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.
Ian Bostridge. Witchcraft and its transformations, c. 1650 - c. 1750. 1997.
Owen Davies and William De Blécourt. Beyond the witch trials: witchcraft and magic in Enlightenment Europe. 2004.
Geoffrey Parrinder. Witchcraft: European and African. 1963.
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