on June 16, 2000
I really appreciated reading this book, which is the work of a serious religious scholar. I am a very Wicca-friendly, Pagan-wise person (in my opinion), and certainly do not believe the heart or soul of a religion can be judged better by scholars than by practitioners. But I also think critically, love history and respect fact. This book settled a lot of questions that books written by either firm believers or ranting detractors failed to.
This is a fair book, well-researched. It lays the groundwork for 3 kinds of "witchery" in human history: "sorcery," which has belonged to and persists in all cultures, all religions, at all times, in various forms, with various levels of acceptance; "diabolical witchcraft," which is an "invention of the [European] Middle Ages," a compendium of folklore + religious bigotry + political expediency + etc....; and "modern witchcraft," which is a "new religion." And he, thankfully, makes it clear that Wicca and Paganism are not in any way satanic: "Satanism today is quite different from historical witchcraft, however, and it is totally rejected by all the neopagan witches today. Modern witches observe that since they reject Christianity they can scarecely be supposed to worship a Christian Devil. I describe Satansim here only so that the lack of resemblance between it and witchcraft may be clear."
While Russell's book deals mostly with religious and historical analysis and his critique of the claims of early 20th-century folklorists (such as Margaret Murray, whose "The Witch-cult of Western Europe" and "God of the Witches" have now been -- whether some folks like it or not -- proven largely, though not entirely, ill-grounded in their conclusions), he gives due credit to the living belief systems of modern day Pagans and Wiccans.
While he reveals the sometimes sordid esotericism of the Crowley-Gardener heritage of modern Wicca, he does not use old rumors and scandals (even Crowley's well-known dabbling with diabolism) to tarnish contemporary witches or their religion. As he says, "That Gardener (or Crowley) invented the religion does not invalidate it. Every religion has a founder, and much that surrounds the origin of every religion is historically suspect. Lack of historicity does not necessarily deprive a religion of its insight."
As Russell concludes his book, after two chapters that respectfully (sometimes it seemed even 'lovingly') set out the practices of Wicca in 20th-C, "One need not be a witch -- I am not -- to understand witchcraft as a valid expression of the religious experience. The religion of withcraft offers to restore a lost option, paganism, to our religious world view. Both Christianity and scientism have taught us falsely that paganism is nonsense... This is not an informed view... The neopagan witches are attempting to recreate the positive values of pagan religion."
on August 14, 2002
Jeffery Burton Russell is well known for his works on the history and myth of the Devil. Here Russell provides us with a very well-researched introduction to historical witchcraft that seeks to give an overview of the essential influences and origins of witchcraft and the Christian myths of diabolic magic and demonic pacts that eventually lead to the virulent witch-craze of the Renaissance and early modern period.
Russell identifies several essential elements that influenced European thought and lead to the persecution and murder of tens of thousands of suspected "witches". These are: sorcery, ancient pagan religious beliefs, Christian theology, Inqusitorial and other anti-witch writings. These elements provided the basis for a belief in diabolic witchcraft that, modern historians largely argue, never existed and erupted in the period between 1450-1750 in the largest witch hysteria in history. However, Russell shows that these types of events are not relegated to the past, but can occurr in any society at any time, such as Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia in recent times. Russell analyzes the witch hunts in Europe, England, and the American Colonies and contrasts the various judicial methods and popular beliefs regarding them. For instance, it is interesting to note that unlike on the Continent, England viewed the crime of witchcraft as a civil rather than religious matter. This has alot to do with the connection between witchcraft and chrisitan heresy that was prevalent in Europe in the centuries prior to the beginning of the witch hunts but that was largely absent from English history. Russell continues with an analyses of the decline of the witch-craze and the rise of general skepticism and disbelief in witchery. He shows that by the late 18th century, the accusation and execution of suspected witches had all but ceased. It was only in the late 19th century that a revived nterest in magic and the occult gave rise to a romanticized interst in witchcraft. Russell concludes with an overview of the history of modern-day witchcraft and neo-paganism and the lingering perceptions that the public maintains about it.
This is an excellent introduction to the academic history of witchcraft and should lead interested readers to a more in-depth study regarding one of the most horrific periods in human history.
on January 3, 1998
While there are many books to choose from on this subject, Jeffery Russell manages to both educate and entertain. Taken from a stricty historical viewpoint, this book is both concise and poignant at times. The text reads more like a personal account from a not so casual observer while still managing to sprinkle in all the dry and sometimes lurid details. Having read many of the historical accounts as well as those with a position to defend or deny, I feel this book is the best I have read on the subject. While not a long book, quantatively there is more great information page for page than in any other single book I've read on witchcraft. This is not the be all end all book that "Drawing Down the Moon" tries to be for the believer. Instead it gives an excellent, engaging, account following a timeline which allows the reader to take into account the atmosphere of the time rather than remove the subject and give a disconnected sanitary synopsis of a fear that grew over time.
on October 20, 2001
I was highly impressed with this book. The author deals not only with the history of Witchcraft, but sheds light on how many of the common ideas and misconceptions concerning Witchcraft came into being. What he gives is a fairly broad overview of European and American Witchcraft's overall developement and proper place in history. He leads up to, and deals briefly with modern Pagan Witchcraft, but focuses primarily on earlier developement prior to the 20th century. Read this for the broad view, and Ronald Hutton's _Triumph of the Moon_ for a more narrowly focused view, and you'll have pretty well all the common misconceptions and misinformation still prevailant within the Witchcraft community today cleared away. Money well spent.
on June 4, 2009
My first thought on receiving this book was, "Wow, what a small book!"
My second thought was, "Half of this book is pictures!"
My third thought was, "How could a book with only 100 pages of text possibly cover the history of witchcraft?"
As I started reading though, my fears got knocked out, one by one.
A quick glance at the Contents pages shows how thorough this book is:
2 The Roots of European Witchcraft
3 Witchcraft, Heresy and Inquisition
4 The Witch-Craze on the Continent of Europe
5 Witchcraft in Britain and America
6 Witchcraft and Society
7 The Decline of Witchcraft
8 Survivals and Revivals
9 Neopagan Witchcraft: The Sources
10 Neopagan Witchcraft: The Movement
11 The Role of Witchcraft
Pretty self-explanatory, but I was glad to find that this book also mentions sorcery/witchcraft in not just Europe, but countries like Africa, as well.
On the coverage of American witchcraft, I was pleased to see that there was a quick but sufficient history on the Salem witch trials and not a repetitive drawn-out version.
What I liked most about this book was how it came across as very unbiased --the authors frequently call out authors by name and criticize their "unscholarly" research.
They also viewed witchcraft from different perspectives, to include economic, such as on page 111, where it says:
"Nor did declining economic conditions necessarily correlate with witchcraft. Macfarlane observed that in Essex prosecutions were at their height in the 1580s and 1590s, a period of relative prosperity."
The only bad thing I can say about this book is a small one: Because the pages are so glossy they are often prone to a glare that makes reading indoors a matter of finding the right spot/sitting position.
One other small thing I just noticed: The Amazon picture for this book shows the title as "A NEW history of witchcraft", however, when I received my book the title is merely "A history of witchcraft: Second Edition". I assume both are the same book, just different covers.
A very fascinating book (this coming from a person who does not normally read non-fiction). If only textbooks could be this interesting . . .
on April 12, 2014
This book appears to have been well researched; it is very factual and contains a surprisingly large amount of history given the book's small size. However it wasn't interesting to me because it reads like one big footnote. It is fact after fact, with nothing to hold the attention of the reader. I think it is respectable to compile so much information, but this book has no 'voice' so to speak. Despite all the history that it contains, I had a very hard time reading this book.
On a side note, a large sticker was slapped on the back on the book (I bought the book new), which was nearly impossible to get off without damaging the book. As a collector of unusual books, I find this takes away from the otherwise interesting-looking front and back. It was also scraped up on the front and back, implying it was not in fact new.
on December 23, 2009
This is an excellent book for anyone wanting more information on the emergence of Wicca - where did it come from and is it really an ancient religion? Instead of postulating based on romanticism, Russell provides a scholarly, historical view of how the religion came about. The historical details of the witch burnings and how they culturally came about was very intriguing. I would recommend this book to any skeptical modern Wiccan who really wants to know their roots and not nice-sounding propaganda.
This chronologically covers the evolution of what societies perceive as witchcraft. People may deny it, but it's widespread, often with similar images and practices assumed in very diverse instances. Witches exist nearly everywhere if in equally varied forms, despite religious and political efforts to eradicate sorcery.
As with any Thames & Hudson publication, this 2007 work combines an intelligent, accessible, but scholarly introduction with lots of photos and drawings. The last two chapters added to the revision of the 1980 original version feature Brooks Alexander's neopagan coverage. What he and Russell emphasize, as the subtitle "sorcerers, heretics, and pagans" hints, is a triple definition of a "witch". (I did wonder as an aside why neither Russell's 1972 medieval witchcraft study or this book explored the common association of the term "witch" coming from the Old English for "bending or shaping.") Anthropologists place witchcraft within sorcery as "low magic" that influences natural phenomena to effect practical results desired. Historically, in Europe especially, devil worship has been supposed to be the domain of a witch. This happened far more often, in terms of persecution and murdering those so supposed to be witches, in the Renaissance and Reformation than in the Middle Ages. Whether or not this alleged diabolical contact was practiced, its functions were assumed by church and state to be "proven," and then nearly impossible to disprove. Russell presents many examples of 60,000 marginalized victims hanged or burned for heresy.
"The process is simple. A number of children die. The midwife is a lonely and unpopular widow. Blame for the deaths is fixed on her and expressed in supernatural terms. She must therefore be a witch. But it is well known that all witches fly out at night, make pacts with the Devil, and practise other forms of demonolatry. Questions about all this are put to her under torture, and in her agony and fear she confesses. The confession again reinforces the accepted image of the witch. Misfortunes are interpreted as evil deeds, evil deeds are seen as sorcery, sorcery is perceived as witchcraft, and another human being is tortured and killed." (84)
Russell tends to compress "the intellectual erosion of witchcraft" in the 17th and 18th centuries but he does explain how people stopped believing in it once rational causes for the death of a cow of the illness of a child started to gain traction and helped undermine folk beliefs that blamed demons or spells for misfortune. For modern times, the resurgence of witchcraft, both authors remind the credulous, cannot be traced to a purported underground Old Religion. Jules Michelet, with his psuedo-Marxian concept of a deep-rooted agrarian resistance to Church and State, or Margaret Murray, with her deluded insistence that a Dianic cult survived from a "pre-Christian fertility religion that had once pervaded Europe," both are shown carefully to have based their once-influential theories on poor research and wishful thinking. Pagan practices may have survived into today's West, but not the world-view of ancient or folk paganism. That perspective, however, has been reconstructed and revamped, as Alexander reveals.
Contemporary neopaganism asserts its difference against Christian-based domination. It also defies a Western, secular, and rational mindset. Its identity's based in a "contagious excitement of cultural insurrection" as its "functional substitute for missionary zeal." (163) Animism-polytheism-pantheism; feminism; denial of sin; "spiritual reciprocity": Margot Adler's terms sum up its "religious attitude."
For Alexander, witch hunts show a flaw in human nature: we project our fears of evil on others, we push them away from us, and we "punish them horribly." (193) It is no etymological accident that a witches' "sabbat" connects with the despised "synagogue" supposed to be an assembly of idolators. The fact many of those hunted were women today may account for the determination to reclaim, for many women and gays shunted aside from conventional religions and communities, to find in witchcraft a place to assert their subversive pride. The growth of both counterculturally based and pop-culture teen witches-- the latter fueled by a conjunction of the Net with Hollywood-- proves a challenge. In Berkeley, typically or atypically, Alexander notes how a witch brought together the traditional and "alternative" believers in an interfaith council as their bridge. How will witches manage to stand in opposition to the norm once they are accepted by ecumenical groups and invited into mainstream society as just another faith?
He closes by urging Neopaganism to be "tempered by critical thought." He finds its role one of elevating syncretic, intuitive approaches to wisdom alongside scientific, atheist, and academically arrogant forms of "physicist" thought. Its synthesis of a more nature-caring, feminist and queer-positive, and humbly reverential, non-punishing outlook he proposes for our millennial age as particularly encouraging. Russell and Alexander in this brief, well-written, and thoughtful survey of a controversial, often sensationalized, and generally misunderstood subject serve readers well in presenting an open-minded approach to the dangers of past discrimination and the present possibilities for future openness to one of the most ancient, yet one of the newest as reinvented, of all belief systems.
on September 11, 2013
This book has a ton of history and certainly reads like a text that would be required reading for a college course. The author does a fantastic job of presenting an accurate historical tracing of witchcraft but, again, the language used can be somewhat difficult to read due to the SAT test quality vocabulary used. Recommended reading for everyone, but be prepared to pace yourself.
on October 1, 2012
Magick and sorcery have been with mankind since the beginning. Witchcraft being the most popular branch of of has perked the curiousity of many people. This book give a real accurate accounting of it's developement spanning from man's humble beginnings up until the present. This book lays it out in a simple to understand format with the main ideas of the author expressed and then supported by trackable facts. There are a few details that are left out that those who are familiar with the modern craft would know should defintley be included. There are three phases to witchcraft. I shall call them sorcerous, diabolical and neo-pagan.
Early sorcerey recognized that there were hidden connections between various objects like words, herbs, stones and other things. The sorcerer knew how to exploit these and get results. Often times sorcerers were accused of blighting crops, sickening cattle and occasionally striking people with magic. If one was convicted of sorcery one could get lashes of a fine. Sorcery and witchcraft seem to have the same associations world over regardless of origins. Witches were knows to fly at night, haunt little babies and suck the blood of their victims. this holds true whether in Europe, Africa or South America. One African tribe has it that there are people who practice good magic, bad magic and then there are witches who seem to have the power within. The core magick practices come from the Graeco-Roman era. This is the basis for many practices associated with witches. Sorcery used folk magic, pagan religion and other local things. The Roman goddess Diana was the goddess of witchcraft. Artemis was a virgin huntress of the moon who Diana was patterned after. Later she got conflated with Holda or Perchta who were Norse fertility deities. This added a lust.fertility aspect to Diana. Diana's darker aspect was Hekate a three faced goddess of the underworld. The early pagans brooked no issue with having female deities or deities that could be both good and bad. Christianity did.
Christianity did not over take Europe so quickly. Paganism survived until 1100 in many places. Still Christianity was brital in the way it snuffed out opposition. It is argued that Paganism did not survive but rather there were customs and practices that survived from PAganism into Christianity. Many of these like Saint Hallows Eve, Christmas (Yule and Saturnalia), Walpugis night and others did not die away but survived in Christian form. It was during the Rennaissacne time that sorcery and witch craft got linked up with Satanism. Hersy was considered Satanic, practicing magic was considered Satanic. Witches and hereetics were accused of noght time revels cavorting with the devil and all sort of inaapropriate things. Witches were considered demon worhsipper. For this they were burned at the stake and murdered. There was no benefit of fair trials and the means of execution were horrid.Often times those accused were not actual witches but rather they were defenseless old ladies who served convenient scapegoat. This was know as the burning times.
During the 18th-19th century author's like Michelet proposed the theory that witches were good. They were remanants of an ancient Pagan religion that had a god and goddess. In a sense a fertility cult that withsttod the tyranical onlsaught of Christianity. Frazier would pick with the idea of the sarificial king in his Gold Bough. Charles leland wrote about about Italain Withccraft and the continued worship of Diana. Margaret Murry wrote on the Witchcult of Europe. All these were later discredited by the academic community yet these works also helped birth neopagan withccraft.
Most people think that gerald Gardner made up Wicca. So do I. yetr is still valid as a religious system because it answeers a need. All religions were made up at one point hence they aare all false and man made. The last part of teh book covers the bracnches of wicca and the people who made changes. It leaves out some keyplayers in the witchcraft world. Robert Cohrane for one who was one of Gardners opponents. He was a practitioner of "The Clan of Tubal caine" Victor and Cora Andersen who practiced the Feri tradition of Witchcraft were only made small mention of . These two branches though not Wicca are definitre branches of withcraft that should have been discussed. they have a goddess and god tradition as well and they do come beffore Wicca. Also there was no mention of Lamas Night whne witches used magic to repel Hitler's forces. Gardner and Crowley were supposedly part of this. Why no mention of such an important event?