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Witchcraft and Communities of Wonder: From Gervase of Tilbury to the Malleus Maleficarum

A public lecture hosted by The University of Western Australia


Image: Hans Baldung Grien, Le Sabbat des sorcières, Hans Baldung Grien, gravure sur bois, 1508–10, Wikimedia Commons

Date: Wednesday 24 August 2022
Time: 7:00pm AWST
Venue: Arts Lecture Room 8 (160), First Floor Arts Building, The University of Western Australia
Enquiries: marina.gerzic@uwa.edu.au

Download a copy of the poster


‘Witchcraft and Communities of Wonder’ takes as its initial focus Gervase of Tilbury’s encyclopaedic Otia Imperialia (c. 1214), a collection of marvellous deeds and objects often regarded as an important transitional moment in medieval wonder-writing, even the birth of a new scientifically-minded scepticism. I suggest, however, that Gervase is not so much a proto-Enlightenment sceptic as an investigator concerned with narrative credibility, distinguishing between those true events and occurrences which might properly inspire wonder (as a historical response) and those which are false and fantastical. The most developed and complex pursuit of this distinction appears in Gervase’s accounts of the flights of fairies, heretics, and witches, in which the investigator becomes inquisitor also. The paper locates Gervase’s treatment of this content in relation to a long tradition concerned with supernatural belief and the limits of wonder, dating from the eleventh-century Canon Episcopi to the early modern witch-theories encapsulated in the Malleus Maleficarum. In doing so, it seeks to shed light on the medieval history of early modern witch-belief, a context in which both scepticism and belief were culturally and politically positioned, and wonder operated as a politically and culturally determined response.


Victoria Flood is Associate Professor in the Department of English at the University of Birmingham. She has published widely on medieval romance, and the relationship between magic and geographical and political imaginings in the languages of medieval Britain. Her first monograph, Prophecy, Politics and Place in Medieval England, a comparative study of the uses of prophecy in England, Wales and Scotland, appeared in 2016. Her second monograph, Fantastic Histories, on medieval fairy belief and history-writing, is forthcoming with Manchester University Press.  

This public lecture is co-sponsored the ARC Centre for Excellence for the History of Emotions, Medieval and Early Modern Studies at The University of Western Australia, and Perth Medieval and Renaissance Group, Inc.