marycatelli (marycatelli) wrote,

Witches and Neighbors

Witches and Neighbors: The Social and Cultural Context of European Witchcraft by Robin Briggs

An in-depth look at the belief and trials and conditions of the witch craze

How the confession told of making pacts, about the sabbat and how hierarchical it was, with the demons all ordered and the witches too, by wealth as they were in real life, so the poor witches arrived on brooms and rich ones on carriages, and the food was horrible (or possibly totally illusionary, you were hungry when you went home) and the common practice was to produce hail and so ruin crops.

The Devil was said to promise wealth and prosperity as well as the power to revenge yourself, but he lied about the first, any money he gave turned to rubbish.  Revenge, on the other hand, he could provide -- giving them a powder that could harm beasts and people.  Some beggars certainly used reputations to extort alms.  There's a good deal of evidence that it could take several decades to build up enough of a reputation as a witch to lead to a formal case, and in the interim, it certainly looks like some of them used curses as threats.  Very dangerous, because the standards of evidence were very loose.  Proximity of a curse and injury might be used as evidence of witchcraft -- but a gap of years would not preclude the curse being treated as the cause.

There was also demonic possession, popularly attributed to witches.  Theological opinion was quite otherwise -- in particular, theologians insisted that the demon would lie, and therefore anything it said could not be trusted and certainly could not be used as evidence in a trial

Cunning folk were in a perilous borderland.  For one thing, undoing a witching was often held to be best done by getting the witch to do something for the victim.  Midwives, on the other hand, were unrepresented as accused.

How the trials were of about three quarters women, one quarter men, but there was a lot of regional variation -- some places were about ninety percent women, others ninety percent men -- and in France where writers wrote about how feminine witchcraft was, actually the numbers were about even.

And much more.
Tags: history reviews: 15th-18th centuries

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