Textual Magic: Charms and Written Amulets in Medieval England (Hardcover)

Textual Magic: Charms and Written Amulets in Medieval England By Katherine Storm Hindley Cover Image

Textual Magic: Charms and Written Amulets in Medieval England (Hardcover)


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An expansive consideration of charms as a deeply integrated aspect of the English Middle Ages.

Katherine Storm Hindley explores words at their most powerful: words that people expected would physically change the world. Medieval Europeans often resorted to the use of spoken or written charms to ensure health or fend off danger. Hindley draws on an unprecedented archive of more than a thousand such charms from medieval England—more than twice the number gathered, transcribed, and edited in previous studies and including many texts still unknown to specialists on this topic. Focusing on charms from 1100 to 1350 CE as well as previously unstudied texts in Latin, French, and English, Hindley addresses important questions of how people thought about language, belief, and power. She describes seven hundred years of dynamic, shifting cultural landscapes, where multiple languages, alphabets, and modes of transmission gained and lost their protective and healing power. Where previous scholarship has bemoaned a lack of continuity in the English charms, Hindley finds surprising links between languages and eras, all without losing sight of the extraordinary variety of the medieval charm tradition: a continuous, deeply rooted part of the English Middle Ages.
Katherine Storm Hindley is assistant professor of English literature at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, and director of the London International Palaeography School. Her articles and essays have appeared in a variety of publications. This is her first book.
Product Details ISBN: 9780226825335
ISBN-10: 0226825337
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication Date: August 16th, 2023
Pages: 312
“Hindley paints a picture of magic’s place in medieval England, producing an eye-opening study of ‘words at their most powerful’ . . .  that promise[s] to change the way we think about magic in the medieval world.”
— Mary Flannery

"Hindley is a sure-footed guide to this strange terrain . . . [as] she traces the use of amulets across the whole span of the Middle Ages and the ways it was affected by linguistic change and the spread of literacy."
— London Review of Books

"A thought-provoking look at the distinctive ways medieval English people viewed language [that] intrigues. It’s an enlightening deep dive."
— Publishers Weekly

“A major push forward . . . [that] this flies in the face of the current scholarly orthodoxy that oral and literate cultures were indivisible: it appears that writing was perceived as having its own power, which transcended that of speech.”
— Fortean Times

“Hindley carefully and fruitfully rethinks what charms tell us about written and oral aspects of culture, drawing on a wonderfully abundant collection of source material from a period in which charms proliferated but were often kept secret. A valuable contribution to the history of magic, her book sheds light on both an impressively diverse archive and the implications of their textuality.”
— Richard Kieckhefer, Northwestern University

“Hindley guides readers through the complete history of spoken and written charms in medieval England with seasoned ease. Through close readings and the latest archaeological insights, Textual Magic offers an indispensable introduction to medieval English charms, packed with examples in both their original language and modern English translation.”
— Lea Olsan, University of Louisiana at Monroe

Textual Magic is a significant new work in medieval studies, generously illustrated with images and transcriptions of charm texts. In particular, Hindley’s focus on the instructions accompanying charms and her awareness of their multilingual contexts are welcome additions to the literature on verbal charms.”
— Jonathan Roper, University of Tartu