This unabridged chapter, titled Witch Mania, is from Charles Mackay’s evergreen work, Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. Published in 1841 it is a stylish and comprehensive dissection of the witch mania which beset much of Europe in the 16th and 17th century. In his easygoing journalistic style Mackay describes in some detail many celebrated outbreaks of this hysteria including the trials of Dr. Fian and Gellie Duncan in Scotland, the progress of Matthew Hopkins through East Anglia as the self-styled Witch-Finder General, and further episodes in New England, Wurzburg and Geneva. Herein are speeches made from the dock, the scaffold, from the foot of the ‘bonnie fire’ itself, gruesome accounts of the many tortures endured and several chilling spells and incantations. It begins with a discussion of medieval attitudes to the devil and Satan, misinterpretations of Mosaic Law, of what comprised a typical Witches’ Sabbath, of the brutal extirpation of the Knights Templar and the brave but futile resistance of the little-known Stedinger in Holland.‘Witch Mania’ is, in short, not only an exciting introduction to the history of witchcraft and a worthy addition to the libraries of folklorists, social historians and students of Wicca, but also a moving memorial to the countless innocent lives lost. Greg Wagland narrates for Magpie Audio.
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A Pleasant Surprise
First of all I must say that the title can be somewhat misleading. I was expecting a history of witchcraft, but was served more of a history of witch hunting and trials. Since I am interested in both subjects though, this is not a big deal, but please have this in mind before purchasing this title hoping for descriptions of origins, rituals or evolution of the witches themselves. This book is more about human superstition and stupidity, and their effects on society and the individual, thus can be viewed rather as a work about politics and human rights than magic. It is quite scary to imagine what an uneducated mob is capable of when backed by authorities, and how genocidal people seem to be if not kept at bay. It is impossible not to think of WWII when hearing about what went down in the times of witches and wizards.
That being said, I must admit that it was a very interesting listen. The narration is solid and the story itself compelling enough to keep your attention throughout. I did learn a few new things and some parts of the book are really exciting. There might be better books out there, and this is by far no spectacular work, but I think the price is fair for the content provided. I would not force people to try it, but can recommend it to those curious enough about the on-goings in courts of countries that nowadays represent the pillars of rationality and civilization. Works as these point out how far we have come, despite all our flaws, but also how fragile society is if not maintained.