History Witch: Uncovering Magical Antiquity

Want to know about real magic from history? This is the place. Here we explore primary texts and historical accounts from the past.

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Burchard's Corrector: Rooting Out Medieval Magic

Posted by on in Studies Blogs

This week in my Women as Witches, Saints & Healers course, we read the Corrector of Buchard of Worms. This early 11th century handbook guided priests with questions they ought to ask their confessing parishioners in order to root out bad behaviour -- and a lot of the bad behaviour was pre-Christian practices that persisted. The insight these questions offer is rather magical, but the style of his rhetoric makes this much more fun to read than the usual sort of penitential.

Here are a few snippets to entertain you:


It's worth remembering that the medieval church held 'magic' to be nonsense (but not charms nor necromancy) so Burchard's attitude is one of scorn for these foolish women -- though there are sections on infanticide where he is much more stern. My students were surprised to see how many different ways the problem was addressed, which gives a sense of how widespread the problem was.

Life is more precarious when you are dependent upon a good harvest. I wonder if all the fairy tales of abandoned children being rescued after perilous adventures were not a way to assuage the sense of loss some mothers suffered.

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K. A. Laity is an all-purpose writer, medievalist, journalist, Fulbrighter, social media maven for Broad Universe, and author of ROOK CHANT: COLLECTED WRITINGS ON WITCHCRAFT & PAGANISM, DREAM BOOK, UNQUIET DREAMS, OWL STRETCHING, CHASTITY FLAME, PELZMANTEL, UNIKIRJA, and many more stories, essays, plays and short humour. Find out more at www.kalaity.com and find her on Facebook or Twitter.


  • Jön Upsal's Gardener
    Jön Upsal's Gardener Sunday, 13 September 2015

    I'm glad to see I'm not the only person interested in these sorts of texts as source material for modern Heathenism or Paganism. In fact, I'm working on a book right now that collates numerous customs and beliefs mentioned in this and other medieval penetentials, sermons, and saints' lives, and turns them into workable rituals and "everyday religion" practices.

  • Kate Laity
    Kate Laity Monday, 14 September 2015

    That's very good to hear!

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