• Malcolm Gaskill reviews ‘The Witch’ by Ronald Hutton · LRB 2 November 2017

    What is beyond doubt, Hutton concludes, is that ‘the witch figure remains one of the few embodiments of independent female power that traditional Western culture has bequeathed to the present.’ This acknowledges our continuing dependence on the witch motif. Some of this dependence is voyeuristic, even sadistic. The uncomfortable truth is that as much as cruelty and violence repel us, they can excite us when they don’t pose a direct threat to our safety and comfort. Edmund Burke said that to empty a theatre one had only to announce that an execution was in progress outside, thus demonstrating ‘the comparative weakness of the imitative arts’. We still contrive to exclude others, and then either hide from the consequences or spectate approvingly. We are, to an alarming extent, who we once were, which explains why witches past and present are made by us and live with us.