Witchcraft in the 17th Century

A note on how witchcraft was condemned by all classes of society in the 17th century:

“But the most remarkable of the superstitions of the seventeenth century was what went by the name of witchcraft. We have, after a careful examination of the whole subject, seen nothing to induce the belief that what went by this name was anything but a compound of wickedness and credulity; wickedness on the part of those who professed to have dealings with the Wicked One, and credulity on the part of those who were duped by designing men and women into the belief that they wielded supernatural power. It must be admitted, however, that the wickedness which manifested itself in connection with the profession of witchcraft was of no ordinary kind. For any one even to seek to have dealings with the Wicked One in such a way as to transfer allegiance from the Most High to him is surely one of the deepest and most daring crimes that can be committed; and that many who suffered for witchcraft in the seventeenth century were guilty of this crime their own confessions amply prove. Indeed, cases are recorded in which the convicted persons were proved to have written with their own blood an agreement by which they resigned themselves into the hands of Satan. And if those who acted in this and similar ways were guilty of fearful sin, they who consulted such persons evidently aided and abetted them in their wickedness. Moreover, as the crime thus committed amounted to idolatry in one of its most horrible forms, we need not wonder that, in an age when it was considered the duty of the civil magistrate to punish idolatry with death, the opinion prevailed that convicted wizards and witches should be capitally punished. We do not, of course, vindicate this opinion, although we believe that the profession of witchcraft is a crime that should be punished in some way or other by the civil magistrate. To take no higher ground, to begin with, the crime in one of its ordinary aspects amounts to fraud, in the form of raising money on false pretences; and it may fairly be questioned whether the laws which treat blasphemy as a crime in the eye of the civil magistrate do not apply to professing witchcraft as well.

It will thus be seen that the men of the seventeenth century who proceeded with such rigor against witchcraft were not without something to say for themselves. They erred, we think, in considering that the witchcraft of their time had anything supernatural in it, and they erred in proceeding to such extremes in the mode of punishment; but these were mistakes which were shared in by men of all ranks and all classes at that time. Kings, Lords, and Commons, statesmen and ecclesiastics, all agreed in thinking that there was something supernatural in the witchcraft that prevailed. King James had written a treatise against the crime, the legislators of the country enacted rigorous laws against it, and ecclesiastics of different schools alike busied themselves in examining offenders; for it cannot be truly said that Episcopalians differed from Presbyterians in their estimate of the crime. The examination and burning of witches went on during the ascendancy of Episcopacy with unabated activity.”

~Cited from: William Ross, Glimpses of Pastoral Work in Covenanting Times, Anthology of Presbyterian & Reformed Literature, volume 4 (Dallas, Texas: Naphtali Press, 1991) Chapter Ten: Work of the Kirk Session, in Cases involving Superstition.

Source: https://puritanboard.com/threads/witch-burning-puritans.17870/, Comment 14


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