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Late Middle Ages

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Oldest medieval magicians

The earliest description of medieval magicians comes from France from the 2nd half of the 12th century:

"When the whole court was gathered, they called all the entertainers in the region together.
Whatever his specialty was, everyone wanted to be there.
There is great joy in the room. Everyone announces what they can do.
Who hoops, who jumps and who conjures, "one flute the other makes music..."

Walter van der Vogelweide (c. 1170-1230) writes in one of his verses:

"Many that one sees are like jugglers. handy and practiced tricks and deception.
So one says: Look! What's under this hat?
Now lift him up, there's a hawk with a defiant spirit
Lift it up again and you'll see a proud peacock
Lift him up again and there's a sea monster!"

The following beautiful lines are from the beginning of the 13th century:

"The other, through magic, makes several deceptive images appear
and defy the eyes with the dexterity of his hands."

The church

The church objected to too much entertainment. In 1234, the clergy were even forbidden to show themselves in the company of entertainers. It is therefore amusing to see that many items can be found in accounts of monasteries and clerics of payouts to entertainers. The warnings and prohibitions from the church authorities on this point were apparently necessary. This is also proven by the following remarkable anecdote from an English Benedictine monastery. In 1224, during a huge storm, two Franciscan friars knocked at the gate. Because of their dirty and old clothes, the friar who opened the gate saw them as entertainers. Immediately interested, he informs the prior. The prior welcomed the guests at the gate personally and in a good spirit. He invited them to enter and have some fun. Frightened, the Franciscans indicated with distressed faces that they did not belong to such a people at all! The Benedictines took action and immediately put the Franciscans out of the gate. Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)

From written sources we know of a brother from England named Betson. His late 15th century notes have been preserved and he must have been the 'bad boy' among the friars. He writes:

"Take a thin hair, as from a woman's head, and attach it to a blown out egg. You can now move the egg by holding the other end of the hair in your hand. No one will see the hair because it is so thin. You can even hang the egg in a house, and many people will think that nothing will hold it in the air. Or use a bit of wax to attach one end of a hair to a coin, pull on the other end of the hair and the coin will move and many people will think that this is done by magic".

The first images

All medieval images of magicians appear below. All 15th century because the first one is from about 1420. If you know an image from this period that is not listed here, Jannes would like to know!
We see several magicians at work on this. They wear fairly common clothing for their time and are almost always busy with the cups and ball, the trick we saw the Greeks and Romans doing as well. Often they have a magic stick (with ends) and sometimes a magic pouch. They often perform outside at a table.

Magicians revealed

In Hattem (Holland) we find a 15th century manuscript. It is full of secret recipes to make, for example, a black horse white, to be able to understand the animals or to open all the locks with a magic herb. Although the church was leading, many people still believed in old magical things. One of the recipes reads:

“Hoe een mensche sal verstaen alle gokelie ofte weten diemen doet”
(how you'll understand all the magic)

geheim recept

For this you have to wash Benedict's herb with holy water and sow it on St John's Day (June 24th) between noon and afternoon. After growing you pick it and put it in your mouth... and then;

“Ghij sult al sien hoemen doet”
(you'll see exactly how they do it)

Feel free to try it out during a performance of Jannes! 

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