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Witchcraft: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) [Paperback]

Malcolm Gaskill
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
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Book Description

25 Mar 2010 Very Short Introductions
explores witchcraft, both as a contemporary phenomenon and a historical subject. It looks at witch-beliefs and accusations around the world, from pre-history to the present.

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Witchcraft: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) + The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe
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Product details

  • Paperback: 162 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (25 Mar 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019923695X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199236954
  • Product Dimensions: 17 x 10.9 x 1.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 175,932 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

Malcolm Gaskill is Professor of Early Modern History at the University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK. He is an expert in witch-beliefs and witchcraft trials of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. He has written extensively on this subject, also about crime in general, mentalities and emotions, and twentieth-century Spiritualism. His latest project is a book entitled Out of this World: English Adventures in Seventeenth-Century America (forthcoming, 2013). This is a study of Anglo-American mentality and culture in the first century of permanent colonization - not a history of early America, but a history of English people in America. Gaskill is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, and a frequent contributor to TV and radio programmes. He lives in Cambridge with his partner and three young children.

Product Description


Witchcraft is a subject that fascinates us all, and everyone knows what a witch is - or do they? From childhood most of us develop a sense of the mysterious, malign person, usually an old woman. Historically, too, we recognize witch-hunting as a feature of pre-modern societies. But why do witches still feature so heavily in our cultures and consciousness? From Halloween to superstitions, and literary references such as Faust and even Harry Potter, witches still feature heavily in our society. In this Very Short Introduction Malcolm Gaskill challenges all of this, and argues that what we think we know is, in fact, wrong.

Taking a historical perspective from the ancient world to contemporary paganism, Gaskill reveals how witchcraft has meant different things to different people and that in every age it has raised questions about the distinction between fantasy and reality, faith and proof.

Telling stories, delving into court records, and challenging myths, Gaskill examines the witch-hunts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and explores the reinvention of witchcraft - as history, religion, fiction, and metaphor.

ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.

This pocket-book eloquently and clearly introduces and summarizes the theories and theorists of the historical study of witchcraft. His account is concise enough to stand alone, but also a great introduction to the work of other scholars in the field, with excellent recommended reading. (Journal of Folklore Research)

About the Author

Each chapter in this small but perfectly-formed book could be the jumping-off point for a year's stimulating reading. Buy it now. (Fortean Times)

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling read 6 Dec 2011
By Mlp29
Malcolm Gaskill is arguably the world's leading academic authority on English witchcraft, but don't let that put you off: he is also one of the best writers and storytellers in his field. Within a loose chronological structure, Gaskill explores here both the history of witchcraft and the history of its study and interpretation.

For Gaskill, the study of witchcraft offers a way in to the past: the history of witchcraft teaches us about the growth of the state, the development of the legal system, and the history of gender constructs, for example.

Only by studying witchcraft in its multiple contexts, Gaskill argues, can we begin to enter and better-understand the world of our ancestors and why they believed and felt the way they did. Ultimately, however, as he explains at the end of this book in a passage of stunning prose, it is only by understanding and accepting our own immutable humanity that we can we really begin to understand why anyone, past or present, believes anything at all.

"To be human is to feel emotion: to compete, loathe, destroy and fantasize...we all fear the future, scorn opponents, and dream of success, and these are the basic ingredients of witchcraft."
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Short but full of information 29 Nov 2010
This book may call itself a 'very short introduction', but it has more quality information than most books I own on the subject. It takes you through how witchcraft 'came about' and does this in an easy to understand way. The book is by a man who knows more on the subject than most people, and is very respected in his area. I love this book. It's worth looking at the other Very Short Introdution books - they are all quality publications.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent academic introduction 6 Jan 2012
Format:Kindle Edition
I'd already studied the European witch craze when I read this book, so I was just buying it for a bit of revision, but I was really impressed by what this book manages to cover. It focuses not just on early modern witch hunts, but also on modern witch hunts in Africa and Wicca. Although this is a short book, it provides lots of references to longer books and covers all the important aspects of witchcraft, from its anthropological origins to present day. This book also provides an excellent summary of the historiography of witchcraft, which I have found very useful in steering me away from the many internet sites on the subject which present outdated views and information. A great book for anyone studying this subject or who just wants to get a good rounded introduction to the topic - although be aware that the material covered is not all that basic, so this is not light reading.
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