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

This talk concerns the history of the dark side of witchcraft since c. 1800. The notion of mystic interpersonal harm, of bestowing misfortunes onto others through occult and magical means, is conventionally equated with the premodern era, particularly with the period of the European witch-trials. Yet long after the official witch-prosecutions had subsided, the notion of harmful magic continued to inspire fears, beliefs, habits, precautions, practices, and sometimes outrages among the people of the British Isles. This lecture explores the nature of witchcraft belief, its various and evolving forms, its role in people’s lives, and what caused it to ebb and flow during the Georgian and Victorian eras, the Twentieth century, and beyond. The eerie type of witchcraft is a fascinating though in some ways difficult topic, with a rich modern history that connects village folklore with Georgian eccentrics, interwar occultists, professional magicians, exorcists, and many others past and present.


Dr. Thomas Waters is a Lecturer in History at Imperial College London and author of Cursed Britain: A History of Witchcraft and Black Magic in Modern Times (Yales, 2019) along with a wide range of articles about the history of witchcraft and magic in the modern British Isles. He read History at the University of Leeds and then Oxford, where he did doctoral research on religion, magic, and supernatural belief in Victorian England. He has lectured at Oxford, Derby, Hertfordshire, and Leeds, as well as for the Workers’ Educational Association. He regularly writes and speaks for audiences beyond academia, and is currently researching, among other esoteric topics, the social history of moonlight.

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