In medieval England magic was a service industry used by rich and poor alike

Interesting article by Tabitha Stanmore of Univ of Bristol.

Magic is a universal phenomenon. Every society in every age has carried some system of belief and in every society there have been those who claim the ability to harness or manipulate the supernatural powers behind it. Even today, magic subtly pervades our lives – some of us have charms we wear to exams or interviews and others nod at lone magpies to ward off bad luck. Iceland has a government-recognised elf-whisperer, who claims the ability to see, speak to, and negotiate with the supernatural creatures still believed to live in Iceland’s landscape.

While today we might write this off as an overactive imagination or the stuff of fantasy, in the medieval period magic was widely accepted to be very real. A spell or charm could change a person’s life: sometimes for the worse, as with curses – but equally, if not more often, for the better.

Magic was understood to be capable of doing a range of things, from the marvellous to the surprisingly mundane. At the mundane end, magic spells were in many ways little more than a tool. They were used to find lost objects, inspire love, predict the future, heal illnesses and discover buried treasure. In this way, magic provided solutions to everyday problems, especially problems that could not be solved through other means.

This all may sound far-fetched: magic was against the law – and surely most people would neither tolerate nor believe in it? The answer is no on both counts. Magic did not become a secular crime until the Act against Witchcraft and Conjurations in 1542. Before then it was only counted as a moral misdemeanour and was policed by the church. And, unless magic was used to cause harm – for example, attempted murder (see below) – the church was not especially concerned. Often it was simply treated as a form of superstition. As the church did not have the authority to mete out corporal punishments, magic was normally punished by fines or, in extreme cases, public penance and a stint in the pillory.

Changing nature of services industry..:-)

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