Research Stream


Abaigéal Warfield
The University of Adelaide

Framing Fear: Constructing fear of God, the Devil, and Witches in early modern news pamphlets and broadsides

This main aim of this project is to analyse the role of fear in early modern news reports and to uncover who reports were telling their readers to fear: themselves? God? The Devil? Or witches? Popular reports reveal not only how contemporaries reacted to crime and disasters but also how they felt, offering valuable insights into fear and its construction in the early modern period.

Framing Fear: Constructing fear of God, the Devil, and Witches in early modern news pamphlets and broadsides

Image: Pamphlet titled "Warhafftige Zeitung von den gottlosen Hexen" by Reinhard Lutz, c 1571. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Bad weather, sudden death, floods, crimes and other disasters could all be attributed to the wrath of God. However, God was not the only one held responsible for difficult times. If God was punishing humans, it was for their sins, so readers could be directed to fear themselves, with their own sinfulness held as responsible. In addition, God did not always do his work directly, but was believed to carry it out through intermediaries, most notably through the Devil. The Devil in turn was believed to employ the agency of witches. News reports constantly questioned why things happened, and sought to frame who was responsible, as a medium they essentially had the ability to frame who should be feared. Through looking at the role of fear in these reports, the project aims to uncover how contemporaries viewed their God, the Devil and witches, and how feelings towards them varied geographically, temporally, and across religious confessions. The content of these texts were constructed to not only communicate information concerning crimes, but also to edify readers and listeners by showing them the power of God, divine providence and the imminent danger of the Devil.

Book Chapter:  ‘Witchcraft and the Early Modern Media’ in Johannes Dillinger (ed.), The Routledge History of Witchcraft (forthcoming).

Recent conference papers:
‘“Zur Warnung wider dem Teuffel”:  Warnings of Witchcraft in Neue Zeitungen’ presented at the German History Society Annual Conference, Maynooth University, 6 Sept. 2014.

‘Fact and Fiction in the Hexenzeitungen: “A terrifying truthful report…”’, presented at the Arbeitkreis interdisziplinäre Hexenforschung conference “Hexerei in den Medien-Teil II” at Stuttgart-Hohenheim, Germany, 21 Feb. 2014.

‘Witchcraft, Infanticide and the Midwife-Witch in the Hexenzeitungen’, presented at the Eleventh Workshop on Early Modern German History at the German Historical Institute, London, U.K., 11 Nov. 2013.

Witchcraft and the Media - Orbit, Radio Adelaide, produced and presented by Ewart Shaw, 24 May, 2015