Miracles and Magic

“WE CAN SEE no easy origin to magic,” Chris Gosden writes in Magic—A History, “because it has always been with us.” Every culture that we know of has had magical beliefs and practices. Sometimes, as with divination or astrology, those practices aim to reveal hidden truths; sometimes, as with spells and curses, they aim to shape the world.

Gosden is an archaeologist, so his book takes us back thousands of years. But it extends into the present too, challenging the idea that to be modern is to disbelieve in magic. Most modern Americans may not believe in actual sorcery, but as many as three-quarters believe in some aspect of the paranormal. And if we define broadly enough to include a belief in luck—well, more than half

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