Weekly reading meme: w/c 8 April 2013

About half a week ago I was happily outlining revisions to my novel when I realised that I had failed to make any reference to the European medieval witch trials … in a book where restrictions on women’s practice of magic is a major strand. (It lets me write about earnest educational reformer characters. You know how much I like earnest reformers!) So off I rushed to the library to find some books about the witch trials.

Unsurprisingly there is a vast amount of writing on the topic, and I had to be quite strict about how many books I took out. Anyway, this explains why my reading has suddenly gone off in another direction.

What are you reading now?

Wizards: A History by P. G. Maxwell-Stuart. This is not relevant to the subject of witch trials; it was just on the same shelf at the library, and seemed interesting. (Deceptively so! >:( ) It’s a fairly short historical account of “ritual magicians” in the European tradition – particularly the kind that attempted to communicate with spirits – and given its subject matter it is surprisingly boring. I think the author and I are just interested in different things? I also think it is a little odd how he doesn’t quite make it clear whether he believes in magic or not, but perhaps I am just being narrow-minded here. (I am mostly a skeptic, but my attitude towards magic and ghosts and that sort of thing is that I don’t believe in them but am a little worried that they believe in me. I am also like my mom’s Malay ex-coworker who was really superstitious but went to UK and happily visited a graveyard there, and when questioned about this said, “Oh, the Mat Salleh ghosts won’t be interested in me.”)

What did you just finish reading?

Witch, Wicce, Mother Goose by Robert Thurston. A compact academic review of the European and American witch trials. Again, it wasn’t quite what I wanted, as the author and I have different concerns — basically this guy is making an argument in response to all the other academic writing about the witch trials. (He argues that the trials weren’t primarily motivated by misogyny, but resulted from the circumstances of the specific locations where the trials arose and, in particular, the pressures and fears to which these communities were subject — though I don’t think he denies that the deeply embedded misogyny of the culture affected who got persecuted as witches.) But it was useful to give an idea of what went on.

Interesting factoids:

Both this book and the boring wizards book distinguish between sorcerers or magicians or cunning folk and witches. The former might not be wholly approved of, but they weren’t straight-out evil, and in any case their practices were viewed as being distinct from witchcraft.

Witches were people (mostly but not exclusively female) who made a pact with the Devil, but as Thurston points out, the pact kind of sucked for the witch. You had to have sex with the Devil and his demons, and the sex was not enjoyable; he might pay you, but the gold usually turned out to be leaves or poop; the rewards were usually something like the ability to kill and eat babies. Also to show your allegiance you had to kiss the Devil’s butt. Altogether kind of a crappy job lor!

What do you expect to read next?

Another of the witch trial books I got out of the library, I guess, though I might just skim and return. I don’t think I’ll make more than a passing reference to them, after all.

Ooh, I should also read The Complete Servant by Samuel and Sarah Adams – oyceter kindly pointed out a rec for this to me, and it is a handbook for servants by a servant that also looks like a useful guide to Regency period details. It’s free on Google Books, but as my main options for reading it on Google Books are a) my phone and b) my computer screen, I’m trying to decide whether it’s worth paying 82p to call the hard copy up from the public library reserves. Banyaknya buku, singkatnya masa.

Leave a Comment