Beyond the witch trials
Counter-witchcraft and popularmagic
The archaeology of counter-witchcraft
One aspect of the study of witchcraft and magic, which has not yet been
absorbed into the main stream of literature on the subject, is the archaeological
record of the subject. Objects such as witch-bottles, dried cats, horse skulls,
shoes, written charms and numerous other items have been discovered concealed inside houses in significant quantities from the early modern period
until well into the twentieth century. The locations
This book looks at aspects of the continuation of witchcraft and magic in Europe from the last of the secular and ecclesiastical trials during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, through to the nineteenth century. It provides a brief outline of witch trials in late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century Finland. By the second half of the seventeenth century, as the witch trials reached their climax in Sweden, belief in the interventionist powers of the Devil had become a major preoccupation of the educated classes. Having acknowledged the slight possibility of real possession by the Devil, Benito Feijoo threw himself wholeheartedly into his real objective: to expose the falseness of the majority of the possessed. The book 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. One aspect of the study of witchcraft and magic, which has not yet been absorbed into the main stream of literature on the subject, is the archaeological record of the subject. As a part of the increasing interest in 'popular' culture, historians have become more conscious of the presence of witchcraft after the witch trials. The aftermath of the major witch trials in Dalarna, Sweden, demonstrates how the authorities began the awkward process of divorcing themselves from popular concerns and beliefs regarding witchcraft.
The study of witchcraft accusations in Europe during the period after the end of the witch trials is still in its infancy. Witches were scratched in England, swum in Germany, beaten in the Netherlands and shot in France. The continued widespread belief in witchcraft and magic in nineteenth- and twentieth-century France has received considerable academic attention. The book discusses the extent and nature of witchcraft accusations in the period and provides a general survey of the published work on the subject for an English audience. It explores the presence of magical elements in everyday life during the modern period in Spain. The book provides a general overview of vernacular magical beliefs and practices in Italy from the time of unification to the present, with particular attention to how these traditions have been studied. By functioning as mechanisms of social ethos and control, narratives of magical harm were assured a place at the very heart of rural Finnish social dynamics into the twentieth century. The book draws upon 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. It is concerned with a special form of witchcraft that is practised only amongst Hungarians living in Transylvania.
clear in the article
by Raisa Toivo. She shows how the secular and religious authorities in
Finland, at the time under Swedish rule, proactively turned the focus of
prosecutions under general laws for witchcraft and ‘popular’ magic firmly in
the direction of the latter. While popular concern remained focused on
harmful witchcraft, the pattern of prosecutions during the late seventeenth
and early eighteenth centuries show a determined shift towards authoritarian
rather than popular preoccupations. Increasingly it was the authorities
rather than the general population
Edward Bever’s The Realities of Witchcraft and PopularMagic in Early Modern Europe , which sets out to demonstrate how early modern supernatural experiences were real from a neurobiological perspective. 4 Bever acknowledges the value of cultural historians’ analyses of the social function of supernatural stories, but argues that neurocognitive explanations for supernatural experiences also deserve ‘a place at the table’. 5 His work has proved controversial, with some regrettably polarised positions being taken by some participants in the debate including Bever
The mental world of an eighteenth-century Anglican pastor
dangers; prosper our ways; rejoice at
our conversion; and when we die, they carry our souls, if good, to the
place of happiness’.43 Despite these good works, he warned, men were
Marshall and Walsham, ‘Migrations of angels’, pp. 17–18; Owen Davies, ‘Angels in
elite and popularmagic, 1650–1790’ in Marshall and Walsham, Angels in the early modern
world, pp. 299–301, 303– 4.
Hutchinson, Historical essay, p. 10.
Ibid., Sermon II: Concerning angels, p. 251.
Ibid., pp. 258–9.
Ibid., p. 261.
Ibid., p. 262.
Ibid., pp. 251, 262.
Ibid., pp. 263
’ – the process by which good and bad spirits were differentiated. 3 Julian Goodare’s study of witch-hunting sets it in the context of broader processes including folk belief and magical practice. 4 Edward Bever’s study of the ‘realities’ of ‘witchcraft and popularmagic’ should be noted particularly for the way in which it, too, ranges beyond witchcraft and opens up a realm not of ‘belief’ but of magical action and experience. 5
England has also been well surveyed. Keith Thomas’s celebrated Religion and the Decline of Magic (1971) covered a wide range of
. Yet at the same time, as already mentioned,
there was an increase of court cases against superstition in Swedish secular
courts. It should be noted, though, that the Church seems to have stopped
Beyond the witch trials
dealing with similar cases during the early eighteenth century, probably as
a result of changes regarding the areas of responsibility of secular and Church
courts.49 The peak of the trials concerning popularmagic came in the middle
of the eighteenth century, and although little research has been done they
probably continued a while into the
market for mass-produced literature on magic
and the occult had been established, and in the following century this
Beyond the witch trials
literature attracted popular attention and notoriety in a number of European
One can see this period as giving birth to a new culture of popularmagic.
It was not an oral culture but a literary culture that fostered it; not the simple
peasant but the publisher, the printer and the reader who cradled it; not the
rural but the urban population which initially absorbed it.5 This literary
occultism was a thoroughly
Briggs, Witches and Neighbors , 263.
Sources for table 1: Monter, Witchcraft in France
and Switzerland , 119, table 7; Gabor Klaniczay, ‘Hungary: The
accusations and the universe of popularmagic’, Centres and
Peripheries , 219–255: 222, table 8.1; Calendar of Assize