Wednesday, 31 October 2012

A full and plain evidence concerning witches


As it's Hallowe'en it's time for something a bit witchy and where better to start than the 'evidence' presented by Joseph Glanvill in his popular work of 1681 Sadducismus Triumphatus: or A full and plain Evidence concerning Witches and Apparitions. The six images shown here were engraved for the frontispiece by William Faithorne and represent well-known cases of witchcraft assembled by Glanvill to support his view that witches were aligned with supernatural powers of magic.

Keen readers will recall the drumming rooftop devil - better known as the Drummer of Tedworth:


The Somersetshire witch Julian Cox: 


 The levitation of Richard Jones, of Shepton Mallet:


Margaret Jackson, the Scottish witch devoting herself to the demon:


 The celestial apparition at Amsterdam:


...and at the head of the post, the rendezvous of witches near Trister Gate, Wincanton.

Glanvill attacked those who were sceptical about witches and likened them to the Sadducees, members of a Jewish sect from around the time of Jesus who were said to have denied the immortality of the soul. His book was said to have influenced Cotton Mather and the subsequent witch trials held 1692-3 in Salem, Massachusetts. But other writers, such as John Webster of Clitheroe, were more sceptical, claiming that Glanvill's literal account of the existence of witches could not be supported either from the Bible or from reason.

Whilst the Tedworth drummer is perhaps the most interesting case, being a celebrated early account of a poltergeist, some of the others are also notable - not least the levitation of Richard Jones, a twelve-year-old boy who was allegedly bewitched by an old woman named Jane Brooks and was seen to rise above the ground and pass over the garden wall for thirty yards before falling down at a house apparently dead. Sadly, this was witnessed by only one woman but later nine people claimed to have seen Jones hanging by a beam by the flat of his hands. Some three centuries after Jones, a certain superhero by the name of Spiderman regularly performed the same feat.

Chetham's copy of Glanvill's Sadducismus is the fourth edition, printed in London in 1726.