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Monday, 17 January 2011

witchcraft, sorcery & sociology

Published in 1970, and with a modernist graphic design cover that could be a Ghostbox album cover or even a modern hauntological philosophy primer, Max Marwick's collection of sociological studies of witchcraft and sorcery seems to capture the crest of an era of the occult crossing over into mainstream popular culture in unprecedented. There's nothing as contemporary as the west London coven of self-styled king of the witches Alex Sanders, Hammer horror films or Ouija board games within though. Instead, a selection of academic essays from the previous 40 years explore theories, definitions, the ethnography and cosmology of witchcraft, from the classical world to the Salem witch-trials, Slavonia to Africa. Bronislaw Maslinowski's 1925 work Magic, Science And Religion is the oldest essay in there, but the newest, the tantalising titled A Modern American Witch-Craze by A. Rebecca Cardozo, from 1968, still only reaches as far as the 50s witch-hunts of McCarthyism. The key to the collection is in the dedication and lead essay, as Marwick pays tribute to EE Evans-Pritchard, "to whom all modern students of witchcraft and sorcery are deeply indebted". Evans-Pritchard was one of the founding fathers of social anthropology, laying a cornerstone with his groundbreaking African studies, published in 1937 as Witchcraft, Oracles And Magic Among The Azande. Evans-Pritchard died in 1973, but the 1990s series Strangers Abroad dedicated an episode called Strange Beliefs (see below) to his work, and returned to the Azande to see how much, and how little, had changed in their world.



Tangential stuff - researching EE Evans-Pritchard led to learning that his daughter, Deirdre Evans-Pritchard, is a folklore, Middle East and anthropology expert who's explored modern urban folk fashion, imagination and the cinema, as well as delving into how the media creates our sense of history, time and place. Thanks so much to Kevin Younger for giving me this gem of a book.

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