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The Catholic Historical Review 87.3 (2001) 504-505

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Book Review

L'imaginaire du sabbat:
Edition critique des textes les plus anciens (1430 c.- 1440 c.)

L'imaginaire du sabbat: Edition critique des textes les plus anciens (1430 c.- 1440 c.). Edited by Martine Ostorero, Agostino Paravicini Bagliani, and Kathrin Utz Tremp, in collaboration with Catherine Chène. [Cahiers lausannois d'histoire médiévale, Vol. 26.] (Lausanne: Université de Lausanne, Section d'histoire, Faculté des Lettres. 1999. Pp. 571. Frs. 65.-.)

Were one to fix a date to the emergence of the idea of demonic witchcraft in Western Europe, the decade of the 1430's would be an obvious choice. Within the space of only a few years, five important sources were written describing in clear detail the basic stereotype of witchcraft that would persist throughout the great witch-hunts of subsequent centuries. The authors described not just acts of malevolent magic, but sorcerers acting as members of widespread heretical cults, gathering at secret conclaves, worshiping demons, and engaging in various execrable acts. In short, they depicted, for the first time, the image of the witches' sabbath.

The origins of the idea of the sabbath have been attracting increased scholarly attention for over a decade, ever since the publication of Carlo Ginzburg's provocative and problematic study Storia notturna (1989--in English as Ecstasies, 1991). The present volume performs a valuable function by bringing together all the major early sources in which this idea first appeared. These are: the Lucerne chronicler Hans Fründ's report on witchcraft in the diocese of Sion in 1428, selections from the Dominican theologian Johannes Nider's Formicarius, the brief anonymous tract Errores gazariorum, the French secular judge Claude Tholosan's treatise Ut magorum et maleficiorum errores manifesti ignorantibus fiant, and a section from Martin Le Franc's long poem Le Champion des Dames.

For each source, a scholarly edition of the original text is provided, along with a facing-page French translation (except in the case of Martin Le Franc's Champion, originally written in French). Both the editions and translations are of high quality. Wherever they overlap, for example, with editions in the much earlier collection of Joseph Hansen, they easily supersede them. In the case of Fründ's account, it is revealed that Hansen inverted major sections of the text. For the Errores gazariorum, full editions are presented of both known manuscript copies: the Basal University Library copy used by Hansen, and a significantly shorter but earlier copy discovered more recently in the Vatican Library by Pierrette Paravy. [End Page 504]

In addition to fine editions and translations, the volume also contains meticulous technical introductions to the texts and extensive commentaries. In a brief review such as this, there is no space to recount all the many facets of these commentaries, ranging from detailed explication of technical points and problems with the sources, to more generally applicable observations and arguments about the ideas they contain. All of the entries are skillfully done, however, and provide a wealth of information. Particularly valuable are the efforts made to compare the idea of witchcraft emerging from these texts to that appearing in actual trials in the same period. The editors also provide an introduction and conclusion to the entire volume, in which they situate these texts within the larger historical issues surrounding the origins of witchcraft. Suffice to say that any scholar whose work touches on such issues will want to consult this very valuable collection.


Michael D. Bailey
University of Cincinnati



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