Cotton Mather's career is defined by two episodes of mass panic. In 1721 he found himself the target of public anger in Boston when he advocated for small pox inoculation after inoculating his own children on the advice of his West African slave, Onesimus. Three decades earlier, in 1692, he was one of the instigators and defenders of the Salem Witch Trials. For more on the latter, visit the comprehensive Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive (previously).
Bathsheba Sherman is best known as the Satanic witch who murdered her infant and then hanged herself from a tree, thus cursing her property and all its future inhabitants. The true story of a couple haunted by her demonic presence inspired the 2013 movie The Conjuring. Except how true was the story? Historian J'aime Rubio writes up The True Story of Bathsheba Sherman. [more inside]
"Elaborate greetings are the norm, I’ve found, when one enters a Central African village. So it was a surprise when I noticed that many people weren’t shaking hands the morning I arrived in Tiringoulou, a town of about 2,000 people in one of the remotest corners of the Central African Republic, in March 2010. I soon found out the reason: the day before, a traveler passing through town on a Sudanese merchant truck had, with a simple handshake, removed two men’s penises." [more inside]
Ehrich Weisz may not have had much formal education, but he grew up to be Harry Houdini, self-educated stunt performer, escape artist, and owner of "one of the largest libraries in the world on psychic phenomena, Spiritualism, magic, witchcraft, demonology, evil spirits, etc., some of the material going back as far as 1489." Houdini bequeathed much of his collection to the Library of Congress, which received 3,988 volumes from his collection in 1927, including a number of magic books inscribed or annotated by well-known magicians. Archive.org has more of the Harry Houdini Collection online. He also put a great deal of research into his tricks, as seen in his letter to Dr. W. J. McConnell, a physiologist at the U.S. Bureau of Mines, written up after Houdini's watery grave stunt in 1926.
A critique of Sir James Frazer's The Golden Bough by Colin Dickey. "For all its erudition and analysis, The Golden Bough has for more than a century helped cement the idea that magic is inappropriate, wrongheaded thought. Yet what separates magic from religion or science is not its methodology—Frazer himself notes that it 'is therefore a truism, almost a tautology, to say that all magic is necessarily false and barren; for were it ever to become true and fruitful, it would no longer be magic but science'—it’s that ordinary people can do it, transforming their lives with the ambitious power of everyday thought." Via Lapham's Quarterly's Magic Shows issue.
"I would point out to you that medical explanations are modern. That Americans today want medical explanations for things that in the 19th century would have been explained by hysteria, and in the 18th century would have been explained by religious conversion experiences in the context of the Great Awakening, when people were having these types of fits, and in the 17th century by witchcraft."
The Civil War Journal of Nehemiah Wallington, digitized by the John Rylands Library, is one of the surviving diaries kept by this seventeenth-century Puritan. Although Wallington recorded a number of key events, like the execution of Archbishop Laud, the diary has garnered most attention for its report of the Chelmsford witch trials, overseen by Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins (enter "witchcraft" into the search box to see Wallington's account). For more of the intellectual context for early modern witch-hunting in the British Isles, see the Witches in Early Modern England and Survey of Scottish Witchcraft databases, as well as the handy collection of primary texts in Cornell's Witchcraft Collection.
Why does Martha Stewart have a human skull in her kitchen?
The Romanian government has changed its labour laws, and in doing so has added a number of professions which weren't previously recognised but which are now subject to tax. Car valets, embalmers and driving instructors are unhappy to be added, but their protests aren't likely to be as scary as those of the...witches. [more inside]
"Five women were paraded naked, beaten and forced to eat human excrement by villagers..." [more inside]
Witches of Cornwall. "Macabre evidence of age-old spells surfaces in an archaeologist's front yard." [Via]
Koro, previously, has gripped the streets of Kinshasa, Congo. Unlike the 1967 Koro Epidemic in Singapore, which was blamed on tainted pork, the afflicted men in Kinshasa have blamed the psychosomatic penile shrinkage on witchcraft by a rival sect, and responded with attempted lynchings. In order to prevent bloodshed of the kind seen in Ghana a decade ago, police have responded by apprehending the alleged sorcerers. [more inside]
Apotropaios contains much fascinating information about the (here, mainly British and Irish) folk magic practice of concealing objects in buildings for ritual protection purposes. Yes, mummified Ceiling Cat is averting your evil. One aspect of the practice, the deliberate concealment of garments, has provided us with insight into ordinary costume of bygone days.
Helen Duncan was the last woman to be convicted of witchcraft in Britain. This was in 1944. British authorities "were alarmed by reports that she had disclosed - allegedly via contacts with the spirit world - the sinking of two British battleships long before they became public." Her descendants still smart from the trial and there is a campaign to pardon Mrs Duncan, who some consider a martyred medium who could regurgitate ectoplasm out of her mouth. More than a decade before her trial legendary psychic researcher Harry Price exposed Mrs Duncan as a fraud in his essay The Cheese-Cloth Worshippers. If you want to judge for yourself you can take a look at the photographs Mr Price took of a séance performed by Mrs Duncan.
Kattenstoet, a triennial cat parade is this weekend in Ypres, Belguim. The festival culminates with Kattenworp, the hurling of kittens from the Cloth Hall Belfry, a continuation of Europe's long ambiguous history of fascination with the feline. [more inside]
The Survey of Scottish Witchcraft: A searchable database of people accused of witchcraft in Scotland between 1563 and 1736. Currently, 3,837 people have been identified, 3,212 by name. 113 cases involved fairies, 74 had a known political or property motive, 70 involved some aspect of "white magic". This is the real, and utterly fascinating, history of a hysteria that griped a country and a continent for more than a century. Religion, folk belief, fear and local relations all played out in witchhunts - and we still do not really understand why, why they started or why they ended. Projects like this one are invaluable to help us begin. (Co-developed by mefite Flitcraft)
Ergotism: The Satan Loosed in Salem? Linda Caporael's 1976 Science article was the first sustained argument that the Salem witch scare was caused by a case of ergot poisoning. Mary Matossian's 1989 book Poisons of the Past: Molds, Epidemics and History makes a more comprehensive argument for the effect that ergot poisoning has had specfically on European history. Barbara Comyns wrote a fabulous 1955 novel called Who Was Changed, and Who Was Dead about a 1927 ergot poisoning outbreak in Manchester, England. Pictures of the dread mold.
American Family Association is at it again, from their Christian News Media Serivce, Agape Press... "Rev. Bill Shanks, pastor of New Covenant Fellowship of New Orleans, also sees God's mercy in the aftermath of Katrina -- but in a different way. Shanks says the hurricane has wiped out much of the rampant sin common to the city.... “New Orleans now is abortion free. New Orleans now is Mardi Gras free. New Orleans now is free of Southern Decadence and the sodomites, the witchcraft workers, false religion -- it's free of all of those things now," Shanks says. "God simply, I believe, in His mercy purged all of that stuff out of there -- and now we're going to start over again.""
Sinister Forces: A Grimoire of American Political Witchcraft is the 3 volume culmination of author Peter Levenda's 25 years of research into the strange and bizarre undercurrents of American political, cultural and religious history. In his previous effort, Levinda focused on the occult roots of Nazism in an utterly fascinating and unerving book called Unholy Alliance which is discussed in this interview. A radio interview with Levinda is available here.
Alan Macfarlane is a historian cum anthropologist. You can find some of his writings and videos on witchcraft, on the family and on English individualism on the site. There is also a collection of video-interviews with anthropologists such as Frith, Geerz, and Richards. In fact, there is so much to read and hear that you won't miss your television.
Dowsing can be used to find water, find caves, find landmines, heal yourself and others, and clear your house of bad energy. There are several studies that purport to prove that dowsing works (one ten year study found a 96% success rate among dowsers in arid regions). There are online lessons for how to dowse, from the Digital Dowsers Society. The Journal of Christian Research thinks it might be a tool of the devil. But the scientific evidence is at best equivocal (as you might expect.) Scroll down on this page for more experiment debunking. Also always check The Skeptics Dictionary.
On The Dark Side of History - The historian Carlo Ginzburg talks about his publications and his historical method of microhistory which he pioneered. Ginzburg's most famous work is The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller--here's a review from the Journal of Peasant Studies in pdf form. Simon Schama listed it among his favorite history books, saying How can you not love a book which takes the cosmology of a heretical 16th-century miller who believes that God created the world as a kind of indeterminate cheese from which came angelic worms, and makes you believe in its plausibility ? Domenico Scandella known as Menocchio is now a hero in his ancestral village and the subject of Menocchio, a play by Elizabeth Groag. And here is a review of Ginzburg's The Night Battles: Witchcraft and Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. See also The Benadanti, New Age Travellers and Medieval Night-Riders and On Hereditary Italian Witchcraft and Menocchio's Books--now there's an odd lot of fellow travellers.
Things fall apart Stressed societies move in strange directions. In Angola, shattered by a decades-long civil war, children and even infants are accused of being witches. Burkina Faso is also having a witchcraft epidemic. Are there parallels with conditions in Salem and Early Modern Europe?
You dangle in agony. You clutch your faith. You fight for breath. You surrender your spirit. Nineteen “witches” were hanged at Gallows Hill in 1692, and one defendant, Giles Cory, was tortured to death for refusing to enter a plea at his trial. Five others, including an infant, died in prison.
The Beast cracks your child's mind when he reads Harry Potter. Yeah, you probably have seen this site before, but with the new movie coming out soon, it's worth revisiting. Incidently, Harry Potter: Witchcraft Repackaged comes out on DVD December 1, with never before seen extra footage.
As Harry Potter tops all box office records, it seems that some parents don't want their kids to watch the film because some think it promotes witchcraft. Are separation of church and state arguments valid here, or are the parents a bunch of wet blankets?
No less tragic than the Santana shootings. I hope this poor girl's tormentors spend the rest of life asking themselves "What would Jesus have done -- and why didn't I?"
The Malleus Maleficarum (The Witch Hammer), first published in 1486, is arguably one of the most infamous books ever written, due primarily to its position and regard during the Middle Ages. It served as a guidebook for Inquisitors during the Inquisition, and was designed to aid them in the identification, prosecution, and dispatching of Witches. "Therefore, let us now chiefly consider women; and first, why this kind of perfidy is found more in so fragile a sex than in men. And our inquiry will first be general, as to the general conditions of women; secondly, particular, as to which sort of women are found to be given to superstition and witchcraft; and thirdly, specifically with regard to midwives, who surpass all others in wickedness." link via the always excellent larkfarm
"An Oklahoma high school suspended a 15-year-old student [Brandi Blackbear] after accusing her of casting a magic spell that caused a teacher to become sick.
"An Oklahoma high school suspended a 15-year-old student [Brandi Blackbear] after accusing her of casting a magic spell that caused a teacher to become sick. Blackbear was summoned to the office of assistant principal Charlie Bushyhead last December after a teacher fell ill, and was questioned about her interest in Wicca."