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.
Given the widespread belief in witchcraft and the existence of laws against such practices, why did witch-trials fail to gain momentum and escalate into ‘witch-crazes’ in certain parts of early modern Europe? This book answers this question by examining the rich legal records of the German city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a city that experienced a very restrained pattern of witch-trials and just one execution for witchcraft between 1561 and 1652. The book explores the factors that explain the absence of a ‘witch-craze’ in Rothenburg, placing particular emphasis on the interaction of elite and popular priorities in the pursuit (and non-pursuit) of alleged witches at law. By making the witchcraft narratives told by the peasants and townspeople of Rothenburg central to its analysis, the book also explores the social and psychological conflicts that lay behind the making of accusations and confessions of witchcraft. Furthermore, it challenges the existing explanations for the gender-bias of witch-trials, and also offers insights into other areas of early modern life, such as experiences of and beliefs about communal conflict, magic, motherhood, childhood and illness. Written in a narrative style, the study invites a wide readership to share in the drama of early modern witch trials.
In Rothenburg and its hinterland four factors interacted to ensure that the area
experienced a restrained pattern of witch-trials and only three executions for
witchcraft throughout the early modern period. The first was a willingness on
the part of the councillors and their judicial advisers to treat and punish a significant proportion of the witchcraft allegations with which they were confronted as slanders.1 This happened most often during the second half of the
sixteenth and early part of the seventeenth century, but was still possible in
readings of the exceptionally rich records from the Rothenburg witchtrials to explore the social and psychic tensions that lay behind the making of
witchcraft accusations and confessions, the popular and elite reactions to these
accusations and confessions, and the ways in which participants in witch-trials
pursued strategies, expressed emotions and negotiated conflicts through what
they said about witchcraft.
These aims are important for various reasons. In 1996, Robin Briggs suggested that what was surprising about the early modern period was not how
many people were
an epidemic problem, where witchtrials were sporadic and few, where accusations were usually levelled against individuals or groups of three or four suspects, and where the acquittal rate was high in witchcraft cases. The hanging of ten or eleven witches at one go was, therefore, very unusual: certainly, nothing in the experience of witchtrials in England before 1612 had prepared either the population of Lancashire or those sections of the literate public who were to read Potts’s Discoverie for the Pendle trials.
But concentration on the
Witchcraft and the symbolics of hierarchy in late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century Finland
Raisa Maria Toivo
Beyond the witchtrials
Marking (dis)order: witchcraft and the symbolics of
hierarchy in late seventeenth- and
early eighteenth-century Finland
Raisa Maria Toivo
What do witchcraft and witchtrials tell us about power and social hierarchy?
Witchtrials have often enough been explained in terms of social relations
and schisms, particularly in local contexts. In a highly competitive world,
disagreements resulted from and caused both attacks by suspected witches
and accusations made against them. It has often been noted that in Sweden
Beyond the witchtrials
Counter-witchcraft and popular magic
The archaeology of counter-witchcraft
and popular magic
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
witchcraft beliefs after the
end of the witchtrials is still in its infancy among German historians.
Recently, there have been some innovative impulses in researching the
persistence or re-emergence of magic in the nineteenth century. Here,
so-called superstitious practices and beliefs are placed within their social
and cultural context and analysed according to modern patterns of
interpretation. 3 However
Contemporary witchcraft and the Lancashire witches
’s Aradia (1899), and folk customs to assert her theory that the witch-cult contained the vestigial remnants of a pre-Christian European fertility religion perhaps first developed in Egypt, which she called ‘Dianic’. 2 Murray used the Lancashire witchtrials as part of her evidence, arranging the witches into three covens of thirteen (i.e. thirty-nine persons) 3 and characterising the meeting at the Malkin Tower as a sabbat. She also made explicit links between age-old practices and witchcraft, which Gardner believed ‘was directly descended from the Northern European
James I’s Daemonologie and The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches
Potts’s book is almost as remarkable as the trials it presents. Because it consists largely of official court records, until the 1980s historians read it as a uniquely transparent window on to the process of an English witchtrial. But, as Marion Gibson shows in this volume, Potts was an active and selective reporter. He omitted important aspects of trial procedure, reordered the documents, represented prior written depositions as viva voce testimony, and may have ‘improved’ Judge Bromley’s speeches. Gibson does not dispute that The Wonderfull Discoverie ‘is