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Forbidden Histories: Why Everything You Knew About the History of Science and Magic Might Be Wrong

Regular readers of the Daily Grail will know that we regularly explore the strange interactions between science and the occult through history, as well as the rewriting of that history by some in the modern ‘skeptical’ movement. If you’ve found those topics of interest, then I encourage you to check out Forbidden Histories, a website created by Dr. Andreas Sommer, a historian working on the interrelations of the sciences and magic.

Forbidden Histories‘ mission is to communicate some of this little-known history to the broader public, and explore how and why modern science seems to have disowned its own past (and present):

If you wish to be considered a scientific-minded person, you probably know that you really shouldn’t believe in the occurrence of events commonly referred to as ‘supernatural’. If there was something to that sort of thing, surely the greats of science such as Newton, Bacon, Boyle, the Curies and Einstein would have told us.

What may surprise you is that each of the scientific icons named above, and many others of similar standing, took reports of ‘marvellous’ phenomena quite seriously. In fact, the consensus in historical scholarship regarding the relationship between science and ‘magic’ has shifted notably during the past five decades. Even the most conservative historian of science will tell you today what previous generations ignored or denied:

  • That the revolutionary scientific works of Brahe, Kepler, Newton and other early moderns were inextricably related to their committed beliefs in biblical prophecy, astrology and other ‘occult’ ideas and practices.
  • That others like Francis Bacon, Robert Boyle, and later Pierre Curie, J. J. Thomson and William James observed and rigorously tested reported ‘miraculous’ goings-on, and insisted that certain instances of distant mental influence constituted facts of nature.
  • That these examples are not mere anachronisms, but that – contrary to traditional assertions of a ‘disenchantment of nature’ – interest in ‘miraculous’ phenomena has continued in elite members of scientific communities, though not necessarily pursued within curricula of professionalized sciences.
  • That at least since the nineteenth century, scientific interest in these things has been marked by a pluralism of interpretations, and cannot simply be pigeon-holed as instances of a religious need to believe or ‘flight from reason’.

Andreas will also be posting a video series exploring these ‘forbidden histories’ to YouTube – check out the introduction below, which is chock-full of information, along with helpful doses of humour. Be sure to subscribe to his channel to keep up with future instalments in the series.

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