How have perceptions of magic shaped sexuality, love, and reproduction in the past?

“Bewitched,” “enchanted,” “spellbound,” “possessed” — the language of seduction and love is replete with allusions to magic. In the early modern period, magic and sexuality were deeply intertwined and there was a widespread consensus that humans were vulnerable to mysterious powers, especially when it came to their sex lives. For instance, accusations of love magic appear regularly in the records of the Mexican, Spanish, and Roman Inquisitions. Additionally, Renaissance scholars argued that imagination affected unborn children, forming an infant according to what its mother looked upon at the moment of conception. Amid deadly witch-hunts, anxieties about magic’s effects on fertility emerged in courts and churches. Magic haunted sexuality in innumerable ways.

Bosch, Earthly Delights
Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights, circa 1480-1490 (Wikimedia Commons)

NOTCHES: (re)marks on the history of sexuality is seeking short essays (1000 – 1500 words) exploring the history of magic and sexuality, for a special series to be edited by Mackenzie Cooley. Contributions may relate to any geographical area and must have a strong historical focus. Essays exploring the premodern and early modern periods and regions outside of Europe and the US are encouraged.

Possible questions for exploration include (but are not limited to):

  • What was the relationship between magic and sexuality in the early modern period?
  • Who deployed magical explanations of sexuality and who resisted these explanations?
  • In what ways was magic linked to courtship, marriage, fertility, reproduction, and pleasure?
  • How did magical explanations frame understandings of sexual norms and sexual variance?

Please review our style, image and citation guidelines here:

  • Submissions should be written for a non-specialist and international audience. Therefore, avoid jargon and use hyperlinks wherever possible to clarify terms or concepts that may be unfamiliar to a general readership.
  • Include at least one relevant image for which you have obtained permission and caption your image with clear attribution information. We also welcome your use of a range of sources such as movies or sound files.
  • Include a short author bio including hyperlinks with your submission.

Proposals and queries are very welcome. Send submissions to Mackenzie Cooley ( by May 15, 2016. All submissions to NOTCHES will go through an internal peer review process prior to publication.

mc-pic-e1440006950985Mackenzie Anne Cooley is an Assistant Editor of NOTCHES: (re)marks on the History of Sexuality. She is currently a PhD candidate in the Stanford University Department of History where she studies history of culture and science in the early modern European and Atlantic world. Cooley’s dissertation explores perceptions of breeding in the sixteenth century, how utopian ideals affected animal and human bodies, and what that meant for the Spanish Empire. She tweets from @rovingnome.

Creative Commons License

NOTCHES: (re)marks on the history of sexuality is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at

For permission to publish any NOTCHES post in whole or in part please contact the editors at

Leave a Reply