Sunday, 19 July 2009

Witchcraft Reader sans Klaniczay

I recently needed to quote Gabor Klaniczay’s paper on The decline of witches and the rise of vampires, and decided to refer to the edition in Darren Oldridge’s The Witchcraft Reader. I then found out that a second edition of this anthology of witchcraft papers was published in 2008, and that Klaniczay’s paper is no longer in it.

Having now had the chance to look at the second edition, I can see that Oldridge has not only replaced some of the papers in the first edition but has also thoroughly reworked the introductory texts. In particular, the general introduction has changed quite a lot, as Oldridge apparently no longer feels the need to explicitly distance current research from previous efforts like those of Margaret Murray or ‘reprints of eccentric but still popular publications like Montague SummersHistory of Witchcraft. Instead he simply introduces the reader to ‘the magical beliefs that saturated pre-modern communities’ and ‘the interaction between ordinary people and educated demonologists and lawyers’, before confronting the present-centredness (‘the tendency to explain the past in terms that relate mainly to the present’) and moral judgements with which the subject is frequently approached.

Of particular interest here is part nine of the book, the one dealing with the decline of witchcraft. In the first edition it contained Brian P. Levack’s The decline of witchcraft prosecutions, Klaniczay’s paper, and Owen DaviesUrbanization and the decline of witchcraft: An examination of London. In the new edition Klaniczay’s paper has been replaced by The decline of the witchcraft pamphlet by Marion Gibson and Witchcraft after the witch trials by Marijke Gijswijt-Hofstra. I suppose that by doing so, a more general picture of the decline is drawn than in the original.

This, however, means that the word ‘vampire’ no longer is in the book. Whatever one may think of Klaniczay’s theory – Peter Mario Kreuter reiterated his critique of it at the conference in Vienna – it has established a link between beliefs in witchcraft and revenants or posthumous magic, cf. e.g. the volume 5 of The Athlone History of Witchcraft and Magic in Europe, that might lead to more research on the connection. This link now is no longer evident from Oldridge’s anthology.

But there is plenty of interesting reading anyway, and I find it well worth quoting the view of 17th century witchcraft sceptic Friedrich Spee as mentioned by Oldridge in his general introduction: ‘the threat of appalling and secret conspiracies requires the highest standards of justice from those who seek to defeat them. If the crime ‘is difficult to prove then there is need for stronger, not weaker proofs’, and ‘if it is hidden and shrouded in shadows, then there is need for more light, not less, in order to illuminate it.

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