Friday, April 12, 2013

Beneficial Witchcraft in John Trevisa's Middle English Translation of Ranulf Higden's Polychronicon (1387)

In 1387, John Trevisa finished his (Middle) English translation of the Polychronicon of Ranulf Higden, a chonicle of "universal history" written in Latin a few decades earlier. In Trevisa's translation one finds multiple examples of the Middle English "wicche".

In one place, Trevisa translates Higden's "sortligeia" and "superstitiones" as "sortilege" and "wicchecraft". This is in reference to the much sought after magical ability that certain women on the Isle of Man were reputed to have. These women sold bundles of "wind" to sailors, and these bundles could be used to raise winds when and where needed during their sea journeys. This is found at the beginning of Chapter XLV. (You can check it out here:

Amazingly, Ronald Hutton stated during a 2010 "research" trip to the Isle of Man that "in the medieval/early modern period people believed witchcraft as something nasty that human beings do to each other"! (see: Manx Witchcraft and Sorcery Probed by Academic,, dated Jan. 21, 2010)

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