Double, double, toil and trouble – A Review of A History of Magic and Witchcraft

AD It’s really no surprise to those that know me that when Pen and Sword Books offered me the chance to review A History of Witchcraft and Magic – Sabbats, Satan and Superstitions in the West by Frances Timbers I jumped at the chance!

I’m one of those people for who Halloween is my favourite time of year. I have always had an interest in the otherworldly and paranormal, and this interest has influenced my historical studies. As part of my history degree I remember studying witchcraft in early modern Wales. Its an area I continue to study to this day.

A History of Witchcraft and Magic traces the development of the occult in Western society from it’s roots in ancient Greece and Rome to modern pagan incarnations. The book blurb describes the book as an ‘enlightening new history’ on the subject. I was intrigued to see if it would deliver on its promise.

A History of Witchcraft and Magic begins with an in-depth look at the classical beginnings of witchcraft in Greek and Roman Culture. This is different to many other books on the subject, which tend to start looking at witchcraft in the context of Western Christianity.

The book then moves on to look at witchcraft in the medieval period, before devoting several chapters to the early modern period. This includes the witch hunt craze that swept most of Western Europe. Chapter Seven breaks down the ‘craze’ by country. However, it would have been interesting to include more details on the countries where witch hunts didn’t generally happen in order to compare and contrast. I personally didn’t agree with the author’s theories about countries who experienced lower numbers of prosecutions.  However, this is based on my personal knowledge and the book doesn’t really give you enough evidence to make that decision for yourself. The book then closes with a chapter devoted to witchcraft in the modern age.

The book can be very academic in tone which may put off the reader who has picked up the book for non-academic purposes. Also, despite organising the book in a roughly chronological order, the author frequently returns to classical cultures to explain the origin of various superstitions and practices associated with witchcraft. It can be hard to keep up with in places.



Nevertheless, I found A History of Witchcraft and Magic an interesting read. The vast majority of books on the subject focus on Christianity and its relationship with witchcraft. The author really made me question some of my long held assumptions by starting the book with witchcraft in the classical period. A definite eye-opener.

A History of Witchcraft and Magic
A History of Witchcraft and Magic

Please note I use affiliate links in this post. This links will direct you to Amazon.co.uk. I was kindly gifted this book by Pen and Sword Publishers for review, but all love of witchcraft is my own! 

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