Magic and Books

One of the most common elements in magic, whether from folklore or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is the presence of magical books. Often written in symbols and/or code, they hold secrets for the initiated.

I have always been intrigued by this notion, as until recent times, the only literate people in Europe were members of the church. Many secular rulers were illiterate so they depended on old advisers, often clerics, to help them make the right decisions. The use of Latin was to maintain uniformity throughout the Roman church, but it also created a wall between the wise, and the ignorant unlettered. So, how did witches and warlocks learn literacy? Hmmm

One of my favourite authors is Italo Calvino who compiled a large tome of Italian Folk Tales. It contains an intriguing story called the Canary Prince, about a beautiful princess imprisoned by an old woman in a tower, but strangely she had a magical book. She saw a handsome prince dressed in yellow in the forest below, and turned the pages of the book to turn him into a canary. He flew up to her eyrie and she turned the pages back to restore him to human form. This story has echoes of Rapunzel, but it also suggests the power of books, hence that of their owners.

Until the printing press was invented, books were hugely labour intensive, so expensive items. They were valued by the aristocracy and royalty who often owned beautifully illuminated religious texts. The art demonstrated the glory of God and helped inspire piety and charity.

I’d heard of libraries with chained books, but somehow I thought of the tomes being huge, but those that comprise the library in Hereford Cathedral are of moderate size, but each one hand written and bound, so of immense value. Here are some pics of it.

hereford-cathedral-library-bookcase

hereford-cathedral-library-reading-desk

This is an index on the end of the book cases. Not light reading.

hereford-cath-library-index

 

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