Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Penguin Book of Witches - Edited by Katherine Howe.

The Penguin Book of Witches.  Edited by Katherine Howe.  Penguin Group (USA). September 2014. 480 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780143106180.

"The first witchcraft act in England was passed in 1542, and the last anti witchcraft statute was not officially repealed until 1736." This important quote indicates that over 200 years of witchcraft accusations, investigations, trials, and punishments of being thrown in stocks, ducked in water, exorcised, or suffering jail and death that fell on far too many men and women in England and America.  Witchcraft was the definitive focus of hyperbolic, potent fury as clearly shown in this collection of stories, arguments, and accounts, usually with dire consequences.

There’s no clear-cut evidence that witchcraft was a denomination or united group, as it was later to become; but it was clear that superstition raged during the above cited period and its combination with the strange behavior of certain individuals, meticulously described as evidence in warrants, examinations or depositions of the characters presented in this text make for fascinating reading.  The fact that some like the slave-maid Tituba in Salem, Massachusetts gathered children with her to celebrate some voodoo practices surely did not help matters and many readers will be familiar with the outcome because of their familiarity with the play, “The Crucible,” by Arthur Miller. 

One particular selection was refreshing in that George Gifford, a Puritan minister in Essex, England in 1593, attempts to assert some reason into what he describes as the “greed, anger, fear and hate” which are the motives behind all witch accusations.  His response is to wage spiritual warfare against those motives in one’s own heart and to wage spiritual warfare against actual behavior one perceives may or may not be witchery.  It is the Devil, he said, that “seduces ignorant men.”

On the other hand, King James I’s “Daemonologue” is an attempt to show his superior knowledge of theology and intellectual analysis as he wrote about whether witches were real and the type of people whom one should watch as possible practitioners of witchcraft.  He hoped in this way to cement his leadership over the Church and demonstrate his intellectual and spiritual prowess to other leaders around the world.  It reads indeed like any other accusation and imitation of other catalogued lists of witching behavior.

Readers will be either truly thrilled or horrified by each account in this notable collection of cows who were sickened or died, children who exhibited strange behavior or illness, crops that began to fail with no observable reason, spinning bodies, individuals supposedly unable to say the name of God or Jesus Christ, and so many more tales told.  Entertaining as this may be, it is even more horrifying to realize that those accused of these acts were tortured and killed for the same; even more damning is the fact that surrounding neighbors lived in dire fear that they would be accused next.  An atmosphere of suspicion and superstition laid the groundwork for a terrifying two hundred year period of historical and magical folklore gone awry!

A highly readable, mesmerizing collection that is great reading and provides enough diversity around the topic to keep the reader engaged on every page!

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