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America Bewitched: The Story of Witchcraft After Salem Hardcover – March 22, 2013
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"Owen Davies tells a fascinating tale that has never been told before with all the skills of a true craftsman. Its sheer breadth of coverage amazes from the start." --Ronald Hutton, author of The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Pagan Witchcraft
"An extraordinary achievement... I was frankly staggered at the range of Davies's research." --Professor H. C. Erik Midelfort, University of Virginia
"Davies tells a highly original story, yet one that makes instant sense... This is a vivid, arresting, insightful book, written with sympathy and human understanding. It extends Davies's reputation as an original thinker in the field, when so much work is derivative or merely illustrative of well-established ideas." --Malcolm Gaskill, Fortean Times
"Davies's catholic approach has produced a volume densely packed with fascinating material. Along with detailed excurses into folklore -- there are sustained discussions of hairballs, hag-riding, and skin shedding -- the author presents a trove of historical anecdotes and case studies drawn from his wide research into local histories, obscure newspapers, and other neglected byways." --Nova Religio
About the Author
Owen Davies is Professor of Social History at the University of Hertfordshire. He has written extensively on the history of magic, witchcraft, ghosts, and popular medicine, including The Haunted: A Social History of Ghosts (2007), Grimoires: A History of Magic Books (2009), Paganism: A Very Short Introduction (2011), and Magic: A Very Short Introduction (2012). He is also the editor of The Oxford Illustrated History of Witchcraft and Magic, which is forthcoming from Oxford University Press.
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Top customer reviews
Not so fast. In this highly readable and exhaustive book, Davies fills in much that has been forgotten from the time of Salem, all the way to the 21st century. Although people were not legally hanged anymore, fear of witches persisted among many people. This unfortunately tore up communities and led to the murder of many people by those who believed they were bewitched.
Filled with many fascinating stories about the witchcraft beliefs of Europeans, Native Americans and African Americans, this is a rewarding addition to the library of those interested in early American superstitious beliefs.
Central to the author's research was digging into the civil court records. Most works on the subject tend to look at only criminal court cases. And if looking solely at the criminal records, one would come to think that the belief in witchcraft had sharply declined after Salem. But a common misperception is that all of the witchcraft laws were removed from the books. As Davies shows us, the laws were not so much removed as replaced. Witchcraft went from being a criminal offense of treating with the Devil to a civil offense of committing fraud by way of claiming to perform witchery in general.
Davies brings together the civil court records with newspaper reports and census records to provide us with a deeper understanding of the belief in witchcraft in America. As late of the early 20th century, individuals were still being charged with witchcraft simply because the average citizen didn't differentiate between the defunct crime of "being a witch" and fraudulent crime of "claiming to be a witch." Many of these cases were later charged under different names like disturbing the peace, poisoning, and vandalism. But by matching up the newspaper records with the other facts, Davies shows how many of these cases originated from charges of witchcraft and were the same accusations with different, more "enlightened" names.
Davies also digs deep into the sociological reasons for the belief in Witchcraft. He discussed in great detail how accusations of witchcraft were commonly used by different ethnic immigrant groups in the New World against each other, either because of misunderstandings due to cultural differences or outright hostilities. His examples of how one group's folk remedies would be interpreted as another group's witchcraft are enlightening. His examination of how accusations of witchcraft were used against both slaves and Native Americans is particularly noteworthy.
America Bewitched should be considered required reading for anyone with an interest in the full history of witchcraft belief in America.
Reviewer Note: My review is based on the uncorrected galley proof copy I was given.
The second, bigger issue was the fact that he very rarely told us the outcome of the different trials, etc. that he describes. We get some (frequently) confusing background, the fact that the case went to some sort of trial, possibly a comment from the presiding judge... then it's on to the next case, with no clue as to what the outcome was. By the time I was up to page 100 I was thoroughly irritated and having to force myself to continue reading. Not what I want out of a book read for pleasure (as opposed to reading for classwork, etc.).
The cases are interesting, and it's fairly amazing how long these beliefs persisted in this country. Still, an attempt at editing would have been nice (and professional), and it would have been even nicer to have the end results for these cases.