Binding Words: Textual Amulets in the Middle Ages (Magic in History)
by Don C. Skemer
Penn State Press
Reviewed by David Rankine
The fact that so many textual amulets have not survived has made this a largely unexplored area of study. Owen Davies discussed the use of textual amulets by cunning men in his excellent Popular Magic: Cunning-folk in English History, but Skemer moves to an earlier period and peels away the layers of misinformation to illuminate what is known about this important practice like a beautiful manuscript. The dichotomy of attitude expressed by the medieval church, torn between the validity of textual amulets as vessels of faith against the “evils” of belief in the actual power of the words is like a spotlight on the microcosm of changing religious attitudes. This book also serves as a reminder, should it be necessary, that the dominant magick in Europe during the Middle ages and Renaissance was Christian, and this has influenced the development of modern traditions far more than most are willing to credit. By exploring the scope of use and content of textual amulets, Skemer has shone light into a hole that was largely invisible and brought it back into the light. Excellent and thought-provoking stuff!