Magic and archaeology

Ritual residues and “odd” deposits

Authored by: Roberta Gilchrist

The Routledge History of Medieval Magic

Print publication date:  February  2019
Online publication date:  February  2019

Print ISBN: 9781472447302
eBook ISBN: 9781315613192
Adobe ISBN:


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The use of archaeology as source material for medieval magic raises a number of methodological and theoretical issues. Many of the rituals of common magic revealed by archaeology were never (or rarely) documented in medieval texts. The lack of correlation between texts and material culture has been regarded as a methodological problem for historians 1 ; to the contrary, these complementary sources permit access to social contexts and agents that are under-represented in texts, particularly women and other practitioners who operated in domestic and rural environments. It offers the potential to interrogate the distinction between “theory and practice” in medieval magic and opens up new opportunities to directly access “the mental world of the non-literate”. 2 Archaeology renders a wider range of practices visible, but the absence of textual commentary makes it difficult to gauge whether these activities were sanctioned by the church or regarded as illicit magic.

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