RIDING THE NIGHTMARE: Women and Witchcraft by Selma R. & Pamela J. Williams Williams

RIDING THE NIGHTMARE: Women and Witchcraft

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In Riding the Nightmare, the author of Demeter's Daughters and her own daughter review the witchcraft craze in Western Europe, England, and Salem, in order to prove that the persecution was, ""in part at least,"" a way of denying women political and economic power. But once the authors have brought their thesis to your attention they support it with only hit-or-miss evidence and argument. They do point out many instances in which accused witches were useless old women, past child-bearing age and without means of livelihood, whom the community might well prefer to be rid of; others were widows owning land desired by others. But the book consists largely of snippets (retellings of ancient, sexist legends; analyses of art works depicting witches and related subjects) and summaries--with no particular thrust, feminist or otherwise--of largely familiar trials, cases, and writings. These are laced with loose generalizations (in the 1500s, ""government was to be exercised by men only, and any woman questioning the God-given system was a witch who was to be treated, punished, and executed as such"") and militant-sounding declarations of the obvious (the Salem witches were unjustly treated). Regarding Salem, the authors play down the role of the hysterical girls, claiming that they were mere tools of male accusers; they note that most of the witnesses were male and most of the victims women. Along the way, they point to personal and family feuds behind the accusations--an interesting sidelight but not especially pertinent to their thesis. The book is worth stocking for the appeal of both the feminist approach and the popular subject, but it is limited by patchy organization and unfocused writing. And O'Connell's The Magic Cauldron (1975) delves deeper into sex-linked sorcery.

Pub Date: Oct. 18th, 1978
Publisher: Atheneum