Cover image for Magic in the Middle Ages
Magic in the Middle Ages
Kieckhefer, Richard.
Personal Author:
Physical Description:
x, 219 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm.
General Note:
Includes index.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
BF1593 .K53 1989 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



This textbook deals with magic, both natural and demonic, within the broad context of medieval culture. Covering the years c. 500 to 1500, with a chapter on antiquity, it invesigates the way magic relates to the many other cultural forms of the time, such as religion and science, literature and art. The book begins with a full discussion of the social history of magic and of the ways in which magical beliefs borrowed from a diversity of cultures. Thereafter, within a wider study of the growth and development of the phenomenon, the author shows how magic served as a point of contact between the popular and elite classes, how the reality of beliefs is reflected in the fiction witchcraft led to changes in the law. The chapter on medieval literature, and how the permagicalsecution of magic and er on necromancy is the most original, based largely on unpublished manuscripts and arguing for a new interpretation of the material. Adopting an interdisciplinary approach Professor Kieckhefer has taken magic from its cultural isolation and placed it firmly at the crossroads of medieval culture, as a focal point for our understanding of many other aspects of medieval history.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Magic is worth studying in early European history because it offers a perspective on culture that may serve as a useful corrective to anachronistic judgments as well as to mistaken ideas about the roles of religion and science in that culture. Kieckhefer's excellent book recognizes this, and it also recognizes the extremely diverse sources out of which medieval ideas and practices of magic were built and the different social locations in which they flourished. After an introductory chapter on method and design, Kieckhefer devotes two chapters to the Greco-Roman and early Christian problem of magic, and to Scandinavian and Celtic sources. Chapter 4 deals with practitioners, techniques, and materia magica. Later chapters treat magic in courtly literature, the impact of Arabic learning on the occult sciences, necromancy in the clerical underworld, and the literature of prohibition, condemnation, and prosecution. There is an extensive and very useful bibliography. This volume is part of the series "Cambridge Medieval Textbooks," and, like other volumes in that series, it delivers far more than its modest promise. Good undergraduate libraries ought to purchase two copies of this book, and good graduate libraries ought to have at least one. It will be enthusiastically recommended by every teacher who knows anything about the subject and despaired of finding such a book to which to send students. It is simply the best book on its subject in any language. E. Peters University of Pennsylvania

Table of Contents

List of illustrations
1 Introduction: magic as a crossroads
2 The classical inheritance
3 The twilight of paganism: magic in Norse and Irish culture
4 The common tradition of medieval magic
5 The romance of magic in courtly culture
6 Arabic learning and the occult sciences
7 Necromancy in the clerical underworld
8 Prohibition, condemnation, and prosecution
Further reading