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Magic in the Middle Ages [Apr. 26th, 2016|10:43 am]
De Horror Vacui
Magic in the Middle Ages, Richard Kieckhefer:

I adjure you, Demon of the Dead cause N. to pine and melt away out of passion for F., whom B. bore. Inflame her heart and cause it to melt and suck out her blood out of love, pain, and passion over me. And let her do all the things in my mind, and let her continue loving me, until she arrives in Hell.

I don't know the image you have in your mind from that slightly modified Egyptian love charm. What would this Demon of the Dead look like? How would he attach himself to N.? Does an ancient Egyptian love charm work in a digital environment? But after reading such a realistic, unschmaltzy adjuration I couldn't stop reading this book.

This book is a great overview of people's beliefs in magic between the Roman world and the industrial revolution. It traces the currents of European magic from ancient and barbaric sources, and later how Arabic sources got mixed in (especially at the top). Magic was colloquially categorized as demonic and natural (but many doubted the existence of the latter), but most sources we have are a hodgepodge of semi-religious interpretations of ancient and local pagan charms and adjurations.

Kieckhefer also tries to describe how magic is practiced by three different groups of people: commoners, aristocrats, and clerics. Commoners had the most syncretic version of magic, with household books of magic including both Celtic and Roman sources mixed up with rather random Christian stuff. The aristocrats had a much more streamlined, romantic version, with magic gems and rings and so on. And the clerics (meaning just about anyone who was university educated) get into Arabic sources and have an awesome necromantic underworld (the focus of an entire chapter).

As is persecution.

Interestingly, there wasn't too much legal persecution of witches in dark ages and the Medieval world: the court system was accusatory. In an accusatory system, someone has to bring a case against another person, and if the case isn't proven, then the accuser accepts the punishment that he would have had delivered upon the defendant.

So, a false accusation of witchcraft was punished just as harshly as witchcraft.

And so, no one accused the angry old lady or their husband's lovers of casting spells.*

Not until the inquisition.

Other Books, 2016:

32. An Introduction to Hilbert Space and Quantum Logic, David W. Cohen
31. Magic in the Middle Ages, Richard Kieckhefer
30. The Silver Warriors, Michael Moorcock.
29. Engines of Creation, K. Eric Drexler
28. Prince of Chaos, Roger Zelazny
27. Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman
26. Sparkling Cyanide, Agatha Christie
25. Knight of Shadows, Roger Zelazny
24. Death on the Nile, Agatha Christie
23. Feynman Lectures on Computation, Richard Feynman
22. Effective Computation in Physics, Anthony Scopatz and Kathryn D. Huff
21. How to Fail at Everything and Still Win Big, Scott Adams
20. Sign of Chaos, Roger Zelazny
19. Murder Must Advertise, Dorothy Sayers
18. The Mythical Man-Month, Fredrick Brooks
17. Blood of Amber, Roger Zelazny
16. Understanding Computation, Tom Stuart
15. Social Class in the 21st Century, Mike Savage
14. Design for Great-Day, Alan Dean Foster and Eric Frank Russell
13. QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter, Richart Feynman
12. SciPy and NumPy, Eli Bressert
11. Elementary Quantum Mechanics in One Dimension, Robert Gilmore
10. The Trumps of Doom, Roger Zelazny
9. Your Code as a Crime Scene, Adam Tornhill
8. Upland Outlaws, Dave Duncan
7. Identity Economics, George Akerlof and Rachel Kranton
6. The Courts of Chaos, Roger Zelazny
5. Nudge, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein
4. The Cutting Edge, Dave Duncan
3. The Nature of Software Development, Ron Jeffers
2. The Death of Chaos, L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
1. Kivy -- Interactive Applications and Games in Python, Roberto Ulloa

* Parenthetically, Think Like a Freak explains Trial by Ordeal in a way that explains how come not every person who grabbed the hot iron bar, or whatever, was burned in fact, most weren't. The parish priest was the person who administered the punishment.

Now, Levitt and Dubner suggested the priest may have doctored the test by giving 2/3 of those tried by ordeal a bar that wasn't hot enough to burn. What I asked my students was: what extra information might a Catholic priest have about a case that would help him to make the determination?

[User Picture]From: dark_phoenix54
2016-04-27 01:33 am (UTC)
Ooh, that sounds like one I'd like to read!
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