Tuesday, April 30, 2013

"Witch trials were comparatively rare"? (Or, Shit Malcolm Gaskill says)

Once again I must turn my attention to the unedifying public spectacle of a noted scholar grotesquely misrepresenting the most basic historical facts in the name of dispelling "myths". The following is from an op-ed piece written by Malcolm Gaskill ("one of Britain's leading authorities on the history of witchcraft", if he does say so himself, and, to be fair, he is in fact a well respected scholar and author of innumerable important publications on historical Witchcraft) and published in The Guardian on April 5, 2010 (Witch-hunts then -- and now):

"The history of witchcraft helps us to understand this tragic phenomenon [modern cases of violence against people accused of Witchcraft]. Unfortunately, the subject remains littered with powerful myths. Some modern witches sing a protest song called Catch the Fire, which mentions the 9 million women burned during the "witch-craze". Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code says 5 million. The actual figure was about 50,000. This still might seem a lot for an imaginary crime, but viewed in context of time, space and population levels, it's clear that witch trials were comparatively rare. Plus executions followed in only about half of trials."

Were witch trials really "comparatively rare"? (Uh, and "compared" to what, exactly?) Well, in the comparatively small nation of Scotland, which was hardly the epicenter of the European Witch-hunts, there was one year (1649) in which there were 399 documented Witchcraft trials. In fact, during the next 13 years there were over 1000 more trials, for a sustained average of over 100 a year from 1649-1662. If we view these Scottish Witch trials "in context of time, space and population levels", this would be the equivalent of nearly half a million 21st century American citizens being put on trial for the crime of Witchcraft over a span of 14 years. And while it is true that only half (a mere 250,000 or so!) of these would be convicted and then publicly burned at the stake, the other half would still be severely tortured before being acquitted. And by "severely tortured" I am referring to methods that would make Guantanamo look like a tropical vacation resort. Here is another way of putting these deaths in "context": the rate at which people were burned at the stake for the crime of Witchcraft in Scotland between the years 1649 and 1662 was three times higher (or more) than the rate at which young Americans died in Vietnam between the years 1962 and 1975. For more information on the Witch-hunt in Scotland, see these three posts of mine and links therein:

In Iceland, an even smaller country and another place that does not figure prominently in the history of Witch-hunting, there were "only" 20 executions for Witchcraft (that we have good documentation for). But this was in a nation with a population at the time of about 50,000 inhabitants (about 1/20 that of Scotland). And all of these executions took place in less than three decades. That means that if we again look at the "context of time, space and population levels", Witch-hunting was almost as intense in Iceland as it was in Scotland. For more in the Witch-hunts in Iceland, check out these links:

So much for the periphery. What about the places that were at the center of the action? In just a few regions of what was at the time the Holy Roman Empire (in what is today western Germany and some bordering regions of France and Switzerland), the phenomenon of Witch-hunting reached such a frenzy that otherwise staid and sober scholars have actually felt compelled to employ the term "superhunt". These are the very same scholars who, like Gaskill, never tire of lecturing modern Pagans on the grave sin of historical exaggeration. In just one of these outbreaks (in Alzenau, just east of Frankfurt) nearly 10% of the adult population was put to death (and these were predominantly women, so one in six adult women were executed).

Although the European Witch-hunts lasted over three centuries (from the Witch trials in Valais which began in 1427 and in which over 350 people were put to death in 20 years, to the last trickle of official trials and executions in the mid 18th century), and  ranged from one end of Europe to the other (from Transylvania to Scotland and from Sweden to Spain), the superhunts were highly concentrated outbursts of murderous Witch hysteria that accounted for almost a quarter of all executions for Witchcraft in Europe (according to William Monter). These concentrated outbreaks of Witch killings occurred in Trier (1586-95), Mainz (1593-1631), Fulda (1602-06), Cologne (1627-35), Bamberg (1616-30), and Waldenburg (1616-30), leading to the deaths of at least 10,000 people in a relatively small region of Europe over a span of just 45 years. [See Monter on "Germany's Superhunts" in Witchcraft and Magic in Europe, Volume 4: The Period of the Witch Trials.]

The bottom line is that it is an act of scholarly malfeasance to blithely state that "it's clear that witch trials were comparatively rare." Sadly, though, it has become de rigueur for certain self-appointed demythologizers to squander their academic credentials in the service of this kind of revisionist propagandizing, which aggressively promotes the (comforting to some) notion that Witch-hunts, Inquisitions, heresy-hunting, and other sins of the past, really weren't all that bad after all. I mean, well, "comparatively" speaking, you know.

See also:
"Witches and other evils": Jacqueline Simpson and Steve Roud on Witches and Witchcraft
Julian Goodare Contradicts His Own Data on Witches and Healers

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Sexy Virgins, Hipster Jesus, And Other Signs Of The Apocolypse

The end is coming. The end of Christianity, that is. Hopefully. Well, that might be a bit over-optimistic, but according to Amanda Marcotte, writing for Alternet, "The much-analyzed Millennial generation is turning away from religion, especially Christianity, in record numbers."

The main course of Amanda's article,  "Jesus Was A Hipster? 7 Funniest Ways Christian Churches Are Trying to Get Hip With the Kids", is her list, as advertised in the title, of seven, count 'em seven, unintentionally (and therefore all that much more) humorous attempts at cool-ness by would be youth-evangelizers. You should go to the article to get the hilarious details, but here is one especially notable highlight:

"Mark Driscoll is a well-known nutty preacher in Seattle whose entire schtick is trying to dress up old-fashioned fundamentalist misogyny like it’s the cool new thing the kids are doing these days. His main strategy is talking about sex all the time. It’s incredibly important to Driscoll that you understand he’s a sex machine, and to generally imply that following Christ turns men into insatiable horndogs. He published a sex manual for Christians last year, one that portrays Christian marriage as something of a pornographic fantasy of women living in a state of permanent submission and sexual availability."

Of course there is nothing new under the sun. All this has happened before and all this will happen again. I am, of course, referring to the ultimate farcical attempt at Christian youth outreach: The Christian Side-Hug.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

"Secrets of Britain's Sharia Councils"

This is a very educational documentary. It turns out that if a woman is beaten by her her husband, this might simply be his way of telling her that she needs to improve her cooking skills. And so forth.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Why did the other knights suspect Sir Balin of Witchcraft? (1485)

In days of old, when knights were bold, and the Round Table had just been invented ....

This post focuses on a story found in the first two sections of Malory's "The Book of Sir Balin" (first published in 1485, but probably written a decade of more previously). Therein is told the tale of the "poor knight" who succeeded where all of Arthur's other knights, and even Arthur himself, had failed.

The task that Balin, the poor knight, alone had managed to complete, had to do with a newly arrived "damsel, the which was sent on message from great Lady Lylle of Avelion." When the damsel presented herself to Arthur, the King noted that she was "girt with a noble sword, whereof the king had marvel," and further noted that, at least in his opinion, the bearing of such a weapon did not "beseemeth" the damsel, who in response explained that she very much wished to be relieved of the sword, but that, alas, in order for that to happen she would first have to find "a passing good man of his hands, and of his deeds, and without villany or treachery and without treason," for only such a knight would be able to draw the sword from the scabbard with which she was "girt". After first Arthur, and then all of the other knights in his court, tried without success to withdraw the sword, Sir Balin finally stepped forward "and drew it out easily."

But then an odd thing happened. Or possibly not so odd, depending on one's estimation of humanity. The other knights immediately began to harbor a "great despite" toward this Balin fellow, for he had committed the grave sin of making them all look like chumps. Of course these good knights did not wish to frame their base envy in honest terms, which would force them to admit that they were angry at having been bested by one who was their better in virtue. Instead they preferred to imagine that Balin must have cheated by employing some form of supernatural assistance: "the most part of the knights of the Round Table said that Balin did not this adventure all only by might, but by witchcraft."

The other knights do not suspect that Sir Balin has committed any sort of maleficium. That is, there is not the slightest hint that Balin has used magic to cause harm to anyone. Nor is Balin hated by all of the other knights, but only by "the most of them," and, in particular, and precisely because he has succeeded in this "adventure", and, thereby, proven that he is "without villany or treachery and without treason," which, apparently, was not the case with his other knights, King Arthur, who until recently had had Balin incarcerated, now takes quite a liking to Balin, and promises to make things right.

There is much more to the story of Sir Balin. But as far as the accusation of Witchcraft against him goes, the case is very straightforward. He was not suspected of maleficium, nor was he universally hated. And, in fact, it is made plain that those who did hate him did so only out of simple envy, not because they genuinely believed him to be an evil man, nor that he had done anything evil. Indeed, this story well illustrates what Edward Phillips wrote in his General Dictionary (published in 1658), namely that Witchcraft is the capacity whereby "Wonders may be wrought, which exceed the common Apprehension of Men."

Here is the relevant passsage from Malory taken from the 1904 Houghton Mifflin edition edited by Clarence Griffin Child.

I. After the death of King Uther Pendragon reigned Arthur his son, the which had great wars in his days, for to get all England into his hand; for there were many kings within the realm of England, and in Wales, Scotland, and in Cornwall. So it be- fell on a time, when King Arthur was at London, there came a knight and told the king tidings how that the king Rions of North Wales had reared a great number of people, and were entered into the land, and burnt and slew the king's true liege people. "If this be true," said Arthur, "it were great shame unto mine estate, but that he were mightily withstood. " "It is truth," said the knight, "for I saw the host myself." "Well," said the king, "let make a cry: " that all the lords, knights, and gentlemen of arms, should draw unto a castle, called Camelot in those days, and there the king would let make a council general, and a great joust.

So when the king was come thither, with all his baronage, and lodged as they seemed best, there was come a damsel, the which was sent on message from the great Lady Lylle of Avelion; and, when she came before King Arthur, she told from whom she came, and how she was sent on message unto him for these causes. Then she let her mantle fall, that was richly furred, and then was she girt with a noble sword, whereof the king had marvel, and said, " Damsel, for what cause are ye girt with that sword ? It beseemeth you not." "Now shall I tell you," said the damsel; "this sword, that I am girt withal, doth me great sorrow and cumbrance, for I may not be delivered of this sword but by a knight, but he must be a passing good man of his hands, and of his deeds, and without villany or treachery and without treason. If I may find such a knight that hath all these virtues, he may draw out this sword out of the sheath. For I have been at King Rions; it was told me, there were passing good knights, and he and all his knights have assayed it, and none can speed."

"This is a great marvel," said Arthur, "if this be sooth. I will myself assay to draw out the sword, not presuming upon myself that I am the best knight, but that I will begin to draw at your sword, in giving ex- ample to all the barons, that they shall assay every one after other, when I have assayed it." Then Ar- thur took the sword by the sheath and by the girdle, and pulled at it eagerly, but the sword would not out. "Sir," said the damsel, "ye need not to pull half so hard; for he that shall pull it out shall do it with little might." "Ye say well," said Arthur; "now assa} r ye, all my barons; but beware ye be not defiled with shame, treachery, nor guile." "Then it will not avail," said the damsel; "for he must be a clean knight, without villany, and of a gentle strene of fa- ther's side and mother's side." Most of all the bar- ons of the Round Table, that were there at that time, assayed all by rowe, but there might none speed. Wherefore the damsel made great sorrow out of mea- sure, and said, "Alas! I weened in this court had been the best knights, without treachery or treason."

"By my faith," said Arthur, "here are good knights as I deem as any be in the world; but their grace is not to help you, wherefore I am displeased."

II. Then fell it so, that time, that there was a poor knight with King Arthur, that had been prisoner with him half a year and more for slaying of a knight, the which was cousin to King Arthur. The name of this knight was called Balin, and by good means of the barons he was delivered out of prison; for he was a good man named of his body, and he was born in Northumberland. And so he went privily into the court and saw this adventure, whereof it raised his heart, and would assay it as other knights did; but for he was poor, and poorly arrayed, he put him not far in press. But in his heart he was fully assured to do as well, if his grace happed him, as any knight that there was. And, as the damsel took her leave of Arthur and all the barons, so departing, this knight, Balin, called unto her, and said, "Damsel, I pray you, of your courtesy, suffer me as well to assay as these lords; though that I be so poorly clothed, in my heart me seemeth I am fully assured as some of these other, and me seemeth in my heart to speed right well." The damsel beheld the poor knight, and saw he was a likely man ; but, for his poor arrayment, she thought he should be of no worship without villany or treachery. And then she said unto the knight, "Sir, it needeth not to put me to more pain or labour, for it seemeth not you to speed, thereas other have failed." "Ah! fair damsel," said Balin, "worthiness and good tatches and good deeds are not only in arrayment, but man- hood and worship is hid within man's person; and many a worshipful knight is not known unto all peo- ple ; and therefore worship and hardiness is not in arrayment." "By God!" said the damsel, "ye say sooth; therefore ye shall assay to do what ye may."

Then Balin took the sword by the girdle and sheath, and drew it out easily; and when he looked on the sword, it pleased him much. Then had the king and all the barons great marvel, that Balin had done that adventure; many knights had great despite of Balin. "Certes," said the damsel, "this is a passing good knight, and the best that ever I found, and most of worship, without treason, treachery, or villany, and many marvels shall he do. Now, gentle and courteous knight, give me the sword again." "Nay," said Balin, "for this sword will I keep, but it be taken from me with force." "Well," said the damsel, "ye are not wise to keep the sword from me, for ye shall slay with the sword the best friend that ye have, and the man that ye most love in the world, and the sword shall be your destruction." "I shall take the adventure," said Balin, "that God will or- dain me, but the sword ye shall not have at this time, by the faith of my body." "Ye shall repent it within short time," said the damsel, "for I would have the sword more for your avail than for mine, for I am passing heavy for your sake ; for ye will not believe that sword shall be your destruction, and that is great pity." With that the damsel departed, making great sorrow.

Anon, after, Balin sent for his horse and armor, and so would depart from the court, and took his leave of King Arthur. "Nay," said the king, "I suppose ye will not depart so lightly from this fellowship. I suppose ye are displeased, that I have showed you unkindness; blame me the less, for I was misin- formed against you. But I weened ye had not been such a knight as ye are of worship and prowess; and if ye will abide in this court among my fellowship I shall so advance you, as ye shall be pleased." "God thank your highness," said Balin; "your bounty and highness may no man praise half to the value; but at this time I must needs depart, beseeching you al- way of your good grace." "Truly," said the king, "I am right wroth for your departing; I pray you, fair knight, that ye tarry not long, and ye shall be right welcome to me and to my barons, and 1 shall amend all amiss that I have done against you. " " God thank your great lordship," said Balin, and therewith made him ready to depart. Then the most part of the knights of the Round Table said that Balin did not this adventure all only by might, but by witchcraft.

Friday, April 19, 2013

As it turns out, I write like H. P. Lovecraft.

According to "I Write Like", I write like H. P. Lovecraft. I simply couldn't be more pleased with myself.

I write like
H. P. Lovecraft
I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

Here is the text that I submitted for "analysis" (it is from the post An Orthodox theologian explains what he means by "Inclusivism" and "Tolerance"):

Rev. Dr. George C. Papademetrious is a prominent Orthodox theologian who is especially noted for his involvement in inter-faith dialogue (see his official biography at the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America website). Father Papademetrious is a highly educated and exceptionally articulate man. When he writes about the relationship between Christianity and other religions he is not satisfied with glib, politically correct catch-phrases. Where he finds simplicity, he does not shy away from stating things plainly, even bluntly. And where he finds complexity, he insists on giving that complexity it's full due.

As far as I can see, there is no reason to doubt that Father Papademetrious has a genuine personal commitment to religious tolerance, and an abhorrence of all religious violence and persecution regardless of who the victims (or perpetrators) are. And he also possesses a clearly demonstrated interest in and sympathy for non-Christian religious traditions and their adherents.

But while Father Papademetrious' intelligence and humaneness shine through in his writings, this only makes it all the more jarring when one realizes the unambiguous import of what he believes to be the truth about all non-Christian religions. In particular, he insists that Christianity alone offers "salvation" and contains "saving truths". But somehow he makes this claim in the name of "tolerance" and "inclusiveness" (and also in the name of rejecting "exclusivism"). But Father Papademetrious is not here engaging in any deception or sophistry. He states very clearly what he means by "exclusivism", "inclusivism" and "tolerance". On close inspection, his definitions turn out to be rather counterintuitive, but they are not completely unreasonable, and they are presented in a very forthright and even well-reasoned manner, so there is no excuse for misunderstanding him.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The association between beneficial weather magic and Witchcraft on the Isle of Man, according to the Holinshed's Chronicles (1586)

The following text is taken from The Holinshed Project at Oxford University:

Giraldus noteth a conten|tion betwéene the kings of England & Ireland for the right of this Iland, but in the end, when by a compr [...]|mise the triall of the matter was referred to the liues or deaths of such venemous wormes as should be brought into the same, and it was found that they died not at all, as the like doo in Ireland, sentence passed with the king of England, & so he reteined the Iland. But howsoeuer this matter standeth, and whether anie such thing was done at all or not, sure it is that the peo|ple of the said Ile were much giuen to witchcraft and sorcerie (which they learned of the Scots a nation great|lie bent to that horible practise) in somuch that their women would oftentimes sell wind to the mariners, inclosed vnder certeine knots of thred, with this in|iunction, that they which bought the same, should for a great gale vndoo manie, and for the lesse a fewer or smaller number.

The authors of the Chronicles are essentially just repeating the tale about Manx weather Witches found already in Ranulf Higden's Polychronicon, written in Latin in the mid 14th century. Moreover, the decision by John Trevisa, when translating the Polychronicon into Middle English in 1387 (link), to characterize the weather magic of the women of the Isle of Man as "Witchcraft", is upheld in the Chronicles. It should be emphasized that the Chronicles have nothing good to say about Witchcraft, or at least no desire to say anything good of this "horible practise". And yet the only specific example cited to illustrate the way in which "the people of the said Ile were much giuen" to Witchcraft is a clear and unambiguous case of beneficial magic!

[The image, depicting a "Mudhead" dancer, at the top of the post is from:  Roediger, Virginia More. Ceremonial Costumes of the Pueblo Indians: Their Evolution, Fabrication, and Significance in the Prayer Drama. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1991 1991. http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft8870087s/]

Finnish Witch selling wind to sailors. Olaus Magnus, 1555.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Looking it up: Witches and Witchcraft in some early English dictionaries

The post is mostly just a raw "data dump" consisting of selections from four of the earliest English language dictionaries (dated 1604, 1656, 1658, and 1755). In every case it is shown that "Witch" and "Witchcraft" are not defined in terms maleficium, but rather in terms of magical powers in a very general way without direct reference to harmful magic. There are references to the perverse Christian notion that magic is associated with "the Devil, or evil Spirits", but this is not said uniquely of Witchcraft alone, but also of Necromancy. In many other sources from the same period one also finds the Devil (and "evil spirits") associated with Conjurers, Sorcerers, Prophetesses, etc. Also, even when Witchcraft is specifically being associated with evil spirits, as in Philips' General Dictionary of 1656, the actions attributed to Witches are described as "Wonders", and in the same Dictionary, the entry for "Wonders" refers to "the seven Wonders of the World," and there is nothing to indicate an association with maleficium or anything of the sort. Moreover, the word "Witch" is explicitly presented in the sources below as being synonymous with a variety of other words to denote magical practitioners, including especially: "Magician", "Prophetess", "Enchantress", "Wizzard", and "Sorceress" (as well as, although somewhat less directly, with "Conjurer", "Wise Man", "Cunning Man", "Astrologer", and "Diviner").


magitian, (g) one vsing witchcraft

Glossographia Anglicana Nova: Or, A Dictionary, Interpreting Such Hard Words of Whatever Language, as are at Present Used in the English Tongue, by Thomas Blount (1656)

Pythoness, a Woman posses'd with a Familiar, or Prophecying Spirit, a Sorceress, or Witch.

The New World of English Words, or, a General Dictionary, by Edward Phillips, 1658

Cunning-Man, one skilled in Astrology; a Diviner, a Conjurer.
Enchantress, a Witch or Sorceress
Magician, one that possesseth Magick, which was the same with the Persians as Philosophy among the Greeks, i. e. the Study of the more secret and mysterious Arts: Whence the Three Wise Men in the East, that came to adore the Savior of the World, were call'd Magi, but the Word now is commonly taken in a bad Sense, for a Wizard, Sorcerer, or Conjurer.
Magick, or Diabolical Magick, the Black Art, a dealing with Familiar Spirits, Conjuring, Sorcery, Witchcraft.
Natural Magick, or Natural Philosophy, an innocent and useful Science, teaching the Knowledge and mutual Application of Actives to Passives, so as to make many excellent Discoveries: But this Study being corrupted by the Arabians, and fill'd with many superstitious Vanities, the Word began to be taken in an ill Sense.
Magick Square, is when several Numbers, in Arithmetical proportions, are disposed into such parallel and equal Ranks, that the Sums of each Row taken any way, either directly or side-long, shall be all equal.
Necromancy, an Art, by which Communication is held with the Devil, so as to call up the Spirits of the Dead, such as the Witch of Endor made Use of to cause Samuel to appear to Saul.
Python, a venomous Serpent; also a familiar of prophecying Spirit, or one possessed with it.
Pythoness, a Woman so possessed [see Python, above]; a Prophetess; a Sorceress, or Witch.
Sorcerer, one that uses Witch-craft, a Wizzard, Magician, or Inchanter.
Sorceress, a Witch or Hag.
Wise-Man, see Cunning-Man
Witch, an old Hag, or Woman that deals with Familiar Spirits.
Witchcraft, the black Art, whereby with the Assistance of the Devil, or evil Spirits, some Wonders may be wrought, which exceed the common Apprehensions of Men.

A Dictionary of the English Language, Samuel Johnson, 1755

Wárlock., Wárluck n.s. [vardlookr, Islandick, a charm; werloʒ, Saxon, an evil spirit. This etymology was communicated by Mr. Wise.] A male witch; a wizzard.
Warlock in Scotland is applied to a man whom the vulgar suppose to be conversant with spirits, as a woman who carries on the same commerce is called a witch: he is supposed to have the invulnerable quality which Dryden mentions, who did not understand the word: "He was no warlock, as the Scots commonly call such men, who they say are iron free or lead free." [From John Dryden's notes on his own translation of Vergil's Aeneid (link), specifically in reference to the fact that Vergil allows his hero to be wounded in battle (in Book XII), thus demonstrating that Aeneas "was no warluck", that is to say, he did not possess "the invulnerable quality" that "in Scotland", according to Johnson, is supposed, by "the vulgar", to be characteristic of both Witches and Warlocks.]

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Cornelius Agrippa on "Witchinge Magick", according to James Sanford's 1569 English translation of "De incertitudine et vanitate omnium scientiarum et artium liber"

Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa's De incertitudine et vanitate omnium scientiarum et artium liber was first published (in its original Latin) in 1527. In 1569 an English translation by James Sanford (or possibly Sandford) was published in London under the title of The Vanitie and Uncertaintie of Artes and Sciences.

The word "Witch" actually only appears three times in the passage below (Chapter 44), and one of these is in the title. Twice "Witch" is used to translate the Latin "venefica", and once to translate the Latin "magas". While it is true that "venefica" is often (erroneously) thought of as referring unambiguously to malefic magic (and poisoning in particular), Agrippa makes clear that the "Witchinge Magick" to which he refers is often put to beneficial (or at least non-malefic) use, such as "charmed drinckes for love, and ... medicins ... whereby happy and fortunate childerne maye be begotten," or even to bestow upon a person the ability to "understand the voices of birdes." Shape-shifting is another power attributed, very prominently, by Agrippa to the "pocions" of the Witches, and in doing so he makes explicit reference to the celebrated Metamorphoses of Apuleius. And as Raven Grimassi points out in his essay My View On Italian Witchcraft, "It is among the Romans that we encounter common views of the era regarding the Witch [he is referring to those designated by the Pagan Romans as "Veneficae"]. The Roman poet Horace depicts her as calling upon the goddess Diana, and of working rituals and magic in connection with the moon. Ovid and Lucan broaden this view, and we come to see the Witch figure as a priestess of a triformis goddess: Hecate, Diana, Proserpina. I view this literary tradition as being rooted in actual forms of Witchcraft."

And now let us turn to the passage in question. You can read the original directly here: http://ebooks.library.cornell.edu/cgi/t/text/pageviewer-idx?c=witch;cc=witch;idno=wit005;seq=128.

Of Witchinge Magicke. Cap.44.  [De Magia Venefica]
There is another kinde of naturall Magicke which is termed, Witchinge [veneficam] or Medicinall which is done with pocions, charmed drinckes for love, and divers poysoninge medicins suche a one as Democritus is reade to have made, whereby happy and fortunate childerne maye be begotten, and an other whereby we maie well understand the voices of birdes, as Philostratus and Porphyrius do recompte of Apollonius. Virgill also speakinge of certayne herbes of Pontus, sayde: With these, o Merim, have I seene, ofte times a man to have; The feareful shape as wilde wolfe, and him selfe in woodes do save. Ofte times the ghastly ghostes to leave, theire deape graves grown with grasse: And I have seene the sowen seede. to place from place to passe. And Plinie saithe, that one Demarchus Parrhasius in a sacrifice of mans bodie, whiche the Arcadians offered to Jupiter Liceus, tasted the inwardes of a sacrificed childe was turned into a Wolfe, for the whiche transformation of men into Wolfes, Augustine thinketh that Pan was called with an other name Liceus, and Jupiter Liceus. The same Augustine doth recompt, that when he was in Italie, certaine women witches [foeminas magas], like Circes: when they had geven inchauntmentes in chéese to straungers they trásformed them into horses, and other beastes of cartage and when they had caried the burdens, that they listed, againe they turned them into men: and that this chauced at that time to one Father Prestantius. But bicause any maye not thinke that these be dotages, and thinges impossible, let him remember that which the holy scriptures do declare That the Kinge Nabuchodonosar was transformed into an Oxe, and lived seven yéeres with heye, at length through the mercie of God became a man againe, whose body after his death, Euilmoradath his sonne gave to the ravens to be devoured, leste at any time he might rise from death, who of a beaste became eftsoones a man. And Exodus sheweth many thinges of this sorte, of Pharoes Inchaunters. But yet of these Magitians or Inchaunters the Wise man speaketh, when he saithe: Thou haste hated them O God, because with inchauntmentes they did horrible woorkes. Furthermore I will have you understad this, that the Magitians do not onely searche out naturall thinges, but them also, whiche accompanie nature, and after a sorte do spoyle her, as are the movinges, numbers, figures, soundes, voices, tunes, lightes, affections of the mind and woordes. Thus did the Psilies, and the Marsies call Serpentes, other chased them awaye: in this wise did Orpheus with a hymne asswage the stormie tempest of the Argonautes Jasons cópanions: and Homer saithe that Ulysses bloude was stented with woordes: and in the lawe of the twelve tables a paine was appointed for them, that had inchaunted corne: so that it is no doubt, that Magitians alone also with woordes and affections, and other lyke thinges oftentimes doo bringe foorthe some marveilous effect not onely in themselves, but also in straunge thinges: all whiche operations they suppose to spredde adroade upon other thinges the force engraffed in them and to drawe these unto them, or to put these from them, or to give them vertue by some other meanes, as the lode stoane draweth Iron, and amber strawes, or as the Diamante and Garlike take away the vertue of the lode stoane: and so by this orderly and lincked composition ofthinges Iamblichus, Proculus, and Sinesius, accordinge to the opinion of the Magitians doo confirme that not onely the naturall and celestiall giftes but the intellectuall and heavenly also maie be receaved from above: the whiche Proculus confesseth in the booke of Sacrifice, and Magicke, to witte, that by suche consent of thinges Magitians were wonte to binde sprites. For some of them are fallen into so greate a madnesse, that they beleve, that with divers constellations of Starres rightly observed by distaunce of time, and with a certain order of proportions, by the consent of heavenly sprites, an image made maie receave the sprite of life, and understandinge, whereby he giveth answeare to them that will demaunde and thing, and reveleth the secretes of hidden verity. Hereby it is manifest, that this naturall Magicke sometimes enclineth to Geocie, and Theurgie, oftentimes it is entangled in the craftes and errours of ye devils of hell.

Monday, April 15, 2013

"I have keen perception or discernment." (1828)

From An Etymological Dictionary of the Latin Language, by Francis Edward Jackson Valpy (London, 1828):

"Sāga, a wise woman, witch. From sagio, (whence praesagio): 'I have keen perception or discernment.'"

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: http://books.google.com/books?id=4Pg9AAAAcAAJ).

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, iomtoday.com.im, dated Jan. 21, 2010)

Witches As Healers in Piers Plowman (ca. 1370)

From: A "medicyne of Wordes": Women, Prayer, and Healing in Fourteenth- and Fifteenth-century England, by Stephanie Lynn Volf:

"If bodily illness could prompt emotional disorder of the mind, the Galenic tradition makes clear that corporeal distress could affect one's woul as well. This relationship will become important in the Christian West, since many emotions fell under the heading of sin (anger, jealousy, lust, etc.). Perhaps this explains why so many medieval moral treatises so carefully emphasize patience when suffering. A real fear existed that illness may lead to sin and damnation, as in the case of the character Haukyn in Piers Plowman. Haukyn complains that when his desires are thwarted, he reacts so emotionally that he falls into an illness. This sickness proves so resistant to treatment that he eventually rejects hope in Christ's providence and turns to witchcraft to alleviate it."
[p. 169]

From Piers Plowman, by William Langland:
'Ther is no lif that I lovye lastynge any while;
For tales that I telle no man trusteth to me.
And whan I may noght have the maistrie, swich malencolie I take
That I cacche the crampe, the cardiacle som tyme,
Or an ague in swich an angre, and som tyme a fevere
That taketh me al a twelvemonthe, til that I despise
Lechecraft of Oure Lord and leve on a wicche,
And seye that no clerc ne kan - ne Crist, as I leve -
To the Soutere of Southwerk, or of Shordych Dame Emme,
And seye that [God ne] Goddes word gaf me nevere boute,
But thorugh a charme hadde I chaunce and my chief heele.'
[13.330 - 341]

"Thou art so wise, people will take thee shortly for a Witch" ("The Captain", John Fletcher, 1612)

From The Captain, by John Fletcher and Francis Beaumont, first performed in 1612.


Enter Frank, and Clora.

Clo. Do not dissemble Frank, mine eyes are quicker
Than such observers, that do ground their faith
Upon one smile or tear ; y'are much alter'd.
And are as empty of those excellencies
That were companions to you ; I mean mirth
And free disposure of your blood and Spirit,
As you were born a mourner.

Fran. How I prethee ?
For I perceive no such change in my self.

Clo. Come, come, this is not wise, nor provident
To halt before a Cripple : if you love.
Be liberal to your friend, and let her know it,
I see the way you run, and know how tedious
'Twill prove without a true companion.

Fran. Sure thou wouldst have me love.

Clo. Yes marry would I,
I should not please ye else.

Fran. And who for Heavens sake ?
For I assure my self, I know not yet :
And prethee Clora, since thou'lt have it so
That I must love, and do I know not what :
Let him be held a pretty handsome fellow.
And young, and if he be a little valiant
'Twill be the better ; and a little wise,
And faith a little honest.

Ckr. Well I will sound ye yet for all your craft.

Fran. Heigh ho ! Fie love no more.

Clo. Than one ; and him
You shall love Frank.

Fran. Which him ? thou art so wise
People will take thee shortly for a Witch
But prethee tell me Clora, if I were
So mad as thou wouldst make me, what kind of man
Wouldst thou imagine him ?

Clo. Faith some pretty fellow.
With a clean strength, that cracks a cudgel well
And dances at a Wake, and plays at Nine-holes.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Et In Arcadia Ego: Romanticism before the "Romantic Period"

The "Romantic" period (beginning somewhere between 1750 and 1800) was obviously a turning point in the history of Paganism. On this point there can be no reasonable doubt. But it is essential to understand the continuity between so-called Romanticism and cultural trends that were already well established long before Goethe started getting his Sturm und Drang on.

In fact, over four centuries before Messrs Guillotine and Robespierre teamed up, or whatever other historical marker you wish to choose for the beginnings of "Romanticism", there was a great flourishing of pastoralism starting way back at the first glimmerings of the Renaissance. Although these two terms, Romanticism and pastoralism, are infamous for meaning anything, everything and nothing, we can say quite specifically that pastoralism shares with Romanticism these two essential characteristics ("essential" that is, for understanding the role of both pastoralism and Romanticism in Pagan history): 1. a self-conscious orientation toward and emulation of the Pagan past, and 2. an equally self-conscious orientation toward and reverence for Nature. Pastoralism and Romanticism also share a common cast of characters and recurring themes, including especially: Arcadia, Pan, Sylvanus, Faunus, nymphs, satyrs, shepherds and shepherdesses.

A very specific feature often associated with Romanticism, and with English Romantic poetry in particular, is classicism, and this is also a core feature of pastoralism. That is, both pastoralism and Romanticism take their inspiration not just from the Paganism of the past generally, but from classical Greco-Roman Paganism in particular (although not exclusively so). At the same time, one of the things that distinguishes the Pagan-centricity of Romanticism from that of pre-Romantic pastoralism, is that Romanticism does tend to be both more broadly focused on Paganism generally, and at the same time more specifically focused on more "indigenous"/"national" forms of pre-Christian religion, all the while still betraying a significant classical orientation as well. It is interesting to note that in the case of Italy, where pastoralism first exerts itself as a major cultural force in the Trecento, this distinction is blurred to the point of nonexistence due to the confluence of Italian nationalism and Romanophilia.

This post will not go into any great detail about specific examples of pastoralism, which will hopefully be remedied in future posts. For now I will just give the briefest of overviews focusing on a few early highlights, and then following that I will simply list a number of significant examples of Paganizing pastoralism in chronological order.

During the Italian Trecento, Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio each authored important examples of pastoral poetry, taking their inspiration directly from Vergil's Eclogues (one of the classical pillars of pastoralism). Significantly, Sylvanus, the Roman God of the Woods (not to be confused with although often conflated with Pan), features quite prominently as the main character in one of Petrarch's Eclogues. The God Pan also made his presence felt in 15th century Florence. Lorenzo de' Medici himself composed a Platonizing Eclogue on "Pan and Apollo", and also commissioned the enigmatic painting "School of Pan" by Luca Signorelli. Poliziano and Naldi also composed Vergilian pastoral works dedicated to their "Magnificent" patron. Art historian Edith Balas has gone so far as to write that "Lorenzo, thoroughly imbued with the pagan spirit, founded a cult of Pan at Villa Carreggi, in which he identified the Florentine countryside as Arcady and his friends as shepherds." [Michelangelo's Medici Chapel: a new interpretation, p. 147]

A major event in Renaissance pastoralism was Jacques Amyot's 1559 French translation of Longus' Daphnis and Chloe. This quickly became a highly influenctial international literary sensation (and is now as much a fixture of French literature as the original is of Greek literature) and helped to increase even further the already significant popular interest in pastoral literature. George Thornely's 1656 English translation of Longus was based on Amyot's. It is worth mentioning that the God Pan is mentioned many dozens of times throughout this work. In Thornley's English translation Pan is mentioned explicitly fully 59 times, if we include Thornley's Introduction and Summaries.

English pastoralism dates back at least to  Alexander Barclay's 1514 Eclogues. Although not pastoral, Thomas Wyatt's 1530 (or so) poem, Mine Own John Poynz, is relevant because it praises Pan for surpassing Apollo in musicianship "many fold". But English pastoralism really only comes into full bloom with the ascension to King Edward's Chair of Elizabeth I (who reigned from 1558 to 1603). One of the more memorable episodes of Elizabethan pastoralism is the semi-legendary performance of the courtier/poet George Gascoigne when he, or so the story goes, delivered a verse oration to the Queen "clad like unto Sylvanus, God of the Woods," according to a contemporary account. Pastoral themes also appear in the works of Spenser, Marlowe, Shakespeare and many other writers of the day. This trend certainly appears to peak with Elizabeth and then to recede after her, although notable examples of pastoralism are still to come by writers including John Milton and Alexander Pope.

Below are just a few of the highlights of pastoral literature and art prior to the year 1800. Special attention is given to English pastoral literature, and especially to literature in which Arcadia and/or one or more of the Gods Pan, Sylvanus and Faunus play prominent roles. Many of the authors in question are far from obscure, such as Edmund Spenser, Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare, Ben Johnson and John Milton.

Some significant examples of pastoral literature prior to 1800

ca. 1319 Eclogues, Dante  (Latin)
1357 Bucolicum Carmen, Petrarch  (Latin)
1367 Bucolicum Carmen, Boccaccio  (Latin)
ca. 1465 Apollo and Pan, Lorenzo de' Medici (1449-1492)  (Italian)
ca. 1480 Orfeo, Poliziano   (Italian)
1504 Arcadia, Jacopo Sannazaro  (Italian)
1514 Eclogues, Alexander Barclay  (English)
ca. 1530 Mine Own John Poynz, Sir Thomas Wyatt  (English)
1554 Menina e moça, Bernadim Ribeiro (Portuguese)
1559 Daphnis and Chloe, French translation by Jacques Amyot (French)
ca. 1559 Diana, Jorge de Montemor  (Spanish)
1575 Princely Pleasures at Kenilworth Castle, George Gascoigne (English)
1579 The Shepheardes Calendar, Edmund Spenser (1552-1599)   (English)
1579 Endymion, John Lyly (English)
ca. 1581 The Arraigment of Paris, George Peel  (English)
1590 The Fairie Queene, Edmund Spenser (English)
ca. 1590 The Passionate Shepherd to His Love, Christopher Marlowe (English)
ca. 1590 Arcadia, Philip Sidney (English)
ca. 1590 Renunciation, Edward de Vere, the seventeenth Earl of Oxford (English)
ca. 1593 A Midsummer Night's Dream, William Shakespeare  (English)
ca. 1599 As You Like It, William Shakespeare   (English)
1600  Faunus and Meliflora, John Weever  (English)
1605 The Queene's Arcadia, Samuel Daniel (English)
1605 Don Quixote, Cervantes (Spanish)
1607 L'Orfeo, Claudio Monteverdi (Italian)
1608 The Faithful Shepherdess, John Fletcher (English)
1616 To Penshurst, Ben Johnson ("Where Pan and Bacchus their high feasts have made') (English)
1637 Et In Arcadia Ego, Nicholas Poussin (painting, French)
1645 Lycidas John Milton  (English)
1656 Daphne and Chloe, George Thornley's English translation
1667 Paradise Lost, John Milton 
1683 Venus and Adonis, John Blow
1709 Pastorals, Alexander Pope
1714 The Sphepherd's Week John Gay
1717 L'Embarquement pour Cythere, Antoine Watteau (painting, French)
1725 The Gentle Shepherd, Allan Ramsay
1728 Beggar’s Opera, A Newgate Pastoral, John Gray
1752 Le devin du village ("The Village Soothsayer"), Jean-Jacques Rousseau
1772 Arcadia, A Pastoral Poem, William Jones
1788 Morning Dream, William Cowper

Monday, April 8, 2013

Witches, Wise Women, William Shakespeare, and the Lambton Worm


According to Euclid's "first common notion", "things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other." This post examines two very different cases in which the same (fictional) person is referred to as both a "Witch" and as a "wise woman".

The self-evident conclusion that we can draw from these examples is that if the same person is being referred to as both a "Witch" and a "wise woman", then these two terms are synonymous, or at least they overlap significantly in their meanings.

An important consideration when applying the transitive property of equality in the realm of semantics in this way, is that one must be certain that the two labels are being applied not only to the same person, but to that person acting in the same capacity. Just because one person can be described as both a truck driver and an expert marksman does not mean that "truck driver" is synonymous with "expert marksman". However, it is obvious that "truck driver" and "lorry operator" are synonymous, because they do in fact refer to the same person in the same capacity, and the same is true of the phrases "expert marksman" and "very good shot". It will be shown in both of the examples below that the same person acting in the same capacity is referred to as both a Witch and as a wise woman (and in the second example, that of the legend of the Lambton Worm, she is also referred to as a "white Witch" and as a "sibyl").

The Witch of Brentford in the Merry Wives of Windsor

First up is William Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor. This play showcases one of Shakespeare's more memorable characters, Sir John Falstaff, who, having just recently arrived in Windsor, has decided to make his fortune by marrying a rich woman. The two women that our hero sets his sights on, however, are both married, which rather complicates the logistics of  courtship (which are already complicated enough by the fact that he is pursuing two women at the same time). Neither Mrs. Page nor Mrs. Ford has any intention of returning Falstaff's affections, but once they discover that he has written them both identical love letters, the wives decide to have a bit of merry fun with Sir John. Thus the title of the play.

Fast forward to Act III, Scene III, in which Falstaff believes he is having a secret rendezvous with Mrs. Ford. Suddenly, Mrs. Page "arrives", although in fact she has been there all along, and announces that Mr. Ford is on the way, and in a fury at the news of his wife's dalliance, which he has discovered. The merry wives convince Falstaff to hide in a laundry basket before he is discovered, and then they proceed to cover him in filthy laundry, and then they have the servants dump the contents of the basket into a nearby muddy creek.

The following day, Falstaff has once more been lured to yet another unsecret assignation, which is interrupted by the announcement that master Ford is once again on his way. Falstaff refuses to get into the laundry basket again, and so it is suggested that he disguise himself as the maid's Aunt, visiting while on errands, and in that way to make his escape right under Mr. Ford'd nose. What Falstaff doesn't know is that master Ford despises this particular woman, whom he is convinced is a Witch, and has sworn to beat her if he ever sees her again.

At this point it is important to focus in on the repeated use of the word "witch" to refer to the maid's Aunt, who is also known as "the old woman of Brentford". First, Mrs. Ford informs Mrs. Page, behind Falstaff's back, that her husband "cannot abide the old woman of Brentford; he swears she's a witch." A few lines later, Mrs. Page says, "let's go dress him [Falstaff] as the witch of Brentford." Then when Mr. Ford arrives and is told that the maid's Aunt is in the house he flies into a rage and declaims:

A witch, a quean, an old cozening quean! Have I not
forbid her my house? She comes of errands, does
she? We are simple men; we do not know what's
brought to pass under the profession of
fortune-telling. She works by charms, by spells,
by the figure, and such daubery as this is, beyond
our element we know nothing. Come down, you witch,
you hag, you; come down, I say!

At which point he begins to thrash Falstaff, believing him to be "the witch of Brentford."

Falstaff eventually manages to escape and retreats to his room at the Garter Inn, still wearing his "disguise". When he later exits his room, in his normal attire, he is questioned about his lady friend, who was seen entering Falstaff's room just a little while ago. Sir John is asked by Simple (a servant) "was't not the wise woman of Brentford?" To which Falstaff responds, "what would you of her?" And then Simple explains that his master has pending business with the wise woman, concerning the identification of a suspected thief.

Not only does all of this very clearly attest to the equivalence of "witch" and "wise woman" in late 16th century English (The Merry Wives was probably written around 1598), but in addition, the Bard was kind enough to provide us with very telling details about the nature of the magical services that the Witch/wise-woman in question provided to her clients. Mr. Ford says that the "witch of Brentford" was involved in "fortune-telling", and that "she works by charms, by spells, by figure ...".  Simple, on the other hand, states that the "wise woman of Brentford" has been contracted by his master for her ability to magically identify thieves. Very significantly, neither when she is referred to as a "witch" nor when she is referred to as a "wise woman" is there any mention of her using her reputed magical abilities to cause harm to anyone.

The Lambton Worm

Now let us turn to ten different versions of the tale of the Lambton Worm. This "Worm" was a legendary Dragon that terrorized the good people of County Durham until it was finally slain by young Lord Lambton, freshly back from the Crusades, Once Upon a Time.

The earliest telling of the legend of the Lambton Worm on record appears to be the 1820  prose version attributed to Robert Surtees (http://www.washingtonlass.com/LambtonWormSurtees). According to this version, when John Lambton had already failed several times to defeat the Dragon, he decided to "add policy to courage", and, to accomplish this he "went to consult a witch or wise woman" and thanks to "her judicious advice" the young Lord Lambton was able to finally slay the Dragon. Surtees' version of the story was first published in the 1820 volume of The History and Antiquities of the County Palatine of Durham (see previous link). It also appeared later in An historical, topographical, and descriptive view of the county Palatine of Durham in 1834 (link), edited by Eneas McKenzie and Marvin Ross, and also in Surtees' Memoir published in 1852 (link). A very interesting but brief background piece on Surtees and the legend was published by The Northern Echo on march 24, 2011: The Historian and the Lambton Worm. According to the story, Surtees first heard the tale from a woman with the rather suggestive name of Sybil Elizabeth Cockburn. At the Herrington-Heritage.Org.Uk website there is even more background provided on Surtees in an article titled The Surtees Connection.

In 1835, the story of the Lambton Worm was included in William Andres Chatto's Rambles in Northumberland and on the Scottish Border (http://books.google.com/books?id=jBcHAAAAQAAJ). Chatto's version also makes reference to "a witch, or a wise woman".

Next comes a versified version of the story that appeared in Tait's Edinburgh Magazine in 1840 (http://books.google.com/books?id=tS0tAAAAYAAJ). In that version, titled "The Legend of the Lambton Worm", the woman who helps John Lambton to defeat the Dragon  is identified only as "a witch". This version also appears in Joseph Watson's 1877 pamphlet, The Wonderful Tradition of the Lambton Worm.

Then in 1866 we find a version referring to a "sybil or wise woman". This one is found in William Henderson's Notes on the Folklore of the Northern Counties of England and the Borders (http://books.google.com/books?id=o2cAAAAAMAAJ).

In 1867, C. M. Leumane came out with a popular song called "The Lambton Worm" and there is no mention of the Witch (or wise woman, or sybil) in the song's lyrics. (http://www.washingtonlass.com/LambtonWormSong)

Yet another variation occurs in 1868 in the March 14 issue of the illustrated literary weekly "Once a Week", which was edited by Eneas Sweetland Dallas at the time (http://books.google.com/books?id=0RbnAAAAMAAJ). This version makes no mention of a "Witch" or of a "wise woman", but rather refers to a "neighboring sibyl". Interestingly, just two months previously "Once a Week" featured a piece on "Witchcraft in Devon", in which the phrase "white witch" appears numerous times.

The same 1877 pamphlet by Joseph Watson mentioned above (because it contains the 1840 poetic version of the tale), also contains a prose description of the legend in which it is stated that Lord Lambton "consulted a Sibyl on the best means to be pursued to slay the monster." (http://books.google.com/books?id=gKoWAAAAQAAJ)

In 1888 another version of the story appeared in The Monthly Chronicle of North-Country Lore and Legend (http://www.washingtonlass.com/LambtonWormLegend1888.html). In this version there is a whole subsection entitled simply "The Witch", describing how John Lambton sought out and received guidance from said Witch.

A still later version of the story appeared in Baily's Magazine of Sports and Pastimes in 1895. In that 1895 version, John Lambton is assisted by a "wise woman", and there is no mention of a "Witch". (http://books.google.com/books?id=y5cbAQAAIAAJ)

Finally, yet another retelling of the story appeared in the Gentleman's Magazine in 1904 as part of an article by Barbara Clay Finch on "Reptile Lore." (http://books.google.com/books?id=vOIIAAAAIAAJ) In that version, the young Lord Lambton is told how to kill the Dragon by "a notable white witch".


In 1584 Reginald Scot wrote: "At this day it is indifferent to say in the English tongue, 'she is a witch,' or 'she is a wise woman.'"  About a century later Henry More wrote in a letter to his friend Joseph Glanvill:
"As for the words Witch and Wizzard, from the Notation of them, they signifie no more than a wise Man, or a wise Woman. In the word Wizzard, it is plain at the very first sight. And I think the most plain and least operose deduction of the name Witch, is from Wit, whose derived Adjective might be Wittigh or Wittich, and by contraction afterwards, Witch; as the Noun wit is from the Verb to weet, which is, to know. So that a Witch, thus far, is no more than a Knowing woman; which answers exactly to the Latine word Saga ...."
We need not concern ourselves over the validity (or operosity) of More's etymological analysis, but only with his perception that "Witch" and "wise woman" are essentially synonymous.

The equivalence stated explicitly by Scot and More is demonstrated in practice by no less an authority on the English language than William Shakespeare, in his Merry Wives of Windsor. If these three data points were all we had, there would still be a strong case for the claim that the word "Witch" in the 16th and 17th centuries was not, as some have claimed, an unambiguous designation for malevolent workers of malefic magic who were hated by their neighbors. Rather, these three sources, and a great many more, all attest to the use of the word "Witch" to refer to workers of beneficial magic who were valued and sought out by others for their magical services.

Moving to the case of the Lambton Worm, we find that as the same story is told and retold over the course of 84 years, that the same character is alternatively referred to as a "Witch", a "wise woman", a "sybil" and even a "white witch". In many of the redactions the story teller goes out of his or her way to use both "witch" and either "wise woman" or "sibyl". Not only does this Witch play a very positive role in the story, she provides the knight/hero, who already possesses strength and courage, with the key thing that he is missing, without which it is not possible to defeat the "Worm". This missing ingredient is precisely that which Henry More cited as the defining feature of the "Witch": knowledge. It only remains to add that according to sources from Jacob Grimm's Teutonic Mythology (link) and Joseph Bosworth's Anglo-Saxon Dictionary (link), both published in 1835, up to the Dictionary of English Folklore by Jacqueline Simpson and Steve Roud, published in 2000: "The Old English word ‘witch’ meant ‘one who casts a spell’. Intrinsically neutral, it could be applied to those using magic helpfully." (link)

In conclusion there is no room for reasonable doubt concerning the meaning of the word "Witch" from pre-Conquest times to the 21st century. This word has from the beginning been used to refer to "those using magic helpfully", and there has never been a period of time over the last 1000 years when this was not the case. Those who claim otherwise are either ignorant of the most basic relevant facts, or they are engaged in a systematic attempt to misrepresent those facts.