Author and historical consultant on witchcraft and magic

Witchcraft: A History in Thirteen Trials

Nov 25, 2023 | Books

Witchfinder General, Salem, Malleus Maleficarum. The world of witch-hunts and witch trials sounds archaic and fanciful, these terms relics of an unenlightened, brutal age. However, we often hear ‘witch-hunt’ in today’s media, and the misogyny that shaped witch trials is all too familiar. Three women were prosecuted under a version of the 1735 Witchcraft Act as recently as 2018.

In Witchcraft, Professor Marion Gibson uses thirteen significant trials to tell the global history of witchcraft and witch-hunts. As well as exploring the origins of witch-hunts through some of the most famous trials from the Middle Ages to the eighteenth century, it takes us in new and surprising directions. It shows us how witchcraft was reimagined by lawyers and radical historians in France, how suspicions of sorcery led to murder in Jazz Age Pennsylvania, the effects of colonialism and Christian missionary zeal on ‘witches’ in Africa, and how even today a witch trial can come in many guises.

Professor Gibson also tells the stories of the ‘witches’ – mostly women like Helena Scheuberin, Anny Sampson and Joan Wright, whose stories have too often been overshadowed by those of the powerful men, such as King James I and ‘Witchfinder General’ Matthew Hopkins, who hounded them.

Once a tool invented by demonologists to hurt and silence their enemies, witch trials have been twisted and transformed over the course of history and the lines between witch and witch-hunter blurred. For the fortunate, a witch-hunt is just a metaphor, but, as this book makes clear, witches are truly still on trial.

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Marion’s Latest Audio Appearance

BBC Radio 4 Start the Week “Power, Violence and Witches”

BBC Radio 4 Start the Week “Power, Violence and Witches”

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