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Klaassen (2014 Congress)

Frank Klaassen
(University of Saskatchewan)
“The Visual Trappings of Magic:  McGill University, Special Collections, MCG 117”

Abstract of Paper Presented at the 49th International Congress on Medieval Studies (Kalamazoo, May 2014)
Session on “Visualizing Learned Magic and Popular Magic through Talismans, Images, and Objects”
Co-sponsored by the Societas Magica and the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence
Organized by David Porreca (University of Waterloo)
2014 Congress Accomplished

[First published on our first website on 19 March 2014]

McGill MSG 177 was written by Fabian Humfrey in 1576.  By that time he must have been a man of mature years as he had joined the merchant’s guild in Oxford in 1550.  The modern cataloguer of the manuscript presumed the contents to be magic, due to its curious figures and the fact that most of its 400 folios are written in cipher.  In fact, since the overwhelming majority of its pages and figures contain prayers and religious formulae, one might reasonably assume it to be a relative of the Ars notoria.  Instead, the work is a complex but straightforward work of affective piety and betrays no overtly Roman inclinations that might explain the cipher.  So the work remains curious.

I will describe the text, the appearance of the manuscript, and the ciphers and relate these to similar examples in the tradition of ritual magic.  I will also attempt to locate the text within the traditions of late medieval devotion as well as within the shifting religious world of Elizabethan England.  Finally, I will try to puzzle out why Humfrey took such trouble to write it all in cypher.

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  1. […] Frank Klaasen (Department of History, University of Sasketchewan), “The Visual Trappings of Magic:  McGill University, Special Collections, MCG 117″ Abstract / Klaassen (2014 Congress) […]