This research article looks interesting – it’s about how people in the enlightenment became more skeptical about magic, but they could only do so once it was more permissible to have irreligious ideas:
THE DECLINE OF MAGIC: CHALLENGE AND RESPONSE IN EARLY ENLIGHTENMENT ENGLAND
When a bishop dies the bells ring in heaven according to Matthew Paris. Presumably this was only becayse Robert, Bishop Lincoln was a fairly holy rather than venal example. Indeed this was actually Robert Grosseteste the famous scholastic philosopher and theologian, who criticized the greed of the papacy.
I think it’s interesting that only the friars and priests hear the bells though – the bumpkin foresters don’t! Also it’s interesting that the melodious music is like bells – I guess the link with a place of worship is important here, but is really that the best that heaven could come up with to welcome the bishop?
These are extracts from the Chronica Majora written by Matthew Paris for the year 1253.
Of the music heard in the heavens
During the night in which the said bishop departed to the Lord, Faulkes, bishop of London, heard in the air above, a wonderful and most agreeable kind of sound, the melody of which refreshed his ears and his heart, and fixed his attention for a time. Whilst listening to it (he was at the time staying near Buckdon), he said to some persons standing near him, “Do you, too, hear what I do?” Whereupon they asked him, ” What hear you, my lord ?” The bishop replied : “I hear a supernatural sound, like that of a great convent-bell, ringing a delightful tune in the air above.” They, however, acknowledged, although they listened attentively, that they heard nothing of it, whereupon the bishop said to them: ” By the faith I owe to St. Paul, I believe that our beloved father, brother, and master, the venerable bishop of Lincoln, is passing from this world to take his place in the kingdom of heaven, and this noise I heard is intended as a manifest warning to me thereof, for there is no convent near here in which there is a bell of such a sort and so loud. Let us inquire into the matter immediately.” They therefore did so, and found, as was proved by the statement of his whole household, that at that very time the bishop had departed from this world. This wonderful circumstance, or rather primitive miracle, was told as a fact, and borne evidence to, to the writer of this book, by Master John Cratchale, a confidential clerk to the bishop, one held in great veneration, and of high authority amongst his attendants and friends.
Of the noises of trumpets and bells heard in the sky.
On the same night, too, some brethren of the order of Minorites were hurrying towards Buckdon, where Robert, bishop of Lincoln, was staying (for he was a comforter and a father to the Preachers and Minorites), and in passing through the royal forest of Vauberge, being ignorant of its windings, lost their road, and whilst wandering about they heard in the air sounds as of the ringing of bells, amongst which they clearly distinguished one bell of a most sweet tune, unlike anything they had ever heard before. This circumstance greatly excited their wonder, for they knew that there was no church of note near. When morning’s dawn appeared, after wandering about to no purpose, they met some foresters, of whom, after obtaining directions to regain their right road, they inquired what meant the grand and solemn ringing of bells which they had heard in the direction of Buckdon to which the foresters replied, that they had not heard and did not then hear anything, though the sound still gently filled the air. The brethren, therefore, in still greater wonder went on, and reached Buckdon betimes, where they were informed that at the very time of the night when they had heard the aforesaid melodious sounds, Robert, bishop of Lincoln, breathed forth his happy spirit.
Mark Lord gives a very intense and painstakingly depiction of the horrors of war. The setting is an unexpected one and the supernatural sparkle intensifies the atmosphere a lot.
The pacing is excellent and Mark Lord does not waste a word too much. The end is a tricky one. It is not an expected one and it delivers not the 100% solution. But it is as satisfying as the story itself.
I hope there will be more Jake Savage stories (a full novel would be great) soon. Chivalry: A Jake Savage Adventure satisfied my craving for historical fiction with a mystery touch which is taking a greater part within my reading comfort zone of epic fantasy, steampunk and space opera.
If you are interested in the research of magic and witchcraft in the middle ages you may have come across the following seminal works:
Henry Charles Lea‘s A History of the Inquisition (3 volumes): although this title covers all of the activities of the inquisition and therefore mainly the crime of heresy, there is also some useful content on how the inquisition tackled magic and witchcraft (see volume 3 for this).
Lynn Thorndike‘s A History of Magic and Experimental Science: this title contains 8 volumes, the first two of which cover the first thirteen centuries A.D. The book lists all the major developments in magic and experimental science and also provides details of known ‘magicians’ during that time period. Scientists such as Roger Bacon were often thought to be magicians because of the unusual claims that they made and the experiments they carried out.
In the past it has been quite difficult to get hold of these important reference books unless you have access to a well-stocked academic or public library. I briefly had access to A History of the Inquisition via a trial subscription to Questia, but that has since lapsed. But now the good news is that both titles are available via archive.org. You can find all three volumes of A History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages, as well as the same author’s A History of the Inquisition of Spain. For Thorndike you can find the first two volumes at present. Hopefully the other volumes will be added soon as well.
Simply visit archive.org and start your search. There are often multiple files available, so I won’t provide any links here. If you have never used archive.org before then please take a look, it’s a great resource.
This contains a couple of cases mentioned by Henry Charles Lea in his famous History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages. It is interesting to note that magic was fairly rare as an offence in England, and, of course, the inquisition itself never formally operated in England.
I have updated the pages I have on Magic in the Middle Ages. Some of these have been re-ordered, but I have also added new content, including excerpts from some primary sources. In particular I would recommend checking out the Peter Lombard page, he had quite a bit to say about the nature of angels and demons.
I am adding content as I get a chance whilst researching background for my novel Hell has its Demons. Hope some of you find this information useful!
Another page on my Stupor Mundi site published, this time looking at the subject of Magic! All the content here is taken from the book by Kieckhefer – its basically my notes of the examples he provides.
Magic, according to those who dwelt on such things came in two main flavours in the Middle Ages. Natural or occult magic was based on special properties of natural occuring things, for instance magical properties of certain herbs or animals etc, whereas demonic magic was specifically the summoning of spirits for evil.
How magic was viewed in the Middle Ages is a fascinating subject. It was believed to be real and quite dangerous. Richard Kieckhefer’s book Magic in the Middle Ages is a brilliant introduction to the subject area and I recommend reading it. As well as introducing the background to belief, it also traces the classical, celtic and germanic background to magic in Western Europe, as well as looking at Arabic and Jewish sources. The development of a clerical underground and the developing persecution of witches is also covered.
For me however, the most useful aspect was just to get a reliable source of possible examples of how magic was practiced in the middle ages. I’m currently working on stories set in a historical context where the characters use, or attempt to use magic, so I found this book invaluable. Although it’s an academic text, it is not dry or dull at all.
What is magic? I think this is an important question for anyone writing fantasy. I guess at the simplest one could see it as an unexplained disturbance of the natural rules of the world? An illusion that breaks the laws of reality without any explanation of how it came to be. If it has rules then surely it is no longer magic as its effect has attained a cause – it can be explained and becomes a science.
Is magic the opposite of science in fact?
It’s a cliché that science to primitive peoples who don’t understand it can be viewed as magic, but in our modern world how many people understand much of the technology that we use everyday? Yet it is not seen by most people as magic. This is because they trust that there are those, scientists and engineers, who know how it all works and can explain it.
Which leads us to an interesting point – if say a fantasy writer has magic in their created world, is it really magic? Magic will often be part of what certain members of the world, magicians etc, do. Normal people won’t understand how it works, but will assume that the magicians have this all under control and understand it.
Could another part of the definition of magic be that it has a supernatural element? It seems if you look at the source of the word and its history that the origins are not just in the manipulation of nature through mysterious means, but actually the invocation of spirits for various purposes. This link with the supernatural then must be the main feature of magic that sets it apart from science as we have already concluded that science cannot always be explained by many people. It seems that the history of magic moves from the use of spirits in classical times, to the invocation of demons in the middle ages. Then in the renaissance and enlightenment eras magic took the form of alchemy and semi-scientific practice, thus disconnecting from the supernatural origin it once had. In effect magic became false science as science itself developed.
It could also be argued that magic moved at the same time as being something that most people actually believed in, for instance in mainstream culture many people believed in the magical properties of holy relics, to being undermined as belief in the mystical itself declined in the face of the age of reason.