Tuomi (2018 Congress)

Ilona Tuomi
(Department of Early and Medieval Irish, University College Cork)

“ ‘Three Nuts Which Decay, Three Sinews Which Weave’:
The Language of Magic in Medieval Ireland”

Abstract of Paper
Presented at the 53rd International Congress on Medieval Studies
(Kalamazoo, 2018)

Session on
“Celtic Magic Texts”

Sponsored by the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence
and the Societas Magica

Organized by Phillip A. Bernhardt–House
2018 Congress Program

[Published on 2 February 2018]


Charms are a form of communication designed to bring about a change in a given circumstance, such as healing an illness. They are primarily directed at a supernatural hearer, and include traditional expressions which are often formulaic in character. This paper investigates the choice of verbal material used in medieval Irish charms, and the way in which the existing reserve of linguistic images  was able to meet the requirements of precisely defined communication with the otherworld.

Two early collections of charms, namely the St. Gall Incantations (St. Gall, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 1395, page 419) and the spells in the Stowe Missal (Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, MS D ii 3: C, folio 67v), have been chosen to illustrate the medieval understanding of illness and its healing via magic. Special attention will be paid to the choice of motives, combinations of expressions, and the relationship of conventional idiom and innovation in the controlled repertoire of healing spells. Finally, questions of the nature of a manuscript as the communicative environment are addressed in order to understand the collective paradigm of charms in medieval Ireland.