Stuart Clark & Bengt Ankarloo, edd., Witchcraft and Magic in Europe, Volume 6: The Twentieth Century. London: The Athlone Press, 1999. Pp. xii, 244. ISBN 0485891050. £19.99 (UK); ISBN 0812217071. $24.95 (US).

Reviewed by J.G. Bodard, University of London.


Combined bibliography

This is the sixth and final book in the competently executed Athlone History of Witchcraft and Magic in Europe. Like most of the rest of the series, the three papers in this volume are academically rigorous and up-to-date, while maintaining a level of accessibility that makes the series valuable to scholars and laypeople alike.

The first essay, Hutton's 'Modern Pagan Witchcraft' (a shorter version of part of his magisterial The Triumph of the Moon: A history of modern pagan witchcraft that was published by Oxford University Press later the same year), is a history of the modern religious movement known as Wicca or Witchcraft which has grown in Britain and the US through the twentieth century. Hutton traces the origins of the religion in sources as diverse as the idealisation of pagan nature in Renaissance Europe, secret societies and initiatory mysteries such as Freemasonry, and the theories of folklorists such as Margaret Murray. He shows how these elements and others were forged into the Wiccan religion by groups led by people like Gerald Gardner, after the Second World War, combining spirituality, environmentalism, sexuality, and inventing or adapting rituals and initiatory rites; and finally traces the influence of progressive politics and especially feminism on the movement as it grew phenomenally in the US.

Hutton remains a professional historian throughout, detached from his material and prepared to be critical of the mythology and the now-discredited scholarship that inspired much of early Wicca (many such histories have been written by devotees or "witches" themselves). However, he is also deeply respectful of his sources—and any folklorist or ethnographer would do well to follow his example—and shows an appreciation of and respect for the mysteries he has witnessed in his research.

La Fontaine briefly traces the history of the Christian mythology of Satan and Satanism, including the development from supernatural agents of evil through to human servants of the Devil who can be persecuted as heretics (like the Cathars and Templars), witches, and criminals. This leads to a discussion of modern Satanist groups who practice a religion of self-empowerment, often in stark opposition to Christian philosophies, but neither criminals, agents of evil, nor abusers—this discussion includes Odinist and "Heathen" groups, especially in Scandinavia. Finally this essay treats the subject of "Satanic abuse mythology", the many accusations of human sacrifice or sexual abuse of children, very few cases of which have proved reliable, and even the few successful prosecutions being somewhat suspicious. Many of these cases involved hypnotic regression, the regaining of lost memories; a proceedure which, it has been proved, can as easily lead to the "surfacing" of false memories. The most poignant example may be the tragic case of Paul Ingram, who confessed to abusing his own daughters after confabulating his own memories because he could not believe that his daughters would lie.

La Fontaine's essay is the most concise and well-structured chapter of this book, although in fairness it may have been the easiest to present in this clear manner.

The final chapter, on the continued belief in traditional witchcraft narratives in rural European communities, is a learned collection by Blécourt, of the works of folklorists, anthropologists and sociologists on the subject. He discusses both traditional beliefs and supstitions about the behaviour and powers of, and remedies for and defence against, witches, and concrete examples of accusations, trials, and anecdotes. Blécourt clearly describes the different language and discourses utilised by witches themselves (whether presenting themselves as objects to be feared or as bearers of useful skills); by the victims of witchcraft, who may or may not have a specific culprit available to blame for their misfortunes; and by the unwitchers, whether members of the church or lay professionals whose business it is to track down and reverse the damage done by witches.

Examples of specific beliefs and phenomena are also discussed, with particular influence on the 'Evil Eye', a type of curse that may be both unintentional and anonymous, depending on the culture and the context. Blécourt ends his chapter, and the book, with a discussion of research that remains to be conducted into twentieth-century witchcraft, including the need for more detailed and rigorous sociological study of the relative social and economic roles of witches, bewitched, and unwitchers.

Finally, the level of proof-reading and editing is as high as we have come to expect from this series. Only a few typographical errors have made it into print; the final essay could perhaps have benefited from proof-reading by a native English speaker, but the occasional oddities of expression do not ever hinder the sense nor affect the fluidity of the writing. There is a sense throughout the series that all the essays have been adapted or shortened to fit the requirements of this kind of volume, and one outcome of this is that, ironically despite the very detailed and finely broken-down table of contents, the internal structure is not always transparent. But this would be an invidious and minor complaint with which to end a review of what may be the most successful volume in the current series.

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