First Published in May 2005

WitchfinderAs I raced through Kings Cross to get my train back to the Isle of Ely, only one thought was in my head. Besides my murderous anger at those wheelie suitcases. If I get this train I can be back in time for Gaskill’s talk.

And I was. Just.

Racing up Back Hill, I arrived at Topping and Co. bookshop without a second to spare. I went upstairs and was quickly offered a china cup of red wine and ushered to the back of the narrow literary emporium.

A hush came over the proceedings and Malcolm began his talk.

Starting with a joke about the proportions of the room and likening them to an aeroplane was a nice touch that got the crowd going. He then launched straight into the premise of his book ‘Witchfinders: a Seventeenth-Century English Tragedy.’

Gaskill’s book explores belief systems of the mind, what prompted a society to entertain the notion that women were hexing and even killing people in their midst. It illuminates the differences in society then, on the cusp of a civil was with a real actual belief in God and thus the devil. He tells the story of the witch trials throughout East Anglia with poignancy, touching on the places and people of our region who were most affected by this craze.

He is interested in the demonization of the witchfinder himself and paints a very vivid picture of historical beliefs and events. The interesting question is whether witchcraft belief was encouraged moreso by folkloric oral traditions or legal statute.

After speaking for what seemed like the shortest hour of my life, Gaskill answered some interesting and some rather tenuous questions in an elegant and concise manner.

The evening was a success and the talk magical.

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