Journal or Book Title
Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft
In his foreword, Dieter Harmening, who literally wrote the book on superstition in medieval Europe (Superstitio: Überlieferungs- und theoriegeschichtliche Untersuchungen zur kirchlich-theologischen Aberglaubensliteratur des Mittelalters [Berlin, 1979]), explains why this new, compact “dictionary of superstition” [End Page 111] is needed. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, superstition was a topic mainly explored by folklorists, ethnographers, and historical linguists. They understood superstitious beliefs and practices primarily as the residue of very early cultures, and used superstitions as a point of access to pre-Christian Germanic societies. The mammoth Handwörterbuch des deutschen Aberglaubens, published between 1927 and 1942, is marked by this approach to the topic. Ominously, Harmening also notes the work was marked by conditions in Germany at the time of its publication, when notions of early and “authentic” Germanic culture took on particular political force. Not only have those dark times passed, but scholars now approach superstition in very different ways. They recognize that many European superstitions do not derive from ancient ur-cultures but developed only in the medieval or early modern periods. Rather than using superstitions to access some lost, primeval past, they examine them as important elements of historical (and contemporary) societies.
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University of Pennsylvania Press
Bailey, Michael D., "Wörterbuch des Aberglaubens (review)" (2009). History Publications. 50.