Thursday, January 16, 2014

Witch Hunters: Professional Prickers, Unwitchers & Witch Finders of the Renaissance

Witch Hunters, by P.G. Maxwell-Stuart, is a non-fiction account of a handful of people who were involved in the investigation of witchcraft during the Renaissance - specifically, people who identified witches as a profession by various means.  There are six chapters in this book, each one dedicated to one particular "witch hunter" or style of determining whether someone is a witch or has been touched by witchcraft:  Martín Del Rio, a Jesuit who researched and wrote extensively on the subject of magic and witchcraft; Pierre de Lancre, a lawyer who became famous for his involvement in the investigation of an "outbreak" of witchcraft in southwest France which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of suspected witches; Battista Codronchi, an Italian medical doctor who held that demonic spirits/witchcraft was at the root of many illnesses; Patrick Morton, an alleged victim of demonic possession after an encounter with suspected witches; John Kincaid, a witch-pricker; and Elizabeth Jameson, who titles the final chapter, which deals with the apparently common practice of accusing one's neighbors.

The subject of witches and witchcraft in history is something in which I have always been vastly interested, so when I saw this book at a local second-hand shop, I snatched it up.  Maxwell-Stuart is a history professor, and I've no doubt that if this is the topic of courses he teaches, I'd want to sit in on his lectures, probably.  That is, unless he is one of those professors who assigns books that he's written for the required reading, because I had a hell of a time making it through this one.

I know, the cover and the title/subtitle make Witch Hunters sound like a great and fascinating book, and with such an interesting general topic, I don't know how he managed to make this such a dud, but I was fairly disappointed with the execution.  What I had hoped for was more information about the practices mentioned and the witch-hunting professions in general.  When I realized it was actually more a series of mini-biographies with a bit of background information on specific cases thrown in, I could have been okay with that, except that Maxwell-Stuart's writing was much too dry to keep my attention for long.  I've reviewed other non-fiction books before, and if you've read those, you may have noticed that for many of them, a major positive feature of them was that the writing was accessible...not stuffy.  This is the total opposite of that, just about.

Don't get me wrong, there were definitely some good notes in the information, but for the most part, I got pretty bored.  I wouldn't recommend this for leisure reading, but it would certainly be an excellent resource if you're a student or professional who is doing research on this subject.



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