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The Enemy Within: 2,000 Years of Witch-Hunting in the Western World

When Americans think of witchcraft, invariably they think of Salem. From 1692 to 1693 the town witnessed accusations, examinations, trials, convictions, and multiple executions. Some 150 residents were imprisoned. A few died in jail. Nineteen people were hanged, 14 of them women. One bold soul, Giles Corey, refused to enter a plea and the court subjected him to pressing – piling stones on his chest to force him to speak. Before dying, it is said, he uttered the words “More weight.”

There is no one better qualified to tell these stories and write a general history of witch-hunting than John Demos, Samuel Knight professor of history at Yale University, who won the Bancroft Prize for “Entertaining Satan” (1982), an inspired, exhaustive study of New England witchcraft from different perspectives. When Demos published that book, he included his middle name, Putnam, because he had discovered that he was connected genealogically to the Putnam family that had played a central role in the Salem prosecutions. He expressed hope that when he finished the book he would have also obtained some “personal closure.”

Not so fast. Demos may have dropped the Putnam name, but not the subject of witchcraft. He has been lured back to provide an overview of the topic that ranges from 150 AD to the present. The book consists of four parts, each containing chapters that provide both narrative vignettes and historical overviews. The result is a work that at its best offers well-crafted stories that furnish rich insights into the dynamics of witch-hunts.

Read the original article at: Boston Globe

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