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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in medieval

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Charms A-Plenty

There's a wonderful new book out that I have just barely had time to crack open, but if you're interested in the history of magic you will doubtless want to look into it as well:

Traditional Magic Spells for Protection and Healing
By Claude Lecouteux. 2016. Rochester: Inner Traditions. 328 pages.
ISBN: 978-1-62055-621-4 

There's a comprehensive review over at the Journal of Folklore Research, which is why I picked it up at once. Yelena Francis points out the strengths of Lecouteax's background and the accessibility of the format. There are also some great additional and often rare resources in the appendices. And because it's from Inner Traditions rather than a big academic press, it's actually an affordable volume (though you should be able to get it via interlibrary loan as well). 

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Posted by on in Studies Blogs
John Barleycorn & the Ale Wives

There's an Old English riddle from the Exeter Book that is part of a long tradition about the abuses of alcohol through the ages. While there is much to celebrate in the joy of drinking, there is a dark side, too, that many have fallen prey to over the years. The poem goes like this:

Biþ foldan dæl     fægre gegierwed
mid þy heardestan      mid þy scearpestan
 mid þy grymmestan     gumena ge streona ·
corfen sworfen     cyrred þyrred
bunden wunden     blæced wæced
frætwed geatwed     feorran læded
to durum dryhta     dream bið iinnan
cwicra wihta     clengeð lengeð
þara þe ær lifgende     longe hwile
wilna bruceð      no wið spriceð
 þōn æfter deaþe     deman onginneð
meldan mislice     micel is to hycganne
wisfæstum menn     hwæt seo wiht sy.

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Recent comment in this post - Show all comments
  • Tyger
    Tyger says #
    Very interesting. Thank you!
Walking the Labyrinth—A Path of Grace to the Inner Self

At Grace Cathedral on California Street in San Francisco, scholar Lauren Artress oversaw the installation of not one but two labyrinths. Sue Patton Thoele, author of The Woman’s Book of Soul, invited me to go there one fine day a few years ago. I remember squeezing it into my schedule, feeling hurried, and hoping it would not take more than half an hour or so. I am a bit embarrassed to admit this, but I know I am not the only busy life-juggler who has found herself surprised by the Sacred. When we got there, a magnificent stillness presided over the entire cathedral. We chose the indoor labyrinth instead of the outdoor one, as there was a distinct chill in the foggy air that day. We read the simple instructions and, as told, removed our shoes to tread the path in bare or stocking feet. For my part, I had already begun to calm down, thanks to the peaceful atmosphere. As I walked in the light of the stained glass shadows, my schedule started to seem petty. Suddenly it seemed as if I could give this just a little more time.

 

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Posted by on in Studies Blogs
The Magic of the Quill

Ic seah wrætlice     wuhte feower
samed siþian     swearte · wæran lastas
swaþu swiþe blacu     swift wæs on fore
fulgum framra     fleotgan lyfte
deaf under yþe     dreag unstille
winnende wiga     se him wægas tæcneþ
ofer fæted gold     feower eallū


The riddles of the Exeter Book give us oblique snapshots of everyday life for the monks in the Middle Ages. You can easily imagine the scribes fixing on something within site and coming up with a poetic and misleading description where metaphor can throw a reader off the track. But the metaphors reveal power, too. Riddle 40 (51 in the Krapp-Dobbie edition) refers to one of the ubiquitous items in their lives: the pen or quill.

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Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Riddle Me This

One of the genres you may not expect to be popular in the Middle Ages is that of riddles. They're not usually as straightforward as the riddles we know. They tend to be more metaphorical. I mentioned before in The Magic of Names the riddle that has 'magpie' as its solution (probably). Many of them are scatalogical or full of double entendres, which also doesn't fit our image of pious monks -- but it's our picture of monks that's wrong.

The myth persists that the church ruled the Middle Ages with a heavy hand. Like the myth that people thought the world was flat, it's just wrong. Many people who thought of themselves as Christian went to church once a year to confess and that was enough for them. Many monks who were part of the church were no more devoted to their religion than the average slacker working for a giant corporation is. It gave them a living if they weren't inheriting any wealth. For many it was an easy life (see Chaucer's monk for example).

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Tasha Halpert
    Tasha Halpert says #
    Sweet riddle! Love it. Thanks for sharing! A most interesting blog.
  • Dragon Dancer
    Dragon Dancer says #
    Haha, I was gonna say apple.
  • Kate Laity
    Kate Laity says #
    The answer is of course -- an onion!

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Fake Magic

I've long had a fascinating with grifters and fakes. In the Middle Ages, as now, there were plenty of folk looking for a quick windfall by pretending to be something they were not. Sometimes they had good reasons: the young woman Silence who pretended to be a minstrel and then a knight and rose to the heights of both professions needed to hide the fact that -- well, she was female.

Most often of course the hoodwinking was to get money out of the unwary (like Chaucer's Canon's Yeoman's tale). Money wasn't the only motivator though: there are few guilty pleasures as delicious as revenge well-served. A fine example is the Scottish text, The Freiris of Berwick.

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Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Sounding Out the Water Elf

If someone suffers from the disease brought by the 'water elf' the Anglo-Saxon medieval charm advises that one ought to make a compound of nineteen different herbs, soak them in ale then add holy water. Of course to make them effective, the important step is to also sing over them this charm three times:

Ic binne awrat betest beadowræda,
swa benne ne burnon, ne burston,
ne fundian, ne feologan, ne hoppettan,
ne wund waxsian,
ne dolh diopian;
ac him self healde halewæge,
ne ace þe þon ma þe eorþan on eare ace.

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