Monday, August 5, 2013

Critiquing Historical Witchcraft Scholarship: The story so far .....

A little while back I did a whole slew of blog posts concerning modern scholars who focus on historical Witchcraft. The running theme throughout these posts was how these scholars systematically distort the true history of Witchcraft by making one or more of the following overlapping and interrelated claims:
  1. The "traditional", or "original", or "historical" meaning of the word "Witch" is unambiguously negative, and, in particular, "Witch" was only and always used to refer to those who practice malefic magic.
  2. All positive associations with the word "Witch" are purely modern inventions at odds with the "traditional" use of the word.
  3. The "common people" never used the word "Witch" to refer to practitioners of beneficial magic, and, more specifically, such phrases as "good Witch", "white Witch", etc, were not used by the "common people" to refer to magical practitioners who performed healing, divination, love-magic, etc.
  4. In common usage, the word "Witch" was clearly distinguished from other terms for magical practitioners in general and from the terms "cunning woman" and "wise woman" in particular. Any notion that "Witch" could be interchageable with "wise woman" or "cunning woman" is a modern misconception.
  5. All evidence for positive uses of the word "Witch" prior to the 19th century can be discounted as intentional misrepresentations by churchmen who were intent on maligning all magical practices, including beneficial magic such as healing, by associating such apparently (but not truly, in their opinion) beneficial magic with Witchcraft.

In contrast to these false claims, I have shown that:
  1. The word "Witch" has always, throughout it's long history going back to the Anglo-Saxon tongue itself, been used to refer to individuals who were believed to possess the ability to work beneficial magic.
  2. Modern positive associations with the word "Witch", including those commonly found today among self-identified Pagans and Wiccans, are seamlessly continuous with the historical usage of that word for the last one thousand years.
  3. The historical record is replete with evidence showing that "the common people" did indeed use the word "Witch" to refer to those who were believed to work beneficial magic.
  4. The historical record also attests to the fact that the same person could be referred to as a "Witch", a "wise woman", and as a "cunning woman".
  5. The evidence for positive uses of the word "Witch" is not limited to religious diatribes written by anti-magical "radical evangelicals".  In fact the evidence comes from a wide variety of different kinds of sources, including court transcripts, the literary works of secular authors (including Thomas Malory, William Shakespeare, John Dryden, Samuel Collins, and Joseph Addison), a number of early English dictionaries, and also from the writings of relatively "moderate" Protestant authors, including Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy, a highly influential anti-Puritan treatise.
The interested reader is encouraged to look through these 42 posts to see for yourself. And be sure to check out the primary sources!

  1. Charming and Witchcraft in Early Modern Scotland (a la Joyce Miller)
  2. Ronald Hutton on Witches. Yet again.
  3. "Of good witches falsly so called."
  4. "the Curing Witch, comonly called, The good Witch"
  5. "The Good Witch, as they are termed, because they doe seeme to helpe."
  6. Popular usage of "good Witch" according to ten early modern sources
  7. Witchcraft, Magic, and Anglo-Saxon Law
  8. "Current Trends in Historical Witchcraft Studies" (a 2011 paper by Jacqueline Van Gest)
  9. Witchcraft as Beneficial Magic in Old English Sources
  10. The Case of the North Devon White Witch (1877)
  11. "Such as they call Witches" (George Gifford and Henry Holland on Witches as practitioners of beneficial magic)
  12. "The White Witches Of Our Ancestors": Even More "White Witches" in early (and not so early) modern sources
  13. Beneficent Witchcraft: One Hundred And Seven Sources  
  14. The White Witch of Waverly, from Grose's Antiquities (1785)
  15. "The White-Witch is presently sent for to bless.": John Brinley on White Witches (1680)
  16. Of White Witches, Rattlesnakes, David Hume, and Jean Jacques Rousseau (1807)
  17. How to Distinguish "Witchcraft" From "Malificium" (with a little help from Jonathan Seitz)
  18. "England is indeed the one country outside Italy to display the most obvious similarities with Venice as far as witchcraft practices are concerned."  (from Ruth Martin)
  19. "All agreed that it was Witchcraft." (A case of beneficent Witchcraft in Sweden)
  20. Witchcraft and Benevolent Magic in Finland
  21. Benevolent Magic and "The Survey of Scottish Witchcraft"
  22. Julian Goodare Contradicts His Own Data on Witches and Healers
  23. Malevolent Magic and "The Survey of Scottish Witchcraft"
  24. Witches and Witchcraft in Samuel Collins' "The Present State of Russia", 1671
  25. "Witches and other evils": Jacqueline Simpson and Steve Roud on Witches and Witchcraft
  26. Britomart's Glauce as a "Witch or Cunning-Woman", from 1735
  27. "She was of the old way of mind [i.e. a Witch]" (1878)
  28. Witches, Wise Women, William Shakespeare, and the Lambton Worm
  29. "Thou art so wise, people will take you shortly for a Witch"
  30. Witches As Healers in Piers Plowman (ca. 1370)
  31. Beneficial Witchcraft in John Trevisa's Middle English Translation of Ranulf Higden's Polychronicon (1387)
  32. "I have keen perception or discernment." (1828)
  33. Cornelius Agrippa on "Witchinge Magick", according to James Sanford's 1569 English translation of "De incertitudine et vanitate omnium scientiarum et artium liber"
  34. Looking it up: Witches and Witchcraft in some early English dictionaries
  35. The association between beneficial weather magic and Witchcraft on the Isle of Man, according to the Holinshed's Chronicles (1586)
  36. Why did the other knights suspect Sir Balin of Witchcraft? (1485)
  37. "Witch trials were comparatively rare"? (Or, Shit Malcolm Gaskill says)
  38. The "Bought Priesthood" of Historical Witchcraft Scholarship
  39. "harnessed for good and evil ends" (Malcolm Gaskill on the ambiguity of Witchcraft)
  40. "They hate me not all." Sorcery and Maleficium in "The Pilgrimage of the Life of Man" (1426)
  41. "There is no doubt that the ancient pagan and medieval Christian worlds defined magic quite differently."
  42. Simon Magus As A Witch In The Wycliffe Bible (1395), The Tyndale Bible (1526), and the Geneva Bible (1599)