Transformation

Rosalind Mitchison

  • Enemies of God: The Witch-Hunt in Scotland by Christina Larner
    Chatto, 244 pp, £12.95, September 1981, ISBN 0 7011 2424 5
  • The Enlightenment in National Context edited by Roy Porter and Mikulas Teich
    Cambridge, 276 pp, £19.50, September 1981, ISBN 0 521 23757 2

Witchcraft can be seen as an area of criminal law, a manifestation of religious belief or secular power, a sign of social stress, a display of sexual prejudice and fear, a temporary and inexplicable mania, or a nasty and squalid manifestation of cruelty. Some of these approaches are unrewarding because they deflect the critical intellect; some can lead to historical understanding. It is the achievement of Dr Larner, in one of the finest books to have been written on Scottish history in recent years, to have analysed the distasteful topic of the witchcraft craze in Scotland, which ran roughly from 1590 to the 1670s, to have set it in its European context and to have applied to it concepts from sociology, not so much to diagnose its causation as to set out the pressures which may have played a part.

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[*] A similar reducing process, founded probably on Dr Larner’s earlier listing work on trials, informs the entry on Witchcraft in an enjoyable Companion to Scottish Culture edited by David Daiches: Arnold, 441 pp., £14.95, 3 December, 0 7131 6344 5.