Witchcraze: A New History of the European Witch Hunts

If I were alive in the 16th century, I would have been nabbed as a witch for sure. Risk factors: female, not married, and outspoken.

Unfortunately, this academic dive into the witch hunts of Europe and the periphery was not well done. Barstow juggles tons of studies and primary source trial documents but overlays them with her narrow 20th century perspective. Not nearly as thorough or well-thought out as it should have been.

Of the meager good bits to be salvaged:

Persecution broke out when it did due to economics, of course. In ~1560, Europe had “population saturation, food scarcity, and runaway inflation” and women were a convenient scapegoat. Your wife not able to bear children? A witch has cursed her. Your crops are failing? It’s the witch’s fault. But the overwhelming targeting of women as witches only occurred after the witch hunting manuals came out, which pointed the finger at those dirty menstruating creatures. Fun fact—the pillaging of the New World lead to inflation as all that silver and gold flooded into European markets, indirectly causing this craze. This economic unrest shifted a lot of women into poverty, and Barstow claims that the increase in female beggars “so discomfited their better-off neighbors that the neighbors accused them of witchcraft in order to get rid of them.”

The church has a huge role in all of this, too. Clergy were jealous of women’s power as midwives and healers, usurping their own duties. And yet the church practiced its own magic as well—that turning of a communion wafer into the body and blood of Christ, for one.