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buber.net > Basque > Features > Books > Book Review: The World of the Witches by Julio Caro Baroja
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Book Review: The World of the Witches by Julio Caro Baroja

by Blas Pedro Uberuaga

June 28, 2003

Read: January, 2002.

This book discusses the details of witchcraft as it has been manifested in Europe since the time of ancient Greece. Though Baroja doesn't give many details about what the nature of witchcraft was at that time, as he progresses through the history of Europe, and has access to more documents, the picture he paints becomes more and more elaborate.

His description of witchcraft in Greece draws mainly from the plays and histories written by Greeks of that time. Thus, Medea and witches much like her make up his picture of witches at that time. It is a confusing picture, as one is never clear if this is what the Greeks truly believed about witches or if this was just the poetic license used by authors of the time. However, when one recalls the way the Greeks viewed the religious, with gods and goddesses interacting with people all of the time, maybe these depictions of witches in the plays are not very far off from what the Greeks believed.

As history progresses, we gain more information about at least what certain groups of people believed regarding witchcraft. Unfortunately, these views are mostly of those prosecuting supposed witches, not the witches themselves. Baroja follows the development of their views, from seeing witchcraft as an annoying belief, maybe with some roots in reality, to the complete identification of its practice with Satanism. By the time of the Inquisition and similar prosecutions occuring in Protestant countries, witches were viewed as subjects of the devil, performing the most vile acts in his name.

At all times, there seem to have been some people more level headed that recognized witchcraft might be the result of hysteria or drug induced halucinations. But these people were rare and it wasn't until much later, at the times of the Reformation, that these views became the majority.

Baroja describes in some detail the phenomena of witchcraft in the Basque Country. The reason for his emphasis on this region is twofold: that is where he is from, but also because witches from that region had gained some noteriety. He follows some of the important trials, points out that the Inquisition was generally not very quick to judge witches, and illustrates the evolution of beliefs about witchcraft, with Goya being the pinacle of disbelief in its belief.

This makes a good companion to The Witch's Advocate by Gustav Henningsen which follows in more detail some of the trials. This gives a broader introduction to the field. Baroja also discusses some of the other theories of his time, such as the practice of witchcraft being the direct inheritor of pagan worship practices. He seems to doubt most of these theories. It is hard to know if he believes that covens really occured or if they were mostly drug induced dreams. He seems to lean toward the later, though it isn't clear.

This book is definitely not the most captivating, as the writing is sometimes a bit dry, but for anyone interested in the history of witchcraft, especially in the Basque Country, it does make for an interesting read.

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