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Magic, miracles, and charms are three

Anglo-Saxon modes of interaction with the created order

which were once commonly accepted but
charms in the are foreign to the modern mind. The pro-

context of a blem for modern historians is learning to

interpret these subjects in a way consistent
with the documents of the time and the
Christian world world view they present.’ In the Augusti-
nian-Christian world view of late Anglo-
view Saxon England, as expressed by such wri-
ters as the abbot and homilist filfric, magic
and miracles were seen as polar opposites,
Karen Louise Jolly one evil, the other good. Charms fell into an
area of popular practices intermediate be-
The following article explores aspects of a Chris- tween these two. The charms found in late
tian world view found in late Anglo-Saxon Eng- Anglo-Saxon medical manuscripts are view-
land, seeking to put such phenomena as magic, mi- ed, like other medical practices, as natural
racles and charms in their proper Christianperspec- remedies consistent with a Christian ap-
tive. Previous criticism has had a tendency to accen- proach to illness.
tuate the pagan aspects of the charms and to confuse This fact has been obscured by an over-
a modern dejnition of magic with that of the ear& emphasis on the pagan elements in the
medieval Christian view. The view of nature found charms, an approach which has since been
in A?lfric’s sermons,for example, reveals a particu- discarded in other areas of Anglo-Saxon
lar attitude towards magic, miracles and natural studies. Scholars of the late nineteenth and
remedies such as charms. Magic and miracles are early twentieth century sought for the pu-
at opposite extremes, while charms are part of an rest Anglo-Saxon expression in the most ori-
intermediate category of practices not specafkally ginal, and thus least Christian, aspects of a
condemned as develish magic, norjtting into the text (Stanley 1975). The charms have thus
Christian interpretation of miracles as signs from been interpreted as a clear statement of pa-
God. gan sentiment and their Christian elements
The secondpart of the article turns to an exami- have been suppressed. While subsequent re-
nation of the charms themselves to demonstrate how search has restored the unity and Christian
they do jt into a Christian view. Charms having nature of much of Anglo-Saxon literature,
to do with elves, as found in the Leechbook, little has been done to revise the earlier ap-
contain large amounts of Christian material. There proach with regard to the charms (notable
is an especially strong correlation between these exceptions: Niles 1980 and Hill 1977). Yet
charms and the use of the mass to counteract the in the form in which they appear in late-
influence and effects of elves. Thus the charms, far Saxon medical manuscripts, the charms
from being examples of the remnants of paganism, constitute an inseparable blend of Christian
are evidence of the integration of popular material and pre-Christian ideas. They have been as-
into a Christian view of the world. similated into a Christian framework, much

Journal of Medieval History 11(1985)279-293.

0 1985 Elsevier Science Publishers B.V. (North-Holland) 279
as Pope Gregory I advised Abbot Mellitus cult circumstances which seem to indicate
and Augustine of Canterbury to adapt pa- the end of the world (Thorpe 1844:3;
gan temples and practices to Christian uses Thorpe 1846:3, 343, 371).
(Colgrave and Mynors 1969: 106-g). The Homilies and Lives are written for
This study will first examine the Augusti- clergy to preach to lay congregations. They
nian view of the world as found in Anglo- may also have been read by literate lay per-
Saxon writings, primarily Elfric’s, and will sons who were considered “unlearned” be-
then turn to an examination of some Anglo- cause they could not read Latin.2 Blfric is
Saxon charms to demonstrate how they fit aware that he is adapting theological mate-
into this world view. rial and that there is a certain loss in the
transmission; he apologizes for his simplic-
In her book, Miracles and the medieval mind, ity to any learned person reading his books
Benedicta Ward has used the Augustinian (Thorpe 1846:461, 52 1). His concern in
world view, which prevailed in the early writing is more for the ignorant who might
medieval West, to propound two opposite be led astray by false teaching, and so he
categories, magic and miracles, along with adapts his material to their level: “One
an intermediate area between them (Ward should speak to laymen according to the
1982: 3-19) _ These categories are clearly measure of their understanding, so that they
evident in the homilies of Rlfric, who cites be not disheartened by the deepness, nor by
Augustine as his source in his discussions of the length wearied” (Thorpe 1846:447; see
magic, miracles and natural medicine. His also 3, 315, 321, 457, 461, 467, 521).
vernacular homilies, in the two sets of Catho- While Blfric’s world view is not unique,
lic homilies (989 and 992) and the Saints’ lives his use of the medieval Augustinian system
(1002), are works of popular religion, an at- is peculiarly Anglo-Saxon if only because
tempt to adapt and communicate Christian he is translating these ideas into the Anglo-
theology in Anglo-Saxon terms (Greenfield Saxon language and thought patterns; this
1965: 46-9). His goal, along with that of his gives a different tone to the concepts.3 For
contemporary Wulfstan, was to extend the example, typical of the Augustinian ap-
reform movement begun in the previous ge- proach to nature, filfric asserts that it is
neration under Dunstan, Oswald and not for man to investigate how God, for
athelwold. The difference is that the re- whom all things are equally easy, could
forms of filfric and Wulfstan are not aimed create Adam out of dirt (Thorpe 1844:237):
primarily at the monasteries, as before, but
Now we cannot investigate how of that loam he made
at the secular clergy through laws, canons flesh and blood, bones and skin, hair and nails. Men
and homilies. Moreover, the political cir- often see that of one little kernel comes a great tree,
cumstances had changed drastically. The but in the kernel we can see neither root, nor rind,
nor boughs, nor leaves: but the same God who draws
peaceful rule of Edgar had been replaced
forth from the kernel tree, and fruits, and leaves, may
by the upheaval brought about by the Da- from dust raise flesh and bones, sinews and hair....
nish raids under Ethelraed Unrzed. Blfric’s
homilies, then, are written explicitly to In this passage we see Elfric attempting to
counteract false teaching in the face of difli- explain a theological mystery in terms

familiar to his Anglo-Saxon readers. Unlike Humanity, however, is different from
modern science, the emphasis is not on how other creations because each person has a
the universe works, except by analogy, but soul and each has something of all crea-
on the God who made it. tures: existence (wunigende) like stones, life
Furthermore, the modern distinction be- (lybbe) like trees, sense (gefrede) like beasts,
tween natural and supernatural did not and understanding (understande) like angels
exist at this time; all phenomena, all of na- (Thorpe 1844:302-3; 277). Humankind is
ture, visible and invisible, miracles or thus placed in a unique position within this
natural healing, are an expression of God, world that God has created and inhabits.
part of the created natural order. Thus, El- Humans live within nature and yet have,
fric does not distinguish between super- by virtue of their soul, a connection with
natural and natural. Rather, he recognizes the divine. Therefore, a person can relate to
two realms, the visible and invisible, spirit nature by relating to God and vice versa. It
and body. Christ and man participate in is in this context that Elfric asserts that
both the ungesewenlice and gesewenlice, having God is the true leech (doctor), the one who
both lichaman and gastas (Thorpe 1844: 16 1, controls all sickness and health; ultimately
273-7). When the good man dies (Thorpe one must appeal to God or use God’s crea-
1846:232-3): “The body turns to earth and tion properly to achieve any well-being
awaits the resurrection, and in that space (Thorpe 1844:47 l-3).
feels nothing”. Se lichama awent to eoraan, and Miracles, then, fit into the above context
anbidaa iristes, and on aam fyrste n&z &ng ne of Elfric’s view of nature and health: God
gefrt2. acts in the world in a way consistent with
Elfric also explains how certain concepts nature as a natural means of communica-
about God and man in the universe are tion with people. “Miracles are events with
explicable. God is everywhere present, not a point in the overall scheme of things and
spatially but by the presence of his majesty so in a sense very much regular” (Swin-
(se ]3e dghwar is andweard, na &u-h rymyt @we burne 1970:9). The presupposition of Au-
stowe, ac purh his m&geni)rymmes gustine concerning the relationship of mir-
andweardnysse); God’s Spirit fills all the cir- acles to creation is that the possibility of
cumference of the earth, and he holds and miracles is inherent in nature. A miracle is
maintains all things (Godes Gast gefyla ealne a drawing out of the virtues hidden by God
ymbhwyrjt middangeardes, and he hylt ealle sing) within a cosmos that was all potentially
(Thorpe 1844:262, 280). God is distinct miraculous (Ward 1982:3). The question
from creation: every substance that is not asked of miracles is never how something
God is a creature and that which is not cre- could happen but whe.ther it is of God and
ature is God; creation has measure (gemete), if so what it expresses sbout humanity’s re-
number (getele) and weight (hefe); God does lationship to God. Miracles and nature are
not (Thorpe 1844: 102-3, 276-7, 286-7). put on an equal footing as a sign from God
While this is traditional Christian doctrine, to humanity (Ward 1982:4, 8-9). Miracles,
it does emphasize the greatness and yet as presented in homilies and saints’ lives,
nearness of God in relation to His creation. are the shining example of Christian truth;

they are of God and are in opposition to the shines through his wundra (Skeat 1966a:433,
evil, corrupt influence of magicians. This 439, 469).
Augustinian definition of miracles can be Zlfric sees miracles as part of God’s ever-
seen in Blfric’s sermons. continuing communication with humanity
There are two words usually translated (Thorpe 1844:184-7):
as miracle, both of which &lfric uses: wundor
God hath wrought many wundra and daily works; but
and tam. The terms are used interchange- those wundra are much weakened in the sight of men,
ably in the context of his discussions, but because they are very usual. A greater wundor it is
generally when Blfric uses tam he is stress- that God Almighty every day feeds all the world, and
directs the good, than that wundor was, that he tilled
ing the meaning of miracles. Wundor, which five thousand men with five loaves: but men won-
implies the wonder of men and women in dered (wundredon) at this, not because it was a greater
response to some phenomena, is a more wundor, but because it was unusual. Who now gives
general term which can also be used to de- fruit to our fields, and multiplies the harvest from a
few grains of corn, but he who multiplied the five
scribe wonders done by the devil, although loaves? The might was there in Christ’s hands, and
in a Christian context it means the same the five loaves were, as it were, seed, not sown in the
thing as tam (Thorpe 1844:307). Tam is earth, but multiplied by him who created the earth.
This wundor is very great, and deep in its significa-
more specifically a miracle as Blfric views tions (getacnungum). Often some one sees fair character
them, for the word indicates the purpose of written, then praises he the writer and the characters,
miracles: they are a sign (tam) from God to but knows not what they mean. He who understands
the art of writing praises their fairness, and reads the
His people. characters, and comprehends their meaning. In one
The major purpose of miraclks is to reveal way we look at a picture, and in another at charac-
God to humanity, to disclose His might and ters. Nothing more is necessary for a picture than
that you see and praise it: but it is not enough to look
His glory, and thus to promote faith in
at characters without, at the same time, reading
people (Thorpe 1844: 123, 185-7, 231, 293, them, and understanding their signification. So also
407-9; Thorpe 1846:21-3, 73, 377, 379). it is with regard to the wundre which God wrought
with the five loaves: it is not enough that we wonder
Miracles can also teach specific lessons: “It
(wundrian) at the tames or praise God on account of it,
is not enough that we wonder (wundrian) at without also understanding its spiritual sense.
the tacnes, or praise God on account of it,
without also understanding its spiritual LElfric clearly places miracles in the Au-
sense” (Thorpe 1844: 187). In the saints’ gustinian context of nature as a continuing
lives in particular, certain miracles com- revelation of God. As he shows, the miracle
municate a specific truth: the wundra of the of the harvest each year, upon which their
Anglo-Saxon saint ABel&-yi) made known very existence depends, is as much a mir-
her sacred relics and her virginity. acle as Christ multiplying the loaves;
Moreover, her uncorrupted body showed Christ, as creator, can perform the miracle
God’s power to raise up corruptible bodies, in a way just as ‘natural’ as the miracle of
giving each individual hope for the resurrec- seeds growing. In this meaningful way El-
tion. Another Anglo-Saxon saint, Swithun, fric communicates that miracles are a
performed many wundra which manifested spiritual message through analogies famil-
to the people that they might merit the king- iar to his audience.4
dom by good works even as the saint now At one point Blfric seems to imply that

miracles are no longer God’s way of speak- perilous times. Moreover, the telling of
ing. He shows that wundra were necessary miracle stories re-enforces the notion that
at the beginning of Christianity just as a God is active within the world He has
man waters a tree or herb until it takes root; created and that humanity can tap this di-
but the Church now works spiritual wundra vine source.
as the apostles did material ones. Yet de- On the other hand, magic in the Augusti-
spite his emphasis on the spiritual aspect of nian system is the antithesis of miracles;
miracles, Blfric definitely affirms the possi- magical wonders are wrought by demons.
bility of contemporary physical miracles Recognition of the reality of magic high-
(Thorpe 1844292-3, 305) : lights similarities between magic and mira-
We have the belief that Christ himself taught to his cles: in the duels between Christian saints/
apostles, and they to all mankind; and that belief God missionaries and heathens their methods
has confirmed and established by many wundrum. could appear identical. The difference is
First Christ by himself healed dumb atnd . deat,. ^ halt
’ ’ that miracles are always a sign of God’s pre-
and blind, mad and leprous, and raise d the dead to
life: after. bv his anostles and other~~~ holy men, he sence, His love and truth; the devil cannot
wrou,qht the same wundra. Now also in our time, exhibit that kind of love and truth. Thus.
everywhere where holy men rest, at their dead bones magic was condemned as of the devil and
God works many wundra, because he will with those
wundrum confirm people’s faith. God works not these was usually associated with heathen ac-
wundra at any ,Jewish man’s sepulchre, nor at any tivities; it involved ma,+cians, sorcerers,
other heretic’s, but at the sepulchres of orthodox men, witches and the like. .These people may
who believed in the Holy Trinity, and in the true
Unity of one Godhead. manipulate natural objects, but the basis of
their activities is deception in order to trap
Moreover, God has also blessed England souls for the devil.
with miracles (Skeat 1966b: 333-5): This second category is thoroughly de-
Worthy is the place for the sake of the venerable saint fined by Blfric who relied heavily on Au-
[Edmund] that men should venerate it, and well pro- gustine for material. As a consequence, the
vide it with God’s pure servants, to Christ’s service, condemned practices are continental as
because the saint is greater than men may imagine.
The English nation is not deprived of the Lord’s much as they are Anglo-Saxon. The source
saints, since in English land lie such saints as this of these evils, and the reason they are con-
holy king, and the blessed Cuthbert, and saint IEael- demned, is the devil. The devil can work
arya in Ely, and also her sister, incorrupt in body,
for the confirmation of the faith. There are also many visibly or invisibly, just as God and his
other saints among the English, who work many angels can (Thorpe 1844:557; 343, 349,
wundra, as is widely known, to the praise of the Al- 541). However, since God controls all na-
mighty in whom they believed.
ture, the devil’s wonders are really delu-
Miracles are a sign that God has chosen sions. He can only heal diseases he himself
the nation, as Gregory’s letter to Augustine inflicted on people so that when he cures
of Canterbury says concerning the miracles them at their request they will believe in
done by the missionary (Thorpe 1846: 131- him and he will obtain their souls (Thorpe
3). The continuation of miracles into their 1844:5). LElfric repeats a popular story of St
own day is an assurance for AZlfric’s readers Macarius in which the saint ‘heals’ a young
that God is still with them, a comfort in girl who, according to her family and all

who saw her, was turned into a mare. yet he accepts others which are consistent
Macarius tells them: “But it [the transfor- with the way God has made the world.
mation] is nevertheless a delusion, by the As these two categories, magic and mira-
devil’s art; and if anyone makes the sign of cles, are relatively well-defined, the problem
the cross over it, then the delusion ceases” becomes how to fit other types of healing
(Skeat 1966a:471). and uses of natural objects between these
Practices associated with the devil and two extremes. This intermediate area is an
deemed magic are drycreft (magic), wiglung application of medieval ideas about causa-
(sorcery), galdras (enchantments), zericcecrceft, tion: the popular notion of occult virtues
and the use of pagan sites (trees, stones, was close to the idea of hidden virtues pre-
well-springs). &lfric shows how such prac- sent in Augustine’s discussion of miracles
tices are inconsistent with a Christian view and was applied to natural medicine. There
of nature, but how certain other practices is a spectrum of these types ranging be-
are acceptable. Using God’s creatures with- tween magic and miracles: medical re-
out his blessing is deofellicum wiglungum (de- medies, charms and Christian ritual.
vilish sorcery) and condemned as heathen; Closest to condemned magic are remedies
all creatures are worthy of blessing and all known as charms, words and actions spoken
blessings are of God. However, in the same or performed in a ritual manner with herbs.
passage, Elfric defends doing certain things Although pagan charms are condemned as
at the full moon, such as cutting down trees, magic, Christian ‘charms,’ Christian words
because this is not wiglung but is according and rituals with herbs, are acceptable.
to nature: created things (the tree) are Medical remedies, using herbs or other
stronger at the full moon. (Nis i)is nun wig- natural elements, are often recognized as
lung, ac is gecyndelic Sncg purh gesceapenysse) natural and non-magical by modern defini-
(Thorpe 1844: 100-3). He challenges astrol- tions, but they are in the same manuscripts
ogy by putting man in his proper place in with charms and both are considered part
nature: man is not created for the stars, but of medieval medicine. Christian ritual as a
the stars were created as a light by night for means of cure comes closest to miracles; but
men (Thorpe 1844: 111). In a passage con- the idea of using the mass, the cross, and
demning witchcraft, AXlfric argues against Christian prayers to effect cures or bless
taking offerings to earth-fast stones, trees, fields is distinct from the medieval concept
or well-springs; he asks how the dead stone of miracles as a direct communication from
or dumb tree can help or give health when God to man. Rather, Christian ritual is used
it cannot even move (Skeat 1966a:373-5). like charms and herbs as a way of tapping
Elfric offers a substitute and antidote for the God-given potential of nature. Thus
these magical practices: use of the sign of charms, other medical remedies and Chris-
the cross and Christian prayers, putting the tian ritual all form an intermediate ‘non-
demons to flight (Skeat 1966a:375). Thus, category’ and exist in a spectrum between,
Elfric argues from a Christian view of na- but different from, magic and miracles.
ture against practices which deny God’s Thus, these legitimate uses of medicine
role in nature or which are animistic, and or Christian ritual to activate the potential

of nature are not magic. In several passages, song, but it refers specifically to any verbal
Zlfric discusses phenomena such as formula used in a remedy, and is usually
charms, herbs and Christian ritual. Elfric associated with ritual actions performed
himself never treats them as a subject in either during the collection of herbs or in
themselves, as he does magic and miracles, the presence of the patient. It is clear from
but as a ‘non-category.’ One way to focus their treatment in medieval medical manu-
on these areas, as well as the categories of scripts that charms were considered an in-
magic and miracle, is to examine the subject tegral part of Anglo-Saxon medicine.7 El-
of healing. Illness is a prevalent phenome- fric recognizes the validity of herbs as a cure
non and one for which magic, miracles, though still condemning magical uses of
charms, herbs and Christian ritual are herbs (Thorpe 1844:475-7):
used.5 The Christian man, who in any of this like is afllicted
The context for sickness and healing is a [with disease], and he then will seek his health at
proper understanding of creation, as out- unallowed practices, or at accursed galdrum, or at any
witchcraft, then will he be like to those heathen men,
lined above. Essentially, God is the true who offered to an idol for their bodies’ health, and so
leech, who controls life, death, sickness, destroyed their souls. Let him who is sick pray for his
health.6 Likewise, Blfric presents the health to his Lord, and patiently endure the stripes;
let him behold how long the true Leech provides, and
Christian doctrine that though the devil buy not? through any devil’s craft, with his soul, his
may vex one with sickness it is never with- body’s health; let him also ask the blessing of good
out the permission of God, who has reasons men, and seek his health at holy relics. It is not al-
lowed to any Christian man to fetch his health from
for afflicting us. Therefore “we ought to
any stone, nor from any tree, unless it be the holy
seek, if we be afllicted, restoration from sign of the rood, nor from any place, unless it be the
God, not from the cruel witches, and with holy house of God: he who does otherwise, undoub-
tedly commits idolatry. We have, nevertheless, exam-
all our hearts please our Saviour, because
ples in holy books, that he who will may cure his
nothing can withstand His might” (Skeat body with true leechcraft, as the prophet Isaiah did,
1966a:377; Thorpe 1844:475). “Medicine who wrought for the king Hezekiah a plaster for his
(bcedom) is granted for bodily infirmity, and sore, and cured him.
The wise Augustine said, that it is not perilous,
holy prayers, with God’s blessing; and all though any one eat a medicinal herb; but he rep-
other aids are hateful to God” (Skeat rehends it as an unallowed miglung, if any one bind
1966a:379; 369). Here he is defining the those herbs on himself, unless he lay them on a sore.
Nevertheless we should not set our hope in medicinal
boundary between magic and medicine.
herbs, but in the Almighty Creator, who has given
The heart of medicine in the Augustinian- that virtue to those herbs. No man shall enchant a
Christian view of nature is a recognition of herb with galdre, but with God’s words shall bless it,
and so eat it.
God as ultimately responsible for all
phenomena within nature and affecting Elfric thus substitutes relics for pagan sites,
humankind. Christian blessings for witchcraft and en-
The type of medicine, however, must be chantment, and herbs with God’s words for
defined. Anglo-Saxon medical manuscripts magical words.
include transcriptions of continental texts, The difficulty is with words said over
herbal remedies and ‘charms.’ Charm, from herbs, charms or galdra. Although some ex-
the Latin carmen, song, is a translation of tremists forbid all galdor except prayer itself,
the Anglos-Saxon galdor. Galdor also means

the common attitude is represented in this cept. This blending of paganism and Chris-
rule from the Penitential of Egbert:* tianity is evident in the charms for, al-
though Christian wording is added, the ac-
It is not allowed for any Christian to observe empty
divination, as heathens do (that is, they trust in the tions change little.
sun and moon...and search to divine the time to begin Christian ritual, the sign of the cross, the
their things), nor gather herbs with any charms, ex- mass, holy water, holy oil and other ele-
cept with the Pater Noster and with the Creed, or
with some prayer which pertains to God. ments, appear frequently in charm re-
medies, particularly those relating to an ill-
This rule reflects the tendency to Chris- ness with some mysterious and thus de-
tianize charms through the use of Christian monic origin, as in elf-charms in which the
prayers, evident in the charms themselves. location of the ailment or its cause is not
filfric in his homilies is condemning galdra specific or is invisible. The use of Christian
with pagan, magic connections: the context ritual as a means of cure is borderline be-
is always a discussion of witches, enchan- tween this intermediate category and mira-
ters, sorcerers.g However, he allows Chris- cle, for these rituals themselves are clas-
tian words to be said over the herbs. And, sified by Blfric as a type of miracle: the
in fact, the ‘charms’ as isolated in the apostles worked bodily miracles and the
Anglo-Saxon medical manuscripts by mod- Church works spiritual miracles in christen-
ern scholars contain surprisingly few pagan ing and baptism, both of which cast out the
elements (that is, few recognizable ones - devil (Thorpe 1844:305).
folklorists have pointed out numerous ele- Christian ritual fuses nature and the di-
ments which have a pagan past). Instead vine, invisible becomes visible, and man ex-
Christian elements predominate. periences the divine in his body as well as
It is therefore misleading to designate the in his soul. The mass is thus seen as a mys-
charms as ‘pagan,’ because pagan and tery, the how of which cannot be under-
Christian elements cannot easily be distin- stood (Thorpe 1846:269-73). In a Hortator_y
guished in their use. Assuming that ‘Chris- sermon on the efJicacy of the holy mass filfric
tian’ things are whatever things Christian repeats stories from Bede and Gregory to
people at a given time thought were Chris- show how powerful the mass can be. In one,
tian, then we should look at the charms whenever a priest said mass for his de-
through the eyes of an Anglo-Saxon. This ceased, as he presumed, brother, the bonds
will enable us to see the continuity of would fall off the brother who was being
thought between paganism and Christianity held prisoner (Thorpe 1846:357-g). In
as the charms gradually evolved. Both another homily, filfric explains how his au-
paganism and Christianity express them- dience should understand Christian ritual:”
selves in ritual. Ritual is a form of imitation, . ..but the might of the Holy Ghost approaches the
a dramatic expression of belief in certain corruptible water through the blessing of the priests,
principles of order in the universe. Ritual in and it can afterwards wash body and soul from all
sins through ghostly might. Lo we see two things in
the charms reflects the people’s beliefin the this one creature. According to true nature the water
possibility of intervention from an invisible is a corruptible fluid, and according to a ghostly mys-
power, a pagan as well as a Christian con- tery has salutary power; in like manner, if we behold

the holy house1 in a bodily sense, then we see that it been ignored. Godfrid Storms insisted that
is a corruptible and changeable creature. But if we “Christianity did not succeed in changing
distingujsh the spiritual might therein, then under-
the magical atmosphere, which in many
stand we that there is life in it, and that it gives im-
mortality to those who partake of it with belief. Great cases was more potent to impress the public
is the difference between the invisible might of the at large than any Christian elements,” and
holy house1 and the visible appearance of its own na- Charles Singer argued that the Christian
elements were “perhaps the least interesting
Thus the visible and invisible aspects of of the factors in Anglo-Saxon medicine,
nature help explain this Christian truth. since they are known from many sources,
This view of the place of the mass within are easily recognized, and still survive in
nature is consistent with its use in the folk-custom” (Storms 1948: 115; Singer
charms: there are invisible virtues in all 1958:147). But such judgements disregard
things that can be tapped and used against a fundamental aspect of the charms: that
invisible forces such as demons and elves. they are a Christian expression of belief in
&lfric seeks to define the limits of ap- divine intervention, and that the pagan ritu-
proaches to healing, and other uses of als used are only a subconscious remnant of
natural objects within the boundaries of a paganism. When the charms are put in their
Christian, Augustinian view of nature in proper medical and Christian contexts,
which God is the source of all virtues and their so-called paganism dissolves. This can
the only proper avenue of direct appeal is be demonstrated through an examination of
Christian ritual, all other means are con- the charms in their proper order in the man-
demned as magic. uscripts.”
The two main Anglo-Saxon medical
The late Saxon medical manuscripts manuscripts are the Leechbook and the Lac-
demonstrate how medical practices, par- nunga. The Leechbook, a medical book of re-
ticularly ‘charms,’ have been adapted to medies of which some contain galdor, was
suit this Christian view of nature. Previous probably copied from two other documents
studies of the charms have shown more in- at Winchester around 950 or later (BL MS.
terest in the few pagan remnants they con- Royal 12 D xvii; Cockayne 1961 b; Wright
tain. Thus the two standard editions of the 1955; Ker 1957:332-3; Storms 1948:12;
charms, by Felix Grendon in 1909 and God- Graves 1975:344). The Lacnunga, in addition
frid Storms in 1948, display a singular lack to an assortment of remedies, charms and
of interest in the Christian atmosphere of otherwise, contains a copy of a classical
the charms, their unity despite disparate medical text, the Herbarius Pseudo-Apuleii,
elements, or their appropriate place amidst and dates from about 1050 (BL MS. Harley
the other remedies (Storms 1948, Grendon 585; Cockayne 1961c; Ker 1957:305-6;
1909, Cockayne 196 1a-c, Lendinara 1978). Storms 1948: 17-24). These manuscripts
This type of analysis has distorted the were produced in monasteries during and
charms in two ways: Christian ritual in the after a time of monastic reform. The use of
charms has received insufficient attention, classical material available only from con-
and the Christianization of pagan ritual has tact with continental manuscripts, and the

use of liturgical material known only to and liturgical elements indicates the type of
trained clergy, suggests clerical authorship synthesis which had occurred in Anglo-
of many of the remedies, including most of Saxon folklore. The native concept of elves
the charms. as ambivalent creatures who are the invisi-
These manuscripts demonstrate that ble cause of maladies (Peters 1963; Stuart
their monastic compilers were familiar with 1972, 1976; Thun 1969) became identified
classical cures and with Christian liturgy as with Christian concepts of demons: hence
a form of remedy, and also with native re- the attempt to exorcise the elves (Bonser
medies. Classical medicine, imported from 1963: 164). The polarization between that
the continent, though somewhat debased in which is of the devil and that which is of
Anglo-Saxon books (Barlow 1979:288; op- God found in AXlfric’s discussions of magic
posite view, Voigts 1979:266), contributed and miracles appears here in the charms as
some of the pagan elements to Anglo-Saxon the elves are demonized and Christian
medicine in a Christianized form (Singer ritual is applied to counteract the evil.
1958: 156-8). Christian liturgy itself con- The charms vary in their degree of
tains remedies in the form of exorcism and ‘Christianization,’ but in all of them it is
unction of the sick. Also, Christian liturgi- clear that the conception of elf-related ail-
cal elements were mixed with other rem- ments is being altered by the influence of
edies; in particular, charms often included Christianity. Moreover, different remedies
the saying of masses. for these ailments, representing different
Although it is often difficult to assign a stages of this change, can be found in the
specific origin to components found in the same manuscript. In particular, in the end
charms, critics have identified four charac- of the third book of the Leechbook there are
teristic elements as originating in native several prescriptions in a row having to do
Teutonic or Indo-Germanic folklore: with elves. l3 In the first (Lendinara 1978:
specific venoms, the number nine, the bibliography no. 107) elves are associated
worm, and elfshot (Singer 1958:149). The with other demonic beings, such as spirits
last feature, the elf, has a significant correla- walking at night and women who have as-
tion to those charms containing masses and sociated with the devil. The herbs used are
other liturgical material. Of a total of 127 typical of Germanic elf-charms: nine, the
charms listed in Patrizia Lendinara’s bib- number of masses, is also a native Teutonic
liography, fourteen mention elves, and four element, and running water is a magical
more imply the presence of elves.” Of these practice. And yet the actual charm itself,
eighteen charms, eight contain masses while the words said over the herbs, is a set of
seven others include other liturgical ele- masses. Other liturgical elements include
ments such as holy water and chrism oil. holy salt, incense, and the sign of the cross,
Altogether, fourteen charms include The actual ritual in this charm is Christian,
masses, of which six are not related to elves, not pagan.
although two of these six are against witches The next charm (Lendinara no. 108) is
and another is against demon possession. actually four elf-charms put together. Len-
This strong correlation between elf-charms dinara no. 108A, even more than 107, is full

of a Christian ritual: lichen from a cross, with a sword. And let him drink the draught after-
incense, holy water, three masses named in- wards.
He will soon be better.
dividually includingpro injrmis, a litany, the
creed, the Pater Noster, the sign of the Can this ritual be called pagan? Although
cross, and holy water. The only elements the method of gathering the herbs appears
traceable to pagan charms are the elf itself, strange, the words used while preparing this
and the herbs, which can have no specific remedy are Christian, as the Penitential of
pagan overtones except their association Egbert cited above required. In its own
with elf-remedies. Smoking the elf out is a way, this remedy is seeking the aid of the
pagan practice, but in this case it is Christ- One who gave the herb its virtues, as &lfric
ian incense that is burned. Previous charm stressed. The actions have no element of
editors have mentioned these elements only pagan worship, even if their pagan origin
in their pagan context and ignored their can be traced (Storms 1948:228-33). An
Christian dimension. Anglo-Saxon would have seen this charm
The charm immediately following in the as a Christian remedy, and would have
manuscript, ,Lendinara no. 108B, contains been quite unaware of the pagan origins of
an elaborate set of actions relatively uncon- the ritual actions that modern charm critics
nected with Christian liturgy. Here we can emphasize.
see the Christian and pagan elements inter- The next charm, Lendinara no. 108C, re-
mingled (Storms 1948:222-5): quires, along with the traditional herbs,
nine masses and nine days and nights of
smoking the patient with herbs. The Chris-
Against the same. Go on Wednesday evening, when
the sun is set, to a spot where you know that elecam- tian and pagan elements are completely in-
pane is growing. termixed. To separate them is to destroy
Then sing Benedicite and Pater Nester and the Litany. the unity of the text and to miss the point:
And thrust your knife into the herb. Leave it stick-
ing out, go away. that these are Christian remedies for an
Go back to that spot, just as night and day divide. aflliction long recognized by Germanic
On that same morning (before daybreak) you must tribes as having an invisible, mysterious
go to church and cross yourself and commend your-
self to God. Then go in silence, and if you meet some- source but which has now been more clearly
thing dreadful or a man, do not speak any word to defined by Christianity as a demonic afllic-
them, until you come to the herb which you had tion and is being treated with a more effec-
marked on the previous evening.
Then sing Benedicite and Pater Noster and a Litany.
tive remedy - the power of Christian ritual.
Dig up the herb, leave the knife sticking in it. The so-called pagan elements are simply
Go back to church as quickly as possible, and lay the tools of medicine, much like modern
it under the altar with the knife. Let it lie until the pills and needles.
sun has risen.
Wash it afterwards, make it into a drink, together The fourth charm, Lendinara no. 108D,
with bishop’s wort and lichen from a crucifix, boil is one of the few to describe symptoms, al-
them three times in several kinds of milk. Pour holy though they are not helpful in identifying
water on them three times.
Sing on them Pater Noster and Credo and Gloria in
the disease. Again the remedy includes so-
Excelsis Deo, and sing the Litany on him [the patient]. called pagan ritual actions accompanied by
And also inscribe a cross about him on four sides Christian wording (Latin and gibberish).

The exorcism of various body parts, mista- les out holy water as necessary for demon-
kenly deemed unchristian by Godfrid related remedies, which is the only Chris-
Storms, is actually very similar to a Chris- tian element in no. 109, directly above his
tian exorcism found in the Leofric missal and comment.i5 The proximity of these two
elsewhere. l4 charms to the others also indicates the close
The charm concludes with an intriguing relationship between elf- and demon-related
line, open to various interpretations ailments.
(Storms 1948:227-g): The passage ends with one charm requir-
ing masses, another for devil sickness,16 and
Wet the writing in the drink and write a cross with
it on each limb and say: a third calling for herbs associated with
Signum crucis Christi conserva te in vitam eternam. Amen. elves. This last charm, Lendinara no. 111,
If you do not like to do this, tell the man himself contains a ritual that reflects both pagan
or the relative that is nearest related to him to do so,
and let him make the sign of the cross as best he can. and Christian traditions: a specific time of
day, the priest cirdling the herbs three
Storms’ translation and his comments infer times, and twelve masses. This entire sec-
that the priest may have some scruples tion in Leechbook III shows that the scribe
against performing this ‘pagan’ charm was combining remedies involving elves,
(Storms 1948:233). But this is the only in- demons, and masses. It also demomstrates
stance of such a hesitation, and the passage that the combination of these elements was
more probably refers not to the action of not an isolated instance, but was occurring
the entire charm but to the action im- at various levels in various ways. In short,
mediately preceding, of marking the sign of this passage, along with other elf-charms,
the cross on every limb of the sick man’s helps demonstrate that the charms were in
body - a procedure that many priests might the process of being Christianized. In this
well have regarded with distaste. particular case, Germanic elves had become
The next two charms represent opposite identified with demons and were being
extremes. Lendinara no. 109 is relatively exorcised with Christian liturgy, albeit in
untouched by Christian liturgy, containing different ways.
only a requirement for holy water along These charms were undoubtedly per-
with a magician’s charm and a song invok- formed by parish priests because the actions
ing the earth. Lendinara no. 110, on the and words mentioned could only have been
other hand, is a liturgical remedy against done by someone familiar with both liturgy
the devil, insanity and temptation, although and local folkore. The priest had the dignity
the herbs recommended are ones tradition- of his role as mediator between God and
ally used in elf-charms. Interestingly man, the knowledge of Christian liturgy,
enough, a thirteenth-century hand has com- and the authority to say masses, although
mented on this page (the only instance in the charms support the notion that the
this manuscript of any, comment) and re- parish priest’s abilities in Latin might be
marked about the use of Christian elements limited. He also fulfilled the role in Anglo-
in these types of remedies. Although his Saxon society of ealdwita, “old one who
comment is written beside no. 110, he sing- knows.“17 As such, he was probably familiar

with traditional remedies which he would Notes
combine with Christian concepts of exor-
cism and the unction of the sick in order to Several recent publications are addressing the
meet the demands of the people. That this historiographical problems of miracles, and popular
religion in general: Ward 1982, Kee 1983, C. Brooke
type of synthesis, not inconsistent with an and R. Brooke 1984.
Augustinian world view, had long been oc- 2 AZlfric wrote letters to laymen such as Wulfgeat,
curring, is demonstrated by the evidence of Sigeweard and Sigefyrth instructing them in basic
Christian doctrine (Hurt 1972:3&O; Assmann
the tenth- and eleventh-century‘monastic
manuscripts - the charms had percolated 3
&lfric’s three main sources are: Gregory the
up that far by 950. Great’s homilies, Bede, and Augustine (Fiirster 1894;
White 1898: 185-8).
The charms, in short, cannot be taken 4
The analogy of written characters is an interest-
simply as evidence of continuing paganism ing insight into medieval illiteracy. For a recent ex-
in late Anglo-Saxon England. On the con- ploration of changing attitudes towards texts, see
trary, they demonstrate that Anglo-Saxon Brian Stock’s recent book (1983).
5 I limit the present discussion to healing for the
Pagan medicine had become quite sake of brevity; other uses include the blessing of
thoroughly Christianized. The present out- fields, controlling the weather, protection from the
dated analysis of charms must be revised to elements and warding off evil.
6 Thorpe 1844:471-3. It is interesting to note that
preserve their essential unity and their con- his picture of a leech (a doctor) is not necessarily
sistency with the Augustinian view of na- positive; leeches seem to be associated with surgery
ture as found in Elfric. These charms found and suffering; but the pain is.necessary for the cure,
just as penance is necessary for the cure of the soul.
in the medical manuscripts are not magic; 7 By separating the charm remedies from ‘non-
they fight the very evil by which magic is magical’ remedies the editors of charm books are
defined. Neither can thev, be classified as creating. a false distinction which leads to a distortion
miracles as defined in the Augustinian sys- of the medical text’s unity and a misunderstanding of
the charms’ function in the Christian society of
tern, since they are not used to display a ,@rglo-Saxon England.
sign from God to humanity. But these Thorpe 1840:371, translated from the Anglo-
Anglo-Saxon charms can be considered Saxon and Latin. The most notable extremists: Saint
Eligius (588-659) (Grendon 1909:143), and Burchard
Christian in three ways: first, their pagan of Worms in his Decretum (McNeil1 and Gamer
elements have been Christianized and no 1938:41-Z).
longer contain any element of pagan wor- Skeat 1966a:369. For an analysis of laws and
canons concerning charms, see my Master’s thesis,
ship; second, they contain strong Christian
Late Anglo-Saxon folklore: priests and charms, University
elements which dominate their character; of California, Santa Barbara, 198 1.
and last, they occur in Christian texts writ- Thorpe 1846:271. A?Jfric appears to teach the
ten for Christian priests to perform for a mystically symbolic view of the Eucharist of Ratram-
nus condemned in 1050 (Greenfield 1965:49). The
Christian people. Any who used these relationship of this view to literacy is explored by
charms would have regarded them as con- Brian Stock in his chapter “The Eucharist and na-
sistent with a Christian world view, and we ;;re” (1983:241-72).
Storms organizes the charms in his edition ac-
would be wise to do the same - setting them
cording to the amount of untouched Germanic or
firmly within the Christian tradition of late foreign (classical, Christian) material present in them
Anglo-Saxon England. (1948: 129); Grendon organized his according to type
of magic (1909: 123-4). This article will instead

examine charms as they appear in the manuscript, in Cockayne, 0. (ed.) 196la, b and c. Leechdoms,
order. Thus, it can be seen how the elf and demon wortcunning and starcraft of early England. 3 ~01s.
charms are classed together by the manuscript itself. London.
Lendinara lists 124 charms in total, but I have Colgrave, B. and R. A. B. Mynors (ed.) 1969. Bede’s
divided one (no. 108) into four parts and counted ecclesiastical history. Oxford.
them individually. Her bibliography provides excel- Forster, M. 1894. Uber die quellen von Blfric’s
lent cross-references between editions. All of the exegetischen Homiliae catholicae. Anglia 16: l-6 1.
charms treated here are from the Leechbook, Book III, Halle.
t$-lxviii (Cockayne 1961b:344-57). Graves, E. B. (ed.) 1975. A bibliography of English
Books I and II have been copied from a differ- history to 1485. Oxford.
ent manuscript than Book III. The order does follow Greenfield, S. B. 1965. A critical histary of Old Eng-
a classification system, which accounts for this group lish literature. New York.
p&elf and demon remedies (Wright 1955:14-15). Grendon, F. 1909. The Anglo-Saxon charms. The
Warren 1883:235. See also Lendinara no. 42. journal of American folklore 22: 105-237. Austin.
Storms comments on gan nature of the passages Hill, T. D. 1977. The Zcerbot charm and its Chris-
in both charms (194f 245). Warren (1883:235) tian user. Anglo-Saxon England 6:213-21. Cam-
cites other liturgical parallels in footnote 1. bridge.
The margin comment, expanded, reads: Nota Hurt, J. 1965. Blfric and the English saints. Disserta-
quod in omni potu et omni medicina maleficorum et tion. Indiana University. University Microfilms.
demoniacorum ammiscenda est aqua benedicta. et Ann Arbor.
psalmis et orationibus uacandum est sicut in hoc Hurt, J. 1972. iElfric. New York.
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Leechbook Book 1II:lxvi and lxvii, which come between Ker, N. R. 1957. Catalogue ofmanuscripts containing
Lendinara no. 110 and no. 111 in the manuscript, are Anglo-Saxon. Oxford.
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Bosworth and Toiler’s supplement to the anglosassone: una ricerca bibliogratica. Annali de1
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“one old or eminent in knowledge, a priest” (Bos- manica 2 1:299-362. Napoli.
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