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Customer Review

on July 21, 2001
The cover of WITCH by Candace Savage depicts a motly assortment of characters terrorizing a frightened youth. The scene is a reproduction of "The Spell" by Goya, who painted it in 1797 at the height of the witch craze. The picture shows a conjurer in a yellow robe bending over a youth in white. A group of old hags in the background (presumeably witches) are dressed in black. Icons in the painting include the traditional witch imagery of owl-light, bat-wing, and mangled bablies.
WITCH is an extremely well-written and concise account of the "witch" story in the west. To label the book as a "feminist" tract is misleading, and a not so subtle manner of saying it is second-rate. WITCH provides the lay person with a solidly written and historically researched account. Many longer and more scholarly accounts by male historians tell the same tale in much more detail. WITCH is not propaganda, nor is it biased by a political agenda. The book is written for the layperson who does not wish to wade through the thousands of tomes written on this subject. Savage provides a nice bibliography if you wish to know more. She has sourced and cited her study from beginning to end. One drawback is that her work is based on secondary research, so if a primary source has an error she repeats it--but she cites the source so you can go to the original if you have a question.
WITCH is an art book filled with beautiful drawings, paintings and depictions of witches and their trials and tribulations over the past 500 years. A picture is worth a thousand words.
Other societies had/have witches, but the witch in the West is a direct out-growth of an amalgam of beliefs associated with the Bible. One of the most important points Savage makes is that the "witch craze" did not take place in the Middle Ages as most believe. The persecution of witches by the Roman Catholic Church was incidental. The Church was after heretics--such as the Cathars and Waldensians. Think of it as bringing in Al Capone for tax evasion. Witchcraft was a means to an end. The fact that the accused eschewed orthodoxy was the real issue.
Savage says, "The Reformation began as a movement to cleanse the church of "pagan" superstition. Christianity had been corrupted by Satan, the Protestants said, and they found his mark even on the Mass..." Savage reiterates what many historians point out...the worst persecutions of "witches" took place after the Protestant Reformation, and in predominantly Protestant countries. One-half of all the people executed for witchcraft died in Protestant Germany. Scotland, Sweden, and Switzerland were dangerous places for old ladies with no friends. The night Shakespeare's play "MacBeth" opened in England, and three witches stirred their cauldron on stage, people were being burned and hung for witchcraft all over Europe.
When the average person pictures a witch s/he visualizes a woman with a pale skin wearing a tall hat and flowing black cape--the typical dress of the 16th Century Puritan. In his painting "The Fight Between Carnival versus Lent" painted at the height of the Reformation, Brueghel depicts a "mock" battle in the foreground with colorfully arrayed miscreants ready for sin while the forces of repression dressed in black flood into the background.
Savage covers the story of witches into the 19th and 20th centuries, where behaviour once categorized as evil became "sick" or demented. Freud and his friends soon determined that much of the "hysteria" of the witch craze was a form of projection.
By the 20th Century, new targets of victimizaton were at hand in the form of Communists and others deemed "evil" by the established forces and folks lost interest in witches. Savage does not explore these other "witch hunts" but rather continues her tale with an overview of modern Wicca. This book is short and to the point and a good synopsis for anyone who wants a brief overview and a lovely work of art.
8 helpful votes
9 helpful votes
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