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A History of Witchcraft: Sorcerers, Heretics, & Pagans Paperback – March 26, 2007

4.4 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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  • A History of Witchcraft: Sorcerers, Heretics, & Pagans
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Jeffrey B. Russell is Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Brooks Alexander is the author of Witchcraft Goes Mainstream and has written numerous articles on witchcraft and neo-paganism and their effect on contemporary religious movements. He lives in Texas.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Thames & Hudson; 2nd edition (March 26, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0500286345
  • ISBN-13: 978-0500286340
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 0.7 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #141,108 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
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.
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Format: Paperback
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.
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Format: Paperback
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.
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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:
1 Sorcery
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.
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