Magic: A History; From Alchemy to Witchcraft, from the Ice Age to the Present

Farrar. Nov. 2020. 512p. ISBN 9780374200121. $30. SOC SCI
Gosden's (Prehistory: A Very Short Introduction) enlightening history explores magical beliefs and practices in cultures around the world from the earliest ages of human history, drawing on evidence from archaeological and textual sources. Defining magic as practices seeking to explore and exploit the connections between humans and the world around them, Gosden identifies participation as the hallmark of magical traditions. Cave paintings, grave goods, protective amulets, and graffiti etched into church walls are some of the many examples of magical artifacts Gosden uses to illustrate the ways in which different cultures have sought to understand the place of human beings within the cosmos and to harness the power of correspondences to foretell or influence future events. Rather than forming successive trends of increasing rationality, Gosden persuasively argues that magic, religion, and science have always existed in tandem, forming a “triple helix” of understanding running through the course of human history up to the present day. In light of the current climate crisis, and inspired by the discoveries of quantum physics, Gosden furthermore makes a compelling case for a return to the kind of interconnected perspective central to most magical traditions.
VERDICT A fascinating exploration of magic’s hold on the human imagination.
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