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Yesterday evening I spoke at Treadwell’s bookshop in London on the theme of ‘Tudor Magic and Religion’, with a particular focus on the phenomenon of ritual magic (conjuration of good and evil spirits) and the different attitudes adopted to this practice by shades of religious opinion in sixteenth-century England. I argued that it is not enough simply to describe Catholicism as open to magical practices and Protestantism as opposed to them; rather, poles of opinion on the subject of magic existed within both Catholicism and Protestantism. Using examples drawn from the newly translated Cambridge Book of Magic, I went on to argue that magical practice needs to be studied as part of the history of Tudor religion; many magicians considered ritual magic a religious act and part of a spiritual practice, rather than as the illicit act seen by the religious authorities.
A very interesting and wide-ranging discussion followed the talk, which touched on magic in Shakespeare, magic as a military technology, and the debate as to how far magic should be seen as a form of ‘supernatural technology’ and how far it should be seen as a spiritual practice, an aspect of rather than an excrescence of religion. I am grateful to Christina Oakley Harrington for inviting me to speak at Treadwell’s and for arranging an event that, I hope, will help to raise the profile of ritual magic in England in the earlier part of the sixteenth century, which has hitherto been neglected owing to a strong focus on John Dee and seventeenth-century magic.
My paper is available to download here.