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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 England

User Review  - Smoothw - Goodreads

Extremely interesting, if a bit long winded, look at magical beliefs in pre-modern, yet post medieval, england. I especially liked the detailed look at witchcraft and astrology, most other sources I have read on that subject just sort of shrug their shoulders at why this stuff actually happened. Read full review


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