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James and the Witches

This post was written by Anna
on April 24, 2011 | Comments (0)

Readers, please enjoy this guest blog post by Donald Tyson, author of a number of books, including the new Demonology of King James I.

King James the Sixth of Scotland, who later went on to become King James the First of England, was a singularly unlovable man. He could barely walk due to rickets in infancy, had a speech impediment, dribbled wine down his chin when he drank, seldom bathed, and was arrogant about his pretensions of scholarship. He was fanatically religious, superstitious, cowardly, and given to night fears and paranoia.

This was the man who in 1590 became absolutely convinced that the Devil was out to kill him by using his agents, the witches. At this period in history the witch mania underwent a powerful upsurge throughout Europe, and irrational fears about witchcraft spilled across the English Channel. When a hundred or so people were accused of witchcraft in North Berwick, a little hamlet some twenty-five miles east of Edinburgh, King James took a personal role in the trials. He listened to the testimony of the accused, and even presided over some of their tortures.

The involvement of James was not altruistic. He believed that by taking a role in the legal prosecution of witches, he could insulate himself from their malice. This belief was based on the widely held superstition that those who sat in judgement over witches were protected by God. An important part of his personal policy of insulation against the power of witches by persecution was his 1597 book Demonology. In it, James describes in great detail all aspects of the supernatural. He incorporated into the book much of what he had gathered from the testimonies of the accused North Berwick witches. His purpose in having the book published was to intensify the witch hunt in Scotland. The Devil had declared war on him—therefore, he would declare war on the Devil and his servants.

Modern witches and magicians will no doubt find the opinions of King James repugnant, yet his book has value as a compendium of the beliefs concerning witchcraft and other aspects of occultism that were current at the end of the 16th century. James was a careful scholar, and he drew upon a multitude of classical works for his authorities. His book is filled with fascinating magical lore. Modern witches and magicians can learn a great deal by studying it.

To aid in that study, I have modernized the text of the Llewellyn edition (The Demonology of King James I) and added a copious set of notes, as well as an introduction that sets forth the entire background of the personal war King James believed himself to be waging with the witches of Scotland. Included with the Demonology is the modernized text of the 1591 anonymous pamphlet News from Scotland, which gives a detailed account of the North Berwick witch trials. Both modernized texts are accompanied by the original texts for reference and citation. It is my hope that this edition of the Demonology will not only be accessible to the modern reader, but will serve as a valuable source work for scholars and historians.


Our thanks to Donald Tyson for his guest post! For more from Donald, visit his author profile for a full list of his books and articles.

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