8.5.17

Magic, Ancient and Modern

Edward Bever. Magic in the Modern World: Strategies of Repression and Legitimization. Penn State Press (9 May)

From the publisher's website: This collection of essays considers the place of magic in the modern world first by exploring the ways in which modernity has been defined in explicit opposition to magic and superstition, and then by illuminating how modern proponents of magic have worked to legitimise their practices through an overt embrace of evolving forms such as esotericism and supernaturalism. Taking a two-track approach, this book explores the complex dynamics concerning the construction of the modern self and its relation to the modern preoccupation with magic. 

Essays examine how modern rational consciousness is generated and maintained and the ways in which proponents of both magical and scientific traditions rationalise evidence to fit with accepted orthodoxy. This book also explores how people unsatisfied with the norms of modern subjectivity embrace various forms of magic, and the methods these modern practitioners use to legitimate magic in the modern world. Magic in the Modern World provides a compelling assessment of magic from the early modern period to today and shows how, despite the dominant culture's emphatic denial of its validity, older forms of magic persist and develop while new forms of magic continue to emerge.

Richard Kieckhefer. Hazards of the Dark Arts: Advice for Medieval Princes on Witchcraft and Magic Penn State Press (15 May 2017)

This volume comprises English translations of two fundamentally important texts on magic and witchcraft in the fifteenth century: Johannes Hartlieb's Book of All Forbidden Arts and Ulrich Molitoris's On Witches and Pythonesses. Written by laymen and aimed at secular authorities, these works advocated that town leaders and royalty alike should vigorously uproot and prosecute practitioners of witchcraft and magic. Though inquisitors and theologians promulgated the witch trials of late medieval times, lay rulers saw the prosecutions through. But local officials, princes, and kings could be unreliable; some were sceptical about the reality and danger of witchcraft, while others dabbled in the occult themselves. 

Borrowing from theological and secular sources, Hartlieb and Molitoris agitated against this order in favour of zealously persecuting occultists. Organised as a survey of the seven occult arts, Hartlieb s text is a systematic treatise on the dangers of superstition and magic. Molitoris's text presents a dialogue on the activities of witches, including vengeful sorcery, the transformation of humans into animals, and fornication with the devil. Taken together, these tracts show that laymen exerted significant influence on ridding society of their imagined threat.