Free The Magician, the Witch, and the Law Essay Sample

Magic has always amazed and astounded people because it was allowing them to do impossible things. But during the medieval period, the belief in supernatural, as well as understanding of what a magician and a witch are, was significantly distorted by the literature, the church, and the legal system. Magic and witchcraft perception often lacked rational consideration and since it was viewed as female identified power challenging the established patriarchal order, it was researched in detail by many scholars. This paper will review the book The Magician, The Witch, and The Law by Peter Edwards and explain his understanding of the situation with magic, witchcraft and their comprehension by the legal system. It will briefly summarize the book, describe its organization and purpose, as well as evaluate it based on various factors.

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The book is written by an expert in witchcraft and magic, Edward Peters, who concentrates on the issue of the distinction between these two different terms. The author argues that magic in its Middle Ages understanding and witchcraft in the early modern meaning of this word are fundamentally divergent. Peters attempts to prove that in the medieval times magic was a practical science which required some certain level of expertise. But as the society progressed in Europe, it became more articulate and self-conscious. It started associating magic with heresy and sorcery. Due to this fact, wizardry was constantly vilified in the medieval times and its connection to devil worshipping was continuously emphasized in that period. Consequently, the magician and, further, the witch could be made guilty of both spiritual and temporal offences. Peters analyzed various legal, ecclesiastical, and literary responses to this problem and, in this way, located magic and witchcraft more accurately into the cultural context of the time.

The book consists of the preface, introduction about the place of magic in the medieval culture, six main chapters and three appendixes. The first chapter introduces the definition of the magus and maleficium. Per Peters, maleficium was viewed as combination of magic and witchcraft by theologians moralists, and jurists considerations. Nevertheless, as the author argues, these two terms have significant differences and cannot be viewed as unified concept. While magic presupposes control of natural forces and prediction of natural events with the help of rituals and ceremonies, witchcraft is aimed at introducing changes into the universe and these alterations can be both good and bad, but not necessarily the latter. The second and the third chapters discuss the progress and change of attitude towards magic from the first centuries of millennium to the thirteenth. The author informs the reader that magic honored by the greatest thinkers of antiquity was unjustly condemned by the early fathers of church. People started paying a price for engaging in magic in the 11th and 12th centuries. They were tried in court, convicted and burnt as malefici or the ones who engage in vicious spiritual activities with the intention to inflict harm. Condemnation of crimen magie was ardently criticized by the author since he stated that people of those times were highly superstitious and were affected by the opinion of the church. Magic of the ancient world was transformed in medieval sources into a demonic wizardry known and linked to certain forms of heresy, blasphemy, superstition, and idolatry.

The fourth chapter traces legal history of prohibitions and penalties enforced against magicians. People who were involved in doing magic were punished for the so called spiritual offence and devil worshipping. The accused was given a title heretic and made to confess his crimes with the help of torture. The prosecuted was further burnt alive supposedly to save his soul from destruction. Legal system of those times was far from perfect and often people were using it to perform personal revenge or gain possession of somebodys property. Very often people were accused based on reports of infamia or bad reputation. The image of a witch who is casting spells, making potions with animal parts and herbs and having character traits and physical characteristics was rooted deeply into the common peoples psycho. Investigation or inquisition was performed without formal procedure of accusation. The fifth chapter deals with the idea of sorcery and its manipulation of energies and power. The final chapters treat problem of magician and witch. Peters summarizes that final transformation of magus was caused by the thought of theologians and lawyers literal rendering of legal parts of Old Testament.

An important implication of Edward Peters findings is that ways by which medieval writers conceptualized phenomenon of magic helped shape common image of heretic as magician and witch. The finding that was quite unexpected lied in the fact that a lot of them were making judgement based on insufficient quantity of evidence and often relied on imagination and folk wisdom to formulate an opinion. Even the term superstitio was not clearly defined and there was no specific list of things considered to be superstitions. What surprised me is how outrageously medieval theologians and lawyers were exaggerating and moralizing folk practices of pagans and ascribed occult practices to legends and myths. Moreover moralists and theologians transformed folklore elements and made them literary materials. Additionally, Peters opens an issue of key terms confusion he states that most medieval texts which were thought to speak of witches were in fact describing magicians.

The authors purpose in writing the book was to give a comprehensive account of medieval literature about magic and witchcraft and its legal treatment of magician and witch. It may be concluded that he accomplished this aim. The intended audience of the book is a category of people who are knowledgeable in the field of the occult as well as religious writers and philosophers. I believe this book would be informative and thought-provoking for the people who are specifically interested in the research of the occult practices, magic and witchcraft. However, for the layman reader, the book may turn out to be rather challenging in terms of understanding and, in some places, rather slow and boring. Very often Peters uses complex sentences and structures, repetitions of previously mentioned thoughts. He also often overburdens the reader with immense quantity of names, Latin phrases, and quotations. That is why at times the authors writing style is not very effective in rendering his idea. It takes him several pages to finally state what he wanted, like in case with confusion between witchcraft and practice of magic. Even though Peters covers all the points that need to be covered namely the origins of hatred towards magicians and witches, its progress, influence of religion and subjective factors, evolution of the punishment he also leaves out some aspects. For instance, he does not resort to other sources apart from legal and religious, as well as he does not use opinion of people from other spheres. The author is biased towards the view point that theologians and jurists of middle ages were all prejudiced and followed the Bible and the law blindly, without any analysis. The authors writing style is not very effective since he uses overly long paragraphs and sentences, his language is overwhelmed with academic words and sometimes idea which could have been expressed shorter continues for several pages. The book is really needed for the people who are writing a research on the topic of witchcraft and magic, but would constitute a challenge for the person not knowledgeable with the key terms like maleficium or magus. The author proves his argument effectively by relying on credible historical and religious sources, but he limits his research to several European countries without taking into consideration what was happening in the Slavic countries. Peters uses strong evidence to prove his conclusions, but what seems to be omitted is the description of the medieval witch hunt and court cases from the standpoint of some victims-survivors. I would disagree with the author on the point that the distinction between the magic and witchcraft is what seems to be of the utmost importance. What I believe to be of higher significance is the overall treatment of women as evil creatures, as well as legal systems tendency to condemn to death and inflict torture to females without proper court of law.

To conclude with, Edward Peters book The Magician, The Witch, and The Law provided a comprehensive report on medieval understanding of what magician and witchcraft is, as well as gave detailed description of the legal systems attitude towards these issues. Nevertheless, the book is rather monotonous and complex in grammatical structure, uses extremely sophisticated language and does not cover overall situation related to witch hunt condemnation and religions and laws participation in judgement of the accused individuals.


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