Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Monday, 29 June 2020

Using ritual charms in the Middle Ages

Medievalists.net has an interesting piece about the magical charms used by medieval people to assist them in farming. 

As the article brings out these were often complex rituals that blended Christian and pre-conversion religious practice and elements of sympathetic magic. They also demonstrate a lively, vivid use of language. As such, whatever their efficacy or likelihood of success, they do indicate considerable sophistication in their complexity and imagination. The author points out they were designed in many cases to deal with matters of real threat to the survival of a farmer and his family. Others are concerned with giving birth or other medical matters, or in anticipation of a journey. Hence the complex formularies. This is a world of superstition, but one that has its own rationale. The charms are far more than a throw away line.

Of the many instances which do survive in manuscripts the article concentrates on the Old English Metrical Charms - twelve rituals that were recorded about the year 1000.

The article, which has a link to the text of these twelve charms, can be read at Farming with Charms in the Middle Ages. Should your cattle go missing or your soil be unproductive they might just be the answer...

Ploughing on a French ducal manor in March
Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, c.1410
Image: Wikipedia 

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