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In the West we tend to think of witches in terms of the witch trials, when fear, ignorance and religious fervour brought the poor to heel, and fostered suspicion of those who dared to be different, or knowledgeable, or independent of mind. Witches and wizards are often associated with pre-Christian societies, Celtic in particular, (and therefore popular in tales of fantasy), but the nature of their wisdom can be found in so many fascinating cultures across the world.
Ancient societies, particularly where natural religions with many gods abound, often highlight the power of an elder, or a seer, a healer or a wise friend. Tales of wizards and witches reach across traditions as folk try to explain natural phenomena and engage with the world around them. Those who understood the properties of healing in plants, or could make a prediction of weather events to rescue crops, became worshipped as elders, as keepers of knowledge.
In tribal African societies, Polynesian cultures and East Asian traditions there are tales of those with great knowledge who are often described as witches or wizards. The Baba Yaga of Eastern Europe, the Skinwalkers of the Navajo, Merlin and Morgana la Faye of Arthurian Legend and the fox witches of Japan are but a few of the many examples. Some work for good, others with ill-intent, but all become the focus of folkloric legend, collected here in this new book of myths and tales.
About the Author
Diane Purkiss is Professor of English Literature and Fellow in English at Keble College Oxford. She has published widely on witches, fairies, ghosts and the history of the supernatural. She is currently working on a study of witches accused during the period of the trials who believed themselves to be performing magic.