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234 × 156 × 22 mm
224 pages
17 illustrations
01 Sep 2012
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Magic and Religion in Medieval England Catherine Rider

From today’s perspective it is hard to comprehend just how complex the relationship was between religion and magic in the Middle Ages. Many unofficial rituals and beliefs existed alongside ones sanctioned by the Church. Educated clergy condemned some as magic, but it wasn’t always easy to do this because many magical and superstitious practices employed religious language, rituals or objects. Charms recited over the sick to cure illnesses often invoked God and the saints; spells for love and other purposes might use consecrated substances such as the Eucharist. The people reaching for them could even justify their actions by citing biblical precedent.

In this book Catherine Rider unearths previously unpublished evidence and new information concerning the widespread use of magical practices and the clergy’s response. She asks how educated churchmen, when faced with a wide range of popular religious practices, decided which were acceptable and which were magic. How did they persuade others of their views?

This book traces the change in the Church’s attitude to vernacular forms of magic from the turbulent era of King John to the time of Henry VIII and the Dissolution of the Monasteries. These three centuries brought educated clergy into closer contact than ever before with unofficial religious practices and prompted them to draw up more precise guidelines on how to distinguish magic from legitimate religion. Magic and Religion in Medieval England provides a detailed picture of religious and lay life, including clerical education and pastoral care.

‘Catherine Rider builds on her well-received first book, Magic and Impotence in the Middle Ages (2006), with a broader study on what educated medieval English churchmen considered the proper relationship between Christian religion and magic. She skillfully avoids earlier historiographical extremes of either labeling medieval religion as Christian magic or characterizing folk magic as popular religion, and she takes medieval sensibilities on their own terms . . . Rider herself evinces a pastoral appreciation of the human condition with its manifold worries while maintaining the medieval distinctions between folk customs, religion, and magic. Highly recommended.’ — Choice

‘Catherine Riders remit is to examine how English churchmen defined and dealt with magic in the period and her main source material consists of the pastoral manuals published to assist clergy in their duties of ministering and preaching to the laity. This is indeed a body of evidence that has hitherto been relatively underused for this purpose, and yields her a rich haul of data, supplemented and tested by reference to works of theology and records of actual legal cases which involved magicians . . . We can thank her for having put the study of magic in both the earlier medieval and early modern periods into a better perspective.’ — TLS

‘This book serves as an excellent introduction to the topic of magic in medieval English society this makes it ideal for classroom use or a general audience. Basic topics are explained for readers and most of the historiographic discourse that will particularly interest scholars of the period is relegated to the endnotes to maintain the book's broad appeal. However, this should not put off academic readers. Rider's focus on pastoral manuals, sermon literature, early Church writings, and confession manuals provides the reader an important understanding of contemporary perceptions of magic in all its forms. Magic and Religion should be mandatory reading for anyone interested in magic or religion in England.’ — The Medieval Review

‘Boundaries between magic and religion are notoriously difficult to define, as much for medieval clergy as for modern scholars, and this book is to be praised for the clarity and care with which it examines medieval views of the proper categorisation of the magical, the acceptably Christian, the demonic and the natural . . . one of the many strengths of this book is the level-headed way in which it shows that magic seems to have been neither a major source of anxiety for lay people nor a significant target of clerical criticism or repression . . . This is a clear, readable and well-researched study of a topic of great interest.’ — Robert Bartlett, Journal of Ecclesiastical History

‘This is an excellent academic study of the attitude of the late medieval Roman Catholic Church to the magical arts and is written in a reader-friendly style. Highly recommended.’ — The Cauldron

‘In Magic and Religion in Medieval England, Catherine Rider surveys the medieval clergys views of these practices, focusing on their attempts to teach parish priests and laypeople about magics perils. Investigating clerical ideas primarily through the numerous pastoral manuals produced from the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries, Rider shows their surprising inconsistency and probable ineffectiveness, as diverse magical practices continued to inflect medieval peoples relationship with the supernatural.’ — The American Historical Review

Magic and Religion in Medieval England provides the scholarly community with a clear overview of the attitude of pastoral writers toward magical practices, and a demonstration of the value of pastoral manuals for the study of the later medieval period.’ — Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft

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Catherine Rider is Lecturer in the Department of History at the University of Exeter. She is author of Magic and Impotence in the Middle Ages (2006).

1. Predicting the Future and Healing the Sick: Magic, Science and the Natural World
2. Charms, Prayers and Prophecies: Magic and Religion
3. Flying Women, Fairies and Demons
4. Harm and Protection
5. Channelling the Stars and Summoning Demons: Magical Texts
6. Arguing Against Magic
7. Action Against Magic
Conclusion: Religion and Magic: Medieval England and Beyond

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