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I've read the other reviews which consistantly deny Barstow's premise: that the Witch Craze was the women's holocaust. Just read the book: and any other that attempts to break down by gender the numbers of those tortured and killed. Why gender? Because it is the single most glaring pattern in the witch persecutions!
The Maleficius (handbook for persecuting witches) does not implicate male sexuality as a reason for torturing them, as it consistantly implicates women's sexuality. It does not mention how to 'recognize' male witches, but it begins from the premise that women 'live by the moon and so are able to draw the hearts of men toward the pagans,' and thus, witches are women because only they were 'weak' enough to fall prey to the devil. Interesting, isn't it, how the artists and writers of the period always portray witches as women, from Shakespeare to Holbein? Don't blame Anne Barstow, just look for the overwhelming pattern, as she has done.
That said, there are a few weaknesses in the book. One, although she tries to nail the number of those killed, she still comes up short. Anecdotally, I visited the town of Osnabruck, Germany, this summer and discovered their numbers of murders of women were around 400, give or take, from two eras of persecution in the 16th and 17th Centuries. I returned home to check Witch Craze, and Osnabruck never made it into the index. It's numbers of dead are not included, though it is common knowledge to anyone who visits the tourist center. Huh? What else was left out?
Nor does Barstow adequately plumb the numbers who were tortured and maimed and then released, or those who died in custody. She does not draw a line from the witch persecutions to the rise of the legal profession. We know that women were targeted for political and sexist reasons, but Barstow does not go into detail about who the male witches were: were they shamans, convenient scapegoats for natural disasters, homosexuals, or political enemies of the nobility? Don't know.
I await a book which discusses the intersection of European pagan life and the witch craze. I believe that while Europe's women may not have been sorcerers, they, and small town folk in general, certainly were among the last people of the continent who maintained the pagan folk traditions of pre-Christian Europe. Traditionally, throughout native cultures, men are first to shed their traditional ways, usually for pragmatic economic reasons, while rural women carry the rituals on: though food preparation, childcare and healthcare methods, costuming, commemorating holidays, and so on. Is there some corollary there between native European culture as practiced by householders and the witch craze? Not mentioned, and doesn't have to be. But to my mind, it is an incomplete work that doesn't mention the collision of historical folk culture with the dominant christian culture and how it effected or affected the persecution of women.
Yet Witch Craze is an important book to read and own. Barstow's single most important contribution, I believe, is to paint a picture of how women and men would have reacted to 500 years of mostly female persecution--the resulting fragmentation of society, the housewifeization of women, the entrenchment of ageism, and the suspicion and fear of self-directed mysticism and spirituality--these are the legacies of the Witch Craze that imprint us all still.