When the local wizard was the repository of all wisdom

What do you do when one of your possessions goes missing? Search behind the sofa cushions? Ask other members of the household where they put it? If you lived in Renaissance England, there’s a chance you would have consulted a local magician for advice, especially if the lost item was of value. In the absence of police to investigate theft or insurance to cover a loss, a wizard tracing the item seemed like a fair choice. Nor was it the entirely foolish idea it might seem now. In a time when belief in magic was widely held, making it known that a magician was on the case could prompt a

Learned necromancers and lascivious witches: magic and misogyny through the ages

Curses, conjurations, magic circles, incantations, abracadabra, gobbledygook… Why would any serious historian want to write a history of magic books?  Owen Davies issues a robust defence: magic is as old as human history, while a study of grimoires is a study of the book itself and its changing format over time. Through the lens of the grimoire (a book of magic spells and invocations), the parallel histories of religion and science are shown in an eerie new light. Perennial human desires, anxieties and aspirations for love, money and protection from harm bring people of the far past close to anyone today who reads a newspaper horoscope or consults the Tarot.

Cosy, comforting and a bit inconsequential: Here We Are, by Graham Swift, reviewed

There’s something — isn’t there? — of the literary also-ran about Graham Swift. He was on Granta’s first, influential Best of Young British Novelists list in 1983, and he won the Booker Prize in 1996, but he has never attained the public-face status of his contemporaries. That may not be so surprising, given who those publicity-hoovering contemporaries are, Amis, Barnes, McEwan and Rushdie among them. Once in a while, one of his books rises a little higher in the sky — 1983’s Waterland, 1996’s Last Orders, 2018’s Mothering Sunday — but will Here We Are be one of them? It’s comforting and cosy: a bit sad, a bit funny, a