The Witch

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 28 Aug 2017

Member Reviews

Ronald Hutton provides a scholarly work that reads more like an easy paced journey through one of History’s most fascinating subjects. Maybe I just found the subject fascinating and enjoyed learning so much more than I had ever been taught in school. Hutton’s passion for research pours through so it’s easy to imagine he would be the favorite professor to take a class in this from on campus.

You get to experience the heightened fear during early Europe’s fascination with women’s behavior and witch trials that precede the Salem Days. What I really loved was that this was so much more than just another history book as he actually took the time to examine the historical concepts through human behavior, culture and psychology of the people and times.

I appreciated the lengths he went to examine the idea of witches as they relate to Pagan and other similar beliefs and practices particularly since not every pagan system contains ‘witches’ despite what the public believes. 

What he has provided is not just another book but THE book that should be on the must read list for anyone interested in the history and truth of how witches came to be and their intersections throughout history across multiple continents. 

Unlike some history books Hutton provides plenty of resources to support his views and evidence so you can walk away feeling assured you’re being treated to a fuller context of the truth rather than a biased viewpoint.
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Why were societies around the world so afraid of witches and witchcraft and why did they take it to the extreme by holding witch trials? This book attempts to answer that question from both a historical and anthropological viewpoint. 
It was a fascinating read into the mindsets of many different cultures and how they viewed witchcraft and magic. The first chapter was a little dry but the book became much more interesting as it went on. The subject seemed very ambitious but the author handled it admirably.
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I could not get through this entire book, I apologize to the author but it was too dry for my taste.  However, so much research and time and effort was obviously spent on writing this book that it may appeal to someone else with more intellectual tastes. The writing was not bad but it did not have any energy and it did not keep me engaged. It would most likely be geared for someone doing thorough research on witches. 
Thank you to Netgalley for the chance to read and review this book.
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This was a fascinating bit of historical nonfiction. In particular, I enjoyed the balance between history and historiography. This was meticulously researched, and it shows. Unfortunately, that means the writing occasionally feels a bit like a glorified list. However, ultimately I thought this was a good thing--when Hutton makes a point, he backs it up with PLENTY of evidence. 

I think it's worth pointing out that this book doesn't feel very accessible. It's clearly written with an academic audience in mind, and I don't think that people who are unused to monographs would enjoy reading this all that much. That said, I greatly enjoyed this!
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I shall write a more elaborate review once I get to spend some more time with this book as I believe it deserves it but for now I'd like to say that I'd certainly recommend it for all readers who are interested in witchcraft. It is not an easy read as it's obviously a scholarly work and those unused to such would without a doubt need to put more effort into it. However, the author offers a lot of information that one isn't going to find so neatly organised in any other book on witchcraft I've seen so far and all of it is both interesting and valuable.
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Straight off the bat I should state that Ronald Hutton's The Witch is very much a scholarly work. In essence it reads like a long essay, and at times the prose is pretty dry. Therefore, this is probably not a book I'd recommend to a general reader who simply wants to learn more about witches. However, Hutton's passion for his subject certainly shines through, and it is easy to see that a lot of research and thought went into the book, making it an excellent resource for scholars of both the early modern justice system and folklore/myth. I enjoyed reading the arguments for and against equating witches and witch hunts with different aspects of pagan and shamanistic beliefs and practices; however, I did feel bogged down at times in all the 'he said--she said' as Hutton quoted different sources. Overall, I would therefore rank this book at 3.5-4 stars. It is a work that makes a lot of interesting points, but one that I wish had been a little more vibrant in terms of the prose and the presentation of the material.
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Cant wait to read more 5 out of 5 stars cant wait to pick it up when it comes out
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Between 1484 – when the Pope condemned all forms of witchcraft as heresy punishable by death – and the end of the eighteenth century, at least 100,000 alleged witches were accused, tortured and executed in Europe. Some of these women were quite young. Most were very old. Almost all were very poor. Most of their accusers were men.

What were the witches’ supposed crimes? 

First and foremost, witches were said to be in league with the Devil, and in return for worship of Satan had been given various powers. With the Devil’s aid a witch could ruin the life of anyone she chose. Bringing illness, madness, accident or death. She could ruin a marriage by producing sterility in the woman or impotence in the man. She could make livestock sicken and die or ruin crops with hailstone or unseasonable rain.

The most obvious of witches’ alleged powers was that of levitation, because it was said that witches flew – often on broomsticks – to attend their meetings or covens. They would meet together in isolated spots at night in order to celebrate a black Sabbath: a travesty of the Christian mass.

The most important question is why, in what was supposedly the most advanced and civilised societies of the day, did apparently normal, sane human beings believe in malevolent witches (and all the associated infernal paraphernalia such as familiars) to such an extent that they persecuted and killed so many?

Very briefly, the answer seems to lie in the fact that most of those accused were lonely, vulnerable old women. These women needed help from their relatives and neighbours but when they asked for it or went begging for help they were refused. Instead of loving their neighbour and showing Christian charity, people hardened their hearts and sent these people on their way with nothing, or with nothing more substantial than a piece of their mind. The old crone had her pride, and in her frustration and righteous indignation might mutter some curse or threat against the person who’d refused her aid. This would be remembered when something went wrong. When the cow failed to produce milk or the hen failed to lay eggs it would be used as evidence that the old woman had cast a spell and bewitched her neighbour. Then it would be but a short step from accusation to (torture-extracted) confession and execution.

What we have here is what psychologists call projection and displacement. The person who turned the woman away from their door often felt guilty about treating their neighbour ill, so they displaced their own guilt by projecting it onto the very person that they had mistreated. Thus instead of facing up to their responsibilities and the consequences of their actions they found a scapegoat and made out that they were the victims rather than the victimizers.

Ronald Hutton’s ‘The Witch’ is a profound meditation on this phenomenon. As is clear from the book’s subtitle – ‘A History of Fear, from Ancient Times to the Present’ – he sets the Early Modern European witch-craze, and British witch trials in particular, within the broadest possible chronological framework. More than that, he also ranges across the globe and derives insights on witchcraft from anthropology, ethnography and, to a lesser extent, psychology.

What emerges is a scholarly but highly readable global survey of the ubiquity of witchcraft beliefs which not only exhibits a complete mastery of the subject’s historiography but represents a major contribution to it. It is not as monumental a book as Keith Thomas’s ‘Religion and the Decline of Magic’ nor as impishly well-written as Hugh Trevor-Roper’s ‘European Witch-craze of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries’ but Hutton’s book certainly belongs in the same company as those classic texts.
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