Thursday, December 28, 2006

Book Review - Witches & Neighbors

Robin Briggs /Witches & Neighbours/ London:Fontana-HarperCollins, 1997. 457 pp.

Until quite recently, histories of witchcraft were fanciful works, in which many of the horror stories they contained -- such as the claims that millions of accused witches were executed by the inquisitors -- were all that we had to rely on for our knowledge of the past. Such writers as Margart Murray were regularly attacked by academic historians without many serious attempts to reconstruct our history on firmer foundations.

Robin Briggs, in this historical study, is one of the many more recent historians to have attempted a serious look at what really happened in the past, particularly during the "burning times," when many hundreds of people were accused of black magic and dragged off to the stake. This study, by an English historian, attempts to set the record straight.

He confines his study to the hysteria of the late Middle Ages in Europe, which may provide too narrow a view of the history of witchcraft, but it permits him to pay more attention to details of the rise and fall of the attacks on village witches. The brief treament of witchcraft in America is confined to the witch trials in Salem, asking why the histeria led to witch executions in Salem, but with little interest in most of the country.

With many new studies in the history of the craft, we are living in a time in which many of the old stroies of witch trials and executions are much better documented than in the past.

John M. Morris PhD

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