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Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft





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The purpose of this odd book is to argue that, in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and the fear and extraordinary governmental responses they have generated, the modern Western world, and particularly the United States of America, is on the verge of (though not yet embroiled in) a new era of witch hunts. The modern malefactors are, obviously, supposed terrorists rather than supposed witches. Their means of bringing about death and destruction are guns, bombs, and biological devices, not spells and incantations. Yet Rapley argues over the course of twenty breathless chapters that a number of characteristics that pertained to historical witch hunts also pertain in modern times. Most basically, he contends that any situation in which particular people or categories of people come to be understood as representing a dire threat, generating such a level of fear that, in response, authorities are willing to employ extraordinary measures to convict and punish, constitutes a witch hunt. Above all, a presumption of guilt in advance of any solid evidence must be the norm. Evidence must then be acquired (or fabricated) to prove the assumed guilt. “The verdict first, then the trial!” as Rapley repeatedly proclaims (in a text replete with exclamation points).


This is a book review from Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft 5 (2010): 245. Posted with permission.


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