THE SCOTTISH WITCH HUNT IN CONTEXT
Ed by Julian Goodare, published by Manchester University Press at £14.99. 240pp. ISBN: 0-7190-6024-9 (Reviewed by Brian Hoggard)
This book is an excellent and long-awaited review of the Scottish witch-hunt and it will appeal to anyone interested in witchcraft no matter where they live. After a concise introduction which justly pays homage to earlier work of Christina Larner there are a further eleven chapters written by some of the foremost scholars of witchcraft. The authors are Julian Goodare, Ronald Hutton, Stuart MacDonald, Lauren Martin, Joyce Miller, Louise Yeoman, Michael Wasser, Brian P Levack, James Sharpe, Edward J Cawan and Lizanne Henderson.
The papers in this book have been chosen incredibly well. They compliment, contrast with and inform one another. At the start Hutton's paper deals with 'The Global Context of the Scottish Witch-Hunt' and reviews previous anthropological work on tribal witchcraft and also the nature of shamanism, with particular reference to Siberian shamans. This paper provides some measure of the shamanic qualities at work in Scottish culture and society during this time. It is refreshing to see this kind of approach being introduced in a new way by Hutton here.
Amongst the other papers in this book there is one looking at the influence that the devil may have had in the Scottish witch-trials and there is an excellent case study of the witchcraft panic of 1597 showing some of the cultural, political and social factors which may have impacted upon that series of events. Beliefs and experiences of witchcraft in the lives of women are explored in Lauren Martin's paper and a paper on folk healing shows how the church's concerns about fringe activity of this sort led to an increase in pressure on the people who performed it and benefited from it. Those wealthy people who were implicated in witchcraft trials and their persecutors are identified in one paper and the differences between them and their poorer counterparts. The politics of the Scottish state, the last major witch-hunt in Scotland, and the decline of witch-hunting make up the remaining chapters that deal with the main witch-hunt period.
There are two final chapters. The first of these is 'Witch-hunting and historiography: Some Anglo-Scottish comparisons'. This kind of contrast between the types of studies of witchcraft in both countries and the differences it has revealed in the manifestations of witch-trials in them is very useful and will no-doubt aid future comparative research in this field. The last chapter of all in this book is 'The Last of the Witches? The Survival of Scottish Witch-Belief'. This particular paper deals with witchcraft post 1700 - an area of study which remains little explored - and its inclusion in a book of this type should be welcomed. It appears that in Scotland, as in England, cunning-folk continued in their work and neighbourly suspicions continued.
This book updates and revises what is known about the witch-hunts in Scotland. The work presented in the book is of an extremely high standard and has much relevance to historians and enthusiasts of witchcraft history throughout the world. Each paper has it's own level of fascination and I would not describe any of them as overly dry or academic – although it is all written to academic standards. The range of content in this book means that every angle is covered and this makes it ideal as a way into the subject.
Rarely have I read a collection of papers which are so well matched and so complimentary to each other. This book really works and has definitely become, with Christina Larner's work, the other essential work to have on witchcraft in Scotland. If you are remotely interested in witchcraft in Scotland this is the book to get.