Witchcraft Expert Malcolm Gaskill Breaks Down Famous Witches in Films & TV

October 27, 2022 1:00 AM ‐ Witchcraft

Historian Malcolm Gaskill breaks down depictions of witches and witch hunts from movies and television shows, including 'The Witches', 'Doctor Who', 'Jonestown' and 'Hocus Pocus' in a short video for Penguin Books.

The witchcraft expert has been speaking on the subject to promote his new book, 'The Ruin of All Witches', which is available to order now from Amazon.

In the video Malcolm covers off such topics as the famous ducking stool. He explains, "if she floats then she seemed to be guilty and if she sinks and she seemed to be innocent; everybody knows this kind of catch 22." The scene in question is taken for the 11th season of the science fiction show, 'Doctor Who'. Although this water ordeal is a familiar image, Malcom tells us it's not an accurate one. He says, "this would never, ever have happened like this. This is a ducking stool, ducking was a punishment for scolds, actually had nothing to do with witchcraft."

In the clip, Malcolm also talks about Robert Eggers' 2015 horror, 'The Witch', which he describes as "an absolutely stupendous film," giving it a "10 out of 10 for historical accuracy."

Michael Reeves' classic, 'Witchfinder General', also scored a high 9 out of 10. Malcolm said, "I think it's just a cracking film." The 1968 cult movie is based around the famous witch hunter, Matthew Hopkins, but lacks in some historical detail. Malcolm explained, "I think some of the spirit of it is very, very true to what I know happened, but that some of the details less so."

'The Ruin of All Witches' tells the dark, real-life folktale of witch-hunting in a remote Massachusetts plantation. These were the turbulent beginnings of colonial America, when English settlers' dreams of love and liberty, of founding a 'city on a hill', gave way to paranoia and terror, enmity and rage. Drawing on uniquely rich, previously neglected source material, Malcolm brings to life a New World existence steeped in the divine and the diabolic, in curses and enchantments, and precariously balanced between life and death.

In the frontier town of Springfield in 1651, peculiar things begin to happen. Precious food spoils, livestock ails and property vanishes. People suffer fits and are plagued by strange visions and dreams. Children sicken and die. As tensions rise, rumours spread of witches and heretics, and the community becomes tangled in a web of spite, distrust and denunciation. The finger of suspicion falls on a young couple struggling to make a home and feed their children: Hugh Parsons the irascible brickmaker and his troubled wife, Mary. It will be their downfall.

Through the gripping micro-history of a family tragedy, we glimpse an entire society caught in agonised transition between supernatural obsessions and the age of enlightenment. We see, in short, the birth of the modern world.

'The Ruin of All Witches' is available now from Amazon, order your copy in print or as an eBook for Kindle. There's also an audio book available from Audible.
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