The History of Witchcraft, Lois MartinThe Aristotelian worldview of the medieval scholastics convinced them that all forms of sorcery and magic lay in the realm of the Devil and were at his command… anything of a magical nature derived its efficacy from the Devil. According to this view there could be no such thing as ‘white’ or beneficent magic and the scholastics argued that anyone who practised magic of any kind was dealing with the Devil. And the Devil, not known for his spontaneous generosity of spirit, didn’t do anything without wanting something in return. Herein lay the seeds of the pact, as scholastic theologians began to surmise that, in order to carry out any kind of magical act, one would first have to offer the Devil some kind of recompense or reverence, and this amounted to nothing less than heresy and apostasy.

This is not, as the title may suggest, a history of the practice of witchcraft by actual witches. Indeed, the author has some pretty strong doubts about whether there ever was – before Wicca, I mean – any real, organised cult of witchcraft (as opposed to local, probably solitary, practitioners of magic, which she accepts were common).

Instead, Martin traces the history of the ideas that informed the medieval stereotype of the witch: devil worship, the night ride, cannibalism (especially the murder and consumption of babies), obscene and lawless orgies, and so on. She explores the reasons why these ideas grew, how they developed, and how they led to the hysterical persecution and diabolical torture of those accused of witchcraft.

This is too brief, and covers too much ground, to be anything like a comprehensive text. It is more of an overview, an easy-reading introduction. Well worth a dabble.