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While no book on the subject could be exhaustive, The Bathhouse at Midnight does describe and assess all the literary sources of magic, witchcraft, astrology, alchemy, and divination from Kiev Rus and Imperial Russia, and to some extent Ukraine and Belorussia. Where possible, Ryan identifies the sources of the texts (usually Greek, Arabic, or West European) and makes parallels to other cultures, ranging from classical antiquity to Finnic. He finds that Russia shares most of its magic and divination with the rest of Europe.
Subjects covered include the Evil Eye, the Number of the Beast, omens, dreams, talismans and amulets, plants, gemstones, and other materials thought to possess magic properties. The first chapter gives a historical overview, and the final chapter summarizes the political, religious, and legal aspects of the history of magic in Russia. The author also provides translations of some key texts.
The Bathhouse at Midnight will be invaluable for anyone student, teacher, or general reader with an interest in Russia, magic, or the occult. It is unique in its field and is set to become the definitive study of Russian magic.
W. F. Ryan is academic librarian of the Warburg Institute at the University of London, School of Advanced Studies. He has published widely on the subject of magic in Russia and is co-author of the Penguin Russian Dictionary (1995) and co-editor of numerous scholarly books, including Anglo-Russian Relations in the Age of Peter the Great (1998).
"The Bathhouse at Midnight remains, nonetheless, an outstanding compilation of magic and its associated beliefs in Russia, as well as their relations to Western forms." --Jennifer B. Spock, The Historian "All in all, Ryan's book is a marvelous contribution to Slavic studies. It is great fun to read as well." --Linda Ivantis, Folklorica "The breath of its grasp, the depth of its treatment of specific subjects, and the good judgment and erudition Ryan displays throughout make it an essential reference book for Slavists and folklorists." --Linda Ivantis, Folklorica "Ryan's master work now provides a thorough, well-documented survey of an extremely rich and fascinating area and constitutes an invitation to any serious student of magic and its practice to consider entering this previously uncharted territory." --Bruce McClelland, History of Religions "The Bathhouse at Midnight is an excellent study and source book of Russian supernatural and magical beliefs that should be read by anyone working with Russian supernatural belief, with the comparative study of belief--whether Slavic, European, or Indo-European--or with Christian folk religion." --David E. Gay, Journal of Folklore Research "William Ryan's ambitious volume attempts a comprehensive survey of manifestations of magic throughout Russian history. . . . The result is a veritable encyclopedia of magical phenomena and beliefs, drawn from an extensive range of sources, but particularly from medieval texts and ethnographic data collected in the nineteenth century. . . . Ryan's book is a tour de force. It is likely to remain the fundamental reference work on magic in Russia for generations to come." --Eve Levin, Slavic Review "A work of encyclopedic proportions, The Bathhouse at Midnight is sure to be the standard reference on Russian magic for years to come. For being essentially a catalogue, the book reads very smoothly. . . . Thus, this book can be read from cover to cover or, with the detailed table of contents and the index, it can be used to look up a particular phenomenon or beliefs. It will make a fine textbook, and for mature scholars, this is not only a valuable reference tool, but piece of scholarship very much worth emulating." --Natalie Kononenko, Russian Review