Among the library's collection of rare Bibles and Christian devotional texts are a series of manuscripts that would have scandalized the religious establishment. These texts deal with magic -- from casting charms to conjuring spirits -- and the Newberry is asking for help translating and transcribing them. Digital scans of three magical manuscripts are accessible through Transcribing Faith, an online portal that functions much like Wikipedia. Anyone with a working knowledge of Latin or English is invited to peruse the documents and contribute translations, transcriptions, and corrections to other users' work.[...]
The three manuscripts now available online reflect the varied and complex ways that magic fit into the broader religious landscape of a shifting and modernizing West. The 17th-century Book of Magical Charms contains instructions on a range of magical practices -- "from speaking with spirits to cheating at dice," but also includes Latin prayers and litanies that align with mainstream religious practices. [...] "Both protestant and Catholic churches tried very hard to make sure that nobody would make a manuscript like this," he says. "They didn't like magic. They were very suspicious of it. They tried to do everything they could to stamp it out. Yet we have this manuscript, which is a nice piece of evidence that despite all of that effort to make sure people weren't doing magic, people still continued to do it." [...]
Reading through users' translations has reminded him of some of the manuscripts' more fascinating and bizarre content. The Book of Magical Charms, for instance, proffers a rather unusual method for alleviating a toothache. "One of the remedies is finding a dead man's tooth, which apparently was just available in 17th-century England," Fletcher said.