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Officially, the early medieval Church opposed magic, and the penalties for using it for evil were harsh. But the faithful, including members of the clergy, more often used magic for good. In addition to prayers, they would employ rituals to heal sickness or ensure an abundant harvest.

We in the 21st century would see this as pagan practices coexisting with Christianity. My eighth-century Christian characters fighting pagans in Saxony would be indignant. To them, charms and amulets were white magic, nothing to do with a religion they considered devil worship.

The belief in magic plays an important role in my novels. It was so widespread that I could no more ignore it than I could the role of religion. The following excerpt from The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar reflects the ambiguity of medieval attitudes toward magic.

Gosbert slapped his large thigh. “Ives, why did you insist that this wizard join us? He eats too much.”

“He eats no more than you,” Ives snapped. “And I asked him to join us because he’s clever and knows magic.”

“How much magic?” Gosbert asked.

“Enough,” Deorlaf answered. His hands started to sweat.

“Enough for what?”

“Enough…” Deorlaf hesitated, trying to think of something believable, “enough to charm objects and heal wounds.”

Ives gave a curt nod. “And that is all you would teach Julien? No devil worship?”

“Absolutely no devil worship.” Just a few words in Saxon.

“Very well. You have my permission to teach him.” He turned toward his nephew. “Just because you can charm an object, it doesn’t mean you act like an idiot. You still duck if someone shoots an arrow at you.”

For more about the intersection of pagan and Christian beliefs, see my post at Unusual Historicals.

13th century phylactery

A 13th century phylactery worn for personal protection (Walters Art Museum, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license, via Wikimedia Commons)

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