In addition to a general interest in early medieval cultures, in early Ireland, in Viking-era material culture, the simple fact that I have a book planned in Viking-era Ireland would make a session like this irresistible.
Gendered Patterns of Labor in Early Medieval Ireland: The Bioarchaeological Evidence - Rachel E. Scott, DePaul University
[Note: the presenter has requested that images not be presented on social media out of respect for the human remains. I’m interpreting this narrowly with regard to images this time.]
Focuses on non-urban cultures, rather than Viking-age Dublin as such. Early Irish society was trbial, rural, hierarchical, familiar, patriarchal, and Christian. Contemporary documentation is available, but limited primarily focusing on elite men in religious institutions. It represents an idealized view of society from an elite point of view. This paper compares literary data for two gendered occupations—weaving and warfare—which are likely to also leave physical remains.
A brief overview of gendered occupations within the textual evidence. E.g., textile and food production = feminine; warfare = men. Women participate (textually) in warefare as victims and prizes.
Now we look at the archaeological evidence around these activities. Spindle whorls, spindles, loom weights, needles for textiles. Spear points, shield bosses, some swords in elite burials for warfare. But the physical artifacts themselves aren’t gendered. We can associate them with gender via the archaeological context, especially burials. Unfortunately, Christian Irish burials did not include grave goods, therefore burials cannot provide gender context for artifacts.
However we do have the skeletons. Both weaving and warfare affect the skeleton, via impacts like osteoarthritis or trauma. These can be compared statistically with respect to gender to see if particular skeletal patterns align with gender. E.g., osteoarthritis in the hands. In one site, 1/7 women had osteoarithis in the hands. Individuals with grooves in the teeth may reflect textile practices. ¾ adults from one site with tooth grooves were female. Skeletal trauma can indicate interpersonal violence, esp. skull fractures and facial fracture. In one site, 7% of men had this type of injury and 1% of women. But most men did not have this type of damage.
Thus, the skeletal evidence does not support a pervasive gendered difference in activities, though it does align anecdotally. In general, men’s skeletons show more evidence of heavy manual labor. General trauma (not specifically interpersonal violence) appear roughly equally between men and women. Other than the interpersonal violence injuries, skeletal trauma primarily appears as fracture of long bones. The Irish data on this matches that of some non-Irish agricultural sites.
Gendered differences are of emphasis, not of kind. The skeletal data doesn’t contradict the image of gendered labor, but they don’t support the hypothesis of clear and significant gendered differences in skeletal data indicated by the textual data.
Ale-Feasting Foreigners: Labor and Identity in Viking-Age Dublin - Mary A. Valante, Appalachian State University
Looks at the subject from the concept of diaspora: the outward migration and settlement of people from Scandinavia creating a series of elite centers based both on shared language and ongoing contacts. These centers interacted with their immediate neighbors, and individuals could identify in a variety of ways. Further, there was movement returning to Scandinavia as well as away from it.
DNA, strontium analysis, etc. indicate that as time passed, many of the women of Dublin were born locally, while there is evidence that women among the initial settlers included women from Scandinavia. The question is, how did the residents of Dublin think of themselves as these changes occurred?
This paper looks at how domestic labor in Dublin, especially that done by women, reflects or indicates concepts of identity. Both goods and labor were brought into Dublin from the local community, while luxury goods were brought in through trade. A cosmopolitan place.
Most immigrants to Dublin came from Norway. Overall there are gendered differences in people movements with respect to Scandinavia, with movement out more likely to include men and movement in being more general in gender and ethnicity. But Dublin was a bit different from the norm. Graves and grave goods in Dublin identify women who clearly identified culturally with Scandinavian culture. One author suggests these women represented the elite “organizers” of household labor. There is a discussion of archaeological house-related evidence for women’s domestic activities, such as weaving. E.g., sunken-floor buildings in Dublin where the floors are dug into the bedrock (thought to be associated with weaving) that surround a communal open space with a hearth, though the sunken-floor buildings do not have evidence of domestic habitation such as hearths. Implication is “weaving workshops” with an implication of Scandinavian cultural identification based on the evidence for warp weighted looms characteristic of Scandinavia. Evidence for tablet weaving in Scandinavian culture in general, also in Irish crannog sites [I missed the specific Dublin evidence—I think maybe a lack of artifacts for tablet weaving?]
Discussion of textual evidence for luxury cloths in Dublin. Implication that this is tangential evidence for tablet weaving? I’m not quite following. Was there a status difference in textile work in Dublin based on Scandinavian vs Irish identity? Lot’s of “probably”s in this discussion.
So what about the “ale-feasting foreigners”? Textual evidence for food production, discussion of responsibility for hospitality, very general remarks. Discussion of shift from cattle-focused economy to grain-focused. Speculation that this shift was associated with the need to provide food for Dublin. Irish textual evidence for the high status of mead making as a male-associated occupation. Some general comments on the larger European association of ale brewing with women. All in all, the paper felt like it lost the thread somewhere.
Weapons, Brooches, and Longphuirt: Re-Evaluating the Role of Women in Ninth-Century Dublin - Stephen H. Harrison, University of Glasgow
Longphuirt is a term for Viking camps, military bases, with a D shape facing on a river. Previously thought to be ephemeral, now there’s more evidence for longer term occupation. These are the sites the paper is concerned with.
Increasingly understood to have a complex economy, not just military bases. Evidence for silver as medium of exchange, indicating more complex activities. Popularly understood as male spaces of a “pagan” nature. Examples of male military graves at these sites. But the idea of “male spaces” has been challenged based on more recent evidence. Greater presence of women among the invading groups is being documented, as support staff, not as “warriors.” But, in the argument for military women, see e.g., the Birka “warrior grave” of a skeleton now known to be biologically female (but surrounded by “male” grave goods). Archaeologists argue over whether this is still a “male grave” despite being occupied by a female body, others arguing that the gendered understanding of Scandinavian culture needs to be reevaluated.
Regarding gendered artifacts and spaces, examples of spinning and weaving evidence. Furnished burials provide more evidence for gendered goods, though as a consciously created assemblage. The placing of gendered goods in a grave is symbolic and deliberate, not a “snapshot” of the person’s life. Discussion of types of gendered goods. But not all graves contain “gendered objects”. Possibly this is an artifact of later looting of the grave. Poverty might be another explanation. Possibly it was a deliberate decision not to include the high-status items that are most strongly gendered. Numbers in Dublin: 200 “male”, 50 “female”, 129 “ungendered graves” (including 10 w/female skeletons).
Dublin is the site of the majority of Viking-type burials in Ireland. Because of the size of this data set it provides useful data on gender. ¾ of identifiable graves are male, suggesting a male-dominated society, but in fact comparisons to Norway show similar proportions of gender, simply indicating that the culture may have prioritized burials for men in ways that left evidence.
Key points: gender display was a key element of Viking burials, closely linked to status. In Dublin, female graves are in the minority (but similar to proportions in Scandinavian sites). Women had key role in the community and even “military” sites in the 9th century were complex and had women present.
Went off and did a 10 mile bike ride during an “off” session to get my blood pumping and get away from the screen for a while. Now I’m sitting down to enjoy light snacks served in my reproduction medieval tableware and taking in one more session of papers today.
This session doesn’t speak directly to my core interests in women’s history, but I’m always interested in topics in the field generally. The first paper, on the development of women’s aristocratic titles, is the sort of thing that might be of particular interest to authors of historical romance. Just what rank might your heroine have available, and what would it signify?
Duchess, Marchioness, Countess, Viscountess, Princess, Baroness: The Emergence of the Standard Hierarchy of Feminine Titles of Dominical Dignity, Latin and Vernacular, ca. 850-ca.1420 - D'Arcy Jonathan Dacre Boulton, Universities of Notre Dame and Toronto
[The presenter has requested that their paper not be shared on social media.]
Ivories and Inventories: Tracing Production and Patronage in Late Medieval French Household Records - Katherine Anne Rush, University of California, Riverside
[No restrictions on sharing, but I think I’m just going to passively enjoy the papers in this session and not worry about taking notes.]
Medieval Lordship, A Family Affair: Gentry Women's Letters and the Construction and Maintenance of Lordship in Late Medieval England (1350-1550) - Jordan M. Schoonover, The Ohio State University
[The presenter has requested that their paper not be shared on social media.]
I’m going to be a bad, bad scholar here, because I’m only really interested in one paper in this session – the last one – and so I’m not going to take notes on the other ones. Sorry. (And apologies to the other two speakers if, by some unfortunate quirk of online searching, this comes to your attention.)
The Measure of a Man: Patrons, Priors, and Narrative Themes in the Book of the Foundation of Walden Monastery - Stephanie Skenyon, University of Miami
Pondering the Past: History, Identity, and Community Construction in Fordun's Chronica - Austin M. Setter, Lake Michigan College
Arthur Who? How the Welsh Conquer Rome—and Geoffrey of Monmouth—in Breudwyt Maxen Wledig - Joseph A. Shack, Harvard University
Despite superficially engaging with Roman-Welsh history, Breuddwyd Maxen Wledig (BMW) doesn’t engage much with the other Welsh texts in this genre. Shack compares its treatment of early history to Geoffrey of Monmouth’s version. In this, it acts something as a rebuttal to Geoffrey. Geoffrey describes Arthurs rise and establishment of power over the Saxons, followed by a European empire in France and Rome. But just as Arthur is advancing to Rome, he must return to Britain to deal with Modred, leaving his conquest unfinished and unstable.
BMW begins with a dream-episode where the Roman emperor Maxen dreams of a beautiful woman, Elen, who turns out to be a British princess. Maxen travels to marry her, but then must return to Rome to deal with a rebellion in which he is assisted by Elen’s brothers who help him prevail.
BMW was probably composed in the later 12th century with the earliest manuscript dating to the 13th. This places it very roughly in the same context as Geoffrey’s work, which was a work of Anglo-Norman myth-building, tying the dynasty to mythic British history. This era also say Welsh language adaptations of Geoffrey’s work that reinterpreted the material for a Welsh audience.
Shack suggests that the two brothers of BMW can be read as reflexes of Geoffrey’s Arthur, with the general events and movements seen in parallel. Another parallel is seen in the betrayal of a monarch who is away from home (Arthur-Modred and Maxen-people of Rome). BMW has little focus on Maxen’s successful battles, but more on his unsuccessful siege of Rome, thus highlighting the contributions of the Welsh brothers to that successful siege. The Welsh brothers demonstrate cleverness rather than brute force. The British forces, not Maxen’s, are the victors and Maxen is urged by Elen to petition the brothers to hand control over to him.
Thus we have a dominant theme of Welsh success, contrasting with the political landscape contemporary to the audience, in which the Welsh kingdoms were experiencing defeat at the hands of the English.
Both Geoffrey and BMW also have layers of prophecy with contemporary relevance, Geoffrey predicting the return of Arthur, BMW suggesting the freeing of the Welsh from foreign rule. But Welsh political prophecy does not revolve around an Arthurian return, but rather the rise of a “son of prophecy” not directly associated with a past figure. The “Arthurian return” motif is mostly derided by Norman authors who attribute it to the Welsh, even as it doesn’t appear in that form among the Welsh. The Arthurian-return is treated as misunderstood and misguided similarly to Jewish expectation of the Messiah. In contrast, Welsh prophetic texts, when they assign the expected Son of Prophecy role to a specific figure, it is to Cynan or Cadwaladr, who correspond to the brothers in BMW. Thus the Anglo-Norman focus on undermining Arthur as the expected Welsh hero misses the mark.
But does this mean that BMW was composed as a deliberate response to Geoffrey’s History? The aim of Geoffrey’s work was specifically to uphold Anglo-Norman supremacy in Britain and frames the Welsh as degenerate and deserving of having lost sovereignty over Britain. Welsh texts treat Arthur as a local folk-hero and tribal king, while Geoffrey participate in the “Englishing” of Arthur, coopting him for English identity and sovereignty. BMW omits Arthur entirely, dodging the question of cultural ownership.
Another history of magic session, and one that isn’t being recorded so it got precedence for watching above the other three things I wanted to attend. (The recorded sessions will be available for watching starting next Monday, so the ‘zoo blogging will extend into a second week.) I got to sleep in today, since none of the 6am sessions (9am by conference time) appealed to me. So I was able to set up a leisurely birthday breakfast with sourdough smoked salmon pancakes.
Aliud Experimentum Cristalli pro Puero: Scrying in a Fifteenth-Century Nigromantic Manuscript - Hélène Colleu, POLEN, Université d'Orléans
One common motif in scrying manuscripts is showing the practitioner using a mirror and a child. But few manuscripts include actual recipes for crying. This paper explores one specific manuscript that does so, along with other instructions for divination. The recipes are for the purpose of finding hidden objects, identifying a thief, or seeking information from benevolent spirits, etc. Scrying implements include crystals and mirrors, or—somewhat peculiarly—the polished fingernail of a child. But the specific device is treated as interchangeable. But medieval lapidaries specify certain stones as having divinatory properties when placed under the tongue, such as the emerald, hyenite, heliotrope. But in the present manuscript, the focus is not on objects with a natural magic, but imbuing them with power by blessing and purifying.
Several of the experiments require the presence of a child, who must be pure and virgin (boy or girl), under ten years old, and of legitimate birth. The child has several roles: the source of knowledge due to having the purity to perceive it, as an intermediary with the spirits, as someone who can bind the spirits, as a scrying device (e.g., the fingernail as a reflective surface), and as a catalyst to amplify the effects. The recipes call on the Virgin and on virgin saints, invoking their purity as an essential element.
Why is scrying used? Scrying often has the purpose of invoking and binding spirits without necessarily having a specific stated goal. Certain sets of named spirits are invoked who together hold all knowledge. The spirits may be associated with a specialty. Other texts may invoke angels for a similar purpose, but with the wording being more of an invitation, without the threats sometimes used against spirits. The spirits may be ordered to appear in a specific form, perhaps a specific physical shape or wearing certain clothes. The spirits are conjured into the scrying device and then banished after the ritual. (In contrast to spirits that may be conjured into an object like a ring for an indefinite period.)
The information sought may be general information, but scrying was also used specifically to identify a thief, including showing where the stolen goods are. It isn’t always clear how the answer appears: in a vision, or by speech or written sign.
Scrying with the Saints: Holy Personalities and Their Marginality in Early Modern Magic - Daniel M. Harms, SUNY Cortland
Saints are often mentioned in the context of ritual magic as powerful individuals invoked when a magician is conjuring a sprit. These rituals may include references to non-cannonical texts and events and show a certain ambivalence toward the role of the saints.
Example: invocation of Saint Helen (mother of Constantine) in a 16th c ms. asking her to help with finding a thief. This specific invocation can be traced through several sources from Italy mid-16th c, to English demonology mss of the later 16th c, then back to a magical text (removing the disapproval of magical practices) ca. 1700. Although the saint is invoked, the response (seen by the child-assistant) takes the form of an angel.
Example: thumbnail scrying invoking S. George. Earliest example in late 15th c. But S. George has no traditional relationship to divination. The connection may come from his general role as a protector of the Virgin as shown in art.
Why these two saints in English scrying recipes? In pre-reformation England, Helena and George were among the top 20 popular saints in England, while also having specific connections with Britain. In other countries, different saints may fill this role, e.g., S. Christopher in a German ms.
Why aren’t saints more commonly invoked in scrying recipes? Conjurations are often modular, with equivalent entities swapped in and out regularly to tailor the recipe for a particular purpose. Conjuring a demon can use approved ecclesiastical models intended for exorcism. But Conjuring saints have no similar approved textual model. This might explain why S. Helena seems to alternate with an angel in the text, perhaps using a model text that specified an angel.
Seeing the Whole Picture: Scryers and Their Further Careers in Early Modern England - Ms. Sanne de Laat, MA, Radboud University Nijmegen
The paper looks at scrying as a stepping stone for later career moves due to its high-risk/high-gain nature. (There is a brief summary of her thesis on scryers in England in the 16-17th c. Far too many details on types of purposes and careers to be able to take notes. I may need to track this down.)
Scrying is a “gift” not an acquired skill. It’s technically forbidden (high risk) but can potentially result in wealth (high gain) either from finding treasure or by satisfying a wealthy client. Examples for this paper: John Davis, Stephen Mitchell, Edward Kelley. Davis was son of a small freeholder, perhaps with a classical education, and after gaining some reputation for scrying he became a sailor via connections with Walter Raleigh where he was seeking the Northwest Passage. Stephen Mitchell has an unclear background. Around 1589 we have records of him scrying for two employers, though he wasn’t very successful. One of him employers brought him into a career as a privateer, where he was more successful until he was tried for theft in relation to one of his ventures. Edward Kelley may have begun as an apothecary, did scrying for John Dee, and ended up as the royal court alchemist in Bohemia. Major payoff for the risks of his career. All three have career parallels in using one of their employers (for scrying) as a stepping stone to gain a non-scrying-related career with high success potential.
(The speaker concludes with a humorous connection between scrying and communicating with distant entities through a magical screen…)
Gender and Scrying in Sixteenth-Century Ottoman Kabbalah - Marla Segol, University at Buffalo
[Speaker is not able to appear, but presider reads the abstract.]
Kabbalists of Safed & Damascus reimagined the myth and ritual of 13th c. Iberian kabbalists and developed new interpretations and rituals, using scrying as one of the methods for doing so. Scrying methods included oil drop divination, geomancy, using mirrors to conjur angels and demons, answering questions through sleep, and other techniques. In addition to the well-known male kabbalists, a number of powerful women participated as patrons and advisors, but also by practicing scrying rituals for the purposes of developing rituals but also to authenticate and establish the authority of the myths and rituals. Scrying might be used to answer the Kabbalists’s question, but sometimes direct divine insight is claimed, reflecting social authority. The relative weight given to ritual versus direct knowledge is variable. The paper was to explore the scrying techniques used by men and women and their association with gender and social position.
[Really wish I could have heard this paper!]
I’m something of a sucker for food-related sessions, though I’m sometimes disappointed because I’m used to hanging out with folks who work at a pretty in-depth level (as well as many of them being excellent cooks). Food is a major thread running through my historical fiction, which provides another reason for packing away layers of knowledge in the compost-heap memory. With five papers in this session (rather than the default three), they will presumably be a bit on the shorter side. And…I enter the zoom just as they’re commenting on one of the presenters dropping out, but I don’t know which one yet.
Those Gluttonous Gauls: Gluttony and Abundance as a Late Roman Stereotype - Richard Ray Rush, University of California, Riverside
The late antique stereotype of Gauls as being gluttonous was used in turn to critique extreme fasting in Gaul at the beginning of the 5th century. Sulpicius’ life of Martin of Tours has a running joke about the supposed Gaulish tendency toward gluttony, showing up, e.g., in teasing his companions (Gauls) when telling a story about ascetic desert fathers. There is an implication that one’s ethnicity determines one’s relationship to food. The larger context is that S. Martin was accepted by all the people appearing in the text as being more holy than any of the eastern ascetics, and yet was able to manage this without removing himself from the world or going contrary to his nature. The running joke disrupts the significance of extreme fasting, making it a source of humor rather than awe.
A similar stereotype about Gauls is present in the writings of John Cassian (early 5th c) where he proposes a modification of the monastic rule for the use of Gauls, asserting that the harsher climate and the diversity of behavior made the eastern monastic rule impossible for Gauls to follow. But there is a suggestion that this may have had an alternate purpose of undermining the influence of specific ascetic figures in Gaul that Cassian was in conflict with.
Zooarchaeology and Community Construction in Early Medieval Ireland - Erin Aisling Crowley-Champoux, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
General comments about the importance of cattle and dairy products in early Ireland. A study of animal remains across a broad timespan can support or undermine the self-reporting of dietary practices from texts. Evidence for decline of previously consistent importance of cattle (alongside goats/sheep, horses, and pigs) around the 9th century, which coincides with a change in mill types. Coastal sites see remains of fish, wild birds and other non-domestic animals, with dear providing materials for crafts as well. Fish remains increase, especially in Dublin, in the later medieval period. There is a presentation of the archaeological history of a specific site on the east coast of Ireland. In the earliest strata, animal remains are ca. 2/6 cattle, followed by ca. ¼ sheep/goats (and then the slide moved on). Changes in the location and shape of the archaeological structures can be matched with shifts in the animal remains with cattle eventually falling somewhat in favor of greater diversity, as well as more evidence for grain production and storage. There is also evidence of fishing at significant offshore depths, suggesting intensive fishing rather than casual coastal fishing.
Golden Gifts in Anglo-Saxon Feasting - Kelly L. Plevniak, University of Minnesota- Twin Cities
[Presenter was not able to appear.]
The Normans and Saxons Who Knew All the Anguilles: Eels and Medieval English Identity - John Wyatt Greenlee, Independent Scholar
Modern western culture has developed a distaste for eels, but this is a significant change from the diet and economy of medieval England. Eels made up a massive proportion of the biomass in English rivers. In the English diet, eels were a greater proportion of the diet than all other freshwater fish combined, and greater than all saltwater fish combined. The phenomenon of eel rents is noted (i.e., payment of rents in eels). [Note: I am making the connection with the eel-rent guy on twitter. Could there be two academics both obsessed with eel-rents?]
The significant of eels shows up not only in the diet, but in place-names, coats of arms, as an artistic motif, as a symbolic representative of Englishness. An anecdote is presented about S. Aethelwold and a mystic vision of a boat full of eels who are turned into (English) men. [Note: we are presented with an image of a hovercraft full of eels.] This is a parallel made to being “a fisher of men” while localizing it specifically in England. More eel lore. Ending with a note on the eel’s endangered status and a plea for eel-consciousness.
“Car je ferai un grant mangerie”: Food and Identity in the Manière de langage - Ashley Powers, Ohio Wesleyan University
The manuscript mentioned in the title also featured in one of yesterday’s panels: a set of dialogues intended as something of a phrasebook to teach French to English people. The book is not merely a phrasebook but also a guide to conduct. Food is a significant theme. Such conduct books do not simply describe, but prescribe behavior. A contrast between two meals, described in detail, demonstrates this purpose. One is the meal eaten by a lord on the road when staying at an inn, the second eaten by two laborers. The lord’s meal is described in detail with a large variety of dishes in several courses. (Much of the content of the paper is lists of dishes and ingredients.)
The meal of the gardener and ditch-digger at an inn is much less varied, though hearty and calorie-rich. The diners have crude manners and eat quickly from hunger.
There is usually a “Can these bones come to life” panel with papers on hands-on or experimental historical culture. While the participants are often drawn from an SCA-adjacent population, the topic is not usually SCA-specific. I come to this session having no idea what the general topic or take is going to be. But as someone who has spent a lot of my life in the SCA, it’s hard to look away. (I’m also being distracted by participating in a parallel chat about the panel in an entirely different channel.)
"Can These Bones Come to Life?" I: The Society for Creative Anarchronism [sic], a Problematic Medievalism? (A Panel Discussion)
[Note: the typo in the title was not included in the splash slide provided by the presenter, so it wasn't an intentional joke.]
We start off with a discussion of the different ways in which academic historians and historic re-enactors reconstruct the past, and the different ways their gaps affect understanding. At the same time, there is significant overlap, both for good and ill. Academia has been shifting to embracing a more embodied understanding of historic artifacts and activities. Both academia and amateur historical activities have been grappling with the legacy of white supremacy. The embodied medievalism of re-enactment groups is a source of enthusiasm and dedication, for those who bridge the gap to academia and for those who feel shut out of that realm.
The first speaker focused on how re-enactment provided that connection of enthusiasm to draw her into an academic career. The second speaker introduces examples of the problematic middle ground among researchers of material culture between museum professionals on the one hand, who may have negative impressions of re-enactors based on past encounters, and re-enactors on the other hand who may be interested in the utility of end products more than the research, and who may give the impression of not respecting traditional scholarship.
The third speaker (with no direct SCA experience) looks at the angle of how to utilize re-enactor-based knowledge and enthusiasm in the classroom, while distinguishing the boundaries between history and fantasy. Yet fantasy doesn’t negate a love of history; how many medieval scholars were drawn to the field through Tolkien, after all? An emotional connection with one’s subject can be a key driver of engagement, but what if they emotional connections are to problematic elements such as religious conflict (crusades), sexisim (chivalry), or racism (the myth of “western civilization”).
The fourth speaker started off interested in history, but failed to find support for those interests in the local face of re-enactment culture. In trying to construct a personal alternative for providing immersive historical education, they encountered regular overlap between the resources for material culture and problematic political elements. We now get an extended promotion of a particular “Viking” related group that hit the spot. (He acknowledges it will come across as a promotion.)
The discussion now shifts to some of the social dynamics around diversity and inclusion, the general socio-political attitude of the SCA as a whole. The presider suggests that while the expectation of the panel had been to look at problematic issues within the structure of the SCA itself, it’s ended up being more about integrating the resources of the SCA and the academy. As the panel opens up to audience discussion, we’re getting more nuance and more discussion of the variety of experiences within the organization. We’re getting the background on the infamous “swastika trim” episode, which was a relatively recent flashpoint for SCA discussions around the intersection of modern political symbolism and the elements of history that have been mined for that modern political symbolism. Basically, can “but it’s historically accurate” be a defense for something that has extremely negative modern socio-political implications? How much does the immediate contemporary context affect the reception of problematic historic elements? There’s also the issue that some of the problematic understandings of history that are present in amateur medievalism are fed to them from the academy. This is exacerbated by the gap between the academy and the amateurs, whereby the amateurs are not given the tools to critically interrogate their sources and resources, leading to swallowing the problems with the actual facts. The elimination of “gatekeepers” cuts both ways, in that open access to the provision and consumption of historic information puts a greater burden on the individual to have critical filters—a burden that most people don’t have the resources for.
This session on medieval magic is sponsored by the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence, adding another group to the general interest in the history of magic. I was dithering between this and the first DISTAFF (textiles) session, since both are being recorded for later viewing. In both sessions, only one paper has permission for social media sharing—which originally was going to be how I chose which to view in real time. So…a toss-up.
Introducing the Picatrix: The Prologue's Balancing Act between Content and Perception - Dr. David Porreca, PhD, University of Waterloo
A medieval astrological text, originally Arabic, that provoked controversy among contemporaries. Due to this controversy, it was rarely referenced by name at the time, although one can trace references to it (both text and visual) and was re-copied into multiple other texts. Those who used it balanced the concerns of communicating the content while cautioning readers about the uses of that content. This paper concerns the prologue of the Latin translation.
The prologue is very short, and contains different content in different language editions. All have four main elements: appeals to God, references to the goodness of the sources, a summary of the contents, and rhetorical devices to reinforce the preceding. There is a discussion of differences between the different versions and questions of dating. The sources for the text are framed as supporting its theological legitimacy (it’s a worldly text, not a religious one, but is not in conflict with God) and the breadth of the sources used to create it. At the same time, the prologue suggests that magic (the subject of the text) is not in conflict with nature, but is the culmination of the study of nature. But there are many references to God’s power and to God as the source of all wisdom and knowledge. This seems to be intended to mollify the reader with respect to the text’s non-Christian origin. There is a caution to avoid having the text fall into “the wrong hands” and the author repeatedly emphasizes his benevolent intent in making it available.
While the Arabic prologue has an extensive description of the contents, the Latin prologue simply copies the summaries present at the head of each section of the book (indicating it was compiled after the translation of the body of the text). The six sections open with a description of the planets and their properties, but end with a discussion of “how one might speak to the spirits” and “many other magical affairs” which is likely to be at the heart of the controversy. This potentially controversial material also comprise the largest proportion of the book itself.
Overall, it is clear that the prologue was composed after the translation of the book, has only passing connection to the original Arabic prologue, and is designed to disarm any qualms the reader may have with regard to the text’s content and acceptability.
The Secret in the Prologues to the Collected Treasures: Biblical Allusions, Occult References, and Coded Language in a Thirteenth-Century Medical-Magical Lapidary - Mr. Vajra Regan, PhD candidate, University of Toronto, Centre for Medieval Studies
[The presenter has asked that their paper not be shared on social media.]
I really love the ongoing interest in magic-related topics in historic research. (The existence of the Societas Magica helps support that, although they aren’t the sponsor for this particular session.) Although I haven’t necessarily used any of the specifics of the magic papers I listen to in my fiction, they go into that “compost-heap memory” such that when I do want to include magical practices in my worldbuilding, I have a varied range of possibilities to be inspired by.
Death as an End to Suffering: Berceo and the Gift of the Virgin - Paul E. Larson, Baylor University
The stories of the cleric Berceo are primarily religious in nature, purporting to be mnemonics for various motifs and themes. In this particular story, the protagonist is suffering from illness and prays to be freed from “the prison of his illness”. The Virgin grants his wish, but by allowing his death rather than by miraculous healing. This subverts both reader expectations and the expectations of the protagonist himself. [Note: We’re going to get readings from the text in the original Spanish without translation, so I may miss nuances.] The usual course of Virgin stories involves earthly rewards, miraculous healing, symbols of correct judgment, etc. But from a theological point of view, being ushered into heaven by the Virgin herself is a positive outcome. The symbolic content thus becomes more memorable due to this “surprise” ending.
The symbolic content involves sets of five: five wounds of Christ, five joys of Mary, five human senses (that lead to sin), five fingers. Berceo uses the five fingers as a type of “memory palace” in his meditations. The paper now digresses into various modern pop culture sets of five, using this as an argument that “five” is a natural and easy-to-remember sample size, which larger sets (allegedly) are harder to remember (with examples).
Morisco Magic? Approaching an Ecology of Practices in Transconfessional Contexts - Donald W. Wood, Oklahoma State University
Morisco magic falls around the overlap/intersection of religious practice and science. It might be seen as a type of “folk magic” including herbal treatments as well as the use of prayers, “word magic”, and other practices. The paper takes a close reading of how these varied practices interact with each other in magical texts, rather than trying to classify them according to modern categories. The investigation focuses on one specific manuscript (in Arabic script but mixed? Spanish text) and its relationships to other texts. Contents include the preparation of amulets, a description of the characteristics of specific days on which actions may be performed and their properties. (I missed the content of the 2nd section.) Third section is recipes for a wide variety of remedies, charms, pharmaceuticals, etc. We get descriptions of the specific features of various formulas that illustrate connections between the sections of the book and between the formulas in this section. For example, several formulas are attributed to Galen. All the formulas follow a similar structural format: opening, instructions, and testament including an Arabic word meaning “finished, complete.” Many of the remedies include sections of Arabic or pseudo-Arabic text, sometimes with no context, presumably to be written out and used as a charm. Such texts were to be written out, sometimes by the patient, and might be written with an edible ink such as saffron and the result ingested. But these sorts of “word magic” are either accompanied by, or alternating with, pharmaceutical remedies based on flavored syrups, herbs, etc. (sometimes including magical stones) to be consumed. But plant-based remedies might also be placed on the body, rather than consumed. The organization of the book does not treat the different types of treatments as categorically distinct, although there is some organization around the condition being treated.
Following the Blood Lines in Zayas's "El traidor contra su sangre" - Elizabeth L. Spragins, College of the Holy Cross and Emily Colbert Cairns, Salve Regina University
The novella “El traidor contra su sangre” tells parallel tales of love and death in an extended patriarchal family where the children contradict the father’s expectations in their love lives. (The brief synopsis makes it clear this is definitely soap opera territory.) Two murdered women in the story both have miraculous corpses that bear witness to the crimes. There is a theme of breast feeding as transmitting bloodlines in a mystical sense, and the conflicts between masculine notions of “honor” and feminine bodily resistance. (I think.) The men in the story are obsessed with family “purity” and economic control, restricting the potential life paths of the women in the family. Women’s romantic/marital connections are a potential source of “contamination” of the family bloodlines. This can be prevented by physically enclosing them, either in houses or convents. An analogy is made with how male violence against women (in this case, stabbing) is a form of penetrating those enclosures, contrasted with sexual penetration. The first is a failed attempt to dishonor (or prove dishonor on) a woman, while the second (which would be dishonor) is proven to be false by the mystical behavior of the corpse. We get a review of the symbolic understanding of various types of female blood. The victim’s uncontrolled bleeding after her murder is considered to be proof of her virginity, as a substitute for bleeding on defloration. The second female victim has been married by a son of the family against his father’s wishes. She insists on nursing her own child rather than hiring a wetnurse, bringing in the second “female fluid” relevant to this story. There was a theory that women transmitted virtue through their breastmilk, thus the mother’s insistence on providing her own milk was a means of protecting the “purity” of her child’s bloodlines (from the potential contamination of a lower class wetnurse’s milk). Humoral theory held that breast milk was directly converted to blood in the child’s body. The husband succumbs to his father’s disapproval of his wife by murdering the wife, leaving his child to be nursed by an outsider—thus “contaminating” his family bloodline, the very thing his father was trying to control.
Although it isn’t entirely clear from the session title, the common theme here is thinking in the context of transgender and gender fluidity.
Butler and þæt Bodiġ: Constructing, Performing, and (Mis)Reading the Female Body in Ælfric's Life of Saint Agnes - Thelma Trujillo, University of Iowa
Looks at the choices and inclusions that Aelfric made in working from multiple source manuscripts to write his own saints’ lives. Aelfric primary focused on the “virgin martyr” as his epitome of female sanctity, reflecting an ambivalent attitude toward the female body. Using Butler’s framework of gender as performance, we see how Saint Agnes manipulates gender performance to create a space for female sanctity. She remains intelligible as female while refusing to be constrained by female category structures.
Agnes rejects her earthly (non-Christian) suitor, but not the symbolic structures of a woman’s “life script” framing God as her lover and expected husband using the language of physical love. Her pagan suitor is shows as not recognizing the references to God and interpreting her descriptions as indicating a human rival. There is a discussion of whether medieval people would have understood this attitude as being a “sexual orientation”, that is, as a re-orientation of sexual desire toward the divine. There is a discussion of the purpose of motifs of rape and torture within this type of saint’s life.
Agnes is the only female saint in Aelfric’s text where devotion to God is frame in terms of a bodily sexuality and marriage. At the same time, she rejects the physical performance of the expected female role.
Of Breasts and Beards: Hirsutism and the Shifting Genders of Saint Wilgefortis and the Lady of Limerick in Late Medieval Visual Culture - Sara K. Berkowitz, Auburn University
The paper looks at instances of conflicting visual signifiers of gender, especially as interpreted as bodily transformation. Saint Wilgefortis prayed to escape an unwanted marriage and was granted a beard. The “Lady of Limerick” was famous as a bearded woman. Male beards in the middle ages were considered a symbol and prerogative of masculinity, as well as a sign of male virtue. But in art, beards could also represent racialized identity. So “bearded women” represented cross-category individuals, having a definitively masculine attribute, while still being considered categorically female.
There are a variety of versions of the Wilgefortis legend with different contexts and locations, united by the theme of using the miraculous beard as a way to escape an unwanted marriage. There are speculations as to whether the legend originated by a misreading of a male image wearing clothing interpreted as feminine. Depictions vary between showing a very full complete beard and a very wispy partial beard. In some images, other physical signifiers (such as breasts) are hidden and only clothing is able to indicate her assigned gender.
A manuscript illustration of the Bearded Lady of Limerick (in the Topography of Ireland by Gerald of Wales) shows her as one of the “miracles and marvels” shown naked, with very small pendant breasts, a full long beard, and in the process of spinning with a distaff and spindle. She has not only a beard, but has hair all down her spine. But the description also suggests that she is a bilateral hermaphrodite, with only half her face being bearded and the other half being smooth. The distaff and act of spinning are noted as being strongly gendered as a feminine activity. [Thank you!] Berkowitz suggests that the shape of the distaff and spindle are phallic, creating a mixed message. [I’m not sure I buy this part.] A bearded woman can never be fully female, but also cannot create masculinity.
The same section of Gerald’s manuscript depicts an “ox man,” shown naked with ox-like hoofs on hands and feet. This reinforces the classification of the bearded woman as monstrous. Bearded women are ambiguously sexed, and thus to some extend undermines the interpretation of the beard as a male signifier.
Menopause: Melusine's Final Transformation - S. C. Kaplan, Independent Scholar
A brief recapitulation of the legend of Melusine. Rather than exploring the dynastic elements of Melusine’s story, Kaplan focuses on Melusine’s final transformation, after her husband Raymond’s betrayal, as aligning with menopause. Her original transformation, when she is cursed to periodically transform into a half-snake, occurs when she is 15 and she appears to be in maturational stasis for the next 400 years until she marries and begins producing her 10 sons. Does Melusine age naturally or does she move in and out of human time as she transforms? If her husband had kept his promise not to gaze on her when she is transformed, and not to tell anyone about it if he finds out, she would have aged and died “naturally” (i.e., as a human). But since he fails to keep his promise, she turns fully inhuman and flies away. In all this, the question of whether she ages naturally (as a human) is—Kaplan maintains—irrelevant. Melusine’s “feminine” status boils down to associating socially with women, bearing and raising children, and supporting feminine religious establishments. Otherwise, her behavior and actions are more aligned with the role of an aristocratic man rather than a woman. Raymond, her husband, is teased that he is insufficiently masculine in that he is obedient to his promise to Melusine and insufficiently curious about her secrets.
Raymond doesn’t consider pursuing this knowledge until late in their marriage, at a time when Melusine is producing children at much longer intervals than at the beginning of the marriage. Once she is no longer popping out sons every year or two, her atypical femininity becomes more a source of anxiety. This is the point in her life when (triggered by Raymond’s betrayal) she fully transforms to a serpent and leaves him, but returns regularly to visit her children (but not her husband). This, Kaplan suggests, represents the physical and interactional changes in a woman’s life at menopause.
Respondant: Roland Betancourt
(It’s really hard to take coherent notes on responses, so I’m going to skip trying, as usual.)
This is the first of my “to watch” sessions that was recorded, so I took the opportunity to run out and do some errands, then got back just 20 minutes into the session and decided to check it out live.
A Kingdom For a Horse: Horses, Humans, and Emotional Attachment in Early Indo-European Sources - Stéfan J. Koekemoer, University of New Mexico
(I came in just at the end of this. The session was recorded, so I may go back later, especially since the Q&A indicates there was discussion of magical healing of horses.)
Lexeme Tracing as a Way to Establish Texts in the Anglo-Saxon "Library": A Test Case with the Veterinary Text Mulomedicina chironis - Bethany Christiansen, Independent Scholar
Studying the question of which texts and portions of texts were available to pre-conquest English people by tracing particular technical vocabulary that carries over. Focuses on a single lexeme (word) Greco-Latin moium (penis) which is rare and therefore indicates access to the specific texts that use it, in this case, a treatise on medical care of mules. The theory is that if a rare word is correctly glossed or translated in English manuscripts, that indicates that there was knowledge of the texts that present it in context. This analysis is only possible when the vocabular item is rare, and when the texts that might include it are also rare.
The end goal here isn’t specifically to do with veterinary practice, but with determining the hypothetical contents of long-vanished libraries. No early English veterinary texts survive, but we can identify the types of evidence that would indicate which ones might have been known in pre-conquest England.
Several texts are relevant to the question of early English familiarity with the word moium (listed in the presentation). The proof-of-familiarity appears in a text on human medicine where a stags penis is used as an ingredient in a remedy. This remedy is an Old English translation of a known Latin text, which itself provides no context for the meaning of moium. So the translation of the word as OE scytel must rely on knowledge of that context from other sources. Since moium itself is rare, the number of possible sources is limited and therefore informative. Interestingly, scytel itself is also a rare lexeme, but can be derived as a metonym from a word meaning “shooter, arrow-like thing”.
One possible alternate explanation is that the translator did simply guess meaning from context (given that the ingredient is in a recipe to treat impotence). Another possibility is that the word wasn’t actually that rare at the time, but that texts including it have had differential survival. There’s also the objection that there isn’t enough rare technical terminology to be able to test this method for identifying lost texts that may have been in circulation.
Fighting Dire Prognoses: Intra-Active Healing in Thirteenth-Century Equine Veterinary Praxis - Elizabeth S. Leet, Washington & Jefferson College – [The presenter notes: “I do not want any images in or of my presentation live-tweeted/shared on social media.” I’m interpreting these notes very conservatively, just to be safe, and not blogging any papers that have restrictions noted.] A paper examining “heroic measures” taken to heal laminitis in a horse belonging to the Holy Roman Emperor, compared to modern veterinary practices.