Magic and Superstition in Europe: A Concise History from Antiquity to the Present (Critical Issues in World and International History)
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Bailey's style of writing is captivating and the results of his archival research are impressive...useful guide for a wide audience and for any folklorists dealing with the topic of magic and superstition in cultural context. -- Svitlana P. Kukharenko, University of Alberta
Michael D. Bailey's Magic and Superstition in Europe: A Concise History from Antiquity to the Present successfully accomplishes the author's expressed aim of convincing readers that magic has always been, and continues to be, an important aspect of European history. Based on an impressive command of the vast (and constantly expanding) scholarship of the history of magic, the book skillfully weaves together seemingly disparate, and chronologically distant, stages in the history of Europe's magical traditions into intrinsically related parts of a coherent, comprehensive narrative. It should be welcomed as a masterful survey of major trends in European intellectual and religious history, explored through the prism of common magical traditions and (especially) learned magical practices and attitudes toward the occult., Magic, Ritual and Witchcraft
An ambitious survey of the history of magic from the ancient world to the modern West. The broad scope of the book gives readers a useful comparative perspective on how different Western societies viewed and categorized magic and superstition, and how magical traditions changed and adapted to different historical circumstances. . . . Bailey . . . shows admirable command and understanding of a wide range of material., The Catholic Historical Review, July 2009
This is a reliable, enjoyable and admirably lucid book from which students and experts alike will benefit., European History Quarterly, Volume 40.1
Michael Bailey has chosen a subject of enormous significance in European civilization―its dark but alluring ‘other.' Magic and superstition have always been essential to the drawing of cultural and social boundaries and to perceptions of backwardness and modernity. Wisely declining to give them abstract definitions, Bailey allows them to appear instead as categories of separation and refusal in many different historical contexts. This is an ambitious but conceptually secure study. -- Stuart Clark, University of Wales Swansea
Bailey lays the groundwork for fruitful classroom discussions., Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture
About the Author
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The disclaimer on this book is that it is NOT a book on magical rituals, which I found to be a breath of fresh air. And if that's what you're looking for, you should read this book anyway.
So if this book isn't the newest "grimoire" on growing sacred garden tomatoes and using astrology to solve your debt woes, what is it? I'd say its closer to being a brief, yet effective historical analysis on witchcraft and its broader purposes, including its place as a sort of pushback or counterweight to establishment religion and its structures and ideologies. It does a much better job at being informative by being objective and placing it into a factual context, thereby allowing the reader to get a better idea of not only its importance and function over time, but what it actually is.
The reason that's important is because its a hard thing to come by with the explosion of "witchcraft" books and information published in the last few years, which are anything but factual. They largely amount to very individualistic new age (re)interpretations, self help books in disguise, and even outright scams, including online "degrees" or "certifications" in Wicca, costing gullible would-be witches thousands of dollars.
The book doesn't aim to be a thorough tome on the subject, but does provide jumping off points for further education. This was deliberate and a smart thing to do. I'd imagine a complete treatise on witchcraft would probably scare off today's witch on the go, but it doesn't make it any less effective.
In fact, a fair objective treatise on witchcraft just might be the thing to save it from what its becoming.
The author is true to his word, in the sense that readers must not expect anything in the way of theory or philosophy, and very little in the way of description (full details of what magic entailed during every period under consideration). The book is more an example of what a history can be in its narrowest and least rewarding sense: a list of names and dates.
Even within these self-imposed limits there are perplexing holes in the account. The author does not include words like `grimoire', and `Zohar', but manages to include mention of Newton, Diderot and Hobbes.
The low point of the book for me is the central section describing the witch trials. The author's attention is devoted entirely to a history of the beliefs and practices of the authorities of the inquisitions, and shirks the effort of attempting a fuller description of the accused and their beliefs and practices, i.e. a history of magic and superstition in Europe.