The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft (rev)

To: all
From: Jenny
Date: 15 Apr 1998
Time: 15:27:38


Rosemary Ellen Guiley's _The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft_ is a pretty good addition to any Neo-Pagan's library. As the title says, it's an encyclopedia, covering both historical witchcraft and the modern Craft. You'll find everything in it from Morning Glory Zell to the Chelmsford Witches. The entries are well-written, and it has an excellent index which makes finding facts quite easy.

I can't give it my highest recommendation, unfortunately, because the sections on historical witchcraft are erratic. Ms. Guiley is a journalist, not an academic, and she ended up using a number of out-dated and inaccurate sources. Her death toll information, for example, is hopeless -- most of it seems to come from Russell Hope Robbins' _Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology_, which was written before we had accurate information to base our estimates on. So her "average modern estimate of deaths" is actually almost ten times as high as real modern estimates.

Again, her information on the Inquisition's role in the trials comes from Robbins, who frequently mistook "the" Inquisition (the Holy Office) for "an" inquisition (a type of trial used by almost all courts, both secular and religious). So Robbins, and Guiley, have the Inquisition killing Witches in times and places where it didn't exist.

Finally, Guiley uses information that comes from the Lamothe-Langon forgeries that were uncovered in 1972. I have some sympathy for that -- nobody cites Lamothe-Langon directly, which makes it terribly difficult to weed out his misinformation. But, understandable or not, it's still a flaw.

These problems prevent me from giving the book an unqualified thumbs up. It's still very good, and when Guiley is addressing specific trials and customs she's usually on target. But general information (course of the trials, death toll, development of witch hunting stereotypes) is often not reliable.