Medieval manuals of astrological image magic – the Latin ‘Picatrix’ and many Hermetic treatises, for example – formed a fluid phenomenon which medieval practitioners found difficult to classify. The manuals stood on the borders between the licit and the illicit, and on the boundaries of sciences, arts, and idolatry. Instructions that summon angels or spirits in images or in decapitated heads, situate the objects as practical borders between spirit and matter, between this world and the next. This paper analyses different instances in which invisible entities of other worlds are described in the Latin manuals of image magic produced in 1100-1500 as appearing in talismans and other magical instruments.
Among the 500-odd tales in the 14th-century zhiguai (anomaly tales) collection Huhai Xinwen Yijian Xuzhi are a great many accounts of supernatural contacts. Unusually prominent within these is the character hu 忽. In the narrative this denotes suddenness and change, usually unexpected. As these tales involve anomalous experiences, this change marks a threshold and a boundary between the mundane and the strange, usually supernatural. Analysis of the repetitive usage of this key coding element provides a sketch map of the contours of the strange, a map that, as this paper demonstrates, is distinctive to the 13th and 14th centuries.