Magic for the dead? The archaeology of magic in later medieval burials
Gilchrist, R. (2008) Magic for the dead? The archaeology of magic in later medieval burials. Medieval Archaeology, 52. pp. 119-159. ISSN 0076-6097
To link to this article DOI: 10.1179/174581708x335468
THIS PAPER EXAMINES patterns in the placement of apotropaic objects and materials in high- to late-medieval burials in Britain (11th to 15th centuries). It develops an interdisciplinary classification to identify: (1) healing charms and protective amulets; (2) objects perceived to have occult natural power; (3) 'antique' items that were treated as possessing occult power; and (4) rare practices that may have been associated with the demonic magic of divination or sorcery. Making comparisons with amulets deposited in conversion-period graves of the 7th to 9th centuries it is argued that the placement of amulets with the dead was strategic to Christian belief, intended to transform or protect the corpse. The conclusion is that material traces of magic in later medieval graves have a connection to folk magic, performed by women in the care of their families, and drawing on knowledge of earlier traditions. This popular magic was integrated with Christian concerns and tolerated by local clergy, and was perhaps meant to heal or reconstitute the corpse, to ensure its reanimation on judgement day, and to protect the vulnerable dead on their journey through purgatory.