Witchcraft Continued: Popular Magic in Modern Europe

Witchcraft Continued: Popular Magic in Modern Europe

Witchcraft Continued: Popular Magic in Modern Europe

Witchcraft Continued: Popular Magic in Modern Europe

Synopsis

"Witchcraft Continued" provides an important collection of essays on the nature and understanding of witchcraft in European society over the last two centuries. It innovatively brings together the interests of historians with the fieldwork of anthropologists and sociologists on the continued relevance of witch beliefs. The book covers England, The Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Germany, France, Finland, Transylvania and Northern Ireland. It examines the experience of and attitudes towards witchcraft, demonstrating the widespread fear of witches among the masses during the nineteenth century, and the more restricted relevance of witchcraft in the twentieth century, along with the rise of the folklore movement. While the educated classes generally denounced witch-believers as either superstitious, foolish or both, secular and religious authorities still had to find strategies of dealing with the demands of those who believed themselves the victims of witchcraft.

Excerpt

Willem de Blécourt and Owen Davies

The study of witchcraft accusations in Europe during the period after the end of the witch trials is still in its infancy. The present volume, together with its companion Beyond the witch trials, intends to develop the field further by presenting a plethora of studies from across Europe and, most importantly, to inspire new research. Whereas Beyond the witch trials focused on the period of the Enlightenment, from the late seventeenth through to the end of the eighteenth century, here we pay attention to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Once again we have sought to bring together an interdisciplinary group of scholars, whose contributions demonstrate the value of applying the analytical tools of sociology, anthropology, folkloristics and literary studies to historical sources. Above all they show that the history of witchcraft in the modern era is as much a story of continuation as of decline.

The nineteenth century stands out as the great unknown in witchcraft studies, although this differs from country to country. Flanked on one side by the eighteenth century, during which the pyres still flared occasionally in countries such as Germany, Switzerland and Hungary, and the Mediterranean Inquisitions were still active, and on the other by the twentieth century, during which anthropologists, folklorists and legal researchers generated volumes of new witchcraft material, the 1800s have often escaped extensive scrutiny. This is at least the case when we look at witchcraft studies on a European scale. England is a notable exception, but compared with much of the continent it received little attention from twentieth-century fieldworkers. The question is whether this primarily reflects the state of research or the actual historical situation. The English case is complicated, moreover, by the invention of witchcraft as a pagan religion during the 1950s, which, as Gustav Henningsen wrote, had ‘nothing to do with witchcraft in the traditional sense’.

It is very plausible to argue that witchcraft as a modern DIY religion could only emerge when its namesake had become largely irrelevant. But then we have to bear in mind that most of the people who were and are . . .

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