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Elite Theories of Witchcraft

University of Leeds, HIST2180 Week 4, Dr Rafe Hallett

Raphael Hallett

on 5 August 2016

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Transcript of Elite Theories of Witchcraft

Is Witchcraft Worth Studying?

“The mental rubbish of peasant credulity and feminine hysteria”

Hugh Trevor Roper
The European Witch Craze (1969)
“We possess only hostile testimonies, originating or filtered from demonologists, inquisitors and judges. The voices of the accused reach us strangled, altered, distorted: in many cases they haven’t reached us at all”

Carlo Ginzburg, Ecstacies – Deciphering the Witches’ Sabbath (1991)
Topical framework

Key theory of Witchcraft
Ideas and concerns of
King James:
scholar, ruler, politician, theologian… which voice?
Broaden out into wider contextual study and historical debates
Elite v Popular understanding of witchcraft?
Compare Theological and Social ideas
The Historian and Witchcraft: Impossible Evidence?
“We possess only hostile testimonies, originating or filtered from demonologists, inquisitors and judges. The voices of the accused reach us strangled, altered, distorted: in many cases they haven’t reached us at all”

Carlo Ginzburg, Ecstacies – Deciphering the Witches’ Sabbath (1991)
Immediate context – King James VI

King of Scotland 1567-1603
King of Scotland & England
Calvinist (protestant) education: strong belief in Devil’s influence and manifestation in world

Profound interest in the legal definition of witchcraft as a crime – linked to murder and treason

Personal vulnerability to plots, curses and conspiracies as King of Scotland

Legacy of Catholicism (Mary I): the intertwining of Catholicism and witchcraft as threat

Growing literature and scholarly culture of Scepticism (challenging the 'reality' of witches and their powers)
1591 trials:
'Newes from Scotland'
1591 Trial
Escalates from suspicions directed at a maidservant,
Geillis Duncan
, to conspiracy towards King James and Queen Anne of Denmark.
Healing powers, night-time activity, “the devil’s mark”.

Duncan tortured then
implicates 70 others in conspiracy.
Agnes Sampson
“discovered” to lead a 200-strong coven in North Berwick who used incantations and rituals to endanger the King’s sea crossing with Anne in 1589
King James
present at trial, which ended in multiple burnings

Identification of
Doctor Fian
(John Cunningham) a local Schoolmaster, as male leader / instructor of coven
Legal status of Witchcraft: 1604 Statute
"If any person or persons shall use, practice or exercise any Invocation or Conjuration of any evil or wicked spirit, or shall consult, convenant with, entertain, employ, feede or rewarde any evil or wicked spirit to or for any intent or purpose;

or take any dead man or child out of his or her grave, or the skin bone or any other part of any dead person, to be employed or used in any manner of Witchcrafte, Sorcerie, Charm or Inchantment:
or shall use practice or exercise any Witchcrafte, Inchantment or Sorcerie, whereby any person shall be killed, destroyed, wasted, consumed, pined or lamed in his or her body, or any part thereof...

….they shall suffer the pains of deathe”
Daemonologie (1597) – Aims
Attack sceptical trend and Reginald Scot (The Discovery of Witchcraft, 1584) in particular

Establish social reality of witches and encourage social vigilance

Explain the theological rationale for belief in witchcraft

Define James’ Kingly and ‘Paternal’ authority to people of Scotland and England

Break suspect link with Mary I and Catholicism, by implicating Catholicism in (or as?) Witchcraft

Inspire social anxiety to justify religious surveillance and political intervention
Frameworks for interpreting 'Daemonologie'
Theological Justifications

1) Use of Religious reasoning to prove existence of Witchcraft

2) Use of Witchcraft to refresh and reform Religious belief and worship
1. Witchcraft perceived as inverted Christianity
(symmetry, similarity, opposition)?
“As God spake by his Oracles, spake he not so by his? As GOD had aswell bloudie Sacrifices, as others without bloud, had not he the like?

As God had Churches sanctified to his service, with Altars, Priests, Sacrifices, Ceremonies and Prayers; had he not the like polluted to his service?”
2. Witchcraft as divinely ordained ‘test’
“But one thing I will pray thee to observe in all these places, where I reason upon the devils power...

that God as the first cause, and the Devill as his instrument and second cause, shootes at in all these actions of the Devil (as Gods hang-man)”
3. Witchcraft persecution as Anti-Catholicism
Q. how similar is the fear, the rhetoric?
Religious subversion, inversion, overturning

False ceremonies

Sectarian conspiracy

Comparisons to papist ceremonies and Idolatry

Witchcraft has superseded Catholicism as threat, but linked to it as demonic activity
‘Political’ Motivations
1.Social policing, surveillance
“No doubt, for there are three kinde of folkes whom God
will permit so to be tempted or troubled;

The wicked for their horrible sinnes, to punish them in the like measure;
The godlie that are sleeping in anie great sinnes or infirmities and weakenesse in faith, to waken them up the faster by such an uncouth forme...
Even some of the best, that their patience may bee tried before the world”
2. The cultivation of crisis?
Propagation of fear

Engendering of divisive, suspicious communities

Heightening the need for magisterial and royal intervention

Justifying standardisation of worship, behaviour and belief

Bolstering reputation and powers of authorities: James as future King
3. Defining power and presence of the
‘Lawful Ruler’
“If they be but apprehended and deteined by anie private person, upon other private respectes, their power no doubt either in escaping or in doing hurte, is no lesse nor ever it was be- fore.

…But if on the other parte, their apprehending and detention be by the lawfull Magistrate, upon the just respectes of their guiltinesse in that craft, their power is then no greater than before that ever they medled with their master.

For where God beginnes justlie to strike by his lawfull Lieutennentes, it is not in the Devilles power to defraude or bereave him of the office, or effect of his powerfull and revenging Scepter.
Other strands to the text
Psychological and behavioural profiling

Pseudo- scientific discussions of powers of witches

Rhetoric of conversion (Witch as ‘Converso’?)

Patriarchy and the misogynistic impulse

The logic against scepticism – not to believe is to be complicit

(not to persecute is to be complicit?)

Elite Theories of Witchcraft
"Therfore by special commaundement this Agnis Sampson had all her haire shauen of, in each parte of her bodie, and her head thrawen with a rope according to the custome of that Countrye, beeing a paine most greeuous, which she continued almost an hower, during which time she would not confesse any thing vntill the Diuels marke was found vpon her priuities...

Then she immediatlye confessed whatsoeuer was demaunded of her, and iustifying those persons aforesaid to be notorious witches."
Newes from Scotland, 1591
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The problem of evidence
(but there are issues)
Full transcript