The Anglo-Saxon charms are like droplets of water on a cobweb, held suspended by the complex structure around them: without these carefully crafted relationships, the charms lose their meaning. My research explores the ways in which modern readers can reconstruct these multilayered matrices to better understand the Anglo-Saxon experience of charming.
My doctoral research explored two families of charms, investigating the place of these texts within their manuscripts and in the wider environment of Anglo-Saxon religious and literary life. As such, my thesis represented the beginning of a significant development in the field of Anglo-Saxon charm studies, which has traditionally focused on the relationship between the charms and pre-Christian pagan culture, often at the expense of sensitivity to the texts as Anglo-Saxon artefacts.
My thesis allowed me to build a solid foundation for several new avenues of exploration, beginning with four pieces of work (articles in prestigious journals and chapters in edited collections) that tackled the key issues arising from my thesis.
Firstly, I deepened my exploration of the context-based approach proposed by my thesis with another case study, demonstrating how to capture information about recording, transmission and performance that is lost through the applying of anachronistic standards to the texts.
Secondly, I investigated the boundaries of the charm genre, recommending that charms and prayers be distinguished as different formal types of text which can nevertheless coexist within the same genre. Evidence contained in the manuscript context of these texts supports this recommendation, demonstrating that the interpretations of these texts should take account of the values of their readers and users, not those of the modern-day scholar.
Finally, I considered the “magic” behind the charms, revealing the charmer’s clever manipulation of the audience’s legal and social relationships.
- A performance-based community project which further explores the use and performance of the Anglo-Saxon charms in the medieval world and beyond;
- An article which considers sixteenth-century antiquarian interactions with Anglo-Saxon manuscripts (co-written with Dr Gavin Schwartz-Leeper of the University of Sheffield);
- A monograph - tentatively entitled Translations and Transformations - which investigates responses to Anglo-Saxon magic from the ninth century to the present;
- An innovative online annotated edition of the charms which will enable qualitative and quantitative analysis of both the texts and their wider, manuscript context.
Writing charms: The transmission and performance of charms in Anglo-Saxon England
University of Sheffield, 2007-2011
Dr Philip A. Shaw
University of Leicester
Prof. Susan Fitzmaurice
University of Sheffield
Prof. Joan Beal
University of Sheffield