14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
A Magical Book,
This review is from: The Magical Universe: Everyday Ritual and Magic in Pre-modern Europe (Hardcover)
The Magical Universe is a magical book. I first came across it by accident at the library,but I just had to own my own copy.I return to this book time and time again because of the wealth of material contained within. Wilson's text, along with Keith
Thomas' Religion and the Decline of Magic, have set the bench-mark for this field of interest. However, in contrast to Thomas' book, Wilson's is not primarily concerned with constructing a History of ritual and magic, but instead, he arranges the material in an analytical fashion.Yet, it is easy to read, and you will not want to put this down once you start.
In this book you will find out the reasons why certain ritualised acts were undertaken by pre-modern Europeans, and this is an absolute bonus. If you have been disappointed with other books on folk-lore, magic, and ritual, because of the lack of explanation behind the evidence, then this book is for you. Wilson provides the answers. There are seventeen chapters collected into five coherent sections.
The first, under the title of Agriculture, has chapters on House, Work and Land; Calendar Customs and Agrarian Saints; The Weather; Livestock.
Section Two looks at rituals and customs concerning Human Fertility and Marriage;Conception and Pregnancy; Childbirth: Delivery and First Days; Childbirth: Omens and Strange Births; Baptism, Godparents and Naming; Mother and Child; Death and the Dead.
The third section, my favourite, focuses on Disease and Healing. It is in the chapter on Illness, Doctors and Religion where we learn of Calabrian peasants whom,instead of going to the apothecary to have the medicines made-up, would put the
doctor's prescription under the patient's pillow. The idea was that the evil spirit would be so preoccupied by reading the doctor's poor handwriting that it would leave the patient alone. (So that's why my prescriptions are so illegible!) There are a further forty-two pages in this section dedicated to Folk-Healers and Magical Cures which deal with the fascinating subject of sympathetic magic and the transference and transplantation of disease.
Section Four is about Divination and Signs; whilst the last, The Elements of Magic, has chapters entitled, Magical Power: Persons, Spirits and Animals; Magical Power: Things, Words and Gestures; and finally Magic and Religion.
The text has 26 pages of accompanying Notes and an exhilarating (well, it was for me!) Bibliography containing 38 pages of source material. I have checked a number of Wilson's sources and, unlike many authors, he is "spot on" with his
interpretation, acuracy, and academic methods. With a detailed index of 16 pages, this is a scholarly piece of work. You won't fail to enjoy this book. Get the hardback - it looks great on the shelf, and you'll want to look after this one! - and is well worth the money.
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