Popular Witch Beliefs and Magical Practices

Edward Bever

in The Oxford Handbook of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe and Colonial America

Published in print March 2013 | ISBN: 9780199578160
Published online May 2013 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in History

Popular Witch Beliefs and Magical Practices

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  • Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)



This article begins with a discussion of the current state of knowledge regarding popular witch beliefs and magical practices. Historians of witchcraft now generally acknowledge that while official concern about a diabolic conspiracy played a key role in the virulent witch-hunts in early modern Europe, most trials started from accusations manifesting popular apprehensions concerning harmful magic. Furthermore, while demonology drew some elements from literary traditions stretching back to antiquity, most of the attributes it ascribed to witches came from popular magical traditions. The discussion then turns to historiographical issues and controversies regarding the distinction between elite and popular witch beliefs, social characteristics of individuals accused of witchcraft, and the sources of popular witch beliefs and accusations. The article concludes with suggestions for new directions for research.

Keywords: witch beliefs; witchcraft; magic; witch hunts; trials; demonology

Article.  9045 words. 

Subjects: History ; Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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