Henry Holland

A Treatise against witchcraft:
Or, A dialogue wherein the greatest doubts concerning that sinne are briefly answered: a Sathanicall operation in the witchcraft of all times is truly prooved: the most precious preservatives against such evils are shewed: very needful to be knowen of all men, but chiefly of the Masters and Fathers of families, that they may learn the best way to purge their houses of all unclean spirits, and wisely to avoide the dreadfull impieties and greate daungers which come by such abhominations.

Cambridge 1590



To the Right Honourable Lord Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex and Ewe, Viscount of Hereford and Bouschier, Lord Ferrers of Chartley, Bourchier and Lovairie, Master of the Queen's Majesty's Horse, and Knight of the most honourable Order of the Garter. H.H. wisheth with his heart grace from God the Father by Jesus Christ, increase of all virtues, and constancy in the truth of the Gospel to the end.

The Scriptures of God (Right Honourable) in sundry places do most evidently teach us that there are two spiritual kingdoms in this world, which have continual hatred and bloody wars without hope of truce for ever. The lord and king of one is our Lord Jesus, the tyrannical usurper of the other is Satan. Again, this also we are as clearly taught, that all men living without exception are either true subjects of the one or slaves unto the other. For albeit the neuters of this world dream that they may indifferently view the scars and wounds of other men and never approach near those bloody skirmishes, yet the truth is they are foully deceived, for the great Lord and King hath said with his own mouth, He that is not with me is against me (Matthew 12:30). Wherefore, all that build not up as much as in them lieth the kingdom and city of God and batter down the holds of Satan, must be numbered with the rebels and enemies of our Lord Christ when the warfare shall be ended. The enemies of Christ have ever been many:  some open, cruel foes without; some subtle, close conspirators within  the house of God - most dangerous underminers of the House of God if they be not discovered. In this secret conspiracy, albeit Satan have many champions and many arts, mille artes, mille nocendi modos [with a thousand arts, a thousand was of killing]:  there is no art more effectual and dreadful in my judgement than those his wicked faculties in witchcraft. I have endeavoured (Right Honourable) in this small treatise - according to my poor strength - to show the principal means ordained of God for to confound and to discover them.

I do here, therefore, humbly ask for your honourable protection for the defence of the truth and glory of God against all the patrons of all such vile arts and horrible abominations. Thus doing, your Honour shall not only encourage me but also embolden others, which are better able and will be willing also to lay open the secret delusions and practices of Satan's inventions. Nobility without godliness and virtue (as your Honour well knoweth) is blood indeed, as a learned man speaketh, but blood without bones and sinews. I know therefore that to increase in your Honour true nobility your are well assured that it principally standeth in purchasing unto Christ and his Church, true honour and glory and in beating down (as much as in your Honour lieth) all the holds of Satan's kingdom. God increase in your hearth (Right Honourable) all his good graces to his glory, your own salvation and the benefit of his Church. Amen.

The year of our salvation. 1590.

Your good Lordship's ever to use and command in the Lord.
Henry Holland.


To the Christian reader, grace, mercy and peace be multiplied in Jesus Christ.

 The holy Apostle labouring (II. Corinthians 10:5) to set forth the divine majesty and powerful might of the ministry of the Gospel, sheweth how that a man must be - as it were - conquered thereby, before he do yield sincere and sound obedience unto Christ. And certain it is that before men be brought down to that subjection, they fall often into dangerous errors in mind and sundry fearful sins in life. In this question of witchcraft, some have preferred the wicked folly of man before the holy wisdom of God and would have us to credit their own practice, the knowledge and also experience of Cornelius Agrippa, John Wyerus, Nero, Julian Apostata and such like. Their experience, to say no more, was unsufficient, most wicked and detestable.

Let us then humble ourselves before the wisdom of God and see what direction we have in this controversy by the Holy Scripture.  First, for the being of this abomination, the holy word of God most clearly confirmeth it. For if there were no such sin, wherefore then are there so many kinds named and distinguished, Deuteronomy 18:10, 11, mecasephim, kozemim, &c. All which, Galatians 5:20, the Apostle comprehendth (as Jerome saith) in that one word φαρμαχεία, witchcraft?  Secondly, wherefore have we so many examples of the practitioners of this profession pointed at so often unto us? As in the enchanters of Egypt (Exodus 7), the Witch of Endor (Samuel 28), the witches of Persia (Daniel 2), Simon Magus of Samaria (Acts 8) Elymas the sorcerer at Paphus (Acts 13:6), the Pythonist at Philippi (Acts 16:16), &c.?  Thirdly, what meaneth the Lord to give such laws against this sin, as may be seen Exodus 22:18, Leviticus 20:27, Deuteronomy 18:10, 11. For this is a maxim in law, as Danaeus saith and the lawyers grant it, De iis rebus quae non sunt, leges non promulgantur, There are no laws made of things which have no being. If this be true of the laws of men, how much more of the blessed laws of God, wherein we must not imagine a want or superfluity …

The adversaries here are glad to betake themselves to the first refuge:  "Witchcraft is but cozening or poisoning art, practiced by human industry, whereunto Satan communicates no real conference or communication." [Discovery p.472]. What may be said out of the book of God against this bold impiety? What! were Pharaoh's conjurers in the court of Egypt and Nebuchadnezzar's wise men in Babylon but cozeners and poisoners? Poisoners of all others have no place nor free access unto princes, and cozeners are most unfit to be their counselors, so as all those Egyptian and Babylonian witches were, as Jerome writeth: Habuisse Babylonem omnemque Chaldeam incantatorum & studium, &c. … The kings of Babylon (saith he) did all things after the advice and council of their enchanters. …

This shift being thus uncovered, they shelter themselves under a second refuge, which is this: "The witches of our time can work at no hand so as the witches mentioned in Scripture have done." (Discovery p. 317, 160-3). Against this conclusion we may reason on this manner, If our witches, conjurers &c. cannot work the like as Jannes and Jambres did, the witch of Endor &c. the defect must be  either in Satan or in the witch or both. First, for Satan; he wants at this day neither will nor might to do the like. … Secondly, for his co-partner the witch, man or woman, I would learn what wants they have at this day more than in former times, that by Satan's help they cannot produce the like lying wonders. I am sure the wicked also in this world and the reprobates towards the end wax worse and worse, and therefore in any wise man's judgment are more fit for this sin, for the more unclean a man is, the more apt is he for Satan's service.

But they object, "they cannot have at this day such knowledge… in natural causes as Jannes and Jambres had," &c. (Discovery 13. book, p. 305, 302). I answer, that Satan as he regards not characters, figures, words, periapts, &c. so doth he not a man's knowledge to make him his vassal to work his wonders, unless it be for this end, to veil and cover his delusions, as sundry satanical astrologers in Chaldea and Egypt have done.

The last and most miserable refuge is this, "Our witches, strigae, lamiae, our witches are not once mentioned in Scripture: our old woman &c. you shall not read in the Bible of any such witches" [Discovery, Epistle to the reader]. … Albeit the Scripture giveth us no such historical relation of the witches of our own time: yet are they mentioned there both in general and special manner. In general, where all the sins of idolatry and blasphemy are mentioned; in special, where the like sins are mentioned. … Wherefore, I conclude with Master Calvin, Certe sacrilega esset audacia negare unquam in usu fuisse artes magicas, quia hic modo Deus incogitantiae argueretur, ac si legem tulisset de rebus quae nullae sunt:  Surely it were graceless boldness to deny that the arts of magic have ever been practiced, for so God might be argued to want judgment, as if he had given a law of things which have no being. …

… our blockish Christians, they have their common base witches and their master conjurers unto whom they ride and go in all their need, some twenty, some thirty, some forty miles, and what is most lamentable, such is their brutish ignorance, they think it not unlawful for them so to do.

[The Dialogue is between Theophilus (lover of God) and Mysodemon (Unclean demon; or, perhaps, a hater of demons)].

Theophilus.  What sayest thou Mysodemon, is it not strange that men at this day make so small account to discover and avoid the most horrible and dreadful sin of witchcraft?

Mysodemon.  I would gladly hear somewhat of you concerning this argument for the common sort of men, indeed, do lightly regard this sin and the rather because some men (as they say) of learning and reputation affirm that this art being rightly discovered containeth nothing but the cozenage and secret practices of wicked men and foolish women which are full of restless melancholic imaginations.

Theophilus.  True it is they say so indeed, but how prove they all such strong affirmations? They speak much and fill volumes of many books, but prove little soundly of that which they have vainly and wickedly conceived, for when their proof is out of Scripture, they never fail to wrest and bend that blessed word most profanely to their own purpose. And as for other learned men which have written painfully of this argument, they are all without difference scorned, rejected, and railed upon in a most vile manner (Discovery p.17). Their best proof is from their own brain and wicked experience, and yet some wise men (as they say) believe them.

Mysodemon.  Surely, Theophilus, I cannot myself be any way persuaded that the common sort of our witches work by the devil or have any conference with him, for so I remember Bodin and others define a witch to be one that wittingly and willingly useth devilish arts to attain that he purposeth (De Daemonomania lib.1.cap.1.), and therefore our common women are no witches, "for they have no such arts, alack, poor fools they are no seducers but rather poor seduced souls" (Discovery p.71).

Theophilus.  I see Mysodemon that you have read over some of their volumes. Can you so prettily bemoan our old witches? True it is many of the common sort (I believe well) are not right witches indeed, notwithstanding they are guilty of other most vile sins, and most worthy of death.

Mysodemon.  As for other sins, as cozenage, poisoning and such like, I will not cover them, our witches are full of such practices. But that these silly women have any arts to conjure the devil, or to convey him into a box (as they say), to raise tempests, to kill and make alive.  I think all these are but vain surmises of credulous and foolish people.

Mysodemon.  And what can you find in the sorcerers of Egypt more than juggling, legerdemain, cozenage, natural magic, &c.? (Discovery p.89. 8.)

Theophilus.  The circumstances of that story and all interpreters say plainly they wrought by the devil. For the Scripture (Exodus 7) saith plainly they wrought their wonders in the presence of Pharaoh and his nobles (v.10) and before Moses and Aaron. If these witches then could have showed but the feats of natural magic &c., they had been soon discovered. … M. Calvin writeth thus: … when the magicians of Egypt had fallen from the true philosophy (whereby he meaneth natural philosophy and natural magic) they would still be called wise men to credit to their delusions. And then he addeth, est horribile exemplum laxatas magis habenas - this is a horrible example that magicians should have this liberty.

Theophilus.  … note what observations that place of Scripture (I Samuel 28) offereth unto us in this question of witchcraft for our instruction. First observe there the great fear this kind of vile witches are in, for she was very loath lest her practice should be publicly noted, espied and known (v. 9,10).  Secondly, how the devil persuades witches he must be conjured our of hell and out of earth from among the dead, by characters, figures, periapts, &c. that his vassals might be the more studious to serve him on that manner, and that men might have his witches for their art in the more estimation (v. 11,12).  Thirdly, how Satan can transform himself before his witch as he please:  for (v. 13) she saith I saw gods or an excellent person, which then appeareth forthwith in the form of old Samuel himself.  Fourthly, what Satan desireth most of his witches and such as consult with them:  namely, to adore him as a God, as Saul did the devil in the presence of the witch (v. 14).  Lastly, how bold Satan is sometimes in predictions, either when he hath some warrant of God's word or is sent of God to execute his justice upon infidels. For this devil speaking thus boldly of Saul's death, it is like he knew God's purpose concerning him. For where he wanteth knowledge, he is commonly most doubtful in his prophesies, as those Latin rhymes of Apollo's oracle can teach us.

Mysodemon.  But where find you a real prompting, the real conference of a devil &c. in Scripture (Discovery p.170).

Theophilus. What was the Pythonist at Philippi? had not she a real conference with Satan? For doth not the Scripture speak plainly that she was possessed of a devil, and the Apostle biddeth him come out of her, and she spake those holy words, these are the servants of the most high God, which show unto us the way of salvation, by a mere diabolical revelation. (Acts 16:16,17). And lest we should any way doubt in this matter, Saint Luke saith manifestly that she practiced satanical divination, for he addeth, This Pythonist gave her masters much advantage with divining. And had not Satan also a real communication with Eve? To be short, I cannot see but that he who do the greater may do the less.  … He then that can work so mightily by suggestions (as may appear in the prompting of Achab's prophets - I Kings 22:22) and prevail also, because God gives him leave, I cannot see but that he may have a real possession of them, when God permitteth, and conference with them.


Mysodemon.  … But shall we imagine that our poor doting women (which are commonly called witches) at this day, are like in any point to those seven which are mentioned in Scripture? Surely I have no light of reason or Scripture as yet wherefore we should do think.

Theophilus.  Thou art here so carried away with some fabulous volumes of witchcraft, or thou markst the folly of the multitude, or both. For what, Mysodemon? Shall Satan in this age be less cruel, or infidels more holy than they have been? …

Mysodemon.  I say not so, but I reason thus:  Miracles are ceased, Ergo, all the miraculous works of witchcraft are ceased (Discovery p.156). And consequently I say, that our witches can in no wise work so as those witches mentioned in Scripture have done.

Theophilus.  I answer thee first:  For thine argument, the consequent followeth nine miles behind the antecedent. For as thou hast heard partly before, the witches spoken of in Scripture wrought no miracles but, as the Scripture saith, lying wonders (II Thessalonians). For all true miracles have supernatural causes, and so have not the deceitful delusions of the devil.

TheophilusTherefore some learned men (Joannes Franciscus Picus Mirandulanus De Rerum Praenotione l.4.c.5.; Bodin La Demonomanie des Sorciers, c.1,2,3,4) have distinguished these satanical covenants into their sorts. for some have an open, express and evident league and confederacy with Satan; some a more hid and secret; some a mixed and mean between both. Unto the open and express confederacy belong all manifest conjurations and practices of Pythonists. Unto the secret kind, all close and secret operations by Satan in divining, astrology, palmistry and the like. Unto the third kind appertain all the practices of superstitious magic in all sorceries whatsoever. And following this distinction of diabolical confederacies, we may not unfitly distinguish also their arts for the better manifestation of the truth on this manner. Some be mere diabolical, some mixed diabolical; mere diabolical as of Pythonists and all such as are of open league; mixed, as all other which use any other means appointed by Satan for their practice, and are of the second and third kind of confederacy.

Mysodemon.  I pray you then, unto which league belong the common sort of our witches, which seem indeed to work by the devil (so wicked are their lives, so devilish are their inventions, and such dreadful events follow them) and yet have no manifest operation by Satan to their own knowledge, as most of them say in the very hour of their death.

Theophilus.  They do belong therefore no doubt to the second and third kind of confederacy, and they work secretly by the devil …

Mysodemon.  I would gladly be resolved in another doubt, Theophilus:  Most men are wont to seek after these wise men and cunning women, such as they call witches, in sickness, in losses and in all extremities. What think you of this, Theophilus?

Theophilus.  I am assured, Mysodemon, that such miserable people commit a most horrible and dreadful sin, that they are justly brought into Satan's snares for the contempt of God and his word, that they seek help of the same serpent that stung them, that against the known principle of the Gospel they would have Satan to drive out Satan. And, to be short, that they are in very truth but mere Gentiles and pagans in religion, blind in their minds, hardened in their hearts, strangers from the life of God and that - if God give them not speedy repentance - they will become past feeling by custom and continuance in their sins.

Mysodemon.  But some understand the Law of God, Theophilus, as the Emperor's Civil Law expoundeth it. Eorum est scientia punienda, &c. qui magicis artibus contra salutem hominum &c. nullius vero criminibus implicanda sunt remedia humanis quaesita corporibus [Punishable knowledge is of those magical arts against human welfare - remedies for human bodies are not at all criminal]. Hereby it is manifest that hurtful magicians and witches which kill and hurt men's bodies and goods are only to be avoided, and so they do amongst us. But such of these practitioners as can and will cure the sick, find things lost, have a good near guess in predictions, are not in any wise to be blamed, saith this Law. And therefore these are often sought after in necessities unto this day, and they seem to do no man harm but much good, and they speak the truth very often, and men will do much, Theophilus, in extremities.

Theophilus.  First for that Law, it is a most wicked and profane law, and if it be one of Constantine's constitutions, it was published no doubt before his conversion to the faith. And as for the good that miserable receive of the sorcerers, assure thyself, Mysodemon, the more they seem to benefit men's bodies, the more harm they do both soul and body. …

[Spelling and punctuation modernzed]

Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex (1566-1601) was one of Elizabeth's favorites until his disastrous performance in the Irish Wars. When she deprived him of his offices, he tried to organize a coup and was executed.

Mille artes = VirgilÆneid Bk VII:  "tu verbera tectis / funereasque inferre faces, tibi nomina mille, / mille nocendi artes:" "Thy hand o'er towns the funeral torch displays, / And forms a thousand ills ten thousand ways" (Dryden's translation).

II Corinthians 10:5 = "Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;"

Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa (1486-1535) was famous as an astrologer and magician. He wrote De incertitudine et vanitate scientiarum (On the vanity and uncertainty of knowledge,1527) and De occulta philosophia libri tres (Three books of occult philosophy 1533). Agrippa was immensely learned and wrote in an ironical style that confused and angered many. He also got into trouble for defending a witch; for heresy; and for criticizing France's Queen mother.

Johan Weyer (or Wierus,1515-88) was physician to Duke William of Cleves. He was one of the first to oppose punishing witches, arguing in De praestigiis daemonum that the confessions of mad old women meant nothing. Many saw this as an indication that Weyer was himself an agent of the Devil - James VI & I, for example, commented "Wierus, a German physician, sets out a public apology for all these crafts-folks, whereby procuring for their impunity, he plainly betrays himself to have been one of that profession."

Nero (37-68 AD), Emperor of Rome from 54, he embraced some strange religious beliefs and in the sixteenth and seventeenth century was regarded as a student of magic and the "devil's darling."

Julian the Apostate (331-363) was Emperor of Rome from 361. He converted from Christianity (in his view a collection of absurd fables) to paganism, which he did all he could to revive. His performance of animal sacrifices and other pagan rites earned him the reputation amongst later Christians of being a sorcerer.

Deuteronomy 18:10,11 "There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch. Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer"

Galatians 5:19-20 "Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,…'

Jannes and Jambres = These were the names of Pharoah's sorcerers in Exodus 7; they were unable to produce wonders equaling those of Moses and Aaron. II Timothy 3:8 "Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith."

periapt = An object worn about the person as a charm; an amulet.

Chaldee or Chaldea = another name (from the Greek) for Babylon. A Chaldean was often used as a synonym for an astrologer or sorcerer.

Jean Bodin (1530-96) was an important political thinker and early economist. His massive work on witchcraft, De la Démonomanie des Sorciers (1587), was written to refute skeptics such as Weyer.

De Daemonomania = Bodin, De la Démonomanie des Sorciers: "Sorcier est celuy qui par moyens diaboliques sciemment s'efforce de parvenir a quelque chose."

Apollo's oracle at Delphi, Greece, was the most famous oracle of the ancient world. It was supposedly at the site where Apollo had killed a dragon/snake/python. A priestess called "the Pythia" (hence Pythoness or Pythonist) answered questions in extremely vague and ambiguous rhymes. (For example, when Croesus, King of Lydia, asked if he should wage war on Persia, the oracle responded that "if he attacked a great empire would fall". Croesus attacked, was defeated and his empire was destroyed.)

Saint Luke was long regarded as the author of the Acts of the Apostles.

II Thessalonians 2:9 "Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders"