'Charms', Liturgies, and Secret Rites in Early Modern England

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Ciaran Arthur
Anglo-Saxon Studies
  • Suffolk, England: 
    Boydell & Brewer Publishers
    , June
     262 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.
Review coming soon!

Review by Ethan Doyle White forthcoming.


A re-evaluation of the mysterious "charms" found in Anglo-Saxon literature, arguing for their place in mainstream Christian rites.

Since its inception in the nineteenth century, the genre of Anglo-Saxon charms has drawn the attention of many scholars and appealed to enthusiasts of magic, paganism, and popular religion. Their Christian nature has been widely acknowledged in recent years, but their position within mainstream liturgical traditions has not yet been fully recognised. In this book, Ciaran Arthur undertakes a wide-ranging investigation of the genre to better understand how early English ecclesiastics perceived these rituals and why they included them in manuscripts were written in high-status minsters. Evidence from the entire corpus of Old English, various surviving manuscript sources, and rich Christian theological traditions suggests that contemporary scribes and compilers did not perceive "charms" as anything other than Christian rituals that belonged to diverse, mainstream liturgical practices. The book thus challenges the notion that there was any such thing as an Anglo-Saxon "charm", and offers alternative interpretations of these texts as creative para-liturgical rituals or liturgical rites, which testify to the diversity of early medieval English Christianity. When considered in their contemporary ecclesiastical and philosophical contexts, even the most enigmatic rituals, previously dismissed as mere "gibberish", begin to emerge as secret, deliberately obscured texts with hidden spiritual meaning.

About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Ciaran Arthur is a Research Fellow at Queen's University Belfast.

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