Conjurations

290v, detail

A conjuration is a religious or magic formula presumed capable of preventing or overcoming evil, misfortune and disease. The conjuration is considered to give the person pronouncing it power and dominion over spirits, evil beasts and suchlike and to afford protection from witchcraft. In medieval times conjurations were used in many different connections, both within the Church and outside it.

Exorcisms

Exorcism is the expulsion of the power of evil from human beings and objects. Exorcisms were practised on many occasions in the medieval Church, e.g. as a part of baptism and as the first stage in many benedictions. ‘Solemn exorcism’ was used for expelling evil from persons possessed by demons. Exorcism was never of a private nature but was always performed exclusively by authority of the Church.

Medical practice

Conjurations were much used in medieval medical practice. Usually this meant banishing the evil and demonic forces believed to cause illness. Conjurations were above all used against acute illnesses such as infections of the blood, festering wounds, toothache and earache, malaria and its accompanying spasms, and sudden states of illness, especially epileptic fits.

Form of conjuration

Conjurations usually included a few set phrases: an opening phrase on the lines of ‘I conjure’, an address to the subject of the conjuration, an invocation of a sacred power capable of combating the evil, and a command to the evil to obey and to comply with one’s wishes. The concluding command could be repeated several times. Conjurations could be reinforced by the invocation of persons, things and events considered sacred and, therefore, potent, such as the cross and blood of Christ or the Holy Sepulchre, the Passion story or the Last Judgement. Biblical events and occurrences in Christian legends were considered a source of power by virtue of their holiness. The conjuration could also be reinforced by accompanying acts, such as making the sign of the Cross, laying on hands or expulsion of air, to underly its imperative and binding nature.

Conjurations in Codex Gigas

In Codex Gigas, the spread showing the Heavenly Jerusalem and the Devil is followed by three conjurations and two magic spells (ff. 290v-291r). Possibly these are intended as protection from, and a counterpoint to, the picture of the Devil on the preceding page. The text is written in large characters on a coloured background, just like the confession of sins preceding the pictorial spread.

The first conjuration is against sudden illnesses, and in it evil is addressed in the magic words puton, purpuron, diranx, celmagis, metton, ardon, lardon, asson and catulon, with accompanying signs of the Cross. The next two conjurations are against feverish states.  One of them apostrophises the seven evil sisters of Satan. They are to be expelled from a ‘servant of God’ through the invocation of various events in the life of Christ, as well as angels, the Holy Virgin, John the Baptist, the Evangelists, the Apostles, the prophets and various saints.

In the second formula the evil one, bloodthirsty Dino, who has 150 talons, is adjured and commanded not to harm his victim but to ‘sleep like a yearling lamb’. Two of the magic spells concern theft. This type is known from both Jewish and Christian magic. One prescribes how to catch a thief with the aid of a medium – ‘a virgin unblemished youth’. His nails are to be anointed with thirteen drops of oil and he will then espy the thief in the glistening oil. The other informs us that, in order to see in a dream ‘the theft which has happened’, one must hold a letter in one’s left hand, invoke God by His holy name, as well as the archangels, and conjure the evil spirits to go home and sleep.