When Harry Potter was told he was a wizard (in J.K. Rowling’s universe, a wizard is a male witch; in Naming the Witch, witches can be masculine or feminine, as wizardry is perceived as a very different phenomenon from witchcraft), a new world opened up to him, one in which he felt more at home than the normal, non-magical world. Unfortunately, historical and modern accusations of witchcraft often lead to harassment, imprisonment, and death.
In Naming the Witch, James Siegel argues that explanations of witch-hunts have too often overlooked the extreme violence they entail, focusing on their social functions. Siegel grapples with the violence and takes the beliefs inherent to witchcraft seriously, bringing to the reader a sense of the fear and uncertainty driving those who kill witches.
What makes this book truly immediate is its focus on witch-hunts within the last decade. Today, people who are accused on witchcraft in Cameroon are judged in state courts. Much of Naming the Witch focuses on the witch-hunts that ensued in Indonesia after President Suharto left office in December 1998. Over the next three months, around 120 people were killed by mobs who believed them to be witches. Witch-hunts then continued on a smaller scale.
What causes people to torture, murder, and mutilate someone who has been their neighbor their entire lives? How is it that, while Americans immerse themselves in the world of Harry Potter, people are still being killed as witches? Naming the Witch delves into these disturbing questions and provides surprising answers.