Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Deciphering the Witches' Sabbath

Readers of London pal, Ethan Doyle White's, blog Albion Calling, may have seen the recent interview with Professor Ronald Hutton there in which he, among other things, discusses his book on Shamanism. He says there were two reasons why he wrote a book on Shamanism, the second reason being "Carlo Ginzburg's promotion of a universal archaic shamanism as a key influence on early modern images of witchcraft." We all know who Carlo Ginzburg is, right? Author of books useful to modern Witches such as The Night Battles, originally published under the title I benandanti, and particularly Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches' Sabbath, originally published as Storia notturna: Una decifrazione del Sabba.

Ginzburg's work is often cited by Pagans as some sort of "proof" regarding Witches that counters Hutton's and other sceptical Witchcraft historians' work. But there is no need to polarise the approaches. It's not really an "either-or" situation. Historians of Witchcraft - including Ginzburg - are discussing this, that is Ginzburg's theories of Witchcraft, and there are published results from the Harvard Colloquium Nocturnal Histories: Witchcraft and the Shamanic Legacy of Pre-Christian Europe. I have a copy of this if anyone wants it.

The history of Witchcraft is an ongoing project, and as you can see from Hutton's latest interview there is some pretty interesting scholarship fermenting away right now at Bristol. (Can't wait for that!) Anyway, the main purpose of this blog post is to direct readers to an interesting review essay on Ginzburg by Perry Anderson at the London Review of Books (yes its old, but still worthwhile to get an understanding of Ginzburg's methodology), also a review of Storia Notturna (from 1990, and only partial unless you subscribe, but still interesting).