Mike's Reviews > Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Beliefs in Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century England

Religion and the Decline of Magic by Keith Thomas
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Nov 16, 11

Read from October 27 to November 16, 2011

A powerful book and in-depth study of what really comes down to the paradigm shift from faith-systems that are inclusive of the layperson and allow him/her to participate in the spiritual experience to a system (Christian thought) that, while claiming to free the soul, binds the individual to a corporate system of worship under a culture of professional clergy. Make no mistake though, this is a work of history—and a fine and comprehensive one at that, expertly researched and well-written—and not a tract for or against any system of faith. A core fact however that one cannot escape while reading this vast volume (it numbers over 700 pages) is that prior to the sixteenth century, England was—whether rural or urban—a place where disease was misunderstood, even most wealthy people had only a basic education, and magic very much made sense.

Keith Thomas is an adept writer and more than an adept scholar: he finds accounts of witch trials and other mechanisms of Catholic intervention against paganism or supposed satanism that I've not encountered before and he refrains from drawing any conclusions which he cannot support 100% via this research. He proves that original primary sources are availible for this type of scholarship and can furnish much-needed insight into this dark and fascinating period of Western history.
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