Published online by Cambridge University Press: 07 February 2022
The connection between politics and magic largely faded from view in eighteenth-century Britain, as it became socially unacceptable in elite circles to show interest in the supernatural. However, the apparent support of some mystical prophets for the French Revolution re-engaged the government’s interest, and a tradition of ‘mystical nationalism’ was born at this time (influenced by William Blake) that would go on to influence British politics to the present day. Elite interest in ritual magic returned at the end of the nineteenth century, sometimes connected with traditionalist and ultra-conservative political views. In the Second World War notorious magician Aleister Crowley attempted to offer magical advice to Winston Churchill, and magicians claimed to have performed rites against the enemy, while the politically motivated conviction of the Spiritualist medium Helen Duncan resurrected the 1736 Witchcraft Act. By the 1980s extreme politics in Britain had a magical fringe. The British far right, in particular, drew on earlier traditions of ‘mystical nationalism’. British royalty’s fascination with magic likewise continued in the twentieth century. Belief in magic remains an undercurrent in British political life to the present day, far less prominent than it was four centuries ago but nevertheless present, and sometimes influential in unexpected ways.