The Penguin Book of Witches – Katherine Howe

Penguin Witches

If you have ever had an interest the historical story of witches, how they became so notorious , and how society came to fear them to the point of mob justice, generating the term “witch hunt,” this is the book for you.  Katherine Howe takes historical records from 15th century court records of witch trials to the 19th century when belief in witches as a reality began to wane.   Her study crosses England, Scotland, Ireland, New England and Canada.  Howe it’s thorough in demonstrating what created our present vision of a witch.

This is non-fiction, and if like me you get a little disgusted by the sensational version of witches like the show ‘Salem,’ this may be for you.  This was a real and tragic attack on the disenfranchised, those on the outskirts of society, the poor, and those that did not conform to the societal norm.  As the bible states, “thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”  This was not the first, or the last situation the bible would be utilized to justify swift unreasonable violence.

Think about your life and see if you fit in the demographic of those that would be accused of a witch.  First, are you a single woman?  Men were accused too, but a disproportionate amount were women.  Are you middle-aged or older?  As a woman do you not always conform to gender roles like getting in an argument with your neighbors and cursing?  Have you ever had to beg or depend on the charity of your neighbors?  Do you choose to not go to church or occasionally just miss services?  Do you live alone with no family living in your town?  If you said yes to at least three of these you probably would have been accused of being a witch.  If you were lucky the court may just make you give your land to your accuser, but it’s more likely you would have lost your life.

How do you prove a person is a witch?  Confession.  What could possibly cause someone to confess.  Interrogation.  It was generally violent.  Accused witches bodies would be searched thoroughly for open sores, or teats, that the devil and his imps would suckle for the witches blood.  I can only imagine the amount of skin tags and legitimate sores people had on their bodies at these periods in history.  If you wanted to find something I have no doubt you would.  The indignity of the search would be terrible.  I don’t want to mention everything but I do want to peak your interest.

This is a compilation of research and study including Howe’s impressive notes section.  If you enjoy in-depth analysis you will like this.  Actual documents are included, and while Howe explains it, it is not broken down into layman’s terms.  This is for those with historical curiosity.  This in not a book to read on Halloween to create a spooky atmosphere. I did appreciate it and am glad I read it.

I received this from NetGalley and Penguin Group Penguin Classics in return for an honest review.



About Steph

As C. S. Lewis said, “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” I am an indiscriminate reader. I can find a way to enjoy almost all books. I find they are like people – you can find something endearing in almost every one of them. I love to write reviews. I hope you enjoy them and find them useful. View all posts by Steph

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