Available at: https://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/theses/1923
Date of Award
MA in History
This thesis investigates syncretic animal symbolism within medieval European occult systems. The major question that this work seeks to answer is: what does the ubiquity and importance of magical animals and animal magic reveal about overarching medieval perceptions of the world? In response, I utilize the emerging subfield of Animal History as a theoretical framework to draw attention to an understudied yet highly relevant aspect of occult theory and practice. This work argues that medieval Europeans lived in a fundamentally “enchanted” world compared to our modern age, where the permeable boundaries between physical and spiritual planes imbued nature and its creatures with intrinsic power. In addition, with the increasingly pervasive influence of Christianity, animals took on supplementary and often negative symbolic dimensions within evolving magical systems, yet retained their sense of power within a new syncretic context. By surveying classical occult inheritance, the pervasive influence of Christian doctrine, the use of animals in medical magic, and their rich symbolic potential within medieval literature, this interdisciplinary work highlights the multifaceted medley of Christian and pagan elements that became intertwined in daily life despite seeming doctrinal opposition. Although further scholarly research has yet to be done, analyzing understandings of a world filled with intrinsic occult power offers a valuable and revealing contrast to an age of increasingly sharpened boundaries between animals, human beings, the cosmic realm, and nature.
Spencer Wood Memorial Award