Criticisms of the psychopathological interpretation of witch hunts: a review

Am J Psychiatry. 1982 Aug;139(8):1028-32. doi: 10.1176/ajp.139.8.1028.


The psychopathological interpretation of the European witch hunts of the 16th and 17th centuries, which has been prominent in histories of psychiatry, contends that demonology overwhelmed psychiatry in the late middle Ages, with the result that the mentally ill were executed by the thousands as witches. The author reviews the criticisms and contrary evidence that have been brought to bear on this paradigm in the past 20 years, including critiques of its data collection and interpretation, historical evidence which has failed to support its contentions, and questions about its implicit approach to the history and philosophy of science.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Archives
  • Data Collection / history
  • Data Collection / standards
  • Europe
  • Historiography
  • History, 16th Century
  • History, 17th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Magic*
  • Mental Disorders / history*
  • Philosophy
  • Psychiatry / history
  • Science / history