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  • Witchcraft and Demonology in Hungary and Transylvania ed. by Gábor Klaniczay and Éva Pócs
  • Ileana Alexandra Orlich

witchcraft, demonology, sorcery, divination, táltos, Central Europe, Eastern Europe, Hungary, Transylvania, the Habsburg Empire, Austro-Hungarian Empire, sixteenth century, seventeenth century, witch-hunting, witch trials, maleficium, healing magic, Reformation, Counter-Reformation

gábor klaniczay and éva pócs, eds. Witchcraft and Demonology in Hungary and Transylvania. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017. Pp. xiv + 412.

Published in the Palgrave Historical Studies in Witchcraft and Magic, Witchcraft and Demonology in Hungary and Transylvania offers a detailed examination of magic and witchcraft in a part of Europe that continues to fascinate Anglo-phone scholars of the subject. The book's eight essays broaden the scope of our understanding of beliefs and practices in central and eastern Europe in the early modern period. Of these eight essays, five are translated from a previous collection of studies written in Hungarian and rewritten to suit this [End Page 443] publication's international recontextualization. The other three essays consist of a chapter from a previously published monograph by Ildikó Kristóf, a translation of a study by Éva Pócs, and an entirely new study by Ágnes Hesz.

Ildikó Kristóf's contribution examines witch-hunting in Bihar county and Debrezen, the largest city in eastern Hungary, between 1575 and 1766. Kristóf reveals the social confrontations that led to the 217 trials conducted against 303 people accused of maleficium, that is "bewitchment cases resulted from some kind of everyday, realistic conflict, between a witch and her victim" (16). Drawing on abundant research and data, Kristóf shows that in all these cases the authenticity of maleficium never came under scrutiny. Invariably, the cases rely on a narrative transformed and adjusted by the alleged victims' stories to meet the expectations of the community and the normative coordinates of witchcraft. Importantly, Kristóf shows that what matters is not the accuracy of the narratives but what such narratives represent in the regulated forms of social cohabitation in which, as she points out, "any kind of violation implied retribution including sanctions associated with the spheres of beliefs" (20). In this context, Kristóf explores the social environment and the assortment of witchcraft accusations born from such conflicts as rivalry between "people of ill repute" and "honest Christians." Such a category could include violating the interdiction of Sunday labor, missing church, or a woman who lived "in fornication, whoring and pandering" next to a "God fearing pious woman" (24–25). Within the microcommunity scrutinized in her study, Kristóf also examines healers and midwives, who fell under suspicion of witchcraft for either success or failure in healing and treating their patients when rival healers were trying to outbid the skills of another healer by relying on accusations of witchcraft.

Kristóf explicates the social problems making it likely that the unfortunate victims of witchcraft accusation usually came from the impoverished lower classes. Her study offers examples of the ongoing feuding between landlords (with civil rights because they paid city tax) and lodgers (who could not pay taxes) or of the street beggars accused of witchcraft if only to provide an excuse for the affluent church people who failed the religiously prescribed tradition of providing help and almsgiving. Convincingly, Kristóf argues that maleficium narratives are about social dynamics, a rearrangement of society, social exclusions and economic differences, pointing out that accused witches usually came from the ranks of those who could not easily adapt financially and culturally to the societal shifts of the times. She also provides a complex social panorama by addressing "the differences between extreme poles, such as the gentry and the serfs, or the wandering Gypsy/Romanian mountain shepherd/poor [End Page 444] beggar versus a nobleman/noble judge/priest" at the center of witchcraft accusations (79–80).

In contrast with Kristóf's comprehensive examination of the region's social tapestry, Lázlo Pakó's essay focuses on two individuals: the Saxon master tailor Peter Gruz, who had been the initiator of the 1565 witch trials, and the Procurator György Igyártó at the witch trials of Kolozsvár (Cluj-Napoca) in the...