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Reviewed by:
  • Emotions in the History of Witchcraft eds. by Laura Kounine and Michael Ostling
  • Julian Goodare
Emotions in the History of Witchcraft. Edited by Laura Kounine and Michael Ostling. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. Hardcover. 321 pp. isbn 978-1-137-52902-2.

Research on the history of emotions has gathered pace in recent years, and certain lines of enquiry have emerged with particular clarity. Some of the most ambitious and original work has attempted to write the history of emotions themselves, charting the way in which different emotions rose and fell in their prominence or their cultural and political acceptability. Meanwhile, however, a second line of inquiry has emerged and become perhaps more common. This seeks out emotions within established historiographical fields, asking how the field can be enriched by a study of the emotions that were expressed by individuals in particular historical contexts. The book under review, as its title makes clear, pursues this second line of inquiry for a well-established historiographical field: the history of witchcraft.

Witchcraft is an ideal field in which to study emotions. The quarrels and curses that fed into witchcraft accusations were emotional dramas at the village level. The elite fantasies of demonic sexuality and cannibalistic infanticide at the sabbath made a powerful emotional appeal. These themes, of course, were prominent during the history of Europe between the fifteenth and the eighteenth centuries, and most of the book's chapters address this history.

The book has been well planned to explore a wide range of themes, not all of which can be discussed in detail in this review. The chapters are arranged in four sections, of which the two largest, "In Representation" and "On Trial," respectively explore emotions in demonological writings and emotions in witchcraft trial records. The third section, "In the Mind," comprises three chapters that open up perspectives from beyond conventional history; Edward [End Page 275] Bever's chapter on bullying and Sarah Ferber's on demonic possession draw on psychology, while Peter Geschiere's chapter on African comparisons with European witchcraft draws on anthropology. The final section, "In History," comprises just one substantive chapter, by Laurel Zwissler, on contemporary neopagan uses of historical witchcraft, plus an "Afterword" from Malcolm Gaskill, whose own ongoing research into witchcraft and emotions enables him both to comment on the book's contents and to make recommendations for future research. One of his especially noteworthy points is that historians often encounter not the actual emotions of the past, but the ideas that contemporaries had about other people's emotions. The idea that witches were unable to shed tears is a case in point.

Most of the book's contributors are established scholars, many of whom revisit familiar territory, and even, one suspects, some of their favorite cases. However, the focus on emotions always gives them something new to say. Tamar Herzig shows that the attitudes toward gender of the notorious demonologist Heinrich Institoris (Krämer) are more varied than might be thought from just reading his Malleus Maleficarum. E. J. Kent revisits male witches in England, showing that their representations have similarities with representations of "tyrants" whose emotions were out of control. Robin Briggs discusses a wide range of emotions, particularly the negative emotions of fear, anger, and hatred, in trials in the duchy of Lorraine. Valerie Kivelson examines Russian love charms, deployed by women attempting to solve various difficulties—not only seeking to gain or regain the affection of a partner, but also, in some cases, the affection of a master. Charlotte-Rose Millar brings a fresh angle to the much-studied English witchcraft pamphlets, looking at the emotional relationship that the narratives depict between the female witch and the male demonic "familiar." Exactly whose narratives these are—the witch's or the anonymous narrator's—remains enigmatic, but these pamphlets continue to exercise a fascination.

Rita Voltmer's chapter on "The Witch in the Courtroom" mounts a powerful and wide-ranging attack on the idea that we can identify actual emotions in witchcraft trial records. What the records give us, she argues, are "representations of emotion" (97)—accounts of conventional emotions that accused witches were assumed to express in the course of...


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