Tag Archives: carlo ginzburg


Ben Trafford reviews Ecstasies: Deciphering The Witches’ Sabbath by Carlo Ginzburg in the Bkwyrm archive.

The debate has raged in the occult community for the last forty years or so, and longer in the anthropological community: were the witches in Europe merely the victims of Christian hysteria, or were they the secret keepers of preChristian beliefs? Margaret Murray’s work on this topic has been largely debunked, as has Robert Graves. The Gardnerian history is still a hot topic, and of course, anyone who claims to have maintained some hereditary tradition is usually scoffed at, rightly. But Ginzburg’s work lets us look at the whole question in a new light. Like most good scholars, he’s meticulously unearthed evidence to show that the polarized views are, as usual, wrong.

Ginzburg maintains, and provides powerful evidence, to say that there were remnants of preChristian practices. He does agree that many of those who suffered under the witch trials were wrongly accused Christian folk, and he doesn’t support the idea of a knowing, secret priesthood who maintained unaltered preChristian belief systems. What he posits is far more interesting, and viable. He puts forth that the remnants of the pagan faiths were maintained in an evolving form by the peasantry, and grew to suit their needs. Like the Irish Catholic who still leaves milk out for the wee folk, these people believed themselves to be Christian, but practiced some rituals that certainly wouldn’t have been condoned in a church!

A brilliant piece of work, and well worth reading. The translation from the original Italian is quite good, too. I’ve read both, and heartily recommend either.

A final note: Ginzburg’s focus is almost exclusively continental Europe. He doesn’t touch on the British Isles at all.

Find this book at Amazon, Abebooks, or Powell’s

The Cheese and the Worms

The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller by Carlo Ginzburg, translated by John Tedeschi and Anne Tedeschi, the 1982 paperback from Penguin, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Carlo Ginzburg The Cheese and the Worms from Penguin

“Fascinating popular history in the great tradition of Barbara Tuchman and Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie

Menocchio was a simple family man—a miller by trade, the father of eleven children, briefly the mayor of his village. But he was also a voracious reader, a man who, possessed of an extraordinary curiosity, constructed a radical cosmology and dared to present it to the world. In 1599 he was burned at the stake as a heretic.” — back cover

By Moonlight and Spirit Flight

By Moonlight and Spirit Flight: The Praxis of the Otherworldly Journey to the Witches’ Sabbat by Michael Howard is Three Hands Press Occult Monograph No. 4 and has recently been released, and is also available from Weiser Antiquarian Books.

Michael Howard's By Moonlight and Spirit Flight from Three Hands Press

The Devil read out a roster of those present from a black book. A fire was then lit and the Horned One sat on a throne to receive the worship of his followers. At his side was the leading female witch, a woman known as the Queen of the Sabbath. The witches saluted the Devil by means of the osculum infame or ‘obscene kiss’, which was given under the tail…

As has been established by historians such as Dr. Carlo Ginzburg and Éva Pócs, the topological elements of the medieval Witches’ Sabbat – the ecstatic nocturnalia of the lamiae — carry relics of the ancient spirit-cults and localized folk-beliefs of Europe. Elements haunting witchcraft-practices included the night-roving denizens of the Wild Hunt, the exteriorised or shapeshifted spirit-double, and the profaned sacraments of Christianity itself. Of particular interest in the present essay is the phenomenon of nocturnal spirit-travel and its connections to present-day occult practice as manifested within the Sabbatic Cultus of traditional witchcraft.

In this fourth book in the Three Hands Press Occult Monograph Series, British folklorist Michael Howard casts an eye over such elements as the ancestral horde, the flight of the Furious Host, and the entheogenic Witches Salve, each of which played a unique role in the Sabbat of the Witches. The mythos of the Sabbatic conclave, containing infernal and diabolical elements, is taken beyond its Christian pathology to connect it with actual practices in folk-magic.” [via]