THE PERIOD OF THE WITCH TRIALS is the 4th and last volume to be published in the six-volume series edited by Bengt Ankarloo and Stuart Clark 'Witchcraft and Magic in Europe'. In some respects, I found this volume a small disappointment as it's thinner and less interesting than earlier volumes about 'Biblical and Pagan' societies and 'Ancient Greece and Rome' which relied heavily on archeological work. Still, the book contains first class scholarship and tells an important part of the total story. The volume includes several essays.
Part 1. "Witch Trials in Continental Europe" investigates the secular record of the "trials" legal and otherwise that took place in Germany, France and the Mediterranean. William Monter suggests that since the 16th Century, many scholars have attempted to understand and explain the "witch burnings" which racked Europe in early modern times. He suggests while it is incredibly difficult to decipher the "mind of a different age" it is impossible not to link the burnings in the 16th Century with major developments of the age including the Reformation, counter-Reformation, and various political changes.
Monter suggests a major criticism of Luther and Calvin regarding the church of Rome was that it tolerated "pagan" behavior. Early Christian theologians like Augustine linked the devil with witchcraft (from whom witches were thought to draw their power), but from the perspective of the reformers the church had not done an adequate job of acting on this information. The Catholic Church held that not believing in the devil was heresy and the church tried people for heresy--not witchcraft per se.
Monter compares the relative moderation of the tribunals of the Mediterranean Inquisitions with the secular jurisprudence of central, southern and western Europe. He says that during this period "diabolical witchcraft" became a criminal offense meaning an activity involving secular government. People were tried for witchcraft by secular governments but seldom executed. Monter suggests most of the witch burning took place in villages where neither the secular government or the church had absolute control, and these villages (both Protestant and Catholic) tended to be East of the Rhine.
Part 2. "Witch Trials in Northern Europe" covers the Netherlands, Scandinavia, UK, and Iceland. Expanding on Monter's essay, Ankarloo describes the judicial revolution that took place in the northern and western Europe. He suggests that during this period jurisprudence moved from an "accusatorial" to an "inquisitorial" position. The Humanist movement "enlightened" the judges who would not punish someone unless it could be shown that the accused had harmed another. Ankarloo also suggests that the notion that people burned for witchcraft were old crones is mistaken. At the early part of the witch burnings more men than women were executed and many of the victims of were children. In fact, the victims at Salem in the New World represent a good cross-section of who was executed for witchcraft in the latter part of the period.
Part 3. "Witchcraft and Magic in Early Modern Culture" is most interesting from my perspective. Stuart Clark explores the concept of magic in the early modern period and divides it into three categories. He says evidence exists that "popular" magic was practiced by many people from all walks of life and involved healing and love potions and charms and curses. Another type of magic was "demonology" which the church connected to the power of the devil. The third category was "intellectual magic" which interested Francis Bacon and others associated with Renaissance thinking.
Clark includes a discussion about conflicting views concerning the connection between intellectual magic and the scientific revolution. He then goes onto discuss the politics of witchcraft, including the connection between magic and the exercise of power. Queen Elizabeth and other rulers of the age understood how magic could be used to support the concept of divine right, a notion salient in Europe until recently. The last essay alone is worth the price of the book.
Collaboratively compiled and edited by Bengt Ankarloo and Stuart Clark, Witchcraft And Magic In Europe: The Period Of The Witch Trials is a scholarly examination and analysis of supernatural beliefs in Europe with an especial focus on the prosecutions for the crime of witchcraft, which were most frequent during the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries. Examining witch hunts, methods of torture, historical incidents, and how beliefs in witchcraft, magic, and demonology affected European culture, Witchcraft And Magic In Europe is an informed and informative amalgamation of history and interpretation. Also very highly recommended are the University of Pennsylvania Press companion titles: Witchcraft And Magic In Europe: Biblical And Pagan Societies; Witchcraft And Magic In Europe: Ancient Greece And Rome; Witchcraft And Magic In Europe: The Middle Ages; Witchcraft And Magic In Europe: The Eighteenth And Nineteenth Centuries; and Witchcraft And Magic In Europe: The Twentieth Century.