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Magic, Witches & Devils in the Early Modern World

21 January - 21 August 2016, free entry

Book of magic

A depiction of a magic circle, in Pseudo-Roger Bacon, Tractatus de nigromatia (Book of Black Magic), England, late 1500s. Courtesy of Chetham's Library. Byrom Collection. MUN Mun.A.4.98

Ghosts, witches, sorcerers and demons: our fascination with the supernatural stretches back centuries. Experience how supernatural forces shaped the lives of everyone from kings and queens to clergymen and maidservants.

Magic, Witches & Devils in the Early Modern World reveals how magic, diabolical witchcraft, and ghostly encounters inspired fear and curiosity on an unprecedented scale between the 15th and 18th centuries. The exhibition illuminates the roots of our obsession with supernatural power and explores a world where the Devil was understood as a real and present danger in daily life.

Join the conversation #jrlmagic.

Located in the cross corridor, open daily, free entry.

Exhibition booklet


The exhibition booklet is also available to download as an accessible, plain text word document:

Want to find out more?

  • Wolfgang Behringer, Witches and Witch-Hunts: A Global History (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2004).

  • Abolqasem Ferdowsi, Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings, trans. Dick Davis (London: Penguin, 2007).

  • Stephen Gordon, ‘Conjuring Spirits in the “Tractatus de Nigromatia”’, Chetham’s Library blog, 14 August 2015.


  • Sasha Handley, Visions of an Unseen World: Ghost Beliefs and Ghost Stories in Eighteenth-Century England (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2007).

  • Brian Levack, The Devil Within: Possession and Exorcism in the Christian West (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013).

  • Darren Oldridge, The Devil: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

  • Sophie Page, Magic in Medieval Manuscripts (London: The British Library, 2004).

  • Glyn Parry, The Arch Conjurer of England: John Dee (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013).

  • Deanna Petherbridge, Witches and Wicked Bodies, exhibition catalogue (Edinburgh: National Galleries of Scotland / British Museum, 2013).

  • Lyndal Roper, Witch Craze: Terror and Fantasy in Baroque Germany (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004).

  • Vesta Sarkosh Curtis, The Legendary Past: Persian Myths (London: British Museum Press, 1993).

  • Charles Zika, The Appearance of Witchcraft: Print and Visual Culture in Sixteenth-century Europe (London: Routledge, 2007).


Jennifer Spinks, Lecturer in Early Modern History, The University of Manchester
Sasha Handley, Senior Lecturer in Early Modern History, The University of Manchester

Working in collaboration with:
Stephen Gordon, Postdoctoral Research Associate, The University of Manchester

With thanks to:
Chetham's Library – Michael Powell and Fergus Wilde
The Whitworth, The University of Manchester – David Morris
• Hannah Barker, Aaron Moore, Natalia Smelova, Michael Smith and Edward Wouk

Supported by:
The John Rylands Research Institute (seed corn grant awarded to Jennifer Spinks and Sasha Handley).
Arts and Humanities Research Council Early Career Fellowship awarded to Jennifer Spinks: grant number AH/L015013

Update and correction: the image on pp. 26-27 of the exhibition booklet depicts 'Mar Ab'disho on horseback attacking an evil spirit in the form of a woman', not 'Mar Zay'ā attacking the angel of death'. You can see the latter image on display in the exhibition.'