Witch Craze


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Terror and Fantasy in Baroque Germany

Lyndal Roper

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A powerful account of witches, crones, and the societies that make them

From the gruesome ogress in Hansel and Gretel to the hags at the sabbath in Faust, the witch has been a powerful figure of the Western imagination. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries thousands of women confessed to being witches—of making pacts with the Devil, causing babies to sicken, and killing animals and crops—and were put to death. This book is a gripping account of the pursuit, interrogation, torture, and burning of witches during this period and beyond.

Drawing on hundreds of original trial transcripts and other rare sources in four areas of Southern Germany, where most of the witches were executed, Lyndal Roper paints a vivid picture of their lives, families, and tribulations. She also explores the psychology of witch-hunting, explaining why it was mostly older women that were the victims of witch crazes, why they confessed to crimes, and how the depiction of witches in art and literature has influenced the characterization of elderly women in our own culture.

Lyndal Roper is lecturer in history at the University of Oxford and a fellow of Balliol College.

"Where history meets psychology . . . Lyndal Roper is pre-eminent.  This ambitious and subtle book is testament not only to Roper's skill in excavating stories from the German archives, but also to her imagination and determination in reading between the lines of examinations and confessions, venturing where historians fear to tread. . . . It is vital and irresistible to try to make windows on the souls of our ancestors, and in this compelling, courageous and inspirational work Lyndal Roper leads the way."—Malcolm Gaskill, Journal of the Historical Association

"In this brilliant piece of investigative history [and] . . . thanks to Roper’s patient and sophisticated work . . . we finally have a joined up history of the witch."—The Guardian

"Witch Craze presents a story of the ways in which mythologies of evil forces can lead people to carry out unspeakable acts that seems both very foreign and very familiar."—Merry Wiesner-Hanks, Victorian Studies

"An interesting outline of beliefs about the activities of witches in early modern Germany seen from a standpoint of psychological analysis, but from a standpoint that does not wallow about in jargon or unnecessary speculation. . . . [Roper] mercifully gets to the point with an ease of writing that is a relief to readers who all too often have to resort to plows to get through the verbiage. . . . This is an interesting book and one in which the author has provided her readers with a good selection of primary materials."—Jane P. Davidson, Sixteenth Century Journal

"Get to it immediately because, though it reads like a sensational novel, it covers in an extremely adept scholarly way a century of witchcraft persecutions in Germany. . . . It is also of great interest to all students of psychology, delusion and the madness of crowds, fear and fanaticism, life and law."—Chronique

"This book thus not only answers many questions, but also raises more—an indication of the intellectual vitality of the topic and of the author's broad engagement with it. It is a major work which must be read, not only by those interested in witch hunting in Germany, but by those in related fields. It has, indeed, much to tell us about the human condition as a whole."—Julian Goodare, Canadian Journal of History

"[A] fine book. . . . A major contribution to an already remarkable body of academic work. . . . [Roper] presents much well-grounded evidence to support her conclusions."—John Demos, New York Review of Books

"Lyndal Roper is an original and insightful historian of witchcraft, and the publication of this major work is most welcome. Her style is fluent and accessible, but those who examine the 59 pages of closely printed notes will rapidly see the depth of scholarship that underpins her work."—Times Higher Education Supplement

"Deserves to be widely read. . . . Should ensure Roper's position as the doyenne of witchcraft scholarship for many years to come."—Journal of Modern History

"This is a major work that pushes the history of witchcraft in new directions and offers remarkable and sometimes startling new insights. Lyndal Roper breaks new ground in her remarkable, subtle analysis of the interpersonal relations among those caught up in fantasies of witchcraft."—H. C. Erik Midelfort, author of A History of Madness in Sixteenth-Century Germany

Winner of the 2005 Roland Bainton Prize in the category of History and Theology, sponsored by the Sixteenth Century Society and Conference
ISBN: 9780300119831
Publication Date: October 31, 2006
376 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
70 b/w illus.