Friday 31 October 2014

Review: The Penguin Book of Witches

I was delighted to get sent a review copy of The Penguin Book of Witcheslast week.

I'm an avid reader of books on the history of witchcraft, but I have to admit there were a few holes in my knowledge. For example, I'd never actually read many of the famous historical texts such as King James I's Daemonologie or Reginald Scot's The Discouerie of Witchcraft, neither had I perused many transcripts of famous witchcraft trials. Sure, I had read what historians said about them, but I hadn't read the original source material. Until now, that is.

The Penguin Book of Witches isn't a standard history book, it is a historiography of witchcraft. Publisher Penguin Classics describes it as: "A collection of chilling real-life accounts of witches, from medieval Europe through colonial America."

Penguin Classics' description continues:
"From a manual for witch hunters written by King James himself in 1597, to court documents from the Salem witch trials of 1692, to newspaper coverage of a woman stoned to death on the streets of Philadelphia while the Continental Congress met, The Penguin Book of Witches is a treasury of historical accounts of accused witches that sheds light on the reality behind the legends. Bringing to life stories like that of Eunice Cole, tried for attacking a teenage girl with a rock and buried with a stake through her heart; Jane Jacobs, a Bostonian so often accused of witchcraft that she took her tormentors to court on charges of slander; and Increase Mather, an exorcism-performing minister famed for his knowledge of witches, this volume provides a unique tour through the darkest history of English and North American witchcraft."
The book focuses heavily on US witch trials - the woman who compiled and edited it, Katherine Howe, is herself a direct descendant of two women accused of witchcraft in Salem witches. However, it also covers many trials and documents from England and sets the US cases in the context of important books and pamphlets about witch persecution and court cases from the Old World.

Some of the older pieces of writing are a little difficult to read, I will admit. The style of language and spelling is very different from the way we speak or write today. However, the transcripts of the Salem witchcraft trials make riveting - and chilling - reading. It certainly isn't surprising that the terrible miscarriages of justice that took place continue to grip the imagination.

I haven't quite finished The Penguin Book of Witchesyet, but it is the perfect book to be reading at Halloween.

The Penguin Book of Witches (Penguin Classics)


Corvus Black said...

The sounds wonderful. I was thinking about searching for a witchcraft book with accurate historical references yesterday after I read a blog questioning commonly accepted correlations between Paganism and Christianity. It made me think that I really needed to research the history from the source as well. Thanks.

Badwitch said...

Hope you enjoy the book Corvus!