Cursed Britain: A History of Witchcraft and Black Magic in Modern Times

Cursed Britain: A History of Witchcraft and Black Magic in Modern Times

by Thomas Waters


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The definitive history of how witchcraft and black magic have survived, through the modern era and into the present day

Cursed Britain unveils the enduring power of witchcraft, curses and black magic in modern times. Few topics are so secretive or controversial. Yet, whether in the 1800s or the early 2000s, when disasters struck or personal misfortunes mounted, many Britons found themselves believing in things they had previously dismissed – dark supernatural forces.

Historian Thomas Waters here explores the lives of cursed or bewitched people, along with the witches and witch-busters who helped and harmed them. Waters takes us on a fascinating journey from Scottish islands to the folklore-rich West Country, from the immense territories of the British Empire to metropolitan London. We learn why magic caters to deep-seated human needs but see how it can also be abused, and discover how witchcraft survives by evolving and changing. Along the way, we examine an array of remarkable beliefs and rituals, from traditional folk magic to diverse spiritualities originating in Africa and Asia.

This is a tale of cynical quacks and sincere magical healers, depressed people and furious vigilantes, innocent victims and rogues who claimed to possess evil abilities. Their spellbinding stories raise important questions about the state’s role in regulating radical spiritualities, the fragility of secularism and the true nature of magic.


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780300221404
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication date: 10/07/2019
Pages: 360
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Thomas Waters is lecturer in history at Imperial College London and a specialist in the modern history of witchcraft and magic.

Table of Contents

1 Black magic in modern times 1

2 Blood the witch, swim the wizard: 1800-30 9

1804: William Ettrick's evil year

Wizardry at Wickham Skeith

Magic in Monmouthshire

Brutal beliefs

Milder means

Evil traditions

Indulgent magistrates

Shy demonologists

Critics muster

3 Tough superstitions: 1830-60 38

Outrage in Oxfordshire: the case of the 'Little Tew ghost'

Cursing, Irish and otherwise

The drive against 'popular superstition

A resilient creed

Progress for the few, witchcraft for the many

Conjurors and constables, magistrates and magic

Spellbound or mesmerised?

4 Secret beliefs: 1860-1900 73

Investigating witchcraft with the folklorists

Witch hares in the Western Isles

Regional witchcraft

Witch villages and cursing wells

Who were the witches?

Women and witchcraft

5 Healing black magic: the unwitchers of late Victorian Britain 106

An Aberdeenshire Warlock


Folk-From cards to curses: fortune-telling-Roma go 'dukkerin'

Unwitching as mental health care

Why unwitching worked

6 Occultists study dark arts: 1850s-1900 139

From crisis of faith to occult revival

Spiritualism and evil magnetism

Theosophy and Indian witches

Black magic and the Golden Dawn

Christian Science: a new witchcraft-Baphomet and paganism-Strident Christians revive demonology

7 Gone native: witchcraft in the British Empire and beyond 156

Baptist meets witch-Superstition and imperialism

The occult in the outback

Maoris and makutu: witchcraft in New Zealand

Slavery and sorcery: obeah in the Caribbean

Beyond colonial power: witchcraft and witch-hunting in India

The curse of a continent? Witchcraft in Africa-Bringing magic back

8 Witchcraft's decline: 1900-60s 187

Under psychic attack: How Violet Firth became Dion Fortune

Witchcraft's decline: 1900-1930s

A twentieth-century white witch: the late career of Mother Herne

The war against quackery

The last conjurors in Wales-Witchcrafts collapse: 1940s-1960s

Why did witchcraft decline?

Roma doing less dukkerin, but still cursing

Pagan witch cults and a magic murder-Wicca

9 Multicultural magic: 1970-2015 221

The evolution of enchantment: John Lundy's curse

Old stories and alternative lifestyles: witchcraft in the countryside

Voodoo London: magic in the urban environment

Out of Africa? Witchcraft and child abuse

The deliverance ministry: a new demonology

The occult online

10 Conclusion: witchcraft's decline and return 261

Endnotes 266

Select bibliography 326

List of maps and illustrations 334

Acknowledgements 336

Index 337

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