Why have societies all across the world feared witchcraft? This book delves deeply into its context, beliefs, and origins in Europe’s history.
The witch came to prominence—and often a painful death—in early modern Europe, yet her origins are much more geographically diverse and historically deep. In this landmark book, Ronald Hutton traces witchcraft from the ancient world to the early-modern stake.
This book sets the notorious European witch trials in the widest and deepest possible perspective and traces the major historiographical developments of witchcraft. Hutton, a renowned expert on ancient, medieval, and modern paganism and witchcraft beliefs, combines Anglo-American and continental scholarly approaches to examine attitudes on witchcraft and the treatment of suspected witches across the world, including in Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, Australia, and North and South America, and from ancient pagan times to current interpretations. His fresh anthropological and ethnographical approach focuses on cultural inheritance and change while considering shamanism, folk religion, the range of witch trials, and how the fear of witchcraft might be eradicated.
I don’t often read non-fiction these days, but having an interest in the history of witchcraft, this book really appealed to me.
The good things about this book are that it is without a doubt exceptionally well researched, very informative and straight to the point with no bulking out of words. This would be a great book for anyone studying this subject. There is also a huge bibliography at the back, so plenty more to read after completing this book if you wish.
For my personal enjoyment this book was too academic and somewhat heavy going. I’ve not read something quite like this since my university days twenty years ago, when I studied a degree in Psychology, Sociology, Philosophy and English Literature. I think I used up too many brain cells in my twenties, as I struggle to take in this amount of information these days. I think I would have to read this a couple more times to be happy that I’ve absorbed enough information in this subject. I would say it is written a lot like a dissertation, so it really does cover a lot of information about different views, fears and beliefs about witches and witchcraft all around the world, during different periods of time throughout history.
Some of the information was very interesting. Having been fascinated about Ancient Egypt since a child and actually writing about Ancient Egyptian religion for my university dissertation, I did really enjoy the sections that discussed Egypt. I loved that Egypt didn’t fear witches and didn’t disapprove of the use of magic. I could definitely have been an Ancient Egyptian. Egypt is actually the only country that I’ve been to outside Europe, and I’ve actually been there twice, so I must love it.
Having also loved fairies since a child, I really enjoyed the section on witches and fairies, and how people believing in fairies led to them being treated as witches. Unless I lived in Ancient Egypt, I don’t think I’d have survived living in the past, as I have far too much of a whimsical mind, and love living in a fantasy world, which no doubt would have resulted in my demise somewhat earlier that I would have liked!
If this had been a fictional book, I would have rated it 3 stars based on personal enjoyment. However, I do feel this book deserves 4 stars because of the extent of information this book provides to the reader. Clearly a huge amount of effort went into researching this subject. So as long as you don’t mind absorbing a lot of information then I would recommend this book if you are interested in this subject.
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