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Why have societies all across the world feared witchcraft? This book delves deeply into its context, beliefs, and origins in Europe’s history The witch came to prominence—and often a painful death—in early modern Europe, yet her origins are much more geographically diverse and historically deep. In this landmark book, Ronald Hutton traces witchcraft from the ancient world Why have societies all across the world feared witchcraft? This book delves deeply into its context, beliefs, and origins in Europe’s history The witch came to prominence—and often a painful death—in early modern Europe, yet her origins are much more geographically diverse and historically deep. In this landmark book, Ronald Hutton traces witchcraft from the ancient world to the early-modern stake.   This book sets the notorious European witch trials in the widest and deepest possible perspective and traces the major historiographical developments of witchcraft. Hutton, a renowned expert on ancient, medieval, and modern paganism and witchcraft beliefs, combines Anglo-American and continental scholarly approaches to examine attitudes on witchcraft and the treatment of suspected witches across the world, including in Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, Australia, and North and South America, and from ancient pagan times to current interpretations. His fresh anthropological and ethnographical approach focuses on cultural inheritance and change while considering shamanism, folk religion, the range of witch trials, and how the fear of witchcraft might be eradicated.


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Why have societies all across the world feared witchcraft? This book delves deeply into its context, beliefs, and origins in Europe’s history The witch came to prominence—and often a painful death—in early modern Europe, yet her origins are much more geographically diverse and historically deep. In this landmark book, Ronald Hutton traces witchcraft from the ancient world Why have societies all across the world feared witchcraft? This book delves deeply into its context, beliefs, and origins in Europe’s history The witch came to prominence—and often a painful death—in early modern Europe, yet her origins are much more geographically diverse and historically deep. In this landmark book, Ronald Hutton traces witchcraft from the ancient world to the early-modern stake.   This book sets the notorious European witch trials in the widest and deepest possible perspective and traces the major historiographical developments of witchcraft. Hutton, a renowned expert on ancient, medieval, and modern paganism and witchcraft beliefs, combines Anglo-American and continental scholarly approaches to examine attitudes on witchcraft and the treatment of suspected witches across the world, including in Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, Australia, and North and South America, and from ancient pagan times to current interpretations. His fresh anthropological and ethnographical approach focuses on cultural inheritance and change while considering shamanism, folk religion, the range of witch trials, and how the fear of witchcraft might be eradicated.

30 review for The Witch: A History of Fear, from Ancient Times to the Present

  1. 5 out of 5

    Kris

    I teach a class on Witchcraft and Gender in the Early Modern World at Penn. The last time I taught the class, students asked many questions about witchcraft in non-Western contexts. When this book was published in 2017, I decided to see whether it might work when I next teach the class in Summer 2018. My conclusion: this is a fascinating book for people with some background in medieval and early modern history, especially with some knowledge of the history of witchcraft, but not a great choice i I teach a class on Witchcraft and Gender in the Early Modern World at Penn. The last time I taught the class, students asked many questions about witchcraft in non-Western contexts. When this book was published in 2017, I decided to see whether it might work when I next teach the class in Summer 2018. My conclusion: this is a fascinating book for people with some background in medieval and early modern history, especially with some knowledge of the history of witchcraft, but not a great choice if you are new to this topic. Hutton covers a lot of ground, and assumes a certain amount of knowledge, not only of history, but also of historiography. Hutton's motivating interest in writing the book is to see whether evidence of belief in witchcraft, magic, and the supernatural from ethnography, ancient history, and folklore can provide some answers to historians' questions about why witchcraft trials in early modern Europe took the form that they did. He sets himself a complex task. Source survival casts a shadow over our understanding of beliefs and practices related to witchcraft and magic. Sources that do survive, such as inquisitor's manuals and court records, tend to reflect an ecclesiastical bias. Witness depositions and interrogations of defendants may represent a scribe's summary of questioning, rather than verbatim records. Confessions and accusations gained under torture are suspect, and leading questions may have put specific descriptions in the minds of defendants or witnesses who otherwise may have testified differently. In short, evidence of folk beliefs and practices, held by an oral or semi-literate population, is very difficult to uncover. Despite these challenges, Hutton's book is an interesting and worthwhile read. He summarizes the state of ethnographic literature on non-Western societies, categorizing different aspects of witchcraft and magic found in these cultures and asking whether they provide any insights into Western history of witchcraft. His historical evidence, drawn from a vast range of primary and secondary sources from ancient to early modern societies, centers around the work of historians such as Carlo Ginzburg, Richard Kieckhefer, and Hugh Trevor-Roper. Hutton explores possible pre-Christian folk beliefs and practices, including shamanism, fairies, and fertility practices such as the witch hunt, tracing elements from these sources that may have shaped descriptions of witchcraft in medieval and, especially, early modern sources. He argues that the Middle Ages was an important time for Europeans to meld different aspects of these traditions into the image of a witch, which then started to spread through Europe in the early modern period as it gained popularity. Throughout the early modern period, different regions had slightly different descriptions of witches and witchcraft, reflecting an amalgam of pre-Christian beliefs native to that region and the developing European image of the witch. How convincing is Hutton? He's very clear about the difficulty in proving his arguments. His interest lies in raising questions that the core group of historians studying medieval and early modern witchcraft may not have considered, suggesting that there is enough evidence presented by researchers such as Julian Goodare and Emma Wilby to prompt them to look again. The difficulty does not lie so much in believing that pre-Christian practices survived into the early modern period, but in determining the extent to which any extant written sources provide good enough evidence of those practices for historians to trace them today. Anyone interested in approaches to studying the history of folk beliefs, including appreciation of methodological difficulties, will likely be interested in reading The Witch: A History of Fear, from Ancient Times to the Present.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Warwick

    Twenty years ago, Ronald Hutton literally wrote the book on modern witchcraft (The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft), in which he was generous and open-minded about the value of Wiccan religions, while also making clear that their claims to represent the survival of an ancient heritage of European paganism were nonsense. Now he turns his attention to the more culturally persistent kind of ‘witch’ – the figure of a maleficent magic-user, wreaking havoc on his (or more usu Twenty years ago, Ronald Hutton literally wrote the book on modern witchcraft (The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft), in which he was generous and open-minded about the value of Wiccan religions, while also making clear that their claims to represent the survival of an ancient heritage of European paganism were nonsense. Now he turns his attention to the more culturally persistent kind of ‘witch’ – the figure of a maleficent magic-user, wreaking havoc on his (or more usually her) community from within. Most people who have written about this before have tended to concentrate on the European witch-trials, which in the early-modern period saw some 40,000–60,000 people legally put to death (though probably ‘in the lower half of that range,’ Hutton judges). His own strategy is much broader, both in time and space: he goes all the way back to Ancient Mesopotamia in search of the origins of the witch figure, and ranges around the world to consider witchcraft as it is still conceived of (and feared) in many traditional societies. The results of this are enlightening, with the events of early-modern Europe emerging as part of a distinct patchwork of global-historical beliefs rather than looking like an explosive anomaly. In his summary, Europe's distinction when it comes to witchcraft is slightly different: Europeans alone turned witches into practitioners of an evil anti-religion, and Europeans alone represent a complex of people who have traditionally feared and hunted witches, and subsequently and spontaneously ceased officially to believe in them. In fact, both developments came relatively late in their history and are probably best viewed as part of a single process of modernization, driven by a spirit of scientific experimentation. Hutton's approach is ruthlessly historiographical. Every line of inquiry is examined in the context of the scholars who proposed or investigated it. The advantage of this is that you feel like you're getting real oversight of the debate: with other books, when a given idea about paganism or witchcraft comes up, you might think vaguely: yes, I've heard of that, or I've seen someone argue against that somewhere. With Hutton things are infinitely clearer: you can now think, for example, Oh yes, that's an idea that was raised by American academics in the 50s but fell out of favour after research in Italy in the 1970s. The entire subject is flooded with light and acquires edges, handles. The downside, though, is that it gives his prose a rather cool, distant tone: the impression one gets is not of someone digging into the context of witchcraft with relish, but rather of someone sifting dispassionately through the academic sources. It's kind of a shame, since my memory of reading some of his earlier books was that he seemed to really revel in the subject matter, while also taking it seriously. Indeed this is one of Hutton's hallmarks – he writes about subjects that some serious historians only mention in sneering tones, and manages to be completely even-handed (sometimes almost to a fault: in a section about magicians who claimed to liaise with elves and fairies, Hutton concedes that ‘to be perfectly just, one might admit the final possibility that some of the people concerned actually met non-human beings’!). There was a lot in here that was new to me, since even the familiar material is being approached from strange new perspectives – the debt owed by Germanic folklore to Egyptian ceremonial magic, for instance, or the way the scientific method is still meshing with witchcraft (as it did during the European witch hunts) in present-day South Africa. I had also been unaware of the extent to which the witch is a Swiss creation – the first witch trials were held in the Valais and the mountains east of Lake Geneva, and the literary records of these events, circulated thanks to a major church council in Basel soon afterwards, did a lot to create the modern image of the witch and the Satanic sabbath. Minor niggles about the style notwithstanding, then, this is a huge achievement, even if it can't easily be recommended for those looking for a pop-historical overview of witchcraft. But if you already have some familiarity with the field, or if you just like academic prose generally, then this is surely the most comprehensive and wide-ranging survey around – and likely to remain so for the foreseeable future (to the extent that futures can be foreseen, with or without some eye of newt).

  3. 5 out of 5

    BAM The Bibliomaniac

    Many thanks to Ronald Hutton, Yale University Press, and Netgalley for the free copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review., This, I had assumed, was a Narrative format. Instead it read like a college thesis, which was a bit drab for my tastes. It was most certainly a treatise on the various definitions of magic and magical persons, as well as how the common folk dwelt with them; alas, I learned little about what I expected. Familiars were very briefly discussed, but it seemed that witc Many thanks to Ronald Hutton, Yale University Press, and Netgalley for the free copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review., This, I had assumed, was a Narrative format. Instead it read like a college thesis, which was a bit drab for my tastes. It was most certainly a treatise on the various definitions of magic and magical persons, as well as how the common folk dwelt with them; alas, I learned little about what I expected. Familiars were very briefly discussed, but it seemed that witches are simply expected to dance naked and drink blood and become an all around nuisance. I finished this book feeling quite dissatisfied and will continue my hunt for knowledge on this topic.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jules

    I don’t often read non-fiction these days, but having an interest in the history of witchcraft, this book really appealed to me. The good things about this book are that it is without a doubt exceptionally well researched, very informative and straight to the point with no bulking out of words. This would be a great book for anyone studying this subject. There is also a huge bibliography at the back, so plenty more to read after completing this book if you wish. For my personal enjoyment this book I don’t often read non-fiction these days, but having an interest in the history of witchcraft, this book really appealed to me. The good things about this book are that it is without a doubt exceptionally well researched, very informative and straight to the point with no bulking out of words. This would be a great book for anyone studying this subject. There is also a huge bibliography at the back, so plenty more to read after completing this book if you wish. For my personal enjoyment this book was too academic and somewhat heavy going. I’ve not read something quite like this since my university days twenty years ago, when I studied a degree in Psychology, Sociology, Philosophy and English Literature. I think I used up too many brain cells in my twenties, as I struggle to take in this amount of information these days. I think I would have to read this a couple more times to be happy that I’ve absorbed enough information in this subject. I would say it is written a lot like a dissertation, so it really does cover a lot of information about different views, fears and beliefs about witches and witchcraft all around the world, during different periods of time throughout history. Some of the information was very interesting. Having been fascinated about Ancient Egypt since a child and actually writing about Ancient Egyptian religion for my university dissertation, I did really enjoy the sections that discussed Egypt. I loved that Egypt didn’t fear witches and didn’t disapprove of the use of magic. I could definitely have been an Ancient Egyptian. Egypt is actually the only country that I’ve been to outside Europe, and I’ve actually been there twice, so I must love it. Having also loved fairies since a child, I really enjoyed the section on witches and fairies, and how people believing in fairies led to them being treated as witches. Unless I lived in Ancient Egypt, I don’t think I’d have survived living in the past, as I have far too much of a whimsical mind, and love living in a fantasy world, which no doubt would have resulted in my demise somewhat earlier that I would have liked! If this had been a fictional book, I would have rated it 3 stars based on personal enjoyment. However, I do feel this book deserves 4 stars because of the extent of information this book provides to the reader. Clearly a huge amount of effort went into researching this subject. So as long as you don’t mind absorbing a lot of information then I would recommend this book if you are interested in this subject.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Diana

    Book received from NetGalley. I've had this book for awhile but something in me had to wait to read it until the "spooky" days of October. I have to admit I love Ronald Hutton, the television shows he's been in show just how quirky but knowledgeable he is. I've read a few other books of his and enjoyed them just as much. My only issue with the book is he seemed to have a set number of pages he wanted to write so he tried to shove quite a bit of information into these pages. I'm not sure how much Book received from NetGalley. I've had this book for awhile but something in me had to wait to read it until the "spooky" days of October. I have to admit I love Ronald Hutton, the television shows he's been in show just how quirky but knowledgeable he is. I've read a few other books of his and enjoyed them just as much. My only issue with the book is he seemed to have a set number of pages he wanted to write so he tried to shove quite a bit of information into these pages. I'm not sure how much a general history reader will get from this, and I definitely believe if you're just starting on your journey into this subject you shouldn't start with this book. You can tell he's an academic and that's who the book seems to be written for. Even with all that I loved it and even though I've read quite extensively on this subject I learned quite a few things. This is for the rest of the Pagans out there, this is a book I highly suggest you add to your library if you have one focused on The Craft. Re-read 2018 I went on a bit of a Ronald Hutton kick after the new year. I still really enjoy this book, I listened to it this time and thought I got quite a bit more out of it that way. I really recommend the audio book for this, especially if the actual book seems to be a bit too much of an info dump for you.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Tim O'Neill

    As usual, Hutton presents a meticulous and scholarly survey of previous work on the origins and nature of the early modern Witch Craze, with his quietly modest but actually highly perceptive analysis and careful original contributions. The scope of his book requires him to analyse a vast range of material - everything from non-European "witch" traditions from across the world to pre-Classical Egyptian magical traditions, Greco-Roman attitudes to magic, Siberian and Finno-Ugric shamanism and high As usual, Hutton presents a meticulous and scholarly survey of previous work on the origins and nature of the early modern Witch Craze, with his quietly modest but actually highly perceptive analysis and careful original contributions. The scope of his book requires him to analyse a vast range of material - everything from non-European "witch" traditions from across the world to pre-Classical Egyptian magical traditions, Greco-Roman attitudes to magic, Siberian and Finno-Ugric shamanism and high medieval ritual magic - before he can even touch the core of his topic: the rise of the concept of a "Satanic witch cult" that lay as the cause of the early modern hysteria. But by the last quarter of his work the highly structured way he lays out this background material pays off and the careful underpinning of his conclusions becomes clear. Hutton is respectful of the work of predecessors in the field - Grimm, Ginzberg, Kieckhefer, Trevor-Roper etc. - even when he is correcting what he feels are their misinterpretations of the evidence. The final result is a solid and wide ranging contribution that lays a foundation for further examination on key points, especially the nature of the differences in the witch beliefs in the various geographical "tradition zones" he identifies within the early modern European sphere. This book will most likely be will be a starting point for the next generation of scholars on this subject, which is always a useful and generous thing for a mature and experienced researcher like Hutton to provide for any field of inquiry.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Brittney Andrews (beabookworm)

    “I put a spell on you, and now you’re mine.” The Witch: A History of Fear, from Ancient Times to the Present is a grotesque but thoroughly researched must-read for those who enjoy scholarly work. Ronald Hutton takes his readers back to the days of early modern Europe and provides them with his insightful knowledge of a time where witchcraft wasn't considered a bunch of hocus pocus. It was horrific to learn about the rituals that were practiced when Shamanism was at its peak; “I put a spell on you, and now you’re mine.” The Witch: A History of Fear, from Ancient Times to the Present is a grotesque but thoroughly researched must-read for those who enjoy scholarly work. Ronald Hutton takes his readers back to the days of early modern Europe and provides them with his insightful knowledge of a time where witchcraft wasn't considered a bunch of hocus pocus. It was horrific to learn about the rituals that were practiced when Shamanism was at its peak; and it was even more disturbing that innocent men and women were being killed from baseless accusations. One wrong look at your neighbor could be implication enough that you are practicing satanic magic. Furthermore, the techniques used to gain one's confession back then were absolutely horrendous. Can you imagine being accused of a crime you did not commit while having black pepper rubbed in your eyes? Being starved to death? Beaten! Many falsely confessed at the time of their trial because they could no longer endure the torment. The amount of citations and references the author provides its readers is commendable. Every statement is supported with factual information, so you never feel as if you are reading someone else's biased opinion on the subject. I'll be honest though, this was an extremely dense read and it would have engrossed me more if the contents had been presented in a more energetic manner. However, if you are someone that enjoys reading academic work (in a thesis format), then you should definitely give this one a go! Many thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC. *Quote was not taken from this book.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Juliana

    “The Witch: A History of Fear, from Ancient Times to the Present”, by Ronald Hutton, is a detailed researched book on a wide variety of beliefs about witches, as well as on the many ways those beliefs gave rise to the Western witch trials. The focus lies on the definition of a witch as a person who harms others through the use of magic; witchcraft is seen as an internal threat to a community, as well as one of the very few embodiments of female power. As such, it was taken overtime as a form of “The Witch: A History of Fear, from Ancient Times to the Present”, by Ronald Hutton, is a detailed researched book on a wide variety of beliefs about witches, as well as on the many ways those beliefs gave rise to the Western witch trials. The focus lies on the definition of a witch as a person who harms others through the use of magic; witchcraft is seen as an internal threat to a community, as well as one of the very few embodiments of female power. As such, it was taken overtime as a form of social disruption which should be resisted and, sometimes, purged. Through this perspective, the author draws upon historical, anthropological and ethnographic studies, to understand how the witch figure evolved over time, as well as how pre-Christian Western beliefs and Eastern traditions influenced our conceptions of witchcraft. The book’s historical and geographical scope is wide. Firstly, the author explores how different societies around the world and in different times conceived of and treated witches. His research includes a variety of witchcraft traditions found in Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, Australia, North and South America. Then, Hutton analyses the historical development of witchcraft in Europe and in the Near East, from ancient times to the medieval and early modern periods. He also examines Christianity and its impact on the perception and later persecution of witches, and points out to the advent of early modern witch hunts as a symptom of the crisis in European post-Reformation Christianity. Finally, the author narrows down his focus, and explores the ways in which ancient Western and Eastern beliefs shaped witchcraft in Britain. I particularly enjoyed the way Hutton moves from a very wide range of beliefs to a very narrow one, and then back again, moving with ease through cultural and historical continuities and disruptions. The parallels he draws between worldwide traditions provide us with a better understanding of the early modern witch trials as defensive measures set in the context of a wide range of ancient traditions (Mesopotamian demonology; Persian cosmic dualism; a Graeco- Roman fear of magic as intrinsically impious; Roman images of the evil witch; and the Germanic concept of night- roaming cannibal women), and established by Christianity to cope with the challenges to its public credibility during the post-Reformation times. The book provides a good overview of the scholarship on the subject. It will please readers who are in search of a wider picture about witch trials, as well as the ones interested in local traditions of witchcraft. On my blog: https://theblankgarden.com/2017/11/06... (This book was kindly sent to me by Yale University Press for review)

  9. 4 out of 5

    Carol Chiovatto

    As I've been saying while reading, it seems Hutton had read just about everything on the subject in order to write this book. It's quite an in-depth research, with solid ideas, and great reasoning. It's helped a lot in writing my thesis and gave me a few ideas for another PhD, which I've been courting for a while now. As I read a few negative reviews here, mainly pointing out that this reads as an academic text rather than a narrative, it's because IT IS AN ACADEMIC TEXT. Hutton is a professor in As I've been saying while reading, it seems Hutton had read just about everything on the subject in order to write this book. It's quite an in-depth research, with solid ideas, and great reasoning. It's helped a lot in writing my thesis and gave me a few ideas for another PhD, which I've been courting for a while now. As I read a few negative reviews here, mainly pointing out that this reads as an academic text rather than a narrative, it's because IT IS AN ACADEMIC TEXT. Hutton is a professor in Bristol, this is his current research and it's been published by Yale University Press. Cheers.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Marie

    A bit of an unusual read, for me. As others have said, it’s very dry and academic in tone, and I’m surprised at the marketing it’s had and the coverage on Booktube etc. suggesting it might be a pop-history book. As someone with negligible prior knowledge on the topic, I think I would’ve found it too hard-going to read it in print. The audio worked really well, however. It’s a bit infodump-y with lots of lists of events and sources. Hutton doesn’t tend to labour his points, and the scope of the b A bit of an unusual read, for me. As others have said, it’s very dry and academic in tone, and I’m surprised at the marketing it’s had and the coverage on Booktube etc. suggesting it might be a pop-history book. As someone with negligible prior knowledge on the topic, I think I would’ve found it too hard-going to read it in print. The audio worked really well, however. It’s a bit infodump-y with lots of lists of events and sources. Hutton doesn’t tend to labour his points, and the scope of the book is broad. This meant I could listen to the audiobook even in 10-15 minute snippets and hear something interesting every time. I really mean a lot of crazy interesting stuff. I’ve finished it with a long list of things I want to go and look up and read more about.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    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 audie 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!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Alex Sarll

    A magisterial survey of the whole complex of witch beliefs, which pays particular attention to the area of special interest in the West – the early modern witch craze – while making sure to acknowledge also their relation to the diverse variations on the theme found in much (though crucially, not all) of the world. Of course, what's meant by 'witch' can vary greatly, and whatever definition you use, you’ll find certain witches wriggling free of it – but then, they are often reputed shapechangers A magisterial survey of the whole complex of witch beliefs, which pays particular attention to the area of special interest in the West – the early modern witch craze – while making sure to acknowledge also their relation to the diverse variations on the theme found in much (though crucially, not all) of the world. Of course, what's meant by 'witch' can vary greatly, and whatever definition you use, you’ll find certain witches wriggling free of it – but then, they are often reputed shapechangers, aren’t they? This is the first but not the last of the times that the book bogged me down somewhat, particularly when Hutton digresses into shamans, and the definition of that term, and how far they intersect with witches, and at one point there's a discussion of the various different sorts of service magician in Hungarian folk culture and I started to feel like I was reading one of those RPGs with too many character classes, and I was reminded of my own attempt at a setting which took Dunsany's reference to the fifty different types of magic as a starting point, but even in my desperate grasping for ways to fill out that number I didn't include the bed-maker and the smearer. Still, while you may need to take a breather at these points and read something else*, it is worth persevering, and as unlikely as it may sometimes seem, those digressions do all get drawn back into the main story. Hutton is building something here, and all the pieces matter. But do be aware that, if you’ve a fairly casual interest in the topic and just want a quick overview, this is not the book you’re looking for. Nor, for that matter, is this the review you’re after. This depth and breadth of erudition also means, of course, that a lot of the things one vaguely thinks one knows about the subject turn out to be deeply partial, if not outright wrong. Readers in post-Protestant countries will be particularly surprised to learn that, if you were accused of witchcraft in Catholic territory, you’d have a much better chance of getting off entirely, or at least escaping with your life, if your case was dealt with by the Inquisition, who applied much higher evidential standards, and lenient punishments, than lay magistrates – and sometimes even came down hard on such overenthusiastic amateurs. Similarly, we tend nowadays to think of witch-hunts as largely being a way for the patriarchy to attack non-compliant women, but it's interesting how non-universal that is - some African instances (and there are horrifyingly recent ones in here) were more a way for dispossessed young people to attack the elders who had all the traditional power and resources, so more like Generation Rent with a body count. Elsewhere, the gender balance even of the victims of the European witch-hunting craze varied hugely by region. Of all the examples quoted, probably the one closest to the modern-traditional notion of wholly sexist witch persecution is that among the Kuranko of Sierra Leone, where women who reputedly changed shape to enact destruction were put to death…while men engaging in the exact same activities would brag about how crafty and powerful they were, and be generally respected for it. #everdayoccultsexism in its purest form. Still, this is not to say there weren’t at least gendered inflections elsewhere. "A law from West Gotland of the early thirteenth century forbids various terms of slander against a woman, one of which is 'I saw you ride on a hurdle, with hair dishevelled, in the shape of a troll, between night and day’." Well, I think we'd all prefer people not gloat the morning after we've had a night like that. And the detective story takes in a fair bit of Norse material; I was particularly fond of "A man in the Vatnsdalers' Saga could make his friends invulnerable in a fight if he lay down motionless nearby”, which as wheezes to skive off a fight go, would be the envy of Flashman or Blackadder. And given the Northmen’s tardy and arguably less complete conversion to christianity, it is unsurprising to learn that pagan touches survived more there in magic – though even then it was largely in the academic field of ceremonial magic, where Odin (Hutton favours a more correct spelling, but I can't face digging out the characters) in particular was often mentioned as a chief among demons. And it’s in this ceremonial sorcery that most of the evidence for pagan survivals resides. It’s another of the sections where mission creep feels like it’s setting in, but it’s not without interest when Hutton analyses the mentions of non-native things like reed pens and hoopoes in mediaeval Northern European grimoires, tracing a line of descent to Egypt. And it serves as a useful contrast to the idea that witches represented a survival of pagan beliefs among the lower orders, where the evidence isn’t nearly so strong. Hutton points out the assumptions and wishful thinking underlying such notions, with folklorists attempting to composite various similar-ish local myths, and then deduce a lost ur-form from them - which by its very nature will tend to be unfalsifiable. True, certain old names will sometimes crop up, as when Diana was in some places reputed to lead the night rides we’d now tend to think of as variants of the Wild Hunt. But the woman leading them was equally likely to be known as Herodias, which doesn’t fit quite so nicely with folk horror notions of the old native ways surviving beneath the imported faith. Still, looming over all this variety is an awareness of impending atrocity. How did we get from the situation in the early middle ages, where popes would condemn witch-hunts as an attempt to avoid wider moral responsibility for disasters which were clearly divine punishment, to a widespread acceptance that individual malicious humans, in league with infernal powers, were to blame? Hutton does an excellent job of drawing together various close work that's been done on the evolution of the witch hunt. He looks at some early spasms, before showing how strands of other persecutions which had been more popular in the early middle ages (of heretics, Jews, lepers) were woven together into the terrifying composite of baby-slaughtering, night-orgying, Satan-worshipping witches. He even comes reasonably close to identifying a Patient Zero for the whole crazy outbreak; we don’t get a name, but there’s a compelling case that a particular group of friars were key to what would ensue. Still, even as persecution becomes much more common, there are certain surprising details. For instance, the notion that it would be the harmless village midwife or cunning man on whom everyone suddenly turned? Not so much. It happened in a few areas, and if your success rate wasn’t so hot, or you got mixed up in the wrong sort of local politics, then yes, you could be in trouble. But service magicians are at least as likely to turn up as accusers or expert witnesses as victims. There are two key points of interest, though. Two details unique to Europe and its North American offshoots. These were the only places where a belief in witches as individuals, a race or small groups morphed into a belief in a unified, organised anti-religion – and later, they were the only places where belief in witchcraft altogether faded. Well, almost altogether; Hutton notes that he’s personally aware of a Cornish village which turned on an alleged witch in 1984. And here the same close reading of both sources and earlier syntheses is brought to bear on the standard iconography of the Western witch. The broomstick, for instance, which was reported as one of the ways early modern witches rode to the Sabbat – though others rode animals, baskets or reeds, and you have to feel sorry for the poor schmucks who just walked there. And of course the familiar, which turns out to be a distinctly English and Welsh notion, whose evolution Hutton again traces, albeit stopping just short of explaining why it’s those two specific details, along with the hat, which have come to form the pop culture shorthand. That mention of Wales should be qualified, mind, because the paucity of trials in Wales as against England is another of those regional variations which keep cropping up. Hutton wryly notes that it has been attributed to greater social cohesion and less wealth inequality - but then points out that these charming notions are rather undermined by wider trial records, which demonstrate the Welsh being perfectly happy to denounce each other for all sorts of other crimes, many absurd, just not really witchcraft. In Scotland, meanwhile, the fair folk were much more likely to be mentioned in witch trials than elsewhere – which provides an opening for the question of how accused witches and other folk magicians thought they got their powers, if not through pacts with the Devil. The answers being intriguingly varied; some said birth with cauls, or were dream warriors; perhaps an easily taught knack, or even the frank admission that nobody really knew why some people could do this stuff, not even the practitioners. In Scotland especially, getting them from the good neighbours seemed to be an occasional theme - but one complicated by the fact that, like myself, these people felt it impolitic to use the F-word, so it's unclear whether their 'seelie wights’ were a subset of the little people, or another class of being altogether. And then with James VI and the Reformation, the Scottish attitude to such beings starts to darken, and they’re more readily identified with disguised devils – even as, south of the border, an England ruled by an Elizabeth happy to be identified with the Faerie Queene held on to a merrier and more friendly interpretation. If you’ve ever wanted chapter and verse on the evolution of the moral role and cosmological placing of Robin Goodfellow, this is the section for you. And this is a core part of Hutton’s argument, here: mediaeval and early modern peasants were not some stolid herd, their ideas necessarily either derived from the church or survivals of the old religion. Then, as now, poor people could have new ideas, or change existing ones. Contradictory ideas, too – Hutton talks of 'parallel cosmologies’, but it’s not as if you don’t get plenty of modern and educated people possessed of logically incompatible beliefs, yet showing no particular tension over holding them. Indeed, the rationalist approach to the history of witch-belief could be considered as fairly puzzling too, when you consider the weirdness of a whole field taking it for granted that they're writing about idiots or nutters (it was precisely this which put me off Religion and the Decline of Magic back when that was the go-to text): "It seems therefore that in the case of the attempted use of witchcraft by early modern people we have a strong presumption that something happened without quite being able to prove that it did, while in that of the satanic witch religion we have ample evidence for the existence of something, which we disregard on the grounds that it is incredible.” So did anyone perceive themselves as the Satanic witch with which good christian folk were so obsessed? Perhaps. One plausible suggestion here links the upswing of that belief to the Reformation and ensuing conflicts; when people are changing religion, and each form of christianity stigmatises others as in league with the Devil, turning to the old fellow himself in extremis doesn't feel like such an enormous leap as it did when European Catholicism was monolithic, and witches less feared. And of course, even if the Satanic witch cult was a prurient invention at first, such scandals do give people ideas. To use an example Hutton doesn’t, I was reminded of the old 'Chazbaps' story in Popbitch which, while an exaggeration of the original incident, inspired a few people I knew to try the more shocking version as per the rumour. In summary: make no mistake, this is a lot of book. I mean, reading my review back I at once feel like I've waffled at great length, and that I've done Hutton no justice at all. But if you’re interested in really digging into this stuff, The Witch is more than worth it. *This may explain why, in what I think is a new record, it took me eight months to get around to finishing this, despite generally trying to read Netgalley ARCs with some alacrity, and despite having already been intrigued by what I’d heard about Hutton. The friend who first alerted me to him has since kindly sent her old copies of some of his other books to me, though I think I may need a break before I attempt another.

  13. 5 out of 5

    J.M. Hushour

    At turns an excellent synthesis of the scholarly work done up to this point, at other turns a frustrating and messy attempt at formulating a basis from which the historiography of witchcraft and medieval thinking could move forward from. Hutton certainly knows his shtick, having written numerous works on witchcraft and its place especially in contemporary times. What he does here is attempt to construct a history of the development of the image and idea of the witch in various concentric contexts At turns an excellent synthesis of the scholarly work done up to this point, at other turns a frustrating and messy attempt at formulating a basis from which the historiography of witchcraft and medieval thinking could move forward from. Hutton certainly knows his shtick, having written numerous works on witchcraft and its place especially in contemporary times. What he does here is attempt to construct a history of the development of the image and idea of the witch in various concentric contexts and attempt to strip away some outlying notions that muddy the waters. All he does is further muddy the waters by applying his own arguments inconsistently. While seeming to take a contrary or at least skeptical bent against scholars like Ginzburg who suggest that witchcraft emerged from the remnants of a Europe-wide pre-Christian agrarian culty sort of thing, Hutton tries to fill in the gaps himself just as iffy foundations, like literature. Like many historians, good and bad, Hutton makes the easy mistake of apportioning the thought of cultural and religious elites and splashing them all over the common person. Now, anyone who studies history knows, we're never gonna know what the common person thought, but we can make inroads towards understanding their world views from what we do know of them, and that's where the real value of studying the emergence of witch trails, persecutions, and the evolution of the fear of the image of a witch comes from: by studying the outlying mentions in testimonies that weren't just tortured people spouting what the Church wanted them to say. Scholars like Ginzburg and Behringer have dug into this tentatively. I'm surprised that Hutton, who maybe just couldn't access the information, spends so much time on the British Isles to show long-existing underpinnings and then turns right around and looks on the rest of Europe so skeptically. A flagrant omission is archaeology, like the work of Gimbutas who, take it for whatever you will, at least shows us that there were old, long-standing agrarian worldviews at play in SE Europe. Remote places untouched by the lurch of history couldn't help but have retained something of their past, but Hutton, who justifiably bemoans the lack of evidence, writes it all off a little too easily. Still, this is a great book. I probably should've spent less time criticizing it since outside the theoretical bits, it does present some nice contexts and comparative studies.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin

    this is about supernatural and magical ideas that float around in the culture globally in traditional societies and even somewhat among moderns. A confluence of religious and magical ideas came together combined with human nastiness and paranoia to form the witch craze of early modern Europe.Superstitious ideas and crunchy belief are sometimes diverting and fun but playing with the irrational can lead to some dark places. Bitch about bloodless enlightenment rationalism all you want but I for one this is about supernatural and magical ideas that float around in the culture globally in traditional societies and even somewhat among moderns. A confluence of religious and magical ideas came together combined with human nastiness and paranoia to form the witch craze of early modern Europe.Superstitious ideas and crunchy belief are sometimes diverting and fun but playing with the irrational can lead to some dark places. Bitch about bloodless enlightenment rationalism all you want but I for one am quite happy that spectral evidence is no longer admitted in courts anymore. We have bad ideologies in the twentieth and twenty first century but your neighbor can't get you killed for casting spells on his iPhone which bricked him out. Such lunacy believed by the insane and fanatical subcultures now no longer has the force of law to enforce that form of madness. We have our own irrationalities anybody remembering McCarthy and reds under the bed or Stalinist purges know cruelty and irrationality are still alive and well but hopefully rationality has put up a few barricades against the kind of things like true witch hunts of Europe around the time of Columbus. Still, it is interesting to see how endemic these irrational systems of belief of witches and supernatural to humanity. Our Enlightenment world is a fragile thing. We should be vigilant for our clean well lit twentieth-century world.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    I expected a book written by a scholar and published by a scholarly press to be scholarly, but at least of interest to an avid reader of nonfiction with a MA in history. However, this truly is a book for academics covering a level of detail and debate that would only be on interest to other scholars in the same field. I did find the chapter of fairies interesting, but Hutton's writting style is just boring. Be aware that this book is not so much about witches, as about the historic origin of the I expected a book written by a scholar and published by a scholarly press to be scholarly, but at least of interest to an avid reader of nonfiction with a MA in history. However, this truly is a book for academics covering a level of detail and debate that would only be on interest to other scholars in the same field. I did find the chapter of fairies interesting, but Hutton's writting style is just boring. Be aware that this book is not so much about witches, as about the historic origin of the concept of magic. I received an ARC through a GoodReads Giveaway.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Plateresca

    I've chosen to listen to this book, and I had to listen to it twice to assimilate all the wealth of information. A deep, multicultural approach plus a wry sense of humour make for an engaging read. Now I feel the need to read everything else by Ronald Hutton :)

  17. 5 out of 5

    Sam Worby

    A very interesting book which takes a wide and deep view, comparing different societies around the world, and European/near eastern societies through time to illuminate the early modern European concept of the witch. Personally, I found the earlier chapters hard going as the scale and scope of what was being covered meant much being discussed at a high (and therefore dry) level. I’m pleased, however, that I persisted as the chapters on Europe and the British isles were much more interesting. As t A very interesting book which takes a wide and deep view, comparing different societies around the world, and European/near eastern societies through time to illuminate the early modern European concept of the witch. Personally, I found the earlier chapters hard going as the scale and scope of what was being covered meant much being discussed at a high (and therefore dry) level. I’m pleased, however, that I persisted as the chapters on Europe and the British isles were much more interesting. As the subject becomes more focused Hutton has more space for vignettes or descriptions of actual reported beliefs. Also, as he draws through the study there is a satisfying amount of analysis as the comparative strands come together. Not an easy book, but a thought provoking one. As an aside, this made me appreciate Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell even more.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Vivianne

    Didn't get past chapter 3. So boring. I'm surprised this was written by a historian. I assumed it was by an anthropologist all the time I was reading. So dry an uninteresting... there are better things to read.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Steve Cran

    In our minds eye she flies across the nighttime sky on her broomstick . The embodiment of evil casting spells over a a cauldron of dark poisonous herbs. To those who have studied the witch you will have images of women dancing naked in the forest, serving the devil and his minions. What contributed to our negative vision of the witch? Do witches even exist? And if they do are they really that bad? Ronald Hutton, scholar par excellence on the subject, has analyzed the image of the witch throughout In our minds eye she flies across the nighttime sky on her broomstick . The embodiment of evil casting spells over a a cauldron of dark poisonous herbs. To those who have studied the witch you will have images of women dancing naked in the forest, serving the devil and his minions. What contributed to our negative vision of the witch? Do witches even exist? And if they do are they really that bad? Ronald Hutton, scholar par excellence on the subject, has analyzed the image of the witch throughout history . Starting from our most earliest civilizations in a broad cross cultural context all the way to the early modern times. The author looks at a broad section of world wide society and combines the disciplines of anthropology and history . All across the continents and different cultures the witch figure seems to cut the same image. Dancing naked in the night , meeting with other women to perform dark nefarious magic. Or perhaps they eat children or suck blood after they have flown through the night time sky. It seems that witches charge many characteristics across the board. Witches no matter where they are in the world seem to have a lot in common. They use uncanny means to perform acts of evil against others. Within their community they are viewed as a threat to only those within. Societies believe that the witch must be resisted. Witches are usually part of a hereditary tradition or perhaps they are born with it. Ancient societies were not stranger to magic. The Egyptian were rather cool with magic and it was ok to bind deities to your will or other entities. Mesopoatamia and the ancient Hebrews did have a fear of witches. In Persia practicing magic outside the official religion was akin to Worshipping the dark one. Greeks had a negative view of magic outside the official religion as well while the Hittities forbade magic outside the kings temple. The worst fear came from the Romans who despised witches and magic workers. They even had their own witch hunts. Many negative attitudes towards the figure of the witch come from the Roman era. In fact the Romans had two points in their history. The negative attitude of the witch was carried forward into the Christian world. Was there is fact a conspiracy of witches and did they have a religion. Records state witches had familiars, flew at night, had nighttime procession with the devil. Pre-Christian shamanism is examined as a source for the visionary experiences of the witch. Shamans had experience traveling to the spirit world and having spirit allies . They would cure people and help the community and sometimes they would fight spiritual entities. While elements seem to have shamanistic elements that have survived into the Christian Era it is rather difficult to prove. Even some Christian saints and other magic worker had the ability to leave their bodies in spirit form to do battle. Shamans never changed form. There are many similarities as there are differences. Analysis sometimes leads to a pre-historic fertility cult or a cult of the dead that helped nurture the world. Thee author sites other authors who examined the visionary experience and so called religious practice of the witch. Most of these practices were conjured up by the Christian inquisitors. The night flight and the wild hunt are examined in detail. Around the 13 century persecution began against magic worker in general . At first it was the ceremonial magicians and service magicians that were targeted later it went to the witch. Ceremonial Magic is believed to been started in Egypt and from there it went through the Greco Roman world all the way to the Christian world. It mostly consisted of binding demons using the name of god to the magicians will. THe persecution lasted well into the 15th century. Other cultural item connected to the witch image is the faery lore of Europe and how faery kingdoms developed and how faeries were morphed into demon. Finally the witches relationship to animals is examined. Eventually after the 15th century these witch trials Came to an end. THe Church put in measure to limit the cruelty. I am not convinced there was a witch religion. There were workers of magic in various forms. In any case this is an excellent book. Totally scholarly with well documented cases to support his points.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Aishuu

    I never thought witches could be made so boring. This is an anthropological treatise, and not meant for a general audience.

  21. 4 out of 5

    John Plowright

    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 p 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.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Mary Catelli

    A vast topic, on the world-wide figure of a person in a community who works harmful magic against its members, and is part of a tradition of magic, and rouses fear and hatred, and can be fought against. He first compares the European idea with that worldwide, from hundreds of societies. Notes vast differences in societies with theoretic belief in witchcraft and their actual witch-hunting -- even cultures right next to each other might have one pretty much ignore the whole thing, and one fierce in A vast topic, on the world-wide figure of a person in a community who works harmful magic against its members, and is part of a tradition of magic, and rouses fear and hatred, and can be fought against. He first compares the European idea with that worldwide, from hundreds of societies. Notes vast differences in societies with theoretic belief in witchcraft and their actual witch-hunting -- even cultures right next to each other might have one pretty much ignore the whole thing, and one fierce in hunting them down. Some things militate against witch hunts -- nomadic practices, and belief in the Evil Eye -- but not consistently. (Plus such details as a culture where witches' magic only works against people they actually like, or one where children are told they must not go outside naked because they will be taken for witches.) Then a discussion about what is known about ancient European magical practices -- Egypt was known as a place of great magic, though it did have the advantage of preserving records -- and also about shamanism, where he had to debunk a number of ideas. Followed by medieval/modern ceremonial magic; the Wild Hunt where he debunks a number of notions and brings in the witch folklore that does seem connected to the notion; the witch hunts (fewer than later) and beliefs of the Middle Ages including not only the hunts but such details as a legal code that proscribed calling your female ward a witch or killing someone else's slave on the accusation; and the era of the witch hunts, where I was particularly fascinated to learn that in Livonia, werewolves were beneficent beings that fought witches. It ends discussing three British themes: the witch/fairy connection, the treatment of witches in Celtic lands, where hunts were much fewer, and finally witches and animals. Full of interesting stuff.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Nicki Markus

    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 earl 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. I received this book as a free eBook ARC via NetGalley.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Mandy

    If you are a serious scholar of witches and witchcraft, then this is book for you. Meticulously researched, wide-ranging and comprehensive, Ronald Hutton traces witchcraft in great detail from ancient times to modern times. It’s a magisterial tome, learned and of immense interest. But it’s not an easy read and I gave up on it as I found it just too heavy-going. I’m possibly not the intended reader although I have seen it described as accessible to the general reader in other reviews, but I didn’ If you are a serious scholar of witches and witchcraft, then this is book for you. Meticulously researched, wide-ranging and comprehensive, Ronald Hutton traces witchcraft in great detail from ancient times to modern times. It’s a magisterial tome, learned and of immense interest. But it’s not an easy read and I gave up on it as I found it just too heavy-going. I’m possibly not the intended reader although I have seen it described as accessible to the general reader in other reviews, but I didn’t find it so. I found it dull and I was soon bored. That makes it very difficult for me to rate it as I suspect it’s actually a very good book. Indeed it has garnered many 5* reviews. But I can’t leave a review on Amazon without rating it. So I’ve had to hedge my bets and fall plumb in the middle. My rating reflects my reaction to it not its intrinsic worth.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Melinda

    I enjoyed this book. I felt a little lost at times because it is fairly dense and the tone of the writing is definitely academic. I found myself rereading certain sections because I would get to the end and realize that I hadn’t entirely grasped what was said. I’d like to think that I’m reasonably intelligent. I know that I’ve lost some brain power in recent years because of my Multiple Sclerosis, but it still surprises me when books fly over my head. This one did in several spots. Hence the 4 s I enjoyed this book. I felt a little lost at times because it is fairly dense and the tone of the writing is definitely academic. I found myself rereading certain sections because I would get to the end and realize that I hadn’t entirely grasped what was said. I’d like to think that I’m reasonably intelligent. I know that I’ve lost some brain power in recent years because of my Multiple Sclerosis, but it still surprises me when books fly over my head. This one did in several spots. Hence the 4 stars. I think it would be a better book if it were a little more accessible to the average reader. Having said that, it raises interesting points, contains a lot of great history and made me stop and think. I do enjoy it when a book challenges me on that level. If this is a topic that interests you, then I would highly recommend it.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Petra

    Ronald Hutton's The Witch is a book for reader who isn't afraid of academic and at times a bit too dense readers. When I looked at the reviews of this book, the main complaint is how scholarly this is written. However, for me, that is the best thing about the book. I love how deeply it gets into both the anthropological and historical sources and earlier academical works. I do feel that this will be a hard one to get through if you don't have any background knowledge of history of witchcraft or Ronald Hutton's The Witch is a book for reader who isn't afraid of academic and at times a bit too dense readers. When I looked at the reviews of this book, the main complaint is how scholarly this is written. However, for me, that is the best thing about the book. I love how deeply it gets into both the anthropological and historical sources and earlier academical works. I do feel that this will be a hard one to get through if you don't have any background knowledge of history of witchcraft or basic cultural history backgrounds of medieval and early modern periods. So yes, it isn't the most accessible nonfiction about the witches but it definitely peaked my interest and fulfilled my thirst for the knowledge of the witchcraft in the past.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Anjalique

    I wasn’t prepared for the depth and breadth of research presented in this book. It was mind-blowing in a good way, requiring me to deconstruct and then reconstruct the modern title of Witch. While I listened to it on audiobook, I did buy a hard copy to have as a valuable reference book for my library. Be prepared for a dry delivery in the writing style. The author is not trying to be entertaining or funny or clever. This is just the facts. While I appreciate that, it does make for pretty dense r I wasn’t prepared for the depth and breadth of research presented in this book. It was mind-blowing in a good way, requiring me to deconstruct and then reconstruct the modern title of Witch. While I listened to it on audiobook, I did buy a hard copy to have as a valuable reference book for my library. Be prepared for a dry delivery in the writing style. The author is not trying to be entertaining or funny or clever. This is just the facts. While I appreciate that, it does make for pretty dense reading.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Dean

    This book is an excellent work of scholarship. It consisted of lists of examples of Witchcraft around the world historically and culturally offered as anecdotal evidence. The different lists of information were classified by chapter and genre of information to supply concrete examples of where the myth of Witchcraft came from. Like most academic dissertations this book is great for research purposes but it's not exactly a "fun" read, although it is nonetheless well written and informative.

  29. 5 out of 5

    lauren

    *2.5 stars I didn’t read the whole of this book as a lot of it wasn’t relevant to my research, but what I did read was very insightful and thoughtful. It’s very clear that Hutton knows what he’s talking about, and he looked at some interesting and global perspectives of the witch. As usual with scholarly writing, it was a bit tedious to get through at times.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sydney Stories

    4/5 The information is presented well, and it deeply delves into witch history. I appreciated the fact the author never made anything sound silly or like he was disrespecting the practice of witchcraft. I give this a 4 because it did everything it set out to do, but in terms of my enjoyment I can't say I loved this. I was bored a lot, and even with the audio I felt this dragged. I think that if you're interested in the topic you'd enjoy it though. It's taught me I really like hearing about certai 4/5 The information is presented well, and it deeply delves into witch history. I appreciated the fact the author never made anything sound silly or like he was disrespecting the practice of witchcraft. I give this a 4 because it did everything it set out to do, but in terms of my enjoyment I can't say I loved this. I was bored a lot, and even with the audio I felt this dragged. I think that if you're interested in the topic you'd enjoy it though. It's taught me I really like hearing about certain times and places in history.

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