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Book Reviews

Milt Gross Book Review: "A brief history of Witchcraft" by Lois Martin
By Milton M. Gross
Aug 3, 2014 - 6:10:19 AM

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A BRIEF HISTORY OF Witchcraft was quite informative, covering material from early Europe I had never before read and concluding with a possible reason witchcraft existed or still does. Milt Gross photo.
Witchcraft has its roots much farther back in history than I had imagined, although I had guessed the purpose of its accidental beginnings was to explain the unknown. I was wrong. It was possibly to explain a social condition that still occurs, according to the author.

I had no idea that the "witch craze" took the lives of some 40,000 people in Europe and New England.

Martin goes into details, some pretty awful, of how people thought to be witches were treated, often tortured and killed by such means as being burned alive at the stake. Much of this was done by church leaders.

Martin uses history, the Bible, and the Koran. In the Koran account, the fallen angel is called Iblis, and he defies Allah.

"And when We said to the angels: Make obeisance to Adam; they made obeisance but Iblis (did it not). He said: Shall I make obeisance to him whom Thou hast created of dust?"

In her introduction, Martin writes, "Harry Potter is the ascendant and Wicca is one of the fastest-growing religions in the world today; in the twenty-first century witches and witchcraft still have us under a timeless magical spell. Harry Potter's phenomenal success owes much to author J.K. Rowling's masterful ability to bring to life some powerful archetypal figures. The witch, the wizard, the magician; we all intuitively know who they are and what they can do."

Witchcraft began with Roman (the empire) beliefs about early Christians, the author writes, and referred to nocturnal gatherings with the Devil. The Romans, she writes, accused early Christians of indulging in human sacrifice, apparently a misunderstanding of Communion, which erroneously was thought to involve real human flesh and blood from a child who was sacrificed.

The first trial of so-called witches took place in 1324 in Ireland, which portrayed witches as organized groups who worshipped the Devil. Some of it involved sexual intercourse between one of the accused witches and a demon called Robin. One of the early accused was flogged six times by order of a bishop and then burned at the stake before a large crowd.

One of the beliefs was that witches flew at night to meeting places. That belief came from a pagan belief of a night ride or wild hunt influenced by a belief that the pagan goddess Diana and localized counterparts' legendary activities led to the classic witchcraft stereotype -- blood sucking demon women who flew through the night and sucked blood from humans.

A 1390 belief was that witches went from house to house, stealing from the rich and "blessing" the houses of the poor. This case was referred to the Inquisition and some church ideas linking heresy and witchcraft. Torture of the accused began to be used. In Germany two inquisitors wrote a handbook for witch hunters, including beliefs about withcraft and instructions about legal proceedings for prosecuting suspected witches, Martin wrote.

In England, witchcraft was a quieter affair of the witches attending a meal with the Devil and causing death, disease, destruction of crops, harming livestock, or neighbors.

In America, according to Martin, with Cotton Mather's 1689 description of possessions in Boston and warnings about arguing against the belief. As late as 1899, a writer described the 'Gospel of the Witches,' which starts with "Diana greatly loved her brother Lucifer, the god of the Sun and the Moon, the god of Light who was so proud of his beauty, and who for his pride was driven from Paradise." Part of that gospel reflects a common belief that the rich made slaves of the poor, who were treated poorly and sometimes tortured. Many slaves escaped, at night robbing their masters, and even killed them, Martin wrote. They lived in the mountains and forests as robbers and assassins to avoid slavery.

A saying A BRIEF HISTORY OF Witchcraft attributes to Diana in part states after talking about the rich,
"And when ye find a peasant who is rich,
Then ye shall teach the witch, your pupil, how
To ruin all his crops with tempests dire,
With lightning and with thunder (terrible).
And the hail and wind...."

After reading this well-written book, A BRIEF HISTORY OF Witchcraft, I wondered if witchcraft in its simplest form was -- perhaps is -- a way for those who feel oppressed to rid themselves of poor treatment by the rich.

This would follow a fairly common theme that has occurred throughout history.

While I don't suggest a reader become too engrossed with the topic of witchcraft, this book is an interesting informative narration that is helpful in understanding the background of witchcraft.

The price $13.95 is listed in the 2010 Running Press Book Publishers, Philadelphia, PA paperback publication, but carries it new for .90, used for .01 and $9.98 for the collectible version.

Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at

Milton M. Gross Copyright 2014

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