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The Witchcraft Sourcebook

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The Witchcraft Sourcebook. Edited by Brian P. Levack. (London & New York, Routledge: 2004. Pg. xiii, 348.) ISBN: 0-415-19506-3.

Reviewed by Auggie Moore - February 11, 2004

The history of witchcraft in Europe and Colonial America has a long and sordid past. The charge of witchcraft was levied against tens of thousands of people, the vast majority of whom where women. For many, the charges resulted in the death of the accused. In The Witchcraft Sourcebook, Brian P. Levack has compiled an outstanding collection of documents that detail the history of witchcraft in the West, and the reasons for, and consequences of, the charges leveled against so many individuals. The documentary evidence that is made available in this sourcebook runs the gamut from trial records and sermons to personal narratives and artwork.

The documents in this anthology span a wide period of history, ranging from biblical times through 1917. However the majority of the works in this book where composed between 1400-1750. The book is enhanced by an introduction by Levack that explains the purpose behind this anthology, and the importance of understanding the role that 'witchcraft' played in the Western psyche, as well as Western social development. He also examines the beliefs about witchcraft and magic that were held by the majority of common people, and how these attitudes toward witchcraft have changed over time.

Levack has appended a short introduction to each document. These introductions highlight the most salient points of the document under discussion, and help to place the document in context to other events going on at the same time. The documents are organized into thematic sections that enable the reader to easily access all the material in the book related to a given subject. Samples of these thematic groupings include The medieval foundations of witch-hunting, The trial and punishment of witches, and Demonic possession and witchcraft.

The Witchcraft Sourcebook will benefit both undergraduate and graduate students who are interested in the study of Western religion and history. It will also serve as an excellent supplemental reader in most general survey courses in Western Civilization. The topic is one that often enthralls students, and it will help them to understand pivotal cultural phenomena that transcended political and religious boundaries.

Related Reviews:

The Bewitching of Anne Gunter: A Horrible and True Story of Deception, Witchcraft, Murder, and the King of England, By James Sharpe.
A case study of Anne Gunter claim of demonic possession and the resulting witch trials - including her own.

The Medieval World, Edited by Peter Linehan and Janet L. Nelson.
Thirty-nine orginial essays on life in the Middle Ages, covering just about everything from politics to sexuality. Written by 38 medieval scholars, this book raises the standard of medieval scholarship.

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