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Witchcraft posed a major challenge for the application of the law in different places and historical periods. Two striking examples may illustrate this. Some historians see the disciplining role of the absolutist state as a major factor behind the outbreak of epidemic persecutions of witches that ravaged Europe in early modern times. In many parts of present-day Africa, anthropologists observe similarly drastic interventions against “witches” by postcolonial states that are pressured by the population to do something about a supposed proliferation of new forms of witchcraft.

The problem of how the law can deal with such hidden aggression has also emerged in many other places, such as Melanesia, Indonesia, and South Asia. In modern Europe and North America, witchcraft as such has become less of a ...

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