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Authors: Lara Apps and Andrew Gow

In 1997, Stuart Clark published the first monograph since the time of Jules Michelet to focus on pre-modern ideas about witches. The language of belief in witchcraft studies betrays an anachronistic, modernist and dismissive approach to a mental universe quite different from our own. This book makes the male witch visible, to construct him as a historical subject, as a first step toward a deeper understanding of the functions and role of gender in pre-modern European witch-hunting and ideas about witches. The overtly political dimension to the study of witches in early modern Europe demands a high level of consciousness and reflexivity regarding language, representation, and meaning. William Monter provides a wealth of data about male witches, in an 'unremarkable province' close to 'the heart of northern and western Europe'. Here, men comprised the majority of those tried and executed for witchcraft. The book examines cases in which men were accused of witchcraft. The examples are drawn from several different regions, in order to test conventional generalisations about male witches. The agency theory posits that actors always have choices; 'agent-centred' morality proposes a novel twist on both traditional Kantian internalist categories. The problems of both male and female witches' agency and selfhood are discussed. The book also presents data compiled from ten canonical works, and a brief discussion of demonological illustrations. Finally, it addresses the question of what it means to label a man as a witch within a framework that explicitly and implicitly feminised witchcraft.

Theology and popular belief

The Malleus Maleficarum is one of the best-known treatises dealing with the problem of what to do with witches. Written in 1487 by a Dominican inquisitor, Heinrich Institoris, following his failure to prosecute a number of women for witchcraft, it is in many ways a highly personal document, full of frustration at official complacency in the face of a spiritual threat, as well as being a practical guide for law-officers who have to deal with a cunning, dangerous enemy. Combining theological discussion, illustrative anecdotes and useful advice for those involved in suppressing witchcraft, the treatise's influence on witchcraft studies has been extensive. The only previous translation into English, that by Montague Summers in 1928, is full of inaccuracies. It is written in a style almost unreadable nowadays, and is unfortunately coloured by Institoris's personal agenda. This new edited translation, with an introductory essay setting witchcraft, Institoris and the Malleus into clear English, corrects Summers' mistakes and offers an unvarnished version of what Institoris actually wrote. It will undoubtedly become the standard translation of this controversial late medieval text.

Open Access (free)
Witchcraft and the symbolics of hierarchy in late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century Finland
Raisa Maria Toivo

This chapter examines how the vocabulary and imagery of witchcraft and magic in the trials reflects the symbolics of social hierarchy as well as the basis and creation of hierarchies in peasant communities. The inversion of hierarchy symbolised in witchcraft served to define the order through negation, not only as hierarchical in general, but also as a specific kind of hierarchy. On the level of social and ideological theory, witchcraft and vidskepelse thus fitted into the model of social misrule, which symbolised the opposite of world order. The chapter provides a brief outline of witch trials in late seventeenth-and early eighteenth-century Finland. Even though the trend was for the prosecution of benevolent magic and 'superstition', in the western Finnish parish of Ulvila, maleficium trials continued into the early eighteenth century.

in Beyond the witch trials
Hans Peter Broedel

This chapter provides an understanding of the relationship between the will of God, witchcraft and misfortune. An obvious corollary to a belief in witches is the perception that certain kinds of recognisable injuries or misfortunes are due to witchcraft, and many people in medieval Europe were prepared to accept certain kinds of misfortunes as the result of witchcraft or harmful magic. A problem faced by all witch theorists was to explain why a just God would grant permission for witches to wreak such havoc upon the world. The belief in a powerful, aggressive, threatening witch corresponded to a mechanical and liberal view of divine permission. Where God provided meaningful oversight to demons, witchcraft was not particularly threatening. If, however, God was so offended by human sin that virtually all diabolic requests to visit punishment upon it were approved, witches were free to utilise the power of the devil almost automatically. While God and the devil retreated into mechanical passivity, the efforts of their human followers became increasingly important. The witch becomes the effective agent of diabolic power, a living, breathing devil on earth in respect to those around her. For this reason, the arguments of the text focus as much upon spiritual remedies as upon the power of witches, and upon the thin but critical line that separates the diabolic power from the divine.

in The Malleus Maleficarum and the construction of witchcraft
S.J. Barnett

This chapter discusses the reasons the myth of a deist movement has remained so important to Enlightenment studies, even when the evidence adduced for it has been markedly insufficient. It examines the claims for a deist movement, the actual numbers of verifiable deists, the problem of defining deism, and how the desire to identify the roots of and validate modernity has led to long-term distortion of historical evidence and subsequent interpretation. Furthermore, the fear of infidelity, antichristianism and heterodoxy that produced the witchcraft craze of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries also produced the early origins of the deist scare. In the eighteenth century, deists remained scarce and, aside from a few high-profile moments in France, never fulfilled the role assigned to them by admirers or detractors. In the twentieth century, deism was resurrected and imbued with new force by historians, and made to appear as one of the great contributors towards secular modernity.

in The Enlightenment and religion
Laura Stark

This chapter draws on over 300 narratives recorded in rural Finland in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that provide information concerning the social relations, tensions and strategies that framed sorcery and the counter-magic employed against it. Witchcraft accusations and the actual identification of witches seem to have played only a minor role in the sorcery dynamics of rural Finnish society when compared to the situation following the period of witchcraft trials in other parts of western Europe. Finnish folk narratives regarding sorcery addresses how the landless poor used their magical knowledge as a medium of exchange or barter to gain material goods, and how the landless poor could coerce material benefits from landowning farmers by cultivating a reputation for magical harm. It also addresses the key role of counter-sorcery in defusing aggression, and the ways in which magical harm was collectively categorized as either legitimate or illegitimate.

in Witchcraft Continued
The first child-witch in Rothenburg, 1587
Alison Rowlands

This chapter analyses the first Rothenburg case involving a self-confessed child-witch from 1587 and explains why the councilors found such cases hard to deal with and what precedents this case set for the future. The case involves a six-year-old boy called Hans Gackstatt from the hinterland village of Hilgartshausen, who tells a tale of nocturnal flight to a witches' dance, which starts an investigation of dubious legality and physical severity against his mother and himself from which other inhabitants of the village were not initially entirely safe. This case became the precursor of an increasing number of particularly problematic trials involving self-confessed child-witches dealt with by the councilors and their advisers in the seventeenth century. Their engagement with these cases had the long-term effect of deepening their concern about witchcraft and of intensifying their hostility towards what they increasingly came to regard as the archetypal witch-figure: the bad mother.

in Witchcraft narratives in Germany
Open Access (free)
Hans Peter Broedel

This chapter provides an understanding of the basic arguments of Henry Institoris and Jacob Sprenger's ‘Malleus Maleficarum’: its origins, structure and methods, locating the text and its authors in space and time, as the products of both Dominican and German experience. The arguments of the text aim to demonstrate the existence and prevalence of witchcraft, and the terrible threat it poses. The text provides sufferers from witchcraft with a broad range of remedies, both legal and spiritual, of proven effectiveness, and is also a guide for civil and ecclesiastical authorities to the successful detection and prosecution of witches. Institoris and Sprenger provide a remarkably complete picture of their witch, along with descriptions of her origins, habits and powers. Before this image could be plausible, even intelligible, to a theologically sophisticated audience, however, they had to define appropriate relationships between witchcraft and established conceptual fields. In order to construct a category of ‘witch’ on the basis of such beliefs, theoreticians were obligated to make it compatible with a learned, theologically informed worldview.

in The Malleus Maleficarum and the construction of witchcraft
Magic, witchcraft and Church in early eighteenth-century Capua
Augusto Ferraiuolo

The pro exoneratione sua propria coscientia seems to delineate deep penitential lines of contrition and of repentance, which are approached as a sacramental practice, and demonstrates the depth and capillary social control of the Church in eighteenth-century Italy. The exoneratione sua coscientia reveals the formalities of social control employed by the Church through the tool of the confession. This chapter is concerned with accusations of magic, which were formalised as denunciations heard by the Inquisition of the Archdiocese of Capua, a city twelve miles north of Naples, during the first half of the eighteenth century. It examines the stylistic and rhetorical mechanisms that emerge from the documents. The chapter approaches the records as texts rather than as accusations. The Inquisitional documents used in the chapter consist of narratives describing instances of magical practices, and the reasons why people decided to denounce others who were involved in such activities.

in Beyond the witch trials
The discourse of spirits in Enlightenment Bristol
Jonathan Barry

This chapter is concerned with the possible divergence of public and private responses in 'the discourse of spirits' and the implications of this for understanding of the decline in the 'public discourse' of witchcraft, magic and the supernatural during the eighteenth century. In a relatively free society where public opinion and its correlate, market demand, were held to be superior to professional or state control, the discourse of empiricism and enlightenment was open for appropriation by all sides. The evidence presented in the chapter suggests instead both that public discourse may be only an approximate guide to private belief, dependent on the rules of public debate, but also that those very rules of public debate may themselves have moulded private belief, at least in the longer term.

in Beyond the witch trials