Sorceress, A Study of Witches and their Relations with Demons by Jules Michelet



Sorceress (the English translation of La Sorcière) by Jules Michelet is still one of the most vivid, dark and confronting studies on witchcraft ever produced. Long before Murray, it positions the medieval witch within a diminishing ancient culture of nature worship and the ruthless efforts of Christianity – with its radical hostility towards nature and life – to overwrite it. Michelet’s was an authority on the history of the Middle Ages, and his insistence that history should concentrate on ‘the people, and not only its leaders or its institutions’ placed him ahead of his time as a godfather of micro-history.

Starting in the 13th century the book moves on towards belladonna, the Sabbath and pacts with Satan, into the hells of the Burning Times – social contexts, church intrigues and mass hysteria always included. Via Basque witches, the Black Masses and demoniacal possessions we enter the satanic decadence of 17th century France, and finally the end of the witch burning era in 18th century, with the trial of Charlotte Cadière.

Though a solid work of history, the reader is not served a simple bone dry exposition of facts and theories, but something that tastes like a Bloody Mary.


About the author

Jules Michelet (Paris, 21 August 1798 – Hyères, 9 February 1874) was a French historian, author and philosopher. In his work, Histoire de France (History of France), Michelet was the first historian to use and define the word Renaissance (‘rebirth’ in French), for a period in Europe’s cultural history that represented a drastic break from the Middle Ages.

His father was a master printer, and Jules assisted him in the actual work of the press. A place was offered him in the imperial printing office, but his father was able to send him to the famous Collège or Lycée Charlemagne, where he distinguished himself. He passed the university examination in 1821, and was soon appointed to a professorship of history in the Collège Rollin. Shortly after this, in 1824, he married. This was one of the most favourable periods ever for scholars and men of letters in France, and Michelet had powerful patrons in Abel-François Villemain and Victor Cousin, among others. Although he was very interested in politics, having embraced republicanism and a peculiar variety of romantic free-thought, he was above all a man of letters, and an inquirer into the history of the past.

Read more about Jules Micheletin in the Post Scriptum of Sorceress.