Magical Women
: A comparative study of magic in the Mabinogion with Anglo-Saxon Archaeology

  • Olivia Morris-Soper

Student thesis: Master's ThesisMaster of Philosophy (MPhil)


This dissertation deals with magical women in the Middle Welsh collection of stories, commonly known as The Mabinogion. It pays particular attention to the tools these women are associated with, including magical rings, magical stones and herbal ointment. This dissertation compares these Welsh Arthurian magical women with earlier Anglo-Saxon cunning women to provide a broader context on female magic. The Anglo-Saxon cunning women are thought to be established magical professionals who specialised in healing magic. They can be recognised in the archaeological record based on their amuletic toolkits. The association of Anglo-Saxon cunning women with specific tools makes it possible to compare these tools with the magical tools found in Middle Welsh literature. The similarities between the two reveal common trends in medieval magic regarding gendered magic and tool use. This dissertation aims to contribute to a deeper understanding of magical women and the broader traditions of magical objects and gendered practice in the early medieval period. In order to place the cunning women and the magical women of the Mabinogion in the wider context of magical beliefs and practices in the medieval period, French Arthurian literature and Classical material will also briefly be considered.
This dissertation thus employs a multi-disciplinary approach to shed new light on depictions of female magic. Through archaeological analysis and consideration of cunning women and detailed investigation into Welsh Arthurian magical women, I hope to show similarities in tool use and magical status among Anglo-Saxon practices and medieval Welsh magic. These connections, when evident, represent a broader collection of established magical conventions spanning continental Europe at the time. There are, of course, differences between the archaeological evidence and later literary sources, and consideration of the continuities and discontinuities will provide insight into female magic of the early medieval period.
Date of Award27 Sept 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bristol
SupervisorRonald E Hutton (Supervisor) & Ad Putter (Supervisor)

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