on 28 November 2004
Explores the earliest written evidence of magic and witchcraft. Given modern rational-scepticism, many beliefs we would now see as superstitions were understood as normal or as factual in primitive societies. In these societies it is often not possible to separate religion and magic with any degree of certainty.
Magic, ultimately, is about power, about the ability to influence and change - and in many societies there were political struggles as cults and groups fought to prove they knew the right procedures or had the greatest influence on the forces which fuelled magic.
Magic is complex - it can only be understood by a learned few. It exists to protect. In the early days it was distinguished from witchcraft, which was usually seen as forbidden and to be punished. Witchcraft was the weapon of the underprivileged and the powerless - hence the majority who were persecuted were female.
This is an intriguing study, perhaps a bit overly-academic in places for the general reader. The various articles contained within the book can be a bit sketchy in places, or can assume that the reader has some pre-existing background knowledge of, say, Mesopotamia or Greece. But, all in all, a fascinating introduction to the early history of magic and witchcraft which forwards some interesting ideas and encourages one to look at the subject matter with a contemporary eye, not a 21st century scepticism.