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Witch Craze: Terror and Fantasy in Baroque Germany

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A powerful account of witches, crones, and the societies that make them From the gruesome ogress in Hansel and Gretel to the hags at the sabbath in Faust, the witch has been a powerful figure of the Western imagination. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries thousands of women confessed to being witches—of making pacts with the Devil, causing babies to sicken, and kill A powerful account of witches, crones, and the societies that make them From the gruesome ogress in Hansel and Gretel to the hags at the sabbath in Faust, the witch has been a powerful figure of the Western imagination. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries thousands of women confessed to being witches—of making pacts with the Devil, causing babies to sicken, and killing animals and crops—and were put to death. This book is a gripping account of the pursuit, interrogation, torture, and burning of witches during this period and beyond. Drawing on hundreds of original trial transcripts and other rare sources in four areas of Southern Germany, where most of the witches were executed, Lyndal Roper paints a vivid picture of their lives, families, and tribulations. She also explores the psychology of witch-hunting, explaining why it was mostly older women that were the victims of witch crazes, why they confessed to crimes, and how the depiction of witches in art and literature has influenced the characterization of elderly women in our own culture.


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A powerful account of witches, crones, and the societies that make them From the gruesome ogress in Hansel and Gretel to the hags at the sabbath in Faust, the witch has been a powerful figure of the Western imagination. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries thousands of women confessed to being witches—of making pacts with the Devil, causing babies to sicken, and kill A powerful account of witches, crones, and the societies that make them From the gruesome ogress in Hansel and Gretel to the hags at the sabbath in Faust, the witch has been a powerful figure of the Western imagination. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries thousands of women confessed to being witches—of making pacts with the Devil, causing babies to sicken, and killing animals and crops—and were put to death. This book is a gripping account of the pursuit, interrogation, torture, and burning of witches during this period and beyond. Drawing on hundreds of original trial transcripts and other rare sources in four areas of Southern Germany, where most of the witches were executed, Lyndal Roper paints a vivid picture of their lives, families, and tribulations. She also explores the psychology of witch-hunting, explaining why it was mostly older women that were the victims of witch crazes, why they confessed to crimes, and how the depiction of witches in art and literature has influenced the characterization of elderly women in our own culture.

30 review for Witch Craze: Terror and Fantasy in Baroque Germany

  1. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    The witch craze was weird. It's a historian's worst nightmare / ideal case study (depending on your point of view) because it goes to remarkable lengths to evade any kind of cohesive or coherent explanation. It targeted men and women, but in drastically different proportions from country to country. In some regions it was centered on of the idea of having sex with the devil, in other areas that was barely mentioned as a component of the problem. Some areas burned thousands of people, often in dr The witch craze was weird. It's a historian's worst nightmare / ideal case study (depending on your point of view) because it goes to remarkable lengths to evade any kind of cohesive or coherent explanation. It targeted men and women, but in drastically different proportions from country to country. In some regions it was centered on of the idea of having sex with the devil, in other areas that was barely mentioned as a component of the problem. Some areas burned thousands of people, often in droves, and other areas - even those like Spain which were not known for their laid-back attitude towards religious divergence - almost no one was burned. It hit Protestant and Catholic areas alike. And, most of all, the issue of witchcraft flared up, seemingly from nowhere, in the 16th and 17th centuries and then abruptly petered out. It's disorienting, and strange, and makes the past seem very far away. Lyndal Roper's book makes this problem slightly simpler by looking soley at southern Germany, the area of the witch craze that produced one of the highest concentrations of deaths. It's also probably the most 'traditional' regions of witchcraft persecutions: it's full of old crones, sabbaths and illicit sex, and stories that seem to lead, as Roper notes, right to Grimm's account of Hansel and Gretel. Roper's account is very psychological in nature, and often rather Freudian. I am very skeptical of Freudian stuff popping up in historical analyses and I tend to deeply mistrust any piece of historical scholarship that pulls out the psychoanalysis. But it honestly seems to be fairly fitting, here. Southern German witchcraft of this period seemed to have been very sexual, and really fixated on the idea of fertility. In Roper's account, the witch is essential the embodiment of anti-fertility. She threatens crops, livestock, babies, and mothers. Most accusations involve the witch killing newborns through apparent acts of kindness (see: Hansel and Gretel), killing mothers who are still on their childbed, or damning a married couple with infertility. Testimonies of the time, and art, seem fixated on the idea of the witch's body. In many ways, Roper's witchcraft is like motherhood gone horribly, horribly wrong. I don't know enough about current scholarship in the field to know how new any of this is. I think Roper overstates her case on occasion, and I'm not sure she really adequately explains why all of this happened when it happened. Roper does mention that German of this period had a very controlling attitude towards reproduction - too many kids and they starve, too few and you can't keep the farm going. But she also acknowledges that this isn't unique to this time or this place. Similar demographic pressures also occurred in other places where witchcraft never really caught on. But still, as an interpretive tool for understanding where these fears came from, and why they spread so rampantly through society, I feel like it's very effective. It's also just very interesting: Roper makes her case by delving deeply into individual cases, and parsing the words and expressions used by accused witches and their accusers themselves. It's a great example of a sensitive interpretation of trial records from the period and there are countless examples of fascinating stories in here.

  2. 4 out of 5

    ἀρχαῖος (arkhaîos)(RK)

    I should have looked more closely at the preface before buying the book. I was expecting a historical book on early modern witchcraft trials. Instead, I found a book, while containing some well-researched information on witch trials, is overlaid with a great deal of 'mind reading'and psychoanalytic second guessing. It took a great deal of patience to get through the non-history in what could have been a good historical text at half the size.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Toviel

    WITCH CRAZE attempts to unearth and explain some of the worst witch hunts in European History: the panics which led to over 22,000 men, women, and children being tried for witchcraft form the sixteenth to eighteenth century in Germany. The book looks to numerous explanations for the uniquely extreme witch hunts, ranging from religious strife to climate change (Reformation Lutherans vs. Counter-Reformation Catholics, parental anxieties, famine, urbanization and overpopulation, etc.). Woodcuts and WITCH CRAZE attempts to unearth and explain some of the worst witch hunts in European History: the panics which led to over 22,000 men, women, and children being tried for witchcraft form the sixteenth to eighteenth century in Germany. The book looks to numerous explanations for the uniquely extreme witch hunts, ranging from religious strife to climate change (Reformation Lutherans vs. Counter-Reformation Catholics, parental anxieties, famine, urbanization and overpopulation, etc.). Woodcuts and artwork originating from the time are also included throughout. A significant portion of the book focuses on the plight of women specifically, and theorizes why German women were particularly targeted for witchcraft offenses as opposed to witch panics in other European countries. Roper spends considerable time examining the psychology of the accused witch, and why witches confessed to certain sacrilegious crimes, and why those confessions often didn't match the leading demonologists' writings on witchcraft. Unfortunately, Roper's obsession with psychoanalyzing female fertility undercuts vast swatches of her otherwise interesting analysis. While undoubtedly some aspects of the German witch prosecutions were sexual in nature, given the numerous confessions about demonic intercourse which resulted from torture and interrogation, Roper's exhibits a near-Freudian obsession with female sexuality. People instigating witch hunts against their neighbors couldn't have been reacting to everyday anxieties, oh no, it all ties back to babies and breasts. Other sources of cultural anxiety, such as the Thirty Years War or the mini-Ice Age, are mentioned, but rarely expanded on in detail. When Roper focuses on a subject which can't be fetishized under Freudism, the writing quality significantly improves. The final third of the book focuses on the eighteenth century, namely describing how the few late witchcraft prosecutions differed in prosecution and content. While the author doesn't explore widespread cultural shifts in these chapters as much as she does in the earlier portions of the book (as best, Roper notes witchcraft trials were unpopular in "intellectual circles"), she makes a decent examination of changes in rural/urban psychology and how they manifested themselves differently than in preceding centuries. Overall, WITCH CRAZE delivers on everything the cover promises, accompanied with excellent and extensive research on the behalf of the author. While not a good introduction to the witch trials, it is a perfect book for anyone with a general understanding of the witch hunts throughout Europe, or as a follow-up Brian Levack's works.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Dorothea

    This book attempts to answer the "why?" questions people ask today when presented with the strange, frightening history of witch panics in early modern Europe: Where did ideas about witches come from? What caused entire societies to believe that witches threatened crops and health? Why did people accuse their own neighbors -- especially old women -- of being witches? Why did officials of witch trials use torture as a method of finding the truth? And why, when people admitted to being witches, di This book attempts to answer the "why?" questions people ask today when presented with the strange, frightening history of witch panics in early modern Europe: Where did ideas about witches come from? What caused entire societies to believe that witches threatened crops and health? Why did people accuse their own neighbors -- especially old women -- of being witches? Why did officials of witch trials use torture as a method of finding the truth? And why, when people admitted to being witches, did their confessions adhere to certain patterns? There are four parts: PERSECUTION sets the scene. Roper first describes demographic, religious, and cultural circumstances in early modern Germany ("the baroque landscape"), which, she argues, heightened the shared anxieties that emerged as witch crazes. [N.B.: if you're studying this book carefully, I advise you to take notes on the locations Roper describes in this first chapter! These are the settings of most cases discussed later in the book, and I found it really helpful to understand their political structures and religious affiliations.] She then focuses on what happened during witch trials -- the conditions and agents that often summoned an elaborate confession of witchcraft from the accused. FANTASY analyzes the content of recorded witches' confessions: cannibalism, sex with the devil, and witches' sabbaths. WOMANHOOD discusses early modern beliefs and attitudes about women, especially old women, and argues that fears about fertility were central to the phenomenon of witch-hunting. THE WITCH contains case studies of witch trials that occurred later than the period covered by the rest of the book (second half of the 16th century and first half of the 17th). "Family Revenge" examines the unhappy family relationships of a young woman who accused herself of witchcraft; "Godless Children" is a disturbing narrative of a group of children thought to be under diabolical influence; "A Witch in the Age of Enlightenment" looks at differences in a seemingly standard witch trial that occurred in the 18th century, when witch-hunting was on the way out. All of it was completely fascinating to me -- it's really horrible, yes, and there are some completely chilling things in this book -- but with something like witch hunts that can seem so alien and inexplicable today, it helps to have clues about why they could make sense to people at the time. Because I didn't come to this book with much understanding of what scholarship has been done about this period, place, and subject, or with much knowledge about the basic political and sociological background, I would have liked Roper to have been clearer about those basics. For instance I would have liked some charts with known numerical data on people accused of witchcraft (their sex, age, marital status, religion, etc.), and perhaps a short section that focused only on evaluating the sources of information that are available now about witch trials and beliefs about witches -- Roper doesn't ignore this by any means, but the discussion is scattered and some important qualifications are found in the endnotes. A stronger sense of security in Roper's facts about demographic change, particularly in marriage rates and ages, patterns of childbirth, and social roles of postmenopausal women, would have let me enjoy the fun parts of Roper's arguments more. These are the ones in which she analyzes not only trial records but literature and visual art in order to identify common motifs, which suggest gut-level beliefs and attitudes that help explain how people behaved the way they did. This kind of analysis can be very compelling -- but I think it's easy to build too much with it. Even when we're sufficiently confident that the texts and images do represent ideas belonging to the people we're interested in, I think it's important to check the conclusions of this analysis against other sources of information about the subject (like demographic data, when available). In the case of Witch Craze, I think it's likely that if I knew more about German societies at this time I would find Roper's conclusions plausible -- but since I don't, I wasn't quite ready to follow some of her reasoning.

  5. 5 out of 5

    J.M. Hushour

    "Perhaps what we see in the witch craze is a moralism which has failed to integrate the mixture of good and bad elements that are part of human life itself." This is a self-proclaimed "psychological" study of the witch hunts that peppered southern Germany from the 16th-18th centuries. Thankfully, Roper falls shy of her goal, tending to stay away from too much psychobabble mumbo-jumbo for much of the book. She does, at times, skirt the edge of utter nonsense (anal fixations= yay!, but in an academ "Perhaps what we see in the witch craze is a moralism which has failed to integrate the mixture of good and bad elements that are part of human life itself." This is a self-proclaimed "psychological" study of the witch hunts that peppered southern Germany from the 16th-18th centuries. Thankfully, Roper falls shy of her goal, tending to stay away from too much psychobabble mumbo-jumbo for much of the book. She does, at times, skirt the edge of utter nonsense (anal fixations= yay!, but in an academic sense? No thanks!), but at other times wields light analytic touches with aplomb, especially the sections discussing the "crone"-as-witch-archetype because basically what good are old people, wonders the pre-Enlightenment peasant; also the final section on "child-witches" is fascinating for its portrayal of probably abused kids hamming it up for the inquisitors because basically they want to leave their shitty lives. So, there's some nice hints at an overarching personal profile of some of these folks. It's just hard to get in their heads at such a distance which makes such exercises seem almost puerile. Roper leans iffily when she gets into the ideas of fertility and population control, with an over-emphasis on backwards-projecting historiographically onto people who lived hundreds of years ago. I seriously doubt there were "apocalyptic" fears germinating in the peoples' hearts as they studied their birth/death registers and when she avers that "contemporaries gain[ed] senses of population growth" as backing for her argument, you just have to laugh. A few sentences down, "fecundity was mysterious", so she might be taking something of great import and stamping it with our own misinterpretations, a typical failure of historians. Anyway, I digress. A fine book overall with some good case studies and looks at typical witchy stereotypes.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Samantha Bee

    4.5 Really well researched, very thorough. I wasn't sure if this was going to be more chronological or just focus on various themes. It was a little bit of both. Roper attempts to figure out the how and why of witch trials in Germany, and dives into the sexism, ageism, and anti-Semitism of the time as some of the many reasons as to why these witch hunts took off in the way they did. I only knock off half a star because there were a couple points when I was reading and zoning out because for whatev 4.5 Really well researched, very thorough. I wasn't sure if this was going to be more chronological or just focus on various themes. It was a little bit of both. Roper attempts to figure out the how and why of witch trials in Germany, and dives into the sexism, ageism, and anti-Semitism of the time as some of the many reasons as to why these witch hunts took off in the way they did. I only knock off half a star because there were a couple points when I was reading and zoning out because for whatever reason that particular passage just didn't hold my attention.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Caro

    A layered, though repitive examination of the social pressures, ideals and views on women (especially old women) colored the witch hunts in Germany between 1500 and 1750. Unfortunately, Roper worked with reports that were often quite similar in nature, and few unbiased accounts exist, if any. This makes a deep psychological analysis impossible. Roper does her best to analyze what she does have and works like a schooled detective. The rest, of course, is up to speculation. I had hoped against hope A layered, though repitive examination of the social pressures, ideals and views on women (especially old women) colored the witch hunts in Germany between 1500 and 1750. Unfortunately, Roper worked with reports that were often quite similar in nature, and few unbiased accounts exist, if any. This makes a deep psychological analysis impossible. Roper does her best to analyze what she does have and works like a schooled detective. The rest, of course, is up to speculation. I had hoped against hope that Roper would actually go farther in detailling the accounts of guilt of the women themselves, and the role of women in the witch hunt in general. Even though Roper assembled copious amounts of trials and compared them to great effect, a conclusion was missing.

  8. 5 out of 5

    October

    I really thought this was going to make me snore all the way through it but it was such a page turner full of confessions to crimes from accused and alleged witches. Very interesting to see how their stories intermingled and how inquisition and torture played a huge role as well as hatred of women.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Quincy Standage

    Excellent account of the witching from the viewpoint of the persecuted. Lots of primary source materials!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Seth

    Read this for class. Had a blast reading it, learned a lot. So, I’d like to start out that Roper is analyzing the witch hunts and the witch trials from Germany in the sixteenth century, the height of the witch craze. She delves into many topics regarding witches and their hunters. However, the reoccurring theme in her book is about motherhood. The witches are usually old, post menopausal, women who are seen as attack fertility on the family and farms. The witch craze is taking place after the Bl Read this for class. Had a blast reading it, learned a lot. So, I’d like to start out that Roper is analyzing the witch hunts and the witch trials from Germany in the sixteenth century, the height of the witch craze. She delves into many topics regarding witches and their hunters. However, the reoccurring theme in her book is about motherhood. The witches are usually old, post menopausal, women who are seen as attack fertility on the family and farms. The witch craze is taking place after the Black Death and many famines that had starved peoples across Europe. So naturally, the peoples needed to find a reason as to why this bad stuff was happening to them. During these times, community was everything to the peoples. If you could not contribute positively to the community then you were seen as a burden/problem. These old women who had typically outlived their husbands, were the targets. Why? Because they could not contribute to the community in a positive way. Usually the older women were seen as outcasts. This did not put them favorably in the eyes of the community. However, we see that older women were not always the targets of witch hunts. Men, women and children were under suspicion during these times, most of them would face death. The book is very well written, but something to keep in mind is that the evidence Roper is using is confessions written by scribes who work with the investigations. She says herself that the evidence cannot be taken as accurate. Many times these confessions were taken from the accused witches under torture. They had to reproduce their confessions out of torture too and they were not just physically tortured, but psychologically as well. The devil was the center of the confessions. In order for the accused witch to be a witch she had to create a pact with the devil. Due to this nature the witch hunts were influenced heavily by religion. Both Catholics and Protestants were involved in the witch hunts. By defeating the witch, one could be seen as defeating the devil. There is a lot of artwork from the witch craze period that is interwoven in this book. Roper does an excellent job connecting the artwork to her story. I did not honestly think about how much art can impact a person or a community, but this was a form of propaganda against witches. Much of the art in the book has to do with witches and the acts they commit. It is insightful as this allows us to see the history of the witch craze through the eyes of the public sphere. It is also a visual history that showcases who the witches are and what they did. Art history, I have learned, allows for insight in history without words. Art can also be used as propaganda, something that was common even back then. I would highly recommend reading this book as it tells a very detailed story of witches and the witch hunters. It lays out the process one goes through when they are accused of being a witch. Many peoples who were convicted of being a witch ultimately died because of it, even when there was no concrete evidence that one was a witch. This book shows how effective torture is at confessions, it really is a motivator to confess anything in order for it to stop. So, the results were skewed because of the torture done to the accused witches. Many of the times, the stories were just regurgitations of stores they had heard from others and around town. All in all, it was a good read that told a very telling tale into the sixteenth century life in Germany.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Joseph F.

    A book on the witch panic in Germany during the early modern period that really sets itself apart from many other books on the subject. I almost didn't read this since I thought it was just another history book. But Roper tells an intriguing story here that focuses on reported confessions. The accused are named, thus you feel a connection with these poor, older women (and some children), who were put to death due to the fear people had of a satanic conspiracy out to destroy Christiandom. The auth A book on the witch panic in Germany during the early modern period that really sets itself apart from many other books on the subject. I almost didn't read this since I thought it was just another history book. But Roper tells an intriguing story here that focuses on reported confessions. The accused are named, thus you feel a connection with these poor, older women (and some children), who were put to death due to the fear people had of a satanic conspiracy out to destroy Christiandom. The author takes a psychological approach to understand the witch craze, and the book in general contributes admirably to the field of women's studies. Especially how women were perceived at one time by men in power who were trying to promote what they thought was a "godly" community. Controversial and thought provoking.

  12. 4 out of 5

    David

    "During many ages there were witches. The Bible said so. The Bible commanded that they should not be allowed to live. Therefore the Church, after doing its duty in but a lazy and indolent way for eight hundred years, gathered up its halters, thumbscrews, and firebrands, and set about its holy work in earnest. She worked hard at it night and day during nine centuries and imprisoned, tortured, hanged, and burned whole hordes and armies of witches, and washed the Christian world clean with their fo "During many ages there were witches. The Bible said so. The Bible commanded that they should not be allowed to live. Therefore the Church, after doing its duty in but a lazy and indolent way for eight hundred years, gathered up its halters, thumbscrews, and firebrands, and set about its holy work in earnest. She worked hard at it night and day during nine centuries and imprisoned, tortured, hanged, and burned whole hordes and armies of witches, and washed the Christian world clean with their foul blood. Then it was discovered that there was no such thing as witches, and never had been. One does not know whether to laugh or to cry." -- Mark Twain

  13. 4 out of 5

    Holly

    Very readable, informative and persuasive. Also very memorable. I was occasionally bugged that it wasn't better edited--in particular, "which" was often used when "that" was called for, and there were a number of dangling modifiers--but it ultimately it wasn't something I couldn't overlook. I definitely recommend it for readers interested in the history of: religion, torture, fairy tales, misogyny, or psychology.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Aya

    The more I read about witch trials the more I want to read about witch trials. It was great to find a book about witch trials that wasn't about Salem! The counter reformation context of this book was excellent and the turn at the end to discuss German identity and the Grimms stories (not originally intended for children and rewritten frequently) was basically designed to amuse me

  15. 4 out of 5

    Steve Wiggins

    A good introduction to the witch trials of late medieval Germany. Makes a good case that the victims were women for a reason. A bit gruesome in parts. Solid study. Further information: Sects and Violence in the Ancient World. A good introduction to the witch trials of late medieval Germany. Makes a good case that the victims were women for a reason. A bit gruesome in parts. Solid study. Further information: Sects and Violence in the Ancient World.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    This is definitely a well researched book. The author has managed to delve into many accounts of those who were accused, but through it all you learn the base causes of why these people were named as witches. What is heart-breaking to me is the neighbors and family who lobbed accusations and lies at these people, leading to their deaths.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Lauren Albert

    A fairly interesting look at the unconscious drives behind the witch trials in Germany. Roper sees these as circling around the idea of motherhood--hence why the majority of targets were women past their childbearing years.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Clara-Sage

    Another book for school that wasn't anywhere near boring! Yay! Super interesting read. While some of the chapters seemed repetitive (and everyone's name is so odd I had a hard time remembering them) I still really enjoyed it.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Clara

    Roper talks about the historical witch hunts throughout Germany. It is explored in a way that allows you to connect to these women. It talks of how confessions were sought out by torture and anyone set apart from the church could be targeted.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Mike Stuchbery

    Extremely well-researched psycho-analysis of the motivations behind 16th and 17th century German witch hunts.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kenghis Khan

    We've come a long way. NOT.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sophie

    One of the easiest, most engaging textbooks I've ever read.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Janice Liedl

  24. 4 out of 5

    Leyla Pavão Chisamore

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jacqueline

  26. 5 out of 5

    Josh

  27. 4 out of 5

    Allison

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kristin Mckee

  29. 4 out of 5

    Bianca Maanviljelijä

  30. 4 out of 5

    Stefano

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