrll tr1, tlrt'tlt'r'rl, ulro rr,'r,rrltl n'r,t'.rl tlrt'(lrit'l'to tlrcnr.

'l'ltt'Pt'r1rr'tlrrtors..llon,, rvt(lr (lrt (.1(,\\'('r('lrtrrnt',l .rt tlrt'st,rkt'irr







Wixhuaft and Magir in Europe:Thc Nliddle Ages

Often knowledge is revealed through visions in reflecting

Medieual Magic: Definitions, Beliafs,



arts_to break up the marriage so that one of her nieces might seduce
Guibert compares this bewitchrnent ro conjuring illusions,"and claims

empowered through incantations. In another case of foiled sorcery fron.r an

early fifteenth-century collection of ghost stories, a lord pard a magician to
find out who was a thief in his house (Shinners 1997:235-6).The sorcerer
used incantations and anointed the fingernail of a srnail boy who could
then see in the reflections on the nail who the thief was. Flowever, while
this revelation was in progress, the thief went to confession and hence disappeared from the boy'.s vision. In most of these accounts,the moral of the
story is that Christian ritual is more powerfui than sorcery, which may be
why so much sorcery deployed Christian elements in its methods. Etienne
de Bourbon goes a step further, however, to demonstrate that such sorcery
does not work, in the stor:y of a scholar whose books were stolen (Coulton
1928:I: tt5-6).The scholar tried going to several wizards who failed before
finally finding one who showed him rn a vision on a swordblade the thief,
his own much-loved cousin.After accusing his cousin and causing a split in
the family, the scholar belatedly hears new evidence that reveals the real
thief. In a story found in the Ces/a Romanorum, a knight discovers his wife's
affair with a necromancer (Tale CII, 1959: 174-6).The betrayed husband
goes to a learned man who gives him a tnirror that allows him to see what
the evil necromancer is doing - trytng to kill him through an effigy. This
foreknowledge saves the knight's life as he is able to duck under water to
avoid the necromancer's curse. In n.rany of these cases, magic is used by
sides, to curse and and as a counter-spel1.
The same is true in another rnajor category of sorcery, the ubiquitous
love magic, used both to causc irtrpotence and to seduce. Popular in legend
and romance, actual cases and methods occur throughout the medieval
period. They work through methods similar to healing, using herbs,
potions or amulets with incantations. Knowledge of such magic is associated with both curses and poisons. Causing inrpotence is a form of curse,
similar to magic that causes death. Similarly, some love potions were
thought to have accidentally caused death and were condemned as evil
sorcery (Kieckhefer 1990 81*2). Nonetheless, successful stories of both
forms of love magic persisted.
Magic spells that cause rnale irnpotence occurred with alarming frequency, along with remedies to undo thern. Whether impotence was a
common medical problern in medieval Er-rrope is unknown, but nrost of
the documented cases and stories attribute its cause to nragic curses placetl
by jealous women. Burchard of'Worms .rccuses aduiteresses of perft>rnrirrg
such magic to prevent their lover fronr consut.nntatitrg a nrarriage with rr
legitimate wife (McNeill and (lartrer 19(r5: 340). Actual cases of indtrc:cd
ir-npotence include the rrccolrnt in the Mcrrroir.r ol(ltribcrt of Noscrt of lris
pare'r)ts' rrnrri:rge, ullconsul)lnlltcd firr scvcrt ycitrs (19()(r: I: XII). llis
[rtlrcr]s irrrporerrct'wrrs:rttribtrtcd fo tltc crtvy <rlrt str'1'rtttotltct-using ttr:tgit'ltl


:lir forlr oI nragic is. corrrmon p.r.,i.. i,,.,org ignoranr






Guibertt father was aiso cured by...o.rLr.1o,a certain old

woman" presunrably using a counter-spell. Another famous account of
magic-induced impotence is the mysterious story of Martin Guerre in
sixte-enth century, again blamed on jealous fanrily rivalry (Davis
19-21,27-9).In this case, both husband and wife apparentiy were under
curse that was undone, after eight years, by the advice of an old
who 'appeared suddenly as if fror, heaven', and recomrnended a cure to
the spell_involving four Masses, sacred hosts and speciar cakes.The case
later triai asJean de coras describes it gains in complexiry,but the essential
features of the impotence curse is simiLr to Guiberi's father,.s
Magic to seduce isJust as comnron. positive views of love potions occur
in romance literature, where they are a comnlon motif. In the eighth_cen_
tury celtic fairy story 'The Adve,rure of conle', the hero is wioed by a
woman from the Land of the Living
0ackson 197r: 143-5). The druids,
spell holds her ofr, but conle_ eventuary succumbs to a rnagic apple.
Interestingly, the seductress,makes predictions that Christianiq,
will- end
the evil ,ragic of the druids, a comment fbund in other posi-christian
retellings of earlier tales.The most famous literary love potion, however,
in the story ofTiisran and Isolde (Gottfried von St."rrbr.g 1967:191-7).
In this highly romanticized view, the love potion was inten-ded to help ttre
bride Isolde fall in lowe with her groom king Mark, b.t the young hero
tistan accidentally drinks the potion with Iiolde; the drink is po*e.frl
enough to erase Isolde'.s previous hatred ofTlistan and the t*., f"ll h.lplessly in love, leading to a traric contest between loyalty and the
overwhelming power of Love personified in this romance.
A,more negative view of love potions is recounted in sermon hterature.
Jacobus.devoragine inthe Golden Legend story of StJustina points out the
evils of love potions (1993:Lr:192-5).The pagan cyprian ..i1,
.,p demons
to help him seduce the virgin saint; the demon instrircts hi,r to iprinkle
certain lotion outside her house, but the procedure fails due to her constancy a,d faith. Later attempts by the demons to infla.-re lust in
her also
I'aii, as does cyprian's attempts to get near her by transforming
rrirnself into
a bird or a woman.Justina secs through ail of these demonic
iiir_rsions. Even
saying her na.,e aloud breaks the spell when the demons pretend
to be her
itr order to satis$u Cyprianls clesire. (laesarius of Heisterbach tells of
a nun
driven nracl by thc'rrragic arts olu nriscrablc brt>ther,tcnrpting hcr
to lust_
firl passitllls; thc yotrrru wonl:lrr cvcntrrrrlly cornnrittccl ,,li.i,i" (lV: XLII.
1929:l: xx). ()n tlrc.tlrcr lr:rrrrl, lrc tclls tlr. st.ry.l:r w()nrrln in prrrgrt()ry
wlro tlcployctl lovc'rrr;rgi<.rrot lirr-lrrsl brrt lirr:r gootl irrtt.rrtrotr,.,,.1.," *.,
t'ltP11[rl(' of-[lcirrg s;tvt'tl; sltt' rv,ts .rlr'.rttl lrt'r' lrrrslr,rrr,l rv,rultl
corrrrrrit :rtltrltcry,


Medieval Magic: Definitions, Beliefs, Practices

WitchuaJi dnti ltlagic in Euroltc:Tlte Nliddle

lnsomeweysthis,,.ry'p.""iat'""'tidotetolnlpotence-car-rsingadullove in lllarrlaqe'
teresses rvho try to prevetlt co1-Isunlmated
,o poirr, out the ."'t' oi' 'i'tttty' althoughrecurs
in stofrequently
on denlons for
Necrornancy, calling

tht tlf:t^:Tt::t-:l::*
ries by Christian ,.,*o", 'o''""tirnt' clenying
to supPort tne rcellry oI
p.r.,i.., as illtrst;ry' but in otllcr 'ases
whose own father was
dernonic-derived knolvledge' Guibert of Nogent'
was intent on showing
;;.;; ;i ir',rpotence ;; ;;' kincl of magic ctlre'ldrlrit
no olle to instructhat'tlrey
,lr. d.,rro,,,;. evil of ,o'......r. asserting
of ell their
tion in their magic.*..pt those whoiir they
Chrlstia,riry by i l-,orribie sacrilege'
pies th:rt show sotlle oi tt" biases
practices. Itl one,, ,ro,'L-f itstlearned
he drink$' a,d an
,act with the devil (libation of his ow'n seed' which
her visits bv
a .un.
be a large dog' Irr the second
creating an illusion so that she appears to
show hin-r how to get rich'
story, a clerk takes up rvith :r 'ottt"t
way o.n a.specific day
ihJprr..ar.. ir,-oiu., f,"ft'i"g a
the instructions,
in order ro atrract tl-,. i.rii; ho.i.u..
the pact'
calling on the saints in his fright,and-the
Aside tronNt or"irg ih. pi*.. oi
beliefs about uragic ,i'oti"ita with a
in Eu.rope rronr the
;;i;r;-s lewilh ;;;;1;, ""'' to be widespreadt.trrrot-,
literature. Even
twelfth centLlrv th.J,,gh ,ro.^rrr. ancl
foster-s these
rrlore so than Guiberi of Nogent'
associations i, fri,
.i.rtfy associated ^..t"it"t1' with
i;;;;r; ." showing how easily Christians
two heretics ,.. .",gn' t"i f*t"'a
These two
i..ri.rffy, through ,i.t'or"""ty (V: XVIIl' 1929: l:338-41)'
a pact
;;J;;;;. r. p.".ro.- t v"itty of illusions
ii' used the irrt to help thc
knew sorcery, ,rra ,t'ut'gh he had renounced
powers rs cl;ar' but irr
ffi;p t; hi, ho\; cau'se. The reality

Caesarius'monastic"it'",*h"tnakesonesiderightorlwongisholyvcr'Even the recltlsc llertraclis is

sus tinholy irrtent, and true cottversion'
rngel oi liglrt, lrttl sl.re fi>llows his
deceived into thinkins a dcnron is ln 'Iiirritl'.
Irr tlris c()rrtL'xr (lrtesrtritts
visi.rs rultil s6e ^J1,i.. hi,r bv
l. tlcttttrttit ;ttt:rt'k' irrcltrtlirlg tlrt'
cxpl;rirrs tlrc p.ssi[',1.:co,rttcr rrrti,li, irrcr
t nrssllt' l'lvs littlt' bl:rrrrc ott
Avc M;rrirr, llt'rrt'rlicitc :ttttl tltt' sit-1tl


Bertradis, saying that not everyone has the gift of discerning spirits and
the devil is wily, appearir.re in many forms, both beautifui and ugly, or as
ani,nrals (V:


1929 :




Thus Caesarius'intent is to induce true conversion in a Cistercian vierv.

Several of his stories in book I on conversion tell of refornred necromancers who renounce their art after seeing a colleague in torment in hell
for practising that'accursed science' (l: XXXIII, 192c):l:42-3).ln a peculiarly arnbiguous case, a refbnued necromancer in the monastery is convinced to revive his art for the sake of finding out the fate of sorneone
rvho has died (l:XXXIV 1929:l:13-6). He rides on the back of a denron
to visit hell in a fairly typical underworld journev found often in vision literature; although he comes back pale and exhar-rsted, he is not punished for
using nefariolrs nlear)s to gain a true visron of the afterhfe, since he u,as
obeying orders and returns to his converted lifesryle. In telling this tale,
Caesarius seelns to substantiate the realiry and effectiveness of necrolnancy.
In fact,he goes out of his way to prove the existence of demons and their
powers to those who rnight doubt, describing in detail the procedures used
by masters and their pupils to call up demons using a circle drawn at a
crossroads tbllowed by tantastic illusions (V: II-IV; 1929: l:315-20).
Another Cisterciar.r source, the ()randcs Chroniques de St Derrs, also
describes the use of a circle lr,ith crosses, but in this case used to protect a
Iay brother fron'r assault by the devil rvhile on a journey, be1;un before daybreak despite the fear of beginning journeys betore sunrise (Cor-rlton 192f3:
I:157-8). Caesarius in his tales gives specific details of Swabian and
Bavarian scholars going ro Toledo to study necrontancy, sr.rggestine the
importation of the art thror.rgh Arabic and Jeu.ish practices, spreading
throughout the education systeln of Europe to creare a network of cult

Mendicant serrlon literature, ainred more at colntlton lay people than

the Cistercian couversion taies, is just as explicit about the reirlity of a
dernonic cult of necrornancy, as evident for exanrple in tales of the devil,
relics and rniracles by Etienr-re de Bourbon (Tianslations and Rcprints ll.4:
2-20). Another Dominican, Rudolf von Schlettstadt, tells the story of a
\vonlan rvho u,ent to a sorceress, a widolv, who knew incantations to call
rrp derrrons to give you whatever you dcsired (Shinners lL)97:216-17).
The sorceress prescribed an amulet rnade of pl;rster, r,r.ood fronr a consecrated altar ar.rd the shin bone of a thief hung tbr three nishts.The arrrulet
worked, although not in the rvonran'.s favor.rr.Thc clevil in the forr-r'r of a
black nran irppearerl, grabbcd tlre rvonran, antl twistecl hcr l.reac'l killing her.
Althotu-Ih irr this story thc wrlnt:rrtls urrltoly rlcsircs clrrr lrer prurisllnrcnt, i11
:rrtother st()rv rl r,t.ltttdcring sc'ltolltr/rtct r-()lll:lr)('('r' rr:trrrr.'tl W:rlr:rvirrs calls r.rp
tlctttrttts ttot orlly to P1'1;y1' tltt'ir t'xislt'rtt t' to tlotrlrtt'rr, brtt llso to llrkc
r('v('nqe ()n;r s('rvilut tl,lt.,,rl,ttst's lrirrr (Slrirrrrt'r's l()()7:.'].1I'i lt))


Medieual Magic: DeJtnitions, Beliefs,

Witchcraft and Magic in Europe:The Middle Ages

If this kind of sermon literature were our only source for a cult of
necromancy, we might have good reason to doubt the actual practice of
the art. F{owever, trials of accused necromancers and manuals of necromancy corroborate the existence of at least a belief in the ability to conjure spirits and gain occult knowledge, not only in western Europe but in
related traditions


Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. For example, in

Byzantine demonology, control of demons by sorcery is used for coercion,

protection and divination (Greenfield 19U8).Astral magic found in a fourteenth-century Italian manuscript is a Latin version of anArabic Hermetic
treatise known as Picatrix in its Latin fbrm, dating back to the thirteenth
century.This particular manuscript also uses Scandinavian runes as a cryptic alphabet to write the names of the planets (Burnett 1996:VIII). Much
of this form of magic shared between these monotheistic traditions
belongs to an intellectual tradition closely associated with philosophy.The
Ars I'Jotoria tradition, for example, achieves knowledge of the seven liberal
arts through necromantic means, confirming Caesarius'suspicion that the
magic art was rampant in the world of scholars and secular clerics (Burnett
1996; Fanger 1998).
By the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, despite infamous cases of condemnation and book-burning, manuals of necromancy were quite popular.
An Italian manual from circa 1510 included recipes for everything from

conquering cities and becoming invisible to love rnagic and astrology

(Burnett 1996: IX).lt employs Latin, Greek and Hebrew, along with magic
squares, talismans, rings, cabbalistic and Arabic techniques. One of the
more intriguing recipes explains how to make women think they are wading through a river so they lift their skirts above their waists (6-7). Similar
recipes occur in the fifteenth-century Munklt Handbrtok, which Kieckhefer
divides into categories of illusionist experiruents','psychological experiments', 'divinatory experiments', and 'conjurations and exorcisms'
(Kieckhefer 1997). Creating illusions of banquets, horses and castles seems
akin to party jokes and perhaps reflects a courtly environment of nragic for
entertainment, treated beiow
Manipulating people into falling in love or driving them nrad seeurs
more devious, but provides evidence for sorne of the magic condemned by
serrnon authors. Creating an illusory banquet is found in an earlier,
twelfth-century case of heresy, wherein a rather simple-minded rrat.l
named Eon proclaimed hinrself God because he was the 'eum' of the liturgical forrnula 'per eum . . .'. According to William of Newburgh, Eon provided his followers with sumptuous bancluets that were cor-npletely
ethereal, strpplieci by invisible spirits; evidence of their illusory quality wrrs
rnanifested at thc flrst bclch, wherettporr thc partaker inunccliatcly fi'lt
hungcr (Wrkcfrcld untl livrurs 1991 : 1,13-'l).T'llrt lrttcr ttccrt:lrnilr)(-crs' Irlllll.rnls likc thc l\lltrtrirh Ilarrllnok supply t'l:rtrorrrtc [.ltirr lirrrrrtrLrs lirr Protlttt'ittg



such banquets indicates not so much a direct connection with heresy but a
set of colnmon themes and motifs associated with magic. The Munich
Handbook and related late medieval manuals seem to be a culmination of
all of the suspected sorceries involving divination through enchanted mirrors and fingernaiis and the use of magic circles and spheres to conjure
Thus the Munich Handbo.k seems to confirm the worst nightnrares of
writers like caesarius of Heisterbach, as well as later inquisitors, about

de,ronic rnagic produced by a clerical underworid of scholar-necrothe Munich Handbook seems equally to be a prodr-rct of the
very environment and mentality that condemned it. It is, to state the obvirnancers. Yet

ous, in clerical Latin, deploys common Christian formulas, and cal1s on

divine, angelic and denronic narles derived from a range of ancient Near
Eastern sources attractive to the intelligentsia of late medieval Europe. The
rituals described therein, while they may seenr ro operate on sinrilar principles of magic to a modern eye, are quite different from sorne putative
pagan rnagic surviving from the early Middle Ages or even the popular
healing rituals in medicinal rnanuais.They are arguably the p'oduct of high
and late nredieval Christian theology, philosophy and science.
Nonetheless, sonle of the a,biguity surrounding demonic ,ragic in
popular culture is evident by comparing motifs found in this intellectual
branch of necrornancy, in serr-non literatr-rre condernning conrmerce with
de.rons, and in the hagiography extolling the power of saints over
derrrons. For exrrrrple. rnagic transport.rtion through cclnluring derrrons is a
corunon literary device found in romances, sernlon literature and saints'
lives, but also found with complete instructions in necromantic manuals.
The magician,/sai.t conjures demons into producing an illusory means of
transportation (horse, chair, nragic carpet) to a far-away land, such as
Rome,Jerusalem or even hell. Usually there is a proscription against conrrnitting a sin, as minor as omitting a blessing, since that wiil cause the traveller to lose control of the conjured demons (Kieckhefer 1997:42-3).For
exanrple, the Munith Handbook has several incantarions for obtaining a
horse, as well as one for a boat and one for a flying throne, that are essentially illusory but allow the magician to rravel rnagically across land or
water (Kieckhefer 1.997 :nos. 8, 9, 14, 15, 17, 43).
In the saintly story of Great John, Archbishop of Novgorod, the archbishop captures a demon in his water bowl using the sign of the cross
and a prayer (Zenkovsky 191 4:310-i4). He then cornnrands the demon
to appear as a horse anc-l take hinr to Jerursalenr tcl visit the holy places,

which the cJctrron does, placing rr r:ontliti<rrr trn tlre .rrchbisholr that he
tcll uny()nc tlrc story. l.:rtcr, thc urch[rislrol', rclrrtes thc evcnts
irr tl're tlrird pcrsorr, wltitlr tltt'tlt'ntorr trrkcs rrs;r violutiorr of tlrc r:orrji-

sl'rotrlcl n()t

tiorr.'.1'lrc rlcrrrorr t:rkt's rt.v<'rrut'lry t n',rtirrg:rrr illusiorr ol-:r rvorrr;ur visirirrLl


Wixhcraft and Mtlqt in Europe:Tlrc llliddle A,qcs

the archbishop'.s qr-rartcrs in private, u,hich causes the tolvnspeople to

drive him out. The angry parishioners place him on a raft in the rniddlc
of the river, w.hereupon the gracious :rrchbishop fbrgives thenr. The
clernon is so abashed by the archbishop's behaviour that he r,veeps and
then confesses. Archbishop John is carried back in procession ro rhe citv
by his repentant people.
Likewise, Caesarius of Heisterbach tells an ambiguclus tale of denronic
transportation (V: XXXVll, 1929: I: 368-70). An honourable knight, suffering frorn sorne nraclness or cJisease of the brain, has taken to hating his
wife. A dernon oflers to transport hinr nragically to l\onre t<> obtain a
divorce, in spirit, since his body renrained at honre, plle and blooclless.
Along the way, besides a detour to Jerusaleni, the knight observes a thief
robbing his neishbour, infornration he uses tcl assist the neiuhbotrr.'When
the knight is restored to his boc-ly and his senses, he loves his i,vifc again, br_rt
retains vivid r-nentories of l-ris journey rvhile i11. It rvould be sinrplc- to fullor'v a reductionist argur.nent ancl attribr.rte this story to hieh fever, as sorne
scholars erroneously do to erplain the visiotrary cxperigllc.t of rnystics
anci saints. Hotvever, for Caesarir.rs, this is a st()ry about I nroral unir,,crsc
where denrons, despite their i11-wi11, c:llr rLrrlr people to eood.The knight's
journeywas lnore real,in terrns of the spiritr-ral life clf his soul,than a phvs*
ical journey; consequently it woulcl be a nristake to dismiss such acconnts
as prodr-rcts of a diseased imagination. Rathcr, r,vhat these stories about
nragical transportatiort reveal is a complex u,orld vicw in rvhich hurnans
interact with spiritual forces in a variety oi'nvays, sonretinres humorously,
but always nreaningfully. Sorcery and necrornalrcv were taken seriously, as
evident in the prosecution oluragicians, ancl vet the belief irr ancl practicc
of corluring spirits existed in the context of a Clhristian nroral 6-anreu,'ork
that often treated sLlperllatrlral force's lishtlv as nrotifs in an onsoinq rroral
and spiritual drarla. This sar.ne vierv of nragic is cviclent in thc rcalnr ol

nr e1rt.


ll[cdin,al l,lacic: Dt,firtitittrts, Bt:licfi,


tl'ot, cotlrtly etttcrtaintnent,

Althor-reh eutertainurent lrlay be a nrodern rrnachronisllr, solrlc cxanrples t:lf

ill"rsory nragic in the trecrot'n:rntic nranuals and nrany of the stories ()llnagic in Christian literature irotecJ above seenl to have entertuir.rrrrent as rr
set'ondlry tltotivc. ln,rtltlitiorr. rrr.rgi,'rvirlr etrtcrt:rirrnrt'llt it\.1 pt'irrr.rry
function occltrrecl in two venlres, the court and literatr.rre. In troth cuscs,
illttsions were the fircal poirrt, involving cleceivinq or firolirrs thc rrrirrtl :rs ;r
w,rry olexplr:lrirrg idcls rrrrrl lrrrnr:rrr rclrrtiorrships.
IIr tltc scrtsc thrrt rn;rgir'rvus illtrsrlrl,, u tlct'cptiorr ot-tlrr'lnirrrl, rrr,rgit .rt tr
t'otlltl [lc t'ottsitlt't-t'tl .trt .rt't lrclfilrrrtctl lirr:rrr :rtrrlicrrt t'. Mosl ol'tlrr' t'r'itlt.rrL t.


the t-xistcnce of popular c,terta,,r-

ers travcllinc throush torvns a,ci viilages ca, certairl'

be: posited; certai,ry
rvc kn.rv of nrir-rstrels, acrobats, acting troupes ancl other'p..fir.;;;";i;;
all, in a ser)se, crcatc illusiorrs irr their pertbrrnanccs.

o[hand, optical
illusiorrs. secrer -"vririrg rurcl r.aki,g objects lllove
,rysteriously appear in
late llredicval ntattttals, alone rvith tth.]. ,rr,,,.. rnischievous
tricks sr.rch as
sonre of thc ilh-rsions fbtrnd irr necronrantic rnanuals
.r-,d 1r..ftrr,ed in
coLrrts (Kic-ckhefcr l()90: 91
In particr-rlar, the rristocrrrcy scL'nleLi fascinatecl rvith arrtor.rlators,

,recharical devices that ,roveci r,ysterior.rsly throtigh the

ilh,rsio. of
,recha,ical tcchrr>l,gy (Higley l99i). Auto,ratons are .fterr
rvith ,rcclieval le'gc,cls of virgil rs :r porvcrt.l ,ragiciarr, recolr,ted
exarrrple rn the (lc-ira l?orndttorunt story if x ruagic
sta-tucVirgil constructed
lor e,rpcror Titr-rs that conrrrunicateij t,, tl-,e .,,,rp..o. .rry i..-..,
c.,r,i*cd clrri,g the clav (1959: 97).'fhe techiioloqy t.r. s,_rcl, ,,vizarclry
was absetrt iI early ureclieval Etrrope, causirrq ,onr.,
Jonstcrl.rtion fbr the
Gernran antbassador Littdprancl of Clrernona udren he
sarv the nrecha,ical
rvorders at the lSyza,ri.e- courr. Ilr-rt by thc thirteerrth
..-rrt*y: thc ergi_
rreerirs skills hacl clevelopecl rhro,gh cxpe-rir,e.tation by
scientists like
ll'ogcr -[]acon artcl in rll()re elrtertairriis faslion at tlie
courts of E,rope; fbr
cxarrrple, .recharrical bircls that sang (Kieckheti:r 199t):
1t)1). o,e 1ully
erquiplled rootn of 'ctrtertaining' nrecharricll uiarvels
ipcluded overhelcl
pipes that wet thc laclics ard pipes belorv that ble-ur, flt>ur
on urrsrrspectirrg
suests, a veritablc firnhorrse (llanron l9lJ3: 176). c)f crourse,
thc clairger in

prescrrtiDg these tcclrtrolosical lcats rs nrasic acts is

thev lcncl thernsclvcs to

tlf actull Ilecr()lrlanc!'. siuce the line betwecn rratural scie,ce

r,cl. ,atural ,ragic r.vas u,clc:rr, i.,r,ri,,g cotrrt rragicians in
:r prccari.us


As,rasters olarcarrc kno*,I.:dge, rragicians, artl prrtic,rarly

rvelc knor,vn :lt court espccialiy fionr the trvc.lfilr century,
, ,ri,yl. rurnlrs
P.i,t in.cculr k,orvledge i, Europc.J.h, of S;rlisbu.y i,, thc i.velfrh c*r_

Irrrv conrpl:rinccl ol rrragical

ds Entcrtairt mL'nt



ur:ts r.lsccj

bv courtiers, castigating a classically

ticrived list of clivi,rtory pra('ticcs btrt al.s. reco.rrtirg I'ris

orvl 1rc,r.ry.f
:r. 1'rriest trsing incantatiorrs of cL,urorric*sourr..linc
n.,nes to see inrrq.,s in
tlrc boys'firscr.ails a,.irrtccl rvirlr chrisrrr (193g: 116
7;Kiccklrellr I990:
151)' Nor rvere astrologers rrlu,;rys tnrstccl orbclicveir.
Irr tlrc fifteenth cerrIrrr1,, L.ouis XI tricd t() tcst urr ustr.ologcr r.u.lro
It:rcl corrcctlv predicted the
tlCrrtlr ot-u ('()rlrt \!'()nlilrr
[.orris lrrrtl Ior.,cd (l(uV lgrJg:'3 l9).Thc kinu

'rt'r'rtttgctl lt siqltrrl u.'itlr lris ('()ul'ti('r-s

to irrtlit:rtr'tlrrrt tlrev slrotrlcl tlrr.r.r,,thc

,rstr-,,1.,q.1r rv.rs tlrc,

,tslttllogt'r ttrlt ol- tlrt. rr,,irrtlou .rt lris (.()1)1),1r(1. IItt.

to Pl't'rlitl lrrs orvrr tlr..rtlr. (llt.i,,.r-1r,, Irt.,rrrsu,,,.r-t,tl tlr,rt lrt.rv,otrlti

tltttt'tLrvs lrt'lirn. tlr,. krrrri,lr,.,l. rr lr,.r,.,r;,,,rr llrt. Lirrq rrr.r,lt.srrrt.
lrt.tlitl rrot
rr!,rr'tl to lri: r.riltrt'r's .rtrtl rrrt'rt',rrrt r rr",. ,,,,t'rrrr
l. 1r,...1' 1rrr, .rslr.r.rlt,r

lv I c d i e ual

Middlc Ages
Witchcra-ft anrl lvlagk in Europe:The


between belief
not' indicates the fragile balance
alive.The anecclote, trlre or
court intrigue lent

context of rnagic' i" f"t'

Jrrected at political frg*.r:ril:1]:I1-,oj
itself rnell to accusation.s "i,."gr.
were accusations of assasslnatlon
political nrotives' f'p"t"Uy iopol"
love rnagic' borh clearlv
throtrgh ,rrgic potsol";;i 'Jd"J;i;'-:^t.lroueh
this volume;
succession ,,',j'po*., (Peters.
relatecl to clispLltes over political

in the

ancl dottbt



,ght side
in illusorv maqic
entertai.ment. Tri"i[-rr'p.rforrr.<l
the part
a willing
adnrit to deceptiorr "J '"ggt"
with- ,-,rrji. as portrayed in
of rhe :rudierrce. Th"";;.'i;
its operand
i'-""tdieval notions of
Literarv magicians p;y; ; 'olt
the clasin
rtrlJjit agt' h"t theit
rtions. ,Sto.i., p"p'f-"]'i"
f"tiogt and in iht Celtic'
atso has its
thus had its dangerous side, it

sical Judaeo-Christian


inhe,ited and expa-nd'd, :'-' le.e-eLf1-.fiom

fle:rrei ancl'respccted for their
plcs of ih" pc'wttf'l rrr'rgi'iarr' both
tt;ti;; ofAie"ander
tno*ledge (Higley tooz)"rhe rolnance i'-'tt"'t in divination among the
his rnagician, d""'o"'*tit int
categoties in Gautier de
nobiliry (Carv 1956)' Of the {i'e
1 996)'



.o,rrrr..l1";; ;;;t't"- a" *?tt' clivination

pyronlancy' aeromancy' hydromancy'
Under prophecy, he lists
bo"o*td fror-'
and ttecr.trrn"v tti-"
ho'-ospicy' and
under mathenlatlcs t't fi"t f'"'*spicy'
* n"i o't tht
male-ficitmr;'t';i,,g ;;;';"


technique in his
fort,,e-tel1i,rs *'itli"j:;t&;;;';;''onif "o'-aivinatorv
shape-shi[ting' hoth practiccs
list is .onjuri"*' 'fttintatiy irrvisibility,ind
tu trick others. Si,rilar*'. Virsil rs trattsrrrvolvirrg a...prio,.,'or',rl,.1ril.
necronlancer whose extensive
forutecl irl meclieval legencl lnto-a
from der,ons (Spargo
eclge a,d abilities'r*i.riu.a
vct'lines' lppearing in,t:tin' E-trropean
1997).These t"g""a' t'o" cuitr'rral
ct""i ;"' loJ"ttd
,aculars ,,',d Htb'J'"'-no' t*"'-'ptt'
sccrcr uui-srl(ren,rulrr
tire Alexander roll1ance, of the


these ,ncient and foreigD
u14_7g, 712--g13,rii:Lol.ft. -r.
of magic
playe<1 in the ttt"l',p"ttice
attribute theii rertredies or
u,'hich ,-rrrgt.



also clcrivcs tl'orrr



'ri,lii :i1r,"r. sr.rics <,fit'rr 1';t'cscrtt r.tls :ttttl

The irnaqc of tl'rc povn'crtirl ttlrtqici:ttt
(iylti ill tllc
(^1,'t,t.r,,i.i'i,.r ,,, ,1,,' t;i;,,. tlrt'strttrtlitrrtvirttt
hcrocs - tlrc lrish "i,.,
illt() lll'lldl(
,,,,,fi. . ,.,lrrlrrrr,,.l r.r,'rllr lrt'r.lt
\ilgils ,,, 1.'..'r""rtijl

M agi c : D e.fi n i t i o n s, B e


i e-f

Pra c t i c e s


realms, lands or islands inhabited by the gods or fairies. Irish md Welsh

tales are full of voyages exploring strange lands, such as the mysterious voyage of Mael D6in (Jackson,1971:152-9). Masicians in the lcelandic sagas
have a special gift of second sight which they can use for good or ill; often
they are perceived as self-serving (Bayerschrnidt 1965). The most revered
of the seven knorvn Icelandic nragicians is Sanr"rndr Fr6di, a Clhristian
priest rvho studied rnap;ic, apparently without nruch conflict of beiieG
(Adalsteinsso n 199 4, 1 996).
Prophecy and divination, ganles of pow'er, and love magic are colllnron

motifi carried through fi'om Celtic, Scandinavian and Gerrrranic lore intcr
high medieval rornance literature and the Arthurian tradition. Often set in
another world, or involving interaction between two rvorlds, rnetlieval
romances expiored hurnaD character through tests and quests or.ltside the
realm of ordinary human experience. In the Breton lai retelling o[ the
Orpheus legend, the hero Sir C)rfeo recovers his queen fronr the iairy lan.l
after she was bewitched arvay (Sands 1.966:1.85-200).ln Sir Cawain and thc
Green Knighl, the hero accepts the traditional Christrnas ch:rllenge at Kins

Arthur's court and rnust confront a polr'erful 'r-nagician', a knight in the

fornr of a green giant who can survive having his head chopped olI.While
scholars may debate the Celtrc and pre-Christian origins for the '(]reert
Man' n-rotif, it is abundantly clear that these ronranccs derivc rnost of their
strpernatural nraterial frorn Christian ritual and story (Sir Cawain and tlrt
Creen Knight 1967 xx). For example, Sir Gar,vain's aruring and the pentaugie represent Christian virtues, while his shield reflects penitential doctrine
(Sir Cawain and rhe Crcen Knipltt 1997: xvii-xix,243).
Arthurian romances are also full of rnagic devices, such as swords, getnstones and illusory banquets, lhat are renriniscent of practices fbund in
nragic treatises and nranuals of necromancl,, calling into question the
boturdary betrveen frction and reality. Christian nrysticisln is infused intir
some of these nrotifs, rnost clearly evident irr the stories of the Holy Grail,
the search for u,hich takes the heroes through manv rnagic lands and castles. The Arthurian Grail legends evoke both the rlystical power of relics
,rnd the magical power of genstones and other objects to transforrrr and
reveal in a way that obviates the difference betr,veen lrrystical and rnaqical
(fhe Quest ,1f thc Holy Crail,lL)69).
Most of a1l, Arthurian ronrance oflers the nrost reno\,vned uragiciau in
thc Midclle Ages, Merlin. His conrplex story evolved over the ccrtttrlies,
rcflecting a conrbination of earlier leqertcis ls wcll ;rs chrngirrg iderrs lbout
rrr;rgic over thc corrrsc of thc Middlc Agcs.l'lrc trte lftlr-ccrrturv ltrstori.rrt
( icotlrcy ol Morrrrroutlr is resporrsilrlc for tlrt' rrlrirr storl'lirrc crrrbroidcrctl
rrr l.rtcr lcgcrttls (1()(r(r). Altlrotrglr Mt'rlirr rt'rtt.titrs ,r scr'otttlrtt'v t'lt.tt.rttr'r' rtt
tlrc litcr:rry vt'rsious, sut'lr ,tt M,rl,rr'1,.t ,\lottt I)'.'lttlrrrr, lrr' is .tu t'sst'tr(i.tl
r ()llrp()r)('lrt in tltt'tr.rtr.tlivt', lirn'tt'lltrtlq,ttt,l slt.r1rtnl,, ('\'('nts.tltttosl ,ts.l r/r',rj


Witchuqft and Magic in Europe:The Middle Ages

cx machind (Malory 1971 l).According to Geo{Irey, Merlin was the child

of a nobly born nun impregnated by an incubus demon. Carnal comnterce
r,vith dernons was a frequent preoccupation in Christian condemnations of
nragic. Merlin's demonic origin is somewhat nritigated in later tellings by
his baptism, but his magical powers are retained. Geoffrey includes an
extensive * and much quoted - recitation of Merlini prophecies regarding
the kingdom of Britain. He justifies his inclusion of Merlint prophecies by
asserting that the Bishop of Lincoln, a nlan of 'great religion and wisdom',
requested them. The prophetic basis for Britain's rule is essential for the
kind of legendary history Geoflrey was writing. Orderic Vitalis quotes
from it in his Hi-slorla, as does Abbot Suger in his biography of Louis VI
(Suger 1992: 69, 1t35). The animal syrnbolism is particularly striking in
these prophecies, renriniscent of classical and medieval lore and medicine
trsing anirlals. Merlin is rnost renowned, however, for his 'love magic' crelting an illusion that allows Uther to beget the future King Arthur on his
cnenry's rvife, and for assisting Arthur in the creation of his kingdorn. The
political context for these stories is clearly that of the high r-nedieval court.
For example, rival necromancer Morgan le Fay in many ways personifies
the evil rnagic of court intrigue involving jealousy and political rivalry.
Magic in the Arthurian tradition retnains both potent and dangerous, tnirroring r-nagic in the courtly environment.
Literary magic not only reflects the self, in this case medieval Europeans,
but also their perception of 'the other'. Medieval travei literature often
corrtains highly illuminating descriptions of magic and nragicians in forcign lands, in part because nragic by definition is alien and 'other'. Early
nrcr'lieval travel literature, such as the lrish voyage tales, describe encoutttcrs with the nrarvelous. In fact,'wonder' seenls to be a dominant thenre irr
lroth nraqic and travel literature, even in stories of actual encounters with
firrcisn cultures (Greenblatt 1L)91). For exarnple, Marco Polo frequently
:rssociated idolatry with masic. He attributed nragical prowess to the people o[ Kashn-rir and to the Brahmans of India, and found magic among thc
'['ibctans, in a variety of provinces between China and India, at the cotlrt
of-Ktrblai Khan,and even among the Christians on an rsiand called Soc()tr:l
( I 95tt: 7 8, 1 09, 1 31, 17 3, 182, 223-4, 261, 2c)B).The most frequent forrrrs
and divination, aithough hc ltlso
of rrrrrqic he clescribes arc
rrotcs rrreclicel incantations as well. Even taking into consideration thc f:rr't
tlrrrt Irc is lvitnessing a variety of religions - Hinduisnr, Budcllrisnr, Islrrrr,
ll)('cst()r rvorship, shlrrrmnisrn - in firreign lantulgcs, his observatiol)s s('('ltt
to t'ctlt't't rrrorc Iris o'nvn [irrnrl'rcru) it:isur]ll)tiotts utrout Itt:tgic;ttttl rcligitttt
tlr:rn rr rt'lrl trrttlcrstuttditrg ol tlrt'sc lcligi()trs tr;ttlitiorts.

'l'lrt'st'llrrtrrl)(',u) r-('sl)()ns('s l() ()llt,'t'.rtllttt,'r l,rtttr'; tts [',rttk to tltt'tlt'lirrr

Itoil,rl P11rlrlt'trt ol'til,r1:,rt .ttttl tltttttt,l 1l\ llt,tl lll.ll,,]( l\.t lltlt'oPt'tllt ttlttstt'tltl,

Me dicual

Magit: Dc.finitions,





the product of a co,'rprex social, politicai

and religious history.Two corollaries of this propositi,o. best ,.rrir.rr..ir.
,hi, hir,o.y. First, the application
of the re.n'magic'ro other curtures ,"a
be avoided' Second, an unclerstarrdirg
oi ihe evolution of the .ir..p, or
nragic in the Middle Ages is essential
ior unciersta"ai"g