This entry covers Anglo-Saxon practices of magic and witchcraft
through the Middle Ages in England. See also separate
entries for Scotland, Wales, and the pre-Saxon inhabitants of
England, the Celts. For the modern period, see separate entries
on magic and witchcraft.
Early Magic and Witchcraft
The Anglo-Saxon system of magic was based on the Teutonic.
Witchcraft practitioners were called wicca (or wicce, feminine),
scin-laeca, galdor-craeftig, wiglaer, and morthwyrtha. A
wiglaer (from wig, idol or temple, and laer, learning) was a wizard,
and a wicca or wicce was a witch. Scin-laeca (a shining dead
body) was a species of phantom or apparition; the term was also
used to identify someone who had the power of producing such
phantoms. Galdor-craeftig implies one skilled in incantations,
and morthwyrtha is, literally, ‘‘a worshiper of the dead.’’ Another
general appellation for such personages was dry (magician).
The laws prohibiting these practices carried severe penalties.
The best account given of them is found in a passage written
during the reign of Edward and Guthrun (tenth century)
‘‘If any wicca, or wiglaer, or false swearer, or morth-wyrtha, or
any foul, contaminated, manifest horcwenan [whore queen or
strumpet], be any where in the land, man shall drive them out.
We teach that every priest shall extinguish all heathendom, and
forbid wilweorthunga [fountain-worship], and licwiglunga [incantations
of the dead], and hwata [omens], and galdra [magic],
and man-worship, and the abominations that men exercise in
various sorts of witchcraft, and in frithspottum, and with elms
and other trees, and with stones, and with many phantoms.’’
From subsequent regulations, it is clear that witchcraft and
magic were used for violence, for penitentiary penalties were
levied against anyone who injured or killed another by wiccecraefte
Witches apparently used philters (love potions), for it was
also a crime to gain another’s love through enchanted food or
drink. Wicca were also forbidden to wiglian (divine) by the
moon. King Canute renewed the prohibitions. He declared it
illegal to worship the sun or the moon, fire or floods, wells or
stones, or any sort of tree; to love wiccecraefte, or to frame
death spells, either by lot or by torch; or to effect anything by
phantoms. The Poenitentiale of Theodore reveals that witches
also claimed the power of letting loose tempests.
Another name for magic among the Anglo-Saxons was unlybban
wyrce (destructive of life). Penitence was prescribed for a
woman who killed a man by unlybban. In one account a woman
who had resolved to kill her stepson, or at least to alienate him
from his father’s affection, sought a witch who knew how to
change minds by arts and enchantments. Offering the witch rewards,
the stepmother inquired how the father’s mind might be
turned from the child and fixed on her. The witch immediately
made a magic medicament and it was mixed with the husband’s
meat and drink. The episode ended with the murder of the
child and the stepmother’s exposure.
The Anglo-Saxons used numerous charms. They trusted in
their incantations to cure disease, for successful planting and
harvest, for the discovery of lost property, and for the prevention
of casualties. Specimens of their charms have been preserved.
The Venerable Bede recorded that ‘‘many, in times of
disease (neglecting the sacraments) went to the erring medicaments
of idolatry, as if to restrain God’s chastisements by incantations,
phylacteries, or any other secret of the demoniacal
Their prognostications—from the sun, from thunder, and
from dreams—were so numerous that they perpetuated superstition.
Every day of every month was cataloged as a propitious
or unpropitious date for certain transactions. There were
Anglo-Saxon treatises that contained rules for discovering the
future and disposition of a child from the day of birth. One day
was useful for all things; another, though good to tame animals,
was poor for sowing seeds. One day was favorable to business,
another to let blood; on others these things were forbidden.
On a particular day it was said that one must buy, on a second
sell, on a third hunt, on a fourth do nothing. If a child was
born on a certain day it would live; if on another, it would be
sickly; if on still another, it would perish early. The future could
be predicted by noticing on what day of the week or month it
first thundered, or when the new moon appeared. Dreams likewise
had regular interpretations and applications, and thus life,
instead of being governed by counsels of wisdom, was directed
by those solemn rules of superstition.
Beginnings of Witchcraft in England
Prior to the Reformation, little official notice was given to
the practice of witchcraft, ‘‘the craft of the wise,’’ but authorities
were always on the lookout for anyone believed to be practicing
sorcery (i.e., malevolent magic). It was regarded as a political
offense to employ sorcery against the ruling powers and it was
punished severely, as is witnessed by the execution of the duchess
of Gloucester in Henry VI’s reign and the duke of Buckingham
in 1521. In Henry VI’s time Lord Hungerford was beheaded
for consulting certain soothsayers concerning the duration
of the king’s life.
Witchcraft was widespread and of early origin in England,
but it seems those practicing it were not systematically punished
until after the sixteenth-century Reformation period.
Prosecution may have taken place against witches in Plantagenet
and early Tudor times, but the popularity of sorcery was
probably so widespread and the protection against it by the
church was supposed to be so powerful that nothing like a crusade
was directed against it.
At very early periods the church had fulminated against
those who practiced witchcraft. In 696 C.E. a canon of council
held at Berkhampstead condemned to corporal punishment
those who made sacrifices to evil spirits.
According to James I. F. A. Inderwick, in Side-Lights on the
Stuarts (1888),
‘‘For centuries in this country strange as it may now appear,
a denial of the existence of such demoniacal agency was
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. ENGLAND
deemed equal to a confession of Atheism and to a disbelief in
the Holy Scriptures themselves. But not only did Lord Chancellors,
Lord Keepers, benches of Bishops and Parliament attest
the truth and the existence of witchcraft, but Addison writing
as late as 1711, in the pages of the Spectator, after describing
himself as hardly pressed by the arguments on both sides of this
question expresses his own belief that there is and has been,
witchcraft in the land.’’
It was in the twelfth century that pagan witchcraft practices
were first associated with the devil. The tale of the old woman
of Berkeley that Southey’s ballad familiarized was earlier related
by William of Malmesbury (ca. 1125) on the authority of a
professed eyewitness. When the devil informed the witch of the
near expiry of her contract, she summoned the neighboring
monks and her children, and, after confessing her criminal
compact, displayed great anxiety lest Satan should take her
body as well as her soul.
She asked that her body be sewn in a stag’s hide and placed
in a stone coffin closed with lead and iron. The coffin was then
to be loaded with heavy stones and the whole fastened down
with three iron chains. In order to baffle the power of the demons,
she further directed that 50 psalms be sung by night, and
50 masses be sung by day, and at the end of three nights, if her
body was still secure it could be buried with safety.
All these precautions, however, proved of no avail. The
monks bravely resisted the efforts of the fiends on the first and
second nights, but on the third night in the middle of a terrific
uproar an immense demon burst into the monastery and in a
voice of thunder commanded the dead witch to rise. She replied
that she was bound with chains, but the demon snapped
them like thread. The coffin lid fell aside, and when the witch
arose the demon bore her off on a huge black horse, galloping
into the darkness while her shrieks resounded through the air.
The first trial for witchcraft in England is believed to have
occurred during the tenth year of the reign of King John
(Robin Hood’s opponent) when, according to the AbbreviatoPlacitorum,
Agnes, the wife of Odo the merchant, accused one
Gideon of the crime. He proved his innocence, however, by the
ordeal of the red-hot iron.
A trial for sorcery was reported with more detail in the year
1324. Certain citizens of Coventry had suffered at the hands of
the prior, whose extortions were approved of and supported by
two of Edward II’s favorites. By way of revenge they plotted the
death of the prior, the favorites, and the king.
To carry out their plot they consulted John of Nottingham,
a famous magician of the time, and his servant Robert Marshall
of Leicester. Marshall, however, betrayed the plot and stated
that he and his master fashioned images of wax to represent the
king, his two favorites, the prior, his caterer and steward, and
one Richard de Lowe—the latter being brought in merely as an
experimental figure to test the effect of the charm.
At an old ruined house near Coventry on the Friday following
Holy Cross Day, John gave Marshall a sharp-pointed leaden
branch and commanded him to plunge it into the forehead
of the figure representing Richard de Lowe. This being done,
John dispatched his servant to Lowe’s house to find out the result
of the experiment. Lowe it seems had lost his senses and
went about screaming ‘‘Harrow!’’ On the Sunday before Ascension,
John withdrew the branch from the image’s forehead and
thrust it into the heart, where it remained until the following
Wednesday, when the unfortunate victim died. Such was Marshall’s
testimony, but the judges gave it little credence, and
after several adjournments the trial was abandoned.
The first enactment against witchcraft in England was by the
Parliament of 1541 and was annulled six years later. In 1551
further enactments were leveled at it, but it was not until 1563
that Parliament defined witchcraft as a capital crime. The regular
persecution of witches followed. Many burnings occurred
during the last years of Elizabeth’s reign.
Early Witchcraft Trials
At the village of Warboys, in Huntingdon county, in 1589
lived two country gentlemen, Robert Throgmorton and Sir
Samuel Cromwell. Throgmorton’s family consisted of his wife
and five daughters, of whom the eldest, Joan, a girl of 15, was
well versed in ghost and witch lore.
On one occasion Joan had to pass the cottage of a laboring
family by the name of Samuel. This family consisted of a man,
his wife, and their grown daughter. Mother Samuel was sitting
at the door, where she was busily engaged in knitting. Joan accused
her of being a witch, ran home, and fell into strange convulsive
fits, swearing that Mother Samuel had bewitched her.
In due course the other Throgmorton daughters were beseiged
by similar fits and placed the blame on Mother Samuel.
The parents began to suspect that their children were really
bewitched and reported the matter to Lady Cromwell, who, as
an intimate friend of the family, took up the matter. She and
Sir Samuel ordered that the alleged witch be put to ordeal.
Meanwhile the children let loose their imaginations and invented
all sorts of weird and grotesque tales about the old
Eventually Throgmorton had the poor old woman dragged
to his grounds, where she was subjected to torture, pins being
thrust into her body to see if blood could be drawn. Lady Cromwell
tore out a handful of the woman’s hair, which she gave to
Mrs. Throgmorton to burn as an antidote to witchcraft. Suffering
under these injuries the old woman invoked a curse against
her torturers that was afterward remembered, although she was
allowed her liberty. She suffered much persecution thereafter
at the hands of the two families; every misfortune occurring
among their cattle and livestock was blamed on her.
Eventually Lady Cromwell was seized with an illness that
caused her death, and Mother Samuel was blamed. Repeated
efforts were made to persuade her to confess and amend what
she had done. At last, tormented beyond endurance, she let
herself be persuaded to pronounce an exorcism against the
spirits and confessed that her husband and daughter were associates
with her and had sold themselves to the devil. On the
strength of this confession the whole family was imprisoned in
the Huntingdon jail.
At the following court session the three Samuels were put on
trial and indicted with various offenses, among them, ‘‘bewitching
unto death’’ the Lady Cromwell. In the agony of torture the
old woman confessed all that was required, but her husband
and daughter strongly asserted their innocence. All were sentenced
to be hanged and burned. The executions were carried
out on April 3, 1593.
With the accession of James I, (the former James IV of Scotland)
the Continental crusade against witchcraft that had
begun in the late fifteenth century came to England. James,
who believed deeply in the negative power of witches, became
greatly concerned about the spread of witchcraft in his land. He
studied the nature of witchcraft and wrote a significant polemic
against the practice. His book Daemonologie (1547) gave great
impetus to the persecution of witches in England. Some 50
witches were executed during his reign. (English Protestants,
who needed the approval of James, a Roman Catholic, to get
their new translation of the Bible published, not only dedicated
it to him but improperly translated the Hebrew word ob as
‘‘witch’’ as an additional means of gaining his support.)
The famous case of the Lancashire witches, notable for its
accounts of witch covens (as opposed to the actions of individual
sorcerers) arose in 1612. Twenty-two years later, when a boy
called Robinson claimed that he had witnessed a witches’ Sabbat
at the Hoare Stones, some 17 women were brought to trial
at Lancaster assizes.
As a result of the severe legislation against witchcraft, there
arose a class of self-appointed witchfinders who used their
ENGLAND Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
power for personal advantage and caused the sacrifice of many
innocent lives.
The most famous of these witchfinders was Matthew Hopkins
of Manningtree, in Essex. He assumed the title ‘‘Witchfinder
General,’’ and, with an assistant and a woman whose
duty it was to examine female suspects for devil’s marks, he
traveled about the counties of Essex, Sussex, Huntingdon, and
Norfolk. In one year, from 1645 to 1646, Hopkins brought
about the death of 60 people.
His general test was that of swimming. The hands and feet
of the accused were tied together crosswise. She was wrapped
in a sheet and thrown into a pond. If she sank—as frequently
happened—she was deemed innocent, but at the cost of her
life; if she floated she was pronounced guilty and immediately
Another test was to repeat the Lord’s Prayer without a single
falter, a thing said to be impossible for a witch. Sometimes the
suspect was weighed against the Bible, obtaining her freedom
if she outweighed it. There is an apocryphal legend that when
Hopkins’s frauds were discovered an angry crowd subjected
him to his own test by swimming. Hopkins retired to his home
in Manningtree, Essex, in 1646, where he died about a year
In his book Witch, Warlock, and Magician (1889), W. H. D.
Adams states
‘‘I think there can be little doubt that many evil-disposed
persons availed themselves of the prevalent belief in witchcraft
as a cover for their depredations on the property of their neighbours,
diverting suspicion from themselves to the poor wretches,
who through accidental circumstances had acquired notoriety
as the devil’s accomplices. It would also seem probable that
not a few of the reputed witches similarly turned to account
their bad reputation.’’
Decline of the Witchcraft Superstition
Toward the close of the seventeenth century, the tide began
to turn and witchcraft convictions began to be discouraged by
the courts. An old superstition dies hard, however, and in the
early part of the eighteenth century, witchcraft was still considered
credible, even among the educated classes of England.
The last execution of witches in England took place at Northampton,
where two were hung in 1705 and five others in 1712.
Francis Hutchison, commenting on this in his Historical
Essay Concerning Witchcraft (1718), states, ‘‘This is the more
shameful as I shall hereafter prove from the literature of that
time, a disbelief in the existence of witches had become almost
universal among educated men, though the old superstition
was still defended in the Judgment Seat, and in the pulpit.’’
According to John Wesley (1703–1791), who had considerable
influence as a bishop,
‘‘It is true likewise that the English in general, and, indeed,
most of the men of learning in Europe, have given up all accounts
of witches and apparitions as mere old wives’ fables. I
am sorry for it. The giving up of witchcraft, is in effect giving
up the Bible. But I cannot give up to all the Deists in Great Britain
the existence of witchcraft, till I give up the credit of all history
sacred and profane.’’
Judge and legal authority Sir William Blackstone
(1723–1780) claimed that ‘‘to deny the possibility, nay, the actual
existence of witchcraft and sorcery is at once flatly to contradict
the revealed Word of God in various passages of the Old
and New Testaments, and the thing itself is a truth to which
every nation in the world hath in its turn borne testimony.’’
With every passing year, however, the old belief diminished,
and in 1736, decades before Wesley stated his foregoing opinion,
the laws against witchcraft were repealed. Yet the superstition
was long-lived. In 1759 Susannah Hannaker of Wengrove
was put to the ordeal of weighing, but she fortunately outweighed
the Bible. Cases of ducking supposed witches occurred
in 1760 at Leicester, in 1785 at Northampton, and in 1829 at
Monmouth, while as late as 1863 a Frenchman died as the result
of an illness caused by his having been ducked as a wizard.
On September 17, 1875, an old woman named Ann Turner, a
reputed witch, was killed at Long Compton in Warwickshire.
Magic in England in early times coexisted with witchcraft;
only Roger Bacon, scientist-philosopher, displayed a separation
between the two. Of course the occult traditions concerning
Bacon are merely legendary, but they help to crystallize the
popular idea of an English magician of medieval times. The
Elizabethan History of Friar Bacon was probably the first to place
these legends on record. It has no factual concern with the
Bacon of science, for the Bacon of superstitious belief is a magician
who cheated the devil, made a brazen head that spoke, and
engaged in all manner of black magic.
In England the popular belief in magic was strengthened by
the extraordinary effects of natural processes then known only
to a small number of individuals who concealed their knowledge
with the most profound secrecy. In England before the
Reformation, the study of magic and alchemy were extremely
common among the Roman clergy.
The rapid rise to power of statesmen like Cardinal Thomas
Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell led people to think that they
had gained their high positions through diabolical assistance.
There were a great number of magicians during the reign of
Henry VIII, as is witnessed by documents in the Public Record
Office in London.
According to Thomas Wright in his Narratives of Sorcery and
Magic (2 vols., 1851), at the height of Wolsey’s career a magician
described as ‘‘one Wood, gent.’’ was dragged before the
privy council, charged with some misdemeanor that was connected
with the intrigues of the day. In a paper addressed to
the lords of the council, Wood stated that William Neville had
sent for him at his house at Oxford, it being the first communication
he had ever had with him. After he had been at Weke
a short time, Neville took him by the arm and led him privately
into the garden. Wood said Neville then asked him to make a
ring that would bring him favor with the king, but he declined
and left.
Neville sent for him again and entered into further communication
with him on the subject, telling him that he had another
conjurer (occult magician) named Wade who could show him
more than Wood could. Among other things, Neville said, the
conjurer had shown him that ‘‘he should be a great lord.’’ This
was an effective attempt to move Wood to jealousy, and Neville
then prevailed upon him to make ‘‘moldes’’ (probably images)
of a woman on whom he seemed to have set his love. Wood
again refused, declaring that, although at the desire of ‘‘some
of his friends,’’ he had ‘‘called to a stone for things stolen,’’ he
had not undertaken to find or make treasures.
The search for treasure, which the conjurer Wood so earnestly
disclaimed, was, however, one of the most usual occupations
of magicians of this period. The frequent discoveries of
Roman, Saxon, or medieval deposits in the course of accidental
digging (then probably more common than today) was enough
to whet the appetites of the needy or the miserly. The belief
that the sepulchral barrow, or the long-deserted ruin, or even
the wild and haunted glen concealed treasures of gold and silver
was carried down in a variety of local legends. Hidden treasures
were said to be under the charge of spirits who obeyed the
magician’s call. These searches were not always successful, as is
evident from the following narrative, abridged from the account
of William Stapleton, the main character in the story.
In the reign of Henry VIII, a priest named William Stapleton
was placed under arrest as a conjurer, having been involved
in some court intrigues. At the request of Cardinal Thomas
Wolsey he wrote an account of his adventures, which is preserved
in the Roll’s House records (it is addressed to Wolsey,
and not, as has been supposed, to Thomas Cromwell). Stapleton
stated that he was a monk of the mitred abbey of St. Benet
in the Holm, in Norfolk, where he lived in the nineteenth year
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. ENGLAND
of Henry VIII’s reign (i.e., in 1527 or 1528), at which time he
borrowed from one Dennys of Hofton a book called Thesaurus
Spirituum, and after that another, called Secreta Secretorum, a little
ring, a plate, a circle, and also a sword for the art of digging,
and spent six months in studying their use.
Stapleton disliked rising early, and after having been frequently
punished for being absent from matins and negligent
of his duty in church he obtained a leave of six months from
the abbot to go into the world and try to raise money to buy a
dispensation from an order that did not suit him.
The first person Stapleton consulted with was his friend Dennys,
who recommended he try his skill in finding treasure. Dennys
introduced Stapleton to two ‘‘knowing men’’ who had
‘‘placards’’ or licenses from the king to search for treasure
troves, which were not infrequently bought from the crown at
this period. These men lent him other books and instruments
related to the ‘‘art of digging,’’ and they went together to a
place named Sidestrand in Norfolk to search and mark out the
ground where they thought treasure should lie. It happened,
however, that the lady Tyrry, to whom the estate belonged,
learned of their trespassing, and after sending for them and
subjecting them to a close examination, ordered them to leave
her grounds.
After several more futile attempts at ‘‘conjuring’’ treasure at
other towns, a disappointed and disgusted Stapleton gave up
the pursuit. Back in Norfolk, however, he soon met with some
of his old treasure-seeking acquaintances, who urged him to go
to work again, which he refused to do unless he had better
books. They told him of a man called Leech who had a book
to which the parson of Lesingham had bound a spirit called
‘‘Andrea Malchus.’’ Stapleton went to see the man.
Leech gave Stapleton all his instruments, and told him that
the parson of Lesingham and Sir John of Leiston (another ecclesiastic)
as well as others, had recently used the book to call
up three spirits Andrea Malchus, ‘‘Oberion,’’ and ‘‘Inchubus.’’
After Stapleton acquired Leech’s instruments he journeyed
to Norwich, where he was soon found by a messenger from
Lord Leonard Marquees, who lived at ‘‘Calkett Hall’’ and wanted
a person expert in the art of digging. Stapleton met him at
Walsingham; the lord promised him that if he would take pains
in exercising the dig he would request a dispensation that
would make Stapleton a secular priest and the lord’s own chaplain.

Leonard proceeded rather shrewdly to test the searcher’s
talents he directed one of his servants to hide a sum of money
in the garden, and Stapleton dug for it, and one Jackson
‘‘scryed’’ (invoked the treasure’s ‘‘spirit’’ through a crystal), but
they were unable to find the money. Undaunted, Stapleton
went directly with two other priests, Sir John Shepe and Sir
Robert Porter, to a place beside Creke Abbey, where treasure
was supposed to be, and ‘‘Sir John Shepe called the spirit of the
treasure, and I shewed to him, but all came to no purpose.’’
Stapleton went to hide his disappointment in London,
where he remained some weeks, until Leonard, who had arranged
the dispensation he promised, sent for him to pass the
winter with him in Leicestershire. Toward spring Stapleton returned
to Norfolk. There he was informed that there was
‘‘much money’’ hidden in the neighborhood of Calkett Hall, especially
in the Bell Hill (probably an ancient grave). After some
delay, he obtained his instruments and went to work with the
parish priest of Gorleston but reported, ‘‘of truth we could
bring nothing to effect.’’ After this Stapleton returned to London,
carrying his instruments with him; on his arrival he was
thrown into prison at the suit of Leonard, who accused him of
leaving his service without permission, and all his instruments
were seized. He never recovered them, but he was soon released
from prison and obtained temporary employment in the
church. The number of such treasure hunters appears to have
been far greater among Stapleton’s contemporaries in almost
all classes of society than one might believe.
A few years before these events, in the twelfth year of Henry
VIII’s reign (1521) the king granted to Robert, Lord Curzon,
the monopoly of treasure seeking in the counties of Norfolk
and Suffolk. Curzon immediately delegated to a man named
William Smith of Clopton, and to a servant or retainer of his
own named Amylyon, not only the right of search given to him
but also the power to arrest and press charges against any other
person they found seeking treasure within the two counties.
Smith and Amylyon apparently used this delegated authority
for purposes of extortion, and in the summer of 1521 Smith
was brought before the court of the city of Norwich, at the suit
of William Goodred of Great Melton.
It appears that the treasure diggers, who had received their
‘‘placard’’ (license) from Curzon in March, went to Norwich
about Easter and paid a visit to the schoolmaster George Dowsing,
who, they had heard, was skilled in magical arts. They
showed him their license for treasure seeking, which authorized
them to press into their service any persons they might
find who had skill in the science; so it appears that they were
not capable of raising spirits themselves without the assistance
of ‘‘scholars.’’
The schoolmaster entered willingly into their project, and
they went, about two or three o’clock in the morning, with one
or two other persons who were admitted into their confidence,
and dug in the ground beside ‘‘Butter Hilles,’’ within the walls
of the city, but found nothing there. (These ‘‘hilles’’ were probably
ancient games.) They next proceeded to a place called
‘‘Seynt William in the Wood by Norwich,’’ where they excavated
two nights but with no better success.
They then held a meeting at the house of one Saunders in
the market of Norwich and called to their assistance two ecclesiastics,
one named Sir William, the other Sir Robert Cromer, the
former being a parish priest. At this meeting, Dowsing allegedly
raised ‘‘a spirit or two’’ in a scrying glass, but Cromer ‘‘began
and raised a spirit first.’’ Spirit or no spirit, however, they seem
to have had as little success as ever in discovering the treasure.
Unable after so many attempts to find the treasure themselves,
they resolved to extort a general contribution from everybody
who followed the same calling. They accused a person
of the name of Wikman of ‘‘digging of hilles’’ and by threatening
to take him before Curzon they obtained ten shillings from
With the era of John Dee and Edward Kelley (middle to late
sixteenth century), a much more definite system of magicoastrology
evolved on English soil. Although Kelley was a rogue,
there is little doubt that Dee possessed psychic gifts of no mean
character. His most celebrated followers were William Lilly
and Elias Ashmole. Lilly gathered about him quite a band of
magicians—Ramsey, Scott, Hodges, and others, as well as his
‘‘skryers’’ (crystal gazers) Sarah Skelhorm and Ellen Evans.
These may be said to be the last of the practical magicians of
England. Their methods were those of divination by crystal
gazing and evocation of spirits, combined with practical astrology.
The mid-seventeenth century also produced such individuals
as Robert Fludd, who wrote concerning the secrets of mysticism
and magnetism. Fludd was a Paracelsian (after sixteenthcentury
Swiss alchemist Paracelsus) and regarded man as a microcosm
of the universe. He was an ardent defender of the
Rosicrucians and wrote two spirited works about them, as well
as his great Tractatus Apologeticus and many other alchemical
and philosophical treatises. The part of the Tractatus that deals
with natural magic is one of the most definitive ever written on
the subject.
Thomas Vaughan is likewise a figure of intense interest
from this period. He was a supreme expert of spiritual alchemy,
and his works written under the pseudonym ‘‘Eugenius
Philalethes’’ show he possessed an exalted mind. It is through
men of this type that a mystical or spiritual dimension was
added to the earlier uncritical and superstitious belief in magic.
ENGLAND Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
(For the development of Spiritualism, psychical research,
and parapsychology in Britain, see entries under those headings.)
Modern-day England
The British occult witnessed a revival in the late nineteenth
and twentieth centuries, resulting in keen interest in spiritualism,
psychic readings, and the development of magical orders,
including Wicca. The word Wicca refers to British Traditional
Witchcraft, also called English Traditional Witchcraft, a specific
magical Mystery tradition that evolved over centuries. The use
of the Old English word Wicca distinguishes British Traditional
Witchcraft from the many other forms of religious witchcraft
that exist. While the Old English form was ‘‘wiccecraeft,’’ the
modern usage has become ‘‘Wicca Craft’’ or the Craft of the
Wicca. The concepts of Wicca known today derive from ceremonial
magic and Freemasonry. Wiccans are a proper subset
of religious practitioner Witches and are very active today.
Claims of the paranormal remain popular in the British
Isles, with many of the twentieth centuries’ most world-renown
and controversial cases emerging from England. In 1998 The
Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of Paranormal
compiled what they believe to be the top 10 enduring
paranormal ‘‘hoaxes,’’ three of which are based in England.
Number five on the list is the Cottingley Fairies, where in 1917
two English schoolgirls took photographs of winged fairies
dancing in Cottingley Glen. Although photography experts attested
the images were not double exposures nor had the negatives
been altered, the scene itself was eventually determined to
be faked, as the girls had merely posed with paper fairy cutouts.
The photos deceived many for several years, however, including
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes.
Crop circles were number six on the skeptic’s list. Elaborate
patterns have been mysteriously appearing in southern English
wheat fields since the late 1970s. Many offered mystical or extraterrestrial
explanations for the bent stalks. In 1991, however,
two men demonstrated how they had created the first crop
circles, which others have repeatedly copied.
Number eight on the list was the Piltdown ‘‘Missing Link’’
case. The ‘‘missing link’’ between mankind and our prehistoric
ancestors was reportedly uncovered near Piltdown Common in
England by an amateur fossil collector in December 1912. The
story was recognized across the world and the bones were exhibited
in the British Museum. In 1953, however, the find was
revealed to be a combination of ordinary human cranial pieces
and the jawbone of an orangutan.
With the exception of the Piltdown Missing Link case, people
worldwide continue to believe in claims of paranormal activity.
Despite skeptical rebuff to many paranormal and supernatural
claims, psychical research is currently undergoing a boom
in the United Kingdom, especially in the form of universitybased
research; in England alone this includes research projects
at the University of Hertfordshire, the University of the
West of England, University College Northampton, and Coventry
University. Organizations dedicated to the subject include
the Society for Psychical Research, based in London,
and the Student Parapsychology Society, based in Cheltenham,
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