The best books about the Witchcraze

Why am I passionate about this?

I teach history at Cambridge University and focus on the period between 1500-1700. We call this period early modernity, and associate it partly with the advances of printing, literacy, learning, and scientific discoveries. But this was also the age of the witchcraze and a period in which everyone, whether learned or illiterate, believed in the power of the devil and the presence of witches in society. It is important to me to recover women´s experiences and the experiences of families.


I wrote...

Book cover of The Astronomer & the Witch: Johannes Kepler's Fight for His Mother

What is my book about?

About 73,000 men and women were tried for witchcraft and 40,000 executed in Europe between 1500 and 1700. Three of every four witches executed during the height of European persecutions spoke some dialect of German. 75 percent of those accused were women.

One of these women was Katharina Kepler, the sixty-eight-year-old, illiterate mother of the famous astronomer Johannes Kepler, who was accused in the South-West German town of Leonberg in 1615. Katharina vehemently denied the charge and her family were equally outraged. Yet it took six years for the old woman to be acquitted, by which time she was so frail that she died within months. My book tells the story of how the Keplers suddenly found themselves part of a drama to save their mother from a trial, torture, and the likelihood to be burnt.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Witch Craze: Terror and Fantasy in Baroque Germany

Ulinka Rublack Why did I love this book?

Many historians have tried to show that beliefs in witchcraft had a logic to them and ought to be understood in the context of climate changes and harvest failures at the time, for instance. Roper´s book is so important because it returns to a close reading of the trial records and shows that there was something quite crazy going on in many of these fantasies about women boiling the bodies of babies they had killed or attacking one cow after another. She also argues that we need to explain why eighty percent of all accusations were made against women, and that this related to deep-seated fears about fertility.

By Lyndal Roper,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Witch Craze as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A powerful account of witches, crones, and the societies that make them

From the gruesome ogress in Hansel and Gretel to the hags at the sabbath in Faust, the witch has been a powerful figure of the Western imagination. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries thousands of women confessed to being witches-of making pacts with the Devil, causing babies to sicken, and killing animals and crops-and were put to death. This book is a gripping account of the pursuit, interrogation, torture, and burning of witches during this period and beyond.

Drawing on hundreds of original trial transcripts and other rare…


Book cover of Imagining the Witch: Emotions, Gender, and Selfhood in Early Modern Germany

Ulinka Rublack Why did I love this book?

Kounine closely looks at accusations of men and of women in order to better understand what made each of them vulnerable. A great writer, she engages with the emotional worlds that are revealed and tell us so much about ordinary Lutheran communities and their values.

By Laura Kounine,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Imagining the Witch as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Imagining the Witch explores emotions, gender, and selfhood through the lens of witch-trials in early modern Germany. Witch-trials were clearly a gendered phenomenon, but witchcraft was not a uniquely female crime. While women constituted approximately three quarters of those tried for witchcraft in the Holy Roman Empire, a significant minority were men. Witchcraft was also a crime of unbridled passion: it centred on the notion that one person's emotions
could have tangible and deadly physical consequences. Yet it is also true that not all suspicions of witchcraft led to a formal accusation, and not all witch-trials led to the stake.…


Book cover of The Witches of Lorraine

Ulinka Rublack Why did I love this book?

Alongside Germany, Lorraine was another hotspot of accusations and Briggs has worked over decades in local archives to analyse the patterns of accusations and paint a vivid picture of village life. His book underlines how complex sets of factors worked together, often over many years, to result in accusations and, in some cases, in executions.

By Robin Briggs,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Witches of Lorraine as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Based on perhaps the richest surviving archive of witchcraft trials to be found in Europe, The Witches of Lorraine reveals the extraordinary stories held within those documents. They paint a vivid picture of life amongst the ordinary people of a small duchy on the borders of France and the Holy Roman Empire, and allow a very close analysis of the beliefs, social tensions, and behaviour patterns underlying popular attitudes to witchcraft.

Intense persecution occurred in the period 1570-1630, but the focus of this book is more on how suspects interacted with their neighbours over the years preceding their trials. One…


Book cover of Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Beliefs in Sixteenth and Seventeenth-Century England

Ulinka Rublack Why did I love this book?

This classic study is now fifty years old and focuses on England. It looks at ideas about witchcraft in the context of entire worldviews in which beliefs about astrology thrived and most people wore amulets to protect themselves from spirits. It chronicles change over time and, while its arguments have been much debated since, provides a wide-ranging account that remains inspiring.

By Keith Thomas,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Religion and the Decline of Magic as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Witchcraft, astrology, divination and every kind of popular magic flourished in England during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, from the belief that a blessed amulet could prevent the assaults of the Devil to the use of the same charms to recover stolen goods. At the same time the Protestant Reformation attempted to take the magic out of religion, and scientists were developing new explanations of the universe. Keith Thomas's classic analysis of beliefs held on every level of English society begins with the collapse of the medieval Church and ends with the changing intellectual atmosphere around 1700, when science and…


Book cover of Witchcraft: A Very Short Introduction

Ulinka Rublack Why did I love this book?

A concise, reliable, and well-written introduction to ideas about witchcraft and the history of the persecution across the world and into modernity. It is everything the title says – a very short introduction, and ranges from the Americas, and the famous trials of Salem, to other continents. Europe´s witchcraze is framed in a global perspective.

By Malcolm Gaskill,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Witchcraft as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Witchcraft is a subject that fascinates us all, and everyone knows what a witch is - or do they? From childhood most of us develop a sense of the mysterious, malign person, usually an old woman. Historically, too, we recognize witch-hunting as a feature of pre-modern societies. But why do witches still feature so heavily in our cultures and consciousness? From Halloween to superstitions, and literary references such as Faust and even Harry Potter, witches still
feature heavily in our society. In this Very Short Introduction Malcolm Gaskill challenges all of this, and argues that what we think we know…


You might also like...

American Flygirl

By Susan Tate Ankeny,

Book cover of American Flygirl

Susan Tate Ankeny Author Of The Girl and the Bombardier: A True Story of Resistance and Rescue in Nazi-Occupied France

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Susan Tate Ankeny left a career in teaching to write the story of her father’s escape from Nazi-occupied France. In 2011, after being led on his path through France by the same Resistance fighters who guided him in 1944, she felt inspired to tell the story of these brave French patriots, especially the 17-year-old- girl who risked her own life to save her father’s. Susan is a member of the 8th Air Force Historical Society, the Air Force Escape and Evasion Society, and the Association des Sauveteurs d’Aviateurs Alliés. 

Susan's book list on women during WW2

What is my book about?

The first and only full-length biography of Hazel Ying Lee, an unrecognized pioneer and unsung World War II hero who fought for a country that actively discriminated against her gender, race, and ambition.

This unique hidden figure defied countless stereotypes to become the first Asian American woman in United States history to earn a pilot's license, and the first female Asian American pilot to fly for the military.

Her achievements, passionate drive, and resistance in the face of oppression as a daughter of Chinese immigrants and a female aviator changed the course of history. Now the remarkable story of a fearless underdog finally surfaces to inspire anyone to reach toward the sky.

American Flygirl

By Susan Tate Ankeny,

What is this book about?

One of WWII’s most uniquely hidden figures, Hazel Ying Lee was the first Asian American woman to earn a pilot’s license, join the WASPs, and fly for the United States military amid widespread anti-Asian sentiment and policies.

Her singular story of patriotism, barrier breaking, and fearless sacrifice is told for the first time in full for readers of The Women with Silver Wings by Katherine Sharp Landdeck, A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell, The Last Boat Out of Shanghai by Helen Zia, Facing the Mountain by Daniel James Brown and all Asian American, women’s and WWII history books.…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in witchcraft, witches, and Germany?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about witchcraft, witches, and Germany.

Witchcraft Explore 315 books about witchcraft
Witches Explore 135 books about witches
Germany Explore 478 books about Germany