Dancing in the Palm of His Hand: A Novel of the Witchcraft Persecutions in 16th-Century Germany


320 pages
ISBN 1-55081-217-3
DDC C813'.54





Reviewed by Leonard Adams

Leonard Adams is a professor of French Studies at the University of


Unusual, realistic, engaging, poetic, and irreverent, this is a piece of
excellent writing descriptive of the horrors of persecution directed
against “witches” over a period of 20 years. Partly narrative,
partly dialogue, the storyline depicts the actions of the religious
right, whose leaders trumped up charges to justify the burning of
people, mostly women, accused of consorting with demons. The historical
setting is 17th-century Germany. The potential victims are, principally,
Eva Rosen and her 11-year-old daughter Katharina, who come into focus
and remain there throughout the drama, facing the wrath of lawmen. The
tale is vividly told, coloured by the successful creation of suspense
and tinged with the culture of superstition and paranormal
manifestations in which the future and the present depend for their
meaning on the quirks and the unrelenting domination of fate and evil
acts filled with contradictions.

The core of the plot relates to troubling questions about the
justification of witch hunts, the torture of suspects, the unreliability
of witnesses and their testimonies, and the abuses of the patriarchal
system in a Christian society. Eva and Katharina are repeatedly harassed
by male accusers who form a kangaroo court. Strong-willed clergy and
authoritarian town notables are determined to drive home the message of
the evil of witchcraft rather than analyze logically the reports of evil
practices, even when innocent people are placed at risk. Cooler heads
feel compelled to short-circuit or ignore whatever legal procedures
exist, and take flight through extra-legal means. Emotions often run
high, and doubt reigns in the minds of those characters who take the
time to reflect on the issue of finding suspects as people in authority
invent the law on daily basis. The reader also learns that the witch
hunt, ostensibly intended to punish evildoers, was, obviously, also
meant to satisfy lust.

Beckel exposes a society caught up in a web of injustice, by using
scenes that frequently touch the heart of the reader. The style is
terse, moving, and well-crafted, causing us to feel the pain of the
ordeal visited on Eva and Katharina.


Beckel, Annamarie., “Dancing in the Palm of His Hand: A Novel of the Witchcraft Persecutions in 16th-Century Germany,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 25, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/16216.