Superstition or Sanctioned Solemnities? Representations of Rituals in Anglo-Saxon Literature

Madeline Barnes



Anglo-Saxon literature expresses a period of transition between the traditions of the pagan, tribal peoples of Britain and early medieval Christianity. This literature, therefore, contains an amalgamation of pagan and Christian rituals, many of which are surprisingly similar on several levels. Modern readers often attempt to label the rituals as magical or religious, but this paper argues that, rather than defining the rituals according to modern terms, the labels that the authors give to the rituals should be examined. The survey of literature is examined through comparison of rituals that were deemed magical or Christian by the authors, primarily found in penitentials and saint's legends. The analysis reveals insights into the authors' views of their own religions and what makes rituals viable and sanctified as well as their evaluations of the rituals of "others."


Anglo-Saxon; medieval; magic; ritual; religion

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