The Victims of the Witch Hunt History Would Rather Forget

“‘With few exceptions, modern scholars see the witch as essentially female,’ write Lara Apps and Andrew Gow. ‘The male witch vanishes quickly from view, as he is made invisible by a combination of rhetorical strategies.’ Male Witches in Early Modern Europe is the first book on the subject, and it is an outstandingly good one. You will find no suspiciously neat theories here. But it is provocative – savagely so in places, as these two young Canadian historians blaze away at an older generation of doctrinaire feminists.” Damian Thompson reviews Male Witches in Early Modern Europe by Lara Apps and Andrew Gow –The Victims of the Witch Hunt History Would Rather ForgetTelegraph)

My book on American drama has a few bits about the anti-communist “witch hunts,” and in researching them I recall coming across the following rebuttal to those who compared medieval (and later) witch hunts to the House Unamerican Activities hearings. Despite what new-agers say about the supposed religion of Wiccans, there is no such thing as witchcraft, and hence, no such thing as witches. Yet, in America in the 30s, 40s, and 50s, there really were communists at various levels of the government and in Hollywood. But the review ends by admonishing today’s readers not to forget the context in which these witch hunts took place: “It is easy to exaggerate the pathological dimensions of the anti-witch panic; we need to remember that, for early modern Europeans, the existence of evil magic was a foregone conclusion, as self-evident as the earth’s orbit around the sun is for us. They did not ‘believe’ that witches existed: they knew it, and they acted accordingly.”