Cover Image: In Defense of Witches

In Defense of Witches

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

Nonfiction books about witches typically fall into two categories - the historical horrors of trials and executions or 21st century witchcraft guides for the modern practitioner. In Defense of Witches is something altogether different in its universality and resonance and application. While this book covers significant historical ground, the modern day context is not meant to serve as a how-to guide, but rather as a deep and nuanced exploration of the myriad ways women continue to live in a society shaped by centuries-old societal and cultural norms, misogyny, and fear. "We are the granddaughters of the witches you weren't able to burn," and yet we continue to live out the sentence in many ways, both veiled and overt. Scholarly yet accessible, In Defense of Witches opens with the invitation to envision the first witch who captured our attention. For me, it was Glinda from The Wizard of Oz, and later Samantha of the television show Bewitched - and still later Gillian from Bell, Book, and Candle. Magical, dynamic, beautiful, smart, and usually with a cat around. Those characters would shape my perceptions about witches - and inform my own development in profound ways. The conclusion of this book is a powerful reminder of our own agency and potent to call to action to harness the "joy of audacity" in shaping a new legacy - one of humanity, equity, harmony with nature, and "the untrammeled enjoyment of our bodies and our minds." So mote it be.     

Chollet, a Swiss journalist and author living and working in France, first published this book as Sorcières in French in 2018. This is its first English translation and is important for U.S. audiences' understanding of the European historical references vs. contextualized vis a vis Salem or the like.

I received a digital pre-publication copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, and I'll be including it in a TBR round-up for Women's History Month in March.
Was this review helpful?
In Defense of Witches: The Legacy of the Witch Hunts and Why Women Are Still on Trial by Mona Chollet is an intriguing read and a powerhouse of information. Many people are aware of the Salem Witch Trials, not the reign of terror that swept Europe for centuries and claimed thousands of women's lives. In Defense of Witches looks at not only the sordid history of the burning of innocent women accused of being witches in Salem and elsewhere, but establishes how that history is still influential today.
Was this review helpful?
Mona Chollet brings us a deeply feminist perspective on how women are perceived and persecuted by society when they choose a path that doesn't follow the strict societal norms imposed on women by men.  She claims that the concept of a witch is born from women who choose not to marry, who are skilled in "powers" such as healing and childbirth, who choose not to have children and who choose not to conform to limitations that are expected as one ages.  Her book is dense and filled with many examples connecting the stereotype of a "witch" to intelligent, ambitious, unmarried childless women.  Definitely an interesting read, but much of her ideas are presented in the Introduction so the rest of the book felt like it dragged on a bit to me.

Thank you to Netgalley and St. Martin's Press for an advance reader's e-copy of the English translation of this book.  The English translated version will be available on 3/8/2022.  The French version was published in 2018.
Was this review helpful?
I highly recommend strongly that all women and young girls read this body of work. The author examines the archetype under our patrichael misogynist culture of the moniker "Witch" when referring to independent, , successful, talented, widowed or solitary women .

 The author delves into the past used to vilify and murder independent women, widows and elderly women throughout our culture and still today.  As the author moves through the times we see how in today's culture  independent single women,, our elderly women and successful women who prefer to live on on their own are vilified by mysogany and hate of women that permeates our lives, the media and culture.  I appreciate the detail and case studies the author has inclusive here  to mysogany. 

 The author presents us the facts of over 100,000  single, widowed and elderly women have been murdered over time labeled as "Witches" to justify their deaths. Today women are still being murdered in Africa labeled as "Witches". Entire generations of women have been murdered in the US and in Europe. .  In the US today most people are ignorant to the witch trials that took place in Europe. In the US  women are now attacked in the media, openly in our culture by the misogynist hate . The independent women choosing to be childless, or live alone are under attack in their careers and personal lives.  The elderly woman is ridiculed in the media and used to glorify the "witch" moniker by misogynist.   As a elderly woman I myself have been called a "Witch" by many young people in public simply for existing.  No woman standing on her own two feet and living independent of the "misogynist ideal" is safe from scrutiny and ridicule. It is this level of hate and attack on women that exist openly today that we women must educate ourselves against and stand against. The author speaks to the women that read this book and empowers us all . 
This is a must read for all women and young women. It is a important body of work that speaks to our survival under this male oriented patrichael society.  Very well done and a book i highly recommend for all women.
Was this review helpful?
I was very excited to read this book. The subject of witch trials and how women who have broken the norms have always been persecuted has always interested me, plus I grew up in New England, so the Salem Witch Trials have always lurked in the back of my conscience. I was therefore excited to see what this European perspective would bring. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy this book as much as I had hoped to.
This book is not so much a chronological view of how witch trials started and then watching those issues morph over time, but a treatise on feminist issues that occasionally reference how these issues are still treated as a kind of witch hunt. To me, Chollet needed to refer back to her thesis more often in order to tie her points together. 
In addition, the way her chosen topics were treated didn't always achieve her desired effect. I especially encountered problems when Chollet discussed medicine and the unfair treatment and downright abuse women sometimes receive from doctors. Although those issues are important and need to be reformed, because I am someone who luckily has never experienced such abuse, all it did was scare me and send my anxiety through the roof. Her metaphor of how mercantilism changed our view of the earth as a woman to be gathered from with caution to a woman's body being raped by mining and deforestation was also a bit shaky. In her evidence of people's misuse of Earth's resources, she said "...the new commercial frenzy demanded unheard-of quantities of wood for building wharves, bridges, locks, barges and ships, but also for the production of soap, beer barrels, and to make glass" (167). While I agree this began contributing to climate change, is soap to be despised? Therefore, while I agree with some of her points, I think she got a bit carried away at times.
Something that is not Chollet's fault but worked against my reading of this book was the time at which it was published. I think this book would have felt far more potent if I had read it in 2018 when it was originally published. The anger at the Trump administration and the power of the women's marches would have made far more of an impact than it does today, four years afterwards.
Overall, this book brings up important points, but I think it could have been executed better.
Was this review helpful?
Thank you, NetGalley, for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

Part of my brain calls this a lit review featuring media - but it's so much more, and wonderfully, complexly so. Chollet takes three themes/types of women: childless, elderly and those  who exercise some control over "nature" when it comes to fertility and childbirth and explains these themes as they relate to so-called witchcraft. The loaded meaning of witch hunt is especially poignant in these last five years as American society has become even more polarized. How dare you exercise some control over what society believes is right, and in some ways it's shameful that she has to write this 50 years after Ms. Magazine.

This is a dense read, well researched and footnoted, but don't expect to get through it quickly. There are definitely chapters I intend to re -read for deeper understanding.
Was this review helpful?
Mona Chollet discusses the witch archetypes that are still attacked by the patriarchy today: the Independent Woman, the Childless Woman, and the Elderly Woman. All of these women are attacked by the patriarchy because they don’t uphold some value of the patriarchy or sometimes even attack certain aspects of it. This book covers the history of each one, how the patriarchy censors and/or attacks them, and how they’re wrapped up in modern feminism. The continued persecution of women who fall into these archetypes show society’s eternal misogyny.

This book is heavier on the feminism aspect than the witchcraft aspect so if you’re coming into this looking more for the history of witchcraft, there are other books that will do this better. While it does discuss it, it is predominantly in the introduction. However, as someone who is two of these three archetypes, and with each year growing closer to the third, this book was interesting, but at times not exactly eye opening. I’ve experienced some of the passive-aggressive commentary myself, thankfully not from my family.

The great thing is that Chollet doesn’t solely focus on white women. Her research is intersectional, but it still could have done more. However, I can just appreciate that she did branch out a bit. I would be curious to see what BIPOC readers think about this book, but I haven’t been able to find enough reviews of it (at least in English).

Overall, I found this to be really interesting. Looking at how the witch hunts have evolved over time to something that is more subtle, but equally pervasive, and in some ways even more menacing is interesting. I think this would make a great read for book clubs, especially for women, however, I would be equally interested in seeing what men come away with. All in all I would say give it a read if it sounds interesting. Also, it appears longer than it actually is, 40% of the kindle version I have is Chollet’s extensive list of sources.
Was this review helpful?
Thank you, NetGalley, Mona Chollet, and St. Martin’s Press for the opportunity to read this book. It releases on March 8th, 2022.

“By wiping out entire families, by inducing a reign of terror and by pitilessly oppressing certain behaviors and practices that had come to be seen as unacceptable, the witch-hunts contributed to the shaping the world we live in now. Had they not occurred, we would probably be living in very different societies.”

It always amazed me how many people in America were only aware of the Salem Witch Trials, not the reign of terror that swept Europe for centuries, that claimed the lives of thousands of women. Not only that, they don’t know that witch-hunts still occur today. In Northern Ghana, there are at least six witch camps. In Defense of Witches by Mona Chollet analyzes the treatment of women since the witch-hunts and how they contributed to the shaping of our society today. She looks at 3 main aspects: independent women, childless women, and elderly women. Women are not alone in being persecuted as witches. Men have also fallen victim to accusations but they make up a considerably smaller percentage and most men that were accused were more likely to receive a trial. It shows that the witch trials were deeply rooted in sexism and misogyny.

“The campaign led between 1507 and 1593 in twenty-two villages in the region of Trier, In Germany–the starting point and also the epicenter, along with Switzerland, of the witch hunts–was so relentless that two of the villages, only one woman was left alive; in total 368 women were burned.”

Historians believe that approximately 50,000 to 100,000 women were executed but this does not include those who were murdered, committed suicide, died in prison, or died from the torture inflicted on them. Many women were banished, reduced to live the rest of their lives in extreme poverty, and suffered from more abuse. The accusations were often associated with meeting with the devil and therefore had religious connections. Oftentimes, Jews were included in these accusations because there were claims that women and Jews wanted to attack Christianity. In 1233, Pope Gregory IX proclaimed that cats were the devil’s servants, and in 1484 Pope Innocent VIII proclaimed that cats that were with women were considered familiars, and the cats were burned along with the accused. This actually led to the rise of rats and because of that…the rise of disease—which was blamed on witches.

This book is a powerhouse of information and not pleasant information. One cannot help but feel angry. Independent women-the unmarried and widows were seen as unnatural as they didn’t have a man for guidance. The childless woman insinuated that she was heartless because who wouldn’t want a child. There has always been the criminalization of contraception and abortion. Then the elderly woman is seen as a woman who has outlived her usefulness and their experience is seen as a problem. But I also appreciated how in the fight for equality, the author dives into how white women left women of color behind in that fight and how privilege plays a factor.

While the argument is precise and organized, it does end abruptly. Some arguments had a tendency to be a little repetitive, but I overall thought the book is very well researched. I rate this book 5 out of 5 stars.
Was this review helpful?
Mona Chollet's In Defense of Witches is a “brilliant, well-documented” celebration (Le Monde) by an acclaimed French feminist of the witch as a symbol of female rebellion and independence in the face of misogyny and persecution.

Was this review helpful?
In Defense of Witches wasn’t at all what I expected, but I loved it! 

The beginning of the book speaks heavily of witches. As it moves on, though, witches are mostly left behind so that we can explore many things throughout history that have been unfair for women. You’ll see many quotes from people, studies, etc. to back up what the author thinks. And her thought process is almost always spot on. 

Women were once hung or burned as a witch if they were “difficult.” We also have a seemingly unending list of issues involving work, the ability to not have a child, being kept out of the healthcare industry until relatively recently, etc. All of these topics are covered in this ode to feminism. A very good read that I recommend to women and men, as long as they’re willing to actually listen to the author’s arguments. 

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for providing an ARC. This review contains my honest, unbiased opinion.
Was this review helpful?
This. Book. Phew.  My biggest problem with it is that I probably highlighted half of the book and wanted to immediately share quotes and have to wait until pub day!  Absolutely fascinating, amazingly written, and food for my feminist witch soul.
Was this review helpful?
This was one of those books I was skeptical to request, but ultimately I am very glad I did. I am tired of reading books on the history of witchcraft written by men. It's not a man's story to tell and I think Mona Chollet pulls off one of the best works of modern non-fiction about the subject as a whole. Very informative, but with such adventure filtered into the blood of this masterwork.
Was this review helpful?
This was quite an interesting read. It was very well done and thoroughly researched. It was packed full off lots of fascinating information. I will be recommending this one to friends.

Thank you to the publisher for providing me with a free ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed are my own.
Was this review helpful?
Thank you to #netgalley for the ARC of this book.

I think my expectations may have been too high for this one. I really enjoyed the introduction, and had the rest of the book followed that style, I think I would have rated this higher. The introduction does a great job connecting the witch trials with feminism, toxic religious beliefs, and the continuation of this into modern views, the following four sections felt more like persuasive essays and as another reviewer said, a love letter to Gloria Steinem. 

Not a bad read, but not what I was expecting.
Was this review helpful?
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions expressed in this review are my own. 

I had high expectations and unfortunately, was left underwhelmed. For the most part it was very dryly written. It was almost a constant struggle to stay focused on what I was reading. With that said, there were a couple parts that grabbed my attention for a short time. Unfortunately, I quickly lost interest again. It felt the same as reading a textbook or listening to a college lecture from a monotone professor. 

While this book wasn't for me, it's always a good idea to have a taste test for yourself. As you can see by the ratings my dislike of this book puts me in the minority so there are things others have found good within the pages.
Was this review helpful?
I am so glad I requested this book! What an excellent look at the realities that surrounded witches throughout the centuries. Witches have long had a unfair reputation, and one of the most interesting things to learn is where the truth lies within the myths--so many of these myths revolving women and assumptions. Chollet did an excellent job not only explaining these things, she did it in a way that is understandable and accessible. An excellent book and I'll be recommending it!
Was this review helpful?
There’s a lot of personal conjecture presented as sweeping statements, i.e. Susan Sontag’s white streak reminding the author of Cruella de Vil does not equal society hates witches; most of us have always found Sontag beautiful and are shaped by the same superficial impulses. She presents women as completely and diametrically opposed to men in social construction. I’m not exactly a men’s rights activist, but in Chapter One she states, “our culture looks after its men.” What culture is that? French, Western? It’s certainly not American, where male suicide rates are sky high and our emphasis on male strength at all costs results in so much violence. I understand the overall argument the book was making, but I think it needed more development, more analysis of the evidence (as opposed to dropping in a quote and walking away), and more nuance. “Woman” is not a singular category, and while the author would occasionally nod to black or queer women, they were never truly incorporated into her claims. She does sometimes do well giving examples that sexism did and does exist, but her connections to witch-hunts are loose and oversimplified. And when discussing history, she often uses historical fiction to support her points, when actual historical evidence of the same is plentiful. 

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for a review copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
In Defense of Witches is a non-fiction book about the connections between witch hunts and modern-day feminism. It explores the three types of women who were accused of witchcraft most often: the childless, the elder, the independent. It's easy to notice that these archetypes are also the ones most judged in today's world: our society constantly evaluates women based on their age, their relationship status, and their fertility.

The history of witch hunts, which mostly comes up in the introduction to the book, is truly fascinating. As Chollet mentions, there isn't another mass crime in human history that is treated with such lightheartedness. We tend to think of witches either as scary horror characters or more modern 'girlbosses' with crystals and sage from Amazon, and we often forget that these women were real people who died for no reason. In the later chapters, Chollet mostly focuses on the way we treat women today, and while that is equal parts interesting and enraging, I wish we got more of the history of witch hunts. I was very happy that Chollet's approach to the feminism she writes about is intersectional, and she doesn't focus only on white women.

Overall, In Defense of Witches is a well-researched and thought-provoking read that uses a horrifying moment in history to help us understand why our society looks the way it does currently.
Was this review helpful?
Really well written and hugely engaging. I devoured this book in one sitting. 

Thank you NetGalley for this arc
Was this review helpful?
I've tried starting this a few times but I just can't get into it. Thank you for the opportunity to read an advanced copy.
Was this review helpful?