A supernatural War
Oh what a spooky war
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