Tuesday, June 28, 2011

"The Good Witch Must Also Die", by William Perkins (1558-1602)

William Perkins died in 1602 at the age of 44. He was an influential Calvinist theologian and a leader of the Puritan movement inside the Church of England. Perkins was a prolific writer, and his books sold extremely well not only in England, but throughout the Western world.

The text of the following sermon was included in several editions of Perkins' Collected Works that appeared after his death. It is part of a longer (55 pages) piece that was published under the full title:
"A DISCOURSE OF THE DAMNED ART OF WITCHCRAFT; SO FARRE forth as it is revealed in the Scriptures, and manifest by true experience. FRAMED AND DELIVERED BY M. WILLIAM PERKINS, IN HIS ORDINARIE COURSE of Preaching, and published by THOMAS PICKERING Batchelour of Divinitie, and Minister of Finchingfield in Essex. Printed by CANTRELL LEGGE, Printer to the Universitie of Cambridge. 1618."
The earliest edition of this title (apparently) was in 1608, also published by Cantrell Legge of Cambridge. The year 1608 is often given as the date of the work itself, although this is six years after the death of the author. Here is a link to the full text at the Cornell University Witchcraft Collection.

Be warned. It is unspeakably evil.

The good Witch is he or shee that by consent in a league with the deuill, doth vse his helpe, for the doing of good onely. This cannot hurt, torment, curse, or kill, but onely heal and cure the hurts inflicted upon men or cattell, by badde Witches. For as they can doe no good, but onely hurt; so this can doe no hurt, but good onely. And this is that order which the deuill hath set in his kingdom, appointing to seuerall persons their seuerall offices and charges. And the good Witch is commonly tearmed the vnbinding Witch.

Now howsoeuer these both be euil, yet of the two, the more horrible & detestable Monster is the good Witch, for look in what place soeuer ther be any bad Witches that hurt onely, there also the deuill hath his good ones, who are better known than the bad, beeing commonly called Wisemen, or Wise-women. These will appear by experience in most places in these countries. For let a mans childe, friend, or cattell be taken with some sore sickness, or strangely tormented with some rare and vnknown disease, the first thing he doth, is to bethink himselfe and inquire after some Wiseman or Wise-woman, & thither he sends and goes for helpe. When he comes, he first tells him the state of the sicke man; the Witch then beeing certified of the disease, prescribeth either Charmes of words to be vsed ouer him, or other such counterfeit meanes, wherein there is no cure, if it come by Witchcraft. Well, the meanes are receiued, applied, and vsed, the sicke partie accordingly recouereth, and the conclusion of all is, the vsual acclamation; Oh happie is the day, that euer I met with such a man or woman to helpe me!
[Taken from Chapter Five, on page 638 of the 1618 Cambridge edition of the Collected Works of William Perkins.]

"The Good Witch Must Also Die"

"In the name of the Father, the Son, King Arthur, and Queen Elspeth."

The first Witchcraft trial in Scotland for which the "dittay" (indictment) has been preserved largely intact, is that of Janet Boyman in 1572. (Variations on her name are Janet Bowman and Jonet Boyman.) The documentary evidence leaves no room for doubt that this accused Witch was someone sought after for her abilities as a healer.
"Jonet Boyman of Canongate, Edinburgh, accused in 1572 of witchcraft and diabolic incantation, the first Scottish trial for which a detailed indictment has so far been found. Indeed, it is one of the richest accounts hitherto uncovered for both fairy belief and charming, suggesting an intriguing tradition which associated, in some way, the fairies with the legendary King Arthur. At an 'elrich well' on the south side of Arthur's Seat, Jonet uttered incantations and invocations of the 'evill spreits quhome she callit upon for to come to show and declair' what would happen to a sick man named Allan Anderson, her patient. She allegedly first conjured 'ane grit blast' like a whirlwind, and thereafter appeared the shape of a man who stood on the other side of the well, and interesting hint of liminality. She charged this conjured presence, in the name of the father, the son, King Arthur and Queen Elspeth, to cure Anderson. She then received elaborate instructions about washing the ill man's shirt, which were communicated to Allan's wife. That night the patient's house shook in the midst of a huge, and incomprehensible ruckus involving winds, horses and hammering, apparently because the man's wife did not follow the instructions to the letter. On the following night the house was plagued by a mighty din again, caused, this time, by a great company of women."
[Scottish Fairy Belief by Lizanne Henderson and Edward J. Cowan (2001) 127-128.]

For more on Jonet Boymen, also see P.G. Maxwell-Stuart's Satan's Conspiracy: Magic and Witchcraft in 16th Century Scotland (2001), pp. 62-66.