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

Chris Gosden. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $30 (496p) ISBN 978-0-37420-012-1
Oxford University archaeology professor Gosden (Prehistory: A Very Short Introduction) delivers a sophisticated and wide-ranging study of the role of magic in human history. He explores the differences between magic, religion, and science as methods of facilitating human communication with the universe, and examines prehistoric cave art; the complex dynamic between magic and miracles in Jewish, Greek, and Roman settlements between 1000 BCE and 1000 CE; the role of gods and divination in Mesopotamia; Chinese beliefs in a portal between the worlds of the living and the dead that could be used to obtain help from deceased ancestors; and the development of shamanism in the Eurasian steppe. European societies have practiced many forms of magic throughout history, according to Gosden, including astrology, the symbolic placement of artifacts on the landscape (Stonehenge), and the transformation and creation of potent objects. Gosden also explores the use of magic in colonized Africa, Australia, and the Americas, and looks at how spiritualism, the Wiccan movement, and the growing importance of ecology have become important expressions of magic since the 19th century. Though dense and scholarly, Gosden’s meticulous account offers many intriguing glimpses of early human societies. Readers with a deep interest in human belief systems will be captivated. (Oct.)
Reviewed on : 04/29/2020
Release date: 10/13/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 512 pages - 978-1-250-80015-2
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