THE ATHLONE HISTORY OF WITCHCRAFT AND MAGIC IN EUROPE SERIES: Volume 4 – The Early Modern Period
Ankarloo & Clarke (Eds), published by Athlone Press at £18.99. 185pp. ISBN: 0-485-89104-2 (Reviewed by Brian Hoggard)
This book is the last of Athlone's six-volume history of witchcraft and magic to be published and it completes the set very nicely indeed. This is the period which the editors have expertise in and it is really their curiosity about other periods that drove the creation of this series. So it seems fitting that the editors should save their own volume until last, having enjoyed reading the contributions from all the other authors in the other volumes.
The contributors in this volume are William Monter of Northwestern University with 'Witch-Trials in Continental Europe, 1560-1660', Bengt Ankarloo of Lund University with 'Witch-Trials in Northern Europe, 1450-1700' and bringing up the rear is Stuart Clark of the University of Wales, Swansea with 'Witchcraft and Magic in Early Modern Culture'. The choice of papers here covers Europe's witch-trials during the early modern period in summary fashion.
William Monter starts proceedings with his summary of the timings, nature and quantity of witch-trials between 1560 and 1660. In his paper he travels through Europe bit by bit assessing the evidence for the witch-trials and critically re-appraising the data for the numbers of people killed or tried in them. His paper is a significant contribution to the statistical information regarding witch-trials in this period and uses the very latest evidence in order to achieve this. In each regional examination he looks at the specific reasons for each outbreak of witch hunting where known and also examines the nature of the legal systems in that region to see what impact that may have had on the trials. From this it becomes clear that centralised legal systems tended to constrain and restrict the outbreaks where local justice could often exacerbate it. This paper demonstrates Monter's impressive familiarity with the evidence from the period and will be an extremely useful paper for any student of the period.
Bengt Ankarloo's paper does much the same thing for northern Europe but over a broader period. Ankarloo brings to life many of the trials through describing some of the supernatural events and beliefs that were central to the trials. He also assesses the many differences between northern Europe and Continental Europe including analyses of the sex of those tried, the nature of the demonic pact and the nature of the witch's familiar. He too looks at the nature of the judicial systems in the regions he examines and, after reading Monter's paper too, you begin to develop a broad understanding of the character of the witch-trials across early modern Europe. And with Ankarloo's paper you get some pretty cool stories too!
Stuart Clark is famed for his gargantuan work Thinking With Demons (previously reviewed in WD) which I found to be simultaneously amazing and tiresome so I approached his part of this Athlone volume with some trepidation. Worryingly, this paper is the longest in the book so I was getting a bit concerned that I might be in for a repeat scenario but I was extremely pleasantly surprised. This chapter should really be released as a small book in itself as it is an excellent and bang up to date summary of what is known about witchcraft trials, beliefs and practices in the period. He also deals with 'high' or intellectual magic which was another pleasant surprise. This chapter isn't totally comprehensive in its coverage of the topic but that would have made the chapter much longer. An excellent chapter here to complete an excellent series.
In summary this book is fab and in fact this entire series is superb and well worth ordering via your local bookstore (as few seem to have them in stock). If you're remotely interested in witchcraft and magic – which I assume you are if you're reading this! – then this whole series is a good investment which you really will not regret buying. I can highly recommend these books!