Document Type

Book Review

Publication Version

Published Version

Publication Date

Summer 2007

Journal or Book Title

Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft





First Page


Last Page





Many scholars of witchcraft and demonology have at times alluded to the seemingly transhistorical and transcultural nature of at least some aspects of their studies. To give only one example, the hearings of the McCarthy era are often held up as modern “witch hunts.” More recently, scholars have also recognized certain dynamics akin to witch-hunting in major panics concerning the supposed satanic ritual abuse of children in the United States and to a lesser extent Europe in the 1980s and 1990s. In this book, David Frankfurter, whose previous work has focused on religion in late antiquity, considers these apparent connections at length. While he admits that any given incident will be contingent on immediate historical and cultural factors, he asserts the striking constancy, from antiquity to the present, of what he terms the “myth of evil,” that is, the belief that a widespread demonic conspiracy exists within society, the members of which are responsible for horrifically wicked acts. Such conspiracies have never existed, or at least there has never been any real evidence of their existence, but they have shaped the way societies have conceived of evil. From Roman depictions of immoral Christian orgies, to the medieval stereotype of ritual murders committed by Jews, to the early modern witch hunts, to modern SRA (satanic ritual abuse) panics, societies have always been ready to believe in a clandestine minority driven by supernatural entities to commit monstrous evil that will, inevitably, subvert society if it is not exposed and extirpated.


This is a book review from Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft 2 (2007): 84, doi:10.1353/mrw.0.0057. Posted with permission.


All rights reserved. Except for brief quotations used for purposes of scholarly citation, none of this work may be reproduced in any form by any means without written permission from the publisher. For information address the University of Pennsylvania Press, 3905 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104-4112.

Copyright Owner

University of Pennsylvania Press



File Format