Popular Religion in Late Saxon England: Elf Charms in Context

Popular Religion in Late Saxon England: Elf Charms in Context

Popular Religion in Late Saxon England: Elf Charms in Context

Popular Religion in Late Saxon England: Elf Charms in Context

Synopsis

In tenth- and eleventh-century England, Anglo-Saxon Christians retained an old folk belief in elves as extremely dangerous creatures capable of harming unwary humans. To ward off the afflictions caused by these invisible beings, Christian priests modified traditional elf charms by adding liturgical chants to herbal remedies. In Popular Religion in Late Saxon England, Karen Jolly traces this cultural intermingling of Christian liturgy and indigenous Germanic customs and argues that elf charms and similar practices represent the successful Christianization of native folklore. Jolly describes a dual process of conversion in which Anglo-Saxon culture became Christianized but at the same time left its own distinct imprint on Christianity. Illuminating the creative aspects of this dynamic relationship, she identifies liturgical folk medicine as a middle ground between popular and elite, pagan and Christian, magic and miracle. Her analysis, drawing on the model of popular religion to redefine folklore and magic, reveals the richness and diversity of late Saxon Christianity.

Excerpt

Bald's Leechbook, a mid-tenth-century medical manuscript copied in an English religious foundation, recommends two prescriptions for an animal shot by an elf. The first is an ointment applied on the afflicted beast; the second is a purgative treatment. The enigmatic quality of the affliction and the two treatments highlight the difficulty of entering early medieval worldviews.

If a horse or other cattle is [elf]shot, take dock seed and Scottish wax and let a man sing twelve masses over [them]; and put holy water on the horse or cattle. Have the herbs always with you.

For the same affliction, take an eye of a broken needle, give the horse a prick with it in the ribs; no harm shall come.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.