Thursday, February 28, 2013

The White Witch of Waverly, from Grose's Antiquities (1785)

The Antiquities of England and Wales, Volume V
Francis Grose (1731-1792)
first published in 1785

"The place derives its name from a popular story, which make it formerly the residence of a white witch, called Mother Ludlam, or Ludlow; not one of those malevolent beings mentioned in the Daemonlogie, a repetition of whose pranks, as chronicled by Glanvil, Baxter, and Cotton Mather, erects the hair, and closes the circle of the listening rustics round the village fire. This old lady neither killed hogs, rode on broom-staves, nor made children vomit nails and crooked pins; crimes for which many an old woman has been sentenced to death by judges, who, however they may be vilified in this skeptical age, thereby certainly cleared themselves from the imputation of being wizards or conjurors. On the contrary, Mother Ludlam, instead of injuring, when properly invoked, kindly assisted her poor neighbors in their necessities..."

The above passage is from pages 111-112 of  the edition linked to above (at googlebooks). If you have another edition just be sure it is volume V, and look for the section on Surrey.

There are many later references to "Mother Ludlam", "The White Witch of Waverly", etc. But Grose is the earliest source I have found to use the phrase "white witch". In fact, Grose is so far the earliest source I have found to use this phrase after the end of the period of the Witch Hunts. Indeed, Grose is a full 36 years earlier than Walter Scott's Kenilworth, which had previously been the earliest post-Witch-Hunt reference to "white Witches" that I had found.

Note to Ronald Hutton, Owen Davies, and Jacqueline Simpson: hey, you guys are supposed to be the pros. If I can find this stuff, why can't you?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Beneficent Witchcraft: One Hundred And Seven Sources

The one hundred and seven sources listed below all do one or more of the following:

1. Attest to the attribution of beneficent magical powers to Witches.
2. Attest to the usage of the phrases "good Witch," "white Witch," etc.
3. Attest to the equivalence of the term "Witch" with "wise woman", "wise wife", or "cunning woman", and/or attest to the association of Witches with wisdom and knowledge.
4. Attest to the use of the word "Witch" to refer to those who resisted Christianization and continued to follow the Old Religion.

Most of these sources come from the times of the Witch Hunts themselves (or even earlier), and their first hand accounts of Witches as practitioners of beneficial magic, as well as their use of phrases such as "good Witch", are in every case seamlessly consistent with later sources. Nor is there any evidence for the claim that the way in which the words "Witch" and "Witchcraft" are used in the sources listed here is in any way anomalous or neatly confined to certain social classes or subject to any of the other fanciful limitations that some have claimed.

Each entry in the list links either to the full text of the source in question, or some other helpful online resource. Many of the sources are discussed elsewhere in this blog, such as in the following posts:

Lastly, it should be noted that this list is strictly limited to English language sources using the English words "Witch" and "Witchcraft", with the one exception of the the late 16th century Welsh language dialogue by Robert Holland (for which a modern English translation of some passages can be found in the paper by Stuart Clark and P.T.J. Morgan linked to below).

  1. Piers Plowman, (ca. 1380) William Langland
  2. The Bible, (ca. 1385) John Wycliffe
  3. Polychronicon, (1387) English translation by John Trevisa
  4. The Bible, (1526) William Tyndale
  5. Witchcraft Act, (1542)
  6. Sermon by Bishop Hugh Latimer, (1552) 
  7. The Examination of John Walsh Touching Witchcraft and Sorcerie, (1566) 
  8. The Vanitie and Uncertaintie of Artes andSciences, (1569) English translation by James Sanford of Cornelius Agrippa's De incertitudine et vanitate omnium scientiarum et artium liber
  9. The trial and execution of Jonet Boyman, (1578)
  10. The trial of Ursula Kempe, (1582)  
  11. Discoverie of Witchcraft, (1584) Reginald Scot
  12. A Discourse of the subtill Practises of Devills by Witches and Sorcerers, (1587) George Gifford
  13. A Discourse of the Damned Art of Witchcraft, (ca 1590) Willliam Perkins
  14. A Treatise Against Witchcraft, (1590) Henry Holland  
  15. Trial of Agnes Sampson, (1591)
  16. Dialogue on Witchcraft, (ca 1595) Robert Holland
  17. The White Witch of Westminster, (date unknown) Anonymous
  18. Daemonologie, (1597) James I
  19. Trial of Christiane Lewingstoun, (1597)
  20. The Merry Wives of Windsor, (1602) William Shakespeare 
  22. Transcript of the trial of Joan Jurdie, (1605) 
  23. The Captain, (1612) John Fletcher and Francis Beaumont
  24. Sathan Transformed into an Angell of Light, (1617) Thomas Cooper
  25. The Countrey Justice, (1618) Michael Dalton
  26. The Anatomy of Melancholy, (1621) Robert Burton
  27. Anything For A Quiet Life, (1621) Thomas Middleton and John Webster
  28. A Guide to Grand Iury Men, (1627) Richard Bernard
  29. The Winnowing of White Witchcraft, (1630) Edward Poeton
  30. The Trial of Issobell Sinclair, (1633)
  31. Select Cases of Conscience touching Witches and Witchcraft, (1646) John Gaule
  32. A Confirmation and Discovery of Witchcraft, (1648) John Stearne 
  33. The Divels Delusions, or, a Faithful Relation of John Palmer and Elizabeth Knott, Two Notorious Witches, (1649) Author unknown
  34. The Witch of Wapping, (1652) Anonymous
  35. A Candle in the Dark, (1656) Thomas Ady
  36. Glossographia Anglicana Nova, (1656) Thomas Blount
  37. The New World of English Words, or, a General Dictionary, (1658) Edward Phillips
  38. Daimonomageia, a Small Treatise of Sickness and Diseases from Witchcraft, (1665) William Drage
  39. Letter from Henry More to Joseph Glanvill, (ca. 1667) Henry More
  40. The Present State of Russia, (1671) Samuel Collins
  41. The Discovery of the Impostures of Witches and Astrologers, (1680) John Brinley
  42. Saducismus Triumphatus OR, Full and Plain EVIDENCE Concerning WITCHES AND APPARITIONS (1681) Joseph Glanvill
  43. The Medal, (1682) John Dryden
  44. Remarkable Providences, (1684) Increase Mather
  45. Pandaemonium, or, The Devil's Cloyster, (1684)
  46. The Certainty of the World of the Spirits, (1691) Richard Baxter 
  47. Wonders of the Invisible World, (1693) Cotton Mather
  48. Court records from the trial of Henry Baron, (1694)
  49. A Modest Enquiry Into the Nature of Witchcraft, (1697) John Hale
  50. The Diary of Humphrey Michel, (August 15, 1709) 
  51. Sir Roger De Coverly and the Gipsies, (1711) Joseph Addison
  52. THE CASEOF THE Hertfordshire WITCHCRAFT CONSIDER'D, (1712)
  53. The Drummer, (1715) Joseph Addison
  54. "An Extract of the information of 25 persons at Leister assizes against an old women her son and daughter for witchcraft ....", (1717) 
  55. An Historical Essay Concerning Wichcraft, (1718) Francis Hutchinson 
  56. The Mistake (a "Poetical Essay"), (1734)
  57. Some Account of Merlin and the Figures that attend him, in the new erected Cave at Richmond, (1735) London Magazine, December 1735 
  58. A Dictionary of the English Language, (1755) Samuel Johnson
  59. The curious recipe of a white Witch, (1756) London Magains, vol. 25
  60. Observations on Popular Antiquities, Chiefly Illustrating the Origin of our Vulgar Customs, Ceremonies and Superstitions, (1777) John Brand
  61. The Antiquities of England and Wales, (1785) Francis Grose
  62. A Provincial Glossary, (1787) Francis Grose
  63. An account of the life and writings of David Hume, (1807) Thomas Edward Ritchie
  64. An Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language, (1808) John Jamieson
  65. The Antiquary, (1816) Walter Scott
  66. The Lambton Worm, (1820) Robert Surtees 
  67. Kenilworth, (1821) Walter Scott
  68. Lord Byron's Combolio, (1822) Blaise Fitztravesty (possibly a pseudonym for Charles Lamb, according to Bertram Dobell)
  69. Etymologicon universale, (1825) Walter Whiter 
  70. An Etymological Dictionary of the Latin Language, (1828) Francis Edward Jackson Valpy
  71. Letters on Demonlogy and Witchcraft, (1829) Walter Scott
  72. The Rise and Progress of Witchcraft, (1829) Gentleman's Magazine
  73. "The Witch of End-Door", (1835) a joke attributed to Charles Lamb in Edward Lucas' "Life of Charles Lamb"
  74. The Doctor, (1835) Blackwoods Edinburgh Magazine
  75. Deutche Mythologie, (1835) Jacob Grimm
  76. The Legend of the Lambton Worm, (1840) Tait's Edinburgh Magazine 
  77. Remains Historical and Literary Connected With The Palatine Counties of Lancaster and Chester, vol. VI, (1845) James Crossley
  78. Narratives of Socery and Magic, From the Most Authentic Sources, (1851) Thomas Wright 
  79. Westward Ho, (1855) Charles Kingsley
  80. Witch Stories, (1861) Eliza Lynn Linton
  81. Legends and Traditions of Cornwall, (1871) 
  82. Diabolism, (1872) Edward Turney 
  83. A Recent Case of Supposed Witchcraft, (1875)Paul Q. Karkeek
  84. The White Witch of Devon, (1877) R.P. Hampton Roberts
  85. Relics Of Old Customs and Beliefs Still Observable In Devonshire, (1878), Paul Q. Karkeek
  86. An Icelandic Prose Reader, (1878) Guthbrand Vigfusson, Frederick York Powell
  87. The Book of Days, (1878) Robert Chambers 
  88. Doctors, or The Science of Medical Thought Among the People, (1879) W.R. Bartlett, M.D.
  89. A Supplementary English Glossary, (1881) Thomas Lewis Owen Davies
  90. The White Witch: A Novel in Three Parts, (1884) Florence Warden
  91. The White Witch of Worcester: A Tale of the Barons' Wars, (1885) James Skipp Borlase
  92. The Vicar of Morwenstow, (1888) Sabine Baring-Gould
  93. Witch, Warlock, and Magician, (1889) W.H. Davenport Adams
  94. A history of the parishes of St. Ives, Lelant, Towednack and Zennor, (1892) John Hobson Matthews
  95. Etruscan Roman Remains in Popular Tradition, (1892) Charles Godfrey Leland
  96. Women, Church, and State, (1893) Matilda Joslyn Gage
  97. Cock Lane and Common Sense, (1894) Andrew Lang 
  98. Dictionary of National Biography, (1895) [see entry for Ruth Osborne]
  99. English Etymology, (1898) Friedrich Kluge and Frederick Lutz
  100. Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches, (1899) Charles Godfrey Leland
  101. A Book of the West, Volume 1, Devon, (1899) by Sabine Baring-Gould
  102. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, (1900) Frank L. Baum
  103. Malay Magic, (1900) Walter William Skeat 
  104. A Dictionary of Miracles: Imitative, Realistic, and Dogmatic, (1901) Ebenezer Cobham Brewer [see the section on Ruth Osborne in the chapter on "Witches and Familiar Spirits (England)"]
  105. Girls' Christian Names, (1905) Helena Swan [see entry for Ruth]
  106. A History of Witchcraft in England from 1558 to 1718, (1909) Wallace Notestein
  107. Handbook of Folklore, (1914) Charles Sop Burne

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Well, Waddya Know? Christianity's Persecution Complex Is Finally Getting Some Public Scrutiny

Interview with Candida Moss by Danielle Tumminio: 

“The Myth of Persecution”: Early Christians weren’t persecuted, Salon.Com article by Laura Miller:

All I can say is: It's about time.
Polytheism or idolatrous worship, being founded entirely in vulgar traditions, is liable to this great inconvenience, that any practice or opinion, however barbarous or corrupted, may be authorized by it; and full scope is left for knavery to impose on credulity till morals and humanity be expelled from the religious systems of mankind. At the same time, idolatry is attended with this evident advantage, that, by limiting the powers and functions of its deities, it naturally admits the Gods of other sects and nations to a share of divinity, and renders all the various deities, as well as rites, ceremonies, or traditions, compatible with each other. Theism is opposite both in its advantages and disadvantages. As that system supposes one sole deity, the perfection of reason and goodness, it should, if justly prosecuted, banish everything frivolous, unreasonable, or inhuman from religious worship, and set before men the most illustrious example, as well as the most commanding motives of justice and benevolence. These mighty advantages are not indeed over-balanced (for that is not possible), but somewhat diminished, by inconveniences, which arise from the vices and prejudices of mankind. While one sole object of devotion is acknowleged, the worship of other deities is regarded as absurd and impious. Nay, this unity of object seems naturally to require the unity of faith and ceremonies, and furnishes designing men with a pretense for representing their adversaries as profane, and the objects of divine as well as human vengeance. For as each sect is positive that its own faith and worship are entirely acceptable to the deity, and as no one can conceive that the same being should be pleased with different and opposite rites and principles, the several sects fall naturally into animosity, and mutually discharge on each other that sacred zeal and rancour, the most furious and implacable of all human passions.

The tolerating spirit of idolaters, both in ancient and modern times, is very obvious to anyone who is the least conversant in the writings of historians or travellers. When the oracle of Delphi was asked, what rites or worship was most acceptable to the Gods? “Those legally established in each city,” replied the oracle. Even priests, in those ages, could, it seems, allow salvation to those of a different communion. The Romans commonly adopted the Gods of the conquered people; and never disputed the attributes of those local and national deities in whose territories they resided. The religious wars and persecutions of the Egyptian idolaters are indeed an exception to this rule; but are accounted for by ancient authors from reasons singular and remarkable. Different species of animals were the deities of the different sects among the Egyptians; and the deities being in continual war, engaged their votaries in the same contention. The worshippers of dogs could not long remain in peace with the adorers of cats or wolves. But where that reason took not place, the Egyptian superstition was not so incompatible as is commonly imagined; since we learn from Herodotus, that very large contributions were given by Amasis towards rebuilding the temple of Delphi.

The intolerance of almost all religions which have maintained the unity of God is as remarkable as the contrary principle of polytheists. The implacable narrow spirit of the Jews is well known. Mahometanism set out with still more bloody principles; and even to this day, deals out damnation, though not fire and faggot, to all other sects. And if, among Christians, the English and Dutch have embraced the principles of toleration, this singularity has proceeded from the steady resolution of the civil magistrate, in opposition to the continued efforts of priest and bigots.
[David Hume, "Comparison of these Religions with regard to Persecution and Toleration.", published in 1757 as part of his The Natural History of Religion]

Friday, February 22, 2013

"The White Witches Of Our Ancestors": Even More "White Witches" in early (and not so early) modern sources

This post collects together a number of references to "white Witches", found in sources ranging from the early 17th century to the threshold of the 20th century. The passages quoted herein do not always explicitly attribute this term to popular usage, although some of them clearly do. However, all of the sources listed here do provide at least indirect evidence for the common usage of phrases such as "good Witch", "white Witch", etc., over the last 4 centuries. For a separate list of early modern sources that do all explicitly attribute "good Witch" or "white Witch" to popular usage see: Popular usage of "good Witch" according to ten early modern sources.

It seems likely that "white Witch" (etc.) only came into wide use during the mid to late 16th century, and it is probably no coincidence that this corresponds to the time when the most intense period of Witch Hunting was really getting under way. Prior to that time (that is, prior to the mid to late 16th century) the word "Witch", without any modification (such as "good", "white", etc.) is well attested in written sources as a designation for individuals who possessed magical and/or spiritual powers. While the term "Witch" undeniably had certain negative connotations, this had to do with the religious significance attached to "Witches" and "Witchcraft," as opposed to the strictly magical associations of those words. That is, Witches were viewed as religious enemies of Christianity, in spite of the fact that it was believed that their magical powers could cure diseases, help people to acquire wealth, divine the future, locate lost or stolen objects, provide assistance in the arena of romance, etc. Even those who insisted that these same magical powers ultimately derived from Satan (a view that does not appear to have been widely held among the common people but rather was mostly limited to religious elites) could not deny that Witches possessed such seemingly beneficial powers, and that as such they were highly valued and sought after by their neighbors, and even by those who lived far away and traveled great distances to obtain their magical aid.

Sources prior to the mid 16th century not only attest to the use of the word "Witch" as a label for workers of beneficial magic, but also as a label for such explicitly religious figures as the Witch of Endor and Simon Magus. These sources go back possibly as far as the 7th century Penitentials of Theodore, although the dating and attribution of those Penitentials is uncertain. (Of course, we find in these sources as we move back in time that "Witch" is replaced first with the Middle English "Wicche" and then with the Old English "Wicca"). Obviously, to the extent that these authors are writing from a Christian perspective they have nothing good to say about Witches, or at least they have no desire to say anything good about Witches. Therefore, as hostile witnesses, their testimony as to the beneficial magic worked by Witches is all the more convincing.

But by the time of the earliest of the sources listed below, the Christian theory of diabolical Witchcraft had become so prevalent that now people felt it was necessary to now explicitly distinguish for the first time, or, alternatively, to now begin to heavily emphasize and make much more explicit a distinction that had previously been either mostly unrecognized or was at least not viewed as requiring explicit statement in most cases, between two types of Witches: the good and the bad.

1. unknown date The White Witch of Westminster
publication date unknown, but probably Jacobean or Caroline (anywhere from 1567 to 1649)
Author unknown
See the entry in the "Lost Plays Database":,_The

"Possibly this play treated of some ' wise woman ' of Westminster who concerned herself with the love affairs of a young couple, very much as in Heywood's The Wise Woman of Hogsdon."
[Quote found in the above linked to "Lost Plays Database." This quote is from  “Hill’s List of Early Plays in Manuscript," by Joseph Quincy Adams, first published in 1939.]

2. 1621 Anything For A Quiet Life
Thomas Middleton (1580-1627)  and John Webster(c.1580-1634)

"Free leave have I, my Lord, so I think you may have: filthy Beauty, what a white witch thou art!"

3. 1630 The Winnowing of White Witchcraft
Edward Poeton (dates uncertain)
The quote below is taken from Anti-Quack Literature in Early Stuart England by Ross Dandridge:

"this land even swarmeth in every countye and corner with white witches"

4. 1665 Daimonomageia, a Small Treatise of Sickness and Diseases from Witchcraft
William Drage (c.1636-1668)
The quote below can be found at the following url:, which is part of the website, which int turn is part of the The Witches in Early Modern England Project created by Kirsten C. Uszkalo with funding from Social Sciences and Research Council of Canada. For a little more information on William Drage, look here:,_William_(DNB00)

"A sober Antient Gentleman told me, he intimately knew one in the Isle of Ely, whose name he told, but now I have forgot it; he was bewitched, and before strange fits he had like a Mouse came to him, which none could hinder; he sent to a white Witch, or Necromancer, Sorcerer, Magician, or what you please to call him; he gave him an Amulet or Charm to hang about his neck, and so long as he wore that, he was freed; he durst not leave it off: this Wizard asked if they were wicked People, else, he said, he could not, or would not help them."

5. 1681 Saducismus Triumphatus OR, Full and Plain EVIDENCE Concerning WITCHES AND APPARITIONS.
Joseph Glanvill (1636–1680)

"Her use of long scriptural Prayers and Rhymes, containing the main points of Christianity, so that she may seem to have been not so much a white Witch as an holy Woman."

6.  1682 The Medal
A poem by John Dryden (1631-1700)

"Even in the most sincere advice he gave,
He had a grudging still to be a knave.
The frauds he learn'd in his fanatic years
Made him uneasy in his lawful gears;
At best, as little honest as he could,
And, like white witches*, mischievously good.
To his first bias longingly he leans;
And rather would be great by wicked means."

* Here is an explanatory footnote found in "The Poetical Works of John Dryden", published in 1855: "'White witches:' who wrought good ends by infernal means."

7. 1684 Pandaemonium, or, The Devil's Cloyster
Richard Bovet (born c.1641)
Source: the text given here is as quoted by Montague Summers in Witchcraft and Black Magic:

"Those particularly intended here are those such as are commonly called Black Witches, there is beside another sort termed White Witches; These by a Diabolical Complaisance, or good-nature, are to uncharm and give ease to those the other have afflicted ..."

8. 1693 Wonders of the Invisible World
Cotton Mather (1663-1728)

"And some learned Men are of Opinion, that the first Explorator (being a white Witch) did explicitely covenant with the Devil, that he should discover latent Crimes in this way: And that it is by Virtue of that first Contract that the Devil goeth to work to keep his Servants from sinking, when this Ceremony of his ordaining is used."

9. 1694 The trial of Henry Baron
The passage below is found in Malcolm Gaskill's Crime and Mentalities in Early Modern England (2000)

"Also in 1694, a dispute came to a head between the Crook and Baron families who shared a house at Overhilton (Lancashire). Henry Baron regularly quarelled with James Crook's wife (she had already received a warrant for his good behaviour), and when one of the Baron's calves died suddenly he accused her of witchcraft. On learning that she refused to appear before a JP, Baron was heard to say 'it was ill liveing near a white witch & ... if one did kill a white witch one could not be hang'd for it'. Soon afterwards, he beat her severely and she died. [Words in quotes are from court records dated 16 March, 1694. See Gaskill 2000 for more on the original source.]

10.  1697 A Modest Enquiry Into the Nature of Witchcraft
John Hale (1636-1700)
(see also:

"If a Magician or a white Witch (as they are called) come in to discover and testify against another to be a Witch; This (as Perkins saith, Chap. 7. p. 209) is no more then the Devil's testimony, because by the Devil's help he revealeth the Witch."

"Another sort are such as they call white witches; that by spells, charms, & c. will cure diseases, and that more easily than men can, and fetch fish bones out of men's hands, & c. Note here that the Devil hath more skill in the knowledge of all healing medicines than any man ; and more ability and dexterity to convey them insensi- bly into any sore than any mortal creature. That some have such an ambition to excel in Physick & curing variety of wounds and diseases, that they will rather go to the Devil, then fail of their desired skill and honour thereby. Many creditable Histories I have heard of this kind; but I spare to enlarge in these things which have been so fully handled by [William] Perkins."

11. 1712 THE CASE OF THE Hertfordshire WITCHCRAFT CONSIDER'D.;cc=witch;rgn=main;view=text;idno=wit032

"There was a certain Cunning Fellow apply'd to in this Case, under the Name of a White Witch; who, by his Prescriptions, has given us pretty broad Hints, what he took this Wench's Case to be."

12.  1717  "An Extract of the information of 25 persons at Leister assizes against an old women her son and daughter for witchcraft ...."
G. Beaumont
Source: "Witch Hunting and Witch Trails" By C. L'Estrange Ewen, Appendix VII, Depositions (18th Century):

"The informants all depos'd that all the supposed witches has severally their thumbs and great toes ty'd togather and that they were thrown so bound into the water, and that they swam like a cork, a piece of paper, or an empty barrell, tho they strove all they could to sinck.

"Divers of these informants depos'd that during strange illness of severall person who were bewitched as they were well assured by those persons or some of them they had the Minister to pray by them without any good effect at all, but applying to a cunning man or white witch they were directed to pt the afflicted patry's water into a bottle and set it near the fire which accordingly they frequently did and cord'd it well and ty'd down the work with 20 rounds of packthread ....."

13. 1821 Kenilworth
Walter Scott (1771-1832)

"for he was what the vulgar call a white witch, a cunning man, and such like."

14. 1829 Letters on Demonlogy and Witchcraft
Walter Scott (1771-1832)

"The principal person implicated in these heretical and treasonable undertakings was one Agnes Simpson, or Samson, called the Wise Wife of Keith, and described by Archbishop Spottiswood, not as one of the base or ignorant class of ordinary witches, but a grave matron, composed and deliberate in her answers, which were all to some purpose. This grave dame, from the terms of her indictment, seems to have been a kind of white witch, affecting to cure diseases by words and charms, a dangerous profession considering the times in which she lived."

15. 1845 Remains Historical and Literary Connected With The Palatine Counties of Lancaster and Chester, vol. VI
James Crossley (1800-1883) (from his Introduction to "Potts's Discover of Witches", which was originally published in 1613).

"He who visits Pendle will yet find that charms are generally resorted to amongst the lower classes; that there are hares which, in their persuasion, never can be caught, and which survive only to baffle and confound the huntsman; that each small hamlet has its peculiar and gifted personage, whom it is dangerous to offend; that the wise man and wise woman (the white witches of our ancestors) still continue their investigations of truth, undisturbed by the rural police or the progress of the schoolmaster; that each locality has its haunted house; that apparitions still walk their ghostly rounds--and little would his reputation for piety avail that clergyman in the eyes of his parishioners who should refuse to lay those 'extravagant and erring spirits,' when requested, by those due liturgic ceremonies which the orthodoxy of tradition requires."

16. 1851 Narratives of Socery and Magic, From the Most Authentic Sources
Thomas Wright (1810-1877)

"In course of time Butterfield left his dairy, and took a public-house in the same Tillage, where, about the beginning of the year 1751, he was troubled with fits, and, although he had been subject to similar fits in former times, these also were now ascribed to mother Osborne. He was persuaded that the doctors could do him no good, and was advised to send for an old woman out of Northamptonshire, a white witch, who had the reputation of being skilful in counteracting the effects of sorcery. This woman confirmed the opinion already afloat of the cause of Butterfield's disorder, and she directed that six men should watch his house day and night, with staves, pitchforks, and other weapons, at the same time hanging something about their necks, which she said was a charm to secure them from being bewitched themselves."

17. 1855 Westward Ho
Charles Kingsley (1819-1875)

"He devoutly believed in fairies, whom he called pixies; and held that they changed babies, and made the mushroom rings on the downs to dance in. When he had warts or burns, he went to the white witch at Northam to charm them away; he thought that the sun moved round the earth, and that the moon had some kindred with a Cheshire cheese."

18. 1861 Witch Stories 
Eliza Lynn Linton (1822-1898)
"A doctor was sent for, but also, as well as the doctore, came a clever shrewed woman called Margaret Russell, or 'Countess,' a bit of a doctress in her way, perhaps a bit of a white witch too, who thought she could do the afflicted child some good...."

"But he reckoned without his host, for in 1751 he himself was bewitched; he had fits--bad fits--and sent for a white witch all the way from Northamptonshire to tell him what ailed him. The white witch told him he was bewitched; and bade six men, with staves and pitchforks hanging round their necks as counter-charms for their own saftey, watch his house night and day."

19. 1871 Legends and Traditions of Cornwall
Dublin University Magazine, Vo, 77, May, 1871

 "His mind was agitated by the loss of his hard-earned money and his disappointed expectations, till at last he was tempted to apply to Tammy, the 'White Witch of Heselton,' who informed him in confidence that, "for a consideration," she would undertake to raise the spirit of An Jenny Hendy from her grave in Stythian's churchyard and oblige it to reveal the spot where the hoard lay concealed."

20. 1877 John Harper: The White Witch of North Devon
See this separate post on the subject: The White Witch of North Devon.

21. 1881 A Supplementary English Glossary
Thomas Lewis Owen Davies

"WHITE-WITCH, a wizard, or witch, not of the malicious kind."

22. 1884 The White Witch: A Novel in Three Parts
Florence Warden (1857-1929)

"They turned. Mr. Wayne stood on the balcony, his arms outstretched to Mary; Godfrey led her up. Lady Davenant and Mrs. Penteith were smiling on them from within the room.
"My dear little girl!--my sweet White Witch!" cried the old gentleman, with a beaming face, as he drew her to him. "Soon to be very very own little girl for ever!"
"Your very own dutiful, loving child for ever," breathed Mary; "your own little White Witch."

23. 1889 Witch, Warlock and Magician
William Henry Davenport Williams (1828-1891)

"Later, when Butterfield, who had given up his farm and taken to an ale-house, suffered much from fits, Mother Osborne was again declared to be the cause (1751), and he was advised to send to Northamptonshire for an old woman, a white witch, to baffle her spells. The white witch came, confirmed, of course, the popular prejudice, and advised that six men, armed with staves and pitchforks, should watch Butterfield’s house by day and night."

24. 1892 A history of the parishes of St. Ives, Lelant, Towednack and Zennor 
John Hobson Matthews (1858-1914)

"No country, however enlightened, is free from superstition of the kind represented by the belief in witchcraft. Sorcery, indeed, seems to have had its votaries in every age. Mr Hunt quotes from Cornish newspapers of a very recent date, showing how one James Thomas, of Illogan, a notorious 'pellar,' or 'white witch,' duped a great number of supposed bewitched persons at Saint Ives, Hayle and elsewhere."

25. 1895 Dictionary of National Biography
Quote from the entry for Ruth Osborne

The wiseacres who met there attributed his misfortunes to witchcraft, and advised Butterfield to apply to a cunning woman or white-witch for a cure. An old woman was fetched from Northamptonshire, and confirmed the suspicion already entertained against Ruth Osborne and her husband John, both harmless old people over seventy years of age.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

"Such as they call Witches" (George Gifford and Henry Holland on Witches as practitioners of beneficial magic)

This post focuses on George Gifford and Henry Holland, whose writings quoted below (dated 1587 and 1590, respectively) provide yet more evidence for the fact that "the common people" of the 16th and 17th centuries sought out Witches for the beneficial magic that they could do.

The quote from Gifford also provides possibly the earliest occurrence of the phrase "good Witch" in any surviving written source in the English language (or at least it is the earliest I have tracked down so far). Before this, the word "Witch" is often encountered in written sources as a term used, without any qualifications such as the adjectives "good" or "white", to refer to those who perform acts of beneficial magic, such as healing and divination. In fact, the two excerpts from Henry Holland's Treatise on Witchcraft clearly demonstrate that this usage of "Witch", alone and unmodified, to refer to healers, diviners, etc, was still in use in 1590.

Perhaps it was the case that only once the more intense period of the Witch Hunts was getting under way (in the mid to late 16th century) was it thought necessary to begin distinguishing between two kinds of Witches: the good and the bad.

Both Gifford and Holland make it clear that they do not themselves believe that those who are referred to as "good Witches" are in fact "good." To be sure, Gifford and Holland would never themselves make use of the term "good Witch" for any reason other than to criticize the popular custom of using that phrase, and to "correct" the uneducated masses, who were accustomed to seeking out Witches for magical assistance ranging from healing to divination to recovering lost or stolen objects to matters of love and romance to acquiring wealth, etc.

A valuable source of information on Gifford and Holland and their views on beneficial magic and Witchcraft is a paper by Stuart Clark and P.T.J. Morgan that actually focuses on Holland's older brother, Robert: "Religion and Magic in Elizabethan Wales: Robert Holland's Dialogue on Witchcraft", Journal of Ecclesiastical History, Vol. 27, No. 1, Jan. 1976. There is also an excellent recent (2004) biography of Gifford by Timothy Scott Mcginnis: George Gifford And The Reformation Of The Common Sort:Puritan Priorities In Elizabethan Religious Life.

George Gifford  (c.1548-1600)
A Discourse of the subtill Practises of Devills by Witches and Sorcerers.
By G. Gyfford. Imprinted at London for Toby Cooke. 1587.;cc=witch;rgn=main;view=text;idno=wit052

"But if a man or child be sick, they run unto a witch, they hate not ye joyning in compact with devils, when as they runne for help unto them: they have somewhat lost or stole: they do by and by fly unto devils: they make account that those be good witches and do no harme."


Henry Holland (1556-1603)
A Treatise Against Witchcraft (1590) (excerpts, not full text)

excerpt 1
Mysodemon.  I would gladly be resolved in another doubt, Theophilus:  Most men are wont to seek after these wise men and cunning women, such as they call witches, in sickness, in losses and in all extremities. What think you of this, Theophilus?
Theophilus.  I am assured, Mysodemon, that such miserable people commit a most horrible and dreadful sin, that they are justly brought into Satan's snares for the contempt of God and his word, that they seek help of the same serpent that stung them, that against the known principle of the Gospel they would have Satan to drive out Satan. And, to be short, that they are in very truth but mere Gentiles and pagans in religion, blind in their minds, hardened in their hearts, strangers from the life of God and that - if God give them not speedy repentance - they will become past feeling by custom and continuance in their sins . . . .

excerpt 2
Mysodemon.  But some understand the Law of God, Theophilus, as the Emperor's Civil Law expoundeth it. Eorum est scientia punienda, &c. qui magicis artibus contra salutem hominum &c. nullius vero criminibus implicanda sunt remedia humanis quaesita corporibus [Punishable knowledge is of those magical arts against human welfare - remedies for human bodies are not at all criminal]. Hereby it is manifest that hurtful magicians and witches which kill and hurt men's bodies and goods are only to be avoided, and so they do amongst us. But such of these practitioners as can and will cure the sick, find things lost, have a good near guess in predictions, are not in any wise to be blamed, saith this Law. And therefore these are often sought after in necessities unto this day, and they seem to do no man harm but much good, and they speak the truth very often, and men will do much, Theophilus, in extremities.
Theophilus.  First for that Law, it is a most wicked and profane law, and if it be one of Constantine's constitutions, it was published no doubt before his conversion to the faith. And as for the good that miserable receive of the sorcerers, assure thyself, Mysodemon, the more they seem to benefit men's bodies, the more harm they do both soul and body.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Case of the North Devon White Witch (1877)

an excerpt from:
"Doctors: Or, The science of medical thought among the people." 
by W.R. Bartlett, M.D., New Haven Conn. published in "The Sanitarian" vol. 7, 1879 (

"At the Exeter Quarter Sessions last week, John Harper, aged 83, a quack doctor and herbalist, known as the North Devon White Witch, appealed against his recent conviction and sentence to a month's imprisonment for obtaining money by false pretenses some time ago. He was called in to see a woman who was ill and had been given up by the doctor. He prescribed for her and placed in her hands rods with the names of planets attached, and told her to strike with them a piece of metal which he held in his hand, while he at the same time uttered some formula of words. He received a fee of twenty five shillings, but the woman afterwards died, and he was then prosecuted and convicted of obtaining money by palmistry and subtle devices."

The White Witch of Devon
Published in "The Standard", October  18, 1877
As quoted in "Notes and Queries," Fifth Series, Volume Ninth, January - June, 1878

"The case of the North Devon White Witch came before Earl Devon and other magistrates at quarter sessions at Exeter yesterday. The name of the so-called witch is John Harper. He is eighty three years of age, appears in his younger days to have been a good deal connected with mines in the neighborhood of Combmartin, in the north of Devon, and he now described himself as a mining proprietor. He, however, did a considerable business as a herbalist, or quack doctor, and was commonly known as the 'White Witch' of North Devon. In visiting patients he usually took with him a number of sticks or rods of wood or metal, with small pieces of parchment attached, on which were inscribed the names of different planets, and these rods were supposed to have some mysterious instrumentality in the cures he professed to effect. The proceedings leading to his being brought before the magistrates arose in consequence of a death of the wife of a cattle doctor. A medical man attended her for some time, but on his pronouncing her case as hopeless, her husband went a journey of twenty miles to see the White Witch. He came to the woman, and inquired as to the day, the hour, and the planet under which she was born. From a box he produced some rods with the names of the planets written on the parchment attached, and, placing these one at a time in the woman's hands, directed her to strike a piece of metal which he produced, and as she complited with his directions he spoke some words in a low tone. He also prescribed some bitters, ad gave a powder whihch was to be mixed in boiling water, and which, he added, he always used in every fever but typhus. He stated that though the woman was very weak there was no reason why she should not recover. She, however, died a day or two afterwards. When asked what his charges were, the so-called witch said twenty-five shillings, and that sum was paid him. For the defence it was stated that the rods were struck by the patient on a piece of manganese, and this produced an electric shock. It was further contended that the different planets actually did exercise a powerful influence over the human frame and the electric currents permeating the system. Some persons spoke as to the cures effected by Harper in some cases after medical men had given up all hopes. When he first came to the house he said he was a humble instrument in the hands of God, and he was not sure he could do anything. It was denied that he said there must be three persons of one faith in the room before he could do any good. The magistrates in petty sessions sentenced Harper to one month's imprisonment, but owing to his age they did not impose hard labour. The defendant now appeared against teh conviction, on the ground that the use of certain means and devices to deceive or impose on Her Majesty's subjects had not been proved, and objections were also taken to the form of conviction, the words 'hard labour' having been inserted in the copy now before court, whereas no hard labour was imposed. It was explained that these words were inserted as after the committal of the defendant it was found that he could not be imprisoned without hard labour. The objection was held to be fatal, and the conviction was quashed."

John Lydus: Nominal Christian, "Submerged" Pagan. Part One.

"One could not find more anti-Christian circles than these .... The most cultured men of the age [5th and 6th centuries] ... should now be classified as non-Christian."
[Anthony Kaldellis, The Religion of Ioannes Lydos]

Part One: A little background
John Lydos was born in 490 AD and lived at least into the 550s, and probably into the 560s. His first name is given variously as John, Ioannes, Ἰωάννης, or even Johannes. His last name varies between Lydos (the Greek form, or, even more properly: Λυδός), and Lydus, the latinized form.

By the time he was born, the old religion of Paganism, which Lydos would have referred to as Hellenism, had been subjected to violent suppression for almost two centuries. And yet the old Gods continued to be worshipped by some, and there is very good reason to suspect that one of these die-hard Hellenes was John Lydos. But how does one properly investigate such a suspicion, and what might constitute reasonable cause for giving rise to the suspicion in the first place?

No one has given more thought to the subject of religious identity in general and religious conversion in particular than that professional harvester of human souls, the Christian missionary. A while ago I posted a long excerpt from a contemporary textbook on the science of "missiology" (Confessions of a Christian Missionary), in which the author (Alan Tippett) lays bear the religious realities of coerced conversion.

Tippett makes the painfully obvious observation that when religious conversion is imposed by force, the result is that people do not undergo genuine conversion of the heart. Instead, one finds that people who are forced to convert do so only "nominally", in Tippett's words. While going through the motions of the officially approved religion, victims of forced conversion have a tendency to nevertheless persist in covertly practicing their old religion, which Tippett refers to as their "latent" or "submerged" religion. And Tippett makes a point of adding this: "It will be this latent religion that speaks to their deepest feelings."

Tippett's focus is on the indigenous populations of the Americas, Africa and Asia whose forced conversion to Christianity took place hand-in-hand with their conquest and colonization by European nation-states during the modern era (going back to the late 15th century). As a Christian missionary, Tippett is troubled by the realization that these populations have not undergone genuine conversion because of the coercive manner in which Christianity was imposed upon them. It must be stipulated that Tippet never questions the agenda of his missionary predecessors, rather, his only problem lies with what he sees as the inartfullness of their methods.

Of great interest, and as noted in that earlier post, is the fact that Tippett draws the reader's attention to the obvious parallel between the more recent (historically speaking) examples of forced conversion (in the Americas, Africa and Asia) that he, as a modern missionary is mostly concerned with in practical terms, and the forced Christianization of the peoples of Europe during the Middle Ages. The violent and coercive Christianization of Europe, in turn, was itself nothing new, but was rather a seamless continuation of how Christianization had been accomplished going all the way back to the reigns of Constantius and Constantine in the fourth century (a small detail that Tippett does not address). Therefore, in my opinion, it is justifiable to extend Tippett's concept of "submerged" Paganism (which he himself extends to the 8th century in Northern Europe) all the way back to the sixth and fifth centuries and, in particular, to the case of John Lydos and like-minded contemporaries. [For more on the "liberal use of the sword" as a constant feature of Christianization from the 4th century forward, see Lawrence G. Duggan 1997 paper "Compulsion and Conversion from Yahweh to Charlemagne", which appears as the third chapter in the anthology The Varieties of Religious Conversion in the Middle Ages, edited by James Muldoon and published by the University Press of Florida.]

In subsequent posts, in addition to delving more deeply into Tippett's concept of "submerged" Paganism in the wake of forced conversion, I will be drawing upon three different works by Byzantine scholar Anthony Kaldellis (also see Kaldellis' list of publications here) listed below. These works by Kaldellis have a great deal to say about "The Religion of Ioannes Lydos", which is the title of the third work. What I will be attempting to do is to show how the evidence presented by Kaldellis concerning Lydos (& Co.) fits nicely into Tippett's conceptual framework of "submerged" Paganism:


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Cosmopolitan Paganism

"The condition of existence I am describing is nothing more or less than ethical, cosmopolitan paganism--the gorgeous inheritance bestowed upon us by the pre-Christian societies of the Mediterranean whose idolatrous proclivities have never been obliterated or even subordinated in the Christian West. Nor are they likely to be. The vernacular of beauty is a part of that pagan inheritance. The whole rhetoric of commerce and practical science is a part of it, too, as are the foundational premises of this republic, whose framers embraced Cicero's insistence that the virtue of any politics is confirmed in the body of the citizen--in the corporeal safety and happiness of that single and collective body."
[Dave Hickey, The Invisible Dragon]


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Witchcraft as Beneficial Magic in Old English Sources

All of these quotes from Old English sources, except for the last, directly attest to the fact that the people of the time sought out Witches for the beneficial magic that they could do.

The last quote directly attests to a close association between "wiccunga" and "galdorsangas". Two of the other quotes (2 & 5) also demonstrate that "galdrum" was placed in the same category of magical practices as Witchcraft.

Some of these sources might be as early as the 7th century Penitential of Theodore. I will update this post as soon as I can with more detailed information on the original sources.

Most, perhaps all, of these quotes are cited in the Bosworth-Toller Anglo-Saxon dictionary entries for wicce, wiccecræft, etc . The translations (and some of the original Old English texts) were found at the Heathen Thing blog:

"Ne sceal se cristena befrínan ða fúlan wiccan be his gesundfulnysse, þeáh ðe heó secgan cunne sum ðincg þurh deófol."
Translation: "The christian must not inquire of the foul witch regarding his health, although she will be able to say some things on account of the devil”. (taken from here:

"Ne cristena man ðe his hǽlðe sécan wyle æt unálýfedum tilungum, oððe æt wyrigedum galdrum, oþþe æt ǽnigum wiccecræfte, ðonne bið hé ðám hǽðenum mannum gelíc"
Translation: ”The Christian man who wants to seek his fortune with forbidden methods, either with magic spells or with any witchcraft, then he is equivalent to the heathen man.” (

"Wigliaþ stunte men menigfealde wigelunga on ðisum dæge æfter hǽðenum gewunan, swylce hí magon heora líf gelengan, oþþe heora gesundfulnysse"
Translation: "On this day foolish men magic manifold magickings after the heathen fashion, as if they can lengthen their lives, or their healths”  (

"ðonne man tó wiccan and tó wigleran tilunge séce æt ǽnigre néode–"
Translation: "when someone seeks attention from witches and magicians in any need” (

"hǽlðe sécan æt unálýfedum tilungum oððe æt wyrigedum galdrum, oþþe æt ǽnigum wiccecræfte"
Translation: "to seek benefits from unsanctioned actions or accursed sorcery, or any witchcraft" (

"gif hwylc wíf wiccunga begá and þá déoflican galdorsangas"
Translation: ”if any woman should practice witchcraft and the devilish galdor chants ...”  [a fast of one year is prescribed] (

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Problems with comments

Recently the comments section for the EGREGORES blog has been deluged by thousands of spam messages that were not caught by blogspot's filters (which up until now have done a pretty good job).

If you have recently attempted to post a comment, I apologize if it did not get through. I have now enabled the word verification feature, which I hope will take care of the issue.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Rajan Zed's Mysterious Silence on Miley Cyrus' Latest Yoga Tweets

It has now been almost three week since Miley Cyrus tweeted the following:

"Bliss is unchanged by gain or loss"

"Para para paradise ... Rare to get a moment to thank the universe for all my blessings in the form of yoga in a place like this."

Inquiring minds want to know why Rajan Zed suddenly has nothing to say. Past Yoga-related tweets from Cyrus have resulted in rapid and fullsome responses from teh intertubes' favorite "Hindu Statesmen."

Some have speculated that Zed is pissed off at Cyrus because she has spurned his past overtures offering to be her Yoga teacher. Another theory is that Zed is miffed because Cyrus has also declined repeated requests that Cyrus volunteer to be a spokesmodel for one or more of Zed's innumerable self-aggrandizing "campaigns."

Related past posts from this blog:

"Current Trends in Historical Witchcraft Studies" (a 2011 paper by Jacqueline Van Gest)

This post is about an important recent paper of interest to all those who want to keep up on contemporary scholarship on Witchcraft. The paper in question is Jacqueline Van Gent's 2011 article "Current Trends in Historical Witchcraft Studies." The full citation is: Journal of Religious History Vol. 35, No. 4, December 2011, pp. 601-612). The paper is freely available in pdf form for download here:

Van Gent's paper is a combined review of four recent books on historical Witchcraft studies (well, Levack's book isn't "recent", but it has been recently reissued for its third printing, and van Gent discusses why the book continues to be quite relevant):
  • Sarah Ferber: Demonic Possession and Exorcism in Early Modern France, London and New York: Routledge, 2004; pp. 219 + xii.
  • Malcolm Gaskill: Witchfinders: A Seventeenth-Century English Tragedy, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005; pp. 364 + xvii.
  • Brian Levack: TheWitch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe, 3rd ed., London and New York: Longman, 2006 (first published 1987); pp. 360.
  • Charles Zika: The Appearance of Witchcraft: Print and Visual Culture in Sixteenth-Century Europe, London and New York: Routledge, 2008; pp. 296 + xiv.
In the course of the combined review, Van Gent also makes references to a number of other important works by authors such as Carlo Ginzburg, Wolfgang Behringer, Marie Lennersand, Gary K.Waite, Marion Gibson, Lyndal Roper, Lara Apps, Owen Davies, etc.

Here is  an excerpt from her paper:

Perhaps the most important development to have emerged in the historiography of early modern European witchcraft in the last two decades, is the greater recognition of the remarkable cultural, gender, and social diversity to be found within witchcraft practices. This diversity of witchcraft has made broader historical contextualization imperative. It is not surprising, therefore, that the most exciting studies of recent times are those which invite us to see witchcraft, not as an isolated and somewhat morbid phenomenon, but as an integral part of a much wider spectrum of early modern religious beliefs, gendered power dynamics, political crises, or social behaviour and traditions. This review will discuss four books that have appeared in the last few years and as the witchcraft literature is extremely vast, I will place them in the context of recent trends that have emerged in the last decade.

The most innovative paradigm shift in historical witchcraft research has been the expansion of our focus, both chronologically and thematically, beyond the periods of specific witchcraft persecutions, to consider witchcraft as a less sensational cultural practice. By expanding the timeline for witchcraft investigations to before and after the witch-persecution period, witchcraft studies have unearthed a wealth of new material and questions, and put persecutions into a new perspective. The kind of witchcraft pursued (or imagined) with such intensity by authorities during specific witch persecutions, might actually be an unusual form of witchcraft, restricted to very short periods and defined locations; while everyday forms of magic, more regularly practised, were both more influential and typical. This different paradigm allows for a more integrative view: the full spectrum of social activities, including healing, protective magic, and the recovery of lost objects, can be considered in our analyses. Indeed, it is the more integrative approaches to magic and related phenomena of belief and practice that are producing the most innovative work in the field. By expanding their chronological perspectives on witchcraft, stepping outside of the immediate phases of intense persecutions, or witch hunts, historians are also able to draw broader historical comparisons.

This was clearly signalled with the six volume series The Athlone History of Witchcraft and Magic in Europe, under the stewardship of general editors, Bengt Ankarloo and Stuart Clark, which appeared between 1998 and 2002. This series marks a watershed for witchcraft research. It has reinforced the point that magical activities have a much longer tradition than witchcraft persecutions: they existed long before and long after the witch hunts. Only one of the six volumes deals with the early modern period of intense witch prosecutions; all others show the different ways in which magic as a cultural and social phenomenon was part of everyday life. The series’ wide geographic spectrum reinforces the message of the diversity of legal approaches and the social dynamics of witchcraft practices. This more integrative approach to witchcraft is also reflected in the 2004 publication by Owen Davies andWillem de Blecourt (editors) of Beyond the Witch Trials: Witchcraft and Magic in Enlightenment Europe, which discusses the “decline” of witchcraft beliefs, or rather their modifications, in several European locations during the late-seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.