As mentioned in a previous blog post, the Middleham Jewel contained the word ‘Ananizapta’, which was a charm against epilepsy, also known as ‘the falling sickness’ or ‘the sacred disease’ by various parties.
One manuscript where the charm is found suggests that the meaning of the word is “May the antidote of the Nazarene prevail over death by poison! May the Trinity sanctify food and drink! Amen”, while, according to Claude Lecouteux, another manuscript defines it as “May the bitterness of the Nazarene’s death remove us from the verdict of eternal damnation, by the power of the Father, for a harsher persecution,” which is based on the idea that the word is an acronym for Ancient Greek.
Whatever the true meaning of the word inscribed on the talisman, the rest of its construction can be traced back to the rules laid down in Middle Eastern books of ‘Natural Magic’ that made their way to Europe after the end of the Crusades. With these texts came ideas dating back to the Classical world that metals, stones and plants were infused by the power of various planets, which could give them powers to affect magical cures if they were properly calibrated.
The Renaissance thinker Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, whose ‘Three Books of Occult Philosophy’ collated a large amount of medieval-classical natural magic, along with the new Humanistic Kabbalah coming out of Italy, wrote that Gold was a metal associated with the Sun, “by reason of its splendour, and its receiving that from the Sun which makes it cordial”. Solar energy, as in the sun stone as well as gold, was thought to “comfort the brain.”
The legendary medieval thinker Albertus Magnus, a 13th century Dominican friar, wrote about the power of stones and magical metals in his book, De Mineralibus: “The first teachers and professors of natural philosophy counselled the carving of gems and metallic images with resemblance to the heavenly bodies, by observing the movements when the celestial force was proven to be strongest for that image, for example when many of the celestial virtues were blended together in it, and they performed wonders with these images…”
The appearance of the Sapphire in the amulet is another attempt to harness astrological elements, this time of the planet Venus. Astrological influences would be mixed to give extra potency to magico-medical charms like the word Ananizapta, as Agrippa says: “there results a certain common form, endowed with many gifts of the stars: as in the honey of bees, that which is gathered out of the juice of innumerable flowers and brought into one form… as we see sometimes stones, and divers bodies to be by a certain natural power conglutinated and united that they seem to be wholly one thing…”
The sapphire would have been especially useful in an amulet drawing down the power of the Sun, since Agrippa’s work (which, again, simply collated the thinking of far older magical writers who would have most definitely been active during the time the Middleham Jewel was being constructed) held that Venus, “is called Lucifera” because she brings the light of the Sun to humankind. She was also seen by Agrippa as as Mary-like figure, bringing love and healing to mankind: a view that would certainly mesh with the purported intentions of the amulet.
The final element would have been the question of consecration. The use of Natural Magic, represented in the Middleham Jewel, would have been a slightly hot topic during the 15th century. Despite the fact that nearly every leech book (cheaply produced books of remedies which were popular through the medieval period) would have contained some of the information here: certainly the planetary characteristics of certain plants and minerals, along with various prayers and magical words for certain illnesses, religious authorities often felt that the use of Natural Magic for healing bordered on making demands of God.
Authorities vacillated between the idea that Natural Magic was permissible, since even St. Augustine had endorsed the use of Astrology for it’s purely passive qualities, and feeling that the use of Astrologically charged figures or amulets stepped over the line to sorcery. Many rings were considered sorcery simply for existing. One ring listed in the Hamburg Manuscript of the Middle Eastern magical book The Picatrix describes a powerful magical effect which can be reached without any ritual, just to be carved “at Saturn’s hour on a Saturday when the Moon is in Capricorn…” and it is effective so long as, “one will refrain, when wearing it, from eating meat in which there is a looseness and from entering dark places…”
It’s probable that a similar injunction was put on the owner of the Middleham Jewel.
The question stands though: was there some sort of ritual conjuration or magical ceremony said over the Middleham Jewel to give it magico-medical efficacy? Some books of the time would certainly have said so, with the hyper-ceremonial Books of Solomon (of which there are five, and I’ll confess not being able to remember which is which right now) contains a long and very involved oration to be said over a magical talisman, beginning, “O Adonai most powerful, El most strong, Agla most holy, on might righteous, the Aleph and the Tau, the beginning and the End… that these Pentacles may be consecrated by Thy power…”