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Deviance C

Deviance C Book Review - Werewolves and the Possessed

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  1. Please reply to this thread with your review of a relevant article/text. If you have problems using the forum, please send your review to me.

  2. On behalf of Sophie: 

    de Blécourt, Willem, ‘A Journey to Hell: Reconsidering the Livonian “Werewolf”’, Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft, 2, (2007), pp. 49-67.

    Willem de Blécourt begins the article by summarising the trial of the Livonian Werewolf Thies of Kaltenbrun in 1691. The historiographical developments circulating the nature of the werewolf persona are then identified as the progression from the older concept of the werewolf as a murdering animalistic beast to the newer interpretation developed in conjunction with the discovery of more German based sources and that of the Livonian trial of the werewolf as a positive force involved in healing and with shamanistic properties. He then devotes the main body of the essay to critiquing the works of Carlo Ginzburg which have formed a basis for much of the work on werewolves particularly as shaman. However Wilheim argues, by contrasting the work with that of other historians from different countries, that this view is unfounded and requires considerable clarification and closer study with more attention paid to trial records within their indigenous context.

  3. Martin Rheinheimer, 'The Belief in Werewolves and the extermination of real wolves in Schleswig-Holstein', Scandinavian Journal of History, 20 (1995), pp. 281-294.

    Martin Rheinheimer in ‘The belief in werewolves and the extermination of real wolves in Schleswig-Holstein’, Scandinavian Journal of History, 20 (1995), pp. 281-294, uses Schleswig-Holstein as a case study to show how previous fears about werewolves, led to the extermination of the actual animal in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  The wolf’s symbolism with death, Rheinheimer argues, was part of the reason they were targeted, but also wolf-chasing was a form of social control; it was a way to socially discipline the lower echelons of society by making them drivers or chasers in the wolf hunt.  By mainly using testimonies from wolf trials – both of supposed human werewolves and descriptions of the hanging of actual wolves – it is useful as it enables one to unravel people’s perceptions of how and what damage they caused, helping to suggest why they may have been exterminated.

    He begins by discussing how the wolves were hanged in Schleswig-Holstein and what they were, he argues, increasingly accused of: killing cattle.  Rheinheimer argues that the wolf numbers were believed to have increased by the people of Schleswig-Holstein, because the Polish brought them in, and the Thirty Years War meant wolves were not pursued, and so there was a greater multiplication of them.  He then goes on, for the main body of the essay, to discuss ideas surrounding the wolf, including their association with the ‘death demon’ and evil and the idea that witches were believed to shape-shift into werewolves and other creatures.  Rheinheimer argues that the belief of a physical transformation into a werewolf underwent rationalisation, with many beginning to assert that those who believed in shape-shifting was due to their delusive imagination.  Although he never really explains why, he does emphasise that shape-shifting beliefs were ‘replaced by a medio-psycholological one’, suggesting that science and rational thinking meant people undermined werewolf ideas.[1]  However, this largely contrasts to Darren Oldridge’s argument.  He argues, it was not because of a scientific, enlightened view, but because people believed it was not physically possible for a demon or the devil (who was responsible for the likes of werewolves) to transform a human into a werewolf – only God had this power.  Since God did not control werewolves, this could not happen.[2]  This explanation does seem a bit more realistic, and less far-sighted for the time. 

    Furthermore, Rheinheimer seems to accentuate and exaggerate the widespread nature of wolf chasing, yet Willem de Blecourt argues that ‘only very few wolf trials have been found so far’, outside of France and German speaking lands.[3] Although using a case study is useful as it enables one to look in detail at one particular area, it is hard to get an overall picture; while there are many cases of trials in Schleswig-Holstein, this might not be the case for elsewhere, as suggested by de Blecourt.  

    Martin Rheinheimer's article covers the key points, explaining why, when, who and how wolves were targeted; it does what he set out to do.  However, more recent scholarship in certain areas has undermined some key interpretations of Rheinheimer.  

    Bibliography:   de Blecourt, Willem, 'A Journey to Hell: Reconsidering the Livonian "Werewolf"', Magic Ritual and Witchcraft, 2 (2007), pp. 49-67.     Oldridge, Darren, Strange Histories: The Trial of the Pig, the Walking Dead and Other Matters of Fact from the Medieval and Renaissance Worlds (Abingdon, 2007).     Rheinheimer, Martin, 'The belief in werewolves and the extermination of real wolves in Schleswig-Holstein', Scandinavian Journal of History, 20 (1995), pp. 281-294

    [1] Martin Rheinheimer, ‘The belief in werewolves and the extermination of real wolves in Schleswig-Holstein’ Scandinavian Journal of History, 20 (1995), pp. 282, 284 and 291.

    [2] Darren Oldridge, Strange Histories: The Trial of the Pig, the Walking Dead, and Other Matters of Fact from the Medieval and Renaissance Worlds (Abingdon, 2007), p. 101.

    [3] Willem de Blecourt, ‘A Journey to Hell: Reconsidering the Livonian “Werewolf”’, Magic, Ritual and Witchcraft, 2 (2007), p. 51. 

  4. M. Goodich, 'Sexuality, Family and the Supernatural in the Fourteenth Century', Journal of the History of Sexuality, 4 (1994), pp. 493-516

    Goodich starts by discussing the way that he is framing his article around the family unit in the 14th century. He then talks about the way the he has used the Miracle collections in his article to provide evidence of the way that the family worked at this time. He first looks at the way that families reacted to accusations of sexual misconduct, and then shows how this had links to the supernatural. These are all backed up by the use of the Miracle cases, which he uses to highlight to the reader the more specific ways in which sexuality, the family and the supernatural were linked. Through the examination of the way that families reacted to these cases of ‘concubinage, adultery, fratricide, and so forth’ he shows the interconnectedness of the supernatural to sexuality. He uses example of specific saints in the 14th century who were used as mediators in family disputes over sexual matters, such as Yves Helory of Treguier, or Bridget of Sweden, who was credited with combating both the witchcraft and the sexual disorder still endemic in her region. These saints also regulated morality in their areas.

    The main source used by Goodich is the miracle collections, and from here we can get an impression of the medieval attitude towards sexuality. The miracle collections contain much unexploited evidence concerning the continuing belief in the efficacy of supernatural intervention in pursuit of the Christian goals of monogamy, purity, procreation, peace, and order within the family, and so they serve as a useful source from the time. When discussing the supernatural in regard to 14th century sexuality Goodich also includes divine belief within his definition of the supernatural. He has drawn a link between the two because ‘because the first corruption of sin through which humankind became a servant of the devil comes to us by means of the generative act’, and therefore it this is the easiest time for the Devil to bewitch a person. Additionally, concupiscence and sensuality were seen as natural human characteristics, and nature was believed to only be able to be transformed by supernatural means, so sexual corruption demanded supernatural intervention in order to effect its removal. Sexual disorder and family conflict were often linked with the practice of witchcraft, usually when it was sexual disorder conducted by a woman, which included devil possession. Goodich uses a variety of other sources, both drawing from other historian’s work as well as primary sources to provide a well –reasoned argument. It seems to look at the supernatural aspect of deviance from a different perspective. Goodich presents a strong argument, but does focus more on sexuality and family than he does on the supernatural, which can leave the argument feeling slightly uneven. However, he does effectively use the miracle collections to support his argument. Additionally, the article presents a useful approach in linking together different deviances and showing how they were interrelated, which allows for a new way of examining both sexual and supernatural deviance.

  5. Crouzet, Denis, ‘A Woman and the Devil: Possession and Exorcism in Sixteenth-Century France’, in M. Wolfe (ed.), Changing Identities in Early Modern France (London, 1997), pp. 191-215

    Crouzet’s scholarship on possession and exorcism in sixteenth-century France is focused on one particular example of microhistory, the exorcism of Nicole Obry, a sixteen-year-old girl from Vervins, in France. The article is largely narrative, giving a comprehensive overview of the main events of the exorcism, which occurred between 1565 and 1566. However, Crouzet also pays close attention to the implications which the exorcism of Obry held in regards to the religious conflict between the rival factions of the Christian faith which was occurring at this time.

    In his description of the events of the exorcism of Obry, Crouzet demonstrates a link between ideas of demonic possession and the struggle between Catholicism and Protestantism which was occurring across Europe during this period. He suggests that the example of Nicole Obry acts as an allegory about a people ‘seduced by evil and this deaf to God’s wishes’; it is made evident that the process of exorcism was, at this time, often a means for a particular strand of Christianity to legitimise the authority of their doctrine. This idea is supported by Ferber, who argues that Catholics would often use the host and other holy objects in their exorcism ceremonies to legitimise their beliefs as correct over other forms of Christianity. Evidence of this can certainly be seen in the example of Obry; the sacrament of the Eucharist was seemingly the only thing which could revive her from her fits of possession. We can see here that Crouzet’s scholarship on the exorcism of Obry corroborates with other writing on demonic possession during this period; the idea that an exorcism performed by a minister from a particular church could be used as a form of propaganda against that church’s rivals is explored extensively. For example, Walker refers to the case of Obry as the earliest of the ‘deliberately publicised, anti-Huguenot exorcisms’, suggesting that the use of the Eucharist by Obry’s exorcists in expelling the demon could be seen as a means by the Catholics to legitimise this particular sacrament. The view that the exorcism of Obry aided in the generation of support for the Catholic Church put forward by Crouzet can therefore be seen to be supported by other scholarship on this particular field.

    In his exploration of the exorcism of Obry, Crouzet relies largely on the accounts of Jean Boulaese. Boulaese, a Catholic, hoped that his writing on this particular case would inspire unity within the Christian faith, as it seems to reaffirm the legitimacy of the sacrament of the Eucharist, as has been alluded to above. While Boulaese’s account is useful to Crouzet in how it provides an in-depth description of the events of the exorcism of Obry, it is limited in how it only demonstrates one view: that of the Catholics. This highlights the main weakness of Crouzet’s article; in failing to provide any evidence of the Huguenot view on the exorcism, he limits himself to a somewhat one-sided account. This makes Crouzet’s work less useful in debating the importance of the process of exorcism in the struggle between Catholicism and Protestantism during this period. More useful are accounts like those of Ferber and Walker, who provide a more effective overview of the implications of exorcism on religious conflict in Early Modern Europe.


    Crouzet, Denis, ‘A Woman and the Devil: Possession and Exorcism in Sixteenth-Century France’, in M. Wolfe (ed.), Changing Identities in Early Modern France (London, 1997), pp. 191-215.
    Ferber, Sarah, Demonic Possession and Exorcism in Early Modern France (London, 2004)
    Walker, D. P., Unclean Spirits: Possession and Exorcism in France and England in the Late-Sixteenth and Early-Seventeenth Centuries (London, 1981).

  6. Review - 'A Journey to Hell: Reconsidering the Livonian "Werewolf"'

    The article A Journey to Hell: Reconsidering the Livonian “Werewolf” written by Willem de Blécourt. It was published in the journal Magic, Ritual and Witchcraft in 2007. The article takes a revisionist perspective of the trial of Thies of Kaltenbrun. The man was tried after confessing to be a werewolf in a court at Jurgenburg. de Blécourt structures his argument as a critique on the over interpretation of Thies trial. He introduces the theories of Carlo Ginzburg throughout the argument and compares them with numerous scholars such as Peter Duerr and Lily Weiser in order to demonstrate Ginzburg’s misinterpretation of werewolf folklore.  Essentially, de Blécourt attempts to prove that much of the work inspired by the Thies trial has been over reached.

                    Thies testimony states that he healed animals and people, as well as engaged in spiritual battles in hell. Ginzburg uses this to draw parallels between this interpretation of the werewolf and shamans. Shamans too went to alternate worlds in a trance state in order to heal people in this world or battle spirits of the other worlds. Ginzburg’s argument is that by connecting these two groups it will allow insight into Early Modern magic and ritual, something which is very appealing as this area remains somewhat of a mystery. However, de Blécourt notes that in fact combining werewolves and shamans would only further confuse the issue. The folklore of werewolves and shamans, de Blécourt suggests, are very different even in the case of Thies. Firstly, he suggests that Ginzburg overlooked that there are many interpretations and meanings to the word werewolf, for example in Switzerland in was a metaphor for eating children which is far removed for shamanism. Similarly in Germany, werewolf could mean females riding wolves. Secondly, de Blécourt maintains that Thies own testimony does not bring together the strands of werewolves and shamanism. Thies describes the werewolves dashing in and out of hell to reclaim agricultural produce whereas shamans would linger in alternate worlds to learn what they needed to know. Additionally shamans operate individually whereas in both folklore and in Thies testimony he werewolves operate in a pack.

                    Willem de Blécourt uses other scholars to discredit Ginzburg’s arguments. Peter Duerr, who was originally believed to have supported Ginzburg in some measure, holds on to the conviction that shamans, witches and werewolves remain quite separate despite some similarities that they share. Moreover, de Blécourt supports Leopold Kretzenbacher who argues that Thies testimony was a mix of folklore and the confused memory of a senile man, therefore largely discrediting all scholarship that could come from the Thies case.

                    The article has a clear strength in that uses a great range of sources in its argument, both from his fellow historians and from primary sources. The depth of knowledge into various folklores of werewolves, shamans, witches and local traditions creates a powerful argument that demonstrates how Ginzburg and his acolytes have largely ignored evidence that contradicts their theories. However, there are a number of weaknesses de Blécourt’s argument. The method in which he communicates ideas about werewolves may perhaps the reader somewhat confused as to where folklore ends and realty begins. The article continually discusses werewolves and their exploits as though they are factual history rather than folklores. For instance the discussion as to whether or not Thies engaged in spiritual battles is surely irrelevant given that we must assume that Thies could not truly shapeshift. Whilst this is not central to de Blécourt’s argument, this method of discussing Early Modern magic is frustrating and undermines the serious elements of the debate. Furthermore, de Blécourt lends little insight into Thies testimony itself, which is the origin of the whole debate. Clearly, the Thies case is an unreliable and precarious place to formulate a theory on Early Modern magical rituals. Thies changes his testimony about how he became a werewolf when pushed to give some evidence to his claims and his account is a mismatch of cultural mystical traditions formulated by an old mind. This is hardly a suitable source especially with so few other werewolf trials to balance it with. Indeed without de Blécourt suggesting that Thies was simply an old man looking for attention from a society that marginalised the old, one is left to question why this source has ever been the base of a historical debate. Lastly de Blécourt criticises the theories of many historians in this article yet never puts forth a theory of his own, this is the article’s greatest weakness as it contributes very little to the future historical debate other than to call historians back to the starting blocks in their investigation of werewolves.

  7. Clark, Vanities of the Eye: Vision in Early Modern European Culture (Oxford, 2007)


    Clark's book primarily argues for one coherent and reasonably consistent idea. This notion is that in the medieval and early modern period, the notion of sight shifted from one that was simply the mind replicating exactly what has been viewed, to one that was an unreliable means of recording the world in which people lived. A variety of intellectual sources are used to examine why late Renaissance Europe encountered a unique set of circumstances that meant that vision was viewed as less reliable than ever before, which are divided into ideas of religion, imagination and supersition, although all three are connected in his narrative. The one event which Clark shows to be central in this transformation was the Protestant Reformation, where theological debates over transubstansiation in particular led to a greater degree of scrutiny about what the eye can truly see, and whether it can be believed. As well as this, people became increasingly aware of supersition and slight of hand, which meant that rational views of vision were viewed as inappropiate; put simply, it forced people to believe in events that could not possibly be viewed by the human eye. Furthermore, there was an increasing belief that what people see could be influenced by malevolent forces, namely the Devil. With regards to werewolves and witchcraft, Clark especially focuses on a select few trials of potential deviants, concluding that these trials show a definite trend towards sight being considered to be an unreliable means of information, with imagination and potential dark forces used as examples for vision not being the sole means of providing evidence.


    One major downfall of Clark's work is his own acknowledgement that the bulk of his evidence does come from intellectual sources, going as far to admit that 'it is an intellectual history I am proposing here', which means that the day-to-day reality of the various examples he lists are often lost or under-examined. The emphasis on philosophy helps the reader to understand the fundamental debates of the time, but does not show how these arguments affected people who had no means to witness such debates, or even if it affected them at all. This is further exacerbated by his wide-ranging view; the book takes in examples and information from the early Roman era to the late seventeenth century. Whilst this provides a comprehensive overview of the history of sight, it does not allow for insight into medieval supersition, and it does not fully examine why people on a localised level chose to believe in things that the eye could not possibly see, or the extent to which this happened. Finally, Clark's examination is intended to be more complex than the prevailing view of sight and supersition, which means that the impact of the argument can sometimes be lost. Overall, however, the book is a valuable source of information regarding why people chose  to believe that there was more than meets the eye regarding the medieval world, with the impressive range of primary sources helping to make up for the lack of a day-to-day explanation for his core argument. 

  8. Article Review: W. de Blecourt, 'A Journey to Hell: Reconsidering the Livonian "Werewolf"', Magic, Ritual and Witchcraft, 2 (2007), 49-67.

    Willem de Blecourt firstly summarises the interrogation of the octogenarian Thies of Kaltenbrun in Jurgensburg, present day Latvia in 1691. De Blecourt notes that the significance of the Thies case is in its perceived relevance to other werewolf cases and to the history of witchcraft and magic in general. Scholars have recast the negative perception of werewolves as bloodthirsty creatures based on French demonological treatises, in order to represent the werewolf in what is considered to be its original, positive form, as a ritual expert and spiritual healer. This is in light of the argument that as a relatively late case on the margin of Europe, the Thies case is considered to have retained many original features, with the criminality of the werewolf added during the sixteenth and seventeenth-centuries.

    de Blecourt disagrees with the highly influential interpretation proposed by Carlo Ginzburg that represents the werewolf Thies as part of mid and east-European shamanistic complex of myths and rituals. De Blecourt highlights that Ginzburg deliberately chose to ignore relevant research when formulating his argument. Drawing on the authoritative work of Romanian historian of religion Mircea Eliade in which werewolves and shamans are explicitly separate in folklore, as well as the (albeit incorrect) agreement of German-speaking scholars that the Thies case represented an example of werewolf warriors similar to the Germanic warrior societies or Mannerbunde, de Blecourt represents Ginzburg’s argument as overstretched and politically motivated by ideological tension at time its publishing in the aftermath of WWII. De Blecourt then goes on to discredit the use of the Thies case by scholars, supporting Leopold Kretzenbacher’s argument that Thies’ testimony was a mix of folklore and the confused memory of a very old man. Furthermore, de Blecourt warns of the danger of the over interpretation of the Thies case and other cases of Western werewolf folklore of which there is only very a tenuous link.

    Throughout the article, de Blecourt’s expert knowledge is evident. Furthermore, through drawing on a wide range of relevant sources, de Blecourt effectively and persuasively discredits Ginzburg’s interpretation. The detailed retelling and subsequent dismissal of the Thies case is significant and alludes to the article’s wider purpose. Through using a specific case of misinterpretation of Thies the werewolf by Ginzburg and those influenced by his work, de Blecourt’s article serves as a general reminder to historians of folklore, ritual and magic of the dangers of creating an overarching narrative that in its generality, loses its specific historical meaning. Instead, an indigenous and culturally sensitive approach is called for. However, de Blecourt does not specifically outline a method for such an undertaking; this is the article’s greatest weakness as it does not propose an alternative starting point for new research.

  9. D. Oldridge, Strange Histories, (2007) chap. 6

    Darren Oldridge begins by reminding us of the modern portrayal of the werewolves, often romantic figures driven by impulses out of their control, presented in almost a sympathetic light. This is a far cry from the attitude towards Lycanthropy in Medieval and Renaissance Europe, as werewolves were widely feared as a huge threat to society, accused of a range of offences from crop destruction to murder. Throughout the Chapter, Oldridge highlights the contrast between former and current explanations of the practice of the werewolf. For example, he outlines how it is only with the scientific knowledge that we have today, which identifies the transformation of human to beast as fundamentally impossible, that we can characterise the idea of the werewolf in such an innocent way. Oldridge is concerned with differentiating between the ‘superstitious tendencies of the uneducated mind’, their concern for magic and the Devil, as opposed to our modern disregard for such ‘folklore’ in favour of scientific fact and empirical evidence.  The essential focus of the Chapter is the reasons why werewolves were difficult to comprehend for Intellectuals in the pre-Modern era, but as Oldridge interestingly notes, not because they did not think bestial transformation could happen, but rather that it could not occur as the result of the Devil. They could not understand the ability of a soul to be taken out of the human body without the inference of God, and as lycanthropy was undisputedly interpreted as the Devil’s work, it was difficult to explain the physical phenomenon, when the Devil was not believed to hold the power to transform man into beast. Instead, arguments were made to imply that the Devil used trickery to create illusions in the minds of ‘werewolves’ to make them believe they were transforming, which explained the amount of self-confessed werewolves.

    However, Oldridge makes reference to a variety of rational theories that were drawn up in the Nineteenth Century, for example Baring-Gould’s biological explanation that the acts of a supposed werewolf occurred in instances where men could no longer supress their bestial desires, that were otherwise hidden in civilised people. He proposes that supposed werewolf attacks reflected primitive instincts within every human, even a liberation from cultured society.  It is noted how this is in correlation with many modern day murder cases, with issue such as cannibalism and mutilation reflecting this return to basic animal instinct. Schizophrenia is also mentioned as an explanation, particularly in terms of self-confessed lycanthropy, which acts as one theory that could effectively be used today to understand how witness’s ad confessions could be rationalised.

    Ultimately, Oldridge effectively addresses the fundamental issue of knowledge and understanding as  at the heart of explaining the werewolf phenomenon. He recognises that the portrayal of a beast that sets out to kill and destroy was not necessarily an irrational view for people in pre-Modern societies, as their confidence that this transformation could occur instilled for deep rooted fear. However, Oldridge focuses on discussing werewolves who actively admit to being such, and does not include any examples of trials or denials that other studies have explored and thus risks portraying lycanthropy as simply a delusion on behalf of the alleged.


  10. A. Cambers, 'Demonic Possession, Literacy and 'Superstition' in Early Modern England', Past and Present, 202 (2009), 3-35

    Camber's begins his article with evidence of a case of possession from Early Modern England that highlights the key themes in the history of demonic possession which he sees as the intensity of the physical struggle between the demoniac and the devil, the value godly Protestants attached to prayer and the legitimiacy of countermeasures to effect dispossession. He goes on to highlight the growing historiography on the role of literacy and books within tales of possession which links into an analysis of scholarly literature on superstition. He suggests that superstition is a difficult concept to consider and that for contemporaries it was 'an elastic concept that was stretched to dismiss the religion of opponents and was frequently deployed as a weapon in polemical warfare' (1). This idea links in with D. Oldridge who suggests that the belief in werewolves was not necessarily linked with the higher educated members of society, however it may have been taken on through the role of demonic possession to explain attacks and events where there was strong evidence of werewolf involvement. Uses of both these terms show that in Early Modern Europe ideas regarding the unnatural were interchangeable and often used regarding the devil and therefore religion. 

    Camber's then goes on to examine the relationship between Protestantism and the use of books. He argues that the use of quasi-magical objects are to be expected in a culture in which the distinction between magic and religion were imprecise, something perhaps seen in Late Medieval Religion through the use of sacrementals. However, there is evidence that sacred books continued to have these magical properties in Protestant England through the use of the Bible in exorcisms and in Germany where images of Luther were believed to hold healing properties. Camber argues that this shows that the use of the Bible and books was not simply the default actions of the illiterate or unthinking, but that the use of books intersected the world of the textual, the literate and the godly. This shifts us awau from the ideas given by Oldridge that there appeared to be a clear distinction between what the educated believed and what others believed and suggests that beliefs in demonic possession and the role of objects in reliving this were universally held. This might result in a thinking that it was the simply physical use of the books that was important, however Camber suggests that is was in fact often a 'coherent logic in which the physical force of the book was indistinguishable from the sacred power of the words' (2). This issue is important as it begins to cause problems for the church, as when the words of the Bible are invoked as powerful through repitition or chanting, magic seems to take over from religion. This blurred the line between devotional and magical uses of books among the godly. 

    In his conclusion Camber rounds off his argument in a coherent manner with a focus on what the use of literacy and superstition means for Protestants. He suggests that the use of books by the goldy as magical objects complicates a neat understanding of bibliocentric godly Protestantism. He suggests that the Protestants did not fall back to magic, but instead adapted and reshaped it into a reformed context. He argues that examing how and what people read when confronted by possession shows the fluidity between religion, literacy, popular magic and 'superstition' in early modern England. This evidence and the conclusion drawn by Camber taken from a wide range of primary sources, including trials and witnesses stories brings up an important issue in terms of religious belief. One argument levelled at the Late Medieval Church by its opponents was the role of superstition and magic, and seeing this in play in new forms in Protestantism highlight the importance of heresay and superstition at this time. This fits in nicely with the argument of Oldridge that much reasoning in this period derived from pre-modern concepts about the power of the devil and the nature of miracles. 

    Camber's argument appears as very convincing and he seems to cover the main themes he suggests at the start of the article. One weakness may lie in the narrow evidence he is taking by only focusing on England, rather than a spread through Protestant Europe. As well as this there is only evidence taken from Protestants with no comparisons to Catholics which may show that these ideas were not religious based but were in fact something derived from society. However the use of the Bible is the focus of Camber's study so it is therefore hard to suggest that these superstitious ideas do not take on a religious fervour however many attmepts were made by the church to change this. Camber's conclusions are useful to bear in mind when considering how people responded to demonic possessions and how popular beliefs about how to cure these changed very little between the start and the end of the period. 




  11. de Blécourt, Willem, ‘A Journey to Hell: Reconsidering the Livonian “Werewolf”’, Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft, 2, (2007), pp. 49-67.

    De Blecourt takes a largely historiographical approach in analysis of the 1691 trial of accused werewolf Thies. He begins by outlining the case at had, before paying significant attention to Ginzberg, Eliade and Pocs views among others. Much of the article is devoted to criticising Ginzberg's work: Ginzberg's direct relation of shamanism to werewolves is strongly denounced. It is clear de Blecourt largely agrees with Eliade's distinct separation of shamanism and werewolves as two separate phenomena. Further, de Blecourt believes Ginzberg's assertions, and other similar views, ignore differing manifestations of magic in other trials, and also ignores ethnographic boundaries. Therefore, such relations of shamanism to werewolves lack significant indigenous meaning: de Blecourt accuses such views of making 'superficial comparisons and neglecting culturla contexts'. Henceforth, de Blecourt concludes that the direct conflation of either witches or werewolves with shamans serves to confuse and blur historical understanding of each of these terms. Individual peculiarities and notions of historical change must be included: he heavily dwells upon the necessity of considering the indigenous context and meaning of individual cases before contemplating more general terms of explanation. As such, genuine understanding can be wrought, anda more precise reading of trial records can be presented.

  12. Martin Rheinheimer, ‘The Belief in Werewolves and the Extermination of Real Wolves in Schleswig- Holstein’, Scandinavian Journal of History, 20, 1995, pp. 281-294

    Martin Rheinheimer in his article discusses how the belief in Werewolves, predominantly in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, led to the complete extermination of wolves in the German/Danish border region of Schleswig-Holstein by 1820. He argues that the belief in Werewolves towards the beginning of the period was based in Christian ideas with mention of the Maalleus Maleficarum (1487) stated, ’that witches today are often turned into wolves.’ [1] This linked with Norse and Roman mythology led the view that wolves were linked to war and death which linked with the supernatural led to the main cause of their extermination. The extermination originally taking the form of hanging the wolf from gallows so as to make sure the demon present was banished and couldn’t gain power from the earth. However, he also mentions that wolves were used as an excuse to advance the populations own agenda both from the peasantry, that often came to the king to ask for tax breaks claiming that they had suffered a financial hit following the loss of cattle to wolves, and from the highest ranks of society, which sought out wolf hunts claiming to be in the interest of the people but it worked as a way of garnering support.

    The emphasis of the essay is concerned with the idea that wolves were symbols of war, death and devouring even in the pre-Christian mythology of the area. This meant that with the Christian ideas of demons and witches being able to become wolves, fitted incredibly well with ideas already held in the area. He remarks that during rationalisation and the drop in the belief of werewolves led by the learned classes, wolves were still the subject of many people’s qualms in the region which led to the continued wolf hunts, in which one could earn money for killing a wolf, which ultimately made them extinct in the region.

    The essay itself benefits from a large range of references from both secondary and primary sources. He references a large range of historiography and also back to previous works. He also benefits from reflecting on the contemporary sources that he has used, for example he talks of wolves killing some children in the region in c.1735 saying this is the only evidence he finds of a wolf killing humans. He questions the validity of these verbal sources.[2] He does also use contemporary scientific knowledge of wolves to question their danger which is also a strength citing numerous sources in his first footnote to support this. [3] The article suffers from its lack of context of the fear of wolves and werewolves. Outside of a brief reference to Roman mythology the article is completely focused on the Schleswig-Holstein region and he neglects to inform the reader whether the events of this region were a typical Germanic, European or Global phenomena or whether the region was a-typical. However, that the case study of the region and the period discussed is quite comprehensive and would allow a firm base for those wishing to advance on his article.



    [1] Martin Rheinheimer, ‘The belief in werewolves and the extermination of real wolves in Schleswig-Holstein’ Scandinavian Journal of History, 20 (1995) p.286.
    [2] Ibid, p.282
    [3] Ibid, p.281

  13. C.W. Garrett, ‘Witches, Werewolves and Henri Boguet’, Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Western Society for French History, 4 (1976), 126-34

    In this article, Clarke W. Garrett stresses the importance of local context when discussing cases of possession. He tries to identify the root causes of endemic belief in witchcraft and possession in certain areas. For instance, he examines the upbringing and life of the French demonologist and judge Henri Boguet, and discusses how his formative years, and particularly his beliefs about a connection between worship and healing, influenced Boguet’s understanding of the supernatural. Garrett aligns himself with William Monter, who wrote that witch trials were made possible by ‘the temporary conjunction of popular witchcraft with the science of demonology’. (‘Witchcraft in France and Switzerland’ (1975) p.41)

    Therefore, he argues that cases of possession were not evidence of insanity, or hysteria as Charcot thought, but rather the realisation of certain attitudes and beliefs about witchcraft and the devil which were widely accepted in specific communities. As Garrett puts it: ‘possession is a cultural stereotype that is rooted in the structure and attitudes of the specific society’ (p.127).

    Garrett also examines the methodology of a typical witch trial, with the first accused witch being pressured to point the finger at others who fit the stereotypical profile. In Saint-Claude, for instance, Boguet uncovers a group of sixteen witches who all incriminate each other, and who are mostly women or impoverished vagrants already on the margins of society. Garrett does note, however, that this trial is relatively unusual in the sense that Boguet relies entirely on the testimony of the accused against each other. This method was condemned by a group of Parisian theologians in 1610, who argued that ‘one must never admit the accusations of demons’, and Boguet himself seems to have acknowledged the limitations of his demonology later, deciding not to republish his ‘discours des sorciers’ after 1611.

    Garrett concludes that there was a strong connection between local beliefs about healing and supernatural power and the prevalence of witch trials and cases of possession. Garrett provides a strong case for the importance of local beliefs about supernatural forces, and demonstrates how such beliefs contributed to widespread beliefs in possession and witchcraft. His argument is perhaps weakened by its limited scope, however. Indeed, this is something that Garrett admits in his conclusion, where he draws the reader’s attention to wider questions which he has not discussed, such as the role of gender or the reformation in influencing popular belief in this period.

  14. P. Roberts, 'Huguenot Conspiracies, Real and Imagined in Sixteenth Century France' - Review

    Book Review - P. Roberts, ‘Huguenot Conspiracies, Real and Imagined in Sixteenth Century France’, in B. Coward and J. Swann (eds), ‘Conspiracies and Conspiracy Theories in Early Modern Europe: From the Waldensians to the French Revolution’, (2004, Hampshire), pp. 55-66

    In ‘Huguenot Conspiracies, Real and Imagined in Sixteenth Century France’, Penny Roberts uses the Huguenot example as part of a much larger debate; that of the treatment of marginal groups in Early Modern Europe and their relationship to conspiracy theories. In this very specific example, she introduces the persecution of deviant groups as something that could happen ‘in any time, at any place, but particularly in response to the effects of social and political instability’. [1] Structurally, Roberts develops this point throughout the essay detailing the actions of Huguenot groups within France and the ways in which this was perceived as threatening behaviour by other religious groups, specifically the Catholics. This argument is consequently developed further by references to ‘frontier towns’ in France, areas such as Lyon, which were seen as more susceptible to political overthrow by groups such as the Huguenots and therefore required further protection. This argument is contextualised by the French Civil wars of the sixteenth century, supporting Robert’s argument that these political problems acted as a direct cause for the Huguenots to be seen as conspiracists. She concludes that whilst the Huguenot group acted as a very real perceived threat at the time, all they really had was potential as they lacked the means and actual intention to want to provoke religious change in their favour.

    Roberts’ resources read well; the use of primary sources in the form of letters and examination of language as a tool to inflict fear of the Huguenot group demonstrates and supports her argument well that many of those in France in the sixteenth century did indeed live in fear of a Huguenot revolution. This allows the reader to understand which parts of France were captivated by the most fear as she cites the sources from a very local level, clearly indicating that the essay was well researched. As a whole, this piece of writing is a brilliant example to use when introducing the reader to a specific subject with excellent connections to overarching debates about the treatment and persecution of minority groups, with specific reference to the influence of time. This will allow other historians to examine contextual factors as a role in the treatment of deviant groups, indicating a clear pattern. With regard to conspiracy theories as a whole, the essay is very specific, however, Roberts’ ideas describing the role of other factors in the treatment of deviant groups is an encouraging factor for the young historian to examine other groups of interest and potential social and political reasons for their persecution. Her ideas reference specific beliefs in specific provinces in a specific country at a specific time and is encouraging to research other deviant groups with regards to this. 

    [1] P. Roberts, ‘Huguenot Conspiracies, Real and Imagined in Sixteenth Century France’, in B. Coward and J. Swann (eds), ‘Conspiracies and Conspiracy Theories in Early Modern Europe: From the Waldensians to the French Revolution’, (2004, Hampshire), p.55

  15. William de Blecourt, 'A Journey to Hell: Reconsidering the Livonian "Werewolf"', Magic, Ritual and Witchcraft, 2 (2007), 49-67.

    William de Blecourt’s article begins by looking into the case of the octogenarian Thies of Kaltenbrun, who, when accused, readily conceded to being a werewolf. The case, which was only opened to wider debate in 1985 when Hans Peter Duerr’s book was, Traumzeit, was translated into English, challenged previously held beliefs about werewolves’ supposed criminality, suggesting they held a much more positive role in society as ritual experts and healers.

    The article goes onto critique Carlo Ginzburg’s theory that werewolves were linked to shamans – a person typically regarded as having access to and influence in the world of benevolent and malevolent spirits. De Blecourt also disagrees with Ginzburg’s ideas that Thies’ situation was similar to many Western werevolves, believing there to be only a “very tenuous” link between the two, and that a historical relation is unlikely and speculative.

    De Blecourt concludes by highlighting the importance of Thies’ case; while it may not shed any light on werewolves in Western Europe, it alerts us to the necessity to consider indigenous context and meaning before contemplating more general terms of explanation.

    De Blecourt’s ideas appears to fit in very well with other writing on the subject; he agrees with Duerr’s theories, a clearly well respected author within the field, throughout the article, and also makes valid suggestions for authors writing on the subject in the future on how they can gain a deeper understanding of werewolves. The article also contributes greatly to the wider scholarship on deviance, as it highlights the importance of looking carefully at the indigenous context and meaning of a case, which can be applied to almost any deviant case throughout the medieval and early modern period.


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