chapter
4 Pages

Introduction

The witch has been the subject of thousands of articles and books. Many of these advance untenable propositions and together are contradictory and confusing. Recent research in a wide range of disciplines now makes it possible to see more accurately the figure that allegedly terrified the inhabitants of Western Europe and the American colonies between 1450 and 1700. The aim of this book is twofold. It seeks to consolidate the multi-disciplinary research into a form which will provide a comprehensive introduction to a complex phenomenon; and, secondly, to advance a specific interpretation of the witch and the craft. Any study of witchcraft presents difficulties. Definitions are usually part of a circular argument and discussion of the nature of witchcraft often assumes that which should be tested. Primary evidence is suspect as much of it is an elitist version of popular confessions extracted through physical and psychological terror. Many interpretations rest on untestable explanatory models drawn from theology and the social sciences. Inconvenient gaps are filled by references to other times and places and the nature of reality against which the evidence for the phenomenon is tested is itself controversial.