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Performative Rituals for Conception and Childbirth in England, 900-1500.

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Jones, Peter Murray  ORCID logo
Olsan, Lea T 


This study proposes that performative rituals-that is, verbal and physical acts that reiterate prior uses-enabled medieval women and men to negotiate the dangers and difficulties of conception and childbirth. It analyzes the rituals implicated in charms, prayers, amulets, and prayer rolls and traces the circulation of such rituals within medieval English society. Manuscript records from the Anglo-Saxon period to the late Middle Ages offer evidence of the interaction of oral and written means of communicating these rituals. Certain rituals were long-lived, though variants were introduced over time that reflected changing religious attitudes and the involvement of various interested parties, including local healers, doctors, and medical practitioners, as well as monks, friars, and users of vernacular remedy books. Although many of those who recommended or provided assistance through performative rituals were males, the practices often devolved upon women themselves, and their female companions or attendants.



Ceremonial Behavior, England, Female, Fertilization, History, 15th Century, History, Medieval, Humans, Male, Parturition, Reproductive Behavior

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Bull Hist Med

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Project MUSE
Wellcome Trust (088708/Z/09/Z)
This research was supported by Wellcome Trust grant 088708.