Witchcraft, astrology, divination and every kind of popular magic flourished in England during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, from the belief that a blessed amulet could prevent the assaults of the Devil to the use of the same charms to recover stolen goods. At the same time the Protestant Reformation attempted to take the magic out of religion, and scientists were developing new explanations of the universe. Keith Thomas's classic analysis of beliefs held on every level of English society begins with the collapse of the medieval Church and ends with the changing intellectual atmosphere around 1700, when science and rationalism began to challenge the older systems of belief.
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(198mm x 129mm x 37mm)
Penguin Books Ltd
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
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UK Kirkus Review »
A fascinating study of witchcraft, astrology and every kind of popular magic that flourished in 16th- and 17th-century England. (Kirkus UK)
US Kirkus Review » The subject of this volume concentrates upon the popular beliefs merging magic with true religion in 16th and 17th century England. Although astrology, witchcraft, ghosts, fairies, and the like are not taken seriously by mature people today, cults such as these held an important place in the minds of both ignorant and sophisticated people in the period between the Reformation and the Enlightenment. Their central function is to be found in the explanations of, and the relief from, misfortunes, tragedies, afflictions, and disasters that were then the common lot of most men. At times these explanations drew heavily upon Christian sources and paralleled the solicitude offered by the Church; but other, non-Christian elements were also present and were held in Opposition to Church teachings. The depth of need for such rationalizations of human suffering is made vividly clear by the author's first chapter on the human environment in England in the two centuries under study. Each of the main forms of what would now be regarded as "superstition" is examined in detail. A curious but significant aspect of the study is the part played by judicial records as a source of information about these beliefs and the behavior they caused - or were supposed to cause. This is a fascinating - if humiliating - book. Reading it is an excursion into ancestral closets crammed with all sorts of skeletal superstitions and some of the spiritual tenets that consorted with them. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - Keith Thomas
Keith Thomas is a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. He was formerly President of Corpus Christi College and, before that, Professor of Modern History and Fellow of St John's College. RELIGION AND DECLINE OF MAGIC, his first book, won one of the two Wolfson Literary Awards for History in 1972. He was knighted in 1988 for services to the study of history.