Malcolm Gaskill

A very enjoyable biography-cum-social history of how witchcraft and witch trials crossed from England and Europe to the young America.

It’s in some ways easier to understand the hold that a fear of witches had in America than in the Old World of the same period. The settlers found themselves in a dangerous position, both in respect of the Native Americans whose lands they were encroaching on and of the lands themselves, which remained largely unknown and untamed. The instability this gave rise to made life less predictable, and so people looked for explanations through which to make sense of it – and preferred supernatural malignity to natural indifference.

It’s also fascinating to see how complex and semi-feudal the interactions were between people in the newly-settled villages, but also between the townships that vied for control and influence. The fact that “witches” often went unconvicted and unpunished (if they moved away) suggests that the motives involved in their pursuit were neither purely religious nor especially prioritised.

3/5. Finished Thursday 27 April, 2023.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)