Excellent resource. The information in it is purely historical. It has plenty of illustrations. Somehow it doesn't read like an encyclopaedia. I read it from start to finish just as I would a book of short stories.
If you're looking for an occult primer, look elsewhere. What we have here is an exhaustive history of the witchcraft panic that raged from the medieval period through to surprisingly late in the modern age. While this book is primarily European in orientation, it provides a great deal of information on American phenomena such as the Salem witch trials as well.
As the title suggests, this history is presented in encyclopaedia form: that is, as an alphabetically organized series of entries. However, it does actually provide quite a readable introduction to the field with which it is concerned in a way that most encyclopaedias do not. This is partly because there is a very extensive introduction, and many entries that are themselves quite lengthy. But mostly it's just because the author is a gifted and engaging writer.
Originally published in 1959, this is a book that unfortunately seems to teach truly timeless lessons about humanity. Anyone familiar with the Satanic panic of the 1980s will recognize a great deal in this volume. Substitute "recovered memory" for "spectral evidence" and we're very nearly right back where we started.
Finally, I'd like to add that this book includes more than a few compelling works of art within its pages. While these are printed solely in black and white (which was not always the case with the originals), and are often anachronistic to the accompanying text, they are quite captivating in their own right nonetheless.
If you are at all interested in the witchcraft panic, medieval and renaissance societies and their legal systems, or moral panics in general, this is a book that will find a welcome place on your shelf for many years to come.
First of all, this is NOT a book about the occult, witchcraft, spells, or demons. If you're looking for that sort of subject, you'll be very disappointed.
What it IS, is a wonderfully detailed and comprehensive historical study of the witch-hunting mania in Europe (and the American colonies) in the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries. Topics include the historical, social, and religious background to the witch mania; tactics used by witch-hunters and prosecutors; systems of torture, trial, and execution; and details of all the best-known cases.
Very well written in an easy and informative style. Generously illustrated with images of original documents and contemporary depictions of witches' sabbats, devils, etc. In encyclopedic format with good cross-referencing. A must-have for anyone interested in this dark period of European history.