'Charms', Liturgies, and Secret Rites in Early Medieval England
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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer Ltd
Number of Pages: 262
Width: 15.6 cm
Height: 23.4 cm
A re-evaluation of the mysterious "charms" found in Anglo-Saxon literature, arguing for their place in mainstream Christian rites. Since its inception in the nineteenth century, the genre of Anglo-Saxon charms has drawn the attention of many scholars and appealed to enthusiasts of magic, paganism, and popular religion. Their Christian nature has been widely acknowledged in recent years, but their position within mainstream liturgical traditions has not yet been fully recognised. In this book, Ciaran Arthur undertakes a wide-ranging investigation of the genre to better understand how early English ecclesiastics perceived these rituals and why they included them in manuscripts were written in high-status minsters. Evidence from the entire corpus of Old English, various surviving manuscript sources, and rich Christian theological traditions suggests that contemporary scribes and compilers did not perceive "charms" as anything other than Christian rituals that belonged to diverse, mainstream liturgical practices. The book thus challenges the notion that there was any such thing as an Anglo-Saxon "charm", and offers alternative interpretations of these texts as creative para-liturgical rituals or liturgical rites, which testify to the diversity of early medieval English Christianity. When considered in their contemporary ecclesiastical and philosophical contexts, even the most enigmatic rituals, previously dismissed as mere "gibberish", begin to emerge as secret, deliberately obscured textswith hidden spiritual meaning. Ciaran Arthur is a Research Fellow at Queen's University Belfast.
The book represents a major advance to our knowledge about Anglo-Saxon ritual practice, for Arthur's study permits us now to take charms and secret writing seriously as much for their theological and devotional depth as for their popular significance. Rare is the event - and to be celebrated - when one comes across a book that opens up an entire genre for new appreciation -- EARLY MEDIEVAL EUROPE Ciaran Arthur's overview of this fascinating corpus of literature, with each example scrutinized in its manuscript context and set against the background of a learned Latinate tradition, contributes much to our understanding of the relations between magic and liturgy in late Anglo-Saxon England. * SPECULUM * Scholars and students of Anglo-Saxon England will find this book an invaluable re-assessment of many of the Anglo-Saxon texts that have been labelled `charms', and it will also interest scholars concerned with folklore more generally. * ENGLISH HISTORICAL REVIEW * Provocative and erudite [its] arguments are consistently stimulating, discerning, and persuasive. This book makes a major contribution to knowledge, as it sheds an enormous amount of light on the least well-understood corpus of writings from Anglo-Saxon England. * ANGLIA * [F]or researchers focusing on the belief systems of early medieval England, or of early medieval Europe more broadly, this must be very strongly recommended. Any university library with a collection on medieval religion needs to obtain a copy. * READING RELIGION *