Reginald Scot

The Discovery of Witchcraft:
Proving that the compacts and contracts of witches with devils and all infernal spirits or familiars, are but erroneous novelties and imaginary conceptions.

 

[Excerpts]

Epistles Dedicatory

To Sir Roger Manwood, Knight, Lord Chief Baron of Her Majesty's Court of the Exchequer


Howbeit, it is natural to unnatural people, and peculiar unto witchmongers, to pursue the poor, to accuse the simple and to kill the innocent; supplying in rigor and malice towards others, that which they themselves want in proof and discretion, or the other in offence or occasion.

But, my Lord, it shall be proved in my book - and your Lordship shall try it to be true as well here at home in your native country as also abroad in your several circuits - that (besides them that be veneficae, which are plain poisoners) there will be found among our witches only two sorts:  the one sort being such by imputation (and these are abused and not abusers), the other by acceptation, as being willing to be so accounted and these be mere cozeners.

To the Right Worshipful Sir Thomas Scot Knight, &c.

I therefore (at this time) do only desire you to consider of my report concerning the evidence that is commonly brought before you against them. See first whether the evidence be not frivolous and whether the proofs brought against them be not incredible, consisting of guesses, presumptions, and impossibilities contrary to reason, Scripture and nature. See also what persons complain upon them, whether they be not of basest, the unwisest and most faithless kind of people. Also may it please you to weigh what accusations and crimes they lay to their charge. Namely, She was at my house of late; She would have had a pot of milk, she departed in a chafe because she had it not; she railed, she cursed, she mumbled and she whispered; and finally, she said she would be even with me; and soon after my child, my cow, my sow or my pullet died or was strangely taken; Nay (if it please your worship) I have further proof; I was with a wise woman and she told me I had an ill neighbour and that she would come to my house ere long, and so did she, and that she had a mark about her waist and so had she; and God forgive me my stomach hath gone against her a great while. Her mother before her was counted a witch; she hath been beaten and scratched by the face till blood was drawn upon her because she hath been suspected, and afterwards some of those persons were said to amend. These are the certainties that I hear in their evidences.

To the Reader

And till you have perused my book, ponder this in your mind, to wit, that Sagae, Thessalae, Striges, Lamiae (which words and none other being in use do properly signify our witches) are not once found written in the Old or New Testament, and that Christ himself in his Gospel never once mentioned the name of a witch. And that neither he nor Moses ever spake any one word of the witches bargain with the Devil, their hagging, their riding in the air, their transferring of corn or grass from one field to another, their hurting of children or cattle with words or charms, their bewitching of butter, cheese, ale &c. nor yet their transubstantiation 

To prove the antiquity of the cause, to confirm the opinion of the ignorant, to enforce mine adversaries' arguments, to aggravate the punishment, and to accomplish the confusion of these old women is added the vanity and wickedness of them which are called witches; the arrogancy of those which take upon them to work wonders; the desire that people have to hearken to such miraculous matters (unto whom most commonly an impossibility is more credible than a verity); the ignorance of natural causes; the ancient and universal hate conceived against the name of a witch; their ill-favored faces; their spiteful words; their curses and imprecations; their charms made in rhyme; and their beggary; the fear of many foolish folk; the opinion of some that are wise; the want of Robin Goodfellow and the fairies, which were wont to maintain that and the common people's talk in this behalf; the authority of the Inquisitors; the learning, cunning, consent and estimation of writers herein; the false translations and fond interpretations used, specially by Papists, and many other like causes.

 

The Discovery

One sort of such as are said to be witches are women which be commonly old, lame, blear-eyed, pale, foul and full of wrinkles; poor, sullen, superstitious and papists or such as know no religion; in whose drowsy minds the Devil hath gotten a fine fear, so as, what mischief, mischance, calamity or slaughter is brought to pass, they are easily persuaded the same is done by themselves, imprinting in their minds an earnest and constant imagination thereof. They are lean and deformed, showing melancholy in their faces to the horror of all that see them. They are doting scolds, mad, devilish, and not much differing from them that are thought to be possessed by spirits, so firm and steadfast in their opinions as whosoever shall only have respect to the constancy of their words uttered, would easily believe they were true indeed.

These miserable wretches are so odious unto their neighbours and so feared as few dare offend them or deny then anything they ask; whereby they take upon them - yea, and sometimes think - that they can do such things are are beyond the ability of human nature. These go from house to house and from door to door for a pot full of milk, yeast, drink, pottage or some such relief, without the which they could hardly live. Neither obtaining for their service and pains, nor yet by their art, nor yet at the Devil's hands (with whom they are said to make a perfect and visible bargain) either beauty, money, promotion, wealth, worship, pleasure, honour, knowledge, learning, or any other benefit whatsoever.

But it will be said by some:  As for those absurd and popish writers, they are not in all their allegations touching these matters to be credited. But I assure you, that even all sorts of writers herein (for the most part) - the very Doctors of the Church to the Schoolmen, Protestant and popish, learned and unlearned, poets and historiographers, Jews, Christians or Gentiles - agree in these impossible and ridiculous matters. Yea, and these writers out of whom I gather most absurdities are of the best credit and authority of all writers in this matter. The reason is, because it was never thoroughly looked into but every fable credited, and the word "witch" named so often in Scripture.

They that have seen further of the Inquisitors' orders and customs, say also, that there is no way in the world for these poor women to escape the Inquisitors' hands and so consequently burning, but to gild their hands with money, whereby ofentimes they take pity upon them and deliver them as sufficiently purged. For they have authority to exchange the punishment of the body with the punishment of the purse, applying the same to the office of their Inquisition, whereby they reap such profit, as a number of these silly women pay them yearly pensions to the end they may not be punished again.

But in truth this melancholic humor (as the best physicians affirm) is the cause of all their strange, impossible and incredible confessions:  which are so fond that I wonder how any man can be abused thereby. Howbeit these affections, though they appear in the mind of man, yet they are bred in the body, and proceed from this humor, which is the very dregs of blood, nourishing and feeding those places form whence proceed fears, cogitations, superstitions, fastings, labours and suchlike. If our witches' phantasies were not corrupted nor their wills confounded with this humor, they would not so voluntarily and readily confess that which calleth their life in question, whereof they could never otherwise be convicted. J. Bodin with his lawyer's physic reasoneth contrarily - as though melancholy were furthest of all from these old women whom we call witches - deriding the most famous and noble physician John Wier for his opinion in that behalf. But because I am no physician, I will set a physician to him, namely Erastus, who hath these words, that these witches through their corrupt phantsay abounding with melancholic humors by reason of their old age, do dream and imagine they hurt those things which they neither could nor do hurt, and so think they know an art, which they neither have learned nor yet understand.

They would have them executed for seducing the people. But God knoweth, they have small store of rhetoric or art to seduce, except to tell a tale of Robin Goodfellow to be deceived and seduced; Neither may their age or sex admit that opinion or accusation to be just; for they themselves are poor seduced souls.

These witchmongers, for lack of better arguments, do many times object Job against me; although there be never a word in that story which either maketh for them or against me; insomuch as there is not the name of a witch mentioned in the whole book. If any man in these days called Job should be by the appointment or hand of God thus handled, as this Job was; I warrant you that all the old women in the country would be called Coram nobis: warrants would be sent out on every side, public and private enquiry made what old women lately resorted to Job's house, or to any of those places, where these misfortunes fell. If any poor old woman had chanced within two or three months to have borrowed a courtesie of seasing, or to have fetched from thence a pot of milk, or had she required some alms, and not obtained it at Job's hand; there had been argument enough to have brought her to confusion Howbeit I for my part deny not the verity of the story; though indeed I must confess, that I think there was no such corporal interlude between God, the devil, and Job, as they imagine: neither any such real presence and communication as the witchmongers conceive and maintain; who are so gross herein that they do not only believe but publish so palpable absurdities concerning such real actions betwixt the Devil and man as a wise man would be ashamed to read, but much more to credit. As that Saint Dunstan led the devil about the house by the nose with a pair of pincers or tongs, and made him roar so loud, as the place rung thereof, &c.: with a thousand the like fables, without which neither the art of popery nor of witchcraft could stand.

But what sorts of witches soever Malleus Maleficarum or Bodin say there are, Moses spake only of four kinds of impious cozeners or witches (whereof our witchmongers' old women which dance with the fairies &c. are none). The first were praestigiatores Pharaonis, which (as all divines, both Hebrews and others conclude) were but cozeners and jugglers, deceiving the king's eyes with illusions and sleights, making false things appear as true, which nevertheless our witches cannot do. The second is Mecasapha which is she that destroyeth with poison. The third are such as sue sundry kinds of divinations, and hereunto pertain these words kasam, onen, ob, idoni. The fourth is Habar, to wit, when magicians (or rather such as would be reputed cunning therein) mumble certain secret words wherein is thought to be great efficacy.

Howbeit, God (of nothing with his word) hath created all things, and doth at his will - beyond the power and also the reach of man - accomplish whatsoever he lists. And such miracles in times past he wrought by the hands of his Prophets, as here he did by Moses in the presence of Pharaoh, which Jannes and Jambres apishly followed. But to affirm that they by themselves or by all the devils in hell could do indeed as Moses did by the power of the Holy Ghost, is worse than infidelity. If any object and say that our witches can do such feats with words and charms as as Pharaoh's magicians, I deny it, and all the world will never be able to show it. That which they did was openly done, as our witches and conjurers never do anything; so as these cannot do as they did.

Witchcraft is in truth a cozening art, wherein the name of God is abused, profaned and blasphemed, and his power attributed to a vile creature. In estimation of the vulgar people, it is a supernatural work, contrived between a corporal old woman and a spiritual devil. The manner thereof is so secret, mystical and strange that to this day there hath never been any credible witness thereof. It is incomprehensible to the wise, learned or faithful; a probable matter to children fools, melancholic persons and papists. The trade is though to be impious. The effect and end thereof is to be sometimes evil (as when thereby man or beast, grass, trees or corn &c, is hurt) sometimes good (as whereby sick folks are healed, thieves bewrayed, and true men come to their goods &c.). The matter and instruments wherewith it is accomplished are words, charms, signs, images, characters, &c. The which words although any other creature do pronounce in manner and form as they do, leaving out no circumstance requisite or usual for the action, yet none is said to have the grace or gift to perform the matter except she be a witch and so taken, either by her own consent or by others imputation.

 

A Discourse concerning the nature and substance of devils and spirits

if we have only respect to the bare word, or rather to the letter, where spirits or devils are spoken of in the Scriptures, we shall run into dangerous absurdities For some are so carnally minded that a spirit is no sooner spoken of, but immediately they think of a black man with cloven feet, a pair of horns, a tail, claws and eyes as broad as a basin, &c. But surely the Devil were not so wise I his generation as I take him to be , if he would terrify men with such ugly shapes, though eh could do it at his pleasure. For by that means men should have good occasion and opportunity to fly from him and to run to God for succour - as the manner is of all them that are terrified, though perchance they thought not upon God a long time before. But in truth we never have so much cause to be afraid of the Devil, as when he flatteringly insinuateth himself into our hearts, to satisfy, please and serve our humors, enticing us to prosecute our own appetites and pleasures, without any of these external terrors.

Upon that which hitherto hath been said, you see that the assaults of Satan are spiritual and not temporal; Why then should we think that a devil, which is a spirit can be known or made tame and familiar unto a natural man; or - contrary to nature - can be by a witch made corporal, being by God ordained to a spiritual proportion?

The cause of this gross conceit  is that we hearken more diligently to  old wives, and rather give credit to their fables than to the word of God; imagining by the tales they tell us that the Devil is such a bulbegger as I have before described. For whatsoever is proposed in Scripture to us by parable, or spoken figuratively or signicatively, or framed to our gross capacities &c. is by them so considered and expounded as though the bare letter, or rather their gross imaginations thereupon, were to be preferred before the true sense and meaning of the word.

I deny not therefore that there are spirits and devils of such substance as it hath pleased God to create them. But in what place soever it be found or read in the Scriptures, a spirit or devil is to be understood spiritually, and is neither a corporal nor visible thing.

As touching those that are said in the Gospel to be possessed of spirits, it seemeth in many places it is indifferent or all one to say, he is possessed with a devil or he is lunatic or phrenetic; which disease in these days is said to proceed of melancholy. But if everyone that now is lunatic be possessed with a real devil, then might it be thought that devils are to be thrust out of men by medicines. But who saith in these times with the woman of Canaan, My daughter is vexed with a devil, except it be presupposed that she meant her daughter was troubled with some disease? Indeed we say and say truly to the wicked, the Devil is in him; but we mean not thereby  that a real devil is gotten into his guts. And if it were so, I marvel in what shape this real devil that possesseth them remaineth. Entereth he into the body in one shape, and into the mind in another? if they grant him to be spiritual and invisible, I agree with them.


[Spelling and punctuation modernized]

Reginald Scot (1538-99) was a Kentish gentleman who studied at Oxford University; his only other published work was on the cultivation of hops (the main flavoring ingredient in beer).

to hag = to vex or harass

blear = dim

pottage = meat/vegetables boiled into a thick porridge

Erastus = the latinized name of Thomas Lieber or Liebler (1524-1583), physician to the Elector Palatine and Professor of medicine at Heidelberg University. Erastus is most famous for his arguments against clerical power and in favor of the separation of church and sate. He also wrote Disputatio de Lamiis, seu Strigibus (Disputation about witches or sorceresses, 1572). [In fact, Erastus agreed more with Bodin than he did with Weyer and Scot, pointing out that confessions of witchcraft were also made by the young and by men, and that many witches' confessions were coherent.]

bewray = reveal, expose

bulbegger or bull-beggar = an imaginary creature; an invention or disguise used to frighten people; a bogeyman