Friday 25 August 2017

Book Review: The Witch--A History of Fear, From Ancient Times to the Present by Ronald Hutton

Title: The Witch: A History of Fear, From Ancient Times to the Present
Author: Ronald Hutton
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication Date: 5 September 2017
Pages: 377
Format: eBook - PDF
Genre: Non-Fiction/History/Folklore
Source: ARC via NetGalley

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Why have societies all across the world feared witchcraft? This book delves deeply into its context, beliefs, and origins in Europe’s history

The witch came to prominence—and often a painful death—in early modern Europe, yet her origins are much more geographically diverse and historically deep. In this landmark book, Ronald Hutton traces witchcraft from the ancient world to the early-modern stake.

This book sets the notorious European witch trials in the widest and deepest possible perspective and traces the major historiographical developments of witchcraft. Hutton, a renowned expert on ancient, medieval, and modern paganism and witchcraft beliefs, combines Anglo-American and continental scholarly approaches to examine attitudes on witchcraft and the treatment of suspected witches across the world, including in Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, Australia, and North and South America, and from ancient pagan times to current interpretations. His fresh anthropological and ethnographical approach focuses on cultural inheritance and change while considering shamanism, folk religion, the range of witch trials, and how the fear of witchcraft might be eradicated.
(Goodreads Synopsis)

Straight off the bat I should state that Ronald Hutton's The Witch is very much a scholarly work. In essence it reads like a long essay, and at times the prose is pretty dry. Therefore, this is probably not a book I'd recommend to a general reader who simply wants to learn more about witches. However, Hutton's passion for his subject certainly shines through, and it is easy to see that a lot of research and thought went into the book, making it an excellent resource for scholars of both the early modern justice system and folklore/myth. I enjoyed reading the arguments for and against equating witches and witch hunts with different aspects of pagan and shamanistic beliefs and practices; however, I did feel bogged down at times in all the 'he said--she said' as Hutton quoted different sources. Overall, I would therefore rank this book at 3.5-4 stars. It is a work that makes a lot of interesting points, but one that I wish had been a little more vibrant in terms of the prose and the presentation of the material.

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