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John Melton

(c. 1593—1640) author and politician


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(d.1640). Author and politician, Sir John Melton is of particular interest to folklorists because of his work, Astrologaster, or, The Figure-Caster, published in London in 1620. John Melton lived at a time when judicial or prognostic astrology played a high-profile political role, with warring factions regularly using predictions against each other, while Puritans raged against its ungodliness and sceptics such as Melton poured scorn on people's gullibility and the crooks and swindlers who profited by it. Lower down the social scale, there was widespread faith in fortune-telling of all kinds, and thus numerous professional fortune-tellers, a trade which is also satirized in Ben Jonson's The Alchemist (1610). The Astrologaster is a highly readable attack on these fortune-tellers, prognosticators, astrologers, and purveyors of omens, and Melton's description provides a wealth of detail about their methods. But the most important section for our present purposes is his list of 33 superstitions, which is one of the earliest attempt at a systematic listing. He blames the cunning-men and figure-casters for their invention and dissemination. He also includes the detail that some of these fortunetellers pretended to be Gypsies to further impress the country-folk. The list is reprinted in FLS News 31 (2000).

From A Dictionary of English Folklore in Oxford Reference.


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