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."
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'If there be a God, as we most steadfastly must believe,' wrote Roger Hutchinson, '
verily there is a Devil also; and if there be a Devil, there is no surer argument, no
stronger proof, no plainer evidence, that there is a God.' If men could be ...
Above all the immanent Devil was an essential complement to the notion of an
immanent God. The early Hebrews had no need to personify the principle of evil;
they could attribute it to the influence of other rival deities. It was only the triumph
The Devil's solutions were only too closely related to the wretched women's plight
. On many occasions he tempted them to steal, to commit suicide, or to kill their
children so that there would be more food to go round.2 'Extremity of affliction', ...
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LibraryThing ReviewUser Review - kukulaj - LibraryThing
This is a mighty big book! I don't remember when I started it... probably a couple years ago. I would generally read one chapter at a time, then read another book or two before reading the next ... Read full review
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"The real question at issue here is what enables us to read a source ‘against the grain’, and here theory does indeed come in. Theory of whatever kind, whether it is a general set of theses about how ... Read full review
The Magic of the Medieval Church
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