Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Violence, Christianity, and the Anglo-Saxon Charms

Medievalists.net today points us to a Master's thesis by Laurajan G. Gallardo of Eastern Illinois University entitled Violence, Christianity, and the Anglo-Saxon Charms. From the abstract:
The thesis focuses on violence reinterpreted through the Anglo-Saxon charms that exhibit a fusion of Christian and pagan elements. ... I provide a brief introduction on magical practices and beliefs that applied to the charms, shedding light on how they were expected to work. In the third chapter of the thesis, I include seven Old English charms of my own translation, categorizing them into three groups:
  1. Charms that require violent acts for their efficacy; 
  2. Charms that remedy a violent act; 
  3. Charms that protect against violence. 
I analyze each of the charms, providing a Christian and pagan understanding for each one. Each section concludes with a statement about how violence was reinterpreted in the charms. Based on the chronology of the manuscripts in which the charms were found, I argue that the charms increasingly become more prayer-like, moving from being pagan chants superimposed with Christian references to incantations more like prayers.
The last part is the most interesting to those of us who practice a reconstruction of pre-Christian Germanic religion. Sifting through the Christian veneer (often very thick, sometimes merely a thin patina) of such charms and incantations is an incredibly valuable tool not only to reviving the beliefs and practices of the ancients, but also their mindset.

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