Short course: Witchcraft, Werewolves and Magic in European History

HA short course, 10 September–10 December 2024

Published: 20th June 2024

Led by Jonathan Durrant, Laura Kounine, Jan Machielsen, Lisa Tallis, Juliette Wood

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(Registration is via Cademy which opens in a new window. Please read the course terms and conditions before registering)

What does the course cover?

This Historical Association short course is an introduction to European witchcraft history from the fifteenth century to the present. Using a range of primary sources, the course team will explore and discuss important themes and questions relating to witchcraft history. It will examine how witchcraft has been imagined and understood at different times and in different places, and why alleged witches were prosecuted. At the end of the course, participants will have a foundation for further reading and research. 

  • How is the course structured and delivered?

    This course will run from 10 September to 10 December 2024 and will be delivered entirely online. It will include seven live lectures with discussion plus two interactive workshop sessions. Each lecture will be led by one of the academics on the course but will be supported by the other academics taking part.

    Throughout the course you will have access to a specially selected bank of online resources to support your learning and understanding of the topic. Recordings of the live sessions will be added to the resource unit around a week after they have taken place.

    Those who sign up for the course can dip in and out as they wish, attend the live lectures, or catch up on the recordings afterwards; however, we encourage live participation in these lectures and workshops to make the most of the experience. There are no requirements for participants to produce any output or assessment for the course – just to take part and enjoy the opportunity to learn about a fascinating subject from leading academics in the field.

    The live session dates are detailed below. Unless otherwise stated, all sessions will take place between 7.30–9.00pm (45mins lecture, 45mins chat, discussion and Q&A). You need to book for the course to receive the meeting link details and access to the accompanying resource unit.

    Session 1: The figure of the witch
    Tuesday 10 September 2024, 7.30pm
    With Jonathan Durrant, Laura Kounine, Jan Machielsen, Lisa Tallis, Juliette Wood

    Rebel, Wiccan, feminist icon. The figure of the witch as she permeates popular culture today has taken on many shifting, often-contradictory forms over the years. These are the product of a centuries-long engagement with Scripture, mythology, demonology, folktales, popular magical practice and thousands of witchcraft trials. How we imagine the witch now differs greatly from how medieval theologians, early modern witch-hunters or self-confessed witch-victims imagined her. There was no consensus even in the past. In this first session, we will discuss the evolving figure of the witch and introduce some of the concepts and questions that underpin the rest of the course. 

    Session 2: Witchcraft imagery and gender
    Tuesday 24 September 2024, 7.30pm
    With Jonathan Durrant, Laura Kounine

    One consistent aspect of the figure of the witch throughout history is that she has usually been imagined as female rather than male. Early depictions of the witch following the first major witchcraft trials and the publication of the Malleus Maleficarum (1486) quickly established her sex as essential to modern witchcraft iconography. Images were not long in coming. Ulrich Molitor’s De Lamiis (1489) became the first illustrated work of demonology. Major Renaissance artists like Albrecht Dürer and Hans Baldung Grien embraced the witch, presenting her as a figure of unrestrained, naked, female power. In this session we will use witchcraft imagery as the starting point for a discussion of the many reasons why witchcraft has commonly been associated with women.

    Session 3: Demonology
    Tuesday 8 October 2024, 7.30pm
    With Jan Machielsen, Lisa Tallis

    At its heart, throughout much of early modern Europe, witchcraft was a form of heresy and idolatry, the worship of someone or something other than God. While early modern witches were imagined to use their powers to harm their neighbours, it was their supposed rejection of God and worship of the devil that offended theologians. From the fifteenth century onwards, theologians transformed witchcraft from a popular superstition into a grave crime deserving of death. The new science of demonology was an interdisciplinary one: theologians debated the devil’s powers and philosophers how they took form, physicians scrutinized diabolical illnesses and lawyers asked how the crime of witchcraft could ever be proven. This new demonology informed large-scale witch persecution across much of Europe. What the demonologies said and how they came to influence witch persecution will be the subject of this  session.

    Session 4: Reading trial records
    Tuesday 22 October 2024, 7.30pm
    With Jonathan Durrant, Laura Kounine

    Between about 1450 and 1750 perhaps as many as 100,000 Europeans, mostly women, were tried for witchcraft; about 50% of them were executed for their alleged crimes. Many of the trial records have survived and these are important resources for early modern historians. They give voice to people about whose lives we would otherwise know very little. The records certainly tell us about the fears of the witch-accusers, but they also provide a window onto other emotions, including envy and love, and how people lived among their neighbours. Using trial records from both England and Germany, we will look at how they have been used to understand early modern society and culture.

    Workshop 1
    Tuesday 29 October 2024, 7.30pm
    With Paula Kitching

    We will have covered a lot of ground in the first four sessions of this course, and you will have a lot of questions and ideas that may not yet have been addressed. As it is Halloween this week, it is an ideal opportunity to discuss your questions and ideas with the course convenors and each other.

    Session 5: Witchcraft in Wales: from Ceridwen to Bella the fortune teller
    Tuesday 5 November 2024, 7.30pm
    With Lisa Tallis, Juliette Wood

    There were some regions of Europe that experienced very few witchcraft trials. This included the Celtic parts of the British Isles, in particular Wales. That did not mean that witchcraft and related practices were not an integral part of the local belief systems there. By exploring what witchcraft looked like without witches and witch trials, we get a better sense of the malleability and diversity of pre-modern magical beliefs. In this session, we will focus on witchcraft in Wales and how it has been represented from the legendary enchantress Ceridwen to the nineteenth-century Bella the fortune teller.

    Session 6: Werewolves and male witches
    Tuesday 19 November 2024, 7.30pm
    With Jan Machielsen, Lisa Tallis

    Witchcraft was primarily but not exclusively a female activity. About 20% of the people tried for witchcraft in early modern Europe were men; in some places, like Russia, Normandy and Iceland, men formed the majority of witch-defendants. Werewolves were also mainly men. The existence of male witches and werewolves challenges some of our preconceptions about witchcraft and the explanations for the extent of witch persecution in early modern Europe. How they do so will be discussed in this session.

    Session 7: Folkloric and fictional witches
    Tuesday 3 December 2024, 7.30pm
    With Jan Machielsen, Juliette Wood

    Witches and witch-hunts are still with us. In this final lecture session, we bring the course up to the present by looking at folkloric and fictional witches, and how historians’ representations of the early modern witch-hunt have changed over time. Witchcraft has been a staple of European folklore studies since the nineteenth century. Plays, novels, films and television series are full of witch characters. In this session, we will examine how and why folkloric and fictional witches are represented in particular ways.

    Workshop 2
    Tuesday 10 December 2024, 7.30pm
    With Paula Kitching

    Inevitably, we will have not been able to cover everything in our sessions. This workshop is therefore another opportunity for you to discuss any aspects of the course that have interested you with the course convenors and with each other, and to discuss your key learning points as we conclude the course

  • What does it cost?

    This course is free to all current HA members, subject to booking. You must have a valid membership at the time of booking and attending the course. If you have a corporate membership, the additional staff users on your account can also register for free.

    The course is charged at £37 (including VAT) for non-members. Registration is available online only through Cademy, and payment must be made at the point of booking by credit or debit card.

    Did you know? It costs as little as £8 more to become an HA member and gain access to all HA short courses for free, plus a range of other benefits all year round. Find out more about our membership options.

    To access the module content, you will either need to have an active HA membership or a free basic account. Become a member or register for a free basic account.

  • Who is it for?

    The course is open to everybody but is particularly designed for lifelong learners. It is available to anybody with an interest or curiosity in the topic who wants to learn more while developing their historical knowledge and skills, without the pressure of any form of assessment. It is ideal for those who prefer a flexible pace of learning and who would like the opportunity to interact with the course leaders and participants. You do not need any prior knowledge of the topic to take part.

  • Who is leading the course?

    Dr Jonathan Durrant is Principal Lecturer in History at the University of South Wales. He is an historian of early modern witchcraft and gender in both Germany and England. He is the author of Witchcraft, Gender and Society in Early Modern Germany (2007) and, with Michael Bailey, The Historical Dictionary of Witchcraft (2012). He is currently writing a book on witchcraft in world history for Routledge’s ‘Themes in World History’ series.

    Dr Laura Kounine is Senior Lecturer in Early Modern History at the University of Sussex. She has published a monograph with Oxford University Press, Imagining the Witch: Emotions, Gender, and Selfhood in Early Modern Germany (2018) and co-edited a collection of essays with Palgrave on Emotions in the History of Witchcraft (2018). She has a forthcoming book with Cambridge University Press titled A History of Witches in their Own Words and is co-editor of the forthcoming Cambridge Companion to the Witch. She has published articles on the gendering of witchcraft in German History and the history of emotions in The Journal of Social History, and she was awarded a British Academy Rising Stars grant for her work on ‘Self-Narratives, Subjectivity, and the History of Emotions’. She previously held a Post-doctoral Fellowship at the Center for the History of Emotions at the Max Planck Institute in Berlin and was a Visiting Fellow at the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions at the University of Melbourne. She holds a PhD in History from the University of Cambridge.

    Dr Jan Machielsen is Reader in Early Modern History at Cardiff University. He has written widely about the early modern witch-hunt, the contemporary debates surrounding it, and its legacy in later periods. His next book The Basque Witch-Hunt: a secret history will appear with Bloomsbury Academic this autumn.

    Dr Lisa Tallis is an Assistant Librarian at Cardiff University’s Special Collections and Archives who specialises in the history of witchcraft in Wales, specifically the role of popular magic and demonology within Welsh witchcraft beliefs. She is the author of Cas Gan Gythraul: demonology, witchcraft, and popular magic in eighteenth-century Wales (2015) as well as numerous articles on the significance of the ‘dyn hysbys’ (cunning-man) and ‘fenyw-hysbys’ (cunning-woman). Her current research examines the history of demonology in Welsh writing, and the role of literacy and print in the continuation of witchcraft beliefs.

    Dr Juliette Wood is an American folklore historian who has written extensively on mythology, magic, medieval and Celtic folklore, and medievalist revivals. She is a member of the Folklore Society and is a past president of that organisation, who has been a frequent presenter for television and radio. She has published on a wide range of subjects and is the author of several books, Eternal Chalice: the enduring legend of the Holy Grail (London: Bloomsbury, 2008) and Fantastic Creatures in Mythology and Folklore (London: Bloomsbury, 2018) and is currently a Tutor at Cardiff University.

  • How do I take part?

    Booking is now available via this link. The course is free for members or £37.00 for non-members. More information about membership can be found here.

    (Registration is via Cademy which opens in a new window. Please read the course terms and conditions before registering)

What participants in our previous short courses have said:

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