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Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies

Magic, Witches and Devils in the Early Modern World

An exhibition held at the John Rylands Library between 21 January and 21 August 2016.

Zhong Kui (Shōki) the Demon Queller, attacking a Demon with a sword and an umbrella”, Courtesy of the Whitworth, The University of Manchester.
Zhong Kui (Shōki) the Demon Queller, attacking a Demon with a sword and an umbrella”, Courtesy of the Whitworth, The University of Manchester.

Curated by AHRC Early Career Fellow Dr Jennifer Spinks in collaboration with co-curator Dr Sasha Handley, the exhibition demonstrated the pervasiveness of supernatural beliefs in this era.

Both curators work at The University of Manchester and have a background of researching and teaching related material in western contexts. This exhibition took a step in a new direction, with unusually broad horizons. It included stunning material from North West England, from mainland European, and from non-Western traditions.

The John Rylands Library is rich in printed and manuscript materials that reflect early modern cultural, intellectual and social preoccupations with magic, the supernatural, and the extraordinary properties of the physical world. This exhibition vividly illuminates how early modern people understood, reported, depicted and debated phenomena and themes including natural magic, astrology, witches, demons and the possessed, prophetic states, dreams, and mechanical illusions.

Find out more

Further information about the exhibition and its booklet can be found on the Embodied Emotions website: 

Academic articles on the exhibition and research:

  • Debra Higgs Strickland, 'Magic, Witches & Devils in the Early Modern World', Renaissance Studies 31:5 (2017), 809-815. DOI: 10.1111/rest.12274
  • Jennifer Spinks, Sasha Handley and Stephen Gordon, 'Curating Magic at the John Rylands Library: the 2016 exhibition "Magic, Witches and Devils in the Early Modern World"', Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 92 (2016), 105–114. DOI: 10.7227.BJRL.92.1.