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apotropaic (adj.):  Having or reputed to have the power of averting evil influence or ill luck.[1]

I found this great word in Magistra et Mater’s report on a recent IHR seminar by Annette Kehnel, here. I recommend it to you (the post that is, not just the word) together with many other interesting posts to be found there.

In this report Magistra discusses Annette’s paper which examined the role of humility/humiliation in ritual behaviour during medieval royal inaugurations. I was particularly struck by the suggested apotropaic use of such rituals in political display and the way in which looking at ritual this way seems to demand a collapse of the humility/humiliation distinction. Presumably the voluntary humiliation of a public figure, such as in the cited example of kings of Ulster reportedly mating with a white mare,[2] would, in this light, be part of what protects him/her from later criticisms of pride, of acting without church/community/peer authorization, and so forth. But is humbling oneself, for instance, by bowing the head before an archbishop, really the same as being humiliated?

What do you think? Are they the same or different? And does it matter for the proposed evil-averting intention of the ritual?

[1] Oxford English Dictionary <; [accessed 28 February 2013].
[2]Warning! Gerald of Wales reference! There may be serious questions over whether such ritual activity can or should be taken as given… There is also the question of whether, assuming Gerald’s report stands, we should also assume such behaviour was considered humiliating in an early medieval Irish context… But I digress.

Here’s a meeting that I shall be attending, although not, at this stage, presenting at, owing to the possibly ambitious list of things to which I’m already committed over the next three or four months. (What; me, bite off more than I can chew? Never!) The line up looks superb, so I’m very much looking forward to listening and absorbing. Registration is now open, and more details are here:

Ritual, State & Lordship

The conference will take place on 16 July 2013 at the New College of the Humanities, London, between 0900 and 1830. Registration cost: £5 for students/£10 for salaried attendees, to be paid on the day. In order to register please email the organisers at no later than 7 July.

Organisers: Lars Kjær (NCH), Levi Roach (Exeter), Sophie Ambler (KCL)

Bjorn Weiler (Aberystwyth): Introductory Remarks

Charles Insley (Manchester): Ottonians with Pipe Rolls?  Kingship and Symbolic Action in the Kingdom of the English

Levi Roach (Exeter): Full of Sound and Theory Signifying Nothing? Social Anthropology and the “Late Anglo-Saxon State”

Benjamin Wild (Sherborne): King Henry III and the Power of Aesthetics: Art & Ceremony in Thirteenth-Century England

Sophie Ambler (KCL): Making and Re-Making the King: the Ritual power of the Archbishop of Canterbury in Thirteenth-Century England

Christopher Tilley (KCL): “Communities of the Mind”: Ritual and Perception of Collective Political Identity in Thirteenth-Century England

Kenneth Duggan (KCL): The Ritualistic Importance of Gallows in England in the High Middle Ages

Lars Kjær (NCH): Hunting, Sociability and the Experience of Royal Favour

Nicholas Vincent (UEA): Concluding Remarks

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I teach and research at the Centre for Medieval & Renaissance Studies in the School of Philosophical, Historial and International Studies, Monash University (Australia). Views expressed here are my own and not representative of the CMRS, SOPHIS or Monash.

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