Medicine and magic during the english witch-trials: Negotiating legality between religion and practice

Pp. 77-89

  • Annabel Macpherson
Keywords: England, Medicine, Magic, Witch, Cunning Folk, Demonology, Statutory Law


The years of the English witch-hunts (1542 to 1736) present a negotiation between state and citizenry. In discussing the relationship between magic and medicine we can see the negotiation between religious orthodoxy and practicality. Demonologists’ called for widespread prosecution of charming acts as a means of eliminating sin - desires put into law, but never truly implemented because of the reality of Early Modern English Life. The widespread availability of Cunning Folk, traditional charmers, represented the practicality of magic. In between the two poles Hermetic-Cabalists used charming but retained the language of piety.
The English witch-trials demonstrate the fraught process of defining what ‘magic’ is and is not permissible when faced with the reality of Early Modern Life.