Current Issue Abstracts

Volume 15, Number 2, Summer 2020



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Witchcraft and Slavery in Cartagena de Indias
Gunnar W. Knutsen

The witchcraft trials in the Spanish Inquisition's tribunal in Cartagena de Indias had direct links to the trials in Northern Spain. These trials started just after the trials in the Basque country in 1610-14, and show the adoption of a newly coined word for the witches' sabbath not in evidence outside of the Basque country. Once transported to the Americas, the witches' sabbath was reshaped to reflect the fears of the ruling class in colonial slave society. The cannibalistic night flying witch was no longer an old infertile woman; now she was a slave organised in a military fashion, reflecting the armies of runaway male slaves that had established their own societies in the American hinterland. The tribunal in Cartagena de India continued to pass death sentences for diabolical witchcraft in the 1630s despite instructions issued against this in 1614. Only the firm hand of the central council in Madrid stopped these from being carried out, but it could not prevent large numbers of cases from being tried.

Martin Luther's Early Views on Superstition and Witchcraft in his Decem praecepta of 1518
Peter A. Morton

In 1518 Luther published a set of sermons on the Ten Commandments, within which he illustrated transgressions of the First Commandment by lengthy, detailed descriptions of popular superstitions, magic, and witchcraft. This early work offers the strongest evidence of Luther's acceptance of the fifteenth-century conception of diabolical witchcraft, although Luther expressed doubts about both night flight and the sabbat. This paper argues that the work must be seen in its proper light as a sermon to his congregation, following a medieval tradition of catechetical works on the Decalogue. Within this tradition the sermons take a providentialist line, based on nominalist theology, according to which all suffering comes through the will of God alone. Yet Luther's sermons departed from nominalist soteriology; superstition and magic are thus for him indications of our inescapable failure to trust in God's wisdom and mercy.

What is a "Witch Bottle"? Assembling the Textual Evidence from Early Modern England
Annie Thwaite

This article examines a group of objects known as "witch-bottles"–stoneware jugs that were filled with ingredients, heated and often concealed as a means of curing bewitchment in early modern England. These bottles and their associated practice have played a central role in archaeologies of ritual, folklore and magic, but have not been seriously considered as a facet of medicine. This paper provides a thorough examination of the workings of the cure, the objects' social and spatial geographies, and a material and conceptual analysis of the bottles and their associated texts. Rather than seeking to displace the current narrative surrounding "witch-bottles" entirely, this paper addresses issues regarding the interpretation of these magical objects, and situates them within the history of healing.

Children of the Mother Goddesses: Religion and Lives of Female Master spirit Mediums in Viet Nam
Nguyễn Thị Hiền

Considering the cases and life histories of three female spirit mediums who are adherents of the Mother Goddess religion in Viet Nam, this ethnographic study of Vietnamese spirit possession contributes to and clarifies longstanding debates regarding the distinction between mediums and shamans. Analyzing their life stories and drawing on theories of agency, this paper focuses on the ways in which female spirit mediums use their skills and capacities to practice the Mother Goddess religion, interpret their faith, and experience life and work as children of the Mother Goddesses. These three women have overcome the barriers of traditional society and have successfully found ways to assert themselves. Their agency, I argue, is not limited to the ritual space but is also evident in their active roles in their communities and society.



Making Magic in Elizabethan England: Two Early Modern Vernacular Books of Magic ed. by Frank Klaassen (review)
László Sándor Chardonnens


The Long Life of Magical Objects: A Study in the Solomonic Tradition by Allegra Iafrate (review)
Jordan Conley


Das Losbuch. Manuskriptologie einer Textsorte des 14. bis 16. Jahrhunderts by Marco Heiles (review)
Johannes Dillinger


Knowing Demons, Knowing Spirits in the Early Modern Period ed. by Michelle D. Brock, Richard Raiswell, David R. Winter (review)
Julie Fox-Horton


Picatrix: A Medieval Treatise on Astral Magic by Dan Attrell, David Porreca (review)
Julie Fox-Horton


Fairies, Demons, and Nature Spirits: 'Small Gods' at the Margins of Christendom ed. by Michael Ostling (review)
Timothy Grieve-Carlson


Celtic Mythology: Tales of Gods, Goddesses, and Heroes by Philip Freeman (review)
Sharon Paice Macleod


Satanic Feminism: Lucifer as the Liberator of Woman in Nineteenth-Century Culture by Per Faxneld (review)
Stanislav Panin


Welsh Witches: Narratives of Witchcraft and Magic from 16th and 17th Century Wales by Richard Suggett (review)
Lisa Tallis


Drawing Down the Moon: Magic in the Ancient Greco-Roman World by Radcliffe G. Edmonds III (review)
Lindsay Watson