Introduction
in Witchcraft narratives in Germany

This chapter focuses on the trials involving allegations and confessions of maleficent or demonic witchcraft that took place in the German city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber between c.1561 and c.1652. Rothenburg had a restrained pattern of witch-hunting during this period, with relatively few trials (even fewer of which ended in guilty verdicts against alleged witches); no mass-panics involving large numbers of accused witches; and the execution of only one alleged witch. The reasons for this phenomenon are analyzed. Detailed readings of the exceptionally rich records from the Rothenburg witch trials are provided to explore the social and psychic tensions that lay behind the making of witchcraft accusations and confessions, the popular and elite reactions to these accusations and confessions, and the ways in which participants in witch-trials pursued strategies, expressed emotions and negotiated conflicts through what they said about witchcraft. The witch-trials are contextualized, using a range of other sources in order to establish the life histories of trial-participants, the immediate circumstances of particular trials, and the broader social and cultural context of the beliefs and conflicts expressed and negotiated within them. The different ways—desperate, measured, artful, enthusiastic, unwilling—in which accusers and witnesses shaped their stories of witchcraft and participated in trial-processes to the advantage or disadvantage of the accused witch tell a great deal about their reasons for so doing and about their pre-trial relationship with the accused witch, as well as about the narrative-telling strategies available to them and their awareness of the risks that they ran in speaking openly about witchcraft.

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Witchcraft narratives in Germany

Rothenburg, 1561–1652

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