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The Rise of Magic in Early Medieval Europe Paperback – 13 Feb 1994


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Product details

  • Paperback: 468 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; Reissue edition (13 Feb. 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691001103
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691001104
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.7 x 23.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,551,371 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

"Flint combines a bold thesis and sophisticated historiography with impeccable scholarship. Her semantic disentangling of contemporary texts and their various terms is as sensitive as her contextual interpretation of them.... Flint writes with verve and style. This is an extraordinarily good book."--Patrick Curry, History Today

"In this large, brave and erudite book, Valerie Flint sets out to rescue the preternatural aspects of medieval culture from the opprobrium with which Reformation polemicists attacked them, and to understand magic, both 'Christian magic' and non-Christian, on its own terms.... This is a book which will inevitably arouse welcome and refreshing controversy."--Julia Smith, Early Medieval Europe

"Diligently researched and well-written survey of what antiquity and churchmen between the fifth and eleventh centuries had to say about magical beliefs and practices, and what the Church and State should do about them."--The Times Literary Supplement

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MAGIC may be said to be the exercise of a preternatural control over nature by human beings, with the assistance of forces more powerful than they. Read the first page
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 16 Mar. 1999
Format: Paperback
Taking a very close look at a wide variety of documents, the author demonstrates how magical practices - especially healing and divination techniques - were present all through the early middle ages. It is fascinating to see the constant attempts of Christian churchmen to appropriate part of these practices for their own purposes - so to say to "baptise" them by cutting them off from the roots of the pagan world views they were based on. One also comes to realize that the information that became available from Arab sources from the 11th century on met with a fertile ground - and with well-practised reception routines to adapt it to the Christian environment. These findings have nothing to do with the widespread legends about "surviving witch cults". Pointing to the contrasting frameworks into which identical practices - e.g. healing by laying on hands while saying an incantation / prayer and / or using specific herbs - could be put, one still gets an idea of what the traditions of modern-day esotericism (the antecedents of which usually only become visible centuries later) probably looked like. Hence the book would not only be of interest to historians, but also to anyone interested in magic / esotericism and its historical dimensions. Even though fairly technical at times, the book is never dull, and I'm glad to say I learned a lot from it.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 7 reviews
39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
Where did Medieval "Magic" come from? 11 Feb. 2001
By Curt Emanuel - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
One of the fairly resilient "myths" of the early Middle Ages is that of a young, weak Church with a largely ignorant leadership that was unable or unwilling to resist the influx of Pagan and other non-Christian superstitions and beliefs and was forced to absorb these into its structure. Church leaders were unable to recognize Pagan superstition for what it was as it exerted its influence on the Church. In addition, as weak as it was, the Church was simply unable to resist these ideas and the pressure to adopt them that was exerted by the masses in the early Medieval period.
In this volume, Valerie Flint attempts to show that, for the most part, the Church's assimilation of Pagan elements was voluntary and only permitted after careful consideration by Church leadership. She argues that various Church fathers, including Augustine, Gregory the Great and even Hincmar of Rheims, consciously adopted certain superstitions into the early Medieval Church.
Flint begins by describing the status of the Church during the later Roman Empire. She notes that there is considerable denunciation of magic by the Empire, most notably by Pliny in his _Natural History_ and that magic is characterized as unhealthy at best and maliciously evil at worst. Virgil, Lucan, Apuleius and others are enthusiastic in condemning magical practices and practitioners. This was the legacy that the Church inherited.
But the Church, being an agent of the supernatural, is itself a magical organization. At the very least, Christ's conception and resurrection are outside the realm of natural events and the Eucharist with the transmutation of the host is a highly magical event. Augustine is the first to address this in any depth, most fully in _The City of God_. He allows for prophecy, and for magical properties inherent in certain forms of stone, wood, etc.
Flint's thesis proceeds from this starting point rather logically. She discusses what magical beliefs and practices were prominent among the people of the 5th through 7th centuries and which of these the Church chose to condemn and, in many cases, the penalties for continued practice. She discusses the process by which Gregory the Great and others decide which beliefs should be allowed to become part of the fabric of the Church and which should not.
Flint follows this with a discussion of what magical practices were actually encouraged and how both categories were justified through Biblical references, particularly to Ham. She also discusses the magical battle between Simon Magus and Peter and the ramifications this had on how magicians were viewed during the period.
The substition of Christian icons, particularly crosses and churches at non-Christian magical places is discussed at some length. The eventual approval of the Church of various forms of divination, astrology, magical usage in medicine, relics, and "sanctioned" love magic all receive considerable attention.
I found this book to be very informative. Flint's arguments are clear and she follows a very logical progression in her attempts to justify them. But there are a few problems. She often reaches conclusions based on (IMO) very sparse evidence. Some of this is in favor of, and some even against her thesis. For example, she argues that the extensive use of wooden and stone crosses reflects on the power people saw in these two materials but, as I read this, I asked myself, "What else would you make them out of? Formica?" Several times she begins a phrase with, "It can at least be argued that . . ." As I progressed through this book this became a red flag, telling me that she was about to state something that she believed but for which she had little or no evidence.
This is not to say that she doesn't consult sources. She footnotes copiously and these are often to original sources such as the Anglo-Saxon _Lacugna_ and, of course, writings of the early Church.
There are a few other areas in which this work could have been improved. I often wonder why Medieval Historians have such an aversion to charts. A listing of condemned and approved magical practices, either in the text or as appendices, would have been helpful. She extensively cites Burchard of Worms' _Decretum_, written in the early 11th century, for penalties proscribed for practicing condemned magic, and a chart listing the practices and the respective penalties would also have made this section easier to follow.
And while she does frequently refer to approved Christian magic, she has little to say on the Priest as magician, and how his use of sanctioned magic may have contributed to how he (and by inference the Church) was viewed by the people of his parish. She also largely ignores the disparity between how magic and practitioners of magic were viewed and treated by the Church during the early Medieval as opposed to the Late Medieval/Early Modern periods. I'm not certain that this last _should_ be in this work, (it may be outside its scope) just that I would have liked to have seen it.
In spite of these flaws, I found this to be an excellent book. It is not, however, an easy read. Some of her arguments are complex and require serious thought (at least by me) to accept or reject them. But there is a wealth of information between the covers, and the discussion of the use of magic in medicine alone (one of the best sections IMO) made it worthwhile for me.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Magic Alive during the "Dark Ages" 16 Mar. 1999
By "babendreyer" - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Taking a very close look at a wide variety of documents, the author demonstrates how magical practices - especially healing and divination techniques - were present all through the early middle ages. It is fascinating to see the constant attempts of Christian churchmen to appropriate part of these practices for their own purposes - so to say to "baptise" them by cutting them off from the roots of the pagan world views they were based on. One also comes to realize that the information that became available from Arab sources from the 11th century on met with a fertile ground - and with well-practised reception routines to adapt it to the Christian environment. These findings have nothing to do with the widespread legends about "surviving witch cults". Pointing to the contrasting frameworks into which identical practices - e.g. healing by laying on hands while saying an incantation / prayer and / or using specific herbs - could be put, one still gets an idea of what the traditions of modern-day esotericism (the antecedents of which usually only become visible centuries later) probably looked like. Hence the book would not only be of interest to historians, but also to anyone interested in magic / esotericism and its historical dimensions. Even though fairly technical at times, the book is never dull, and I'm glad to say I learned a lot from it.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Quite interesting, but difficult to read 6 Nov. 2010
By Christopher R. Travers - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
First, I found the author's writing style to be even a bit dry for me. Like one other reviewer, I found the book to be very hard to get into, and I also found myself skimming over some sections. The writing style is rather dry but doesn't pack a lot of facts in. This is the major reason for this rating. Moreover the author's viewpoint sometimes gets in the way (particularly when discussing Roman augury practices).

On the other hand, this book is very interesting because of the angle taken to the subject matter. The author is primarily interested about attitudes towards magic in the early middle ages in relation to religious thought. Her definition of magic is quite expansive and includes a fairly interesting set of religious views in the early Middle Ages as well. Through the book she productively struggles to sort approved from unapproved magic in this time period and place this in context with the religious thought of the age.

On the whole, for individuals deeply interested in this topic, this book is to be recommended. I wouldn't recommend it widely however.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
An Excellent Overview of a Complex Subject 15 July 2004
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Valerie Flint, Professor of Medieval History at the University of Auckland (New Zealand) has written a strong and thought-provoking work on the possible origins of medieval magical practice.
Drawing almost exclusively on early Church fathers and theologians from early medieval Europe (500-1000 CE), she sets out her theories on how many medieval magical practices arose, contrasting the Christian or Christianized forms of more acceptable magical practice with the pagan practices that she sees as their roots. Ms. Flint has made a strong effort to draw on or provide English translations of key texts, which makes it much easier for non-Latin speakers to follow the (often convoluted) theological arguments behind the subject matter at hand.
While I feel that the author could have profited from more attention to primary sources from the other side of the fence (surviving works on magical praxis and leechcraft, especially the svartbokr and galdrabokr of the Northern traditions) this is an excellent introduction to this complex field.
oh, whew. 30 Mar. 2014
By mrs.peapod - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The author of this text deserves an award for sheer persistence. She is obviously drop-dead brilliant but her book was difficult to read, had so many references that it made your head swim, and wasn't *human* enough. By that I mean, although it is obviously a scholarly work, it lacked the magic (no pun intended) one feels when one MUST turn the page. I suppose the book is worth buying as a comparison to others in the study of magic during Medieval Times and there IS a LOT of information in there. But it misses engaging you on all levels and is one of those history books that is factual but, well, tedious. I did read it. I cited her in a few places for a paper but I was glad to put the book down. It is a newer book in the genre, though, and for that reason you may want to get it. For me, though, I was happy to be finished reading it. If it's assigned to you as a text for a class, you'll have to get it - but be prepared for a litany of citations that takes away the mesmerizing qualities a fascinating text is able to convey.
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