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Witchcraft: A History in Thirteen Trials

A lively and immersive global history of witchcraft which shows its evolution from the Middle Ages to the present day and shines a light on the stories of the victims, told in thirteen trials.

Simon & Schuster
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Marion Gibson


Witch trials have occurred throughout history, across all continents, right up to the present day. But witchcraft and attitudes towards it and its practitioners has changed according to place and time and the interests and politics of the day.

This book uses thirteen significant trials to explore the history of witchcraft and witch hunts. As well as investigating some of the most famous trials from the Middle Ages to the 18th century, such as Salem, it takes us in new and surprising directions. It shows how witchcraft was decriminalised in the 18th century, only to be reimagined by Romantic radicals. We learn how it evolved from being seen as a threat to Christianity to being seen as gendered persecution, how witchcraft accusations of indigenous peoples stoked anger against colonial rule and how the word “witch” has re-entered political language today.

Significantly, the book tells the stories of the victims of witch trials – those women, such as Helena Scheuberin, Elizabeth Clarke and Joan Wright – whose stories have too often been overshadowed by those of the powerful men, such as King James VI and I and “Witchfinder General” Matthew Hopkins, who hounded them.

While the book is a history of witchcraft, the subject cannot be consigned to the history books. Hundreds of people, mostly women, are tried and killed as witches every year in Indonesia, the Indian subcontinent and Africa as well as occasionally Europe and the Americas. ‘WITCH HUNT!’ is a term as common in our language today as ever it was, and witches are still on trial across the world.


‘A nightmarish exploration of the uncomfortably human habits of paranoia and persecution. These stories of witchcraft, true and vividly told, demonstrate the potent reality of belief in evil and how in any era or place fear can be weaponised and marginal people, mostly women, labelled as wicked and dangerous. Together they comprise not just a history of witchcraft but a cautionary tale, one where witch-hunters outlive the witch-hunts of old, and the demonisation of imagined enemies has no need of theological demons to inflict terror and destroy lives.’
Malcolm Gaskell, author of The Ruin of All Witches

‘It is wonderful to come across a book that breathes such fresh life and energy into a well-worked subject, covering a huge range of time and space with a unified, passionate and convincing message. Any expert is going to learn something new from it, any newcomer to be enthralled and motivated.’
Ronald Hutton

Marion Gibson vividly brings to life 13 witch trials in a wide-ranging new book.’
Daily Mail

‘A vital and vivid study on the history of witch trials. Fantastic’
Anya Bergman, author of The Witches of Vardo

‘A thought-provoking, sweeping work of social history.’

‘A fascinating, vital insight into women’s history, brought vividly to life by the expertise of Professor Gibson.’
Alice Loxton, author of Uproar!

‘Erudite, insightful and provocative. This investigation of witch trials – and of the long shadow cast by women’s vilification as witches over our modern lives – is essential, rage-inducing reading.’
Annie Garthwaite, author of Cecily and The King’s Mother

‘Marion Gibson’s recent book… explores the ever-changing definition [of witches], both literal and metaphorical, over the course of seven centuries, and ends up shedding light, too, on the commonalities shared by the accusers.’
The Washington Post