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Catherine Rider (University of Exeter, England) will give the lecture ‘Christian and Islamic Magic and the Roman Inquisition in Malta: Case Studies and a Database Project' in the programme Current Issues in Religious Studies and Western Esotericism.

Event details of Current Issues with Catherine Rider
Date 12 April 2021
Time 16:00 -17:30


This paper will introduce my research into magic cases that came before the Roman Inquisition in Malta.  It will look at some individuals accused, and compare accusations made against Christians and Muslims.

The records of the Roman Inquisition in Malta survive in a complete run from the sixteenth to the late eighteenth centuries. Like other early modern inquisition records they include many accusations of magic and ‘superstition’.  More unusually, they contain substantial numbers of accusations made against Muslims living on Malta as well as Christians. This was because Malta was home to a large population of Muslim slaves, many owned by the Knights of St John (Knights Hospitaller) who were the rulers of the Maltese islands.  Often these slaves were accused of doing magic for Christians, as a way of earning money, but many Christians were also accused of offering similar services.  These rich records remain comparatively under-studied by historians of magic. 

My current research focuses on what these records can tell us about interactions between Christians and Muslims in the field of magic, and in particular seeks to compare accusations against Muslims with those made against Christians. Many of the accusations – against both Muslims and Christians – relate to similar types of magic, such as ‘superstitious’ healing (which employed written or spoken words, plants, stones, and other objects), love magic, and magic to find stolen goods or hidden treasure.  My research explores questions such as: when and why did people employ practitioners who offered these services?  How did they decide whom to employ?  Did they perceive Muslim practitioners and their activities differently from Christian ones?   How did the inquisitors deal with cases involving non-Christian practitioners?  Inquisition records do not offer transparent windows on to these questions (as many scholars have shown) but the amount of circumstantial detail given in the witness testimonies nonetheless allows us to explore the range of attitudes to magic in early modern Malta.

This paper will examine some of the individual cases of magic in the archives, such as that of Sellem bin al-Sheikh Mansur in 1605 (whose case formed the basis of an earlier project I worked on). It will also introduce my current project which involves compiling a database of cases in order to track patterns in magic accusations and identify groups of practitioners.


Due to COVID-19 restrictions the lecture will be online. If you wish to receive the Zoom link, please send a email to