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Blogging Kalamazoo Session 295: Embedded in the Mainstream: Ritual Magic Incorporated in “Legitimate” Texts

Friday, May 10, 2019 - 13:47

[I apologize for not catching some of the key names and texts referenced. Often in specialized sessions, there’s an assumption that the audience shares a fairly elaborate body of background knowledge and I, alas, am often deficient. No blogging of the earlier Friday sessions because I was busy book shopping at all the academic press booths. Will blog about books later.]

Friday 13:30

Sponsor: Research Group on Manuscript Evidence; Societas Magica

Scriptural Dreaming: Revisiting the Exstacy Defense

Claire Fanger, Rice Univ.

Examines how the Ars Notoria [not sure if I’ve heard that right -- the Ars Notoria seems to be part of the “Key of Solomon”] was reinterpreted and embedded in orthodox devotional texts, such as the “Flowers [... not sure what the rest of the title is], and there is mixed evidence that it was considered an acceptable understanding. Connections are made between dreams and visions, and the use of visions offered ex post facto as a defense against charges of heresy. Rupert of Deutz [] wrote extensively on his visions and his interpretation of them to claim special understanding of scripture. The dreams/visions often have erotic elements, envisioning the dreamer’s soul as a young woman awaiting marriage. Another 13th c. writer [John ...something?] writes how his own visions must be considered “apocrypha” even how he describes them in detail, until approved by authorities. In both cases, these visions are embedded in existing traditions of practice and text that give them an orthodox context and increasing the chance of acceptance.

Scriptural References as Legitimation Strategy in Late Medieval German Magical Formulas

Chiara Benati, Univ. degli Studi di Genova

Late medieval and early modern German manuscripts are more likely to have deleted and censored charms than the earlier texts due to an increased concern over superstition. Originally applied to elite magic but then extended to folk magic such as spells and charms. Theological debate focused on distinguishing between licit and illicit magical practices. Seen, for example, in 15th c. legal action against the performance of healing formulas.  But this increased scrutiny did not result in a decrease in the inclusion of charms and blessings in manuscripts, though some writers may have been more careful about their implications and used strategies to legitimate them, such as including scriptural references in the text--either to “hide” them or to mitigate the negative effects on readers.  An example is given of a magical charm for retrieving stolen property. Various scriptural phrases in Latin are included and there is an instruction to recite a Pater and Ave as part of the charm. This 15th c 4-stage charm is reminiscent of a 2-stage charm for similar purpose found in Old English, Dutch, and other sources. The operator goes behind an altar or to a crossroads and speaks a formula to know where the thief has gone, then addresses the four compass directions demanding that the stolen goods be returned.  To this, the 15th c. charm adds the repetition of standard prayers and additional directional repetitions. Another example, in a wound blessing: adding language from the apostolic creed, and references to the Gospel, taking up more than half the text in which the healing charm is embedded: “may these wounds be protected against wind, water and pain”. Speculation that this language was added by the writer to protect against the impression that the formula represented illicit magic. But in the 1405 trial against Werner of Friedberg for the use of healing charms, the very use of these formulas was seen as suspect.

Not Underground: Learned Lapidaries and the Reformation of Ritual Magic

Vajra Regan

Discusses belief in Albertus Magnus et al. that the magical power of precious stones surpasses the power of herbs, and even words for effectiveness. “Lapidaries” (catalogs of the properties of stones) were a widespread genre and the contents were often functionally identical to similar content in magical texts. But the learned lapidaries were rarely condemned as the magical texts were, falling between the categories of purely supernatural writings and purely scientific ones. But this paper points out that content overlap--that learned lapidaries may have functioned as an important conduit for occult knowledge due to their “legitimate” status. Distinction between descriptive content versus texts that discuss how to create and imbue amulets with magical properties. In format, these have the elements  considered characteristic of demonic or talismanic magic. Comparisons are made between the corresponding texts in Bartholomeus de Ripa Romea’s De lapidibus and Marbode of Rennes De lapidibus, between the same and Techel’s Liber sigillorum, although the latter dodges the suggestion that the user will be creating magical talismans as opposed to happening upon stones with the relevant characteristics and properties. The paper looks in detail at Bartholomeus de Ripa Romea’s work.  Discussion of an amulet called the “zona Veneris” (strap/band of Venus) that uses a stone called adamas that causes impotence. In the “sigil” portion of the books of Bartholomeus and Techel, there are key distinctions where Techel edits out references to pagan deities or the deliberate engraving of images on stones, and only describes their properties. In Bartholomeus this is followed by a discussion of how to consecrate stones (adopting a prior text that invoked Solomon and demons, but rearranging the elements to distract from the connection). Lapidary texts held a contested place with regard to orthodoxy, but the careful manipulation of overtly magical elements could be used to make them more acceptable.

In Plain Sight: The Promotion of Astrology and Magic at Royal Courts in the Thirteenth Century in Transcultural Perspective: A Response: Michael A. Conrad, Kunsthistorisches Institut, Univ. Zürich

Discusses the official employment of astrologers at royal courts in Iberia, initially by Islamic rulers but later by Christian courts. The astrologers were commonly, though not exclusively Jewish. The desire to know the future through divination was both approved and considered potentially dangerous. This danger could be managed through official regulation and licensing. Alfonso X (13th c.) was particularly obsessed with using astrological guidance in government, even to the point of using it to set the price of bread. But other contemporaries of his similarly employed court astrologers. This interest in technological knowledge as essential to good government extended to supporting many other fields, such as clock making. It was only later that Alfonso’s interest in astrology was viewed negatively and as superstition. Alfonso’s official interest in magical activities was ambiguous, recognizing both prohibited practices with ill intent and approved ones.

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