Sceptical Publications


Reginald Scot's 'The Discoverie of Witchcraft' 158

  • Influenced by Johann Weyer, a dutch physician who argued those suspected where suffering from melancholia
  • Member of the family of love who believed nature controlled events on earth
  • Made connections between fraudulent witch-hunts and the Catholic church
  • Influenced by trials at Chelmsford
  • Although he believed in witches, he disapproved of the effects of hunts
  • Had to self-publish as it was controversial
  • Doubted far-fetched charges, believed women who thoguht they were witches to be suffering from melancholia or delusions, harm to animals or people was done through natural means such as poison
  • King James I ordered all copies to be burned and wrote Daemonologie in response, denouncing Scot as unchristian
  • Devoted to a belief in the supernatural unknown
  • Belief was not compatible with the views in 'Canon Episcopi' which acknowledged witchcraft was not real
  • Found it difficult to rationalise beliefs
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Samuel Harsnett's 'A Discovery of the Fraudulent P

  • Deeply suspicious of the boy of burton case and John Darrel's work
  • Was present at examination of Darrell and George More
  • Aware of Chelmsford trials and deeply religious growing up
  • Claims misleading people through magic was nothing new, criticises catholic church, exorcisms can only be done by God so those who claim they can are heretics and frauds.
  • Five sections: 1) survey of those Darrell exorcised, 2) outlines how Darrell instructed Somers to feign possession 3) recounts confession of Somers and claims his fits were misinterpreted, 4) discredits Somers fits, 5) details of the Boy of Burton case
  • triggered the pamphlet war in which Darrell defended himself against Harsnetts view and that of John Deacon and John Walker
  • Scepticism still of a minority opinion
  • Arminian tendencies which might explain his immediate dislike for Darrell
  • Layed sole blame for witchcraft in the catholic church
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Thomas Ady's 'A Candle in the Dark' 1656

  • Witnessed trials at Bury St Edmunds and was highly educated
  • Wrote 3 books, A Candle in the Dark, A perfect discovery of witches and the doctrine of devils, proved to be the grand apostacy of these later times
  • critical of physicians who did not understand diseases and blamed them on witchcraft
  • Suggested possession could be attributed to mental illness
  • Uses the Bible as its only source and how the actions/suspicions of witchfinders cannot be foudn in written form in the bible
  • Inspired to write due to wrongful accusations
  • Inspired by Scot and is essentially a rewrite of his original message
  • Three sections: 1) definition of a witch according to the Bible, astrologers, jugglers and those who are idolaters, 2) explains original scriptures have been misinterpreted, 3) critique of works that promoted witch-hunts, including Daemonologie
  • Used rational common sense to explain concepts associated with the hunts
  • Critical of methods such as sleep deprivation
  • Believed in witches but the Bible's definition - someone who led others on an ungodly path
  • Influenced a steep decline and increased scepticism in Britain
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John Webster's 'The Displaying of Supposed Witchcr

  • Doctor but known for being a preacher
  • Curate of Kidwick church and studied at Gresham college
  • Became a nonconformist after the civil war
  • Similar attitudes to Ady and wrote in response to those who claimed witch-hunts were legitimate
  • Intended to rebuff Glanvill after Demon Drummer case and Meric Casaubon, who wrote that witchcraft was genuine
  • believed witches existed but couldn't command supernatural powers, evil acts were carried out using their own power
  • Blames Mompesson as responsible
  • Met with Edmund Robinson and was not allowed to speak with him, when he met him alone the boy was taken away before he could answer if the story was true
  • Cites the case of Roland Jenks who supposedly cursed at trial and then people died, it was actually an outbreak of typhus, Webster blames him but claims he used natural resources
  • Work was well received and Seth Ward, John Wilkins and Henry More wrote in response
  • Taken seriously by members of the royal society
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Balthasar Bekker's 'The Enchanted World' 1691

  • Son of calvanist minister so deeply religious
  • Published 'De Philosophia Cartesiana' where he argued natural events cannot be explained by the Bible, which he also states in the enchanted world
  • Accepted as a fellow of the royal society after his death
  • Believed to be the most influential critical work
  • Influenced by Scot, who he agreed with on the impossibility of witchcraft
  • Bible is the primary source but tried to use it in a reasoned and unbiased way, similar to Ady
  • Doubtful of cases and believed there was some form of deception or irregularity
  • Argued it was impossible for the devil to possess and influence those on Earth as he is in hell so can't operate on Earth
  • Those who believe the devil has power are heretics, as they practise the belief of two gods
  • His work coincides with changes in the intellectual climate, like science, which led to decline in beliefs
  • 4,000 copies sold in first 2 months
  • Translated into range of languages
  • Put on trial for blasphemy and spreading atheism, which he was aquitted, showing how influential his work was
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