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Burnings and blessings: The cultural reality of the supernatural across early modern spaces

Thomas J Rushford, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The searches for the cultural spaces of early modern European beliefs in the supernatural have followed many trails. While more complete descriptions of these searches will emerge below, some common features of the picture of these historical inquiries can be briefly summarized. The division between "popular" and "elite" understanding of the supernatural is one such feature of these spaces. Works in the latter category generally focus on an intellectual history of the beliefs that warranted the supernatural; Stuart Clark's distinguished Thinking with Demons is an example of this genre. The second, more common, category is the study of popular manifestation of the supernatural in this period. Carlo Ginzburg's Night Battles and Robin Briggs's Witches and Neighbors illustrate this kind of study. A second feature, particular to the historical works focusing on popular beliefs, is the use of anthropological methods to inform these works. The final element of this historiography is a less common but powerful tool of analysis, geography. While historians have gained much insight using both these methods, my intent is to expand these results by using two separate sites of research: Normandy, France, and Kent, England. This work uses these sights and these methods to examine archival records of witchcraft trials from each site over the period 1560-1680. Using a tight geographical focus, qualitative and quantitative features of Norman and Kentish witchcraft are examined. The study ends with some comparisons and contrasts in the results of that research. The overall purpose of the work is to allow an examination of the broader underpinnings of the supernatural in this period.

Subject Area

European history|History

Recommended Citation

Rushford, Thomas J, "Burnings and blessings: The cultural reality of the supernatural across early modern spaces" (2007). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3290052.