Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Beliefs in Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century England
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In closing, it is salutary to recall that intellectual history is not just the history of persuasion. It’s been some time since our field was interested only in the propositional content of the books of a handful of elite European men, even if our progress here has admittedly been rather slow. The interests, and opportunities, of intellectual history are today far broader. Thomas heavily footnotes his sources, and this is wonderful. Additionally, he disabuses or challenges the beliefs we have today about some of the beliefs current in Tudor or Stuart times. This is particularly helpful when considering facts about Shakespeare, witches, and people in general. The final point goes to the supposed stagnation of arguments against magic across multiple centuries. While it’s indeed the case that most basic arguments against, say, astrology, were by the 1700s many centuries old, to dismiss the effectiveness of argumentation on this account is to abstract ideas from their context. The power of particular arguments lies not only in their cogency, but also in a host of social, cultural, and material factors including the character of their author or mediator (see Steven Shapin’s A Social History of Truth (1994) and Anne Goldgar’s Impolite Learning (1995)), and the wiles of their publisher (on magic, see Andrew Fix on Balthasar Bekker ). Intellectual historians are well placed to investigate how the re-presentation of arguments could make them more or less compelling in different contexts.
It is important not to exaggerate the grimness of the early modern age. Our ancestors in Tudor and Stuart England may well have been healthier, happier, and saner than those who toiled in the factories of the industrial revolution. Even though two centuries were marked by plague, civil war, and religious turmoil, the English were spared some of the depredations of the long wars and cyclical famines that afflicted continental Europe. Even so, life expectancy was low and the levels of routine pain and misery were high. It was a world of thatch and bedstraw, where an unattended candle could burn down a town. One third of infants died before the age of five, even among the aristocracy. The harvest failed about one year in six, and epidemics broke out in the wake of hunger.Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Beliefs in Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century England
Yet rarely is this influence assessed subsequently: once acclaimed on publication, a book is hardly ever written about individually again. Michael Hunter, The Decline of Magic: Britain in the Enlightenment (2020), p. 186; Michael Hunter (ed.), The Occult Laboratory: Magic, Science and Second Sight in Late Seventeenth-century Scotland (2001), p. 173.The decline of magic thus emerges from an oral culture of sarcasm and wit that flourished in the coffee houses. At first, this was seen as a threat to orthodoxy, in part because it was taken up by free-thinking Deists, but later the position was co-opted by religious, medical, and scientific establishment figures who worked hard to elide its heterodox origins and implications. Hunter is careful to stress the ‘pluralism that has come to be seen as characteristic of Enlightenment thought’, perhaps because in his mind the pendulum has swung too far towards the study of occultism (p. 142). Chapter Six, the second case study, partly fills in this pluralist picture further and provides some reasons behind the orthodox shift in attitude. urn:lcp:religiondeclineo0000thom:epub:35483696-8499-4fe0-8947-fcbc7040e215 Foldoutcount 0 Identifier religiondeclineo0000thom Identifier-ark ark:/13960/t5w76t75d Invoice 1652 Isbn 0684106027 He starts by setting the context of that environment--disease was common, crops and financial survival uncertain, societal safeguards for the poor few, and geographic and class boundaries close and seldom crossed, natural disasters like fire and flood seemingly unpreventable, unpredictable, and capricious. The 16h and 17th centuries of his scope encompassed the bubonic plague, the great London fire (and many disastrous fires on smaller scales in other cities), short and often brutal lifespans fraught with pain and danger from childbirth. The Catholic church before the Reformation offered incantations in the form of prayer, talismans in the form of holy relics of the saints, and magic in the form of transubstantiation during Communion and exorcism at infant baptisms (to remove the demon of original sin from the unbaptized newborn). From there, despite legal restrictions and church sanctions, it was a small step in the mind and life of the average layman to the use of