Religion and the decline of magic: studies in popular beliefs in sixteenth and seventeenth century England
Astrology, witchcraft, magical healing, divination, ancient prophecies, ghosts, and fairies were taken very seriously by people at all social and economic levels in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England. Helplessness in the face of disease and human disaster helped to perpetuate this belief in magic and the supernatural. As Keith Thomas shows, England during these years resembled in many ways today's "underdeveloped areas." The English population was exceedingly liable to pain, sickness, and premature death; many were illiterate; epidemics such as the bubonic plague plowed through English towns, at times cutting the number of London's inhabitants by a sixth; fire was a constant threat; the food supply was precarious; and for most diseases there was no effective medical remedy. In this fascinating and detailed book, Keith Thomas shows how magic, like the medieval Church, offered an explanation for misfortune and a means of redress in times of adversity. The supernatural thus had its own practical utility in daily life. Some forms of magic were challenged by the Protestant Reformation, but only with the increased search for scientific explanation of the universe did the English people begin to abandon their recourse to the supernatural. Science and technology have made us less vulnerable to some of the hazards which confronted the people of the past. Yet Religion and the Decline of Magic concludes that "if magic is defined as the employment of ineffective techniques to allay anxiety when effective ones are not available, then we must recognize that no society will ever be free from it."
79 pages matching Robert in this book
Results 1-3 of 79
What people are saying - Write a review
A hugely important book which I have just started reading again after a gap of 10 years not just for its oft cited historical and social importance in filling in what had hitherto been gaps in the study of early modern English history, but because, possibly more than any other book I have ever read in any area of the humanities, it shows how, as Blake once wrote, 'man must and will have religion'. It shows how the human mind, especially if untempered by any kind of scientific objectivity, will seek to create reality from what little it can work out.
Numerous dark corners and shibboleths are exposed: we have the petty vendettas and realpolitik which informed much of the motivation behind the witch-hunting period; the civil war solution of 'weapon salve', where the victim of a gunshot wound can be cured of their wound if the weapon is located and balm applied to it. (This was at a time when West Europeans were conquering the 'savages' of the New World, incidentally).
So whilst this book is considered a classic in its field and has earned numerous awards through the years, I believe it is actually a far more important book than it has been given credit for. One of the most important books I have ever read, like the works of Joyce, of Henry Chadwick and Erich Auerbach, even of Dante, it stays with you once you have read it. It colours everything after because it shows you, with copious documentary evidence, the magic-inclined workings of the untutored human mind. And that, unfortunately, we are increasingly seeing around us again, are we not?
Review: Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Beliefs in Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century EnglandUser Review - PJ Cadavori - Goodreads
This is a very scholarly book of about 1000 pages, but don't let that put you off. Granted, it's not the sort of light entertainment that can justify cover to cover reading, but rather is split into ... Read full review
The Magic of the Medieval Church
20 other sections not shown