Open Access (free)
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
Author: 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.

Author: Eric Pudney

This book situates witchcraft drama within its cultural and intellectual context, highlighting the centrality of scepticism and belief in witchcraft to the genre. It is argued that these categories are most fruitfully understood not as static and mutually exclusive positions within the debate around witchcraft, but as rhetorical tools used within it. In drama, too, scepticism and belief are vital issues. The psychology of the witch character is characterised by a combination of impious scepticism towards God and credulous belief in the tricks of the witch’s master, the devil. Plays which present plausible depictions of witches typically use scepticism as a support: the witch’s power is subject to important limitations which make it easier to believe. Plays that take witchcraft less seriously present witches with unrestrained power, an excess of belief which ultimately induces scepticism. But scepticism towards witchcraft can become a veneer of rationality concealing other beliefs that pass without sceptical examination. The theatrical representation of witchcraft powerfully demonstrates its uncertain status as a historical and intellectual phenomenon; belief and scepticism in witchcraft drama are always found together, in creative tension with one another.

Theology and popular belief

The Malleus Maleficarum is one of the best-known treatises dealing with the problem of what to do with witches. Written in 1487 by a Dominican inquisitor, Heinrich Institoris, following his failure to prosecute a number of women for witchcraft, it is in many ways a highly personal document, full of frustration at official complacency in the face of a spiritual threat, as well as being a practical guide for law-officers who have to deal with a cunning, dangerous enemy. Combining theological discussion, illustrative anecdotes and useful advice for those involved in suppressing witchcraft, the treatise's influence on witchcraft studies has been extensive. The only previous translation into English, that by Montague Summers in 1928, is full of inaccuracies. It is written in a style almost unreadable nowadays, and is unfortunately coloured by Institoris's personal agenda. This new edited translation, with an introductory essay setting witchcraft, Institoris and the Malleus into clear English, corrects Summers' mistakes and offers an unvarnished version of what Institoris actually wrote. It will undoubtedly become the standard translation of this controversial late medieval text.

Eric Pudney

6 Witchcraft in the Restoration By comparison with the late Elizabethan and early Jacobean periods, there were very few prosecutions and executions for witchcraft during the Restoration. But despite the decline in formal indictments and convictions, lively debate about witchcraft began again during the civil war and continued, and if anything intensified, during the Restoration. Witchcraft belief, at least at the level of educated debate, had become divorced from the issue of witchcraft persecution.1 Belief in the existence of witches as agents of the devil had

in Scepticism and belief in English witchcraft drama, 1538–1681
Eric Pudney

2 Witchcraft in Elizabethan drama Witchcraft is more frequently associated with the Jacobean theatre than the Elizabethan, despite the fact that, outside the theatre, witchcraft persecution in England seems to have peaked in the 1580s and 1590s. This focus on the later period is partly a matter of modern perceptions and the canonical status of Macbeth, whose witches have overshadowed those in earlier plays in many critical discussions. However, it is also the case that witchcraft in Elizabethan drama is curiously absent, even in those plays in which it is

in Scepticism and belief in English witchcraft drama, 1538–1681
Eric Pudney

3 Witchcraft in Jacobean drama The accession of James VI of Scotland to the English throne was once seen as the beginning of a period of severe witchcraft persecution in England. Largely based on the published opinions of the new monarch, this view always had its critics – an early defender of James’s record was the historian of witchcraft and Shakespeare scholar George Lyman Kittredge – and it has since been discredited on the basis of the more empirical approach pioneered by C. L. Ewen and developed further by Alan Macfarlane.1 James’s public attitude to

in Scepticism and belief in English witchcraft drama, 1538–1681
Hans Peter Broedel

TMM5 8/30/03 5:40 PM Page 91 5 Witchcraft: the formation of belief – part one Ambrosius de Vignate was a well-respected magistrate and legal scholar, a doctor of both canon and civil law, who lectured at Padua, Bologna, and Turin between 1452 and 1468. On several occasions he participated in the trials of accused witches: he tells us that he had heard men and women alike confess – both freely and under torture – that they belonged to the sect of witches (“secta mascorum seu maleficorum”) and that they, and others whom they implicated, had done all sorts of

in The <i>Malleus Maleficarum</i> and the construction of witchcraft
Owen Davies

The continued widespread belief in witchcraft and magic in nineteenth- and twentieth-century France has received considerable academic attention. Yet little of the relevant work has been published in English and, moreover, no thematic historical survey has yet been attempted to trace the continued social significance of witchcraft over the two centuries. As well as discussing the extent and nature of

in Witchcraft Continued
Hans Peter Broedel

TMM6 8/30/03 5:37 PM Page 122 6 Witchcraft: the formation of belief – part two In the previous chapter we examined how motifs drawn from traditional beliefs about spectral night-traveling women informed the construction of learned witch categories in the late Middle Ages. Although the precise manner in which these motifs were utilized differed between authorities, two general mental habits set off fifteenth-century witch-theorists from earlier writers. First, they elided the distinctions between previously discrete sets of beliefs to create a substantially

in The <i>Malleus Maleficarum</i> and the construction of witchcraft