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Early Modern England And Wales How Rational Were Supernatural Beliefs In Early Modern England And Wales?

1757 words - 7 pages

Supernatural beliefs and belief in witchcraft were popular during the early modern period. To consider the rationality of these beliefs necessitates that we consider them in the context of the period. To impose our modern ideas of rationality and reason upon the beliefs of this period takes them totally out of context and renders them irrelevant and possibly even ridiculous. When we study them within the period we can see the beliefs as part of the structure of society and being affected by cultural, religious and political factors, this in turn gives us a good basis on which to judge their rationality.Probably the most widespread of all beliefs that could be considered supernatural is astrology. This was taken quite seriously and whereas today we will look at our horoscopes for entertainment, major decisions such as Elizabeth I coronation were made after consultation with astrological advisors. This illustrates the fact that this cannot be disregarded as merely a lower class method of entertainment nor can it be attributed to ignorance on behalf of the believers. As literacy increased and printing became more popular so did astrology, Almanacs were very popular, reaching a large amount of people. In the seventeenth century approximately five million almanacs were sold, even people who were not literate may have had them read to them, so we can see there was a large audience for this popular method of astrology.The rationality of these almanacs and the use of astrology were based on the scientific knowledge of the time. The belief about the body was that it consisted of four humours and in order for the person to remain healthy they had to keep these humours in good balance, each humour; Blood, phlegm, Black bile and yellow bile related in different ways to the planets and their positioning so Astrology was an important tool in considering when and how to treat the ill.It is possible to approach this cynically and look at the amount of almanacs that were produced and suppose that this was a good business to be in, that people in the printing trade caught on to this and exploited it. This may well be part of the explanation for their widespread popularity, but we are in danger of using modern day assumptions where they are not appropriate with this explanation. Whether they had any truth in them at all does not detract from their overwhelming popularity and this in itself is reason enough to assume that they had some rational place in early modern society.Prophecies were verses, phrases or pieces of prose predicted the future often in a very ambiguous way and normally attributed to a historical figure, or given some sort of historical age to in some way validate its contents. Prophecies are often cast aside and labelled as being lacking in much historical use, On the contrary they tell us a lot about the political and social anxieties of the age.Belief in ghosts was particularly widespread and this can be seen as a symptom of the control of the...

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