Magic and the Warding-off of Barbarians in Constantinople, 9th – 12th Centuries
By Liliana Simeonova
Material Culture and Well-Being in Byzantium (400–1453). Proceedings of the International Conference, eds. M. Grünbart et al. (Cambridge, 2007)
Introduction: In the Middle Ages, magic was the crossing point at which popular beliefs and those of the educated classes intersected. It was the recognition by the higher religions of the existence of spirits, or demons, that furnished a basis for the belief in magic. Despite the negative attitude assumed by Judaism, Christianity and Islam towards everything not sanctioned by their own monotheistic teachings, the belief in magic was widely spread in medieval societies. The elite writers in most countries seemed to share the same negative attitude toward magic.
Yet it was admitted, not only into the tales of wonder and delight, but also into the works of serious writers, who described various spells as well as the practices against which these spells were directed.
In Christian societies, the clergy shared the masses’ belief in demons, the latter being perceived as servants of the Devil. However, while making a sustained effort to fight the demons, the clergy engaged in certain practices, such as the recital of formulae and the performance of rituals of exorcism, that practically erased the thin dividing line between religion and magic.
Top Image: 17th century view of Constantinople