View Full Version : Victorian attitudes to magic

Fiona Gorem
11-09-2010, 07:43 AM
I'm writing a short story about a young woman who practices the dark arts and need information about how people in the late 1800's (when Victoria was Queen of England) vieiwed magic and the supernatural. Does anyone have any ideas of where I can go to get the information I need?

11-09-2010, 09:42 AM
I would check out the lives of people who actually did practice magic in that era--the Order of the Golden Dawn, for instance, or Spiritualists.

11-09-2010, 03:05 PM
Well, it was still illegal to practice witchcraft until the 1950s (I think), although they had stopped burning them at the stake during the 18th Century (see the Witchcraft Act). People were more religious, just as superstitious and equally frightened of ghosts then as they are now. As for magic in terms of conjuring, then it was popular entertainment and the Magic Circle was set up not long after Queen Victoria died (coincidentally). Supernatural fiction was quite popular in the Victorian era (A Christmas Carol, Dracula, Jeckyll and Hyde, etc.).

11-09-2010, 05:58 PM
I think Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is set during the Victorian Era. Good luck getting through it. It bored me to tears so I quit reading it.

11-09-2010, 10:13 PM
Alistair Crowley and the rest of the Golden Dawn operated rather openly. Although they might have been breaking the law; no one seemed to care. My impression was that most people found such things amusing, and Crowley pandered to that attitude by being a deliberately odd character.

11-13-2010, 12:59 PM
I research and write about 19th c. occult history - I have an MA based on writing about the history of astrology focused on the 19th century and work with the Theosophical Society - and can probably answer a lot of your questions - but I don't want to write an essay here that might be largely irrelevant.

What exactly do you mean by the "dark arts"? Spiritualists wouldn't have regarded what they were doing as magic. Crowley et al may be a bit too late a period for you.

It makes a huge difference what period you're talking about (1880s is the high point), what class she is and where the story is located. Esoteric activity was political in the north of England and working class, in the south it was often more of an upper middle class diversion.

If you're a little more specific, I can direct you to material or answer questions.

If it's spiritualism you're thinking about, it doesn''t get much better than The Other World: Spiritualism and Psychic Research in England 1850-1014 - by Janet Oppenheim

11-14-2010, 05:19 AM
If you're interested in how society perceived it, and how the modern neo-pagan movement, esp Wicca, (tied in with romanticism etc) came into being at the end of the 1800's, then you might want to take a look at Ronald Hutton's book "The Triumph of the Moon"