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Material Moments in Book Cultures

Essays in Honour of Gabriele Müller-Oberhäuser

Edited By Simon Rosenberg and Sandra Simon

This Festschrift honours the dedicated book historian and medievalist Gabriele Müller-Oberhäuser. Her wide-ranging scholarly expertise has encouraged and influenced many adepts of the book. The essays in this volume reflect the variety of her interests: The contributions range from Chaucer’s Fürstenspiegel to the value of books in comedy, from the material book to the magical book in religious and literary cultures, from collaborative efforts in manuscript production to the relations of distributors of books across national and ideological boundaries, from the relations between the makers of books to the relation of readers to their books. Covering a period from the Middle Ages to the present, the volume concludes with a look at the future of book history as a field of study.
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Books as Objects of Magic in the Late Middle Ages

Extract

Eva Schaten, Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität, Münster

Abstract

This article discusses books as magical objects in late medieval and early modern England. There was a strong belief that a practitioner of magic could be only as strong as the book available to him. The power of a book could be enhanced by observing certain rituals during the production process.

In modern imagination, the successful practice of magic depends on the magical talent of the person practising it. The idea of witches and wizards as being gifted with special abilities, passed over to them by inheritance or a pact with demonical beings, is still very much alive in modern pop culture. A medieval practitioner of magic, however, would have regarded the notion of magic as personal talent strange. To master alchemy, ritual magic, divination, and similar branches of ‘learned magic,’ the main requirement was a good and powerful book.1 Such a book would not only contain the necessary information for completing rituals, it also would have a numinous quality of its own and if it was produced and consecrated in the right manner, it was believed to be the most powerful accessory for an aspiring magician.2

The typical practitioner of learned magic would be a member of the lower clergy: a parson, monk or secular priest working as clerk for the gentry or parish priest. He would be literate and at least have some basic knowledge of Christian rites and Latin....

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