Saturday, 6 October 2007

Magic and Superstition in Europe

On a trip to London last weekend I picked up a book called Magic and Superstition in Europe: A Concise History from Antiquity to the Present by Michael D. Bailey, assistant professor of history at Iowa State University.

I have not read the book yet, but in about 250 pages Bailey attempts to survey the history of concepts like magic, superstition and witchcraft, even including a few references to vampires like this one:

After 1736, officials in the English government and church were effectively enjoined against expresing any credence in the new superstitious belief in witchcraft. Needless to say, widespread belief in witchcraft and other forms of magic did not vanish in England in this year, nor in France in 1862, nor anywhere else in Europe as witch hunting came to an end. In some areas, other beliefs that might explain unexpected death or misfortune arose or took on renewed strength. For example, in the Hungarian region of Transylvania, belief in vampires may well have taken on new life even as central authorities became increasingly skeptical about witchcraft. Debates about vampires circulated around the Habsburg court in Vienna and may have influenced Maria Theresa's mid-eighteenth-century legislation effectively ending witch trials. Mostly, though, belief in witchcraft and magic simply endured, and continued to be expressed in local communities as it always had been. For despite all the sound and fury attached to the great witch hunts of Europe, witch hunts and witch trials were never the way most common people dealt with witchcraft. (p. 174)

The painting on the book cover is The Magic Circle by John William Waterhouse (1886).

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...