“The fables of Witchcraft have taken so fast hold and deepe root in the heart of man, that fewe or none can (nowadaies) with patience indure the hand and correction of God. For if any adversitie, greefe, sicknesse, losse of children, corne, cattell, or libertie happen unto them; by & by they exclaime uppon witches. As though there were no God in Israel that ordereth all things according to his will.”
-Reginald Scot, The Discoverie of Witchcraft
During the last decades of the 16th century there was an increase of witch trials in England. Many innocent women (rarely men) were accused of being witches which, at this time, was a crime punishable by death. The Discoverie of Witchcraft was published with the intent to prevent the persecution of these innocent women and to discredit concepts of witches and witchcraft.
In his expose Scot debunked all manner of supernatural claims and superstitions by presenting logical evidence with the use of naturalistic philosophy and science that magic was not real.
He outlines three categories of ‘witches’
The innocent women who were targeted and accused
The deluded individuals who thought to be witches and have a pact with the devil
Frauds and imposters who pretended to have the ability perform witchcraft
Witchcraft accusations were usually against poor, older women. Scot describes them as, “ old, lame,bleare-eied,pale,foele…poore,sullen, superstitious and paptist.” Older women were viewed as envious of younger women’s fertility. He believed these innocent women were being falsely accused merely due to their age and social status. If crops spoiled, weather was bad, a disease swept through the village these woman were blamed for these events.
Scot did not believe that it was possible to make a pact with the devil. He found it absurd to think that a living person can have a physical interaction with a spirit, an immaterial object. He argued, “ that the joining of hands with the devil, the kissing of his bare buttocks and his scratching and biting of them, are absurd lies; everie one having the gift of reason may plainlie perceive…that a spirit hath no flesh,bones,nor sinewes, whereof hands, buttocks, claws, teeth, and lips doo consist.” He also points out that encounters with spirits were delusions brought on by mental disorders and that there was lack of reference and proof of the existence of incubi and succubi in scriptures. And he most certainly did not believe in the witches Sabbath simply because flying was not physically possible according to modern physics.
Scot dedicated a section of the book which has an extensive discussion of conjuring tricks by revealing the basics of legerdemain ( literally meaning “light of hand”) . His intent was to expose frauds and imposters, namely alcumysts ( now referred to as alchemists) and magicians who claimed to have profound powers and fooled people usually for profit. He argued, “a man who boasted his knowledge and experience in Alcumstryie; making the simple man beleeve that he could multiplie, and of one angell make two or three…but in truth ( through legierdemaine) he deceived.” Scot explains in detail how specific magic tricks are performed proving that actual magic is nothing but illusions and ‘trick of the eye’.
Scot also covers topics such as astrology, demonology, and questions the inquisitorial system mandated at that time claiming it was unjust and unfair. These are just a few of the topics discussed in Reginald Scots, The Discoverie of Witchcraft that I have outlined here. Remember, there are 16 books within this book that cover MANY other topics.So, I have just begun to scratch the surface!
If any of this interests you I recommend reading the book! Sure Elizabethan language is hard to readeth and und’rstandeth at first, but thou will geteth us’d to it as thou progresseth throughtout the booketh. See what I did there?