significant problem, and witch-hunts were extremely rare, throughout almost all of the European colonies in the New World. The major exception occurred in the British colonies in New England, where significant witch-hunting did occur in the 17th century. In all, more than 200 people were put on trial for witchcraft in New England, over half in the single famous outbreak at Salem, Massachusetts, and 36 were executed, with 20 of these occurring at Salem alone. This number is significant given that the population of the New England colonies at this time was only around 100,000 people. Thus courts in New England executed something like 50 percent more witches per capita than were sentenced to death in the British Isles, even if statistics from Scotland, where witch-hunting was more severe, are included along with figures from England itself.
In many ways, in fact, witchcraft in New England followed more of a continental pattern than the pattern most common in the British Isles. In particular, aspects of diabolism—consorting with demons or the devil, entering into demonic pacts, attending sabbaths, and cases of possession—all figured significantly in cases of witchcraft in New England. In contrast, in England itself, the diabolic aspects of witchcraft were never fully accepted, even by authorities, and most accusations and trials focused instead simply on maleficium, the practice of harmful sorcery. As a crime, such sorcery was typically regarded as far less serious and threatening to the community as a whole than the demonically inspired conspiracy that underlay the notions of diabolism in witchcraft.
The greater emphasis on diabolism in New England, and the greater concern exhibited by the population as a whole in regard to witchcraft, may be easily explained in terms of religion. Founded as religious havens, these colonial communities were essentially theo-
cratic in nature. Both individually and collectively, the colonists of New England were deeply concerned with matters of moral and spiritual purity, and were wary of any potential signs of demonic assault on their communities. Although witchcraft was regarded as a secular offense and was tried in civil court, members of the clergy played a major role in directing the trials and larger hunts. These men were often readily inclined to view any evidence of sorcery or possession as a sign of a larger satanic conspiracy that needed to be rooted out for the good of the community.
COMO, BERNARD DE (?-1510). A Dominican friar and inquisitor who conducted a number of witch trials at Como in northern Italy, Bernard wrote a brief Tractatus de strigiis (Treatise on Witches). The treatise has most often been dated to the early 16th century, but may have been written as early as the mid-1480s. It was later printed in several editions, often with the famous Malleus maleficarum.
COVEN. In modern witchcraft, or Wicca, a coven refers to an organized and set group of witches who practice together. The traditional number of people in a coven is 13, consisting of a leader and 12 members; however, in practice, the number varies widely. As modern witchcraft is a very unstructured religion, covens are self-regulating and determine what rites and ceremonies they will follow. Historically, the term can be traced at least to trials in the mid-17th century in Scotland, and of course the idea that witches met in groups to worship the devil and perform harmful sorcery was always a basic element of the idea of witchcraft. However, despite the claims of some modern witches to be members of extremely old covens, some up to 800 years, there is no historical connection between the modern ritual coven and the sorts of gatherings and witches' sabbaths that were thought to take place in the period of the witch-hunts.
CRAFT, THE. An alternate term for the rites and beliefs of modern witchcraft, or Wicca.
CROWLEY, ALEISTER (1875-1947). One of the most famous occultists and practitioners of ritual magic in modern times, Crowley is idolized by some and vilified by many others. He himself carefully
cultivated a dark reputation and seemed to enjoy the approbation of others. His connections to witchcraft are tangential at best, but still important.
Born in Warwickshire, England, into an intensely religious family, Crowley came to reject Christianity entirely. He became interested, instead, in many varieties of occultism prevalent in England in the late 19th century. In 1898, he joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, one of the most important occultist organizations in England, and rose quickly through its ranks. He also came into conflict with the hierarchy of the order, however, and studied many other forms of occultism, esoteric Eastern religions, and so forth. He claimed to have experienced many special revelations and to be the incarnation of several historical occult figures, including an ancient Egyptian priest of the 26th pharaonic dynasty. His Book of the Law, written in 1904, claimed that the Christian era was past and espoused a new religion based on esoteric and magical knowledge. His most famous work, Magick in Theory and Practice (1929), viewed ritual magic as a means toward union with God (Crowley used the spelling "magick" to distinguish real, mystical magic from illusion or trickery).
Although by no means himself a witch or neo-pagan, Crowley did exert some influence over modern witchcraft, or Wicca, and other forms of neo-paganism. At the very end of his life, Crowley briefly met Gerald Gardner, the founder of modern witchcraft, and many elements of Crowley's magical philosophies and rituals found their way into some of Gardner's early writings on witchcraft. Many of the more explicit elements, however, were later removed by Gardner and especially by his chief disciple Doreen Valiente. Nevertheless, Crowley's most basic philosophical principle has proven very influential on modern witchcraft and other varieties of neo-paganism. This principle is known as the "Law of Thelema," and is expressed in The Book of the Law: "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law." This is not meant to express complete immorality, but rather profound individuality and respect for human free will. It is echoed in the basic creed common to modern Wicca and most neo-pagan groups: if it harm none, do what you will. The basic "Wiccan Rede" developed by Gerald Gardner ("an' it harm none, do what ye will"), is probably a direct borrowing of Crowley's statement.
CUNNING MEN AND WOMEN. Also called wise men or wise women, witch doctors, or sometimes white witches or wizards, cunning men and women were people who engaged in a variety of activities, such as magical healing, fortune telling, and divination. Their activities were generally regarded as good or helpful, as opposed to the harmful sorcery, or maleficium, performed by witches. Cunning men and women were often consulted in cases of perceived bewitchment, either to undo the bewitchment or to identify the witch who had supposedly cast the spell. Cunning men and women claimed to derive their power in various ways. Many maintained that they possessed a hereditary form of power passed down through their family. Others might claim power due to some special occurrence at birth or later in life. Being the seventh son of a seventh son, for example, or being born with the caul were considered signs of supernatural power. Some cunning folk might dabble in more clearly learned forms of magic or divination, such as astrology.
Typically activities of cunning men and women included performing magical healing, fertility rituals, or love magic. They also acted as fortune-tellers, and performed other forms of divination, such as identifying thieves, locating lost or stolen items, or reporting on the condition of loved ones far away. In short, they performed all the magical services common in pre-modern European society. Although cunning folk were typically not identified as witches by most people, since their magic was beneficial rather than harmful, they could nevertheless fall under suspicion on occasion. Also, during the late-medieval and early-modern periods, when authorities were more concerned with the supposedly demonic nature of almost all magic rather than the particular ends to which magic might be employed, cunning men and women could easily be charged with witchcraft.
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