Tuesday 30 May 2023

Book Review: A History of Magic, Witchcraft, and the Occult by DK

Pros: lots of information easily digested, plentiful photographs, varied topics

Cons: I feel like there was more magic from the African continent that deserved mention

The book has 5 sections, each broken down into numerous subchapters going into more detail. The sections are: Ancient roots (prehistory to 400 CE), Curse or Cure (400-1500), Scholars and Sabbats (1500-1700), Secrecy and Ceremony (1700-1900), and Modern Magic (1900 onward). There is also a glossary at the back of the book. I was impressed by the number of subsections there were and how thorough the coverage is both in terms of history and geography.

Most topics got a 2 page spread, with a few getting 4 pages. Occasionally side information would get its own spread, like images of fetishes or amulets from different cultures or the meanings of rune stones and how to use them for divination.

I would have liked to learn more about indigenous African beliefs. The authors did a good job of trying to differentiate between magical practices, superstition, and religions still being practiced (which only showed up as they intersected with magical practices, like the Christian persecution of witches). I was impressed by the sheer breadth of information covered. Much of it I was familiar with, but there were sections, like Finnish native beliefs that I had never heard about.

There are a lot of excellent photographs and good use is made of box text diving into specific practices and practitioners that needed a bit more coverage.

I didn’t expect the modern sections to interest me as much as the ancient and medieval sections, but it was fascinating to see some practices return and others morph over time.

If you’re looking for a broad overview of magical practices, this is an excellent book.

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