Writing Magic

The details
Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies
Colchester Campus
Postgraduate: Level 7
Thursday 03 October 2019
Saturday 14 December 2019
08 May 2019


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

Magic and writing have a close association, in terms of subject, structure and in the creation of literature itself. Magic is a ‘pretended’ or ‘hidden principle’, which uses the supernatural, or ‘some occult controlling principle of nature’ (OED). Magic therefore works in the way that mythic or metaphorical literary writing does, in seeking to reveal hidden connections and truths. Writers have always used the trickery of fictional invention, the hidden meanings of symbol, myth and psychology to achieve depth, as well as natural and supernatural motifs, both in their writing and in its process of invention.
The direct connection of myth to magic is then in the symbolic and in the supernatural. The natural and psychological processes myths suggest can also link myth to magic. Literary writing and myth are connected to magic again by their approach to the mysterious elements of creativity. Like myth and creativity, magic has change as a central concern.
The history of magic, both as a subject for writing, with its colourful characters and events, and in its use of ritual and archetype and with its themes of transformation, offers many possibilities for writing. The classes will range from discussions of the themes outlined above through different ways of relating magic to writing and creativity in theory and practical application.

Module aims

To provide students with a good knowledge of the connections between magic and writing, via the studied texts and methods of writing
To give students the opportunity to write, using approaches from their understanding of magic and the creative
To create an awareness of the potential use of magic in various genres and modes of writing
To enable students to research approaches to magic and creative writing and to develop individual writing from the research
To enable students to reflect critically on their writing process in its relation to magic, both as subject and in its potential for the creative process
To give students the opportunity to compare and evaluate their own work on the course in exercise and ‘workshop’ sessions

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students will be able to:

1. Identify and understand the links between concepts of magic and how they connect with writing, myth and creativity
2. Write creative works which explore themes of magic in different genres and modes
3. Research magical themes and ideas and use them in their creative writing
4. Reflect critically on their writing in relation to magic and its links to the creative
5. Understand how to use structural and thematic tropes of magic and the creative in their writings
6. Use the critical feedback from class exercises to edit and develop their creative writing in relation to the themes of the module

Module information

Good preparatory/ background reading: Colin Wilson’s The Occult. Lindsay Clarke’s novel The Chymical Wedding. Also The Occult World, by Christopher Partridge (Routledge, 2016; in library). For historical view, try Owen Davies’ Magic: A Very Short Introduction. Edited by Glenn Alexander Magee, The Cambridge Book of Western Mysticism and Esotericism (2016; in library). LATE ADDITION The Magic Of Writing, Adrian May (2018).

Indicative Bibliography
Baring-Gould, Sabine. Curious Myths of the Middle Ages. 1866.
Bede. Ecclesiastical History of the English People.
Bettelheim, Bruno. The Uses of Enchantment. Knopf: New York, 1976.
Bierce, Ambrose. The Enlarged Devil’s Dictionary. Penguin: Harmondsworth, 1967.
Borges, Jorge Luis. The Book of Imaginary Beings. Penguin: Harmondsworth, 1974.
Brunvand, Jan. The Vanishing Hitchhiker: Urban Legends and their Meanings. Picador: London, 1983.
Carr-Gomm, Philip and Heygate, Richard. The Book of English Magic. Murray: London, 2009.
Cavendish, Richard. A History of Magic. 1987: Penguin: London, 1997.
Cavendish, Richard. The Black Arts. Pan: London, 1969.
Cavendish, Richard. The Tarot. Chancellor: London, 1986.
Clarke, Lindsay. The Chemical Wedding. Cape: London, 1989.
Crossley-Holland, Kevin, Trans. The Exeter Riddle Book. Folio Society: London, 1978.
Crowley, John. Little, Big. Millennium: London, 2000.
Day, Trevor. Magic Tricks. Collins: London, 1996.
Davies, Owen. Magic, A very short Introduction. OUP.
Dodds, ER. The Greeks and the Irrational. University of California Press: Los Angeles, 1951.
Drury, Nevill. The Watkins Dictionary of Magic. Watkins: London, 2005.
The Egyptian Book of the Dead.
Eliade, Mircea. Myths, Dreams and Mysteries. Harvill: London, 1960.
Euripides. The Bacchae and other plays. Trans. Philip Vellacott. Penguin: Harmondsworth, 1972.
Fortune, Dion. Applied Magic. Aquarian Press: Wellingborough, 1987.
Gardner, Richard. The Tarot Speaks. Universal Tandem: London, 1974.
Goethe. Faust.
Hyde, Lewis. Trickster Makes This World. Canongate: Edinburgh, 2008.
Kaplan, Stuart R. The Classical Tarot. Aquarian: Wellingborough, 1984.
Levi, Eliphas. Magic. 1860. Dover: New York, 2006.
Metzner, Ralph. Opening to Inner Light. Century: London, 1987.
Nichols, Sallie. Jung and the Tarot. Weiser: Boston, 1984.
Ritsema, Rudolf and Karcher, Stephen. I Ching. Element: Shaftesbury, 1994.
Ritsema, Rudolf and Sabbadini, Shantena Augusto, Trans. The Original I Ching Oracle. Watkins: London, 2005.
Roob, Alexander. Alchemy and Mysticism. Taschen: Köln, 2006.
Thomas, Keith. Religion and the Decline of Magic. Penguin: London, 1978.
Walker, Barbara G. The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. Harper Collins: New York, 1983.
Weston, Jessie L. From Ritual to Romance. Doubleday: New York, 1957.
Wilhelm, Richard, Trans. The I Ching Book of Changes. Routlage and Kegan Paul: London, 1968.
Wilson, Colin: The Occult. Mayflower: St. Albans, 1972.
Yeats, WB. A Vision. 1937.
Yeats, WB. Essays and Introductions. 1961.

Learning and teaching methods

Weekly 2-hour seminar Assessment will be via a creative piece or pieces (which can be from class exercises), with a commentary on how the creative work relates to the themes of the classes (overall total: circa 5000 words). The creative work and the commentary will be of approximately equivalent length, subject to negotiation with tutor.


  • Wilson, Colin. (2003) The occult: the ultimate book for those who would walk with the Gods, London: Watkins.
  • Clarke, Lindsay. (2010) The chymical wedding, Richmond: Alma.

The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course. The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students. Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Weighting
Coursework   Creative piece or pieces and commentary (on how the creative work relates to the themes of the classes) - 5,000 words approximately equivalent length, subject to negotiation with tutor  24/01/2020  100% 

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Adrian May, email:
Dr Adrian May
LiFTS Taught Team - email Telephone 01206 872626



External examiner

Prof Ian Charles Davidson
Professor of English and Creative Writing
Dr Celia Brayfield
Bath Spa University
Senior Lecturer
Available via Moodle
Of 20 hours, 0 (0%) hours available to students:
0 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
20 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).


Further information

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