Examining chicken intestines, reading the tea leaves, watching the markets – people turn to experts for insight into the mysteries that surround them.
Hidden forces are always at work in the world, and people always want to control them, a cognitive anthropologist explains. Enter the human universal of shamanism.
Illustrations from the Nuremberg Chronicle, by Hartmann Schedel (1440-1514)
Reports of demonic possession are once again on the rise. But during the devil’s last apogee in early modern Europe, demonic afflictions were taken seriously by both priests and physicians.
Tapping into ancient knowledge can help us feel connected to our ancestors – but that doesn't mean we should take their advice.
This is the real reason you believe in superstitions.
Statue of Eros of the type of Centocelle. Roman artwork of the 2nd century AD, probably a copy after a Greek original.
Erotic spells were a popular form of magic in ancient Greece and Rome. Ancient spells were often violent, brutal and without any sense of caution or remorse.
If an alien landed on Earth, how would you decide if it had free will like us, or was a sophisticated automaton?
Miniature of the duke of true love and his companions entertaining ladies.
The Book of the Queen, c. 1410–1414, France (Paris), Harley 4431, f. 145 (Creative Commons)
A scholar of medieval magic discusses the hope in magical techniques for finding love.
Tales of levitation tend to belie stark inequalities and various forms of violence (often upon women).
In the world of Harry Potter, beasts are to be protected, not feared. But this concern for monsters is hardly modern.
The dead wait to be ferried across the River Styx.
The Souls of Acheron (1898) by Adolf Hiremy Hirschl
These days they are scary, but for the ancients, ghosts could be quite useful.
Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry.
One of popular music's most influential artists, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, turned 80 this year. It is a good time to acknowledge his work as irreducibly complex, deeply layered, subtle and nuanced.
Pretty much all of our perception is an illusion, whether we’re walking down the street or attempting to decode the latest card trick.
Magic plumbs the same questions philosophers have been asking for millennia.
Great Comet of 1577, which Kepler witnessed as a child.
When Kepler was at the very height of his scientific career, his mother was accused of witchcraft.
Pick a card, any card - and maybe a research paper too.
Think of your favourite magic trick. Is it as grandiose as David Copperfield’s Death Saw, or is it as simple as making a coin disappear in front of your very eyes? These two very different tricks have…