The Place Called Dagon

I have been posting abut the modern mythology that tried to understand witchcraft as an authentic underground survival of ancient paganism, and how those myths of witchcraft and devil worship evolved into the modern farrago of Satanism. Throughout, I stress the role of academics, and of fiction-writers, whose ideas came to be believed as sober [Read More…]

Witches in the Village

In 1945, English villager Charles Walton was gruesomely murdered in what sensationalist media decided was a sinister “witch murder,” even a human sacrifice, in the community of Lower Quinton. That story, as described by detective Robert Fabian, became the foundation of a whole genre of fantastic fiction, Folk Horror, and this spilled over into the [Read More…]

The Black Dog and the Wicker Man

Last time I described how rogue academics produced a mythology of continuing paganism and human sacrifice in supposedly Christian England, right up to modern times. The main rogue in question was an Egyptologist gone bad by the name of Margaret Murray. Supposedly, there was a continuing tradition of secret underground paganism linked to ancient cults [Read More…]

Dark Majesty and Folk Horror

This coming Monday, August 1, marks the medieval feast of Lammas, Loaf-mass, the year’s first harvest festival, and that coincides with one of the great feasts of the ancient Irish calendar, Lughnasa. This also brings me to a curious anniversary, which tells us a little bit about medieval history, and a great deal about the [Read More…]

Why THE WITCH is One of the Greatest Historical Films Ever Made

I am several months late on this topic, but bear with me. Robert Eggers’s film The Witch is now available on DVD, and I finally got the chance to see it. It is one of the truly great horror films, no argument, but it is also an astonishing piece of historical reconstruction. The Witch is [Read More…]

1320: Climate Change and the Demons Within

Climate change, weather, and agricultural cycles all played their part in religious history. On occasion, disasters drove paranoia and persecution – see my columns on the years around 1680. My discussion of the c.1740 era suggested how a deep crisis might create an audience open to revivalism. No less fundamentally, catastrophe could decide something as [Read More…]

1680: Apocalypse and Modernity

The years between 1675 and 1685 were marked by repeated catastrophes, involving wars and revolts, dearths and plagues, and unprecedented weather conditions. Not surprisingly then, across Christian Europe, many believers imagined the fast approaching end of the existing world. It was in 1678 that the first part of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress described the simple [Read More…]

1680: Crops, Catastrophes, and Religious Crises

This is about how we write religious history, and also about a dimension of that history that we need to think through. When we study the history of religions, we usually focus on significant moments of change – great revivals, conflicts, persecutions, awakenings, and reformations. In my next few columns, I am going to suggest [Read More…]

Teaching Salem Witchcraft

One of the most provocative topics in the American History survey class is the Salem witchcraft trials. Although it was a great tragedy, the episode lends itself to wonderful discussions about historical interpretation. As Emerson Baker’s recent book A Storm of Witchcraft points out, the past four decades have seen a huge expansion of the literature on [Read More…]

Interpreting Demonic Possession

My graduate course recently read Brian Levack’s The Devil Within: Possession and Exorcism in the Christian West (Yale, 2013). Levack, the author of a number of important books on witchcraft and possession in early modern Europe, notes from the outset that “demonic possession is a methodological landmine for historians.” That’s the truth! It is relatively easy [Read More…]


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