Smarty Pants Podcast

Something Witchy This Way Comes

The social forces at work behind history’s favorite scapegoat

By Stephanie Bastek | October 5, 2018
Flickr/rexraxon

Not everyone believes in witches: in Siberia, after all, locals blame misdeeds on ghosts, and the Irish have fairies. But for those who do, witchcraft can be incredibly threatening—and an accusation of witchcraft can be a powerful tool to control people and entire societies. To get you into the Halloween spirit, we’re revisiting our interview with one of the world’s foremost experts on witchcraft, the historian Ronald Hutton.



Go beyond the episode:

  • Ronald Hutton’s The Witch
  • For the flip side of witchcraft, watch Ronald Hutton’s dramatic documentary about the good ones—A Very British Witchcraft, about the founder of modern Wicca
  • Frances F. Denny’s exhibition “Major Arcana: Witches in America,” on view at the ClampArt gallery in New York, explores the contemporary idea of witches through portraits of those who identify as such. One of Denny’s foremothers was accused of witchcraft in 1674, and 20 years later another of her ancestors presided as a judge in the Salem Witch Trials.
  • And for some spooky Halloween viewing, watch The Witch, our host’s favorite movie about witches—featured on Vulture’s list of top 15 witch movies, if you’re dying for more

Tune in every week to catch interviews with the liveliest voices from literature, the arts, sciences, history, and public affairs; reports on cutting-edge works in progress; long-form narratives; and compelling excerpts from new books. Hosted by Stephanie Bastek.

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Have suggestions for projects you’d like us to catch up on, or writers you want to hear from? Send us a note: podcast [at] theamericanscholar [dot] org. And rate us on iTunes!


Music featured from Master Toad (“Dreadful Mansion”) and 8bit Betty (“Spooky Loop”), courtesy of the Free Music Archive. Our theme music was composed by Nathan Prillaman.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

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