Episode 3

Haunted Faith: Ghostly worlds of English Protestantism

Ep. 3 How the perception of Ghosts and Magic changed during the reformation with Kole Bowling

For many, the association of magic with the Reformation may appear anachronistic or counterintuitive. After all, magic is a supposed relic of the Middle Ages, a time of superstition and witchcraft whereas the Reformation signals the dawn of modern “rational” thinking about both the world and faith itself.

However, there is in fact a deep connection between the world of the magical, the realm of ghost and spirit, and the new faith that spread out from Luther’s words to take hold of Protestant Europe. However, this is to apply a false definition of the role of magic in the Early Modern Period.

Magic was a more straightforward and more practical explanation for healing and causing sickness than science. Indeed, by the 17th and early 18th centuries there was an association of magical practices with the rise of what we would now call early “science,” as magic sought to manipulate nature and respond to human interaction with the physical world. So too, the world of embodied spirits, otherwise known as ghosts, also had a lasting influence on early English Protestants.

For many, to deny the reality of a ghost was a slippery slope to a denial of the soul itself. Spirits that persisted after death for eternal judgement could also persist to haunt people and places. This work explores how Protestants, particularly English Protestants, dealt with the idea and meanings of the magical and ghostly in light of Reformation change.

unknown engraver of the 17th century, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Primary Sources

William Assheton. The possibility of apparitions. Being an answer to this question, whether can departed souls (souls separated from their Bodies) so appear, as to be visibly seen and conversed with here upon earth? By a divine of the Church of England. London: 1706.

A. B. (Arden Bonell). The principles of the Muggletonians asserted, under the following heads. I. On the eternity of matter. II. On the Existence of two eternal Beings, on the Angel’s Fall, and theFall of Man. III. On God’s eternal Existence in the Form of a Man. IV. That God became a Son, and manifested himself in the Flesh: and the Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity considered. V. That Jesus Christ was God the Creator of the World. VI. When Christ dyed God dyed: Enoch, Moses, and Elias, were taken up into Heaven, and left with deputed Power there, while God was performing the Work of Redemption here on Earth. Vii. Concerning John Reeve’s and Lodowick Muggleton’s commission, with some Observations thereon. London, 1735.

Defoe, Daniel. An essay on the history and reality of apparitions. Being an account of what they are, and what they are not; whence they come, and whence they come not. As also how we may distinguish between the apparitions of good and evil spirits, and how we ought to behave to them. With a great variety of surprizing and diverting examples, never publish’d before. London,  1728.

Thomas Lodge. A Treatise of the Plague. LONDON: Printed for Edward White and N. L. 1603.

Martin Luther. Table Talk. trans. William Hazlitt. Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2004. 

Secondary Sources

Charlie Baber, “Old Jeffrey,” United Methodist Insight, October 24, 2018, https://um-insight.net/perspectives/old-jeffrey/

Peter T.Leeson, and Jacob W. Russ. 2018. “Witch Trials.” Economic Journal 128 (613): 2066–2105.

Keith Thomas. Religion and the Decline of Magic, London: Penguin Books, 1991.

“Witchcraft.” UK Parliament. Accessed October 26, 2020. https://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/private-lives/religion/overview/witchcraft/

Simon Young, “John Wesley, Sources for the Ghost of Parsonage House, Epworth,” Academia.edu, accessed November 22, 2020, https://www.academia.edu/17402720/John_Wesley_Sources_for_the_Ghost_of_Parsonage_House_Epworth.

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