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Reviewed by:
  • Hexen und Magie: Eine historische Einführung
  • Michael D. Bailey
Johannes Dillinger . Hexen und Magie: Eine historische Einführung. Frankfurt: Campus Verlag, 2007. Pp. 197.

Historical research on witchcraft and magic is a burgeoning field, and one sign of the field's richness and success is the production of ever more sophisticated surveys and overviews. The European witch hunts have long enjoyed excellent historical surveys. The third edition of Brian Levack's The Witch Hunt in Early Modern Europe appeared in 2006 (reviewed in MRW 2 [2007]: 101–3), as did Richard Golden's massive project Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Western Tradition (reviewed in MRW 2 [2007]: 87–93). The six volumes of Bengt Ankarloo's and Stuart Clark's Witchcraft and Magic in Europe series appeared between 1999 and 2002 (see MRW 1 [2006]: 109–18). This project moved away from exclusive focus on the early modern witch hunts. While only one volume was devoted to The Period of the Witch Trials, the series as a whole stretched from Biblical and Pagan Societies to The Twentieth Century. Witchcraft remained at the conceptual heart of the project, however, with its underlying focus remained on harmful magic, and on the condemnation and demonization of magic culminating in the witch hunts. In 2007, Jonathan Barry's and Owen Davies's edited volume on Witchcraft Historiography moved away from surveying the history of witchcraft and focused on the contentious [End Page 215] historiography of the topic (see MRW 3 [2008]: 81–85). In my review of that book, I noted that the collection of essays was most welcome because "book-length historiographies are rare." It is yet another testament to the fertility of this field that I am so quickly proved wrong.

In this excellent and insightful overview, Johannes Dillinger aims to provide a historical introduction to "witches and magic." The placement of the terms in the title is important. The main focus of this book is witchcraft, and specifically the witchcraft of the the major period of European witch trials from the late fifteenth through seventeenth centuries. Yet Dillinger rightly notes that the larger context for the history of witchcraft is the history of magic. Rather than a chronological, historical survey, this is a thematic, historiographical one. Dillinger begins (in Chapter 2, after a brief first chapter that is an introduction) with definitions, both historical and modern, of magic and witchcraft. He examines how one of the essential modern definitions of magic, contrasting it with religion, is extremely problematic and largely inapplicable in a premodern, historical context. Theories of magic advanced by Frazer, Malinowski, Durkheim, Mauss, and others are discussed and wisely dispensed with. The historically slippery notion of superstition also comes under consideration. Turning to witchcraft, he notes that while this term can carry quite general meanings of harmful magic, it can also be used much more narrowly to mean only the particular matrix of magical and demonological beliefs that defined the crime during the period of the early modern witch hunts. Throughout, the handling of the often murky meanings of magic and witchcraft is clear and wellgrounded.

Following discussion of definitions, Dillinger turns to the beliefs and practices that comprised magic, as well as related beliefs in spirits and demons. He briefly touches on the quasi-scientific category of natural magic, but as this form of magic had little relation to witchcraft he quickly moves on to his first major focus on folk magic. This was the common magic of everyday life in premodern Europe that underlay many of the supposed operations of witchcraft. An enormous amount of attention has concentrated on trying to determine the origins of such magic—was it the residue of pre-Christian, pagan rites or belief-systems; did it change or develop over time? Dillinger effectively dispenses with the whole issue, noting that the latest research tends to focus more on how such magic was believed to function and the ends to which it was put, rather than wasting energy speculating on its dim origins. Moving from magic to beliefs in spirits, Dillinger begins here with common beliefs in fairies, vampires, and other entities that tend to hover around the edges of historical...


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