HERESY, MAGIC AND WITCHCRAFT IN EARLY MODERN EUROPE
By Gary K Waite, published by Palgrave Macmillan at £15.99. 296pp. ISBN: 0333754344 (Reviewed by Brian Hoggard)
This book aims to give a broad overview of heresy, magic and witchcraft with analysis of the causes of persecution of groups accused of these things. The book comprises six key chapters and a short concluding chapter which summarizes the main issues in the book.
The first chapter looks at the 'Devil, Heresy and Magic in the Later Middle Ages', the second looks at 'The Reformation and the End of the World' and the third looks at 'Heresy, Doubt and the Demonizing "Other"'. The three subsequent chapters focus on witchcraft, looking at the trials, the thinking of key demonologists and the many various reasons influencing the nature and causes of the persecutions.
The book covers many aspects of heresy and persecution of heretical groups including jews, radical religious groups, and Protestants and Catholics. The section covering the period of the witch-trials covers ground which has been very well covered by many other authors but it does provide a very good summary of the principal scholarship in the field. Throughout, the book is very well referenced and has an excellent annotated bibliography making it very well suited to being used as a reference text on any of the issues covered in the book. The writing style is quite dense and will be fairly slow going for those not used to academic history books, but compared to other books aimed at the same audience it does read very well.
The best feature of the book is that it's theme is heresy and way that groups could be 'demonized' by the dominant church in their region. Because of this broader than usual approach many groups not normally encountered in historical works have their story told in the context they deserve. Waite's understanding of the relationship between church, state and people is clearly demonstrated in the prominence of this contextual information throughout the book. This means that none of the topics are viewed in isolation, and from beginning to end the connections and similarities between persecution events are very clear. It is quite an achievement to write in such detail yet retain a balanced overview. I felt that my understanding of the period was improved by this book.
The style of the book is ideally suited to use as a superb undergraduate text, but one which any enthusiast of the history of heresy in all it's forms would benefit enormously from reading. Highly recommended.