For this Witch & Witchcraft Reading Challenge I “read” (listened to) two shorter books that covered roughly the same topic. The first was “The History of Witchcraft“, written by Lois Martin and narrated by Brogan West. The second was “Witch Mania: The History of Witchcraft“, written by Charles Mackay and narrated by Greg Wagland. Witch Mania is actually part of the Charles Mackay’s 1841 book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, which I covered another version of back in January as “Witch: A Tale of Terror“.
So for these reasons I am going to classify this as one reading, not two.
The differences in the books are largely one of the historical perspectives. The older 1841 “Witch Mania” book takes an interestingly pro-science approach that is congruent to the time’s own growing industrialism and embrace of science. “The History of Witchcraft” includes the findings of, subsequent dismissal of those findings of, Margret Murray’s Witch Cult thesis. History also covers the then new “The Triumph of the Moon” by Ronald Hutton. But nothing is given in detail.
Mackay’s 1841 book reads and feels like something written today to be honest. There are only tidbits of information that would let on that it is not. Though the perspective is still one of “those poor superstitious peasants”. Martin’s 2007 book is a bit newer in it’s topics, but the perspective has not shifted very much.
Both books come down on the side of this all being delusion by the participants with some mention of how to properly view historical events through the lens of the times they were in.
Both books cover many of the same horror stories that are familiar to anyone that spends time reading these tales. A couple of interesting bits for me was the idea of how localized many of these accounts are. These were common fears that involved local people on a global stage. The newer “History” (2007) spent some time talking about how this was part and parcel the change over from superstition to rationalism. Also, it seems there is a new push to see the witch trials as largely a secular issue rather than a purely ecclesiastical one. More on this when I cover the next history book on my list.
Both of these books came from Audible.
2017 Witch & Witchcraft Reading Challenge
Books Read so far: 13
Witches in this book: Again, millions or none.
Are they Good Witches or Bad Witches: All were innocent in my mind. At least innocent enough to not warrant a capital offense.
Best RPG to Emulate it: Again, not the best question, but I would love to play a “Burning Times” RPG using WitchCraft.
Use in WotWQ: I will bring some of these ideas to the campaign, certainly the witch hunters and the paranoia.
RPG Carnival Post
Using witches, magic and occult practices in your games.
Both of these books got me thinking about how witches and the occult could be viewed in a game that is already full of magic.
The main feature of both of these books is fear. Fear of the unknown and fear of the very real and very known Devil. Witches, no matter the stripe, are something to be hated and feared.
This also begs another question. Are Witches really Witches without the persecution?
In most fantasy role-playing games there are wizards, clerics and a host of spellcasters. Even “grimdark” games like Dungeon Crawl Classics and Lamentations of the Flame Princess have their spellcasters and they are, despite their “otherness” still part of a social unit of adventurers. The witch, when she is included, often becomes another type of spellcaster. In the cases of AD&D 2, D&D 3 and D&D 4 she was merely a type of wizard. Third party books have made strides to cleave the witch class to the historical witch, or at lease the fairy tale witch. The RPG Quest of the Ancients, despite it’s “Heartbreaker” status has done some rather interesting things with witches.
One thing I have done in my own games is to set up a dichotomy of magic. There is the “state” sanctioned magic used by wizards and the “church” sanctioned magic used by clerics. Casters will fall, mostly, into one of these two realms. It is assumed that the powers in charge of these realms will police their own. “Witches” are those that fall outside of these realms and their magic is somehow “outlaw” or “other”.
Both history books mentioned above make a point of detailing both the religious and secular nature of the witch trials. This can be emulated in many RPGs with the method I also mention, with a secular or state wizard working with the church or spiritual clerics working to stop the “Evil” witches. I say evil in quotes since an evil cleric, in this case, would still see they have more in common with a good cleric (both worship gods) than a witch.
I have done this to great effect with witches and psychic characters in my games over the years. In fact, witches had become so numerous in my games that I had to redo how psionic characters were dealt with my games just to set up this “other”.
For all of it’s outward appearances, D&D and games like it are not medieval Europe. The polytheism of most worlds is really at odds with the notion of Feudalism. This lack of a monotheist faith, and interrelated government, really makes for a lack of a designated “evil enemy” for this church/state to fight against. If there is no enemy there is no enemy secrets, cults or conspiracies. In my mind the best enemies of society are the ones that seek to destroy it.
Maybe there is a cabal of evil (unsanctioned) wizards or a cult of warlocks.
For me, witches are the most interesting when they are slightly outside of the norm. In modern parlance, they can be the terrorists OR (maybe AND) the Social Justice Warriors.
But I have always been fans of the outsiders, the strange and the different.