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Nils Freytag

Research on the continuation of witchcraft beliefs after the end of the witch trials is still in its infancy among German historians. Cultural and denominational distance must have played a prominent role and should not be underestimated, especially as it was used for auxiliary argumentation culminating in the handy and catchy accusation of superstition. Even if exorcists and witch doctors who spread the belief in witchcraft were seen as damaging, superstitious and dangerous in the official verdict, this view only prevailed very haltingly among the local population. Prussian medical authorities, and many doctors in their wake, tried to use their medical and scientific world-view to rationalize the irrational and to explain 'abnormal' beliefs increasingly in terms of mental illness. The Catholic Church and state administration were confronted time and again with petitions and queries regarding witchcraft and magic, which contain many differing views and interpretations.

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Hans Peter Broedel

This chapter discusses a different set of ideas about the construction of learned witch categories in the late Middle Ages, all of which, from the clerical perspective, revolved around the idea of direct or indirect commerce with the devil: heresy, black magic and superstition. In late medieval times, witchcraft was a composite – a combination of motifs derived from a number of quite different traditions: those associated with monstrous female spirits, animal transformation, demonolatrous heresy, maleficent magic and superstition being among the most prominent. The resulting composite figures were in no way haphazard; rather, each one of these established categories were used as a kind of conceptual template to provide the underlying principles around which one version of witchcraft was ordered and constructed. In the text, as in some other German texts, the witch was defined through her maleficium and practice of magic. Many French models of witchcraft depicted the witch more as a demonised heretic – a being defined by her willing entry into the demonic pact and her worship of the devil. In every case, however, the template originally chosen by the witch theorist both defined and restricted the field of his inquiry and the scope of his investigation, while determining, at the same time, the inherent plausibility of his definition of ‘witch’ and ‘witchcraft’, and the extent to which these categories could be used to drive witchcraft persecutions.

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Hans Peter Broedel

In a universe where God and the devil had, to such an extent, abandoned their traditional roles, learned theologians had plenty of space in which to carve out the new category of witchcraft. Although the broad contours of late-medieval learned conceptions of witchcraft were determined by basic metaphysical assumptions, the specific form these conceptions took was primarily the result of the evidence and experience available to various authors. This chapter discusses the epistemological problems posed by belief in witchcraft. It examines how motifs drawn from traditional beliefs about spectral night-traveling women informed the construction of learned witch categories in the late middle Ages. In the case of Institoris and Sprenger, their category ‘witch’ responded to their experience as inquisitors, which included extensive familiarity with the oral testimony of victims of witchcraft and of accused witches themselves. Their witches were the common people's witches, those unpleasant and unpopular individuals held responsible for damaging crops, souring milk and causing illness out of petty malice. Institoris and Sprenger were predisposed to accept almost any consistent body of testimony at face value. Their notion of witchcraft retained congruence with traditional beliefs lacking in the constructions of authors with different experience or epistemological orientations.

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Witchcraft narratives in Germany

Rothenburg, 1561–1652

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Alison Rowlands

Given the widespread belief in witchcraft and the existence of laws against such practices, why did witch-trials fail to gain momentum and escalate into ‘witch-crazes’ in certain parts of early modern Europe? This book answers this question by examining the rich legal records of the German city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a city that experienced a very restrained pattern of witch-trials and just one execution for witchcraft between 1561 and 1652. The book explores the factors that explain the absence of a ‘witch-craze’ in Rothenburg, placing particular emphasis on the interaction of elite and popular priorities in the pursuit (and non-pursuit) of alleged witches at law. By making the witchcraft narratives told by the peasants and townspeople of Rothenburg central to its analysis, the book also explores the social and psychological conflicts that lay behind the making of accusations and confessions of witchcraft. Furthermore, it challenges the existing explanations for the gender-bias of witch-trials, and also offers insights into other areas of early modern life, such as experiences of and beliefs about communal conflict, magic, motherhood, childhood and illness. Written in a narrative style, the study invites a wide readership to share in the drama of early modern witch trials.

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Sabina Magliocco

This chapter provides a general overview of vernacular magical beliefs and practices in Italy from the time of unification to the present, with particular attention to how the traditions have been studied. Belief in witchcraft was once widespread in all regions of Italy. Witch beliefs, folk healing and the legend complexes related to them have generally been studied as aspects of 'folk', 'unofficial' or 'popular' belief or religion. The folkloric witch appears predominantly in legends and folk tales. In Italian folklore she is usually female. The chapter adopts Leonard Primiano's use of the term 'vernacular' and broadening its application beyond the study of religion to include magic. The evil eye belief complex encompassed a range of phenomena, from the often inadvertent jettatura or malocchio (evil eye) to more intentional magical attacks, known as attaccatura ('attachment'), fascino or legatura ('binding'), and fattura ('fixing').

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Witchcraft Continued

Popular magic in modern Europe

Edited by: Willem de Blécourt and Owen Davies

The study of witchcraft accusations in Europe during the period after the end of the witch trials is still in its infancy. Witches were scratched in England, swum in Germany, beaten in the Netherlands and shot in France. The continued widespread belief in witchcraft and magic in nineteenth- and twentieth-century France has received considerable academic attention. The book discusses the extent and nature of witchcraft accusations in the period and provides a general survey of the published work on the subject for an English audience. It explores the presence of magical elements in everyday life during the modern period in Spain. The book provides a general overview of vernacular magical beliefs and practices in Italy from the time of unification to the present, with particular attention to how these traditions have been studied. By functioning as mechanisms of social ethos and control, narratives of magical harm were assured a place at the very heart of rural Finnish social dynamics into the twentieth century. The book draws upon over 300 narratives recorded in rural Finland in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that provide information concerning the social relations, tensions and strategies that framed sorcery and the counter-magic employed against it. It is concerned with a special form of witchcraft that is practised only amongst Hungarians living in Transylvania.

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Hans Peter Broedel

The fact that a greater multitude of witches was found among women than among men was so obviously a fact to the authors of the ‘Malleus Maleficarum’ that, despite scholastic custom, it was completely unnecessary to deduce arguments to the contrary. This chapter argues that Institoris and Sprenger's much noted emphasis upon women as the overwhelming practitioners of witchcraft is quite probably descriptive rather than prescriptive in nature. Nonetheless, their interpretation of this apparent fact was very much their own, and depended closely upon their intense fear of the disordering power of female sexuality. Just as the person of the witch is closely identified with that of the devil in the text, Malleus, so too does unbridled female sexuality come to be all but indistinguishable from demonic power. For all their misogyny, Institoris and Sprenger never accuse chaste virgins of witchcraft. Indeed, one of the most remarkably virtuous characters to be found in their text is a woman, a ‘poor little virgin and most devout’, who was able to cure bewitched persons by merely reciting the Lord's Prayer with complete faith.

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Peter Maxwell-Stuart

Magic and witchcraft constituted the scenery, and often the script, of everyone's life during the eighteenth century as much as it had ever done in the seventeenth or sixteenth. For the instruments of any attempt to unify Scotland's remarkable diversity were the Law and the St Giles Kirk, and it is a remarkable fact that, London government and commercialising landlord apart, neither appears to have exerted itself overmuch in relation to crimes of magic. The eighteenth century did not look kindly upon either the Episcopal Church, which found itself in disgrace after 1745 because of its alleged support for the Stuart cause or the Presbyterian Kirk, which was more and more plagued by controversy. Compared with the Kirk's intense scrutiny of adulterers and fornicators and her eagerness to punish their sins, the pursuit of witches can sometimes seem almost desultory.

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Owen Davies

This chapter discusses the extent and nature of witchcraft accusations in nineteenth- and twentieth-century France, and provides a general survey of the published work on the subject for an English audience. The only way of maintaining popular participation was to accommodate folk beliefs, involve people in the manifestation of the supernatural, and promote the practical application of religion. Both historical and ethnographic sources provide ample evidence that people can think in terms of witchcraft without being devoutly religious. In France the paysan under any economic definition ceased to exist by the 1960s, but as a cultural construct it remains a strong, symbolic reality to this day. For Arnold Van Gennep popular beliefs regarding the supernatural were living aspects of current culture, albeit a 'traditional' one at odds with modernity, and to record and measure them required a subtle and systematic method of oral interviewing.

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The witch and the detective

mid-Victorian stories and beliefs

Susan Hoyle

The best source for the study of Victorian witchcraft is newspapers. This chapter first discusses the power of narrative in detail. It then looks at two instances of alleged witchcraft, both of which attracted much notoriety in their day. A great deal of attention has been paid to the development in this period of the detective novel, particularly to the work of Poe, Dickens and Collins. The chapter begins with witch-cutting of Jane Ward in Stratford-on-Avon in the late 1860s. False-pretences charges in 'witchcraft trials' were against cunning-folk, always after they had accepted cash or payment-in-kind for their services, and usually after they had failed to achieve what they had promised. The tale of how a cunning-man called James Tunnicliff duped the newly-married Thomas and Elizabeth Charlesworth is complex, and the chapter provides a context for the forensic narrative. In both, those stories were countered in court by forensic stories.