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Current Issue Article Abstracts

Winter 2016 Vol. 11.2

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Witchcraft, Possession, and the Unmaking of Women and Men: A Late-Sixteenth-Century English Case Study

Erika Gasser


In pursuit of a cultural history of manhood and patriarchal power in early modern English witchcraft-possession, this article examines the case against the Samuel family in Warboys, England, from 1589 to 1593. After Robert Throckmorton’s five daughters began to act as if they were possessed, they named Alice Samuel, her husband John, and their daughter Agnes as witches. The influential published narrative of the case, entitled The Witches of Warboys (1593), reveals how patriarchal claims to legitimate authority operated through the prosecution of witches of both sexes. Compared to his wife and daughter, John Samuel was able to access power differently in the crucial settings where the drama unfolded, and he and Throckmorton found themselves locked in struggles over control of the proceedings. The Witches of Warboys case modeled a respectable family’s victory against wickedness, but at its center the implicit question of patriarchy’s vulnerability in the context of witchcraft-possession remained unresolved. This article argues that a study of early modern manhood requires mindfulness of the contingent status of men and women, and that gender played a crucial role in the attempts of suspected witches of both sexes to navigate the charges against them.



Demonic Possession in the Enlightenment: Goya’s Flying Witches


Guy Tal


Supernatural and fantastic works hold a significant place in Francisco Goya’s oeuvre, yet their meaning is often perplexing on both iconographic and symbolic levels. Particularly enigmatic is Flying Witches (Museo del Prado), one of Goya’s six witchcraft paintings purchased in 1798 by the Duke and Duchess of Osuna. An examination of the hitherto misconstrued bodily configuration of the witches’ victim reveals the supernatural phenomenon described in the scene. Although the victim’s convulsive body invokes the pathos formula of the famous Laocoön statue group, it registers demonic possession, not generic suffering. That Goya conceived Flying Witches in its entirety as a scene of possession is supported by its similarities with two images: an illustration in Laurent Bordelon’s History of the Ridiculous Extravagancies of Monsieur Oufle and Raphael’s Transfiguration. As an expression of Enlightenment ideas, Flying Witches cues scepticism towards the supernatural and censures the Inquisition as an archaic institution.


A Halloween Bruja: On the Magical Efficacy of Stereotypical Iconic Witches


In the early morning of Halloween in 1996, after nearly a year working intensely as an apprentice with Haydée, a bruja espiritista (Spiritist witch healer), it took me by surprise to see her wearing a golden gown and a black pointed hat as she prepared for the daily consultations at her home altar. What I saw at that time was a "real" professional Puerto Rican bruja “dressed up” as a pop-culture black-bonneted stereotypical Anglo "witch." At the center of this ethnographic essay are the exploration of the display and ritual effectiveness of the symbolic “shapeshifting” of a Puerto Rican bruja into a Halloween flying-witch, and the significance of such an iconic form of mimesis in summoning additional spiritual cosmic powers during healing and cleansing rituals. Historically, the ritual innovation of vernacular religions such as brujería illustrates the complex ways in which various seemingly unrelated and peculiar components – in this this case, colonial and postcolonial stereotypical representations of witches, home-made and mass produced ritual objects, and commodified and spiritual perceptions of the work witch healers perform – are all significantly integrated in ritual.


Invoking Hecate at the Women’s Peace Camp: The Presence of Goddess Spirituality and Dianic Witchcraft at Greenham Common in the 1980s

This article examines the presence and importance of Goddess Spirituality and Dianic Witchcraft at the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp during the first decade or so of its existence. The influence of radical and cultural feminisms on the women who lived at the peace camp and assembled there for large scale anti-nuke demonstrations has been explored by many researchers in the past, but the issue of spirituality – and particularly Goddess Spirituality and feminist/Dianic Witchcraft – at the camp has yet to receive adequate scholarly attention. This article uses archival records, memoires and oral histories in order to shed some light on this under-studied phenomenon, and in addition attempts to contextualize the camp as an arena for exchanges of views and knowledge between non-feminist British Wiccans and American-influenced radical feminists and Goddess women.



“Postmodernist, Deconstruct Thyself”: A Response to Michael Ostling’s “Babyfat and Belladonna: Witches’ Ointment and the Contestation of Reality”





Daughters of Hecate: Women and Magic in the Ancient World ed. by Kimberly B. Stratton and Dayna S. Kalleres (review)


The Archaeology of Caves in Ireland by Marion Dowd (review)


Fearful Spirits, Reasoned Follies: The Boundaries of Superstition in Late Medieval Europe by Michael D. Bailey (review)


Witchcraft, Superstition, and Observant Franciscan Preachers: Pastoral Approach and Intellectual Debate in Renaissance Milan by Fabrizio Conti (review)


Romanticism, Medicine and the Natural Supernatural: Transcendent Vision and Bodily Spectres, 1789–1852 by Gavin Budge (review)


Conjuring Science: A History of Scientific Entertainment and Stage Magic in Modern France by Sofie Lachapelle (review)


Disknowledge: Literature, Alchemy, and the End of Humanism in Renaissance England by Katherine Eggert (review)


American Possessions: Fighting Demons in the Contemporary United States by Sean McCloud (review)


Medieval Robots: Mechanism, Magic, Nature, and Art by E. R. Truitt (review)


Rewriting Magic: An Exegesis of the Visionary Autobiography of a Fourteenth-Century French Monk by Claire Fanger (review)