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Round About the Cauldron Go: An Introduction to the History of Magic

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Duration 10 weekly meetings
Tutor Dr Juliette Wood
Course code FOL21A5450A
Fee £175
Concessionary fee £140 (find out about eligibility and funding options)

Magic is a rich and complex concept that has influenced artists, writers, philosophers and scholars, and has become relevant today as part of modern cultural and spiritual life.

In this module, you will study the history of western magic as a system of thought and as an influence on other aspects of culture and will be introduced to the history and development of ideas about magic through archaeology, art, literature and folklore.

You will explore classical and modern ideas about magic and some of the artistic and literary uses of magical themes and images.

You will also examine how magical thinking and its numerous revivals have affected popular culture from the Renaissance and to contemporary spirituality.

Learning and teaching

The module will be delivered through ten two-hour sessions via Zoom, made up of lectures, class discussions, small group work and debates. Class sessions will be supplemented by resources available to students via Learning Central, including lecture recordings.

Topics may include:

  • introduction of concepts and sources
  • Jewish magic and Kabbalah
  • shamanism as magic, religion and lifestyle
  • archaeology and the interpretation of magic
  • Voudon, Voodoo and Santeria
  • the Egyptian magical texts
  • magic and modern spirituality
  • a history of magic in film and fiction
  • Renaissance magicians and their heritage
  • magic in the classical world

Coursework and assessment

To award credits we need to have evidence of the knowledge and skills you have gained or improved. Some of this has to be in a form that can be shown to external examiners so that we can be absolutely sure that standards are met across all courses and subjects.

The most important element of assessment is that it should enhance your learning. Our methods are designed to increase your confidence and we try very hard to devise ways of assessing you that are enjoyable and suitable for adults with busy lives.

You will complete two written assignments for this course. You will write approximately 1,500-2,000 words in total.

Reading suggestions

Essential Reading

  • Valerie Flint, The Rise of Magic in Early Medieval Europe (Oxford, 1991)
  • Richard Kiekhefer, Magic in the Middle Ages (Cambridge, 1990)
  • Owen Davies, Witchcraft, Magic and Culture 1736-1951 (Manchester, 1999)
  • Owen Davies, Cunning-Folk, Popular Magic in English History (London, 2003)
  • Eric Gerald Stanley, The Search for Anglo-Saxon Paganism (Cambridge, 1975)
  • Stephen Wilson, The Magical Universe: Everyday Ritual and Magic in Pre-Modern Europe (London and New York, 2000)
  • T.A.Waters, An Encyclopaedia of Magic and Magicians (Oxford, 1988)

Recommended background reading

  • The Athlone History of Witchcraft and Magic in Europe, 6 vols (London, 1999-2002)
  • Owen Davies, Grimoires: A History of Magic Books (Oxford, 2009)
  • Claire Fanger, Conjuring Spirits: Texts and Traditions of Medieval Ritual Magic (Stroud, 1998)
  • Graham Harvey Listening People, Speaking Earth: Contemporary Pagans (London, 1997)
  • Richard Kiekhefer Forbidden Rites: A Necromancer's Manual of the Fifteenth Century (Stroud, 1997)
  • Deborah Harkness, John’s Dee’s Conversation with Angels: Cabal, Alchemy and the End of Nature (Cambridge, 1999)
  • Laennec Hurbon, Voodoo Truth and Fantasy (London, 1995)
  • Ronald Hutton,  The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft (Oxford, 1999)
  • David Rollo, Glamourous Sorcery: Magic and Literacy in the High Middle Ages (Minneapolis, 2000)

Library and computing facilities

As a student on this course you are entitled to join and use the University’s library and computing facilities. Find out more about using these facilities.


Our aim is access for all. We aim to provide a confidential advice and support service for any student with a long term medical condition, disability or specific learning difficulty. We are able to offer one-to-one advice about disability, pre-enrolment visits, liaison with tutors and co-ordinating lecturers, material in alternative formats, arrangements for accessible courses, assessment arrangements, loan equipment and dyslexia screening.