A su­per­nat­u­ral War

Oh what a spooky war

All About History - - THROUGH HISTORY -

Au­thor Owen Davies Pub­lisher Ox­ford Univer­sity Press Price £15.99 Re­leased Out now

In most stud­ies on spir­i­tu­al­ism and the oc­cult – and in­deed on chang­ing cul­ture gen­er­ally – the Great War acts as an iron cur­tain be­tween a sim­pler age and a darker, more anx­ious one. It’s ei­ther the trauma that opens a his­tory, or the water­shed mo­ment that ends it, and with su­per­nat­u­ral think­ing es­pe­cially it has been in­cred­i­bly ill-served. Pro­fes­sor Owen Davies is one of the undis­puted lead­ers in his field, and this com­pre­hen­sive study cov­ers the use of for­tune telling for wartime pro­pa­ganda, spir­i­tu­al­ism, charms and tal­is­mans, con­ven­tional re­li­gios­ity, and ac­counts of spec­tral sol­diers and an­gels haunt­ing the front.

A Su­per­nat­u­ral War is a fas­ci­nat­ing deep dive that of­fers tan­ta­lis­ing glimpses of a very dif­fer­ent world, from do­mes­tic vi­o­lence cases where the wife’s con­sort­ing with medi­ums is cited, to the role of fe­male con­sta­bles in the crack­down on for­tune tell­ers un­der the Va­grancy Act, to the boom­ing trade in cauls – the mem­brane cov­er­ing the heads of some in­fants at birth – as pro­tec­tive amulet to sea­men.

It’s the gen­tle de­bunk­ing of as­sumed truths that proves the most re­ward­ing, for ex­am­ple the story of the An­gel of Mons – the heav­enly host and spec­tral Agin­court bow­men at­tend­ing to the Bri­tish Ex­pe­di­tionary Force in Au­gust 1914 – be­gan not as a hoax or a bat­tle­field le­gend, but a piece of short fic­tion re­peated out of con­text.

A Su­per­nat­u­ral War: Magic,

Div­ina­tion, and Faith Dur­ing the

First World War is im­pos­si­ble to de­scribe with­out sim­ply rat­tling off a list of high­lights.

Frus­trat­ing, In­con­clu­sive, Flimsy

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