WITCHCRAFT AND MAGIC
                  HISTORY 510:253/ WOMEN’S STUDIES 988:253
                               SPRING, 2012

PROFESSOR PHYLLIS MACK                         224 VAN DYCK HALL, CAC
OFFICE HOUR: WED 1:30-2:30                     PMACK@RCI.RUTGERS.EDU


This is a course about the culture of witchcraft and the occult – the values, assumptions,
and attitudes that have generated beliefs about witches and the supernatural, both in
earlier times and in our own day. This is also a course about witchcraft as a crime,
specifically, the witch craze of the 16th and 17th centuries, which resulted in thousands of
executions, mainly (but not exclusively) of women. We will discuss these persecutions as
episodes in the history of women and of gender relations in European societies, and also
in relation to religious and intellectual ideas in the early modern period.

The first section of the course deals with theories of witchcraft, ancient goddess religions,
and Christian doctrines relating to gender, magic, and sexuality. We will also discuss the
nature of Church authority and folk beliefs in medieval and early modern Europe. The
second section is a close examination of the witch craze of the 16th-17th centuries in
Europe and New England. In the final section, we study ideas of magic and the occult in
the 19th and 20th centuries, including spiritualist movements in Victorian England, the
McCarthy “witchhunts” of the 1950s, and the feminist and environmentalist Wicca


This is a course about social behavior, religious culture, and ideas and preconceptions
about gender; it is a course about ideas more than facts. You will be required to think and
write about a number of complex issues, such as the relationship between religion and
magic, or changing perceptions of male and female bodies. You will also be expected to
complete the reading assignments during the week they are assigned and be prepared to
discuss them (and identify important figures) in required exams.

There will be two in-class tests and a take-home final exam. Students may choose to do
an in-class presentation, either individually or in groups of up to five students, in place of
the second test. Students who choose to do a presentation should submit written proposals
and be available to meet with me at least once.

The first test (30% of your grade) will include both short questions and essay questions.
Short questions will ask you to briefly (1-2 pages) identify and discuss an historical term,
person, or event. Essay questions may require you to address a specific historical

question, compare historical time periods, events, or persons. A good essay should be
well written, clearly organized, address directly the question(s) posed, and incorporate
historical documents and facts in support of your answer. You are responsible for the
ideas and information taken from the readings, films, and lectures. You will receive a
study guide in advance of the first exam.

The second test (35% of your grade) will consist of a single essay, asking you to discuss
the cultural meaning of the vampire figure in European and American history. You will
be required to read the novel, Dracula, by Bram Stoker, and see THREE films dealing
with the Dracula (or vampire) figure IN ADDITION TO one other vampire film, shown
in class.

The third take-home test (35% of your grade) will cover material from the entire semester
and will consist of TWO essay questions.

REQUIRED TEXTS: The following books are on sale at the Rutgers U. (Barnes and
Noble) bookstore:

Jeffrey Russell, A History of Witchcraft
Bram Stoker, Dracula
Starhawk, The Spiral Dance
Marian Starkey, The Devil in Massachusetts

Other required readings, (marked below with a *) are on reserve at Alexander Library
and can be downloaded on your home computer.

                                 COURSE SCHEDULE

                                   I. BACKGROUND

Jan. 18:       Introduction: What this course is about. Witchcraft as a belief system, as a
               crime, as a cultural phenomenon, and as a chapter in the history of women.

Jan. 23-25:    Theories of witchcraft and magic. The concepts of spiritual
               transformation, blessing and cursing. The relationship between magic and
               social deprivation. Witchcraft in cross-cultural perspective: were the
               European and American experiences unique?

               READING: Russell, Ch. 1

Jan. 30-       Pre-modern ideas about the self. What does it mean to be possessed?
Feb. 1:        Film: “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”

               READING: *S. Ansky, “The Dybbuk Melody”


Feb. 6:    Ancient goddess worship.

           READING: *Tikvah Frymer Kensky, In the Wake of the Goddesses, “In
                     the Body of the Goddess”

Feb. 8:    Early Christian attitudes toward women, sexuality, and magic. The origins
           of Satan.

           READING: *Jerome’s Letter CVIII “To Eustochium, Memorials of her
                      Mother, Paula”
                    *The Martyrdom of Perpetua

Feb. 13:   Europe in the pre-modern period: vestiges of paganism. The Catholic
           church and magic.

           READING: Russell, Ch. 2

Feb. 15:   Europe in the pre-modern period: attitudes toward women.

           READING: *Sara Grieco, “The Body, Appearance, and Sexuality,”

Feb. 20:   Renaissance Magic: Magic as Philosophy. Magicians and witches.

           READING: * Guido Ruggiero, Binding Passions, “That Old Black Magic
                      Called Love”

                       3. THE WITCH CRAZE

Feb. 22:   The witch craze in Catholic countries. The role of the Inquisition.
           Interrogation as theater. The evolution of torture. The craze at Loudun.

           READING: Russell, Ch. 3-4

Feb. 27    The witch craze in Protestant Europe. The Salem witch craze of 1692
           READING: Starkey, Chapters 1, 2
                       Russell, Ch. 5-6
                      *Nathaniel Hawthorne, “Young Goodman Brown”

Feb. 29-
Mar.5:     Film: “The Crucible”

           READING: Starkey, Chapters 3-22


Mar. 12-14: SPRING BREAK

                       AND POSTMODERN WORLD

Mar. 19:     The end of the witch craze and the ‘crazes’ of the modern period. The
             Enlightenment, rationalism, and the anti-communist “witch craze” of the

             READING: Russell, Ch. 7
                    *Arthur Miller, “Why I wrote The Crucible”

Mar.21:      Victorians, evil, and women. Spiritualism and science. Sex, masculinity,
             and Wilhelm Reich.

             READING: * Alex Owen, The Darkened Room, “Star Mediumship: Light
                        and Shadows”

Mar. 26:     The phenomenon of Dracula and the vampire.

             READING: Bram Stoker, Dracula

Mar. 28-
April 2:     Film: Nosferatu, (directed by Werner Herzog) 1979

             READING: Finish Dracula

Apr. 4:      IN-CLASS TEST: The cultural meaning of the vampire figure.

Apr. 9:      From folk tales for adults to fairy tales for children. Witchcraft and gender

             READING: Diane Purkiss, The Witch in History, “At Play in the Fields
                                      of the Past”

Apr. 11:     Modern Wicca: A return to ancient goddess religions?

             READING: Russell, Ch. 8
                      Starhawk, The Spiral Dance, Ch. 1-6, 8-9, 13

Apr. 16:     Witchcraft on the margins.

             READING: Russell, Ch. 10

Apr. 18:      Meetings and preparation for optional in-class projects.

Apr. 23-25:   GROUP PROJECTS

Apr. 30:      Review. Exams are due in my office before 3:00 on May 7.

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