Five Medieval Childbirth Charms

2013

Set of five manuscript books
each 3 x 3 inches to 3 x 5 inches
in pouch, 5.5 x 6.5 x .5 inches

Charms written and drawn on accordion folded vellum offcuts, some palimpsest, stitched into soft leather wrappers, each secured with a leather strap, with a special gilded charm of protection in each amulet. Together they fit into a red stitched soft leather pouch with a white leather strap tie closure. Ink, pens, vellum, deer and elk leather wraps and ties, 23K gold leaf.

Five small books of magical instructions are made as if by a resourceful medieval English midwife, perhaps working as a laundress or cook in an abbey and able to secure the materials necessary to prepare these amulets for the pregnant women seeking her help. These charms could be secreted away in a pocket.

The textual source is the late tenth century manuscript Lacnunga, meaning “Remedies.” Marginalia decorations and facsimile Anglo-Saxon calligraphy have been copied from the original manuscript, MS Harley 585, on the British Library Digitised Manuscripts website. The instructions for childbirth were written in a particular order, so they might be “spelled” correctly. The separate books are sequenced by the number of knots made in the linen thread binding, from one to five.

A medieval woman who performed the rituals in these amulets would be seeking strength for herself in the most dangerous time of her life. She would do this by enacting her own power of being stronger than death, stronger than her lord, stronger than her own grief, and nourished by her connection to the divine.