Witchcraft and Magic in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century Europe

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Contents

  1. Magic and Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe: Digital Collections for the Classroom
  2. Stolen Child
  3. Scholarly Research in Magic and Witchcraft
  4. Online Library of Liberty

C79 W58 J65 E9 A55 E9 W58 E9 W59 Magic - Manuscripts Click a title to check its availability. C66 L36 K K56 Witches in Early Modern England Witchcraft narratives. Survey of Scottish Witchcraft A database of people of accused of witchcraft in Scotland between Includes supporting material for context. Choose from the "Subject" list to browse a particular topic.

Featured Video. Sorceress Call Number: PN The Council of Leptinnes in drew up a "List of Superstitions", which prohibited sacrifice to saints and created a baptismal formula that required one to renounce works of demons, specifically naming Thor and Odin. Persecution of witchcraft nevertheless persisted throughout most of the Early Middle Ages , into the 10th century.

When Charlemagne imposed Christianity upon the people of Saxony in , he proclaimed:. If anyone, deceived by the Devil, shall believe, as is customary among pagans, that any man or woman is a night-witch, and eats men, and on that account burn that person to death Let nobody presume to kill a foreign serving maid or female slave as a witch, for it is not possible, nor ought to be believed by Christian minds.

Magic and Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe: Digital Collections for the Classroom

This conforms to the thoughts of Saint Augustine of Hippo , who taught that witchcraft did not exist and that the belief in it was heretical. In , Louis the Pious upon his accession to the throne began to take very active measures against all sorcerers and necromancers, and it was owing to his influence and authority that the Council of Paris in appealed to the secular courts to carry out any such sentences as the Bishops might pronounce.

The consequence was that from this time forward the penalty of witchcraft was death, and there is evidence that if the constituted authority, either ecclesiastical or civil, seemed to slacken in their efforts the populace took the law into their own hands with far more fearful results. In England, the early Penitentials are greatly concerned with the repression of pagan ceremonies, which under the cover of Christian festivities were very largely practised at Christmas and on New Year's Day. These rites were closely connected with witchcraft, and especially do S.

Theodore, S. Aldhelm, Ecgberht of York, and other prelates prohibit the masquerade as a horned animal, a stag, or a bull, which S. Caesarius of Arles had denounced as a "foul tradition", an "evil custom", a "most heinous abomination". Even then this was obviously no new penalty, but the statutory confirmation of a long-established punishment. So the witches of Forres who attempted the life of King Duffus in the year by the old bane of slowly melting a wax image, when discovered, were according to the law burned at the stake.

The Canon Episcopi , which was written circa AD though alleged to date from AD , once more following the teachings of Saint Augustine, declared that witches did not exist and that anyone who believed in them was a heretic. The crucial passage from the Canon Episcopi reads as follows:. It is also not to be omitted that some unconstrained women, perverted by Satan, seduced by illusions and phantasms of demons, believe and openly profess that, in the dead of night, they ride upon certain beasts with the pagan goddess Diana, with a countless horde of women, and in the silence of the dead of the night to fly over vast tracts of country, and to obey her commands as their mistress, and to be summoned to her service on other nights.

But it were well if they alone perished in their infidelity and did not draw so many others into the pit of their faithlessness. For an innumerable multitude, deceived by this false opinion, believe this to be true and, so believing, wander from the right faith and relapse into pagan errors when they think that there is any divinity or power except the one God. In the world of late antiquity or the early Middle Ages, it is impossible to define someone as a witch as opposed, for example, to an amateur herbalist, a heretic or a scold , and none of the legislation of the time attempted to do so.

Offenders were designated offenders by virtue of their performing various actions or wearing certain objects declared by the legislation to be condemned or forbidden. For all practical purposes, the 'witch' had not yet been invented. There were only practitioners of various kinds of magic, both male and female, who might belong to any rank of ecclesiastical or lay society, and whose actions might, or might not, bring them within the compass of canon or secular law, depending on external factors that were usually local but could, from time to time, be more general.

During the European Middle Ages, the centuries following Christianization of the continent, the Church focused on the persecution of heresy in order to maintain unity of doctrine. Practitioners of folk magic were left unmolested by the authorities. During the eleventh and twelfth centuries, there are few cases of witchcraft in England, and such accusations as were made appeared to have been brought before the ecclesiastical court. In the twelfth through fifteenth centuries, Christianity was throughout nearly all of Europe and was often tied into what we now define as magic.

Instead of being able to identify one type of magician, there are many who practiced several types of magic in this time including: monks, priests, physicians, surgeons, midwives, folk healers, and diviners. There are many written works from monks and priests rather than laypeople because they were literate and capable of writing down their day-to-day activities. Much of their "magic" consisted of the usage of medicinal herbs in order to heal. Each monastery was expected to be able to provide medical aid, a way in which they used various types of "magic" to become healers. Classical medicine entailed magical elements, they would use various charms or potions to help drive away sickness.

Many ordinary parish priests might have had some experience in medicine, but they also were more likely to practice other forms of magic. For example, it was the duty of a parish priest to perform an agricultural ritual for infertile fields in the twelfth century. The ceremony takes an entire day, and consists of digging out clumps of the earth and sprinkling it with holy water, oil, milk, honey, herbs, and a recitation. This is seen as a "Christian" act because the words that the priest says are taken from the Bible, specifically Genesis Magical acts such as these were widespread because it seemed to be under the umbrella of Christianity but also has ties to classical magic.

Medicinal practices in the Middle Ages were often regarded as forms of "natural magic". One in particular was referred to as a "leechbook", or a doctor-book that included masses to be said over the healing herbs. For example, a procedure for curing skin disease first involves an ordinary herbal medicine followed by strict instructions to draw blood from the neck of the ill, pour it into running water, spit three times and recite a sort of spell to complete the cure.

In addition to the leechbook, the Lacnunga included many prescriptions derived from the European folk culture that more intensely involved magic.

The Lacnunga prescribed a set of Christian prayers to be said over the ingredients used to make the medicine, and such ingredients were to be mixed with straws that had the names "Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John" inscribed on them. In order for the cure to work, several charms were sung in Latin over the medicine.

The origins of the accusations against witches in the Early Modern period are eventually present in trials against heretics, which trials include claims of secret meetings, orgies, and the consumption of babies.

Stolen Child

From the 15th century, the idea of a pact became important—one could be possessed by the Devil and not responsible for one's actions, but to be a witch, one had to sign a pact with the Devil , often to worship him, which was heresy and meant damnation. The idea of an explicit and ceremonial pact with the Devil was crucial to the development of the witchcraft concept, because it provided an explanation that differentiated the figure of the witch from that of the learned necromancer or sorcerer whose magic was presumed to be diabolic in source, but with the power to wield it being achieved through rigorous application of study and complex ritual.

A rise in the practice of necromancy in the 12th century, spurred on by an influx of texts on magic and diabolism from the Islamic world, had alerted clerical authorities to the potential dangers of malefic magic. By , the elements were in place for a witch hunt, and for the next century and a half, fear of witches spread gradually throughout Europe. As the notion spread that all magic involved a pact with the Devil, legal sanctions against witchcraft grew harsher. Each new conviction reinforced the beliefs in the methods torture and pointed interrogation being used to solicit confessions and in the list of accusations to which these "witches" confessed.

The rise of the witch-craze was concurrent with the rise of Renaissance magic in the great humanists of the time this was called High Magic, and the Neoplatonists and Aristotelians that practised it took pains to insist that it was wise and benevolent and nothing like Witchcraft , which helped abet the rise of the craze. Witchcraft was held to be the worst of heresies, and early skepticism slowly faded from view almost entirely. In the early 14th century, many accusations were brought against clergymen and other learned people who were capable of reading and writing magic; Pope Boniface VIII d.

Before Salem: Witchcraft Trials & the Historic Persecution of Witches - Documentary

The Templars were also tried as Devil-invoking heretics in — The middle years of the 14th century were quieter, but towards the end of the century, accusations increased and were brought against ordinary people more frequently. In , the University of Paris declared that the demonic pact could be implicit; no document need be signed, as the mere act of summoning a demon constituted an implied pact.

Tens of thousands of trials continued through Europe generation after generation; William Shakespeare wrote about the infamous " Three Witches " in his tragedy Macbeth during the reign of James I , who was notorious for his ruthless prosecution of witchcraft. Accusations against witches were almost identical to those levelled by 3rd-century pagans against early Christians:.

In chapters 6—11 of the Octavius , Caecilius, the pagan opponent of Christianity, accuses Christians of rejecting ancestral beliefs and of failing to imitate the piety of the Romans chap. They practice indiscriminate sexual activity, worship the head of an ass, worship the genital organs of their priests, and initiate novices by making them kill infants and cannibalize them chap. Their rites are held in secret, and they have no temples chap. Finally they are a subversive sect that threatens the stability of the whole world chap.

The craze took on new strength in the 15th century, and in , Heinrich Kramer , a member of the Dominican Order , published the Malleus Maleficarum the 'Hammer against the Witches'. This book was banned by the Church in and scholars are unclear on just how influential the Malleus was in its day.

One of the best-known instances of the wave of persecutions occurred at Trier beginning in It included the trial and execution of the electoral magistrate and former rector of the university, Dietrich Flade , in The prosecutions in Trier did not go unnoticed elsewhere.

Martin Del Rio , the polymath, humanist, former high ranking official of the government of the Spanish Netherlands in the Council of Brabant, and later a Jesuit, published his Disquisitionum Magicarum libri sex in at Louvain. The work was first reprinted in and became the most recognized and influential justification for the prosecution of witches. Popular beliefs about--and fears of --witchcraft survived longer than the mass persecutions and the willingness of courts to accept and try accusations of the crime of witchcraft.

Generally, the refusal of elites, including magistrates and judges, from accepting charges of witchcraft for trial was one of the most prominent features of the decline of prosecutions and, eventually, beliefs. So, according to Ian Bostridge, was the influence of shifting political programs. By the end of the seventeenth century, belief in the reality of witchcraft could be marginalized and dismissed simply as the program of one political faction by members of another. Among theologians on both sides of the Reformation divide, the idea of divine providence being more benevolent--and of the devil's influence being more restricted--took hold.

In addition, social and intellectual elites began to withdraw from a mental and cultural world that they had long shared with the general population, and the condemnation of popular beliefs--including beliefs concerning sorcery and witchcraft--as erroneous increased during the later seventeenth century. As long as the widespread certainties of the criminal nature of witchcraft and the actual prosecutions lasted, however, they left a substantial record, one that informs us of far more than witchcraft itself.

Most of this record exists in the archives and other records of courts, but it is difficult to extract these materials from the jurisdictional contexts in which they are imbedded without writing regional history, in which particular movements of prosecution are linked to local social and political stress points and the general local use of criminal law. It is always useful to consider the relation between particular instances and localities of persecution and individual works in the theoretical literature.

There is often a correlation. Another source, the pictorial record, is also important, but it has only recently begun to be studied. The third kind of record, however, the extremely large literature of demonology and witchcraft, is indeed worth considering, whether in conjunction with the other two kinds of sources or not.

From the work of Eymeric and Nider, and largely because of the interest of different kinds of readers and the impact of printing and the circulation of books, the literature of demonology and witchcraft was generally Europe-wide. Eymeric's encyclopedic handbook for inquisitors was the most widely used text of its kind until the early seventeenth century. Nider's Formicarius , which dealt with many things besides witchcraft, was written at the Council of Basel in , and its ideas circulated back and forth across Europe during the next century.

The work of Spina, too, was often reprinted through the sixteenth century. The Malleus Maleficarum did not exert its greatest influence until after the mid-sixteenth century, but it, too, became an essential part of the basic literature.

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Scholarly Research in Magic and Witchcraft

Thus, the first relatively abundant literature of demonology and witchcraft preceded the age of persecutions in the late sixteenth century. Its ideas remained active, however, not only in reprintings and new editions of individual works of the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries and in the circulation of printed editions of classical literature, including the work of Apuleius, Lucan, and Horace, but in the specialized works written for confessors and preachers, in dramatic representations that used the themes of magic and witchcraft from Bale to Shakespeare and Jonson, in the lively and revolutionary scriptural exegesis that was part of the great Reformation debate of the sixteenth century, especially in commentaries on the Ten Commandments, and in manuals for episcopal visitations.

The new edition of Eymeric in is one such example. The work of Bernard of Como was reprinted in Wicked magicians, however, were quite another matter for Weyer, and he condemned them as roundly as any writer on witchcraft had condemned witches. Both Weyer's exoneration of accused witches--and the entire theory of witchcraft as it had developed since the early fifteenth century--and his curious and inconsistent condemnation of magicians attracted the attention of the defenders of the doctrine, such as Jean Bodin.

The work of Bodin was followed by the "classics" of demonological and witchcraft theory, the works of the Lorraine judge Nicholas Remy in , and those of Henri Boguet , Martin Del Rio , and Pierre de Lancre in the two decades following. The authors of the classic demonological literature were usually either secular or ecclesiastical jurists and theologians, but physicians and natural philosophers also contributed substantially to it.

An awareness of the professional interests of the authors of these works, as well as the relation of particular works to particular instances of prosecution, is necessary for an assessment of their importance.


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The case of England is an interesting example. One of the earliest specific treatises is that of Francis Coxe, A short treatise declaringe the detestable wickednesse of magicall sciences, as necromancie, conjurations of spirites, curiouse astrologie and such lyke , of The next major works were that of the sceptic Reginald Scot , The Discoverie of Witchcraft , in and that of Henry Holland in After a relatively late start, one Scottish king who later became king of England and a number of Scottish and English clerics had come to make a substantial contribution to the literature of witchcraft by the early seventeenth century.

Some, like Scot, used continental literature heavily, but from the work of Gifford, evidence from English trials was used as well. The original materials on this website dealing with witchcraft prosecutions in the late seventeenth century in Essex County and the Massachusetts Bay Colony include a number of texts from seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Britain whose influence and arguments extended into North America. They represent the tension between the sceptical tradition and the belief in spirit activity.

Thomas Ady --probably a physician in Essex, England--represents a powerful, sceptical voice in the tradition of Johann Weyer and Reginald Scot. His works A Candle in the Dark , ; second edition retitled A Perfect Discovery of Witches , expressed considerable doubts about the reality of witchcraft and greatly criticized physicians who attributed physical afflictions too readily to demonic interference. Ady and the sceptical tradition were echoed in the work of John Webster , The displaying of supposed witchcraft , of , and the dissenting minister George Burroughs, one of the victims of the Salem Village prosecutions in , quoted Ady favorably.

Conversely, the reality of witchcraft and spirit activity generally were also asserted with considerable passion.

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In the context of apocalypticism in England, the work of Nathaniel Homes Holmes , Daemonologie and Theologie , in , expressed millenarian ideas similar to those of Cotton Mather a generation later. Spirit activity was illustrated in the work of Richard Baxter , a Puritan divine, millenarian, and friend of Increase Mather , who was contemptuous of popular religion but convinced of the reality of spirit activity. Part of a movement in late seventeenth-century England more generally identified with Joseph Glanvill and Henry More , he was seeking to justify belief in the activities of the spirit world by identifying as many authentic cases of spirit activity as possible against the sceptical tradition represented by Weyer, Scot, Ady, and Webster.

He knew the work of the sceptic Johann Weyer , and he drew for patristic sources on the early seventeenth-century work of Petrus Thyraeus among others. The sceptical tradition, however, continued into the early eighteenth century.

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The earlier debates are reflected in the work of Francis Hutchinson , Bishop of Down and Connor , whose highly sceptical Historical Essay Concerning Witchcraft appeared in and was expanded in , and Richard Boulton fl. Both sceptics and believers were heard in British North America, and the trials at Salem Village throughout most of became their focus. There is no need here for yet another narrative historical account of the trials and their repercussions, nor for a full reproduction of materials now readily available in print, although many theological pamphlets of the period shed considerable light on the specific discussions of witchcraft and need to be consulted by the specialist.

This website offers examples of a number of different positions and opinions held both by those who participated in the trials and those who opposed or later criticized them. Neither fully committed to the abstract notion of a "witch-hunt," nor able to disengage themselves from their interpretation of the particular cases in Salem Village, the Mathers and Lawson may be said to represent the theoretical and guarded theological justification for what was, after all, an essentially secular prosecution.


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  6. The works of Robert Calef , John Hale , and Thomas Maule , the latter being a Quaker who knew well the consequences of witchcraft accusations directed against Quakers, represent the critical literature from both lay and clerical perspectives.