Review: Witchcraft and the Shamanic Journey: Pagan Folkways from the Burning Times

Witchcraft and the Shamanic Journey: Pagan Folkways from the Burning Times
Witchcraft and the Shamanic Journey: Pagan Folkways from the Burning Times by Kenneth Johnson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book suffered from the lousy scholarship that characterized its time period, but I am intrigued by the author’s theory, which is that the beginnings of the most active period of witch persecutions in Western Europe happened as a result of a “crisis cult” of Renaissance witchcraft that emerged in response to the crisis of collapsing medieval social order in the aftermath of the Black Death; and that the “witchcraft” itself was a syncretic faith that grew out of Western demonology, folk practices and superstitions, and a genuine “shamanic” desire to communicate with the Otherworld to seek guidance. He likened the early Renaissance “witch cult” to the syncretic crisis-cults of history that have led to revolutions of varying success, such as Voodoo and the Haitian Revolution and the Great Ghost Dance. I can see the comparison; and it is my contention that modern Witchcraft is actually not a survival of anything; but that it represents a syncretic blend of English folk customs and superstitions, the Western occult tradition, Indian Buddhism and English Protestantism. Renaissance witchcraft, then, would represent a similar evolution at a different time period; and naturally I find it interesting that someone else suggests a similar conclusion to my own! I only wish that his scholarship and research were more akin to the modern brutally stark style of not drawing conclusions without direct evidence. Kenneth Johnson has punctuated his thesis with exercises that draw on an essential “shamanic” core, and these exercises are valuable and useful. Worth a read, in any case, especially for any modern Pagan.

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