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Bibliography on European Witchcraft Persecutions

Top History Books on the Witch Hunts


The persecution of mostly women as witches in medieval and early modern Europe has fascinated readers and scholars. Studies have tended to take one of several approaches:

  • Some of the earliest histories of the witch hunts of Europe used the practices as a critique of the earlier times or of Christianity. The purpose of such treatments is often to either promote the present as "more enlightened" or to learn lessons from that past that can be applied to current situations -- new "witch hunts," literally or metaphorically.
  • Some historians have looked at the witches as heroic figures, representing an older religion struggling to survive against persecution. The purpose is often to celebrate their strength, inspire it today -- or to celebrate roots of a current belief system in those times.
  • Another approach looks at how witchcraft was socially constructed by cultures and societies. The purpose is to shed light on how different societies create and shape expectations, including by gender and class.
  • Another approach takes an anthropological look at accusations, beliefs and executions, examining who were involved and what beliefs or practices may have served what purposes. The purpose is to shed light on people of the time and their customs and beliefs.

The following books are representative of the histories of witch hunts in Europe, and give a balanced view of what scholars are thinking or have thought about the phenomenon.

Bengt Ankarloo and Gustaf Hennigsen, editors. Early modern European witchcraft: centres and peripheries. 1990.
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Michael D. Bailey. Battling demons: witchcraft, heresy and reform in the late middle ages. 2003.
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Ian Bostridge. Witchcraft and its transformations, c. 1650 - c. 1750. 1997.

Robin Briggs. Witches and neighbors: the social cultural context of early modern witchcraft. 1996.
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Hans Peter Broedel. The Malleus Maleficarum and the construction of witchcraft: theology and popular belief. 2003.
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George Lincoln Burr. Narratives of the Witchcraft Cases, 1648-1706. 1914.
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Stuart Clark. Thinking with demons: the idea of witchcraft in early modern Europe. 1997.
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Owen Davies and William De Blécourt. Beyond the witch trials: witchcraft and magic in Enlightenment Europe. 2004.

Richard Kieckhefer. Witch trials: their foundation in popular and learned culture, 1300 - 1500. 1976.
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John Demos. The enemy within: 2,000 years of witch-hunging in the Western world. 2008.
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Alan Charles Kors and Edward Peters. Witchcraft in Europe, 400 - 1700: a documentary history. 2000.
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Brian Levack. The witch hunts in early modern Europe. 1995.
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Brian P. Levak. The witchcraft sourcebook. 2003.
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Geoffrey Parrinder. Witchcraft: European and African. 1963.

Lyndal Roper. Oedipus and the devil: witchcraft, sexuality and religion in early modern Europe. 1994.
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James A. Sharpe. Instruments of darkness: witchcraft in early modern England. 1997.
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Anna Garlin Spencer. "The Social Use of the Post-Graduate Mother." 1913 essay.
Read it here: After Motherhood.

Montague Summers, translator. Malleus Maleficarum. 1486, translated 1928.
Read it here

Also see: Top Books on the Salem Witch Trials

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