Medical Humanities

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On Parchment or on Bread: Textual Magic in Medieval England

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On Parchment or on Bread: Textual Magic in Medieval England
 
Katherine Hindley
 

This project explores the medieval belief that spoken and written words, in the form of charms and textual amulets, could physically change the world. The project draws on extensive manuscript re-search, resulting in a database of over a thousand charms copied in medieval England between the eighth and fifteenth centuries. This corpus-based approach overturns earlier assumptions about the use of charms in medieval England: for example, where previous scholars have found a hiatus in the copying of charms during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, I have found a rich and flourishing tradition. This project highlights compelling relationships between medicine, materiality, and lan-guage to demonstrate that charm texts were seen as relics, as medical ingredients, and as divine messages. Through examples drawn from literary texts, I also demonstrate that charms were deep-ly-rooted in medieval English culture. By examining the power of the written word from a range of disciplinary perspectives, the project contributes to knowledge in the fields of literature, religious cultures, and the history of magic and medicine.