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Paperback Instruments of Darkness: Witchcraft in Early Modern England Book

ISBN: 0812216334

ISBN13: 9780812216332

Instruments of Darkness: Witchcraft in Early Modern England

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Book Overview

They flew through the air, consorted with animals, and made pacts with the devil. Witches were as unquestioned as alchemy or astrology in medieval England; yet it wasn't until the midsixteenth century that laws were passed against them. Now a leading historian of crime and society in early modern England offers the first scholarly overview of witchcraft in that country in over eighty years, examining how tensions between church, state, and society...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Ok for study, not so great for pleasure.

I bought this because I wanted to read up on the witch hunts in Europe. Well the book does tell about them, there's no argument there, but I was hoping for something more specific and personal. This book gives an overview of the mania of the period and the view of witches from different classes of people. It goes into religious, political and sociological perspectives of the witch trials, but doesn't really say much about the witches themselves. It wasn't what I wanted, but it does do what it says. Not so great for me, but it might be what you're looking for.


Being a fan of British Gothic horror cinema I'd always been curious regarding the realities of witchcraft ideologies, accusations and persecutions. That said, I received this book as a gift from my fiance who chanced across it, and have since extolled it's virtures to friends and family alike. Seemingly not for everyone, Instruments of Darkness is in fact quite accessible to anyone with even a passing interest, and is full of fascinating information that skillfully blends contemporary psychosocial theological and legal history. A wonderfully engrossing reading experience, and highly recommended!

A great analysis of the early modern english witchcraft trials

James Sharpe is a well known historian on the topic of witchcraft in early modern England. The witchcraft trials in England were different from their contiental counterparts and that becomes apparent in this book. Sharpe comes to some great conclusions. Mr. Sharpe analyzed how tensions between church, state, and society were able to produce such widespread fear that led to the witchcraft accusations and trials. I really enjoyed this book and learned a lot from it. I highly recommend this to anyone who wants to learn more about the subject.

A must read

Theres not really much I can say about this book that hasn't already been covered by Peter Agnew (rated this book before I did) so I'll try to be brief and list only those aspects of the book that I feel Peter missed.This book, for the material covered, was really very easy to read and understand. One of the most important qualities in a book is that it be easy to read and understand and that the material be brought forth in a relatively efficient manner, and this book meets that criteria. Easy to read yet full of information and details covering the subject, I don't know how he could have done it any better.Another plus that not only does the author give you his sources for his material at the end of book, as well they should, but he also tells you a little bit about each source. This gives the reader an opportunity to see other books covering the subject the subject, in what way they cover the subject, and to decide if they have any interest in them or not.On the down side, I feel that this author, like many other authors, down played the feminist perspective behind the witchhunts way too much. I believe that ideas such as those held by Anne Barstow (author of "Witchcraze") do have a place in European Witch Hunt history and should be adressed. There was more behind these witch hunts than just simple ignorance and misunderstanding. Greed, hatred, views of women (especially those who spoke up for themselves) in a patriarchal society, control, and politics ALL played a part in what happened in Europe over those 3 centuries and for anyone to ignore them or to play them off as so many do are, in my opinion, fooling themselves. This being the only negative on what is otherwise a very impressive book I went ahead and gave it 4 stars (would have given it 4.5 but unfortunately this website doesn't give me that option.

At last! An NEW book on English Witchcraft!

Sharpe's claims for this book are modest. His motivation to write sprang from the realisation that there has never been a satisfactory, all-encompassing account of English witchcraft since the works of Notestein in 1911 and Kittredge in 1929. Therefore, it was high time that somebody rewrote the story of English witchcraft to take account of the progress made in this field during the last few decades. There is no doubt that Sharpe, who has considerable experience within this area, is well qualified to write such a book. Over the years, he has written several articles on aspects of English witchcraft; thus, this book can be seen as the culmination of years of research and writing.Part One of Instruments of Darkness attempts to outline in simple, yet thorough terms, the role that witchcraft and ideas about it played in all sectors of English society from "elite mentalities" to "popular culture." Sharpe demonstrates that we cannot separate both kinds of belief - there was considerable interplay between the two. This is the major achievement of the first part of the book.In Part Two, Sharpe draws upon Five Themes of English Witchcraft. He adequately charts the patterns of prosecution in local English communities. He also argues that the Matthew Hopkins "witch-hunt" of 1645-7 is not really all that "different" from English witchcraft as a whole. He shows that the feminist accounts of English witchcraft are simplistic and naive (take that Marianne Hester and Mary Daly!) and profles the most distinctly "English" aspect of European witchcraft - the possessed victim. All of this is stimulating reading.Finally, Part Three charts the decline of witch beliefs by focusing upon judicial skepticism, changing religious beliefs and the growth of scientific ideas. Again, Sharpe highlights the interplay between the three and demonstrates that although witchcraft had become a joke amongst the elite classes by 1720, the witch continued to be highly feared among village communities until at least 1850.Throughout it all, Sharpe demonstrates that English witchcraft is, by its very nature, highly complex. This book is required reading for anyone interested in English witchcraft. Even still, Sharpe shows the complexity of English witch beliefs so clearly, one wonders if we shall ever know the full story of English witchcraft?
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