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

Are the rumours of human sacrifice in Bolivia true?

La Paz One summer a few years ago, I joined a group of miners in Potosí, Bolivia, to toast the Andean Mother Earth. I had just moved to La Paz, the country’s political capital, to try my hand as a journalist. As we chatted, a cup of warm beer and shots of spirits were handed around the circle. Before drinking, we had to pour a little on the earth and a little on the head of the white llama that was trussed up between us. My notebook from that day is specked with brownish stains. After we’d finished passing around the spirits, the llama was held down and its throat

I tempted fate – and got Covid

Well, I did warn you. As I typed my column last week on the imminent end of Covid I said I knew that I was tempting fate. The main fear I had in mind was that the moment the magazine hit the newsstands some wild new strain of the virus would break out, wipe out half of humanity and lead to quite a cross letters page the following week. Fate had a more minimalist plan. Having dodged Covid for two years, it took me writing a column predicting the end of the virus for the fates to eye me up and snicker: ‘Now we’ve got him.’ The day after I