Witchcraft has proven an important, if difficult, historical subject to investigate and interpret over the last four decades or so. Modern historical research into witchcraft began as an attempt to tease out the worldview of ordinary people in 16th- and 17th-century England, but it quickly expanded to encompass the history of witchcraft in most cultures and societies that have existed with scholarly studies now extending back to the time of earliest law code that punished sorcery, the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi (1792-1750 B.C.E.), and forward to the last witchcraft cases in England, those of Helen Duncan and Jane Yorke, tried in 1944. There has also been a significant amount of interest in the development of the modern religion of witchcraft, or Wicca, as various forms of neo-paganism continue to attract adherents.
The second edition of Historical Dictionary of Witchcraft covers the history of the Witchcraft from 1750 B.C.E. though the modern day. This is done through a chronology, an introductory essay, and an extensive bibliography. The dictionary section has over 300 cross-referenced entries on witch hunts, witchcraft trials, and related practices around the world. This book is an excellent access point for students, researchers, and anyone wanting to know more about the history of witchcraft.
Jonathan Durrant —
Jonathan Durrant is senior lecturer at the University of Glamorgan where he teaches courses on early-modern history.
Michael D Bailey —
Michael D. Bailey teaches medieval history at Iowa State University.
Durrant, Jonathan. Historical dictionary of witchcraft, by Jonathan Durrant and Michael D. Bailey. 2nd ed. Scarecrow, 2012. 271p bibl afp; ISBN 9780810872455; ISBN 9780810875128 e-book. Reviewed in 2013jun CHOICE.
Part of Scarecrow's "Historical Dictionaries of Religions, Philosophies, and Movements" series, this second edition (1st ed., by Bailey, CH, Jul'04, 41-6237) has the usual arrangement of chronology, entries, and bibliography divided into subjects. Written by Durrant (Univ. of Glamorgan, Wales) and Bailey (Iowa State Univ.), the content is a conglomeration of material on ancient roots, historical European witchcraft, and demonology; similar beliefs in other cultures today (such as in the Caribbean and various African nations); and the modern religion of Witchcraft. Entries are short, with no bibliography, and include cross-references in the usual dictionary style. An e-book version is available for a penny less than the (rather high) print price. In the introduction, series editor Jon Woronoff seems to take a somewhat jocular attitude to the subject, assuring readers that the content is relevant and "far from hocus-pocus." He also finds it necessary to specify that the book's authors are "academics rather than practicing witches, as is increasingly the custom" (p. ix). This could imply that he is unaware of the growing number of scholars who are both. With most of the entries focused on the history of western European witchcraft, this work will be of interest primarily to historians rather than practitioners or scholars of contemporary religious Witchcraft.
Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-level undergraduates through graduate students; general readers. -- M. R. Pukkila, Colby College