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Reviewed by:
  • The Witchraft Readered. by Darren Oldridge
  • Michael Ostling

witchcraft, Paganism, witch hunts, Satanic Panic, Satanic Ritual Abuse, spirits, popular culture, iconography, sabbat

darren oldridge, ed. The Witchraft Reader, 3rdedition. New York: Routledge, 2020. Pp. xix + 470.

When the first edition of Darren Oldridge's Witchcraft Readerappeared in 2002, it was almost the right book at exactly the right time (I'll get back to that "almost" below). Witches were everywhere in popular culture, from Willow and Tara in Buffy the Vampire Slayer(1997–2003) to Hermione Granger in the Harry Potterseries (1997–2007). Partly inspired by such pop-cultural depictions, various strands of modern Pagan Witchcraft enjoyed an upsurge in interest, especially among young people. 1In addition, the 1990s had seen an unprecedented flourishing of scholarship in witchcraft studies, culminating in the six volumes of Witchcraft and Magic in Europe(1999–2002). 2Concurrently, undergraduate courses on medieval and early modern witchcraft exploded in popularity. Instructors for such courses had some good source-books of primary documents at their disposal, 3but no convenient collection of the fast-changing and expanding secondary scholarship. Oldridge presumably intended The Witchcraft Readerto fill that need.

That first addition fulfilled its role imperfectly. Carefully abridged selections traced our emerging understanding of early modern witchcraft since the 1970s (Norman Cohn on the derivation of witchcraft stereotypes from slanders directed at medieval heretics, Christina Larner's invaluable exploration of the question whether witch-hunting constituted woman-hunting, Carlo Ginzburg on folkloric motifs in the witches' sabbath, Stuart Clark on inversion, misrule, and the imagined witch). Oldridge also chose well among a rich selection of the best new scholarship (Éva Pócs on the sabbath as alternate world, Lyndal Roper on how to read the confessions of accused witches, Gary K. Waite on the complex overlap between witch trials and the persecution of religious dissidents during the Reformation, Louise Jackson on the imagined witch as inversionary wife and mother). Other selections were less advised: especially the final two chapters, which lent unearned (and indeed dangerous) credence to the claims of Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA) that motivated the "Satanic Panic" of the 1980s and early 1990s. [End Page 128]

The second edition of The Witchcraft Reader(2008) repaired most of the first edition's shortcomings. In place of the apologies for Satanic Panic, we get a short but powerful excerpt from Jean la Fontaine's ground-breaking demonstration that the allegations of SRA, not unlike allegations of witchcraft centuries earlier, destroyed innocent lives in the name of a false but terrifying threat of evil: in each case, the real evil is perpetrated by the accusers and by the legal system. This second edition also features several new entries of great use to the teacher of undergraduate courses on witchcraft: Jane P. Davidson on the myth of the persecuted female healer, Jacqueline Simpson on Margaret Murray's counterfactual reconstruction of the "old religion" of the witches, Diane Purkiss on modern Pagan (mis)use of the mythologized history described by Davidson and Simpson. But this second edition has its problems as well: with seven more chapters but forty fewerpages than the first edition, its abridgements of some articles are so severe as to teeter on the edge of incomprehensibility.

Twenty years on, the fevered pace of witchcraft scholarship has slackened slightly, but this scholarship continues to produce new interpretations of great sophistication across an expanded temporal and spatial geography. Journals that had just begun or were in the planning stages when the first and second editions of The Witchcraft Readerfirst appeared— The Pomegranate(1997), Preternature(2012), and of course Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft(2006)—are now established and respectable. Ever-ramifying versions of Pagan Witchcraft remain popular, including new and troubling white nationalist versions. Buffyand Harry Potterhave been replaced with The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina(2018–present) and the Brooklyn Brujas(2018–2020). Powerful white men have tried to paint themselves as innocent victims by labelling investigations into their wrongdoing (the #MeToo movement, the Mueller Report) as "witch hunts," and undergraduate courses on witchcraft continue to fill. Darren Oldridge has brought out a third edition of The Witchcraft...


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