Edward Peters, Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania, wrote this introduction to the Primary Source Media digital witchcraft project in 1998:

The Literature of Demonology and Witchcraft

The literature of demonology and witchcraft produced between 1440 and 1750--some of the most important works of which are included on this website--constitutes a substantial source for the intellectual and cultural history of late medieval and early modern Europe and the Americas.

No longer considered as merely incidental to witch trial records, this literature has been integrated into the study, not only of demonology and witchcraft, but of an entire dimension of thought--what Sidney Anglo once characterized as, "a complex of interrelated magical ideas which informs many aspects of medieval and Renaissance thought."1 Among those aspects are women's and gender history, legal history--particularly of crime and punishment--theology, folklore, historical anthropology, sociology, and literature. Many writers of tracts on demonology and witchcraft also wrote on other subjects, some ostensibly far removed from witchcraft. Thus, the literature is connected not only to a variety of topics in early modern European and American history, but to the other intellectual interests of its authors that touch many disciplines.


In European Christian cosmology as it developed from the epistles of Paul to the late seventeenth century, human nature was generally believed to be innately weak, sinful, and vulnerable to demonic temptation and deception. Although human reason--to the extent that it received divine grace and was properly instructed--could distinguish right from wrong, human will might not always choose the right.

Human ability to perceive and understand the world was also limited by the Fall. Those aspects of nature that humans could not perceive or understand could be manipulated, it was believed, by demons. Because these demons operated in natural realms beyond human intelligence, they could appear to work "wonders" and in doing so tempt humans, sometimes with God's permission. This was how the devil elicited homage of a kind properly paid only to God, and entered agreements with humans: by exhibiting and granting powers over nature and others not attainable by any other means, by performing acts that were not miracles,miracula, but rather mira, "wonders." All of these were ways of winning support from humans whose flawed perceptions and flexible wills would allow them to be led astray.

Servants of the devil could, on their own or with the devil acting through them, harm or illicitly influence other people or property by occult (meaning "hidden from humans," not "supernatural") means. Pact with the devil presumed the sins and crimes of idolatry and apostasy (renunciation of faith), because it constituted both a willful rejection of Christian baptism and the paying of sinful homage to the devil. The Latin word that designated harm caused to others by these means was maleficium, and it constituted the crime of witchcraft, establishing a link between it and demonology.

In addition to committing such acts, witches, it was said, evidenced other characteristics. They were thought to be identifiable (differently in different parts of Europe) because they might bear the mark of the devil on their bodies, have demonic companions (familiars), gather collectively to pay homage to the devil (at assemblies that came to be called the "synagogue" or "sabbath"), sacrifice infants, engage in acts of sexual promiscuity, and to be capable of flight and shapeshifting. Although not all writers on demonology and witchcraft subscribed to all of the aspects of the model for the offense of witchcraft here sketched, most did. The doctrines of demonology and witchcraft as they developed between 1300 and 1500, moreover, were consistent with the cosmology of the Church Fathers and later theologians and so appeared to beconfirmed by scripture.2


Until the fifteenth century witchcraft was not clearly distinguished from general sorcery or magic. Linguistically, this is still the case in French. In German Hexerei (witchcraft) was differentiated from Zauberei (magic, sorcery) in the early fifteenth century, and in Spanish this distinction was reflected in the terms hechicería (sorcery) and brujería (witchcraft). In English witchcraft--from the Old English wiccecraeft, which once meant divining, foretelling the future--was distinguished from magic/sorcery somewhat earlier.

Sorcery was consistently described and condemned in scripture, in the writings of the church fathers, especially St. Augustine [354-430] and Isidore of Seville [ca. 569-636], and later in theology, such as the work of Thomas Aquinas [ca. 1227-1274] and in canon law. Although sorcery was never the primary concern of the Church Fathers or medieval theologians before the fifteenth century, their work provided a comprehensive and contextual view of its function in the universe and in Christian cosmology.

Beginning in the twelfth century magic tended to divide into two types: learned magic, which was natural--and arguably neither sinful nor demonic--and sorcery proper, which was both. The division was shaped by the twelfth century influence of much Arabic (and much Greek via Arabic) learning into Latin learning. Under this influence, European thinkers began to view learned or natural magic as diabolical. From the twelfth through the seventeenth centuries, in fact, scholars undertook a vigorous debate concerning the validity of learned/natural magic. This raised some of the most important questions about spiritual causality that the period knew. As a consequence, sorcery, necromancy (the raising of the spirits of the dead), divination, and other forms of congress with the spirit world were all uniformly labelled as diabolical and came to be associated with a number of practices: healing, recovering lost or stolen objects, and harming one's neighbors. Witchcraft, learned demonology and other kinds of demonic magic became objects of widespread popular belief and were the charges behind most trials and condemnations during the period of the most intense persecutions, roughly from 1560 to 1660.


As the general ideas of late medieval and early modern Europeans concerning the nature of witchcraft and the necessity for punishing it were first laid out in comprehensive detail in the work of thirteenth-century theologians and canon lawyers, they slowly came to the attention of the inquisitors "of heretical depravity" in the late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Canon law doctrine had emphatically stated that such inquisitors could not legitimately investigate demonic magic or witchcraft "unless [these practices] clearly savored of heresy." The standard teaching commentary on this part of canon law, written by Johannes Andreae at the beginning of the fourteenth century, explained that "clearly savoring of heresy" meant that those accused before the inquisitors had to be convicted of "praying at the altars of idols, offering sacrifices, consulting demons, eliciting responses from them, or associating with known heretics in order to predict the future by means of the improper use of the consecrated host or wine." Pope John XXII spelled out these conditions in a letter issued in 1326, and Nicolas Eymerich discussed them in his massive handbook for inquisitors, the Directorium Inquisitorum, in 1376, a widely used and influential work that was printed several times in the early sixteenth century and later with an elaborate commentary by the jurist Francisco Peña.3

In France around 1300 and in England around 1400 (and later in the middle of the fifteenth century), charges of demonic magic and witchcraft figured in a number of trials involving prominent political figures associated with the royal family and the royal court. The seriousness with which these charges were taken, as well as the publicity of the cases themselves, suggested a new sense of apprehensiveness about the vulnerability to demonic injury at the highest levels of society.4 In 1322, the recidivist sorcerer Cecco d'Ascoli was burned in Florence. The sorcery trial of Alice Kyteler in Kilkenny, Ireland, in 1324-25 is an important instance of an unsuccessful attempt on the part of a continentally trained local bishop, Richard Ledrede, to introduce charges of sorcery and witchcraft into a local property dispute.5 Similar individual cases also occurred later in the fourteenth century, notably in Paris in 1390-91 and again in 1398.


In the first half of the fifteenth century there appeared an increasing number of literary accounts of the offense of witchcraft and of witchcraft trials in lower reaches of society that were sanctioned by legitimate magistrates, chiefly in what is now southeastern France and western Switzerland. One of the earliest and most widely circulating of these accounts was contained in the theological tract by Johannes Nider, the Formicarius, written and circulated at the Council of Basel in 1435.6

The later fifteenth century saw the increasing production of theoretical tracts on sorcery, witchcraft, and demonological activity, written by both lay judges and clerical inquisitors and demonologists, including the recently discovered Ut magorum et maleficiorum errores of the Briançonnais judge Claude Tholosan of 1437, Nider's Formicarius of 1437, the anonymous Errores Gazariorum around 1440, the Flagellum Haereticorum Fascinariorum by Nicholas Jacquier a few years later, the extremely influential demonological tract of Alphonsus de Spina, the Fortalitium Fidei, written in 1469 and printed in 1471 and many times since, and the De Lamiis of Ulrich Molitor in 1489.7 These treatises often echoed each other cumulatively, but occasionally one treatise or another would add a new dimension to the idea of the witch. In his Tractatus contra daemonum invocatores of 1450, for example, the inquisitor Jean Vineti identified witchcraft as a new heresy. Vineti, a Dominican, directly referred to and applied the ideas of Thomas Aquinas to the problem of fifteenth-century demonological theory, extracting a single part of Aquinas's complex theological universe and focusing it on a particular problem, one that had not greatly concerned Aquinas himself. Not only demonology had its effect on humans, but also the problems of illusion and reality in assessing the alleged acts of witches came into these discussions. The treatise Lamiarum sive striarum opusculum by Girolamo Visconti in 1460, and that of Bernard of Como, De strigibus of 1510, both considered the problem of the reality or illusoriness of witchcraft at considerable length.

In 1487, an enormous, highly detailed, and alarmist work by two inquisitors, Heinrich Krämer (Institoris) and Joseph Sprenger, the Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of Witches) was published.8 Krämer, the principal, and perhaps the only author of the treatise, had worked as an inquisitor at Innsbruck in 1485, and the work represents one line of the development of inquisitorial interest in the subject by the end of the fifteenth century. But not all demonologists, judges, and inquisitors received and accepted the Malleus in the same way. A number of sixteenth-century manuals for inquisitors expressed considerable doubt about some of the things that it said. These are the earliest examples of a specialized theoretical and descriptive literature with a specific focus on demonic magic and witchcraft that is the subject of this website. From the mid-sixteenth century to the early eighteenth, a very large literature of this kind was produced in England and on the continent.


Before the mid-sixteenth century, trials for witchcraft usually took place in ecclesiastical courts, but ecclesiastical officials also urged secular magistrates to assume jurisdiction over the offense, as permitted under English common law and later under statute law in 1542-1547 and 1563-1705. This is the purpose of the argument and structure of the Malleus Maleficarum, and a number of scholars have suggested that the fifteenth-century process of state-building in the duchy of Savoy and the Swiss Confederation, for example, and the consequent introduction of new legal procedures and centralizing authorities, contributed substantially to the prosecution of the new crime of witchcraft. After the mid-sixteenth century, witch trials took place in both ecclesiastical and secular courts, partly as a result of the new and wider powers acquired by secular courts in both Protestant and Roman Catholic Europe as a consequence of the Reformation. A second consequence of the Reformation was the particular prevalence of trials for witchcraft in areas that were religiously divided. Many fewer trials ocurred in areas that were religiously or politically centralized and homogeneous. This suggests that prosecutions for demonic magic and witchcraft often occured along the local fault-lines of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century confessional, political, and juridical conflict. Although gender differences among those accused and tried varied from place to place, overall approximately four women were tried for witchcraft for every man who was charged. Only in France was the proportion of men greater than that of women.9 Of the women, unmarried or widowed older women whose neighbors suspected them of causing harm to people or property were most frequently accused, tried and convicted. Witchcraft was also thought to run in families, especially from mother to daughter, and to be prevalent in certain occupations, not often, as once was thought, that of midwife, but in those of lower domestic servants.10

The distribution of accusations and prosecutions for witchcraft was not uniform throughout Europe, nor were the same legal procedures used everywhere. Prosecutions in continental Europe proceeded according to the romano-canonical inquisitorial legal procedure, which usually required for conviction either the identical testimony of two eyewitnesses or a confession.

Torture was used to obtain a conviction when the accused refused to confess and substantial other evidence pointed to the likely guilt of a suspect. Confessions made under torture had to be repeated away from the scene of the torture, the confession becoming one further--and clinching --piece of evidence. Continental witch trials usually focused on the offence of idolatry, that is, homage to and pact with the devil. English common law prohibited the use of torture, but since 1542 witchcraft had been a statutory crime in England. There were several large-scale prosecutions for witchcraft in some areas of England and in the seventeenth century in some of England's North American colonies as well. In England, the prosecutions usually focused on the harm (maleficium) allegedly caused by the witch, and it is probable that in popular belief throughout Europe the harm thought to have been caused by those accused of witchcraft was the initial stimulus of the accusation before a magistrate. Once the charges brought the accused into the judicial machinery, however, other aspects of the general theory of demonic magic and witchcraft might be invoked and applied by officials more learned and familiar with the theoretical literature.11

In Scotland witchcraft became a statutory crime in 1563, and the first large-scale witch trials began in 1591. Scotland had an entirely different legal system, social structure, and church from those in England. But neither England nor Scotland can be studied any longer in isolation. As James Sharpe, the best recent historian of witchcraft in England, has said, "It is now, I would contend, impossible to sustain the idea that there was a separate 'English' witchcraft to be set against a monolithic 'Continental' witchcraft: the English experience of the phenomenon was a variation on a European theme."12 That theme was profound; the best recent estimates suggest that around one hundred and ten thousand people were tried for witchcraft in different parts of Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and that between forty and sixty thousand were executed. These numbers, of course, only become useful when measured in the context of other instances of crime and punishment and other kinds of judicial practice.

One of the best-known instances of the wave of persecutions occurred at Trier beginning in 1588. It included the trial and execution of the electoral magistrate and former rector of the university, Dietrich Flade, in 1589. The prosecutions in Trier did not go unnoticed elsewhere. Martin Del Rio, the polymath, humanist, former high ranking official of the government of the Spanish Netherlands in the Council of Brabant, and later a Jesuit, published his Disquisitionum Magicarum libri sex in 1599-1601 at Louvain. The work was first reprinted in 1608 and became the most recognized and influential justification for the prosecution of witches.13 Del Rio had attended the lectures on magic and witchcraft given by Juan Maldonado at the University of Paris in the 1570s, where one of his fellow students was Pierre de Lancre, who became a judge in the Labourd and the author of an important tract on witchcraft.14 Del Rio was familiar with the Flade case and the other persecutions at Trier, and his work was influential in triggering later prosecutions at Cologne and in Bavaria, as well as influencing prosecutions in neighboring Luxemburg.15

Popular beliefs about--and fears of --witchcraft survived longer than the mass persecutions and the willingness of courts to accept and try accusations of the crime of witchcraft. Generally, the refusal of elites, including magistrates and judges, from accepting charges of witchcraft for trial was one of the most prominent features of the decline of prosecutions and, eventually, beliefs. So, according to Ian Bostridge, was the influence of shifting political programs. By the end of the seventeenth century, belief in the reality of witchcraft could be marginalized and dismissed simply as the program of one political faction by members of another.16 Philosophical scepticism also contributed to the reluctance to prosecute, as did a growing transformation of theories of material causation and the limitations on the use of evidence derived from supernatural sources.

Among theologians on both sides of the Reformation divide, the idea of divine providence being more benevolent--and of the devil's influence being more restricted--took hold. In addition, social and intellectual elites began to withdraw from a mental and cultural world that they had long shared with the general population, and the condemnation of popular beliefs--including beliefs concerning sorcery and witchcraft--as erroneous increased during the later seventeenth century.17


As long as the widespread certainties of the criminal nature of witchcraft and the actual prosecutions lasted, however, they left a substantial record, one that informs us of far more than witchcraft itself. Most of this record exists in the archives and other records of courts, but it is difficult to extract these materials from the jurisdictional contexts in which they are imbedded without writing regional history, in which particular movements of prosecution are linked to local social and political stress points and the general local use of criminal law.18 Occasionally, accounts of individual trials and regional prosecutions are described, paraphrased, or summarized in the independent literature of demonology and witchcraft that is the subject of this website. It is always useful to consider the relation between particular instances and localities of persecution and individual works in the theoretical literature. There is often a correlation.

Another source, the pictorial record, is also important, but it has only recently begun to be studied.19 Like court records, pictorial representations require highly specialized techniques of assessment. The third kind of record, however, the extremely large literature of demonology and witchcraft, is indeed worth considering, whether in conjunction with the other two kinds of sources or not.

From the work of Eymeric and Nider, and largely because of the interest of different kinds of readers and the impact of printing and the circulation of books, the literature of demonology and witchcraft was generally Europe-wide. Eymeric's encyclopedic handbook for inquisitors was the most widely used text of its kind until the early seventeenth century. Nider's Formicarius, which dealt with many things besides witchcraft, was written at the Council of Basel in 1435, and its ideas circulated back and forth across Europe during the next century. The work of Spina, too, was often reprinted through the sixteenth century. The Malleus Maleficarum did not exert its greatest influence until after the mid-sixteenth century, but it, too, became an essential part of the basic literature.

Thus, the first relatively abundant literature of demonology and witchcraft preceded the age of persecutions in the late sixteenth century. Its ideas remained active, however, not only in reprintings and new editions of individual works of the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries and in the circulation of printed editions of classical literature, including the work of Apuleius, Lucan, and Horace, but in the specialized works written for confessors and preachers, in dramatic representations that used the themes of magic and witchcraft from Bale to Shakespeare and Jonson, in the lively and revolutionary scriptural exegesis that was part of the great Reformation debate of the sixteenth century, especially in commentaries on the Ten Commandments, and in manuals for episcopal visitations.20 But from the mid-sixteenth century, a second period of theorizing--either asserting or attacking the theory or actual prosecutions themselves--also appeared. The new edition of Eymeric in 1578 is one such example. The work of Bernard of Como was reprinted in 1584. The most dramatic and controversial work, Jean Bodin's De la démonomanie des sorciers, appeared in 1580, partly in response to sceptical approaches to particular instances of prosecution for witchcraft, notably that written by Johann Weyer in 1563, the De praestigiis daemonum.21 Weyer had worked with Agrippa von Nettesheim at Bonn in the 1530s and seems to have absorbed some of his master's scepticism in the process. Serving as court physician to the Duke of Jülich-Berg and Cleves in the 1550s and 60s, Weyer explained away confessions of witchcraft to the pathology of female senility, denied the existence of pact, and argued that there was no such thing as bewitchment. Wicked magicians, however, were quite another matter for Weyer, and he condemned them as roundly as any writer on witchcraft had condemned witches. Both Weyer's exoneration of accused witches--and the entire theory of witchcraft as it had developed since the early fifteenth century--and his curious and inconsistent condemnation of magicians attracted the attention of the defenders of the doctrine, such as Jean Bodin.22

The work of Bodin was followed by the "classics" of demonological and witchcraft theory, the works of the Lorraine judge Nicholas Remy in 1595, and those of Henri Boguet (1602), Martin Del Rio (1608), and Pierre de Lancre (1612) in the two decades following. The authors of the classic demonological literature were usually either secular or ecclesiastical jurists and theologians, but physicians and natural philosophers also contributed substantially to it. An awareness of the professional interests of the authors of these works, as well as the relation of particular works to particular instances of prosecution, is necessary for an assessment of their importance.

The case of England is an interesting example. One of the earliest specific treatises is that of Francis Coxe, A short treatise declaringe the detestable wickednesse of magicall sciences, as necromancie, conjurations of spirites, curiouse astrologie and such lyke, of 1561. The next major works were that of the sceptic Reginald Scot, The Discoverie of Witchcraft, in 1584 and that of Henry Holland in 1590.23 In the wake of the first group of trials at the end of the sixteenth century, George Gifford published two works in 1587 and 1593.24 Gifford's work was followed by those of King James VI of Scotland in 1597, William Perkins in 1608, John Cotta in 1616, and Richard Bernard in 1627. After a relatively late start, one Scottish king who later became king of England and a number of Scottish and English clerics had come to make a substantial contribution to the literature of witchcraft by the early seventeenth century. Some, like Scot, used continental literature heavily, but from the work of Gifford, evidence from English trials was used as well.25


The original materials on this website dealing with witchcraft prosecutions in the late seventeenth century in Essex County and the Massachusetts Bay Colony include a number of texts from seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Britain whose influence and arguments extended into North America. They represent the tension between the sceptical tradition and the belief in spirit activity. Thomas Ady --probably a physician in Essex, England--represents a powerful, sceptical voice in the tradition of Johann Weyer and Reginald Scot. His works (A Candle in the Dark, 1656; second edition retitled A Perfect Discovery of Witches, 1661) expressed considerable doubts about the reality of witchcraft and greatly criticized physicians who attributed physical afflictions too readily to demonic interference. Ady and the sceptical tradition were echoed in the work of John Webster, The displaying of supposed witchcraft, of 1677, and the dissenting minister George Burroughs, one of the victims of the Salem Village prosecutions in 1692, quoted Ady favorably.

Conversely, the reality of witchcraft and spirit activity generally were also asserted with considerable passion. In the context of apocalypticism in England, the work of Nathaniel Homes (Holmes), Daemonologie and Theologie, in 1650, expressed millenarian ideas similar to those of Cotton Mather a generation later. Spirit activity was illustrated in the work of Richard Baxter (1615-1691), a Puritan divine, millenarian, and friend of Increase Mather, who was contemptuous of popular religion but convinced of the reality of spirit activity. Part of a movement in late seventeenth-century England more generally identified with Joseph Glanvill and Henry More, he was seeking to justify belief in the activities of the spirit world by identifying as many authentic cases of spirit activity as possible against the sceptical tradition represented by Weyer, Scot, Ady, and Webster.26 Increase Mather also drew upon the continental literature on witchcraft and demonology, both for arguments and for sources. He knew the work of the sceptic Johann Weyer, and he drew for patristic sources on the early seventeenth-century work of Petrus Thyraeus among others.27

The sceptical tradition, however, continued into the early eighteenth century. The earlier debates are reflected in the work of Francis Hutchinson, Bishop of Down and Connor (1660-1739), whose highly sceptical Historical Essay Concerning Witchcraft appeared in 1718 and was expanded in 1720, and Richard Boulton (fl. 1697-1724), who enthusiastically defended the reality of magic and witchcraft specifically against the criticisms of Hutchinson.

Both sceptics and believers were heard in British North America, and the trials at Salem Village throughout most of 1692 became their focus. There is no need here for yet another narrative historical account of the trials and their repercussions, nor for a full reproduction of materials now readily available in print, although many theological pamphlets of the period shed considerable light on the specific discussions of witchcraft and need to be consulted by the specialist. This website offers examples of a number of different positions and opinions held both by those who participated in the trials and those who opposed or later criticized them.


This website includes works by Increase Mather, Cotton Mather, and Deodat Lawson representing what might be termed the Calvinist/Congregationalist position: that witchcraft actually occurred, and that it was permitted by God at a particularly urgent and troubled time in the history of New England, although each case ought to be evaluated on its own terms. Neither fully committed to the abstract notion of a "witch-hunt," nor able to disengage themselves from their interpretation of the particular cases in Salem Village, the Mathers and Lawson may be said to represent the theoretical and guarded theological justification for what was, after all, an essentially secular prosecution.

The works of Robert Calef, John Hale, and Thomas Maule, the latter being a Quaker who knew well the consequences of witchcraft accusations directed against Quakers, represent the critical literature from both lay and clerical perspectives.28 Calef's More Wonders of the Invisible World, a reply to Cotton Mather's Wonders of the Invisible World, is perhaps the best known, longest, and most sustained attack on theological assumptions in late seventeenth-century New England. Hale and Maule offer two distinct theological perspectives on the position taken by Cotton Mather.

The plaintive claim of William Good for damages endured as the result of the execution of his wife, Sarah, on July 19, 1692, suggests that the Salem stories, having originated in a legal and theological worldview applied to particular circumstances, ended in a legal world-view in which damages could be sought from the authority of a mistaken court.


The accusations, trials, convictions and executions for the crime of witchcraft also produced, for decades, a vigorous supporting and critical literature. However, the subject soon dropped out of the historical memory of the United States during the later eighteenth century and the Early National Period, much as did Puritanism itself.29 Signalled in the work of John Greenleaf Whittier and by the publication of Nathaniel Hawthorne's Puritan stories--and his critical review of Whittier--, the topic was only revived among historians in the 1860s: a renewed interest in colonial American history and in Puritanism led to publication of substantial parts of the historical record.30 In 1864-5, W. Elliot Woodward privately published many of the original documents in two volumes entitled Records of Salem Witchcraft Copied from the Original Documents.31 In 1866, the Woodward Historical Series published as Volumes V-VII, Cotton Mather's Wonders of the Invisible World and Robert Calef's More Wonders of the Invisible World, with prefatory material by Samuel G. Drake (3 vols. reprt. New York, 1970). In 1869, Drake expanded his source publications to all of New England in Annals of Witchcraft in New England and Elsewhere in the United States from Their First Settlement.32

Published source materials engendered new histories, such as Charles Wentworth Upham's Salem Witchcraft of 1867, a work that influenced George Bancroft's treatment of the subject in his History of the United States of America. It also became a source of inspiration for the later work of W. E. H. Lecky and others who regarded the Salem trials as part of a formidable Puritan conspiracy and thus did much to shape modern lay--and some scholarly--opinion. In the late nineteenth century, American scholars were much better served by the assembling of text collections, libraries, and publication of the sources than by interpretation--scholarly or otherwise. Such is the case in the library of Abner Cheney Goodell, one of the most important nineteenth-century collectors, whose dispute with George Moore over the legal aspects of the Salem trials is included here. George Lincoln Burr, on the legal aspects of the trials, completed admirably the work of Woodward and Drake. His scholarly Narratives of the Witchcraft Cases, 1648-1706 of 1914 paid homage to Drake and other scholars and offered the standard source-collection in print for the next two generations. His work remained unparalleled until the publication of Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum, Salem Village Witchcraft: A Documentary Record of Local Conflict in Colonial New England, in 1972, and their Salem Witchcraft papers: Verbatim Transcripts of the Legal Documents of the Salem Witchcraft Outbreak, in 1977.33 In 1991, David D. Hall published his Witch-Hunting in Seventeenth-Century New England: A Documentary History, 1638-1692, a source-collection that complemented the Boyer-Nissenbaum Salem collections and broadened the documentary evidence across New England.34

Conjointly, the quality of scholarly interpretation brought the subject of witchcraft and social history in colonial North America out of the confessional and ideological orbits into which the work of Upham and others had firmly put it. Beginning with the work of Perry Miller, Edmund Morgan, and others in the 1940s, scholarly studies of early New England culture, society, and thought and its relation to witchcraft became a major component of American Colonial history. The now classic works of Boyer and Nissenbaum's Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft, John Demos, Entertaining Satan, and a number of later studies, including Carol Karlsen, The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England, are good examples of this trend.35 These studies incorporated a new and vibrant social and cultural history along with the history of religion as a cultural component. Some of them noted the continuing beliefs in witchcraft into the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in the United States.36 In addition, the new scholarship has also incorporated a critical, self-reflective dimension, exemplified in the recent work of Bernard Rosenthal and especially that of David Harley.37 All of these studies have brought the study of religion, society, and witchcraft in early New England up to the level achieved in Great Britain by the work of Keith Thomas, Alan Macfarlane, and Christina Larner and their successors since the early 1970s.38


Although some of these works, both English and continental, have been reprinted in modern editions, much of the pamphlet literature as well as many of the longer and more formal works are generally inaccessible. In light of the new ways of reading and using the theoretical literature of demonology and witchcraft, represented in the work of the authors cited in this essay, as well as many others, it becomes important to make as many of them as possible available in electronic as well as other media.

Reading the theoretical and polemical literature along with the cases themselves offers an indispensable perspective on the relation between the theory and judicial practice of dealing with those accused of sorcery and witchcraft between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries. Since the broadening of the study of witchcraft and magic from the original exiguous and marginal field that it was a century ago into a central topic in a number of modern disciplines--from social history and gender studies to the history of science, literature, and mentalities--it is important that sources of limited accessibility be made available to serious scholars and the interested public. Many of the works on this website are available only at a few research libraries, notably that of Cornell, or in the microfilm collection by Primary Source Media; thus their new availability in this format will increase their opportunities to be used and contribute to a subject of scholarship that has grown at an astonishing rate since the 1960s and shows no signs of diminishing in interest or importance in the foreseeable future.

The principles of selection for the documents included here have been determined by the two features of rarity and usefulness in several different disciplines. The former is also conditioned by the holdings of the remarkable Cornell Library collections. There is nothing later than 1825, a conventional terminus for the identification of rare books in many research libraries. There are no entire law codes or treatises on criminal law proper, nothing on criminal procedure, and no material on the history of inquisitorial tribunals generally.39 There is little concentration on the broader world of spiritualism, except where that subject has had an impact on particular works on demonology and witchcraft. There is rather more material in English than is reflected in the proportion of English works in the entire literature. Foreign materials reproduced here are in the original languages --or occasionally contemporary or near-contemporary translations into other European languages. Existing English translations are noted. A number of important works of scholarship contain extracts from or summaries and discussions of individual works in the literature.40 There are very few multiple editions of individual works, although publication history can be an important dimension in the changing character and impact of a number of works. The collection focuses on contemporary criticism of witchcraft theory and the prosecutions as well as contemporary enthusiasm for them.


1 Sidney Anglo, "Evident Authority and Authoritative Evidence: The Malleus Maleficarum," in The Damned Art: Essays in the Literature of Witchcraft, Sidney Anglo, ed. (London-Boston, 1977), 1-31, at 3. Anglo's collection was a pioneering effort in assessing the character and importance of the literature. The theme has since been further developed in many of the works cited below in this Introduction.

2 There is an excellent synthetic portrait in Robin Briggs, Witches and Neighbors: The Social and Cultural Context of European Witchcraft (New York-London, 1996), Ch.1, "Myths of the Perfect Witch,"17-59.

3 The relevant texts from canon law, as well as the decretal of John XXII and a large relevant section from Eymeric's Directorium are translated in Alan C. Kors and Edward Peters, Witchcraft in Europe, 1100-1750 (Philadelphia, 1972; second edition forthcoming). On Eymeric, see Edward Peters, "Editing Inquisitors' Manuals in the Sixteenth Century: Francisco Peña and the Directorium Inquisitorum of Nicholas Eymeric," The Library Chronicle 60 (1974): Bibliographical Studies in Honor of Rudolf Hirsch, William E. Miller and Thomas G. Waldman, with Natalie D. Terrell, eds., 95-107, and Agostino Borromeo, "A proposito del Directorium Inquisitorum di Nicholas Eymeric e delle sue edizioni cinquecentesche,"Critica storica 20 (1983), 499-547.

4 On the general problem, see William R. Jones, "Political Uses of Sorcery in Medieval Europe," The Historian 34 (1972), 670-687; H. A. Kelly, "English Kings and the Fear of Sorcery," Medieval Studies 39 (1977), 206-238; Edward Peters, The Magician, the Witch, and the Law (Philadelphia, 1978), all with further references.

5 L. S. Davidson and John O. Ward, ed. and trans., The Sorcery Trial of Alice Kyteler (Binghamton, NY, 1993).

6 A relevant passage from the Formicarius is translated in Kors and Peters, Witchcraft in Europe, 102-104. The debate about the transformation of earlier ideas of magic and sorcery around the turn of the fifteenth century is discussed in Arno Borst, "The Origins of the Witch-Craze in the Alps," in Borst, Medieval Worlds: Barbarians, Heretics and Artists in the Middle Ages, Eric Hansen, trans. (Chicago, 1992, 101-102, and by Borst's student Andreas Blauert, in Frühe Hexenverfolgung. Ketzer-, Zauberei- und Herxenprozesse des 15. Jahrhunderts (Hamburg, 1989), as well as in the important collections of studies edited by Blauert, Ketzer, Zauberer, Hexen. Die Anfänge der europäische Hexenverfolgung (Frankfurt, 1990), which contains the German version of Borst's essay, and Robert Muchembled, Magie et sorcellerie en Europe. There are a number of research centers devoted to the study of early European sorcery and witchcraft, one of the most impressive of which is the series Cahiers lausannois d'histoire médiévale, which has published important studies by Sandrine Strobino, Françoise sauvée des flammes? Une Valaisianne accusée de sorcellerie au XVe siècle (Lausanne, 1996), Marine Osterero, "Folâtrer avec les démons": Sabbat et chasse aux sorciers à Vevey, 1448 (Lausanne, 1995), and Eva Maier, Trente ans avec le diable: Une nouvelle chasse aux sorciers sur la Riviera lémanique (1477-1484) (Lausanne, 1996). In Germany there is the important AKIH (Arbeitskreis Interdisziplinäre Hexenforschung), founded at Stuttgart in 1985 and immensely productive of individual studies and conference volumes since. See Wolfgang Behringer, "Witchcraft Studies in Austria, Germany and Switzerland," Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe, 64-95. For the Low Countries, see M. Gijswijt-Hofstra, "Recent witchcraft research in the Low Countries," in Historical Research in the Low Countries, N. C. F. Van Sas and E. Witte, eds. (The Hague, 1992), 23-34.

7 On the tract of Claude Tholosan, see Pierrette Paravy, "À propos de la genèse médiévale des chasses aux sorcières: Le traité de Claude Tholosan, juge dauphinois (vers 1436)," Mélanges de l'École française de Rome, Moyen Age - Temps modernes 91 (1979), 333-379, and idem, De la Chrétienté romaine à la Réforme en Dauphiné: Evêques, fidèles, et déviants (vers 1340-vers 1530), 2 vols., Collection de l'École française de Rome, No. 183 (Rome, 1993), Vol. II, 775-905. On the literature in general, see Joseph Hansen, Quellen und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte des Hexenwahns und der Hexenverfolgung im Mittelalter (Bonn, 1901), 38-359; Henry Charles Lea, Materials toward a History of Witchcraft, Arthur C. Howland, ed., 3 vols. (Philadelphia, 1939; rpt. New York, 1957), Vol. I, 240-431; Clark, Thinking with Demons, 687-726.

8 The best recent work is Peter Segl, ed., Der Hexenhammer. Entstehung und Umfeld des "Malleus Maleficarum" von 1487 (Cologne, 1988).

9 The most reliable discussions are those of Merry E. Wiesener, Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, 1993) Lyndal Roper, Oedipus and the Devil: Witchcraft, Sexuality and Religion in Early Modern Europe (London, 1994); Briggs, Witches and Neighbors, 257-286; James Sharpe, Instruments of Darkness: Witchcraft in England, 1550-1750 (Philadelphia, 1997), 169-199, and Clark, Thinking with Demons, 106-133. The literature is exhaustively reviewed by Diane Purkiss, The Witch in History: Early Modern and Twentieth-Century Representations (London-New York, 1996), and Marianne Hester, "Patriarchal Reconstruction and Witch Hunting", in Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe, 288-306. The otherwise very interesting study by Gerhild Scholz Williams, Defining Dominion: The Discourses of Magic and Witchcraft in Early Modern France and Germany (Ann Arbor, 1995), has been criticized for what some reviewers consider its uncritical feminist perspective.

10 On the midwife problem, see D. Harley, "Historians as Demonologists: The Myth of the Midwife-Witch," Social History of Medicine 3 (1990), 1-26, and the further references in De Ridder-Symoens, "Intellectual and Political Backgrounds," esp. 51-2.

11 The best study of the idea is that of Clark, Thinking with Demons. For the earlier period, see the seminal work of Richard Kieckhefer, European Witch Trials: Their Foundation in Learned and Popular Culture, 1300-1500 (London and Berkeley-Los Angeles, 1976).

12 James Sharpe, Instruments of Darkness, 32.

13 Lea, Materials, II, 640-646; Clark, 535; De Ridder-Symoens, "Intellectual and Political Backgrounds;" Julio Caro Baroja, "Martín del Rio y sus Disquisiciones mágicas," in El señor Inquisidor y otras vidas por oficio (Madrid, 1968), 171-196; E. Fischer, Die ‘Disquisitionum Magicarum libri sex' von Martin Delrio als gegenreformatorische Exempel-Quelle (Bamberg, 1975); Briggs, Witches and Neighbors, 347-351.

14 Clark, 535; Margaret M. McGowan, "Pierre de Lancre's Tableau de l'inconstance des mauvais anges et démons: The Sabbat Sensationalized," in Anglo, The Damned Art, 182-201, at 187; Lea, Materials, III, 1292-1304.

15 Wolfgang Behringer, Witchcraft Persecutions in Bavaria. On Luxemburg, see Marie-Sylvie Dupont-Bouchat, "La répression de la sorcellerie dans le Duché de Luxembourg aux XVIe et XVIIe siècles. Une analyse des structures de pouvoir et de leur fonctionnement dans le cadre de la chasse aux sorcières," in Prophètes et sorcières dans les Pays-Bas XVIe-XVIIe siècle, Marie-Sylvie Dupont-Bouchat, Willem Frijhoff, Robert Muchembled (Paris, 1978), 41-154, at 78-86.

16 Ian Bostridge, Witchcraft and Its Transformations, c. 1650-c. 1750 (Oxford, 1997). For the broader political and juridical background, see Clark, Thinking with Demons, 549-682.

17 The classic study on this point is that of Natalie Zemon Davis, "Proverbial Wisdom and Popular Errors," in Davis, Society and Culture in Early Modern France (Stanford, 1975), 227-267. Most histories of the idea and the persecutions discuss the end of the persecutions. There is a particularly useful collection of essays in Von Unfug de Hexen-Prozesses. Gegner der Hexenverfolgung von Johann Weyer bis Friedrich Spee, Wolfenbüteler Forschungen, Band. 55, Hartmut Lehmann and Otto Ulbricht, eds. (Wiesbaden, 1992), and Das Ende der Hexenverfolgung, Sönke Lorenz and Dieter Bauer, eds. (Stuttgart, 1995), Hexenforschung, Vol. I. On recent research in Germanophone areas, see Wolfgang Behringer, Witchcraft Studies in Austria, Germany and Switzerland.

18 Excellent examples are the work of H. C. Erik Midelfort, Witch Hunting in Southwestern Germany, 1562-1684 (Stanford, 1972); Christina Larner, Enemies of God: The Witch-Hunt in Scotland (London, 1981); Paravy, De la chrétienté romaine à la réforme en Dauphiné; Hexenprozesse. Deutsche und skandinavische Beiträge, Christian Degn, Hartmut Lehmann, Dagmar Unverhau, eds. (Neumünster, 1983); Early Modern European Witchcraft: Centres and Peripheries, Bengt Ankarloo and Gustav Henningsen, eds. (Oxford, 1990); Wolfgang Behringer, Hexenverfolgung in Bayerb, Volksmagie, Glaubenseifer und Staaträson in der Frühen Neuzeit (Munich, 1987; Eng. Trans., Witchcraft Persecutions in Bavaria: Popular magic, religious zealotry and reason of state in early modern Europe, J.C. Grayson and David Lededrer, trans. [Chicago, 1971]); Muchembled, Magie et sorcellerie en Europe.

19 There is a brief bibliography in Muchembled, Magie et sorcellerie en Europe, 322, a richly illustrated book, but one in which the illustrations are rather decorations than constituent elements of the intellectual presentation, perhaps the most common failing of the use of illustrations in books on this topic, as in Hans-Jürgen Wolf, Geschichte der Hexenprozesse. Holocaust und Massenpsychose vom 16.-18. Jahrhundert (Erlensee, 1995). See the astute remarks of Clark, Thinking with Demons, 11-30, and the fine study of Dale Hoak, "Art, Culture, and Mentality in Renaissance Society: The Meaning of Hans Baldung Grien's Bewitched Groom (1544)," Renaissance Quarterly 38 (1985), 488-510, and Jane P. Davidson, The Witch in Northern European Art, 1470-1750 (Freven, 1987). Brian P. Levack, Articles on Witchcraft, Magic and Demonology, Vol. XII, Witchcraft and Demonology in Art and Literature (New York-London, 1992), reprints Hoak's essay and a number of other useful studies. Exhibition catalogues can also be very helpful. See, e.g., Hexen und Hexenverfolgung im deutschen Südwesten, Sönke Lorenz, ed., 2 vols. (Karlsruhe, 1994).

20 A particularly important essay is the study by John Bossy, "Moral Arithmetic: Seven Sins into Ten Commandments," in Conscience and Casuistry in Early Modern Europe, Edmund Leites, ed. (Cambridge, 1988), 214-234. See also Dieter Harmening, "Magiciennes et sorcières: la mutation du concept de magie à la fin du Moyen Age," Heresis 13/14 (1989), 421-445. See Johann Weyer, Witches, Devils, and Doctors in the Renaissance: "De praetiis daemonum," J. Shea, trans., George Mora, ed. (Binghamton, 1991).

21 See Johann Weyer, Witches, Devils, and Doctors in the Renaissance: "De praetiis daemonum," J. Shea, trans., George Mora, ed. (Binghamton, 1991).

22 There are important essays in Vom Unfug des Hexen-Prozess. Gegner der Hexenverfolgungen von Johann Weyer bis Friedrich Spee, Hartmut Lehmann and Otto Ulbricht, eds. (Wiesbaden, 1992).

23 Scot, ed. B. Nicholson (London, 1886; rept. 1973). See Sidney Anglo, "Reginald Scot's Discoverie of Witchcraft," The Damned Art, 106-139, and Robert H. West, Reginald Scot and Renaissance Writings on Witchcraft, Twayne's English Authors Series, Arthur F. Kinney, ed. (Boston, 1984).

24 Alan Macfarlane, "A Tudor Anthropologist: George Gifford's Discourse and Dialogue," The Damned Art, 140-155.

25 Besides the general discussion in Clark, Thinking with Demons, Sharpe, Instruments of Darkness contains the best discussion of the English tracts and pamphlets.

26 W. M. Lamont, Richard Baxter and the Millennium: Protestant Imperialism and the English Revolution (London, 1979). It is worth pointing out that, for all of his creative use of the New England past, Whittier seems to have been fairly well acquainted with some of both the English and continental literature of the sceptical tradition. See The Supernaturalism of New England.

27 On Thyraeus, see Lea, Materials, II, 624-627.

28 On Quakers and earlier witchcraft accusations, see Peter Elmer, "‘Saints or Sorcerers': Quakerism, demonology and the decline of witchcraft in seventeenth-century England," in Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe, 145-179.

29There is an interesting discussion in M. Wynn Thomas, "Cotton Mather's Wonders of the Invisible World: Some Metamorphoses of Salem Witchcraft," in Anglo, The Damned Art, 202-226, with references.

30On Hawthorne, see Thomas, 216-218, and on Whittier, see John Greenleaf Whittier, The Supernaturalism of New England, Edward Wagenknecht, ed. (Norman, Okla., 1969).

31Roxbury, Massachusetts. Reprinted New York, 1969.

32Vol. III in the Woodward Historical Series. Rept. New York, 1967, 1977.

331914; reprt. 1968, 1972. Boyer and Nissenbaum, Belmont, California, 1972; reprt. Boston, 1993.

34Boston, 1991.

35 Boyer-Nissenbaum, Cambridge, Mass., 1974; Demos, Oxford, 1982; Karlsen, New York, 1987.

36 For example, Richard Weisman, Witchcraft, Magic, and Religion in Seventeenth-Century Massachusetts (Amherst, 1984), Kenneth Silverman, The Life and Times of Cotton Mather (New York, 1984), David D. Hall, Worlds of Wonder, Days of Judgment: Popular Religious Belief in Early New England (New York, 1989), Jon Butler, Awash in a Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People (Cambridge, Mass., 1990) and Richard Godbeer, The Devil's Dominion: Magic and Religion in Early New England (Cambridge, 1992). On the continuity of beliefs after the 1690s see Godbeer, 223-232, Demos, 387-400, and Herbert Leventhal, In the Shadow of the Enlightenment: Occultism and Renaissance Science in Eighteenth-Century America (New York, 1976). For a similar phenomenon on the Continent, see Willem de Blécourt, "On the Continuation of Witchcraft," in Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe, 335-351. A classic modern study is Jeanne Favret-Saada, Deadly Words: Witchcraft in the Bocage (Cambridge, 1980).

37 Bernard Rosenthal, Salem Story: Reading the Witch Trials of 1692 (Cambridge, 1993); David Harley, "Explaining Salem: Calvinist Psychology and the Diagnosis of Possession," American Historical Review 101 (1996), 307-330. For an excellent example of working the research cited here and in the preceding note into broad European studies, see Robin Briggs, Witches and Neighbors, 310-316.

38 For a recent review of Thomas' work, see Jonathan Barry, "Keith Thomas and the Problem of Witchcraft," in Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe, 1-45. Alan Macfarlane, Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England: A Regional and Comparative Study (London, 1970). On Larner, see the memoir by Alan Macfarlane in Christina Larner, Witchcraft and Religion (Oxford, 1984), vii-ix.

39 For the latter, see the brilliant study by Francisco Bethencourt, L'Inquisition à l'époque moderne (Paris, 1995), and Edward Peters, Inquisition (New York, Berkeley-Los Angeles, 1988, 1989). See also Alfred Soman, Sorcellerie et Justice Criminelle: Le parlement de Paris (16e-18e siècles) (Hampshire, 1992); Esther Cohen, The Crossroads of Justice: Law and Culture in Late Medieval France (Leiden-New York, 1993); John Langbein, Prosecuting Crime in the Renaissance: England, Germany, France (Cambridge, Mass., 19740; Winfried Trusen, "Vom Inquisitionsverfahrung zum Ketzer- und Hexenprozzesse. Fragen der Abgrenzung und Beeinflussung," Staat, Kirche, Wissenschaft in einer pluralistischen Gesellschaft. Festschrift zum 65. Geburtstag von Paul Mikat, Dieter Schwab, ed. (Berlin, 1989), 435-450.

40 The most important of these are Joseph Hansen, Quellen und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte des Hexenwahns und der Hexenverfolgung im Mittelalter (Bonn, 1901), Henry Charles Lea, Materials toward a History of Witchcraft, ed. Arthur C. Howland, intro. George L. Burr, 3 vols. (Philadelphia, 1939; report. New York, 1957), which includes Lea's often extensive notes on material in Hansen and earlier (and now usually quite rare) bibliogaphies, such as those of Grässe and Hauber, and Stuart Clark, Thinking with Demons (Oxford, 1997), the most recent study of the entire literature. Interested readers should also, of course, check the relevant sections of the massive work of Lynn Thorndike, A History of Magic and Experimental Science, 8 vols. (New York, 1923-1958), although the opinions of Hansen, Lea, and Thorndike on particular matters need to be read with caution in the light of more recent scholarship. Where no English translation exists, the relevant pages of Hansen and Lea will be cited. These authors and others will also usually be found in the index to Clark, whose bibliography and index are exhaustive.