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Popular magic in modern Europe

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.

Rothenburg, 1561–1652

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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witchcraft, both during trials and in the course of everyday social interaction. The narratives told by the child-witches of Rothenburg were thus so shocking to contemporaries and posed such a severe test of the authorities’ restrained handling of witchcraft allegations because they broke and threatened to permanently loosen the conventions that traditionally governed and constrained how people in the area spoke about witchcraft. The second factor which limited the severity and scale of witch-trials in Rothenburg was the refusal on the part of the elites to abandon normal

in Witchcraft narratives in Germany

. Yet for today’s folklorist or oral historian, this context represents unknown territory. Without information concerning their social setting and underlying motivations, practices aimed at magical harm may appear as dark, mysterious, anti-social events completely divorced from normal, everyday social interaction and experience, or opposed to social integration and cohesion. In this chapter I draw upon over 300 narratives

in Witchcraft Continued

separation of complex, dynamic practices that cut across lines of class and power within a single society. 4 Of course, power relationships do profoundly influence belief and practice; my adoption of the term ‘vernacular’ is not meant to deny this, but rather to call attention to how particular individuals shape their own beliefs and practices in response to their social position, as well as to the many ways that vernacular religion and magic can both

in Witchcraft Continued

, in Christina Larner’s apt phrase, witch-hunting actually woman-hunting?3 Or are Institoris and Sprenger basically right – that without any learned coaching, people more often accused women of witchcraft than men? In other words, is the gender bias of texts like the Malleus descriptive or prescriptive in nature? Many modern scholars incline toward the latter view, and look to medieval clerical misogyny, masculine anxieties about the changing social, economic, or familial roles of women, women’s control over proscribed medicinal or magical activities, or changing

in The Malleus Maleficarum and the construction of witchcraft
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witchcraft continued

something that is specific to particular historical situations. 7 Furthermore, different parts of magic may have their own temporality. ‘Magical beliefs were not all bound up with each other like some monumental cultural artefact’, Owen Davies has written. ‘Specific magical practices declined, continued or even advanced depending on different and often localised social trends’. 8 And like ‘superstition’, magic appears as something to tell tales about

in Witchcraft Continued
medical pluralism and the search for hegemony

Rodríguez Ocaña and Enrique Perdiguero, ‘Ciencia y persuasión social en la medicalización de la infancia en España, Siglos XIX-XX’, Practices of Healing in Modern Latin America and Spain Conference (New York, 2001, unpublished). 21 Elena Robles and Lucia Pozzi, ‘La mortalidad infantil en los años de la transición: una reflexión desde las

in Witchcraft Continued
witchcraft on the borderline of religion and magic

insufficient for a comprehensive survey of the system’s functioning or for the elucidation of its social and mental environment. What we have managed to observe and record was in fact not so much the practice as the narratives about it, from which we can make only indirect and conditional inferences about the real situation. What follows is a preliminary overview of the findings based on around one hundred collected narratives. Until

in Witchcraft Continued

–1830: The Social World of Medical Practice (Cambridge, 1988); idem, ‘Magical Healing, Witchcraft and Elite Discourse in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century France’, in Marijke GijswijtHofstra, Hilary Marland and Hans de Waardt (eds), Illness and Healing Alternatives in Western Europe (London and New York, 1997), pp. 14–37; Eloïse Mozzani, Magie et superstitions de la fin de l’Ancien Régime à la

in Witchcraft Continued