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The Liturgy of 'Charms' in Anglo-Saxon England

Arthur, Ciaran (2016) The Liturgy of 'Charms' in Anglo-Saxon England. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (KAR id:54689)

Language: English
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This thesis undertakes a re-evaluation of the concept of ‘charms’ in Anglo-Saxon culture, and reconsiders three core issues that lie at the heart of this genre: the definition of galdor as ‘charm’; the manuscript contexts of rituals that have been included in this genre; and the phenomenon of ‘gibberish’ writing which is used as a defining characteristic of ‘charms’. The thesis investigates the different meanings of galdor from the entire corpus of Old English before reconsidering its meaning in ritual texts. It then explores the liturgical nature of these seemingly unorthodox rituals, and argues that ‘charms’ were understood to be part of the Anglo-Saxon liturgy. The manuscript contexts of ‘charms’ indicate that Anglo-Saxon scribes did not distinguish between these rituals and other liturgical texts, and I take a case study of one manuscript to demonstrate this. Some rituals from the Vitellius Psalter have been included in editions of ‘charms’, and this case study reinterprets these texts as components of a liturgical collection. The Vitellius Psalter also reveals intertextual relationships between ‘gibberish’ writing in some of its rituals and exercises in encryption, suggesting that several texts encode meaning in this manuscript. The findings of this case study are then developed to reconsider the phenomenon of ‘gibberish’ writing that is used as a defining characteristic of ‘charms’, and it offers an alternative way of reading abstract letter sequences in ritual texts according to Patristic philosophies of language. This study does not aim to analyse every ritual that has been included in the corpus of ‘charms’ but each chapter will take case studies from a range of manuscripts that are representative of the genre and its sub-categories. The thesis challenges the notion that there was any such thing as an Anglo-Saxon ‘charm’, and it offers alternative interpretations of these rituals as liturgical rites and coded texts.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: James, Sarah
Thesis advisor: Gittos, Helen
Uncontrolled keywords: Medieval; Anglo-Saxon; Liturgy; Charms; Manuscripts;
Subjects: P Language and Literature
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of English
Funders: Arts and Humanities Research Council (
Depositing User: Users 1 not found.
Date Deposited: 29 Mar 2016 13:00 UTC
Last Modified: 09 Dec 2022 03:28 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
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