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Between the Devil and the HostImagining Witchcraft in Early Modern Poland$
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Michael Ostling

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199587902

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199587902.001.0001

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Healing and Harming

Healing and Harming

Chapter:
(p.106) (p.107) 5 Healing and Harming
Source:
Between the Devil and the Host
Author(s):

Michael Ostling

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199587902.003.0006

Witch-trials took place in a context of folk cosmology of the limited good—the notion that there is only a limited supply of health, fertility, and luck in the world. Symbols of this good were dew and milk, its absence was symbolized by dryness. Witchcraft was imagined as the inversion of folk healing practices; where they prevented dryness, witches stole milk. A ‘grammar of witchcraft’ can be reconstructed as the inversion of the grammar of healing spells: accordingly, everyone knew what witches practiced, since it was the opposite of what normal people practiced. The motif of Łysa Góra or ‘Bald Mountain’—the witches’ sabbat—exemplifies this logic of inversion and overconsumption of limited goods.

Keywords:   healing, harming, limited good, fertility, milk, grammar of witchcraft, Bald Mountain, sabbat, inversion

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