Talk on magical gems at Treadwell’s

The Binbrook pendant, an Anglo-Saxon opal © the Portable Antiquities Scheme

Yesterday evening I spoke at Treadwell’s Bookshop in London on ‘Magical Stones and Gems in Pre-Modern England’, drawing largely on the Peterborough Lapidary (my translation of which was published in October 2016). The text of my paper can be downloaded here. The Peterborough Lapidary, dating from the fifteenth century, is the longest and most comprehensive medieval English treatise on the magical properties (‘virtues’) of stones. My talk focussed on the magical properties ascribed to stones in the Lapidary, including powers of divination and the ability to summon spirits, repel witches and even raise the dead. It is always a pleasure to speak at Treadwell’s and I am grateful to Christina and all the staff and volunteers at what is probably the most interesting bookshop in the country for making this event possible. I was especially delighted to see two of my former students in the audience, and had some fascinating conversations with a variety of people after the talk.

2 replies on “Talk on magical gems at Treadwell’s”

Such a shame that I missed this – ironically because I was giving a talk myself. But so pleased that I can download your paper.

On another esoteric note, one member of my audience last night was able to tell me about a visit she made to a wart charmer when she was 8, taking with her her even younger sister. She said he was a creepy old man whom people said only offered his wart charming service as a way to lure women into his home, which had blankets covering its windows. The woman’s father was so angry that she had visited him that she had a thrashing when he found out. Luckily nothing more sinister happened than that he stroked her wart with a liquid and then with a penny which he said he would then bury. She was amazed that the wart disappeared next day. I think this is a fascinating case of smoke and mirrors. There are a number of plants with latex in their stems which will certainly remove a wart that quickly. It could be that the liquid was this plant juice which the charmer knew would work, and that the penny ritual (which was actually quite commonplace) was used to create impression that something more mystical had taken place.

The pool of people who can provide a first hand account like this is diminishing so I am collecting as many as I can. If you (or anyone else reading this) know of anyone I can interview who visited a charmer of warts or burns/scalds etc.can you please contact me:

Anyway, I look forward to receiving posts/tweets re. future lectures you are giving.

Hello again Francis, forgot to say in previous (and rather rambling) post how much I am getting out of ‘A Medieval Book of Magical Stones’. I am taking notes on medicinal uses in particular.

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