We’re going to start doing monthly book reviews to share with you some of the fantastic books that we have in the Museum of Witchcraft Library (which can be accessed by arrangement or as a Friend of the Museum). Each review will be written by a member of the Museum’s staff.
Witchcraft: A History (2000) by P.G.Maxwell-Stuart, review by Judith
"This is a great introductory book on the history of witchcraft. It starts with the Classical World and includes a fascinating section on different types of magical practitioner and the labels that were affixed to them. Greek and Roman writers did not have one word for witch and the different terms really interested me and helped me to understand why at the Museum we find defining a witch such a problematic thing to do!
Maxwell-Stuart then moves on to Christianity and the Church’s relationship with magic and witches which made me think more deeply about the Museum’s display of objects relating to religion and magic. It seems the early Church drew a line in the sand and said “this is acceptable magic and practice but this, on the other hand, is unacceptable magic and practice.”
Moving onto the early modern period, there was a lot of information about the persecutors and their motivations which raised a lot more questions than it answered: definitely an area for further research. I found the later period fascinating as it is not something that I am as familiar with (having done a traditional History degree I think I imbibed the simplistic idea that the Enlightenment destroyed traditional belief systems and that rationalism and organised religion reigned supreme from about 1800 onwards). Maxwell-Stuart referenced another book on Witchcraft, Magic and Culture from 1736-1951 by Owen Davis which I plan to read next.
This is a short book which skims over all the different periods and leaves one with a desire to find out more…"