Attitudes to Witchcraft


Types of Witchcraft

  • Maleficium - evil acts against people, farm animals or crops using supernatural powers or interferring with nature
  • Malleus Maleficarum - published by two German dominicon friars and acted as a guidebook for witch-hunters, setting out the precise steps needed to secure a conviction
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Witchcraft and the Reformation

  • Led to suspicion between Catholics and Protestants, causing accusations from both sides
  • Protestant reformation took hold with the rule of Henry VIII
  • Belief in the devil and witchcraft was central to protestant faith
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Witches and Familiars

  • Familiar - supernatural creatures associated with witches as representatives of the devil
  • Often took form as animals
  • Devil's Mark - was used to feed or suckle blood from the witch and could be a mole or scar etc
  • Often associated with cunning-folk 
  • Could appear to them when alone urging them to make a pact with the devil
  • Could be given by someone else
  • Given with the promise of being made rich or revenge taken on enemies
  • Could cause harm to others of property
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Witchcraft and the Law

  • 1542 Witchcraft Act - passed under Henry VIII. Made the conjuring of spirits, witchcraft and sorcery in order to find treasure, cause harm to a person or their goods or to discover what had happened to stolen goods, a capital offence
  • 1563 Witchcraft Act - Passed under Elizabeth I. More severe as it made it a crime to invoke evil spirits for any purpose, whether maleficium was involved or not. Death penalty only used in the result of death of a person. 
  • 1604 Witchcraft Act - Passed under James I. Death penalty retained for killing a person and reintroduced for a second offence in lesser kinds of magic, like destruction of livestock. Made an offence to consult with or feed any evil spirit.
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Identifying witches

  • People who were physcially deformed, stood out or were socially awkward were common targets
  • Older women normally associated
  • Witch could be scrated to break a spell by drawing blood
  • Swimming test
  • Asked to recite the Lord's prayer
  • Marks on the body could be a sign of guilt
  • Watched for several days/nights
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