Magical Written Artefacts in Late-Medieval German Instructional Literature
As the 14th and 15th centuries progressed, more and more areas of knowledge were covered by German-language texts. This period also saw the development of a differentiated literature describing and teaching practices that were perceived as magic. In the theological understanding of the time, these were practices that sought to discover hidden and future things or to influence reality by communicating with demons. Suspicion of magic was directed not only at practices that openly communicated with demons, but also at a wide range of practices that are still considered magical and mantic today, such as chiromancy, geomancy, name mantics, sortes books and other sorting procedures, as well as various kinds of blessings, incantations, and pictorial and textual amulets, especially when they worked with verba ignota (incomprehensible signs). Many of the texts on these 'magical' practices contain instructions for writing and drawing.
The instructions are often very detailed and require the use of a variety of writing tools, writing instruments and writing materials. We find engraved inscriptions on swords, magic circles on the floor, inscribed wax tablets and mirrors, metal plates of gold, silver, lead, etc., all kinds of paper and parchment, inscriptions in bat's blood, and much more. In addition to German, Latin, Greek and Hebrew words and various numerals, there are illegible characters and figures, geometric patterns and figurative images. The written artefacts described are said to be part of prognostic practices, to summon devils or angels, to bring protection, harm, love and much more. The proposed project in the research field 'Material Choices' aims to systematically catalogue and edit these writing instructions for the first time. The focus on the German-language tradition acts as a heuristic filter, reducing the volume of texts and thus allowing a view of crucial innovations and updates.
In addition to the instructive texts, the few surviving scribal artefacts themselves will also be recorded. The project's period of investigation begins in the 14th century, when new types of magical texts began to be written in German, and ends with the epochal boundary around 1520. In a second phase of the project, the period of investigation will be extended to c. 1700, in order to reveal hitherto overlooked continuities between medieval and early modern magic, and to consider the changes resulting from the humanist discourse of magic, the early modern discourse of witchcraft, and confessionalisation.
Principal Investigator: Marco Heiles