Reviewer comments on Witchcraft and Magic in the Nordic Middle Ages

October 1, 2011

"What Mitchell has now given us is a magisterial overview that allows us to see how the history of witchcraft and magic in northern Europe fits into broader European patterns […] Mitchell’s book is fascinating and valuable, then, not only because it fills a gap and gives us a rich store of material previously too little known but also because it raises questions about the distinctive resonance magic and witchcraft could have even in a time of deep and widespread integration into European culture." —Richard Kieckhefer, The Catholic Historical Review

“This book is a milestone: Never again can we describe the early modern witchcraft trials in Scandinavia without going back to the Nordic Medieval foundations so richly laid out by Mitchell. This is among the most important works written on witchcraft in Scandinavia, and it is unlikely to be superseded for decades.” —Gunnar W. Knutsen, Scandinavian Journal of History

“…a wonderful foundation for further investigation of the rich textual materials left to us regarding magic and witchcraft in the Nordic Middle Ages. By focusing attention on the processes of inter-cultural exchange and tradition diffusion that played a part in the evolution of ideas of witchcraft in the region from the era of Christianization to the Reformation, Mitchell offers a framework for describing the topic not as a singular phenomenon, but as a complex, moving target, shaped by the competing traditions and discourses that medieval writers sought to harmonize in their treasured manuscripts […] a powerful model for the historically inflected study of witchcraft and magic in European societies.” —Thomas A. DuBois, Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft

“this splendid and long-awaited book both succeeds admirably in its own aims and represents the best one on its subject.” —Ronald Hutton, Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft

 ” impressive book that may serve for a long time as the standard work on the subject.” —Jenny Jochens, Speculum

“Mitchell has not ‘only’ furnished us with a comprehensive analysis of magic in the Nordic Middle Ages, in between two ‘bookends’, he also sets us on the track of how other shelves in the library of cultural history can be reorganized.” —John Ødemark, ARV. The Nordic Yearbook of Folklore

“Mitchell’s book is a timely foundational work in a field that has been notably fragmented between historical, literary and folkloric studies.” — Haki Antonsson, English Historical Review

“This excellent book aims to rectify a lacuna in the study of Nordic witchcraft beliefs […] To do the subject matter justice requires both a deep understanding of the history and social structures of the region and period, and an ability to work with a huge and varied corpus of source materials. Mitchell is exceptionally well suited to the task. “ — Tracey Sands, Scandinavian Studies

“This the first interdisciplinary book about witchcraft and magic in the Nordic Middle Ages is a tinderbox that challenges established views in research in the field. But first and foremost, it is a study which in an exemplary manner connects the relationship of magic in the Middle Ages with the persecution of magic in the Nordic countries in the 16th and 17th centuries. With this book, we have in other words gained a more complete and holistic understanding of the witchcraft phenomenon and of reactions to the phenomenon's manifestations.” — Rune Blix Hagen, Historisk tidsskrift

“…an important landmark in the study of Scandinavian witchcraft…” — Clive Tolley, Saga-Book

“The most impressive aspect of Mitchell’s excellent study is his deft use of the full array of sources available for medieval Scandinavian magic—above all the spectacular examples of saga literature, but also law codes and trial records, sermons and ecclesiastical accounts, visual art and archeology. Each comes with its own problems, which he nimbly negotiates while weaving together an effective overall analysis…” — Michael D. Bailey, The American Historical Review

“…witchcraft and magic involve issues that cut across disciplines, and Mitchell has produced a solid, impressively interdisciplinary contribution to our understanding of them.” — Edward Bever, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

“Mitchell’s Witchcraft and Magic in the Nordic Middle Ages is the best book currently available about medieval Scandinavian witchcraft and magic. His careful use of a broad range of sources in all of the medieval Scandinavian languages creates a convincing picture of what magic and witchcraft were like in the Scandinavian Middle Ages and of how people at the time experienced it. It is a model of how to reconstruct a belief system, and thus it should be read by anyone with an interest in witchcraft, magic, popular religion, or popular belief.” — David Elton Gay, Western Folklore

“…an enjoyable, informative read. Highly recommended…” — A. E. Lykam, Choice

“…in opting for a history of mentality approach, [Mitchell] greatly opens the range of available source material […] this well-written book will be of great interest to specialists (and students) of Old Norse culture and history as well as to historians of European magic. Finally, this is a text that ought to interest students of religion, who have here an excellent study of 'religious' change.” — Nicolas Meylan, The Journal of Religion

“…a clearly written, sophisticated consideration of the dynamics of popular and elite cultures of religion, witchcraft, shamanism, and magic during the medieval period in the Nordic region.” — Emily E. Auger, The Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

“The starting date for Professor Mitchell’s thorough and subtle analysis is the year 1100 […] The material assembled here is rich, varied, and often unfamiliar. The socio-historical picture Professor Mitchell draws from it will be of great value not only to scholars of Scandinavia but to anyone interested in the complex history of European witch-beliefs.” — Jacqueline Simpson, Folklore

“There are several advantages to Mitchell's analysis. One is, as suggested above, the sure hand with which he controls the different types of source material, ranging from sagas to church paintings and court proceedings. Another advantage is the interdisciplinary approach that comes with this process. But the biggest advantage is that he can demonstrate that perceptions of magic were by no means unchanging during the medieval period. One of the most interesting findings of the book is precisely the distinct developments taking place in this area.” Anna Wallette, Scandia. Tidskrift för historisk forskning

“a comprehensive and enlightening survey of beliefs and narratives concerning supernatural aggression in medieval Scandinavia […] an effective and evocative bridge through the long and richly storied era that begins in the pre-Christian Viking Age and ends in the Reformation.” — Thomas DuBois, The Journal of English and Germanic Philology

“The special significance of this book, however, is in the way it uses its textual and methodological resources to redirect our attention from the usual terrain of Nordic cultural history. While Nordic magic has enjoyed plenty of attention from other historians (work which underpins much of Witchcraft and Magic), this book constitutes something of an intervention in the field.” — Stuart McWilliams, Preternature: Critical and Historical Studies in the Preternatural

“Mitchell's book provides an excellent overview of research and at the same time shows in a convincing manner how popular conceptions of witches and sorcerers changed in the North during the Middle Ages.” — Lars Lönnroth, Svenska Dagbladet