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Reviewed by:
  • The Witchcraft Sourcebook
  • Edward Peters
Brian P. Levack. The Witchcraft Sourcebook. New York and London: Routledge, 2004. Pp. xiii + 348.

Brian Levack’s work on the history of witchcraft has been both substantial and distinguished. The present Sourcebook usefully complements his 1987 (3rd [End Page 96] ed. 2006) study, The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe, as well as his twelve-volume collection of scholarly essays on the subject of 1992 and his more recent series of six volumes on New Perspectives on Witchcraft, Magic, and Demonology (2001), while adding generously to the volume of translated sources already available in English. (The rules of full scholarly disclosure rightly require this reviewer to point out that he has known Brian Levack for nearly forty years, has used and admired his earlier work, and is one of the editors, with Alan Charles Kors, of another collection of translated sources on the same subject—about which more below). Levack provides here translations of sixty-one texts, each entry running between 750 and 3500 words, and all but the first fourteen (pp. 5–56) from the period between 1484 and 1736 (without the Malleus Maleficarum selections [nos. 14 and 25] and the bull of Innocent VIII, Summis desiderantes affectibus [no. 24], actually from 1550 to 1736), that is, from the “classical” period of witchcraft theorizing, prosecutions, and the decline of both. The majority of the sources are taken either from treatises about witchcraft or records of witchcraft trials, some embedded in one form or another in the treatises. Levack’s rationale here is that, “a close relationship existed between those two types of sources: the treatises were often intended to promote or discourage the prosecution of witches, and they often cited legal cases to support their arguments” (p. xi), as indeed they did, particularly when the treatises were written by judges who themselves had tried witchcraft cases, as had Jean Bodin (no. 26), Henri Boguet (nos. 16, 27, 45), Nicholas Remy (nos. 17, 36), and Pierre de Lancre (no. 21), all extracted in this volume. The volume has a brief general introduction, as well as short introductions to its eight major parts and informative head-notes to individual texts. It also has twelve illustrations and a useful index, but there is no bibliography, notes, or suggestions for further reading.4

The sources are divided into eight parts: I “Witchcraft and magic in the Ancient World”; II “The medieval foundations of witch-hunting”; III “Witch beliefs in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries”; IV “The trial and punishment of witches”; V “Witchcraft trials in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries”; VI “Demonic possession and witchcraft”; VII “The sceptical tradition”; VIII “Dramatic representations of witchcraft.” The heart of the book is Parts III–V, since the book is clearly aimed at the early modern period, and the first two parts are brief, token, and, in the light of recent [End Page 97] research into both antiquity and the fifteenth century, generally inadequate. Part VI adds the useful dimension of the role of demonic possession in witchcraft theory, although, aside from a few well-known cases like that of Loudun (no. 48), how central this role was is a matter of debate. Possession, too, had long medieval antecedents, not indicated here.5 Part VIII is rather an optional extra, since there is no discussion of the social role of the stage or the dramatic text in actual contemporary theory or prosecutions. The illustrations too, most of them familiar through frequent reproduction, seem to be optional extras, although recent work in the history of art has greatly clarified artists’ particular interests in the subject and their roles in witchcraft theory.6

But Levack’s core is indeed very useful. The range of beliefs in Part III goes from Lambert Daneau in 1574 to James Hutchinson in 1697 and includes one of the earliest condemnations of dirty dancing, in this case Spanish, in a furious extract from Pierre de Lancre (no. 21). Here as elsewhere in the core chapters, Levack uses one or another writer to illustrate a different feature of witchcraft belief. But in doing so Levack inclines toward the teleological approach recently criticized by Richard Kieckhefer, assessing...


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