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Magic was remarkably prevalent through society in the early Middle Ages. As the Middle Ages wore on the Church began to exert its considerable power to suppress it. Even the meanings of many words associated with the supernatural changed. Although the Church suppressed some magic, other forms were allowed and accepted into Christianity, and were even encouraged. 1 Before the Church began its purging of magical practices, kings, emperors, and commoners practiced it regularly. 2 Magic had many names and meanings. The Church condemned some magic and denoted it as magia.
Magia consisted of sortilege (lot casting to foretell the future), 3 incantation (incantations to place power into objects), and astrology (foretelling the future from the stars), just to name a few. Some of the forms accepted by the Church were miracle (miracles). Miracles were supernatural acts by powers given from God. 4 Even the meaning of demon changed in this period, from meaning just any spirit, to an evil malicious spirit. 5 In this paper, magic will be what was considered as supernatural events and magia as what the Church condemned. Magic was derived from ancient pagan religions, folk traditions, and Greco-Roman sources. 6 The pagan customs that survived among the Christian lower classes were enchantment, magical knots, talismans, the use of herbs, stones, and poisons, spells, incantations, etc. 7 When an animal or person became sick with an unknown ailment it was thought to have come from the arrow of an elf or other magical being. A person similar to a shaman was called in to help the person. 8 The shaman would chant and use herbs to help the person.
If the person did not get any better then the local Christian priest or saint was called into attempt a cure. There are many stories of the shaman failing and a priest succeeding. 9 Magic was not only utilized by the commoners, however. Even some of the most important and influential people of the time believed in and practiced magic. King Lothar regularly entertained enchanters and augers at his court, until Saint Vaast of Arras attended a party.
Saint Vaast made the sign of the cross over some enchanted ale and it spilt itself onto the floor. The King was so embarrassed by the incident that he banned the enchanters from his court. When Louis the Pious was Employer There was witchcraft everywhere. Policy was based not on sound judgement, but on auspices, and forward planning on auguries Lot casters, seers, interpreters of omens, mimers, dream mediums, consulter's of entrails, and a whole crowd of other initiates in the malefic arts were driven out of the palace. Soon after this incident Louis second wife was accused of witchcraft by her stepsons. 10 Even the prophet and founder of Islam, Muhammed, had dealings with magic and demons.
A powerful enchantment by knots had been placed on him once by Lucaides, a Jew, who hoped to rob him of his virility. Muhammed overcame this curse with Allahs help through a dream. Later, a spirit claiming to be the angel Gabriel appeared to him. Since demons are known to lie he asked his wife for help. She told him that if they both undressed and the spirit disappeared then he would know if the spirit was modest or not.
Since the spirit did disappear, he knew he had been visited by the angel Gabriel. 11 The beliefs in magic and its powers were in the midst of all social, political, and religious ranks. Non-Christianized areas also believed in many forms of magic unaccepted by the Church in early medieval times. The Salic Franks had a law stating a witch, having eaten from human flesh and being convicted of this crime, shall pay eight thousand denarii, i. e. , two hundred gold pennies.
Later Clovis I adopted a similar law which inflicts 72 pennies and a hay gold coin for enchantment by magic knots. The punishments were more severe for falsely accusing a person of performing magic. 12 Finally, in the 7 th century the Church leaders believed they had allowed magia to continue long enough. St. Leonard compiled the first collection of ecclesiastical disciplinary measures. One such measure provides imprisonment for what the Church must have judged to be a dreadful crime the sacrifice to demons. It is interesting to note the punishment for someone in a higher social class must pay a higher price: One year of penance, if he is a clown of low estate; if he be of a higher degree, ten years. 13 Pope Gregory the Great saw magic and demons as an evil force and believed it all had the source of the devil.
Rather than actually out and out banning magic he compromised. When Christianizing of England was taking place, he wrote to an abbot there, do not let them sacrifice animals to the devil, but let them slaughter animals for their own food to the praise of God It is doubtless impossible to cut everything out at once from their stubborn minds 14 Gregory the Great believed the devil was a real flesh and blood being that could be scared away with a splash of holy water. 15 He influenced the thoughts and beliefs of the clergy and the Church in the years to come. Slowly, over a long period of time, the Church managed to forbid and make stronger statements and punishments about the use of magia. As time went on and Christianity spread a mans conscious identity was deeply linked with his Christianity. In Christian popular opinion, the sorcerer could no longer be tolerated in the community on the condition that he recanted his art: for he was considered to have abandoned his identity; he had denied his Christian baptism. 16 Since he denied his baptism he was no longer a Christian and was susceptible to demons and evil influence. The clergy forbade soothsaying, charming, the worship of wells and trees, love philters, and making sacrifices to heathen duties. 17 In order to explain away any successes of soothsayers and others that used magic against the Churches beliefs, the Church allowed belief in demons to help push the inherent wrongness of the acts. 18 Medieval preachers began to enliven sermons with terrifying stories of the Devil and his minions tempting the weak and carrying away the sinners. 19 The Church also created a powerful belief in angels which help escape the forces of demons. 20 Misfortune was then attributed to demons and the Devil. 21 The sightings of ghosts were explained as the souls trapped in Purgatory who were unable to rest until they were forgiven for their sins. 22 The pressures against magia from the Church increased as their own saints performed miracles.
Some of the miracles were suspiciously like the magia banned by the Church. The miracles included prophesies of the future, control of the weather, providing protection against fire and flood, heavy objects transported without human aid, raising the dead, and bringing relief to the sick. 23 As the power of the Church grew, magia, sorcery, and demons became more and more repressed. In the early days of the Church, magia and other forms of magic were an every day occurrence. Shamans helped cure the sick without fear of punishment in the early Middle Ages. Charms of protection and love spells were cast without accusations of working with the Devil.
Even as the Church grew and sorcery and magia began to be believed as evil, magic continued to be an everyday happening, through saints and demons. Still everyone from the commoners, to the kings, and even to the popes believed in magic and that there were sorcerers, demons, and witches throughout the land. They were punished accordingly, which helped generate more power for the Church because if you were not Christian you would be punished. Magic continued to be an influence, even the magia banned by the Church has lived on to be accepted by society in general, even today. For example, astrology is widely accepted in society, even though it was banned and its practitioners severely punished in the Middle Ages. 1 Valerie I. J.
Flint, The Rise of Magic in Early Medieval Europe, Princeton; Princeton University Press, 1991, p. 5. 2 Kurt Seligmann, Magic, Supernaturalism and Religion, new York; Pantheon Books, 1948, p. 131. 5 Leonard Ashley R. N. , The Complete Book of Devils and Demons, New York; Barricade Books, Inc. , 1996, p. 55. 6 Jeffery Burton Russell, Witchcraft in the Middle Ages, Ithaca; Cornell University Press, 1972, p. 45. 16 Peter Brown, Religion and Society in the Age of Saint Augustine, New York; Harper and Row, Publishers, 1972, p. 141. 17 Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic, New York; Charge Scribner's Sons, 1971, p. 254. Ashley, Leonard R. N. , The Complete Books of Devils and Demons, New York; Barricade Books, Inc. , 1996.
Brown, Peter, Religion and Society in the Age of Saint Augustine, New York; Harper and Row, Publishers, 1972. Ennemoser, Joseph, The History of Magic: Volume 1, New York; University Books, Inc. , 1970. Flint, Valerie I. J. , The Rise of Magic in Early Medieval Europe, Princeton; Princeton University Press, 1991. Russell, Jeffrey Burton, Witchcraft in the Middle Ages, Ithaca; Cornell University Press, 1972. Seligmann, Kurt, Magic, Supernaturalism and Religion, New York; Pantheon Books, 1948.
Thomas, Keith, Religion and the Decline of Magic, New York; Charles Scribner's Sons, 1971. Bibliography:
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Research essay sample on Magic In The Early Middle Ages