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Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Beliefs in Sixteenth and Seventeenth-Century England (Penguin History) Paperback – January 1, 2003
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The vast majority of the book focuses on the epic battle waged between religion and magic. Thomas recounts attempts by the medieval Church in England to control the blurred line between religion and magic. The medieval Church's accommodation with magic gave it the image of possessing "a vast reservoir of magical power." (p. 51) He argues with persuasion that Church officials fought against magic with one hand, while accommodating--perhaps exploiting--magic with the other.
Thomas details with vigor Protestant attempts to stamp out magic. The Reformers' opposition to magic was proportional to their degree of antagonism toward the medieval Church. The Anglicans' affinity for Catholic ritual left room for magic. Conversely, Protestants attacked Catholicism just as ardently as they assaulted magic. They relegated sacraments, demystified clerical powers, and eliminated popular festivals. Protestant efforts not only chipped away at magic's appeal; they also created a new concept of religion: one centered on faith rather than practices (p.88)--a feat whose significance was not lost on Thomas.Read more ›
So your "helpful" votes are greatly appreciated. A short review is not necessarily a bad review if it leads you to a fascinating book. In this review, I have just noted the general theme. Thanks
"Religion and the Decline of Magic" is full of insights that help us understand the appeal of magic and our intellectual heritage. Why isn't magic as popular today as religion? What happened?
In his massive study, Keith Thomas says of the occult beliefs in astrology, witchcraft, magical healing, divination, ancient prophecies, ghosts, and fairies that:
"In offering an explanation for misfortune, and a means of redress at times of adversity, they seemed to be discharging a role very close to that of the established Church and its rivals. Sometimes they were parasitic upon Christian teaching; sometimes they were in sharp rivalry to it."
I won't attempt a detailed review, but this book is highly recommended as background for the emergence of Mormonism (not the subject of Thomas' book, however). But Joseph Smith's claims clearly had a genealogy going back to 16th century Europe.
Paul Slack in "History Today" (1981) said: "Few historians have that ability to surprise and convince with unfailing regularity, to say something absolutely original and make it seem self-evident. That is why "Religion and the Decline of Magic" remains a commanding work, one of the three or four outstanding pieces of historical writing to have appeared in the last thirty years."
For a detailed review, read the other reviewer's excellent posting. I would only add that Thomas' book should have been given five stars. What a praiseworthy work of scholarship!
Thomas's subject is--as the title proclaims--the prevalence of and subsequent decline in magical beliefs in the Great Britain in the 16th and 17th centuries. He surveys magic in a myriad of forms: magical elements within religious practice, village wizards and cunning men, astrology, prophecies, and--in the most famous and frequently referred to section--witches. My favorite sections were those dealing with astrology and witchcraft, as well as the beginning chapter dealing with "nasty, brutish, and short" quality of life at the time in England. The book is filled to the brim with fascinating bits of information, such as the fact that most of the caloric intake of men, women, and even children at the time came from beer, and that at sea an allotment of a gallon of beer a day was made! The inescapable conclusion was that Britain was a nation of alcoholics.
I find it difficult to overpraise this book. Since reading it during the summer, I have found dozens of references to it in various works, and always with the highest praise attached. One of the blurbs on the back of the beautiful new paperback edition recently put out by Oxford University Press claims that it is one of the two or three greatest works of history in the past thirty years, and I have no reason to doubt it.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This is a scholarly work, not lightweight entertainment. That being said, the book is well written and quite interesting. Read morePublished 36 minutes ago by Jeanne Tassotto
Interesting and detailed view of how everyday life was influenced and driven by forces that have been lost to modern ways.Published 11 days ago by Derek
very well researched, subject sounded interesting but I wasn't prepared for the depth of this study, parts were very interesting for nonacademic reader but mostly it is for... Read morePublished 22 days ago by lovesdogs
Clearly written by a scholar/researcher so don't pick it up if you're looking for a fast-paced grab-attention kind of read.Published 1 month ago by sbw
If half stars were available, I'd probably add another half for this book. I have two complaints about the book, and fixing one would have helped the other. Read morePublished 2 months ago by J. Harshbarger
Furnished info that I had never really thought about in this context. Reading this as a Catholic, it opened my eyes to the Reformation and the way people looked at religion and... Read morePublished 3 months ago by PACS Ed