front cover of African Science
African Science
Witchcraft, Vodun, and Healing in Southern Benin
Douglas J. Falen
University of Wisconsin Press, 2020
In this sensitive and personal investigation into Benin's occult world, Douglas J. Falen wrestles with the challenges of encountering a reality in which magic, science, and the Vodun religion converge into a single universal force. He takes seriously his Beninese interlocutors' insistence that the indigenous phenomenon known as àze ("witchcraft") is an African science, credited with fantastic and productive deeds, such as teleportation and supernatural healing.

Although the Beninese understanding of àze reflects positive scientific properties in its use of specialized knowledge to harness nature's energy and realize economic success, its boundless power is inherently ambivalent because it can corrupt its users, who dispense death and destruction. Witches and healers are equivalent to supervillains and superheroes, locked in epic battles over malevolent and benevolent human desires. Beninese people's discourse about such mystical confrontations expresses a philosophy of moral duality and cosmic balance. Falen demonstrates how a deep engagement with another lived reality opens our minds and contributes to understanding across cultural difference.
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The Anti-Witch
Jeanne Favret-Saada
HAU, 2015

Jeanne Favret-Saada is arguably one of France’s most brilliant anthropologists, and The Anti-Witch is nothing less than a masterpiece. A synthesis of ethnographic theory and psychoanalytic revelation, where the line between researcher and subject is blurred—if not erased—The Anti-Witch develops the contours of an anthropology of therapy, while deeply engaging with what it means to be caught in the logic of witchcraft. Through an intimate and provocative sharing of the ethnographic voice with Madame Flora, a “dewitcher,” Favret-Saada delivers a critical challenge to some of anthropology’s fundamental concepts.


Sure to be of interest to practitioners of psychoanalysis as well as to anthropologists, The Anti-Witch will bring a new generation of scholars into conversation with the work of a truly innovative thinker.


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front cover of Art and Witchcraft in Early Modern Italy
Art and Witchcraft in Early Modern Italy
Guy Tal
Amsterdam University Press, 2024
The figure of the witch is familiar from the work of early modern German, Dutch, and Flemish artists, but much less so in the work of their Italian counterparts. Art and Witchcraft in Early Modern Italy seeks to explore the ways in which representations of witchcraft emerged from and coincided with the main cultural currents and artistic climate of an epoch chiefly celebrated for its humanistic and rational approaches. Through an in-depth examination of a panoply of arresting paintings, engravings, and drawings—variously portraying a hag-ridden colossal phallus, a horror-stricken necromancer dodging the devil’s scrabbling claws, and a nocturnal procession presided over by an infanticidal crone—Guy Tal offers new ways of reading witchcraft images through and beyond conventional iconography. Artists such as Parmigianino, Alessandro Allori, Leonello Spada, and Angelo Caroselli effected visual commentaries on demonological notions that engaged their audience in a tantalizing experience of interpretation.
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Bewitching Development
Witchcraft and the Reinvention of Development in Neoliberal Kenya
James Howard Smith
University of Chicago Press, 2008
These days, development inspires scant trust in the West. For critics who condemn centralized efforts to plan African societies as latter day imperialism, such plans too closely reflect their roots in colonial rule and neoliberal economics. But proponents of this pessimistic view often ignore how significant this concept has become for Africans themselves. In Bewitching Development, James Howard Smith presents a close ethnographic account of how people in the Taita Hills of Kenya have appropriated and made sense of development thought and practice, focusing on the complex ways that development connects with changing understandings of witchcraft.

Similar to magic, development’s promise of a better world elicits both hope and suspicion from Wataita. Smith shows that the unforeseen changes wrought by development—greater wealth for some, dashed hopes for many more—foster moral debates that Taita people express in occult terms. By carefully chronicling the beliefs and actions of this diverse community—from frustrated youths to nostalgic seniors, duplicitous preachers to thought-provoking witch doctors—BewitchingDevelopment vividly depicts the social life of formerly foreign ideas and practices in postcolonial Africa.
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front cover of Bloodsucking Witchcraft
Bloodsucking Witchcraft
An Epistemological Study of Anthropomorphic Supernaturalism in Rural Tlaxcala
Hugo G. Nutini
University of Arizona Press, 1993
In the rural areas of south-central Mexico, there are believed to be witches who transform themselves into animals in order to suck the blood from the necks of sleeping infants. This book analyzes beliefs held by the great majority of the population of rural Tlaxcala a generation ago and chronicles its drastic transformation since then.

"The most comprehensive statement on this centrally important ethnographic phenomenon in the last forty years. It bears ready comparison with the two great classics, Evans-Pritchard's Witchcraft Among the Azande and Clyde Kluckhohn's Navaho Witchcraft."—Henry H. Selby
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Colonial Transactions
Imaginaries, Bodies, and Histories in Gabon
Florence Bernault
Duke University Press, 2019
In Colonial Transactions Florence Bernault moves beyond the racial divide that dominates colonial studies of Africa. Instead, she illuminates the strange and frightening imaginaries that colonizers and colonized shared on the ground. Bernault looks at Gabon from the late nineteenth century to the present, historicizing the most vivid imaginations and modes of power in Africa today: French obsessions with cannibals, the emergence of vampires and witches in the Gabonese imaginary, and the use of human organs for fetishes. Struggling over objects, bodies, agency, and values, colonizers and colonized entered relations that are better conceptualized as "transactions." Together they also shared an awareness of how the colonial situation broke down moral orders and forced people to use the evil side of power. This foreshadowed the ways in which people exercise agency in contemporary Africa, as well as the proliferation of magical fears and witchcraft anxieties in present-day Gabon. Overturning theories of colonial and postcolonial nativism, this book is essential reading for historians and anthropologists of witchcraft, power, value, and the body.
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Dark Shamans
Kanaimà and the Poetics of Violent Death
Neil L. Whitehead
Duke University Press, 2002
On the little-known and darker side of shamanism there exists an ancient form of sorcery called kanaimà, a practice still observed among the Amerindians of the highlands of Guyana, Venezuela, and Brazil that involves the ritual stalking, mutilation, lingering death, and consumption of human victims. At once a memoir of cultural encounter and an ethnographic and historical investigation, this book offers a sustained, intimate look at kanaimà, its practitioners, their victims, and the reasons they give for their actions.

Neil L. Whitehead tells of his own involvement with kanaimà—including an attempt to kill him with poison—and relates the personal testimonies of kanaimà shamans, their potential victims, and the victims’ families. He then goes on to discuss the historical emergence of kanaimà, describing how, in the face of successive modern colonizing forces—missionaries, rubber gatherers, miners, and development agencies—the practice has become an assertion of native autonomy. His analysis explores the ways in which kanaimà mediates both national and international impacts on native peoples in the region and considers the significance of kanaimà for current accounts of shamanism and religious belief and for theories of war and violence.

Kanaimà appears here as part of the wider lexicon of rebellious terror and exotic horror—alongside the cannibal, vampire, and zombie—that haunts the western imagination. Dark Shamans broadens discussions of violence and of the representation of primitive savagery by recasting both in the light of current debates on modernity and globalization.
[more]

front cover of Defining Dominion
Defining Dominion
The Discourses of Magic and Witchcraft in Early Modern France and Germany
Gerhild Scholz Williams
University of Michigan Press, 1999
In this intriguing volume, Gerhild Scholz Williams explores the roles of magic and demonology in France and Germany in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. She guides the reader through a variety of texts--many of them popular and influential in their day--to illuminate how magic came to shape people's perceptions of a changing world. This comprehensive study looks at magic as an intellectual and cultural language, as an attempt to explain the world, and as a means to control and confine women, whose propensity for satanic dalliance threatened not just their own souls but the health of the larger society.
". . . Williams has done an exemplary job of analyzing the intersection of the discourses of magic (as related to women and witchcraft), discovery, and religious diversity/dissidence to explain how the confluence of these discourses eventually 'determined who occupied society's center and who was forced to move to, or remain at, its margins.' . . . Gerhild Scholz Williams is no dilettante grazing in the greener pastures of other disciplines. She has been laboring assiduously in these neighboring fields for years now, and it is breathtaking to see how all of her disparate projects have come together so elegantly articulated in this one volume." --Susan L. Cocalis, German Studies Review
Gerhild Scholz Williams is Professor of German and Comparative Literature, Washington University, St. Louis.
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Demon Lovers
Witchcraft, Sex, and the Crisis of Belief
Walter Stephens
University of Chicago Press, 2002
On September 20, 1587, Walpurga Hausmännin of Dillingen in southern Germany was burned at the stake as a witch. Although she had confessed to committing a long list of maleficia (deeds of harmful magic), including killing forty—one infants and two mothers in labor, her evil career allegedly began with just one heinous act—sex with a demon. Fornication with demons was a major theme of her trial record, which detailed an almost continuous orgy of sexual excess with her diabolical paramour Federlin "in many divers places, . . . even in the street by night."

As Walter Stephens demonstrates in Demon Lovers, it was not Hausmännin or other so-called witches who were obsessive about sex with demons—instead, a number of devout Christians, including trained theologians, displayed an uncanny preoccupation with the topic during the centuries of the "witch craze." Why? To find out, Stephens conducts a detailed investigation of the first and most influential treatises on witchcraft (written between 1430 and 1530), including the infamous Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of Witches).

Far from being credulous fools or mindless misogynists, early writers on witchcraft emerge in Stephens's account as rational but reluctant skeptics, trying desperately to resolve contradictions in Christian thought on God, spirits, and sacraments that had bedeviled theologians for centuries. Proof of the physical existence of demons—for instance, through evidence of their intercourse with mortal witches—would provide strong evidence for the reality of the supernatural, the truth of the Bible, and the existence of God. Early modern witchcraft theory reflected a crisis of belief—a crisis that continues to be expressed today in popular debates over angels, Satanic ritual child abuse, and alien abduction.
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front cover of The Devil and the Land of the Holy Cross
The Devil and the Land of the Holy Cross
Witchcraft, Slavery, and Popular Religion in Colonial Brazil
By Laura de Mello e Souza
University of Texas Press, 2004

Originally published in Brazil as O Diabo e a Terra de Santa Cruz, this translation from the Portuguese analyzes the nature of popular religion and the ways it was transferred to the New World in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Using richly detailed transcripts from Inquisition trials, Mello e Souza reconstructs how Iberian, indigenous, and African beliefs fused to create a syncretic and magical religious culture in Brazil.

Focusing on sorcery, the author argues that European traditions of witchcraft combined with practices of Indians and African slaves to form a uniquely Brazilian set of beliefs that became central to the lives of the people in the colony. Her work shows how the Inquisition reinforced the view held in Europe (particularly Portugal) that the colony was a purgatory where those who had sinned were exiled, a place where the Devil had a wide range of opportunities. Her focus on the three centuries of the colonial period, the multiple regions in Brazil, and the Indian, African, and Portuguese traditions of magic, witchcraft, and healing, make the book comprehensive in scope.

Stuart Schwartz of Yale University says, "It is arguably the best book of this genre about Latin America...all in all, a wonderful book." Alida Metcalf of Trinity University, San Antonio, says, "This book is a major contribution to the field of Brazilian history...the first serious study of popular religion in colonial Brazil...Mello e Souza is a wonderful writer."

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Ethnographic Sorcery
Harry G. West
University of Chicago Press, 2007

According to the people of the Mueda plateau in northern Mozambique, sorcerers remake the world by asserting the authority of their own imaginative visions of it. While conducting research among these Muedans, anthropologist Harry G. West made a revealing discovery—for many of them, West’s efforts to elaborate an ethnographic vision of their world was itself a form of sorcery. In Ethnographic Sorcery, West explores the fascinating issues provoked by this equation.

A key theme of West’s research into sorcery is that one sorcerer’s claims can be challenged or reversed by other sorcerers. After West’s attempt to construct a metaphorical interpretation of Muedan assertions that the lions prowling their villages are fabricated by sorcerers is disputed by his Muedan research collaborators, West realized that ethnography and sorcery indeed have much in common. Rather than abandoning ethnography, West draws inspiration from this connection, arguing that anthropologists, along with the people they study, can scarcely avoid interpreting the world they inhabit, and that we are all, inescapably, ethnographic sorcerers.

[more]

front cover of Europe's Inner Demons
Europe's Inner Demons
The Demonization of Christians in Medieval Christendom
Norman Cohn
University of Chicago Press, 2000
Europe's Inner Demons is a fascinating history of the irrational need to imagine witches and an investigation of how those fantasies made the persecutions of the middle ages possible. In addition, Norman Cohn's discovery that some influential sources on European witch trials were forgeries has revolutionized the field of witchcraft, making this one of the most essential books ever written on the subject.
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front cover of Hall of Mirrors
Hall of Mirrors
Power, Witchcraft, and Caste in Colonial Mexico
Laura A. Lewis
Duke University Press, 2003
Through an examination of caste in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Mexico, Hall of Mirrors explores the construction of hierarchy and difference in a Spanish colonial setting. Laura A. Lewis describes how the meanings attached to the categories of Spanish, Indian, black, mulatto, and mestizo were generated within that setting, as she shows how the cultural politics of caste produced a system of fluid and relational designations that simultaneously facilitated and undermined Spanish governance.

Using judicial records from a variety of colonial courts, Lewis highlights the ethnographic details of legal proceedings as she demonstrates how Indians, in particular, came to be the masters of witchcraft, a domain of power that drew on gendered and hegemonic caste distinctions to complicate the colonial hierarchy. She also reveals the ways in which blacks, mulattoes, and mestizos mediated between Spaniards and Indians, alternatively reinforcing Spanish authority and challenging it through alliances with Indians. Bringing to life colonial subjects as they testified about their experiences, Hall of Mirrors discloses a series of contradictions that complicate easy distinctions between subalterns and elites, resistance and power.

[more]

front cover of In Darkness and Secrecy
In Darkness and Secrecy
The Anthropology of Assault Sorcery and Witchcraft in Amazonia
Neil L. Whitehead and Robin Wright, eds.
Duke University Press, 2004
In Darkness and Secrecy brings together ethnographic examinations of Amazonian assault sorcery, witchcraft, and injurious magic, or “dark shamanism.” Anthropological reflections on South American shamanism have tended to emphasize shamans’ healing powers and positive influence. This collection challenges that assumption by showing that dark shamans are, in many Amazonian cultures, quite different from shamanic healers and prophets. Assault sorcery, in particular, involves violence resulting in physical harm or even death. While highlighting the distinctiveness of such practices, In Darkness and Secrecy reveals them as no less relevant to the continuation of culture and society than curing and prophecy. The contributors suggest that the persistence of dark shamanism can be understood as a form of engagement with modernity.

These essays, by leading anthropologists of South American shamanism, consider assault sorcery as it is practiced in parts of Brazil, Guyana, Venezuela, and Peru. They analyze the social and political dynamics of witchcraft and sorcery and their relation to cosmology, mythology, ritual, and other forms of symbolic violence and aggression in each society studied. They also discuss the relations of witchcraft and sorcery to interethnic contact and the ways that shamanic power may be co-opted by the state. In Darkness and Secrecy includes reflections on the ethical and practical implications of ethnographic investigation of violent cultural practices.

Contributors. Dominique Buchillet, Carlos Fausto, Michael Heckenberger, Elsje Lagrou, E. Jean Langdon, George Mentore, Donald Pollock, Fernando Santos-Granero, Pamela J. Stewart, Andrew Strathern, Márnio Teixeira-Pinto, Silvia Vidal, Neil L. Whitehead, Johannes Wilbert, Robin Wright

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front cover of In Sorcery's Shadow
In Sorcery's Shadow
A Memoir of Apprenticeship among the Songhay of Niger
Paul Stoller and Cheryl Olkes
University of Chicago Press, 1989
The tale of Paul Stoller's sojourn among sorcerors in the Republic of Niger is a story of growth and change, of mutual respect and understanding that will challenge all who read it to plunge deeply into an alien world.
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front cover of In the Shadow of Salem
In the Shadow of Salem
The Andover Witch Hunt of 1692
Richard Hite
Westholme Publishing, 2024
The First Complete Account of the Largest Supernatural Crisis in American history, and How Ordinary Citizens Brought It to a Close
By July 1692, the witch hunt surrounding the town of Salem and Salem Village had been raging for four months. The Massachusetts Bay colony’s new governor, William Phips, had established a special court to try the suspected witches and the trials were well under way. No new arrests had taken place for nearly six weeks and residents had every reason to believe the crisis soon would be over. However, a middle-aged woman in nearby Andover lay gravely ill. Her husband suspected witchcraft as the cause and invited some of the afflicted girls from Salem Village to the town, thinking they could determine whether his suspicions were valid. Not surprisingly, they confirmed his supposition. The first person these girls accused in Andover—a frail and elderly widow bereaved by a series of family tragedies over the pre­vious three years—not only confessed, but stated that there were more than three hundred witches in the region, five times more than the number of suspects already in jail. This touched off a new wave of accusations, confessions, and formal charges. Before the witchcraft crisis ended, forty-five residents of Andover found themselves jailed on suspicion of witchcraft—more than the combined total of suspects from Salem Village and the town of Salem. Of these, three were hanged and one died while awaiting execution.
Based on extensive primary source research, In the Shadow of Salem: The Andover Witch Hunt of 1692, by historian and archivist Richard Hite, tells for the first time the fascinating story of this long overlooked phase of the largest witch hunt in American history. Untangling a net of rivalries and ties between families and neighbors, the author explains the actions of the accusers, the reactions of the accused, and their ultimate fates. In the process, he shows how the Andover arrests prompted a large segment of the town’s population to openly oppose the entire witch hunt and how their actions played a crucial role in finally bringing the 1692 witchcraft crisis to a close. 
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Kupilikula
Governance and the Invisible Realm in Mozambique
Harry G. West
University of Chicago Press, 2005
On the Mueda plateau in northern Mozambique, sorcerers are said to feed on their victims, sometimes "making" lions or transforming into lions to literally devour their flesh. When the ruling FRELIMO party subscribed to socialism, it condemned sorcery beliefs and counter-sorcery practices as false consciousness, but since undertaking neoliberal reform, the party—still in power after three electoral cycles—has "tolerated tradition," leaving villagers to interpret and engage with events in the idiom of sorcery. Now, when the lions prowl plateau villages ,suspected sorcerers are often lynched.

In this historical ethnography of sorcery, Harry G. West draws on a decade of fieldwork and combines the perspectives of anthropology and political science to reveal how Muedans expect responsible authorities to monitor the invisible realm of sorcery and to overturn or, as Muedans call it, "kupilikula" sorcerers' destructive attacks by practicing a constructive form of counter-sorcery themselves. Kupilikula argues that, where neoliberal policies have fostered social division rather than security and prosperity, Muedans have, in fact, used sorcery discourse to assess and sometimes overturn reforms, advancing alternative visions of a world transformed.
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front cover of Madumo, a Man Bewitched
Madumo, a Man Bewitched
Adam Ashforth
University of Chicago Press, 2000
No one answered when I tapped at the back door of Madumo's home on Mphahlele Street a few days after my return to Soweto, so I pushed the buckling red door in a screeching grind of metal over concrete and entered calling, "Hallo?"

So begins this true story of witchcraft and friendship set against the turbulent backdrop of contemporary Soweto. Adam Ashforth, an Australian who has spent many years in the black township, finds his longtime friend Madumo in dire circumstances: his family has accused him of using witchcraft to kill his mother and has thrown him out on the street. Convinced that his life is cursed, Madumo seeks help among Soweto's bewildering array of healers and prophets. An inyanga, or traditional healer, confirms that he has indeed been bewitched. With Ashforth by his side, skeptical yet supportive, Madumo embarks upon a physically grueling treatment regimen that he follows religiously-almost to the point of death-despite his suspicion that it may be better to "Westernize my mind and not think about witchcraft."

Ashforth's beautifully written, at times poignant account of Madumo's struggle shows that the problem of witchcraft is not simply superstition, but a complex response to spiritual insecurity in a troubling time of political and economic upheaval. Post-apartheid Soweto, he discovers, is suffering from a deluge of witchcraft. Through Madumo's story, Ashforth opens up a world that few have seen, a deeply unsettling place where the question "Do you believe in witchcraft?" is not a simple one at all. The insights that emerge as Ashforth accompanies his friend on an odyssey through Soweto's supernatural perils have profound implications even for those of us who live in worlds without witches.
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front cover of Memories of the Slave Trade
Memories of the Slave Trade
Ritual and the Historical Imagination in Sierra Leone
Rosalind Shaw
University of Chicago Press, 2002
How is the slave trade remembered in West Africa? In a work that challenges recurring claims that Africans felt (and still feel) no sense of moral responsibility concerning the sale of slaves, Rosalind Shaw traces memories of the slave trade in Temne-speaking communities in Sierra Leone. While the slave-trading past is rarely remembered in explicit verbal accounts, it is often made vividly present in such forms as rogue spirits, ritual specialists' visions, and the imagery of divination techniques.

Drawing on extensive fieldwork and archival research, Shaw argues that memories of the slave trade have shaped (and been reshaped by) experiences of colonialism, postcolonialism, and the country's ten-year rebel war. Thus money and commodities, for instance, are often linked to an invisible city of witches whose affluence was built on the theft of human lives. These ritual and visionary memories make hitherto invisible realities manifest, forming a prism through which past and present mutually configure each other.
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front cover of Modernity and Its Malcontents
Modernity and Its Malcontents
Ritual and Power in Postcolonial Africa
Edited by Jean Comaroff and John L. Comaroff
University of Chicago Press, 1993
What role does ritual play in the everyday lives of modern Africans? How are so-called "traditional" cultural forms deployed by people seeking empowerment in a world where "modernity" has failed to deliver on its promises?

Some of the essays in Modernity and Its Malcontents address familiar anthropological issues—like witchcraft, myth, and the politics of reproduction—but treat them in fresh ways, situating them amidst the polyphonies of contemporary Africa. Others explore distinctly nontraditional subjects—among them the Nigerian popular press and soul-eating in Niger—in such a way as to confront the conceptual limits of Western social science. Together they demonstrate how ritual may be powerfuly mobilized in the making of history, present, and future.

Addressing challenges posed by contemporary African realities, the authors subject such concepts as modernity, ritual, power, and history to renewed critical scrutiny. Writing about a variety of phenomena, they are united by a wish to preserve the diversity and historical specificity of local signs and practices, voices and perspectives. Their work makes a substantial and original contribution toward the historical anthropology of Africa.

The contributors, all from the Africanist circle at the University of Chicago, are Adeline Masquelier, Deborah Kaspin, J. Lorand Matory, Ralph A. Austen, Andrew Apter, Misty L. Bastian, Mark Auslander, and Pamela G. Schmoll.
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front cover of Occultism, Witchcraft, and Cultural Fashions
Occultism, Witchcraft, and Cultural Fashions
Essays in Comparative Religion
Mircea Eliade
University of Chicago Press, 1978
In the period domoninated by the triumphs of scientific rationalism, how do we account for the extraordinary success of such occult movements as astrology or the revival of witchcraft? From his perspective as a historian of religions, the eminent scholar Mircea Eliade shows that such popular trends develop from archaic roots and periodically resurface in certain myths, symbols, and rituals. In six lucid essays collected for this volume, Eliade reveals the profound religious significance that lies at the heart of many contemporary cultural vogues.

Since all of the essays except the last were originally delivered as lectures, their introductory character and lively oral style make them particularly accessible to the intelligent nonspecialist. Rather than a popularization, Occultism, Witchcraft, and Cultural Fashions is the fulfillment of Eliade's conviction that the history of religions should be read by the widest possible audience.
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front cover of Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft
Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft
Ritual Magic in Contemporary England
T. M. Luhrmann
Harvard University Press, 1989
To find out why reasonable people are drawn to the seemingly bizarre practices of magic and witchcraft, Tanya Luhrmann immersed herself in the secret lives of Londoners who call themselves magicians. She came to know them as friends and equals and was initiated into various covens and magical groups. She explains the process through which once-skeptical individuals—educated, middle-class people, frequently of high intelligence—become committed to the ideas behind witchcraft and find magical ritual so compellingly persuasive. This intriguing book draws some disturbing conclusions about the ambivalence of belief within modern urban society.
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Popular Witchcraft
Straight from the Witch's Mouth
Jack Fritscher
University of Wisconsin Press, 2004
    Popular Witchcraft: Straight from the Witch’s Mouth, inspired by the British Gerald Gardner’s Witchcraft Today, was the first book to be published on popular American witchcraft and remains the classic survey of white and black magic. Newly revised and updated for twenty-first-century readers, the author—an ordained but marvelously fallen exorcist—tells all about the evil eye, the queer eye, women and witch trials, the Old Religion, magic Christianity, Satanism, and New Age self-help.
    Jack Fritscher sifts through legends of sorcery and the twisted history of witchcraft, including the casting of spells and incantations, with a focus on the growing role of witchcraft in popular culture and its mainstream commercialization through popular music, Broadway, Hollywood, and politics. As seriously historical as it is fun to read, there is no other book like it.
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Salem Possessed
The Social Origins of Witchcraft
Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum
Harvard University Press, 1974

Tormented girls writhing in agony, stern judges meting out harsh verdicts, nineteen bodies swinging on Gallows Hill.

The stark immediacy of what happened in 1692 has obscured the complex web of human passion, individual and organized, which had been growing for more than a generation before the witch trials. Salem Possessed explores the lives of the men and women who helped spin that web and who in the end found themselves entangled in it.

From rich and varied sources—many previously neglected or unknown—Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum give us a picture of the events of 1692 more intricate and more fascinating than any other in the already massive literature on Salem. “Salem Possessed,” wrote Robin Briggs in The Times Literary Supplement, “reinterprets a world-famous episode so completely and convincingly that virtually all the previous treatments can be consigned to the historical lumber-room.”

Not simply a dramatic and isolated event, the Salem outbreak has wider implications for our understanding of developments central to the American experience: the breakup of Puritanism, the pressures of land and population in New England towns, the problems besetting farmer and householder, the shifting role of the church, and the powerful impact of commercial capitalism.

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A Salem Witch
The Trial, Execution, and Exoneration of Rebecca Nurse
Daniel A. Gagnon
Westholme Publishing, 2023
In the winter of 1692 something terrible and frightening began in Salem Village. It started with several villagers having strange fits, screaming, and unnaturally contorting themselves, and ended with almost two hundred people in jail, and at least twenty-five dead. Witchcraft accusations—claims that some inhabitants had forsaken God to become servants of the Devil—spread from Salem Village across Massachusetts, ensnaring innocent people from all strata of society under a burden of assumed guilt. One of the most significant accusations, and most unlikely, was against a seventy-one-year-old grandmother, Rebecca Nurse.
   The accusations against Nurse, a well-respected member in the community, seemed unbelievable. Unflinchingly, this ailing elderly woman insisted on her innocence and refused to falsely confess. Supported by many in Salem, Nurse’s family and neighbors challenged her accusers in court and prepared a thorough defense for her, yet nothing could surmount the fear of witchcraft, and she was sentenced to death. Nurse, seen as a martyr for the truth, later became the first person accused of witchcraft to be memorialized in North America.
    In A Salem Witch: The Trial, Execution, and Exoneration of Rebecca Nurse, the first full account of Nurse’s life, Daniel A. Gagnon vividly recreates seventeenth-century Salem, and in the process challenges previous interpretations of Nurse’s life and the 1692 witch hunt in general. Through primary source research, he reveals how the Nurse family’s role in several disputes prior to the witch hunt was different than previously thought, as well as how Nurse’s case helps answer the important question of whether the accusations of witchcraft were caused by mental illness or malicious intent. A Salem Witch reveals a remarkable woman whose legacy has transformed how the witch hunt has been remembered and memorialized.
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front cover of Sorcery and Sovereignty
Sorcery and Sovereignty
Taxation, Power, and Rebellion in South Africa, 1880–1963
Sean Redding
Ohio University Press, 2006

Rebellions broke out in many areas of South Africa shortly after the institution of white rule in the late nineteenth century and continued into the next century. However, distrust of the colonial regime reached a new peak in the mid-twentieth century, when revolts erupted across a wide area of rural South Africa. All these uprisings were rooted in grievances over taxes. Rebels frequently invoked supernatural powers for assistance and accused government officials of using witchcraft to enrich themselves and to harm ordinary people.

As Sean Redding observes in Sorcery and Sovereignty, beliefs in witchcraft and supernatural powers were part of the political rhetoric; the system of taxation—with all its prescribed interactions between ruler and ruled—was intimately connected to these supernatural beliefs.

In this fascinating study, Redding examines how black South Africans’ beliefs in supernatural powers, along with both economic and social change in the rural areas, resulted in specific rebellions and how gender relations in black South African rural families changed. Sorcery and Sovereignty explores the intersection of taxation, political attitudes, and supernatural beliefs among black South Africans, shedding light on some of the most significant issues in the history of colonized Africa.

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Sorcery in Mesoamerica
Jeremy D. Coltman and John M. D. Pohl
University Press of Colorado, 2020
Approaching sorcery as highly rational and rooted in significant social and cultural values, Sorcery in Mesoamerica examines and reconstructs the original indigenous logic behind it, analyzing manifestations from the Classic Maya to the ethnographic present. While the topic of sorcery and witchcraft in anthropology is well developed in other areas of the world, it has received little academic attention in Mexico and Central America until now.
 
In each chapter, preeminent scholars of ritual and belief ask very different questions about what exactly sorcery is in Mesoamerica. Contributors consider linguistic and visual aspects of sorcery and witchcraft, such as the terminology in Aztec semantics and dictionaries of the Kaqchiquel and K’iche’ Maya. Others explore the practice of sorcery and witchcraft, including the incorporation by indigenous sorcerers in the Mexican highlands of European perspectives and practices into their belief system. Contributors also examine specific deities, entities, and phenomena, such as the pantheistic Nahua spirit entities called forth to assist healers and rain makers, the categorization of Classic Maya Wahy (“co-essence”) beings, the cult of the Aztec goddess Cihuacoatl, and the recurring relationship between female genitalia and the magical conjuring of a centipede throughout Mesoamerica.
 
Placing the Mesoamerican people in a human context—as engaged in a rational and logical system of behavior—Sorcery inMesoamerica is the first comprehensive study of the subject and an invaluable resource for students and scholars of Mesoamerican culture and religion.
 
 
Contributors:
Lilián González Chévez, John F. Chuchiak IV, Jeremy D. Coltman, Roberto Martínez González, Oswaldo Chinchilla Mazariegos, Cecelia F. Klein, Timothy J. Knab, John Monaghan, Jesper Nielsen, John M. D. Pohl, Alan R. Sandstrom, Pamela Effrein Sandstrom, David Stuart
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Sorcery in the Black Atlantic
Edited by Luis Nicolau Parés and Roger Sansi
University of Chicago Press, 2011

Most scholarship on sorcery and witchcraft has narrowly focused on specific times and places, particularly early modern Europe and twentieth-century Africa. And much of that research interprets sorcery as merely a remnant of premodern traditions. Boldly challenging these views, Sorcery in the Black Atlantic takes a longer historical and broader geographical perspective, contending that sorcery is best understood as an Atlantic phenomenon that has significant connections to modernity and globalization.

A distinguished group of contributors here examine sorcery in Brazil, Cuba, South Africa, Cameroon, and Angola. Their insightful essays reveal the way practices and accusations of witchcraft spread throughout the Atlantic world from the age of discovery up to the present, creating an indelible link between sorcery and the rise of global capitalism. Shedding new light on a topic of perennial interest, Sorcery in the Black Atlantic will be provocative, compelling reading for historians and anthropologists working in this growing field.

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Soulstealers
The Chinese Sorcery Scare of 1768
Philip A. Kuhn
Harvard University Press, 1990

Midway through the reign of the Ch’ien-lung emperor, Hungli, in the most prosperous period of China’s last imperial dynasty, mass hysteria broke out among the common people. It was feared that sorcerers were roaming the land, clipping off the ends of men’s queues (the braids worn by royal decree), and chanting magical incantations over them in order to steal the souls of their owners. In a fascinating chronicle of this epidemic of fear and the official prosecution of soulstealers that ensued, Philip Kuhn provides an intimate glimpse into the world of eighteenth-century China.

Kuhn weaves his exploration of the sorcery cases with a survey of the social and economic history of the era. Drawing on a rich repository of documents found in the imperial archives, he presents in detail the harrowing interrogations of the accused—a ragtag assortment of vagabonds, beggars, and roving clergy—conducted under torture by provincial magistrates. In tracing the panic’s spread from peasant hut to imperial court, Kuhn unmasks the political menace lurking behind the queue-clipping scare as well as the complex of folk beliefs that lay beneath popular fears of sorcery.

Kuhn shows how the campaign against sorcery provides insight into the period’s social structure and ethnic tensions, the relationship between monarch and bureaucrat, and the inner workings of the state. Whatever its intended purposes, the author argues, the campaign offered Hungli a splendid chance to force his provincial chiefs to crack down on local officials, to reinforce his personal supremacy over top bureaucrats, and to restate the norms of official behavior.

This wide-ranging narrative depicts life in imperial China as it was actually lived, often in the participants’ own words. Soulstealers offers a compelling portrait of the Chinese people—from peasant to emperor—and of the human condition.

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The Specter of Salem
Remembering the Witch Trials in Nineteenth-Century America
Gretchen A. Adams
University of Chicago Press, 2008

In The Specter of Salem, Gretchen A. Adams reveals the many ways that the Salem witch trials loomed over the American collective memory from the Revolution to the Civil War and beyond. Schoolbooks in the 1790s, for example, evoked the episode to demonstrate the new nation’s progress from a disorderly and brutal past to a rational present, while  critics of new religious movements in the 1830s cast them as a return to Salem-era fanaticism, and during the Civil War, southerners evoked witch burning to criticize Union tactics. Shedding new light on the many, varied American invocations of Salem, Adams ultimately illuminates the function of collective memories in the life of a nation.

“Imaginative and thoughtful. . . . Thought-provoking, informative, and convincingly presented, The Specter of Salem is an often spellbinding mix of politics, cultural history, and public historiography.”— New England Quarterly

“This well-researched book, forgoing the usual heft of scholarly studies, is not another interpretation of the Salem trials, but an important major work within the scholarly literature on the witch-hunt, linking the hysteria of the period to the evolving history of the American nation. A required acquisition for academic libraries.”—Choice, Outstanding Academic Title 2009

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Spiritual Merchants
Religion Magic & Commerce
Carolyn Morrow Long
University of Tennessee Press, 2001
They can be found along the side streets of many American cities: herb or candle shops catering to practitioners of Voodoo, hoodoo, Santería, and similar beliefs. Here one can purchase ritual items and raw materials for the fabrication of traditional charms, plus a variety of soaps, powders, and aromatic goods known in the trade as “spiritual products.” For those seeking health or success, love or protection, these potions offer the power of the saints and the authority of the African gods.
In Spiritual Merchants, Carolyn Morrow Long provides an inside look at the followers of African-based belief systems and the retailers and manufacturers who supply them. Traveling from New Orleans to New York, from Charleston to Los Angeles, she takes readers on a tour of these shops, examines the origins of the products, and profiles the merchants who sell them.
Long describes the principles by which charms are thought to operate, how ingredients are chosen, and the uses to which they are put. She then explores the commodification of traditional charms and the evolution of the spiritual products industry—from small-scale mail order "doctors" and hoodoo drugstores to major manufacturers who market their products worldwide. She also offers an eye-opening look at how merchants who are not members of the culture entered the business through the manufacture of other goods such as toiletries, incense, and pharmaceuticals. Her narrative includes previously unpublished information on legendary Voodoo queens and hoodoo workers, as well as a case study of John the Conqueror root and its metamorphosis from spirit-embodying charm to commercial spiritual product.
No other book deals in such detail with both the history and current practices of African-based belief systems in the United States and the evolution of the spiritual products industry. For students of folklore or anyone intrigued by the world of charms and candle shops, Spiritual Merchants examines the confluence of African and European religion in the Americas and provides a colorful introduction to a vibrant aspect of contemporary culture.
The Author: Carolyn Morrow Long is a preservation specialist and conservator at the the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History.


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The Sub
A Study in Witchcraft
Thomas M. Disch
University of Minnesota Press, 2010
The Sub, the fourth novel in Thomas M. Disch's Supernatural Minnesota series, which uses different supernatural horrors to satirize modern America, focuses on Diana Turney, a substitute teacher in the town of Leech Lake, Minnesota, left to care for her niece after her sister is imprisoned for the attempted murder of her philandering husband. Haunted by her father's ghost and disturbing repressed memories, Diana discovers she has the power to turn people into their animal totems and proceeds to transform locals into an array of creatures from spiders to pigs. Diana, her cruelty growing in proportion to her power, dismisses a warning from her father's ghost that she is destined to kill everyone she loves and continues on a spree of violence and mayhem.
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Teenage Witches
Magical Youth and the Search for the Self
Berger, Helen
Rutgers University Press, 2007
A popular new image of Witches has arisen in recent years, due largely to movies like The Craft, Practical Magic, and Simply Irresistible and television shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and Charmed. Here, young sexy Witches use magic and Witchcraft to gain control over their lives and fight evil. Then there is the depiction in the Harry Potter books: Witchcraft is a gift that unenlightened Muggles (everyday people) lack. In both types of portrayals, being a Witch is akin to being a superhero. At the other end of the spectrum, wary adults assume that Witches engage in evil practices that are misguided at best and dangerous at worst.

Yet, as Helen A. Berger and Douglas Ezzy show in this in-depth look into the lives of teenage Witches, the reality of their practices, beliefs, values, and motivations is very different from the sensational depictions we see in popular culture. Drawing on extensive research across three countries--the United States, England, and Australia--and interviews with young people from diverse backgrounds, what they find are highly spiritual and self-reflective young men and women attempting to make sense of a postmodern world via a religion that celebrates the earth and emphasizes self-development.

The authors trace the development of Neo-Paganism (an umbrella term used to distinguish earth-based religions from the pagan religions of ancient cultures) from its start in England during the 1940s, through its growing popularity in the decades that followed, up through its contemporary presence on the Internet. Though dispersed and disorganized, Neo-Pagan communities, virtual and real, are shown to be an important part of religious identity particularly for those seeking affirmation during the difficult years between childhood and adulthood.

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The Trials of Mrs. K.
Seeking Justice in a World with Witches
Adam Ashforth
University of Chicago Press, 2018
In March 2009, in a small town in Malawi, a nurse at the local hospital was accused of teaching witchcraft to children. Amid swirling rumors, “Mrs. K.” tried to defend her reputation, but the community nevertheless grew increasingly hostile. The legal, social, and psychological trials that she endured in the struggle to clear her name left her life in shambles, and she died a few years later.
 
In The Trials of Mrs. K., Adam Ashforth studies this and similar stories of witchcraft that continue to circulate in Malawi. At the heart of the book is Ashforth’s desire to understand how claims to truth, the pursuit of justice, and demands for security work in contemporary Africa, where stories of witchcraft can be terrifying. Guiding us through the history of legal customs and their interactions with the court of public opinion, Ashforth asks challenging questions about responsibility, occult forces, and the imperfect but vital mechanisms of law. A beautifully written and provocative book, The Trials of Mrs. K. will be an essential text for understanding what justice means in a fragile and dangerous world.  
 
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The Witch Studies Reader
Soma Chaudhuri and Jane Ward, editors
Duke University Press, 2025

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Witchcraft and Welfare
Spiritual Capital and the Business of Magic in Modern Puerto Rico
By Raquel Romberg
University of Texas Press, 2003

Persecuted as evil during colonial times, considered charlatans during the nation-building era, Puerto Rican brujos (witch-healers) today have become spiritual entrepreneurs who advise their clients not only in consultation with the spirits but also in compliance with state laws and new economic opportunities. Combining trance, dance, magic, and healing practices with expertise in the workings of the modern welfare state, they help lawyers win custody suits, sick employees resolve labor disability claims, single mothers apply for government housing, or corporation managers maximize their commercial skills.

Drawing on extensive fieldwork among practicing brujos, this book presents a masterful history and ethnography of Puerto Rican brujería (witch-healing). Raquel Romberg explores how brujería emerged from a blending of popular Catholicism, Afro-Latin religions, French Spiritism, and folk Protestantism and also looks at how it has adapted to changes in state policies and responded to global flows of ideas and commodities. She demonstrates that, far from being an exotic or marginal practice in the modern world, brujería has become an invisible yet active partner of consumerism and welfare capitalism.

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Witchcraft Dialogues
Anthropological and Philosophical Exchanges
George Clement Bond
Ohio University Press, 2001
Witchcraft Dialogues analyzes the complex manner in which human beings construct, experience, and think about the “occult.” It brings together anthropologists, philosophers, and sociologists, from diverse social and cultural backgrounds, to engage the metaphysical properties of “witchcraft” and “sorcery” and to explore their manifestations in people’s lived experiences. While many Africanist scholars shun the analysis of “witchcraft” as an appropriate domain of investigation, the experiences, thoughts, activities, and powers that “witchcraft” encompasses have become increasingly the source of interest and debate. Concepts of witchcraft and the phenomena to which they are applied express something fundamental to the human condition and have their equation in the logic of other human practices such as racism and its various crafts. Thus, the focus on “witchcraft” is not just a concern with the occult, but a manifestation of the convergence of interest in mediating and transcending disciplinary domains. The contributors to this volume embrace the challenge of exploring “witchcraft” as a mode of experiencing and explaining human circumstances as well as confronting the limitations of their own intellectual traditions and paradigms. The range of their explorations takes us in new directions, making use not only of their academic training but also of their personal experiences, to reframe the conceptual terrain of the “occult” and the epistemological orientations of their various academic fields of inquiry.
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Witchcraft in England, 1558-1618
Barbara Rosen
University of Massachusetts Press, 1991
Anyone interested in manifestations of witchcraft in Elizabethan and Jacobean England will find this book an invaluable source. Barbara Rosen has gathered and edited a rare collection of documents--pamphlets, reports, trial accounts, and other material--that describes the experience, interpretation, and punishment of witchcraft in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.

In her introduction, Rosen explores the full range of practices and beliefs associated with witchcraft and situates these phenomena in historical context. She explains how ignorance of science and medicine combined with social circumstance and religious ideology to shape popular perceptions and superstitions. Distinguishing between English and Continental forms of witchcraft, she also examines the legal definitions, disciplines, and punishments applied to wizards, witches, wise women, and conjures in the Elizabethan age.

The pamphlets and other original texts have been modernized in certain respects to make them more accessible to general readers. But the book retains its value for scholars: omissions are detailed in the notes and additions marked; obsolete words and grammar are explained in the glossary.

Originally published in England in 1970 under the title Witchcraft, this book appears now for the first time in paperback and includes a new preface by the editor.
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Witchcraft, Intimacy, and Trust
Africa in Comparison
Peter Geschiere
University of Chicago Press, 2013
In Dante’s Inferno, the lowest circle of Hell is reserved for traitors, those who betrayed their closest companions. In a wide range of literatures and mythologies such intimate aggression is a source of ultimate terror, and in Witchcraft, Intimacy, and Trust, Peter Geschiere masterfully sketches it as a central ember at the core of human relationships, one brutally revealed in the practice of witchcraft. Examining witchcraft in its variety of forms throughout the globe, he shows how this often misunderstood practice is deeply structured by intimacy and the powers it affords. In doing so, he offers not only a comprehensive look at contemporary witchcraft but also a fresh—if troubling—new way to think about intimacy itself.   
 
Geschiere begins in the forests of southeast Cameroon with the Maka, who fear “witchcraft of the house” above all else. Drawing a variety of local conceptions of intimacy into a global arc, he tracks notions of the home and family—and witchcraft’s transgression of them—throughout Africa, Europe, Brazil, and Oceania, showing that witchcraft provides powerful ways of addressing issues that are crucial to social relationships. Indeed, by uncovering the link between intimacy and witchcraft in so many parts of the world, he paints a provocative picture of human sociality that scrutinizes some of the most prevalent views held by contemporary social science.

One of the few books to situate witchcraft in a global context, Witchcraft, Intimacy, and Trust is at once a theoretical tour de force and an empirically rich and lucid take on a difficult-to-understand spiritual practice and the private spaces throughout the world it so greatly affects.  
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Witchcraft, Power and Politics
Exploring the Occult in the South African Lowveld
Isak Niehaus, Eliazaar Mohlala, and Kally Shokaneo
Pluto Press, 2001

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Witchcraft, Violence, and Democracy in South Africa
Adam Ashforth
University of Chicago Press, 2004
How does democracy fare when the people governed insist they live in a world with witches? If the government of a people afflicted by witchcraft refuses to punish witches, how does it avoid becoming alienated from the perceived needs of its people or, worse, seen as being in league with witches? In Soweto, South Africa, the constant threat of violent crime, the increase in black socio-economic inequality, the AIDS pandemic, and a widespread fear of witchcraft have converged to create a pervasive sense of insecurity among citizens and a unique public policy problem for government.

In Witchcraft, Violence, and Democracy in South Africa, Adam Ashforth examines how people in Soweto and other parts of post-apartheid South Africa manage their fear of 'evil forces' such as witchcraft. Ashforth examines the dynamics of insecurity in the everyday life of Soweto at the turn of the twenty-first century. He develops a new framework for understanding occult violence as a form of spiritual insecurity and documents new patterns of interpretation attributing agency to evil forces. Finally, he analyzes the response of post-apartheid governments to issues of spiritual insecurity and suggests how these matters pose severe long-term challenges to the legitimacy of the democratic state.
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Witchfinders
A Seventeenth-Century English Tragedy
Malcolm Gaskill
Harvard University Press, 2007

By spring 1645, two years of civil war had exacted a dreadful toll upon England. People lived in terror as disease and poverty spread, and the nation grew ever more politically divided. In a remote corner of Essex, two obscure gentlemen, Matthew Hopkins and John Stearne, exploited the anxiety and lawlessness of the time and initiated a brutal campaign to drive out the presumed evil in their midst. Touring Suffolk and East Anglia on horseback, they detected demons and idolators everywhere. Through torture, they extracted from terrified prisoners confessions of consorting with Satan and demonic spirits.

Acclaimed historian Malcolm Gaskill retells the chilling story of the most savage witch-hunt in English history. By the autumn of 1647 at least 250 people--mostly women--had been captured, interrogated, and hauled before the courts. More than a hundred were hanged, causing Hopkins to be dubbed "Witchfinder General" by critics and admirers alike. Though their campaign was never legally sanctioned, they garnered the popular support of local gentry, clergy, and villagers. While Witchfinders tells of a unique and tragic historical moment fueled by religious fervor, today it serves as a reminder of the power of fear and fanaticism to fuel ordinary people's willingness to demonize others.

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