Reviews of Rye Spirits


Reviews of Rye Spirits

“This fascinating and important book centres on an unusual episode in 1607-9 when two women who had been trying to find buried treasure with the help of spirits were tried for witchcraft. Annabel Gregory uses the skills of both a historian and a social anthropologist to reconstruct the very rich context, and explain how a Puritan housewife, with some marginal claims to be a healer, could ultimately be accused of bewitching the richest man in Rye to death.

She turns the story into a wonderfully penetrating analysis of an early modern urban society, where economic decline sharpened political and religious factionalism, among people who were nevertheless bound together in their small and intimate community. Her account also casts a most revealing light on the interaction between magical and folk beliefs on the one hand, and formal Christian doctrine on the other.
—Robin Briggs, University of Oxford


“… a delightfully layered and deep picture of a community … a pleasant, conversational read with something of the feeling of a novel. … the author is keen to remind us of the reality and, indeed, the suffering of those whose lives she chronicles. … Rye Spirits is a good story and a good history, well told. —Marion Gibson, The Seventeenth Century


“… In its sheer breadth and depth and detail … Gregory’s story has a European feel to it, if only because English records are generally too sparse for such a reconstruction. … Rye Spirits … reaches deeply into the thicket of English religious and political conflict before the civil wars, demonstrating seamless links between the temporal and metaphysical worlds that shaped seventeenth-century mentalities; [and] reminds historians of witchcraft how important were the … convoluted machinations of the politics of the parish. —Malcolm Gaskill, Continuity and Change


“This highly informative book … uses … this well-documented case as a window into the economic, social and religious divisions that prevailed in the town. … the enduring value of Rye Spirits is its contribution to our understanding of English religious culture. —Brian P. Levack, Journal of British Studies


“Fascinating … skilfully composed to engage non-specialist readers and draw them into the detailed research on which it is based. … Persons and events [are used to] introduce discussions of the historical and cultural context of the central witchcraft story, [which] is a most effective way of describing the society of the place and period … the style of writing is clear and refreshingly informal. —Ben Burt, anthropologist, British Museum