The reader is presented with various perspectives, and over the course of the book a vivid picture is built up showing how these various perspectives interconnect, allowing the reader to come away with a lucid understanding of the Medieval conception of magic. The start of the book is broadly concerned with defining magic and also exploring how magic has been perceived since Antiquity. The key Richard Kieckefer has written a broad, detailed and objective examination of magic in the Middle Ages. The key point in defining magic is that there existed both natural magic and demonic magic in Medieval thought. The former was believed to make use of natural but occult hidden powers within nature and was essentially a branch of science, whilst the latter involved demons, whether implicitly or explicitly, and was heavily connected with religion.

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This competition is now closed February 24, at am Want to get rid of an unwanted husband? Coat yourself in honey, roll naked in grain and cook him up some deadly bread with flour milled from this mixture.

Want to increase the amount of supplies in your barn? Leave out child-sized shoes and bows-and-arrows for the satyrs and goblins to play with. These unusual charms and medical tips, which featured in medieval books, sound suspiciously like magic. Advertisement But alongside these weird and wonderful spells and superstitions, medieval history paints a picture of a people actually more enlightened than their Renaissance successors.

So what was medieval magic really like? In fact, according to court records from the first half of the 14th century, the majority of those tried for maleficium meaning sorcery, or dark magic were men. That was because the most troubling form of magic — necromancy — required not only skill, learning and preparation, but above all education, which was less readily available to women.

Necromancy involved conjuring the dead and making them perform feats of transportation or illusion, or asking them to reveal the secrets of the universe. Because many books describing necromancy were Latin translations, anyone wanting to practise the craft would need a good working knowledge of Latin. Black sabbath Hand-in-hand with this increased emphasis on women came a shift in the perception of magic. They were criticised in the text for being tricked rather than for practising any real, magical mischief.

In the 15th and 16th centuries, however, inquisitors seemed to believe that women really could make magic happen by entering into pacts with the devil. It was thought that at sabbaths — nocturnal meetings with other witches — women renounced their Christian faith, devoured babies, participated in orgies and committed other carnal and unspeakable acts.

Execution of three witches by hanging, woodcut, For example, if a witch put her broomstick in water and spoke certain words, a devil might cause a storm or flood. Witches might be able to heal as a result of a pact, or perform other kinds of positive magic.

But, because of their fundamental belief that all magic was carried out by demons and devils, inquisitors condemned it just the same. Magic or medicine? Certain practices — which sound to us very much like magic — would have been classed as science or medicine in the Middle Ages. William of Auvergne, a 13th-century French priest and bishop, certainly condemned most magic as superstition. Sealskin could quite happily be used as a charm to repel lightning; vulture body parts could be used as a protective amulet; and gardeners could get virgins to plant their olive trees without any anxiety — this was, after all, a scientific way of promoting their growth.

The presence of the herb would, it was thought, cause the patient to speak his or her fate truthfully, offering the physician an accurate prognosis. Sympathetic magic was another well-known technique — it used imitation to produce effective results.

For example, liver of vulture might be prescribed as medicine for a patient suffering from liver complaints.

According to one medical treatise, wool soaked in olive oil from the Mount of Olives could staunch blood when coupled with a spoken story about Longinus, a man who was famously healed of his blindness by the blood of Christ. Religious elements were blended with the magical.

Details of the properties of verbena or vervain, from a 16th-century book about herbs. Even though women tried for witchcraft were accused of much more diabolical doings than using charms or stories to heal, many women became afraid of carrying out such practices, for fear of attracting suspicion of darker deeds.

Medieval history offers us a magical potion of stories and practices infused with charms, herbs and superstition. While some of the examples might seem curious to us, they are evidence of a people trying to make sense of and control their surroundings — just as we do today. Hetta Howes is writing a PhD at Queen Mary, University of London on the subject of water and religious imagery in medieval devotional texts by and for women. To find out more, click here.



Kazilkree Selected pages Title Page. Covers the major cultural contributions to medieval traditions of magic as well as a chapter on legal issues around condemnation and prosecution. Sep 30, William Harris rated it it was amazing. He examines its relation to religion, science, philosophy, art, literature and politics before introducing us to the different types of magic, the ,ieckhefer How was magic practiced in medieval times?


A brief history of medieval magic


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