Magic and witchcraft in medieval western Christendom

(class leader: Dr Eva de Visscher)

The history of magic is closely linked with the histories of religion and science, and what exactly constitutes ‘magical practices’ depends very much on the historical and geographical context in which they are believed to occur. This paper examines the role of magic and witchcraft in medieval Latin Christian society from the tenth to the fourteenth century. Using a diversity of primary sources, ranging from canon law texts and ecclesiastical treatises to manuals for the conjuration of demons, it aims to explore what people at the time perceived to be magic, how they legislated and tried to protect themselves against it, and how, and for what purpose, they attempted to practice it. This course will study the traditions (biblical, classical, Jewish and pre-Christian) underlying medieval concepts of magic and the different ‘branches’ of magic, such as alchemy, necromancy, witchcraft and magical medicine. It will offer discussion on medieval perceptions of the witch figure and on the boundaries between the magical and the miraculous.

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