Frances Timbers examines the superstitions and myths that continue to surround magic and witchcraft today by delving into the history of the misconceptions that have created these thoughts in A History of Magic and Witchcraft: Sabbats, Satan & Superstitions in the West. By bringing together Ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, Christianity, popular culture, and gender beliefs in the Middle Ages and early modern period, Timbers examines how all of these elements contributed to the creation of the witch and the later prosecution of those identified by that word. This work hopes to reveal what was real and what is fiction in the history of witches and magic.
Timbers grew this book out of her lectures connected to the topic of magic and witchcraft. She argues that there are a number of misconceptions that continue to persist into the present day and hinder the true understanding of the topic. Just in her introduction she already notes that the ideas of magic and witches evolved. There were ideas that magic could could be learned, but was not evil or motivated by the devil or demons. Beyond that the term witch was not solely used for women and over time modern witches evolved the term again to create Wicca. She explores not only the history of prosecution, but also of elite males who practiced magic and how these historical elements were instrumental in the modern development of pagan witchcraft. As Timber’s history evolves she delves into not only witchcraft and magic, but also into the modern topics of varying religions that take their influence from the older elements of magic. This does not just include Wicca, but also Neopaganism and the work of Aleister Crowley.
A History of Magic and Witchcraft is a book that I knew I needed to read. When I was in college working on my Bachelor’s I focused my research on witchcraft in Europe. I focused on reading everything I could find through library loans and online sources to learn as much as I could about witches and prosecutions in France and England. While I had read so many books on the topic already, Timber’s thesis inspired me. Her arguments moved beyond what I had read in college and brought together both the past and present in a way that revealed to me new information about a topic I love, which I was surprised by. What struck me was the emphasis on how women and men were both punished for being considered witches. Timber looks at how those who were accused were not chosen entirely for misogynistic reasons. This argument was entirely new and by noting there was a level of equality under the term witch and how punishments were meted out shows that the fear was not of woman, but rather of a force that existed within the population. This book is not only something historians will enjoy, but it is also easy to follow and understand for those who might feel nervous about reading a historical work.