Students Staff

24 April 2013

From witch-hunts to Meg and Mog – history talks on changing perspectives on witches

What is a 'witch'? An old woman with a black cat on a broomstick, a modern-day practitioner of paganism or a fictional character such as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter books?

A new talk series looking at these questions and led by Dr Alison Rowlands, Head of the Department of History, starts at firstsite in Colchester on Thursday 2 May.

The talks will explore the way the concept of a witch has changed over time and highlight that ideas of witchcraft persist in many cultures around the world, while people can still be victimised through modern day ‘witch-hunts’.

Dr Rowlands will begin by looking at the persecution of alleged witches in Europe from the 15th to the 18th century - when more than 100,000 people were tried in law-courts across Europe for the crime of witchcraft with at least half of them executed for being in league with the devil.
YouTube video of Dr Rowlands discussing history at Essex and her research on witchcraft

In later talks she will move on to look at modern day witch hunts, the growth of Wiccanism from the 1950s, the persistence of belief in witchcraft in some societies and the way witches have now become popular characters in children’s literature and film.

Dr Rowlands is an expert on witchcraft in early modern Europe and in particular England and Germany and has written about changing perspectives on witches over the centuries.

She said: “My academic research is focused on the history of witch persecutions in Europe and who actually got accused of witchcraft. My work is often challenging the stereotypes of who we think witches are. For example, I have done work on men who have been accused of witchcraft and children.

“I like posing the question of what people in previous centuries actually thought witches were because someone from that period had a very different idea of what a witch was compared to a child who might be reading Harry Potter books now.

“I also wanted to bring the story right up to the present day to remind people that belief in witchcraft continues in many parts of the world and violence suffered by alleged 'witches' is still very real.”

For more information about the talks series go to:

There are three talks in the ‘What is a witch?’ series:
Thursday 2 May - The 'Witch' in History: European Witch-Hunts of the Fifteenth to Eighteenth Century.
Thursday 6 June - Modern-Day 'Witches' in the Western World from Neo-Pagans to Harry Potter.
Thursday 4 July - Witch-Hunts: from McCarthyism to the Case of Kristy Bamu.

All talks start at 7pm. Tickets cost £5 or £3 concessions. Booking is advised.

For more information go to:

Notes to editor

For more information contact the University of Essex Communications Office on 01206 874377 or e-mail:

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