Benati (2019 Congress)

Chiara Benati
(Dipartimento di Lingue e Culture Moderne,
Università degli Studi di Genova)

“Scriptural References as Legitimation Strategy in Late Medieval German Magical Formulas”

Abstract of Paper
To be presented at the 54th International Congress on Medieval Studies
(Kalamazoo, 2019)

Session on
“Embedded in the Mainstream:  Ritual Magic Incorporated in ‘Legitimate’ Texts”

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

Organized by Vajra Regan
2019 Congress Program

[Published on 14 March 2019]



Late medieval and early modern German manuscripts are more likely to include deleted and censored charms than older ones.  This higher frequency of deletions – described, for example, in Berlin, Staatsbibliothek, mgf. 1069, by Kruse (2000) — can be brought into connection with the increased concern over superstition which characterized theological debates from the late 14th century onward and which led more and more often to the condemnation of common practices such as spells and charms (Bailey 2009).  This concern possibly finds its climax in 1484, when Pope Innocent VIII issued his bull Summis desiderantes affectibus.

Nevertheless, censoring and deleting potentially ‘suspect’ passages was not the only way to deal with the transmission of magical formulas in the late Middle Ages and Early Modern period, since some scribes seem to have been more interested in ‘legitimizing’ these texts, rather than in avoiding to copy them.  In this paper, I will argue, on the basis of some 15th and 16th-century German manuscripts, that the insertion of scriptural references in a charm was adopted as a strategy to ‘hide in plain sight’ some of the most problematic elements (e.g. a ritual threat) of the text or to mitigate the negative impact of a controversial formula, whose legitimacy had already been repeatedly the subject of theological discussion.