The Witch Hunters

P. G. Maxwell-Stuart. Witch Hunters: Professional Prickers, Unwitchers and Witch Finders of the Renaissance. Tempus, 2003.

In this study of learned and folk witch hunters, Maxwell-Stuart continues his revisionist examination of the witchcraft panic, arguing that we cannot judge those involved from the Olympian peaks of the the twenty-first century, but most be judged as members of their time and culture. This was a culture which saw itself immersed in an animate world, in which human beings were part of a wider ecology of spiritual beings, with which they could enter into commerce.
Within this context, witchcraft was not an absurd delusion at all, and witch hunters served to find out those whose commerce with the 'dark others' was the cause of the general failure of things. Nor were witchcraft persecutions launched upon an innocent, mainly female, folk, by a clerical conspiracy, most often witch hunters responded to pressures from below, and perhaps the majority of witchcraft allegations were made by women. Witchcraft allegations stem in some important respects from inter-female conflict.

Though Maxwell-Stuart makes no attempt to see modern parallels, one cannot help noting that the idea of the potency of inter-female verbal conflict is now very current with media coverage of female bullying and verbal violence, which suggests that the idea of 'words of power' can easily be translated from the culture of magic to the culture of therapy. And we surely have no limit to the uncoverers of the single simple reason for why paradise is endlessly delayed. On wider scale we should perhaps examine what it is about certain social and historical situations that determine whether certain forms of human behaviour are seen as an inevitable part of rich tapestry of human life, or as a grave and immediate threat to the whole of society. -- Peter Rogerson (first published on-line November 2003)

No comments: