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Witch Hunt: A Traveler’s Guide to the Power and Persecution of the Witch, Kristen Sollée, Weiser Books. Kristen Sollée will raise the hair on the back of your arms and fill your heart with grief and wonder. Witch Hunt, A Traveler’s Guide to the Power and Persecution of the Witch sets out to acknowledge and encounter victims of early modern Witch hunts by travelling to the physical sites of historical Witch executions in various countries and listening to the spirits that haunt them. Through seven countries and forty-five towns, she brings the reader along on a pilgrimage.
It is rare to find a work both historically honest and fully embracing of the mystical, and Witch Hunt is both. Sollée’s scrupulous research and thoughtful commentary contextualize every site she visits, allowing the reader to enter meaningfully into the world of each executed person. Her writing is free of pretense, and she openly discusses the limits of verifiable knowledge about these incidents. In a square in France where she recounts the horror of an execution by fire, Sollée notes of the victim—the best known in the book—“there is so much about her that has been lost to time.”
Each page is a portal, and as you slip into her world, Sollée will introduce you to the alluring Giovanna in Florence, the young boy Hans Morhaubt in Bamberg, the ever-defiant Joan of Arc in Rouen, and all the other victims—seductress and virgin, child and grandparent, guilty and innocent—that she encounters. She says she imagined the details of these figures that she paints, that she opened her heart at each site and allowed the place to fill her mind with what the past might have been. Sollée is both humble and rational, calling her process imagination, but it reads like a channeling. This is more than travel writing, more than a feminist or historical embrace of Witches past, more than a reimagined tragedy. Witch Hunt is a work of conjuring, and the result is magical.