Gutjahr (2013 Congress)

Mirko Gutjahr
(State Museum of Prehistory Halle)
“Down to Earth – The Archaeology of Medieval Magic”

Abstract of Paper at the 48th International Congress on Medieval Studies (Kalamazoo, 2013)

Session: “The Material Culture of Magic”
Sponsors: Societas Magica and the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence
Organizer: László Sándor Chardonnens
2013 Congress

[First published on our first website on 16 May 2013}

25 years after the publication of Ralph Merrifield’s book on The Archaeology of Ritual and Magic, which triggered historical and archaeo-historical scholarship on magic in the following years, it is time to look again at the last decades’ archaeological finds from the medieval and early modern eras with magical, religious or superstitious connotations.  This paper gives an overview of the broad spectrum of objects and their possible interpretations.  It also addresses the suspicious predominance of artefacts suggesting folk magic or popular religiosity such as apotropaic amulets, inscribed rings and concealed everyday objects, in contrast to the rare evidence for learned magic.  Moreover, despite the dense tradition of medieval folk magical texts and scholarly treatises on magic, comparatively little material is retrievable which can be related to actual magical rites and customs.

Instead of just listing and describing objects, the aim of this paper is to establish a framework for the evaluation of magical material culture, as well as to reassess the options and limits of an archaeological approach to the materiality of magic.  The objective is to define ways in which archaeology, literary studies and history can combine forces in interpreting the reality of magical practices in the Middle Ages and beyond.

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