Imagining witchcraft in early modern Poland.
Ostling, Michael.
676 leaves.
Microform, Thesis
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dissertation note
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Toronto, 2008.
general note
Source: Dissertation Abstracts International, Volume: 69-06, Section: A, page: .
This dissertation draws on two sets of sources. First, a database of 179 trials and 355 accused witches, drawn from all over the territory of early modern Poland (excluding Lithuania), and dating from 1511 to c. 1770. Second, literary sources including anti-demonological polemic, legal treatises, guidebooks to rural economy, sermon collections, humanist and Jesuit poetry, and popular ribald literature.Part 2 examines the ways that ordinary peasant magic, directed against imagined witches, provided the conceptual building blocks for the alleged crimes of witches. The accused inverted or exaggerated their own practices to create the confessions of malefice, night flight, and the meeting at Bald Mountain. In this part I also examine the use of Christian sacraments in witchcraft; the Tridentine context of intense Eucharistic devotion promoted accusations and confessions about the desecrated Body of Christ.Part 3 examines the figure of the Devil in the Polish witch-trials. The devil bore strong resemblance to folkloristic house-spirits, and to the untimely dead, especially unbaptized children. Polish witches imagined themselves making pacts not with the Prince of Darkness but with a nature-spirit or imp. Accused witches "indigenized" elite motifs of demon-sex; turning them into stories of the nurture provided to house-spirits.Witchcraft is an imaginary crime, but witches are real people: they are people who have come to be imagined by others in their community, and often by themselves, as practitioners of the imagined crime of witchcraft. This dissertation explores the various ways by which witchcraft was imagined in early modern Poland. In particular, it pays close attention to the self-representations of accused witches, as they attempted, in their confessions under torture, to preserve the integrity of their imagined selves.Part 1 puts the witch-trials into their social, economic, and legal context. It attempts a characterisation of the social position of accused witches: they were usually married peasant-women, poor but not destitute. It traces increasing number of witch-trials in the late 17th century in response to the economic and demographic crises of the mid-century. It also shows how legal practice tended to encourage high execution rates but to discourage the spread of witch-trials through chain-accusation.
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