They Believed That?
A Cultural Encyclopedia of Superstitions and the Supernatural around the World
by William E. Burns
December 2022, 296pp, 7 x 10
1 volume, ABC-CLIO

Hardcover: 978-1-4408-7847-3
$107, £83, 94€, A147
Please contact your preferred distributor for pricing.
eBook Available: 978-1-4408-7848-0
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A stone called the alectorius, found in the gizzard of a rooster, was believed to bring victory to those who carried it in fights, bets, or athletic contests from ancient Greece to the early 19th century.

This encyclopedia is the perfect guide to the weird, magical, superstitious, and supernatural beliefs of people from all over the world.

This book is devoted to those human beliefs that fall in the “gray zone” between science, religion, and everyday life—call them superstitious, supernatural, magical, or just wrong. In an often incomprehensible world where lightning or plague could end life quickly or drought could condemn a poor family to agonizing death, superstitious beliefs gave people a feeling of understanding or even control. They have continued to shape societies and cultures ever since.

This book covers a range of superstitious, supernatural, and otherwise unusual beliefs from the ancient world to the early 19th century. More than 100 entries explain beliefs, discuss historical evidence, and explain how each belief differs across cultures. This book is a perfect gateway for anyone curious about superstitious and magical beliefs, with topics ranging from the everyday, such as dogs and iron, to legendary figures, such as Hermes Trismegistus and the Yellow Emperor.


  • Explores how superstitious beliefs have changed throughout time and across cultures
  • Features sidebars that introduce various people, objects, and ideas related to superstitious beliefs
  • Discusses superstitions surrounding both common, everyday phenomena and more unusual ideas
  • Offers around 150 entries with extensive cross-referencing to help readers view information in context
William E. Burns, PhD, is a historian who lives in the Washington, D.C. area. His many books include Witch Hunts in Europe and America and An Age of Wonders: Prodigies, Politics, and Providence in England, 1657–1727. He earned his PhD in 1994 from the University of California, Davis.


"This reference work does a good job of including representative entities with associated beliefs from different centuries and cultures."—Booklist, January 20, 2023
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