Salem, King James VI, Malleus Maleficarum. The world of witch hunts and witch trials sounds antiquated, relics of an unenlightened and brutal age. However, 'witch hunt' is heard often in the present-day media, and the misogyny it is rooted in is all too familiar today. A woman was prosecuted under the 1735 Witchcraft Act as recently as 1944.
This book uses thirteen significant trials to explore the history of witchcraft and witch hunts. As well as investigating some of the most famous trials from the middle ages to the 18th century, it takes us in new and surprising directions. It shows us how witchcraft was decriminalised in the 18th century, only to be reimagined by the 1780s Romantic radicals. We will learn how it evolved from being seen as a threat to Christianity to perceived as gendered persecution, and how trials against chieftains in Africa stoked anger against colonial rule.
Significantly, the book tells the stories of the victims - women, such as Helena Scheuberin and Joan Wright - whose stories have too often been overshadowed by those of the powerful men, such as King James VI and I and “Witchfinder General” Matthew Hopkins, who hounded them.
While this will be a history of witchcraft, the subject cannot be consigned to the history books. Hundreds of people, mostly women, are tried and killed as witches every year in Africa. ‘WITCH HUNT!’ is as common in our language today as ever it was, and witches are still on trial across the world.
Marion Gibson is Professor of Renaissance and Magical Literatures at the University of Exeter, UK. She is the author of seven academic books on witches in history and literature: Reading Witchcraft; Possession, Puritanism, and Print; Witchcraft Myths in American Culture; Imagining the Pagan Past; Rediscovering Renaissance Witchcraft; Witchcraft: The Basics and, with Jo Esra, Shakespeare’s Demonology. Marion has also edited five books for publishers such as Routledge and Ashgate, published around twenty chapters and articles, and she is General Editor of the series Elements in Magic for Cambridge University Press. Witchcraft: A History in Thirteen Trials is her most recent work.
'These stories of witchcraft, true and vividly told, demonstrate the potent reality of belief in evil and how in any era or place fear can be weaponised and marginal people, mostly women, labelled as wicked and dangerous. Together they comprise not just a history of witchcraft but a cautionary tale of the uncomfortably human habits of paranoia and persecution'
– Malcolm Gaskill, author of The Ruin of All Witches
'It is wonderful to come across a book that breathes such fresh life and energy into a well-worked subject, covering a huge range of time and space with a unified, passionate and convincing message. Any expert is going to learn something new from it, any newcomer to be enthralled and motivated'
– Ronald Hutton, author of The Witch
'Thought-provoking and timely... Searing'
– Jessie Childs, The Times
'A vital and vivid study on the history of witch trials. Fantastic’
– Anya Bergman, author of The Witches of Vardo
’Thirteen witch trials are brought vividly to life in Gibson’s wide-ranging book’
– Daily Mail
'Inventive and compelling... A work of restitution and historical reparation, an attempt to give voice to those who have been silenced over the centuries'
– Laura Kounine, Times Literary Supplement
'The trials of the accused people in Witchcraft return to us, in detail, lives about which we might otherwise know nothing'
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