By Owen Davies, University of Hertfordshire
Over the last two millennia, the idea of a world governed by invisible forces has shaped the way people in western cultures have understood the relationship between us, the natural world, and the heavens. It has also profoundly shaped our interactions with each other as humans. Up until the eighteenth century, the concept of Neoplatonism, which had its origins in antiquity, was central to scientific and religious understanding. It explained how all matter was interconnected through myriad spirits. So witches, for example, were able to cause harm at a distance using spells, looks, and muttered curses, through this invisible spiritual soup.