Magic and Impotence in the Middle Ages

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Rider's careful tracing of textual references elucidates the diversity and persistency of elite interest in impotence caused by magic and demonstrates how it came to be of such importance in medieval marriage law, pastoral care, and medical learning. This book thus confirms the work of Richard Kieckhefer, Valerie Flint, and others in demonstrating that magic was an integral part of medieval society on both the elite and popular levels. The principle made its way into Gratian's Decretum and Peter Lombard's Sentence, ensuring that it would be widely commented on and its premises often debated.

As Rider persuasively shows, medieval canonists did not write in a vacuum but were aware of lay beliefs and practices, sometimes incorporating magical cures into their discussion and outlining legal procedures for proving impotence, including oaths taken by the wife, husband, and other witnesses and the physical inspection of the wife to ascertain if she were still a virgin. Rider suggests that the opinions of the canonists may often have reflected real cases, giving us a Magic and Impotence in the Middle Ages.


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Author: Elspeth Whitney. Date: May 1, These three centuries brought educated clergy into closer contact than ever before with unofficial religious practices and prompted them to draw up more precise guidelines on how to distinguish magic from legitimate religion. Magic and Religion in Medieval England provides a detailed picture of religious and lay life, including clerical education and pastoral care.

Magic and Impotence in the Middle Ages

She skillfully avoids earlier historiographical extremes of either labeling medieval religion as Christian magic or characterizing folk magic as popular religion, and she takes medieval sensibilities on their own terms. Rider herself evinces a pastoral appreciation of the human condition with its manifold worries while maintaining the medieval distinctions between folk customs, religion, and magic.

Highly recommended. This is indeed a body of evidence that has hitherto been relatively underused for this purpose, and yields her a rich haul of data, supplemented and tested by reference to works of theology and records of actual legal cases which involved magicians.

We can thank her for having put the study of magic in both the earlier medieval and early modern periods into a better perspective. However, this should not put off academic readers.

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Magic and Religion should be mandatory reading for anyone interested in magic or religion in England. This is a clear, readable and well-researched study of a topic of great interest.

Investigating clerical ideas primarily through the numerous pastoral manuals produced from the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries, Rider shows their surprising inconsistency and probable ineffectiveness, as diverse magical practices continued to inflect medieval peoples relationship with the supernatural. She is author of Magic and Impotence in the Middle Ages

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