Tuesday, May 21, 2013

"They hate me not all." Sorcery and Maleficium in "The Pilgrimage of the Life of Man" (1426)

The Pilgrimage of the Life of Man is John Lydgate's 1426 Middle English translation of Guillaume de Deguileville's Le Pèlerinage de la Vie Humaine (originally written in 1330, followed by Deguileville's own revised redaction in 1355). For more on Deguileville look here: http://pilgrim.grozny.nl/0051.htm, and for more on Lydgate look here: http://www.luminarium.org/medlit/lydgate.htm. For the full text of Lydgate's "Englisht" version of Deguileville's work, look here.

Lydgate's Pilgrimage is of interest due to what it has to say about Sorcery and Maleficium, and, more importantly, its starkly contrasting lack of attention to Witchcraft. Here is a portion of the allegorical meeting between "The Pylgryme" and "Sorcerye":

The Pylgryme:

Than I stood in fful gret doute.
And as I tournede me aboute,
Myd off thys Ile that I off tolde,
And euery party gan beholde,
Myd off thys se, lookyng ech way
How I myhte eskape a-way;
And to-for myn Eye I fond
A Maryssh, or elles a merssh lond,
That peryllous was, and ful profounde,
And off ffylthës ryht habounde.
And thyder-ward as I gan hye
A vekkë Old me dyde espye,
Komyng with an owgly cher;
Vp-on hyr hed, a gret paner;
In hyr ryht hand (as I was war,)
An hand kut off, me sempte she bar.
And, or any hede I took,
She kauhte me with a crokyd hooke.
And as she gan me fastë holde,
I axede hyre what that she wolde,
And make a declaracïoun
Off name and off condycïoun.


Quod she: ‘vnderstond me thus;
My namë ys ‘Bythálassus,’
Wych ys to seynë, (who lyst se)
‘A ffamous pereyl off the se,
In wych (wyth-outen any grace)
Allë ffolk that forby pace,
And allë tho that thorgh me gon,
I make hem perysshen, euerychon.
‘And also ek touchyng my name,
I am callyd (by gret dyffame,
As som ffolkys specefye,)
‘Sortylege or Sorcerye.’
Many folkys thus me calle;
And yet they hatë me nat alle;
I am be-lovyd, bothe ffer and ner.
‘And I ber ek in thys paner
(Who that with-Innë lyst to seke)
Many knyves and hoodys ek,
Dyvers wrytës and ymáges,
Oynementys and herbáges,
Gadryd in constellacïouns;
ffor I obseruë my sesouns,
and make off hem elleccyoun
afftir myne oppynyoun.
And ‘Maleffycë’, folkes alle,
Off ryght, they shuldë me so calle.
I have ful many evel vságes
Off drynkës and off beveráges,
Wherby I makë (her and yonder,)
ffrendys for to parte assonder;
ffor, with fals coniurysouns
And with myn incantacïouns,
And many dyuers enchauntëment,
Sondry folk ben offtë shent.
And, with dyuers crafftys ek,
I kan makë men ful sek;
And somme also ful cursydly
ffor to deyë sodeynly.

So far as I know, no modern English version of this work exists, but it is not that difficult to make out the gist of things. "Sorcery" declares her name to be "Bythálassus ... which is to say, a famous peril of the sea." This is a fairly obscure reference, possibly, to the "five perils in the sea", three of which are the much better known Charybdis, Scylla and the Sirens, with the fourth being Bythálassus and the fifth, possibly, is Circe. If you are curious about this, see Katharine Beatrice Locock's Introduction in her The Pilgrimage of the Life of Man: Text Ed. from 3 fifteenth-century mss. in the British Museum.

But then Bythálassus goes on to say that she is also known as "Sortylege or Sorcerye". Under this guise she is held in "gret dyffame" by some, but she proudly insists that "they hatë me nat alle; I am be-lovyd, bothe ffer and ner." She then goes on to explain that she works by means of "diverse words and images, ointments and herbages." I'm not sure what "gathered in constellations" means precisely, but it is obviously a reference to astrology, as is "for I observe the seasons, and make of them elections after my opinion."

Then she declares: "And ‘Maleffycë’, folkes alle, Off ryght, they shuldë me so calle." She then returns to listing her areas of magical expertise, which include the ability to produce various "drynkës" and  "beveráges", and mastery of "coniurysouns", "incantacïouns", and "enchauntëment". With her great magical skills, she is able to curse her enemies with diseases and even cause them to die suddenly.

The important thing in all of this is that we see that the medieval Christian conception of maleficium was not associated with Witchcraft, but rather with Magic generally, explicitly inclusive of divination, potion making, and incantations. It is also quite significant that a close relationship between maleficium and Heatheny is strongly implied by the way in which the Pilgrim's confrontation with Idolatry, in the immediately preceding section, seamlessly transitions to the encounter with diabolical Sorcery.

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