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The Witch: A History of Fear, from Ancient Times to the Present

por Ronald Hutton

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4151260,589 (3.84)5
"The witch came to prominence--and often a painful death--in early modern Europe, yet her origins are much more geographically diverse and historically deep. In this landmark book, Ronald Hutton traces witchcraft from the ancient world to the early-modern stake. This book sets the notorious European witch trials in the widest and deepest possible perspective and traces the major historiographical developments of witchcraft. Hutton, a renowned expert on ancient, medieval, and modern paganism and witchcraft beliefs, combines Anglo-American and continental scholarly approaches to examine attitudes on witchcraft and the treatment of suspected witches across the world, including in Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, Australia, and North and South America, and from ancient pagan times to current interpretations. His fresh anthropological and ethnographical approach focuses on cultural inheritance and change while considering shamanism, folk religion, the range of witch trials, and how the fear of witchcraft might be eradicated"--… (mais)
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This must be the most scholarly study of the witchcraft phenomenon that I have read, and I have read quite a few books about the 16th-17th century witch trials in Europe. The author traces the origins of belief in the witch as not only a worker of malevolent magic, but, uniquely in Europe, a putative adherent of a Satanic religion that paralleled the official Christian church. He shows also how a belief in magic and even in witches did not necessarily lead automatically to witch hunting and mass executions: a number of societies balanced their anxieties about witches against beliefs about the evil eye and/or spirit beings, including fairies, which were blamed more for misfortune than witches. These therefore acted to displace the fear and hostility which in other places was directed against people believed to be witches.

The author also looks at witch beliefs in non European societies, and traces the various threads of scholarship which formerly regarded all such beliefs as survivors of paganism, a belief now largely discredited especially in relation to the works of Margaret Murray. He analyses the works of such writers as Carlo Ginzburg (which I have not yet read so will bear in mind the insights here when I do) and explores just how plausible it is that the magic workers Ginzburg wrote about were an offshoot of Shamanism. And Shamanism itself is analysed and explored, including its influence on other cultures where witch hunting did become active, including Norse culture in Scandinavia.

Where the book falls down slightly for me is that the style is very academic and dryly written. I also found the sentence structure rather convoluted in places which obscured the meaning. But given the depth of scholarship shown, I am rating it at 4 stars. ( )
  kitsune_reader | Nov 23, 2023 |
A very thought provoking read. As always when reading Hutton, what you thought you knew is challenged and the wider context for societies views about the image of the witch is put forward in its proper context. ( )
  Cotswoldreader | May 26, 2023 |
Finally as in I finally finished this book. A good academic overview of the concept of witch and the history of the witch over time. In some places I wish Hutton had been more thorough and in others a little less. ( )
  pacbox | Jul 9, 2022 |
A very thought provoking read. As always when reading Hutton, what you thought you knew is challenged and the wider context for societies views about the image of the witch is put forward in its proper context. ( )
  Cotswoldreader | Jun 22, 2022 |
"The Witch: A History of Fear, From Ancient Times to the Present" is very true to its title. It is an anthropological, deeply thorough study of the practice of magic and witchcraft. Hutton explains how the study of witchcraft broadened to include cross-cultural comparisons, a re-evaluation of ancient texts, as well as shamanism, at least for comparison. We learn that witchcraft trials were not only a consequence of political machinations and social turmoil, but a thousands year old evolution. The Christian witch is a result of Mesopotamian demonology and the concept of astral magic, Persian dualism, Hebrew monotheism, and the Roman witch figure. Most interesting was the two sided effect of Rome conquering Egypt: the Romans introduced a fear if witches but Egyptian magic leaked out to the rest of the empire, solidifying their mystical reputation. But while the conceptual roots of witchcraft (Ch 5) is ancient, as a religion it is very new. We are NOT the "daughters of the witches you tried to burn." And while Hutton's book focuses on the West, Native and African traditional practices are included in the discussion, as well as the consequences of colonialism and forced conversion. In Pt 3, the Witch Hunts of 1530s to 1630s are examined and Hutton shows their expertise as a British folk historian.

Overall, I enjoyed this book very much. Hutton actively avoids generalizations or pin pointing precise causes. They approach it all with an academic, objective eye. It's not a quick read, but if you're serious about the subject, you can't get much better. ( )
  asukamaxwell | Mar 19, 2022 |
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"The witch came to prominence--and often a painful death--in early modern Europe, yet her origins are much more geographically diverse and historically deep. In this landmark book, Ronald Hutton traces witchcraft from the ancient world to the early-modern stake. This book sets the notorious European witch trials in the widest and deepest possible perspective and traces the major historiographical developments of witchcraft. Hutton, a renowned expert on ancient, medieval, and modern paganism and witchcraft beliefs, combines Anglo-American and continental scholarly approaches to examine attitudes on witchcraft and the treatment of suspected witches across the world, including in Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, Australia, and North and South America, and from ancient pagan times to current interpretations. His fresh anthropological and ethnographical approach focuses on cultural inheritance and change while considering shamanism, folk religion, the range of witch trials, and how the fear of witchcraft might be eradicated"--

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