Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The Penguin Book of Witches - Ed. by Katherine Howe

This is a collection of real-life accounts of witchcraft starting with witches in the Bible and going right through to early modern England and colonial America.

From a manual for witch hunters written by King James in 1597, to court documents from the Salem witch trials of 1692 to newspaper coverage of a woman stoned to death on the streets of Philadelphia while the Continental Congress met, this is a treasury of historical accounts of accused witches that sheds light on the reality behind the legends. Bringing to life stories like that of Eunice Cole, tried for attacking a teenage girl with a rock and buried with a stake through her heart; Jane Jacobs, a Bostonian so often accused of witchcraft that she took her tormentors to court on charges of slander; and Increase Mather, an exorcism-performing minister famed for his knowledge of witches, this volume provides a unique tour through the darkest history of English and North American witchcraft. (text taken from Penguin Classics.)

With Halloween just around the corner I was in the mood for something a little bit spooky. However, I am not a fan of the horror genre so this collection of primary sources collated by Katherine Howe was exactly what I was looking for. Katherine is the author of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane which I read back in 2010 and really enjoyed.

She has annotated each chapter with insightful notes and explains the role witchcraft and cunning folk had in a medieval society. I enjoyed the way that she differentiates between superstition and morality in both English and American society.

I found it really interesting to chronologically move from Biblical accounts of witches right through to our current perception of witches complete in Halloween garb donned with a black pointy hat and broomstick. Ms Howe had put together a series of excellent first hand accounts and then leaves us to make our own judgement on witchcraft.

Incidentally, Bridget Bishop, who appears in the All Souls trilogy, A Discovery of Witches, Shadow of Night and The Book of Life, as Diana Bishop’s ancestor is also in this  book and her examination prior to her execution in Salem is also contained in this volume.

A comprehensive collection that has been well researched and is presented intelligently and will help readers to understand the phenomenon that was witchcraft in history. Worth reading.

ISBN:  978 0143106180

Publisher: Penguin Classics

Price: £9.09

About the Author: 

Katherine Howe, the direct descendant of two accused Salem witches, is the author of the New York Times bestselling novel The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. She lives in New England and teaches American colonial history and creative writing at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

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