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Verbotene Kunste: Volksmagie und landlicher Aberglaube in den Dorfgemeinden des Saarraumes (16.-19. Jahrhundert).

"Microanalysis on the village level" (p. 12) is Eva Labouvie's aim in this interpretive study of magic in the Saarland. She therefore draws from anthropological methods to analyze the inner logic of "unspectacular" uses of magic rather than such flashy elitist or "learned" activities as alchemy (p. 16). She has amassed an impressive array of sources to reconstruct in their entirety the range of "forbidden arts" and the reasons why the people of the Saar region resorted to them. However, as her title suggests, she focuses on a period framed by the Reformation and the Enlightenment during which villagers' wielding of supernatural forces came under attack from church and state officials. Consequently, she must also take account of the clash of wills as officials attacked cherished practices and villagers adopted protective strategies to preserve them. This battle takes place in the highly "splintered" Saarland, a fascinating choice of locale given its diverse confessional structure that allows Labouvie to test the relative strength of the old ways in Protestant and Catholic areas (p. 12).

In analyzing the the Saarland's system of magic as a whole, Labouvie explicitly brings a fragmented literature together, including studies of single elements within it (p. 9). She has also combed the archival holdings for visitation records and other official documents that describe the magical beliefs and behaviors in their original context. The detailed stories that she is consequently able to quote extensively in her text repay this hard work, connecting the reader vividly to her subjects in action. Her interpretation of this data is informed by the work of two anthropologists in particular, Clifford Geertz and Marcel Mauss. She explains that she is doing Geertzian "thick description," (pp. 32-38) attempting to understand magic as "neither sin nor crime" but as "optimistic self-protection" (p. 15). She stresses in this context the problem of meaning given to words like magic by the variety of players in her documents, in particular when the "superstitions" of elites represented "legitimate help" for villagers (pp. 76-85).

Mauss provides her with a jumping-off point for constructing tables that measure the flow of magical power into and from people and objects according to "a discernible logic of magical thought and behavior" (p. 51). Armed with this understanding that her subjects were looking for results by operating within a rational system with its own rules and expressions, Labouvie proceeds to survey the particular "repertoire" of magical practices accumulated in the Saarland and the magicians still available to villagers (p. 94). Classifying according to her subjects' point of view, she begins with the healing methods that were so central to the needs of villagers in her period (p. 110). These included the protection of roots like the one seen in a charming print on p. 99 as a dog yanks it from the ground to avoid harming the prospective user.

Labouvie moves on to helping strategies like divining, aimed particularly at locating the buried treasure that so intrigued her subjects in the eighteenth century (pp. 114-124). The protection from "natural and supernatural enemies" afforded by devices like amulets merits a separate section (p. 125). Then follows a survey of "Christian-heathen" (p. 141) magic, both empowered "things" (pp. 66-73) like holy water and salt, bells, crosses, candles, relics, and the host and empowering actions like pilgrimages and festivals. Finally, Labouvie attempts a statistical analysis of over 100 specialists active in her region and of the people who sought them out or used magic for themselves; but she is dependent here on the official records that presumably capture the "best-known" and "successful" practitioners (p. 165). We cannot know who is missing, and Catholic officials provide less usable information than their Protestant counterparts since they attacked magic seriously only in the eighteenth century. It is interesting to see the clergy among the magicians consulted in Catholic regions (pp. 170-175, 192).

In the course of conducting this comprehensive survey, Labouvie discovered that Protestant villagers continued to seek access to magic despite concerted official attacks. They also continued to insist on celebrating festivals like the "hail festivals" with clearly magical intentions. Moreover, they envied their Catholic fellows, seeking out their pilgrimage sites (pp. 147-162, 203-211). Only in the late eighteenth century did a real opportunity emerge for officials to control their desire for access to magic with "enlightened" regulation and schooling (p. 215).

This question of control leads Labouvie directly into a chapter exploring the official attacks on magic in both Protestant and Catholic areas of the Saarland. In so doing she cuts off her survey of the magical arsenal from her analysis of its meaning for villagers. This intrusive presence of officialdom in her discussion of the popular viewpoint is a symptom, I think, of the problem that her information about villagers comes mostly from the elites who deplored their continued use of magic. She does not, however, refer to the work of the last decade or two that seeks to come to terms with the filtered nature of such records. It is particularly surprising in this context that she does not refer to the work of David Sabean in nearby Wurttemburg. Rather, the interplay of elites and villagers captured in official reports shapes the flow of her analysis from practices to official censure and only afterwards to an assessment of why villagers protected their magical system so defiantly.

Labouvie finds many good reasons for this defense of the powers that magic afforded practitioners. In some cases it bolstered actions for better effect, she argues, while in others it provided an ersatz" action for those who had exhausted all other remedies. When severe threat to individual, family, or community loomed, magic could bring order to incipient chaos. Sometimes too it allowed users to put their efforts into other worthwhile activities because it solved the problem of protection (pp. 292-296). Labouvie thus recognizes the "goal-oriented" (p. 51) nature of magic in her analysis, referring as well to stories of happy results that gave users confidence in magic, as did the knowledge that these practices were handed down by ancestors because they were efficacious. Here we see the "meaning of magic as a guaranteed remedy" (pp. 273-74).

In this context, Labouvie pays less attention to the very well researched area of pilgrimage customs and votive activities that one might expect, including no reference to the work of such specialists as Lenz Kriss-Rettenbeck. This is perhaps related to her written source base - official records, recipe books, written amulets and the like. I missed the material record, including objects like amulets and votive offerings, especially paintings, and sites like springs, trees, and heights with magical powers. These surely would have been informative sources for this type of cultural study, with the added advantage of eluding the elite filter. This is not to detract from the richness of Labouvie's data, which helps to make this book an exciting addition to the body of literature on popular culture. I found particularly valuable the possibilities that it offers for comparing the responses of Protestant and Catholic village communities to the post-Reformation attacks on their long-cherished magical arts.
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Author:Lepovitz, Helena Waddy
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1993
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