In 1995 the world of witchcraft studies lost one of its most influential modern pioneers, the celebrated Spanish anthropologist and social historian Julio Caro Baroja. Nearly 40 years ago, and already an authority on Basque ethnography, he published Las brujas y su mundo, recounting how, during his boyhood, he had spoken with believers in witchcraft in the region where he grew up. It seems that these encounters had a profound effect on Caro Baroja’s book. They taught him to focus on the radically different conceptions of the world that made witchcraft possible in some societies and periods and impossible in others. Ultimately, he said, the history of witchcraft raised an issue that was fundamental to philosophy and science as well — ‘the nature of reality itself’. Between the notions of reality produced and made significant during the centuries of modern science and those of ‘prescientific’ peoples there was obviously an enormous gulf. Even so, it was imperative for historians to grasp the point of view of those who accepted witchcraft as a real threat, and to do this by analysing both their mentalities and the demands made upon them by the structural characteristics of the societies to which they (and their witches) belonged. In this respect, they should aim to emulate anthropologists like Edward Evans-Pritchard and Bronislaw Malinowski.2


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© Stuart Clark 2001

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  • Stuart Clark

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