Healing and Harming

Michael Ostling

in Between the Devil and the Host

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780199587902
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191731228 | DOI:

Series: The Past & Present Book Series

Healing and Harming

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  • Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)


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Witch-trials took place in a context of folk cosmology of the limited good—the notion that there is only a limited supply of health, fertility, and luck in the world. Symbols of this good were dew and milk, its absence was symbolized by dryness. Witchcraft was imagined as the inversion of folk healing practices; where they prevented dryness, witches stole milk. A ‘grammar of witchcraft’ can be reconstructed as the inversion of the grammar of healing spells: accordingly, everyone knew what witches practiced, since it was the opposite of what normal people practiced. The motif of Łysa Góra or ‘Bald Mountain’—the witches’ sabbat—exemplifies this logic of inversion and overconsumption of limited goods.

Keywords: healing; harming; limited good; fertility; milk; grammar of witchcraft; Bald Mountain; sabbat; inversion

Chapter.  15254 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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