I wrote an essay for Hypocrite Reader’s “Magic” issue on the history and mechanics of British domestic charms. It’s thesis material, so maybe some facts and formulations you haven’t heard before!
The above illustration, the magazine’s cover art for the issue, is by Rose Lewis.
“The history of human habitation in Britain is simultaneously a history of domestic charms. For over a millennium, marks, architectural decoration and hidden objects worked together to enrich homes and to protect them from both quotidian and exceptional threats. Charms were installed during the building process and maintained and refreshed throughout a structure’s habitation, thus marking out the shared communal life of a home, which usually outlasted the family that had built it. These approaches rely in turns on display and secrecy, thus revealing the seeming contradictions at the heart of domestic magic. “Charm,” in the many senses of the term, is best understood as a network of related phenomena, all of which draw strength from a series of binary oppositions: threat and comfort, public and private, cajoling seduction and violent force. Attempting to reconcile these contrasts is impossible, but more than that it’s beside the point. Charm is a series of practices, affects and relations generated by playing with and traveling between such antitheses: a way of negotiating oppositions and a mode of working in the world, expressed in magic, literature and interaction. In looking into the history and governing logics of domestic magic, we gain valuable insights into the lived experience of people in the past. More than that, we begin to apprehend key aspects of the world we occupy today, and our own behaviours, both of which are still shaped by this inheritance.”