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Reviewed by:
  • Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Western Tradition
  • H. C. Erik Midelfort
Richard Golden . Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Western Tradition. 4 vols. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 2006. Pp. xxxvi + 1238.

The world of scholarship has been eagerly awaiting this ambitious encyclopedia for several years. Its most comprehensive predecessor has long been The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology (1959, with 227 entries), by the medieval English literary scholar Rossell Hope Robbins. Recent smaller entries into this field have not been an adequate substitute for a thorough reassessment of the state of this burgeoning area of historical research.1 Robbins’s work summarized much of what was known and thought before scholars began their systematic assault upon the archival records of witchcraft trials, and so it is not surprising that his entries on many individual demonologists have stood the test of time better than his attempts to survey the history of [End Page 87] actual witchcraft trials. In fact, Richard Golden’s four volumes with 758 entries, co-edited by six other prominent scholars and written by an international team of 170 experts (29% of them women) from 29 countries, combine such a wealth of knowledge from so many countries and cover so many aspects of the history of witchcraft, that they can serve as a means to assess the health, progress, and maturity of various subfields. In this review I will confine myself to the main emphases of the editors and of the authors they recruited.

One should note at the outset that although the subtitle of the Encyclopedia is “The Western Tradition,” the vast majority of articles deal with European witchcraft between the years 1400 and 1750, that is, the years of the so-called great European witch hunt. A dozen learned articles treat ancient Greek and Roman witchcraft (e.g., “Homer,” “Medea,” “Greek Magical Papyri,” “Horace,” “Defixiones,” “Laws on Witchcraft—Ancient,” “Apuleius of Madaura”), and there are a few essential entries on the Bible (e.g., “Bible,” “Moses,” “Exodus 22:18,” “the witch of Endor”). Similarly, key medieval thinkers (e.g., Gratian, John of Salisbury, Thomas Aquinas, Pope John XXII) and key medieval documents (e.g., the Canon Episcopi, “Laws on Witchcraft—Medieval”) attract a small bouquet of usefully learned articles. But these entries pale in comparison with the huge number of often overlapping articles treating the late Middle Ages and the early modern period.

The reason is not far to seek. The fundamental subject of Golden’s Encyclopedia is not so much the broad topic of witchcraft, demonology, or magic (as a belief or a practice) but the escalating series of witchcraft prosecutions that plagued much of Europe in the three centuries after 1420. So overwhelming is the emphasis on witchcraft trials that one can say that these volumes are now not only the single best place to begin the study of European witchcraft but actually also the best introduction to the comparative history of early modern European criminal procedure. E. William Monter has contributed sharply focused articles on “Accusations,” “Acquittals,” “Appeals,” “Confessions” (with Jonathan Durrant), “Confiscations,” and a more general survey entitled “Geography of the Witch Hunts,” while Edward Kern has provided articles on “Courts—Ecclesiastical,” “Courts—Inquisitorial,” and “Courts—Secular.” Vincinzo Lavenia treats some of the same topics, however, under “Episcopal Justice,” while Peter Dinzelbacher goes over some of this material again in “Inquisition—Medieval.” In addition, there are separate articles on the Portuguese, Roman, Spanish, and Venetian Inquisitions, as well as a general entry on “Inquisitorial Procedure” by Brian Levack, who has also contributed a substantial piece on “Torture.” There is even a separate entry on “Trials.” Along these same lines, Wolfgang Behringer has contributed a substantial [End Page 88] article on “Laws on Witchcraft—Early Modern,” Robert Thurston has contributed “Proof, Problem of,” while Robin Briggs has offered another article dealing with the “Parlement of Paris.” Near the end of the Encyclopedia, Rita Voltmer wraps up much of this material in an effective summary entitled “Witch Hunts,” but this summary does not by any means exhaust the list of legally focused entries.

The upshot of so much information on trials and procedure is that we can now understand the varying intensity of the...


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