Exploring the Concept of Magic in the Context of the Middle Ages - Taverna da Ilsa

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Exploring the Concept of Magic in the Context of the Middle Ages

C. A. Saltoris | 10 January, 2022

            Exploring the Concept of Magic in the Context of the Middle Ages

In delving into the intricate concept of magic during the Middle Ages, we encounter a fascinating interplay of historical instruments closely tied to the realm of witchcraft. It's crucial to acknowledge that the understanding of magic has evolved over the centuries, marked by continual transformations. However, its essence is defined by three fundamental elements deeply ingrained in European culture, elements that persist today due to their connection with contemporary religious practices.

Firstly, it's essential to recognize that magic is often perceived as a departure from the norm, representing a deviant force within the realms of religious and scientific ideologies. The practices associated with magic are diverse, encompassing alchemical studies, enchantments, sorcery amulets, herbalism, and even necromancy. The underlying principle is the belief that the natural world, with its concealed forces, can be harnessed by humans for practical purposes—both benevolent and malevolent.

The roots of the medieval concept of magic lie in the foundational aspects of European culture, specifically along three axes: the classical basis linked to the Roman world, the indigenous beliefs of Celtic, Germanic, Slavic, and Christian peoples, and the transformative interactions between these first two points and Christianity. This interplay has significantly shaped Christianity as we know it today.

Exploring the etymology of the word "magic" directs us to its origin in the Greco-Roman world, specifically the Latin term "Magos." This word, rooted in ancient Persian, originally denoted a wise man or a possessor of knowledge, particularly in the realm of astrology. In certain forms of magic, the magi occupied an ambivalent position within societies, a complexity epitomized by the three Magi who, as pagan foreigners, played a significant role in Christian theology.

The second pivotal element in shaping the notion of magic stems from the beliefs and customs of Celtic, Germanic, and Slavic peoples. Despite sparse written records, oral traditions reveal practices that later became categorized as magic. These practices, rooted in polytheism, involved interactions with spiritual entities in the natural world, disease prevention, and the use of amulets. What might have been perceived as natural medicine or religious worship within their cultures was often deemed magical by Christian authors.

The third element solidifying the concept of magic was Christianity. Influential figures like St. Augustine, a prominent Catholic thinker in the Middle Ages, contributed to the Church's stance on magic. Although he condemned magic, paradoxically, he believed that these powers could be harnessed for benevolent purposes. This intricate relationship between accommodation and conflict led to the absorption of certain magical practices into Christianity, evident in liturgical moments, the Eucharist, and practices like exorcism.

The inheritance of magical elements from the pagan world can be observed in contemporary Christian practices, such as the devotion to relics of saints and the belief in supernatural powers residing in material objects. This nuanced understanding of magic has persisted through the ages, manifesting in rituals like the blessing of crucifixes.

In the subsequent text, we will explore the role of the devil as the primary conduit through which magic reaches witches. If you found this article intriguing, be sure to share and follow us on social networks to stay updated on the Witches series.

The original content you can find on the Fantasticursos YouTube channel.

Taverna da Ilsa uses the material with the permission of Prof. Alexander Meireles da Silva, creator of the channel and its content.