Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Beliefs in Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century England by Keith ThomasAstrology, 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 todays 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 Londons 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.
14. Witchcraft and Magic
Religion and the Decline of Magic, by Keith Thomas (1971)
By Mark Sheaves. Political and religious discord, disease, famine, fire, and death afflicted the lives of the English population between and While alcohol and tobacco provided an escape, Keith Thomas argues that astrology, magic, and religion offered all levels of society a way to make sense of human misfortune. Religion and the Decline of Magic provides a detailed account of how and why people practiced an eclectic systems of belief in early modern England. The transition from Catholicism to Protestantism, which stripped Christianity of its magical power to provide believers protection from misfortune, he argues, explains the boom in magical beliefs in the early sixteenth century. Yet the widespread use of non-religious magic before the Reformation tempers this conclusion. This balanced study offers explanations and arguments while also acknowledging their weaknesses.
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This is a mighty big book! I don't remember when I started it
Welcome sign in sign up. The English historian Keith Thomas has revealed modes of thought and ways of life deeply strange to us, and he illustrates them with precise evidence. In his Religion and the Decline of Magic his subject is early modern England, roughly between and To keep at bay the misfortunes of the world, he followed the prayers framed for him in Latin, a language he did not understand, attributing a mechanical efficiency to their enunciation, heaping them up as if he could build a staircase to a capricious God, whom he hoped, one day, to see face to face. Keith Thomas has made a special study of magic and magical thinking. He sees that they were not quaint deviations from mainstream thought; they were not marginal to the early modern world, but intrinsic to it. Closely allied to religious sentiment and ritual expression, magic survived the Reformation, adapting its form.
This is a mighty big book! I don't remember when I started it I would generally read one chapter at a time, then read another book or two before reading the next Theory of whatever kind, whether it is a general set of theses about how Keith Thomas.