Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Witchcraft Definition:

According to law books of the Middle Ages, the act of invoking evil spirits or consulting, covenanting with, entertaining, employing, feeding, or rewarding any evil spirit.

According to statutes issued since the time of Henry VII, the crime of witchcraft included "taking up dead bodies from their graves for the purposes of witchcraft "or killing or otherwise hurting any person by such infernal arts".

The murderous zeal against those who are inclined to practice the occult - especially prevalent in Europe during the 1600s - originated in the Christian Bible, Exodus 22:18:

"Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live".

The biblical research indicates that the witch was female and that her actus reus was to create or invoke spells to harm others. Night-flying and metamorphosis were also suspected activities.

In Crisis of the Seventeenth Century: Religion, the Reformation and Social Change (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2001), author Hugh Trevor-Roper wrote:

"The monks of the late Middle Ages sowed: the lawyers of the sixteenth century reaped; and what a harvest of witches they gathered in!"

It infected America in the late 1600s, Salem, Massachusetts in particular, where the indictment read of a suspected witch, and taken from The Blue Laws of New Haven Colony, 1838:

"... not having the fear of God before thine eyes, thou hast entertained familiarity with Satan, the grand enemy of God and mankind ... and by his help hast acted things beyond and besides the ordinary course of nature ... doing many preternatural arts, by mischeviously hurting bodies and goods of sundry people ... hast practiced witchcraft formerly and continuist to prectice witchcraft, for which according to ye lawes of God..., thou deserveth to die."

By the 1700s, the crime was no longer punished by death.


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