The Witch-hunt in Early Modern Europe Hardcover – 2 Mar 1987
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'Brian Levack's aims are to provide a coherent introduction to the subject and contribute to an ongoing scholarly debate. In both these aims he has succeeded magnificently. xxx; It will serve as a standard introduction to the topic for many years to come.'
English Historical Review--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From the Back Cover
"Brian Levack's aims are to provide a coherent introduction to the subject and contribute to an ongoing scholarly debate. In both these aims - but particularly in the former - he has succeeded magnificently. ...it will serve as a standard introduction to the topic for many years to come." So wrote Brian Easlea in the English Historical Review of this famous book when it first appeared in 1987. It focuses on the great age of witch-hunting in Europe (and also in colonial America), between 1450 and 1750. In these years more than 100,000 people - most of them women - were prosecuted by secular and ecclesiastical courts across Europe for allegedly practising harmful magic and worshipping the Devil. The book sets out to answer the major questions that this strange and terrible phenomenon evokes today: * Why did the trials take place? * Why did they suddenly proliferate in Europe at this time? How many trials were there, and where, and what were their outcomes? * Why were more witches prosecuted in some countries than others? * Who were the accused and who were their accusers? * Why, after more than 200 years of vigorous activity, did the trials eventually dwindle away? * What do they tell us about the social, economic and political history of early modern Europe - and, in particular, the position of women within it? In this timely Second Edition, Brian Levack now incorporates the latest scholarship on the subject. The general lines of his argument remain as before, but numerous new regional and local studies (many on the periphery of Europe) have made possible a fuller treatment of the witch-hunt, and a more detailed analysis of its chronological and geographical distribution. He also includes new material on the development of witch-beliefs in the Middle Ages; on the social dimension of witchcraft; and on the connection between witch-hunting and the Protestant and Catholic Reformations. The notes and bibliography have been greatly expanded, and the book has been entirely reset. "(He) has produced a valuable synthesis of the materials currently available, and his text will prove a lifeline to many students."Martin Ingram, European History Quarterly "Now, at last, with Brian Levack's careful, scholarly and critical survey, a thoroughly reliable introduction to the whole literature is available. Levack appears to have read every significant work, both new and old and in most relevant languages, and has judiciously sifted out the information, pondered on it, and come up with balanced and sensible verdicts."Henry Kamen, History Today "Levack's logical sorting of a prodigious amount of material has resulted in one of the most informative and comprehensive works of its genre."Hans Sebald, American Historical Review BRIAN P. LEVACK is Professor of History in the University of Texas at Austin. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.See all Product Description
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The result is an evidence based and thoughtful historical treatment of the Witch Hunting tragedy with reasonable conclusions.
If you are sick of unrealistic oversimplifications that reflect the pet interest/s of the author more than the historical evidence or sick of books where the author has not taken the time to keep 'up to date' with historical developments (35 years ago) and believes that the Witch Hunt is a purely medieval phenomenon rather than peaking between 1550 and 1650 this is the book to read.
Given the strengths of the book I would recommend it to anyone from budding historians to general public with an interest in a historically accurate take on the Witch Hunts. I acknowledge that Catholics might find slight discomfort in the author's apparent prejudice against Catholicism. He writes of reformation greats being Luther and Calvin and seems to downplay their contribution by contextualising that they didn't make much direct comment on the topic even though one of them insisted that witches need to be killed or something and they were highly influential. That is not to say that he fails to acknowledge that they contributed just a slight reluctance to give their contribution as much weight as someone who doesn't consider reformists to be great might. This is a very subtle issue that does not significantly detract from this first rate book.
However, he refers to specific hunts as if expecting readers to know a good deal about their causes, effects and events. Except for the Salem, MA, hunt (which is frequently referenced, though technically not in Europe at all), none of the many hunts were at all familiar to me. What, for instance, WAS the 1610-1611 "dream epidemic" in Basque country? It sounds fascinating, but Levack never gives us any details about it. Perhaps this sort of information is beyond the scope of Levack's interest, but its omission does make for dry reading of numbers and dates, as opposed to the more human stories that lie behind them.
People who were accused of witchcraft were mostly old women that often took care of children or were out begging for money, which annoyed others or made them feel guilty. If a child died and she had cared for it, there was always a chance that she would be accused of killing the child by witchcraft. People believed that misfortune was often caused by the devil and witchcraft in early modern Europe. So if the crops failed, if you or a loved one fell ill, or if a child died, blaming a witch was a convenient thing to do. Not only peasants but the educated believed in witchcraft. They often bolstered their fantasies with elaborate demonological theories. Amusingly, they had this idea that people would ride off into the air to some remote place to bend over backwards and kiss the devil's bum and give themselves over to Satan.
Witchcraft accusations often grow in times when people feel uneasy about radical changes in society, morality, religion, and the economy. If wages are getting lower, prices are getting higher, and there's rebellion against the old order, the devil must be on the loose. Witch hunts often happened more in societies that had provincial, local governments that had no oversight from central governments. Germany with its many small provinces was a hot spot for witch hunts and executions. Thousands of people were executed in early modern Europe, not millions, as some claim. Even white witchcraft could be prosecuted because people thought that if one had the ability to heal, you also had the ability to kill.
Although some people have always practiced black magic, almost all the people accused of witchcraft were innocent and many of the accusations expressed diabolical fantasies. Witch hunts declined when educated people started to have less spiritual, and more skeptical, materialistic worldviews which lead to the legal system refusing to prosecute witchcraft cases.
Witchcraft cases still crop up from time to time today. Most recently in America, childcare workers have been accused of doing diabolical things to children. Most cases have been dropped because they depend on accusations from children who are coaxed into giving outrageous answers or it is realized that children have difficulty distinguishing reality from fantasy. Anyone who has worked with kids knows that it is pretty easy to get accused of something that you didn't do. This is the case especially with girls. In fact, a lot of chain reaction witch hunts were started by the false accusations of children in early modern Europe. On a side note, Africa is still known to have "witch" lynchings, especially since the colonial governments have left with their modern skeptical views toward witchcraft. Black Africans often believe strongly in magic and witchcraft.
Although I still believe that nefarious witchcraft rituals are possible, such as human sacrifice, the author makes the valid point that it is impossible to prove it without hard evidence. Witch hunts were almost always based on accusations without hard proof; which is one of the reasons why judges began to reject such accusations.