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Body, Spirit, Magic and Ritual: The Charming Relationship of Spiritual and Bodily Health in Anglo-Saxon England

Lisa Molnar

Masters Dissertation, 2008

This thesis examines a selection of Anglo-Saxon texts featuring food, medicine and magic circa 975-1100 C.E and explores the ways in which food preparation, spiritual practices and magic were related to eating, spiritual and bodily health. I argue that during this period a context-specific attitude of continuity between magic and prayer, food and medicine was present. The supernatural was not differentiated from, but bound up with speech, the body and eating. A study of these texts grants us access to Anglo-Saxon perceptions ofhealth, spirituality, human relationships and death. In order to discuss this special literary space in history we need to develop a critical language that can convey the spiritual force ofwords without putting them into binary categories of “Christian” or “Pagan.” Medieval texts resist modem and postmodern literary and historical categorization, making it more important to analyze the significance of overlap than to study the history of these works in isolated disciplines.
This project consists offour sections, each a different framework with which to approach and analyze these texts. These sections are as follows: Part 1) Food and Consumption, Part 2) Magic and Prayer, Part 3) Medicine and Death. A single Anglo-Saxon charm, for example, will receive three separate treatments and analyses. The categories that I have set up will thus work to demonstrate their very non-existence; the same passages can be studied three different ways and simultaneously have three different usages and meanings. My fmal conclusion functions as a connecting space where I will explain the ways in which this thesis both demonstrates and participates in the fluidity and permeability ofthese texts. As the separate discourses offood, magic and medicine synthesize in the conclusion, so too will the reader’s categorical understanding of the Anglo-Saxon world.

Click here to read this dissertation from McMaster University