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Witches and Neighbors: The Social and Cultural Context of European Witchcraft Paperback – January 1, 1998

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (January 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140144382
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140144383
  • Product Dimensions: 7.7 x 5.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.3 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #735,782 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

This remarkable history of European witchcraft explores the persecutions against its supposed practitioners in the late Middle Ages. Even at the time, writes Briggs, many thought the inquisitions against witchcraft absurd, but still thousands died, mostly women, mostly poor. Examining contemporary accounts and court records -- 300 of them from the duchy of Lorraine alone -- Briggs notes that the inquisition heightened divisions between the educated and the uneducated classes, "as their world views polarized to the point where vast areas of what had once been common belief were stigmatized as superstition." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

An impressively researched cross-cultural exploration of a disturbing phenomenon in European history. Religion scholar Briggs (Oxford Univ.), concentrating on the period from the 14th to the 17th centuries, offers a thought-provoking analysis that disabuses the reader of some commonly held stereotypes about witchcraft. The most startling fact is that not all of the accused were women. Men accounted for approximately 25 percent of accused witches in early modern Europe, though in France men composed half (and in Iceland 90 percent) of those on trial. Indeed, it is the pan-Europeanism of this book that is so novel and refreshing. Rather than merely trotting out the same hackneyed examples from Britain, France, and Germany, Briggs highlights the regional diversity of beliefs about witchcraft and official attitudes toward it in Sweden, Hungary, Italy, and elsewhere. His overarching point is that the cultural gestalt that facilitated witchcraft's magic worldview was widespread in Europe, as was the misperception about these beliefs, though the machinery of accusation, trial, and execution was located on the local level, generally in small rural communities. Briggs has painstakingly researched the records of these village trials and enriches his narrative with the poignant personal testimonies of both accusers and accused. ``Unneighborliness,'' Briggs argues, was a principal element in many of these cases: In peasant villages, where families depended heavily on their neighbors as insurance against hard times, any hint of stinginess, envy, or malice suggested that more sinister forces might be at work. But Briggs fails to adequately explain the demise of witchcraft in most European cultures in the 17th century. Given the tremendous amount of local variation in belief and practice, it is significant that witches' trials and executions faded all over the European scene at approximately the same time. The circumstances surrounding the decline of a belief in witchcraft deserve an additional volume from this able researcher and deft writer. (3 maps) -- Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 15, 1997
Format: Hardcover
I'm going to have to review my European history, which is well worth doing before tackling this book. As the title indicates, Briggs examines the history of witchcraft persecution in Europe from a socio-cultural standpoint, taking into account the vast social changes taking place during the early modern period. He is especially thorough in dealing with the meeting of the medieval mind and the modern one, and what conflicts could arise from that meeting.
At the same time, Briggs addresses the notion that witchcraft persecution owed its pervasiveness to some kind of conspiracy conceived and imposed from above. Actually, as he points out with numerous examples, this kind of thing was quite rare, with authorities for the most part reluctant to give credence to such claims. Presenting a very clear picture of life in the early modern village, he shows how the beliefs of the general populace provided fertile ground in which suspicions could grow into full-blown accusations.
My only real criticism is that some of his examples are hard to follow; in some cases it's difficult to determine who did or said what in a particular case, especially since the genders associated with many names aren't readily apparent to this American reader. Nonetheless, this is a minor complaint relative to Briggs' extremely thorough analysis and painstaking research.
And lest we think ourselves beyond such forms of persecution today -- well, have a look at the news over the last few years. Now, as then, witch-hunts seem to consist primarily of looking for someone to blame
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Ricky Hunter on December 4, 2000
Format: Paperback
Robin Briggs' Witches and Neighbors can be both fascinating and irritating at times throughout the book (and often both at once). It is narrowly focused on his own geographic area of expertise, which is the border regions between France and Germany, so readers interested in a pan-European or British examination of witchcraft will have to look elsewhere. For the area that it does cover, it is minutely thorough. This can be both good or bad as there are many, many anecotes used for evidence of the various themes covered in the book but there is no broad perspective presented and defended. The author makes clear his intention to show the complexity of the social construction of witchcraft (which is good) by presenting all of these individual incidents showing that every case can be different from every other case (this can be frustrating for the reader as no general theme emerges to place all of these anecdotes within an historical wev). This book will give the reader some new insights into the complexity of the situation as he tackles other books on similar topics. A fine, yet narrow handling of the social and cultural framework necessary for the growth of the belief in witchcraft.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful By L O'connor on October 30, 2003
Format: Paperback
Ths book is packed with enthralling detail from begtinning to end. All sorts of msiconceptions I had previously held about the subject were blown away by this marvellous book. For instance, it is evident that recent writers on the subject have wildly exaggerated the numbers of people put to death as witches, it is often given as several millions, whereas Briggs shows that the actual number is about 40,000. Also another misconnception, that withces were always female, whereas in fact of those put to death about 20% were men, in some areas, men were in the majority of those killed. Also, most of the accusers tended to be women themselves, contrary to the feminist fantasy that it was all about wiched men persecuting women etc. Another fantasy, that midwives were persecuted as witches, weheras in fact when midwives were involved in witchtrials it was generally as inspectors of the accused, to look for suspicious marks on their bodies. There isn't a dull page in this enthralling book.
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14 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on August 7, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I chose to review this book because of a movie I saw about ten years ago I rather like Jack Nicholson's role as a little demon in the movie "The Witches Of Eastwick" Particularly as he waxes sanguine about witch burning starting in the 14th century as a professional jurisdictional dispute between doctors and midwives. That led me to thinking that it would be nice if someone wrote a serious book about the social construction of witchcraft. Well some did and I finally found it and added it to collection of the literature of the professions.
Robin Briggs' Witches & Neighbors: The Social And Cultural Context Of European Witchcraft (copyright 1996) is a reinterpretation of the witchcraft fears and persecution that deviled Europe, particularly from the 14th through the 17th centuries, offers the first general history of witchcraft to be written by a historian with specialist knowledge, which makes the subject come alive. In authoritative and rich detail, Briggs chronicles the brutal inquisitions, the trials, and the practices and beliefs of this minority. Complete with Woodcuts, illustrations, and maps Witches and Neighbors, a remarkable history of European witchcraft, explores the persecutions against its supposed Practitioners in the late Renaissance era.
Even at the time, writes Robin Briggs, many thought the inquisitions against witchcraft absurd; a chronicler of the time asked "whether the evidence be not frivolous, and whether the proofs brought against [alleged witches] be not incredible." Despite such objections, thousands died, mostly women, mostly poor.
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