MAGIC IN THE MIDDLE AGES. By Richard Kieckhefer. Cambridge University Press, 1990. Pp. x, 219. £ 20.00 hardback; £ 6.95 paperback. Medieval magic is a singularly elusive topic. Magical beliefs or practices may be part of the background, and not infrequently the foreground, of almost any text or action, from the quarrels of peasants to the nightmares of monks, the speculations of schoolmen or the intrigues of courtiers. Nevertheless, it is probably not grossly libellous to suspect that relatively few working medievalists could readily provide a brief rundown of their currency, development and content. A textbook, which is what this series undertakes to provide, is therefore very much in order, though the variety and unevenness of both primary sources and secondary discussion make Richard Kieckhefer's ostensibly modest aim of examining 'the full range of medieval magical beliefs and practices' a bold undertaking. He is in most ways remarkably successful, presenting an account of the state of knowledge whose lucidity and balance far exceed those of the materials upon which he has to draw, but also a great deal in the way of originality of information and argument. Kieckhefer's first concern is, as it must be, with beliefs about magic, whose content and formation are clearly set out in a broad and elegant framework which incorporates classical, Germanic and Celtic tradition through the entire medieval period, and (from the thirteenth century) the exotic additions which came by way of Arabic science and the fringes of the learned world which it inhabited. Chapters on 'the common tradition' and 'magic in courtly culture' distinguish systematically between popular beliefs and those current among the privileged, both learned and unlearned, though Kieckhefer argues for a good deal of interchange and common ground between them. His familiarity with a wide range of sources throughout the period, and particularly the way in which he draws upon a variety of unpublished sources from the later middle ages, make this a remarkably lively and comprehensive account in a very modest compass. To establish what people thought might happen is to raise (though in previous work in this field not always to confront) the trickier question of what actually did happen? Kieckhefer is fully alive to the difficulties, and deals with them sensibly, disentangling from the rich and exuberant fabric of belief and anecdote a good deal which may also reasonably be regarded as action. In this respect, his brief account of the emergence of a 'clerical underworld' in which the unemployed and underemployed on the fringes of the ecclesiastical and academic worlds augmented their meagre resources and reputation by dabbling in necromancy and providing general magical services is one of the best and most interesting parts of the book. So to a third, and yet more difficult, question: if many people did engage in magical practices, and if it was believed that such practices were carried on to an even greater extent than they actually were, why? Hence, one of the central problems of the history of ideas, and of religious history in particular: to what extent can we accept people s beliefs, and especially their beliefs about why they have acted as they did, as explaining their actions? If Kieckhefer poses this question, which is less clear than