Magic and Superstition in Europe. A Concise History from Antiquity to Present

Lindau Press has recently published in italian this essay by Michael Bailey of the Iowa State University, that undertakes a task that should be at least defined monumental, ie to make a general excursus on how magic and superstition have been perceived and what impact they have had on the european social fabric from antiquity to present days: even restricting our field of enquiry to the Old Continent alone, the risk to give the proverbial brief remarks over the Infinite is quite present.

Nonetheless Bailey gives us a very interesting and quite accurate unquiry on the evolution of these concepts and of their impact on the society, even though he sacrifices a bit the ancient world and concentrates his work on the period for the common era to the present days. The book is written in a dry and easy style which helps the reader and leads him by the hand through the centuries, trying every time to understand how the concepts it deals with have changed in the perception the society has of them and what role they have taken in it, from the early systematizations of the Patristics to the creation of Inquisition, from the Witch Hunt to the masonic lodges down  to the ceremonial magic groups of the XIX and XX century and the return of Neopaganism.

This is surely a thoroughly researched and well written book, that can be of great help to anyone who wants a texts outlining a clear and sufficiently thorough historical frame and, given that history is often the Achille's Hell of many a modern neopagan, I can surely recommend it as a worthy reading.
It ahs to be said though that, just like everything, the book too has its own shortcomings. In particular, it seems to me, the problem the author has is his difficulty in leaving the imprinting of the western thinking behind, which has two effects: on one side, once again, a veil is cast over the great taboo of western historiography,ie the massacre of Pagans and the ways that Christianity has been enforced in Europe (even though it can be conceded that this point is not central to the scope of the enquiry); on the other side, trying to divide magic and religion at all costs leads the author, in my opinion, to a basic misunderstanding of both the prechristian approach and that of several instances of modern times. From a pagan point of view, which is an holistic point of view, magic and religion are not separated at all; in case we can divide magic according to its purpose in theurgy, ie magic whose purpose is to connect with the Divine, and Thaumaturgy, ie magic whose purposes are earthly. If we miss this point all understanding of the ancient world is compromised by the fact that we are looking at it through lenses that don't belong to it. At the same time, i retaliation, this distinction prevents us from recognizing completely how Science, starting with the Enlightenment, is configuring itself as religion and magic at the same time, which helps us to understand why the latter two have often been regarded as adversaries and enemies of the former.

Nonetheless, in spite of these shortcomings, the book is accurate and can be useful to anyone who wants a general view of the evolution of european culture about magic and superstition.

Bailey, M. Magia e Superstizione in Europa dall' Antichità ai Giorni Nostri, Torino 2008, Lindau

or. ed. Magic and Superstition in Europe. A Concise History from Antiquity to Present 2007, Rowman & Littlefield

ISBN 978-88-7180-752-2  € 26,00