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Magic And Superstition In The Middle Ages

3500 words - 14 pages

Superstitions have influenced the lives of human beings perhaps since the beginning of mankind. For millennia, people have clung to beliefs and practices surrounding preternatural activities. Even after science has produced evidence to explain what was once considered supernatural, the superstitious traditions have continued. During the Middle Ages, many new superstitious rituals were developed and some can still be seen in use today. However, the trivial superstitious rituals of today, such as hanging a horse shoe on a door or knocking on wood to bring good fortune, did not begin so simply.

Superstition, as defined by the Oxford dictionary is, “excessively credulous belief in and reverence for the supernatural.” In no other time was the supernatural ever so excessively believed than in the Middle Ages, where witches flew on broomsticks, Jewish sorcerers conjured spells, and sneezes could kill you. In ancient times, mysterious circumstances were explained by the imaginations of our ancestors. Without science, occurrences which seem obvious now were once described as supernatural. For example, a person’s shadow cast on a sunny day was defined as a reflection of that person’s soul. Natural phenonemons were more or less personified. To get to the roots of supernatural beliefs, it is necessary to look at the roots of philosophy. Bernard McGinn, author of The Growth of Mysticism, said that in the ancient Mediterranean world philosophy was defined as, “the love of wisdom, to express the highest mode of human life, one dedicated to more than the ordinary tasks of survival and self-aggrandizement” (32). The Middle Ages began around the fifth century, when the Roman Empire disintegrated and Christendom began to take shape. The people then began to redefine philosophy as, “the love of the wisdom who has the Incarnate Word, a commitment that was the fusion of the highest form of love and knowledge” (McGinn 33). Here, the belief shifted from searching for a higher spirituality to having found that elevation in the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. This alteration in the philosophical outlook of the people brought about a whole new aspect of the supernatural. Now that there was a great power to believe in, there were sets of rules introduced to ensure pure worship of the new-found Incarnate Word. A few centuries later, the renowned Roman Statesman Cassiodorus (485-585AD) would quote the meaning of philosophy in a way that would help characterize the culture of Christendom, which would therefore determine the way for superstitions to transpire throughout the Middle Ages. Cassiodorus said, “Philosophy is to be assimilated to God insofar as this is possible for a human being” (McGinn 33). Following this impactful clarification, many changes occurred in Christian spirituality. Ancient Christianity was evolving into a new ‘Medieval Christianity’. With those changes came the birth of many interesting, sometimes bizarre, superstitions which would affect the lives of...

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