Spellbound: A History of Magic
Discover the true history of magic, witchcraft and occultism from ancient times to the present day.
Information at a Glance
- Evening Class
- Mondays 18:00 - 20:00
- 20 weeks: October to March
- Fees from £210
- Tutor: Dr Tom Waters
- Location: Imperial College, South Kensington Campus
The celebrated necromancer, and court magician to Queen Elizabeth I, John Dee was said to have owned a ‘black mirror’ that enabled him to see into the future, as well as a magic crystal, inhabited by a daemon, that could cure kidney disease. Of course, that was in the sixteenth century, and in our society we no longer believe in such things. Except that even today, many people have a superstitious terror of breaking mirrors, and shops selling supposedly healing crystals can be found in many of Britain towns and cities.
In this course, we will explore the history and practise of magic, spell-craft and the occult from ancient times to the present day. We will learn about witches, fairies, shamans and fortune-tellers, as well as beliefs in curses and ghosts, protective talisman and superstitious fears associated with the occult. Each week we will examine a key theme in the history of magic, assess its place in different cultures around the world, and consider how the theme has changed over time. We will also look at the place of magic and the occult in art, literature and popular culture, from the fairy tales of the Grimm Brothers, to the wizardry of Harry Potter.
Using the methods of historical study, folklore, anthropology and psychology, we will discover why magic has haunted the human imagination so persistently, and how it continues to resonate even today.
As part of the course, you will be encouraged to draw on your own experiences in relating to the material taught in the course, through discussions and open questions, such as areas where we might be superstitious, have talismanic objects we turn to, or even have more definite beliefs or disbeliefs in supposed praeternatural forces.
No previous knowledge of the subject is necessary, and the course is organised to encourage discussion and debate in an informal setting.
1. Religion’s weird sister: defining magic
2. Voodoo dolls and cursing slates: effigy magic since ancient times
3. Stone circles and healing wells: magic and the landscape
4. Celtic folklore: fairies and curses
5. A ‘witch craze’? Witchcraft in Europe, c. 1400-1750
6. Obeah and Voodoo in the Caribbean
7. The cunning-craft
8. Shamans and shape-shifters
9. Grimoires: the history of magic books
*** Christmas break ***
10. Mesmerism, spiritualism, and the Victorian occult revival
11. Devils and demons: jinn, exorcism and deliverance
12. Alas poor ghost: restless spirits and second lives
13. Cursed Britain: evil magic after the witch trials
14. Making a fortune: fortune-telling and tarot cards
15. Military magic: the supernatural during war and conflict
16. Curse of a continent? Witchcraft in modern Africa
17. From Brothers Grimm to Harry Potter: the power of the magical imagination
18. Traditional Chinese folk magic
19. New witchcrafts for a New Age? Baphomet and Satanism, wicca and hedge witchcraft
20. A global magical revival? Occultism today
Programme listed is indicative only, and may be subject to modification.
There is no compulsory reading required for this course, and there is no set course text, but if you would like to read more on the subject we suggest:
- Ronald Hutton, The Witch: A History of Fear from Ancient Times to the Present (Yale University Press, 2017)
- Owen Davies, Magic: a Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2012)
- Thomas Waters, Cursed Britain: A History of Witchcraft and Black Magic in Modern Times (Yale University Press, 2019)
Spellbound is taught by Dr Thomas Waters. Tom is an expert on the history of magic who has taught at the universities of Oxford, Leeds, Derby and Hertfordshire, as well as here at Imperial College.
Tom has published numerous articles on the modern history of witchcraft, and his new book, Cursed Britain: A History of Witchcraft and Black Magic in Modern Times, will be published by Yale University Press in August 2019.
Visit Dr Waters' webpage.
Course Fees and Rate Categories
|Hours||Weeks||Standard Rate||Internal Rate||Associate Rate|
|40||20||£395 (Early Bird Rate: £360*)||£230 (Early Bird Rate: £210*)
||£305 (Early Bird Rate: £280*)|
|* Early Bird fee rate is valid for enrolments made via the website between 1 August and 30 September only | All fee rates quoted are for the whole course.|
- Applicable to all except those who fall under the Internal Rate or Associate Rate category, respectively.
- Applies to current Imperial College students and staff (incl. Imperial NHS Trust, Imperial Innovations, ancillary & service staff employed on long-term contracts at Imperial College by third-party contractors).
- Current Centre for Languages, Culture and Communication (CLCC) staff, current CLCC PhD students, Science Communication (Sci Comm) postgraduate students, and students enrolled on an Imperial College 'Language for Science' degree programme should email evening firstname.lastname@example.org before completing the online enrolment form.
- Students (non-Imperial College)
- Alumni of Imperial College and predecessor colleges and institutes
- City & Guilds College Association members
- Members of Friends of Imperial College
- Friends of the South London Botanical Institute
- Members of the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP)
- Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council staff
- Harrods staff
- Historic Royal Palaces staff
- Natural History Museum staff
- Science Museum staff
- Victoria and Albert Museum staff
- Royal Geographical Society staff
- Royal College of Art and Royal College of Music tutors and other staff
- Santander Bank staff (Imperial College Walkway branch only)
- Austrian Cultural Forum staff
- Staff of Exhibition Road Cultural Group (Discover South Kensington) organisations
- Lycee Charles de Gaulle staff
- Tutors and other staff of other universities and higher education institutions
- Tutors and other staff of institution members of the Association of Colleges
- Residents of postcodes SW3, SW5, SW7, SW10 and W8
It is possible to enrol on many CLCC Evening Class and Lunchtime Learning programmes after the course has started, subject entirely to agreement by the tutor delivering the course. If you want to join a course late do bear in mind there might be work you will need to catch up on, particularly in language courses.
Applicable terms & conditions
Please read the Evening Classes & Lunchtime Learning terms and conditions [pdf] before enrolling on any course.
|Hours||Weeks||Autumn term||Spring term||Summer term|
|40||20||14 Oct - 12 Dec 2019 (9 weeks)*||6 Jan - 19 Mar 2020 (11 weeks)||n/a|
|* Followed by the Christmas break|
Web enrolment starts 1 August
Enrolment & payment are through the Imperial College eStore. Please use above booking link noting below instructions:
- Our rate categories are explained on this page and your applicable category must be selected on the eStore
- First-time eStore users please create an account by entering an email address and password. These credentials should also be used for future bookings. Imperial College users please note the eStore is not a single-signon College system
- The booking process involves entering payment details before your course choice and applicant details are queried on an in-built questionnnaire which completes the process
- The following email notifications will be sent
|What is sent||When is it sent||What does it contain|
|1. Payment confirmation||Instantaneously following submission of your online application||
|2. Enrolment confirmation||Sent in due course but likely not before the end of September. Please treat your payment confirmation as confirmation that your applicant details and payment have been received||
|3. Programme information||Usually sent Friday late afternoon the week before term starts||
|If you need further help with the above information please ring 020 7594 8756
Certificate of Attendance
Although no credits are offered for this very part-time course, an attendance certificate is presented to students who attend at least 80% (16) of the taught classroom sessions.
Questions regarding the content and teaching of this course should be sent to the course tutor, Thomas Waters, email@example.com
If you have enjoyed this course, why not look at other arts and humanities evening class courses at Imperial College. This includes courses on the history of western art from ancient Greece to the nineteenth century, Understanding Modern and Design, the history of film and cinema and Greek and Roman mythology in art. We also run practical courses in art and photography and creative writing classes, and a growing programme of science based evening classes.