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January 06, 1991|Charles Solomon

A HISTORY OF MAGIC by Richard Cavendish (Arkana: $7.95, illustrated). This concise, rational history traces the development of the belief in magic in Western Civilization, beginning with the Greco-Roman amalgam of Chaldean, Jewish, Egyptian and Persian traditions. The Latin word magia originally meant "the arts of the Magi," the Zoroastrian priests of Persia, and the discipline was divided not between black and white magic, but high and low. Low magic was used for immediate, worldly goals--success in business or love, revenge against an enemy; practitioners of high magic sought understanding and mastery of themselves and the universe. The Satanic black witch of popular folk lore was a 15th-Century creation, and the violent religious conflicts of the 16th Century spurred the notorious witch hunts. Cavendish concludes that the romanticized interest in witchcraft in the 20th Century springs from the erosion of traditional roles and religious beliefs in an increasingly urbanized society--a situation that parallels the later Roman Empire, when magic flourished.

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