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This book reflects on Western humanity's efforts to escape from history and its terrors--from the existential condition and natural disasters to the endless succession of wars and other man-made catastrophes. Drawing on historical episodes ranging from antiquity to the recent past, and combining them with literary examples and personal reflections, Teofilo Ruiz explores the embrace of religious experiences, the pursuit of worldly success and pleasures, and the quest for beauty and knowledge as three primary responses to the individual and collective nightmares of history. The result is a profound meditation on how men and women in Western society sought (and still seek) to make meaning of the world and its disturbing history.

In chapters that range widely across Western history and culture, The Terror of History takes up religion, the material world, and the world of art and knowledge. "Religion and the World to Come" examines orthodox and heterodox forms of spirituality, apocalyptic movements, mysticism, supernatural beliefs, and many forms of esotericism, including magic, alchemy, astrology, and witchcraft. "The World of Matter and the Senses" considers material riches, festivals and carnivals, sports, sex, and utopian communities. Finally, "The Lure of Beauty and Knowledge" looks at cultural productions of all sorts, from art to scholarship.


Combining astonishing historical breadth with a personal and accessible narrative style, The Terror of History is a moving testimony to the incredibly diverse ways humans have sought to cope with their frightening history.

In 1631, at the epicenter of the worst excesses of the European witch-hunts, Friedrich Spee, a Jesuit priest, published the Cautio Criminalis, a book speaking out against the trials that were sending thousands of innocent people to gruesome deaths. Spee, who had himself ministered to women accused of witchcraft in Germany, had witnessed firsthand the twisted logic and brutal torture used by judges and inquisitors. Combined, these harsh prosecutorial measures led inevitably not only to a confession but to denunciations of supposed accomplices, spreading the circle of torture and execution ever wider.

Driven by his priestly charge of enacting Christian charity, or love, Spee sought to expose the flawed arguments and methods used by the witch-hunters. His logic is relentless as he reveals the contradictions inherent in their arguments, showing there is no way for an innocent person to prove her innocence. And, he questions, if the condemned witches truly are guilty, how could the testimony of these servants and allies of Satan be reliable? Spee’s insistence that suspects, no matter how heinous the crimes of which they are accused, possess certain inalienable rights is a timeless reminder for the present day.

The Cautio Criminalis is one of the most important and moving works in the history of witch trials and a revealing documentation of one man’s unexpected humanity in a brutal age. Marcus Hellyer’s accessible translation from the Latin makes it available to English-speaking audiences for the first time.

Studies in Early Modern German History

This comprehensive resource explores the intersection of religion, politics, and the supernatural that spawned the notorious witch hunts in Europe and the New World. Witch Hunts in the Western World: Persecution and Punishment from the Inquisition through the Salem Trials traces the evolution of western attitudes towards magic, demons, and religious nonconformity from the Roman Empire through the Age of Enlightenment, placing these chilling events into a wider social and historical context. Witch hunts are discussed in eight narrative chapters by region, highlighting the cultural differences of the people who incited them as well as the key reforms, social upheavals, and intellectual debates that shaped European thought. Vivid accounts of trials and excerpts from the writings of both witch hunters and defenders throughout the Holy Roman Empire, France, the British Isles and colonies, Southern Europe, Scandinavia, and Eastern Europe bring to life one of the most intriguing and shocking periods in Western history.

This in-depth and comprehensive resource explores the intersection of religion, politics, and the supernatural that spawned the notorious witch hunts in Europe and the New World. Witch Hunts in the Western World traces the evolution of western attitudes towards magic, demons, and religious nonconformity from the Roman Empire through the Age of Enlightenment, placing these chilling events into a wider social and historical context. Witch hunts are discussed in fascinating detail by region, highlighting the cultural differences of the people who incited them as well as the key reforms, social upheavals, and intellectual debates that shaped European thought. Vivid accounts of trials and excerpts from the writings of both witch hunters and defenders throughout the Holy Roman Empire, France, the British Isles and colonies, Southern Europe, Scandinavia, and Eastern Europe bring to life one of the most intriguing and shocking periods in Western history.

Accessible narrative chapters make this a fascinating volume for general readers while offering a wealth of historic information for students and scholars. Features include a complete glossary of terms, timeline of major events, recommended reading selections, index, and black and white illustrations.

The essays in this Handbook, written by leading scholars working in the rapidly developing field of witchcraft studies, explore the historical literature regarding witch beliefs and witch trials in Europe and colonial America between the early fifteenth and early eighteenth centuries. During these years witches were thought to be evil people who used magical power to inflict physical harm or misfortune on their neighbours. Witches were also believed to have made pacts with the devil and sometimes to have worshipped him at nocturnal assemblies known as sabbaths. These beliefs provided the basis for defining witchcraft as a secular and ecclesiastical crime and prosecuting tens of thousands of women and men for this offence. The trials resulted in as many as fifty thousand executions. These essays study the rise and fall of witchcraft prosecutions in the various kingdoms and territories of Europe and in English, Spanish, and Portuguese colonies in the Americas. They also relate these prosecutions to the Catholic and Protestant reformations, the introduction of new forms of criminal procedure, medical and scientific thought, the process of state-building, profound social and economic change, early modern patterns of gender relations, and the wave of demonic possessions that occurred in Europe at the same time. The essays survey the current state of knowledge in the field, explore the academic controversies that have arisen regarding witch beliefs and witch trials, propose new ways of studying the subject, and identify areas for future research.
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