MALE WITCHES IN EARLY MODERN EUROPE
By Lara Apps & Andrew Gow, published by Manchester University Press at £14.99. 176pp. ISBN: 0-7190-5709-4 (Reviewed by Brian Hoggard)
Every now and again a book comes along which rips the rug out from under the feet of other authors, and this is one of those. There's some brilliant critique in this book of many of today's most influential scholars of witchcraft and that's something that should be celebrated. It's been my feeling that a certain amount of academic pretentiousness has crept into much modern writing on the subject and in this book Apps and Gow take many of those authors to task. It was fun to read from that point of view alone! I kept saying 'ow' and 'eek' when I read some of the criticisms in this one but I couldn't help but be impressed by their literal no-nonsense approach to their chosen topic.
Although this book is ostensibly about the subject of male witches, the process of accounting for male witches has revealed many interesting flaws in the methodologies of previous authors and also has changed the way that historians will view individual witchcraft cases in future work, whether they be male or female. In particular the approach that these deceased individuals should be treated respectfully and not just as statistics or case studies on which to test a theory was strongly emphasized. The point was also stressed that many assumptions are brought by modern historians into their scholarship and that there has not been enough self-awareness about these. I think that on both these points most people would agree, and it's excellent to see Apps and Gow use their incisive arguments to demonstrate the failings of earlier scholars in these respects.
The main point of the book was to flag up the consistent failure of most of the leading scholars of the last thirty years to account for male witches. In terms of language usage, statistics and case studies it has been apparent that, in the main, witchcraft has been portrayed as something peculiarly female. I would stress at this point that this general criticism is confined mostly to historians specialising on the period of the witch-trials, there does not appear to be the same concentration on women in work dealing with the periods before and after the witch-trials. The authors were particularly scathing of some of the feminist hi-jacking of the witch-trials for their own cause, but their general illustration of the apparent dismissal of most male witches by the majority (it seems) of early modern witchcraft historians was really quite startling. It appears that many modern works treat male witches as aberrations in the records and explain them away by saying that it was their association with female witches that caused them to be tried. What Apps and Gow have done in this book is bring case studies which show clearly that many of the male witches were treated in exactly the same way as women and that their presence in court records was for the same reasons, not simply by association.
The authors provide good, balanced statistical information in this book regarding male witches, along with illustrations of male witches from the period, individual case studies, and studies of language. All of these combine to bring a powerful case which I think has effectively broken the paradigm which has thus far prevailed and caused historians to view the witch-trials as an intrinsically female phenomenon. That's no mean feat! And if they've given authors like Stuart Clark and Lyndal Roper a wee pasting on the way then that has to be good for the future of this topic (wearing my cards on my sleeve too). This book will improve the quality of individual case studies in future and will hopefully also decrease the amount of 'fluffy history' which appears to have made a meal out of historical witchcraft theories recently. If you're interested in witchcraft history then this book is the new number one on the essential reading list.