Professor Suzannah Lipscomb’s excellent foreword to A History of Magic, Witchcraft & the Occult sets the tone for this fascinating book, which explores how humans have sought to understand the universe and their place within it, and how they can appease or control spiritual forces to influence their environment.
As seems to be standard with DK titles, the book is beautifully designed, with lavish illustrations (including paintings, photographs and woodcuts) and quick-fact panels to define and explain key information.
The book is an intriguing journey through magical history, travelling from prehistoric times to the modern world, encompassing divination, alchemy, shamanism, Wicca and so much more. The broad historical narrative unfolds chronologically and takes a global view, drawing on cultures, beliefs and practices from across the world. There are many highlights I could mention, but I found the chapters on Mesopotamian magic (I’d also recommend The First Ghosts by Irving Finkel on this topic) and Renaissance folk magic especially engrossing.
I bought the book as part of research for my latest novel, and while it has certainly proved useful in that regard, it is also a pleasure to read and there is always something unexpected to find. The sheer scope of the book inevitably means the subjects are not explored in great depth, but there is enough detail to interest the reader and to encourage further and research.
A History of Magic, Witchcraft & the Occult gives the reader a good sense of the important role magical practices and beliefs have played in shaping civilisations around the world, and the ways in which they continue to enrich many people’s lives. So, whether you’re looking to discover more about the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Mayan cosmic cycles, tarot or countless other magical subjects, you’ll find something in this book to spark your imagination or inspire your creativity.
If you’re interested in learning more about the history of magic, I would also recommend The History of Magic by Chris Gosden (which gives a more in-depth survey of the subject, and which I reviewed in a previous blog post), and from a British perspective, Pagan Britain by Professor Ronald Hutton and The Book of English Magic by Philip Carr-Gomm and Richard Heygate.