marycatelli (marycatelli) wrote,

The Witch

The Witch: A History of Fear, from Ancient Times to the Present by Ronald Hutton

A vast topic, on the world-wide figure of a person in a community who works harmful magic against its members, and is part of a tradition of magic, and rouses fear and hatred, and can be fought against.

He first compares the European idea with that worldwide, from hundreds of societies. Notes vast differences in societies with theoretic belief in witchcraft and their actual witch-hunting -- even cultures right next to each other might have one pretty much ignore the whole thing, and one fierce in hunting them down. Some things militate against witch hunts -- nomadic practices, and belief in the Evil Eye -- but not consistently. (Plus such details as a culture where witches' magic only works against people they actually like, or one where children are told they must not go outside naked because they will be taken for witches.)

Then a discussion about what is known about ancient European magical practices -- Egypt was known as a place of great magic, though it did have the advantage of preserving records -- and also about shamanism, where he had to debunk a number of ideas.

Followed by medieval/modern ceremonial magic; the Wild Hunt where he debunks a number of notions and brings in the witch folklore that does seem connected to the notion; the witch hunts (fewer than later) and beliefs of the Middle Ages including not only the hunts but such details as a legal code that proscribed calling your female ward a witch or killing someone else's slave on the accusation; and the era of the witch hunts, where I was particularly fascinated to learn that in Livonia, werewolves were beneficent beings that fought witches.

It ends discussing three British themes: the witch/fairy connection, the treatment of witches in Celtic lands, where hunts were much fewer, and finally witches and animals.

Full of interesting stuff.
Tags: history reviews: across eras

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