Sunday, 16 August 2009

The History of Witchcraft - Lois Martin

As a prolific book reader I thought it would add a little more variety to this blog if I included posts about the esoteric books I've read and some general thoughts on them. This is my latest finish:

Synopsis: Witchcraft has recently undergone a huge popular revival, but does modern pagan witchcraft really bear any resemblance to its historical antecedents?

The witch in history was a very different creature from her modern counterpart, and this book sets out to explore the historical background to the European witchcraft phenomenon. It examines in detail the growth of the ideological , cultural and legal concepts that eventually led to the carnage of the Witch Craze in the 16th and 17th centuries, which may have claimed the lives of around 40,000 people.

For both medieval and Reformation scholars alike the Devil and all his works were a very real threat. Their conviction that witches were the servants of Satan led to the formation of perhaps one of the greatest conspiracy theories of all times: a belief that witches were working in league with the Devil in a diabolical plot against all Christendom. Witches were transformed from poor deluded old women who rode out at night with the pagan Goddess Diana into devil-worshipping heretics who became the focus of a centuries-long, Europe-wide campaign determined to seek out and destroy this evil wherever it was to be found, regardless of whether any of its victims were actually guilty or not.

This title is part of the Pocket Essentials range and, for a little book, is crammed full of historical details and information on the history of witchcraft and how changing attitudes and beliefs impacted and altered the way people thought about and behaved towards those who followed ages old Pagan beliefs. Those changes resulted in the Witch Craze.

I've generally found that Pagan books that touch on the subject are usually unable to refrain from either being emotional, defensive or condemnatory: perfectly understandable because, lets face it, no modern Pagan wants to be subject to that kind of persecution and will always feel empathy for those who suffered. Other books have left me with the feeling that they are still being condemnatory - perhaps because the authors' own belief systems have coloured their attitude to the subject. Either way, the subject matter always seems to hit a nerve or two.

It was good to read a factual historical account that didn't have an hidden agenda and just presented everything, as researched, in a clear and concise way. Though nothing can ever excuse the horrendous events it does go some way to making you realise what happened, when and, more importantly, why these persecutions took place: due to the mindsets at the time. The book also opened my eyes to the realisation that the Church, though not fully blameless, weren't actually the main instigators behind said persecutions - it seems that role was down to the legal profession and the courts of the time.

There are two useful lists at the end of the book: one for Further Reading and another of relevant websites, all of which I'll investigate further at a later date.

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