Monday, November 29, 2010

Question from Marie - Witchcraft and Paganism in Elizabethan/Stuart England

I just wanted to ask a few questions:

1)How did people view witches in Elizabethan/Stuart England?

2)Did anyone really practice witchcraft or was it just people’s paranoia?

3)Before England was Christianized, the religion was Pagan. Did anyone worship Pagan deities in Elizabethan/Stuart England?

4)Was there any aspect of Elizabethan/Stuart culture that was influenced by Paganism?

This is not for a school project, I am just curious and can't find any anwers at the library


  1. Massive subject. Alot of modern commentary is mixed up with feminist mumbo jumbo and anti-religious propaganda.

    Here's a book you can download for free: The Discovery of Witchcraft, published in England in 1584:

    The author seems to allow the reality of witchcraft, but denies the existence of witches. The book is really a condemnation of witch hunts, stuffed with examples.

    The book is long, and I've only read the introduction. AL Rowse considered it a great work of prose. It's on my 'to do'list!

  2. Thank you for the comment and I appreciate your help. However, as you can see by name, I am woman. Calling feminist historians work "mumbo jumbo" is highly uncalled for and rather rude. Of course, I am looking for historically accurate work, but one must remember that all historical accounts carry a bias--the majority of history is written by the "victors" and the "underdog's" story is often forgotten or distorted.

  3. Didn't want to offend you, but I'm not sorry. How does being a woman ally you with feminists?

    Feminism is an ideological slant - history it is not. The best history shows the effect of ideology on real people, like "witches". The Discovery was written to counter an ideological movement popularised by Jean Bodin, who conjured up lots of Hammer House of Horror nonsense about women.

  4. I don't want to start a whole song and dance about feminism and certainly Lara if you feel this is inappropriate discussion for your blog, I'll understand if you don't post it.

    To Marie, in shtove's defence and as a woman myself, I did not see the comment as the least bit rude.

    You asked a question pertaining to medieval views about witches and you got an answer. A very good one at that.

    In any ideology, including feminism, there is a lot of mumbo jumbo to wade through and decipher.

    I just think your response to shtove's help is what was uncalled for.

  5. I think people have had their say on the feminism comment, so let's get to some actual recommendations. :)

    When I took a Tudor history course in college, my professor's area of expertise was in 16th/17th century witchcraft, witch hunts, etc. He wrote on a book on the topic: "The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe" (by Brian Levack). It looks like it's pretty pricey on Amazon, so you might try a library or Inter-Library Loan if you have access.

    One of the books we read chapters from in the class was Keith Thomas' "Religion & the Decline of Magic" (thankfully we didn't have to read the whole thing that semester... it's a massive text and this was only an undergrad course). It deals with some of the areas you're interested in.

  6. Thank you Lara. I didn't mean to start a controversy on my favorite website :(

  7. I apologise to Marie - looking at the first reply again, I was too free with the mumbo jumbo comment.

    Here's Jean Bodin's On the Demon Mania of Witches - looks like the entire text as a google books download, even though it's a copyright translation - I guess the owner gave permission:

  8. So glad to see that all is well.

    Perhaps I should have left well enough alone.

    That'll learn me. :D

    Excellent references for an interesting topic though.

  9. Hunting witches was not a preoccupation in Tudor England. It became so in Scotland, however, after the Reformation. Witch hunting was introduced to England on a larger scale than hitherto when King James of Scots became the first Stuart King of England. The Scots were still executing witches in the 18th century. The last one to die was strangled and burned for turning her daughter in a pony.

  10. I do believe that there were witches and are still witches but not in the context of the hollywood angle or even the church angle. many were men and women who should have been known as cunningfolk or healers because they knew how herbs worked and energies of the earth. but this did take power away from the church who wanted to be the go all for the people. one could not have the people going to a person for herbs to get better.

    but it did continue. many of the practices were absorbed into the church and were accepted, like novenas and lighting candles and even prayers to the saints and the Holy Mother. in fact, the Holy Mother is what kept the honor of the Goddess alive and well.

    I truly believe that many did what they needed to do to get by but when alone knew what they believed. the common people I mean.

    witches do not worship the devil. they do not believe in the devil for the most part or the christian view of the devil. they are not connected to christianity in any way. they were no threat except that they were the symbol of personal linkage to God and to a feminen aspect of God. and that was the only threat. the church needed to have control. and that is the source of many wars to include the crusades that were far from christian. IJMO.

    as far as any one tradition surviving true, most likely not. intermingled, most likely.


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