Love Sex Magic in Medieval Europe: The archaeological evidence

Love Sex Magic in Medieval Europe: The archaeological evidence

Paper by Gemma Watson

Given at Theoretical Archaeology Group Conference in Cardiff, on December 19, 2017

Love magic was used for a variety of purposes connected to love, sex and reproduction in the Middle Ages. It was most often used to arouse love or sexual desire, or to impede it by causing hatred or impotence. It was occasionally used to predict the identity of future spouses and help or impede conception of a child. Medieval magic has been studied by historians for some time, but is a new field of enquiry for archaeologists. Considering that the Malleus Maleficarum, the 15th-century treatise on witchcraft, states that love magic was the most common form of witchcraft, where is the archaeological evidence for it?

In this paper I consider this question by reflecting on a type of material culture that has been largely ignored by archaeologists – Medieval profane badges. These lead-alloy badges depict a variety of sexual themes and have been found across Northern Europe, but are especially prevalent in the Low Countries. Although studied by art historians and folklorists, the purpose of these badges is still unknown. Are they just rude badges intended to amuse? Or were they apotropaic/magical? I argue that an archaeological approach that considers their contextual as well as iconographical meaning may provide further understanding.

Gemma Watson is a Post-Doctoral Research Assistant at the University of Reading. Click here to view her page.

Top Image: Lovers in a 14th century manuscript. ONB Cod. Vindobonensis 2762  fol. 86

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