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New Medieval Books: Onomantic Divination in Late Medieval Britain

Onomantic Divination in Late Medieval Britain: Questioning Life, Predicting Death

By Joanne Edge

York Medieval Press
ISBN: 978 1 91404924 8

Onomancy is a type of divination to learn a person’s future based on their name. This book looks at how this magic became popular in the later Middle Ages.


This book focuses on onomancy in sixty-five manuscripts of British provenance, produced in the period c.1150 – c.1500. It will demonstrate that onomantic prognostics, some corrupted in Latin translation and very simple to use, were in fact seen as serious methods of prediction by a large cross-section of literate society: medical practitioners, the aristocracy and the gentry, scholars, and monks. Onomancies also remained in circulation after the end of the Middle Ages in both manuscript and print culture. Ultimately, this book is about who claimed knowledge about and authority over questions of life and death in the Middle Ages and why.


Who is this book for?

At first, this book seems like it will only interest a small number of scholars – those who wanted to know why some medieval people were fascinated with something akin to astrology. But it offers a more important look – how medieval people were trying to understand their world and their own futures. It is a type of subculture that can help us learn more about the ways medieval people think.

The author

Joanne Edge is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh and works on social and cultural history in the late Middle Ages. You can follow her on BlueSky.


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