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Witches by Olga Gruhzit-Hoyt
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When I was a child - a preteen, really - one of my favorite subjects about which to read was medieval witchcraft: the Burning Times in Europe, and the Salem witch hunt. I was a regular at the library; I'd ride my bike there just about every weekend, and I repeatedly checked out books on this subject. I know I checked them out repeatedly, because I remember going to the shelf and pulling out a book that looked interesting, only to find my name signed on the card from when I'd checked the book out months earlier. (That rarely stopped me from checking it out again for another read).

I don't now remember the titles of those books, but when I saw this book at my local library, it reminded me of the ones I used to read. Judging by the publication date, it could very well have been one of the books I read. So, I've decided this book will represent at least half a dozen books on the subject I read back in the 1970s.

As for the book itself, wow. I'm really not sure what was going on in the mind of the author when she wrote this, but "ape-shit crazy" is the term that comes to mind most often. On the one hand, it's a pretty interesting book. It gives good descriptions of the sorts of things of which medieval witches were accused, and also of the way the witch trials were conducted (in both cases, many of the details have been toned down, as the book is not meant for adults, but the general idea is there). She also has short case histories of several well-known witches, or groups of witches. So, on the surface, it's a great introduction to the subject.

The problem, though, is that I was never quite sure what the author herself believes about this. She does state once that, certainly, many innocent people were put to death during the witch craze, and she admits that accused witches were subject to extreme torture in order to obtain confessions. And yet, the way most of the book is written, it comes across as though she fully accepts that in many cases, the accused were actually doing all this cavorting with demons, and letting imps and familiars suck their blood, and casting spells to kill their neighbors and cause storms and whatnot. When describing accused women, she repeatedly uses terms like "wretched hag," mentions that they were tortured, and then describes their confessions as though she believes these "hags" really did do the things they admitted having done. She also seemed to think that Kramer and Sprenger's book ("The Malleus Maleficarum") was a helpful tool for stamping out the deviltry that was happening in Europe. (In her defense, she did seem to think that Matthew Hopkins was going a bit too far in his zeal. But King James? He was just doing what any good Christian would do). It's a very warped view of the subject, especially from a book shelved in the non-fiction section. I really have to wonder just what message children will get from reading this book. (And believe me, I'm wondering what message I took away from reading this, and others like it, when I was young). As the author has a background in journalism, according to her bio in the book, I'm really surprised by the sensationalistic tone of this book. Unless she really does believe that medieval Europe was overrun by devil worshippers. In which case, yeah. Kinda crazy.

It was an interesting book, but not one I'd want my son reading without quite a bit of discussion afterward, to help him discern the fact from the fiction. ( )
  herebedragons | Mar 28, 2007 |
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Discusses the habits and practices of witches and their persecution through the ages. Includes stories of history's more infamous witches.
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Discusses the habits and practices of witches and their persecution through the ages. Includes stories of history's more infamous witches.

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