American Witches: A Broomstick Tour Through Four Centuries

Witches have haunted American psyches since before there was a United States. In American Witches: A Broomstick Tour Through Four Centuries, Susan Fair recounts key stories in this haunting, from the first witches "brought over" by colonists, to the modern-day Blair Witch phenomenon.

As the title suggests, Fair's tour is often wry, occasionally verging on sarcastic, but she balances humor directed at the absurdities in these superstitions with sympathy for the many, many victims caught in the thrall of preternatural fears. "For most accused witches, the only words of theirs that survive are the curses they supposedly sputtered at neighbors they had had a disagreement with, or their courtroom denials as transcribed by the prosecutors." Fair gives meaningful voice to these victims, but uses levity to make the grim subject of their suffering endurable for the reader.

Of particular note is the section on witchcraft from the American Indian perspective. Many tribes had their own stories of witchcraft and devilry and, as they Christianized, adopted those of the European missionaries proselytizing among them. Often, Indian legends targeted those very European colonists, blaming them for disease and hardship. Also noteworthy, and almost incomprehensible, is the fact that many people believe that the movie The Blair Witch Project is a documentary and visit Burkittsville, Md., to encounter the witch. American Witches is a fine, fun exploration of the witchcraft craze. --Evan M. Anderson, collection development librarian, Kirkendall Public Library, Ankeny, Iowa.

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