MEDV3310 Magic and the Supernatural in the Middle Ages

Reading List
  • Taught: Semester 2 View timetable
  • Credits: 20
  • Class Size: 42
  • Module Manager: Sunny Harrison
  • Email:
  • Pre-Requisite Qualifications: Open to all level 2 and level 3 students
  • This Module is approved as a Discovery Module

Discovery module overview

Module Summary

Module Summary

It is often thought that the Middle Ages was a time when the Church persecuted witches and suppressed magical beliefs, but in fact this was something that happened primarily during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
This module focuses on belief in magic and the supernatural before the end of the fifteenth century when there was a very close relationship between accepted (licit) practices which were permitted by the Church, and illicit ones which were not. The boundary between licit and illicit changed throughout the period as theologians debated key concepts such as what was 'natural', 'demonic', 'divine', 'miraculous' or 'marvellous', and as political and ideological boundaries shifted.
This module will explore these debates and shifts at all levels of society, using a wide range of evidence to show how belief in the supernatural was integral to medieval daily life, closely related to the passage of the seasons and the surrounding landscape, and profoundly affecting rituals of birth and death, healthcare practices, attitudes towards non-Christians, intellectual and technical endeavour, and personal and communal identity during one's lifetime and beyond.


To develop students' skills in understanding different debates and theories, constructing arguments in both written and oral form, and interpreting primary evidence through analysis of the changing forms and functions of magic and the supernatural in medieval Europe.


Forms of magic and supernatural power; death and the afterlife; ghosts; the devil and demons; healing; beliefs about non-Christians; Church's response to magic; alchemy.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of the module students should be able to:

  • - Demonstrate that they can express opinion and develop an argument in both oral and written expression, both individually and as a team.
  • - Identify and discuss a wide range of primary sources for medieval magic and the supernatural, including visual, material, archaeological, literary and documental forms of historical evidence.
  • - Analyse the debates of historians about magic and the supernatural, understanding how their arguments are constructed based on the primary sources they use and their theoretical aproach.
  • - Evaluate the forms and functions of magic and the supernatural in medieval society; understand the differences between licit and illicit beliefs and practices and the underlying theology of these beliefs; and assess the various responses of the Church to magic, including the high level of syncretism in medieval religion.

Skills Outcomes

  • - Textual analysis of primary and secondary sources.
  • - Verbal fluency in constructing a logical and coherent argument.
  • - Research skills.
  • - Participation in class discussions.
  • - Team-working and presentation skills.
  • - Analysis of images and texts.

Assessment and teaching

Assessment and teaching


Assesment type Notes % of formal assesment
Essay 2,000 words to be submitted by 12 noon on Monday of teaching week 7 40
Essay 2,000 words to be submitted by 12 noon on Monday of revision week 40
Presentation Group presentation 10
Report Individual report on presentation 10
Total percentages (Assessment Coursework) 100

Private Study

53 hours reading
53 hours seminar preparation
72 hours on the preparation and writing of assessments of which: 29 hours on essay one, 29 hours on essay two, 14 hours (for each individual) on the group presentation and its related report

Progress Monitoring

  • - Participation in class discussions.
  • - Assessment of mid-semester written assignment.

Teaching methods

Delivery type Number Length hours Student hours
Lecture 11 1 11
Seminar 11 1 11
Private Study Hours 178
Total Contact Hours 22
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits) 200

Reading List

Reading List
A link to the Library reading list area is now available from the Web Module Catalogue

Back to Discovery Themes