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The Witchcraft act
Persecution and 'Witchcraft'
(Laws relating to Witchcraft in the UK legal system)
Some authors have tried to suggest that the professions of both chiromancy and astrology were particularly maligned by the State and the Church during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. However, there are any number of Kings, Queens, clergymen and Bishops of Europe who were sympathetic to both studies, not to mention those learned religious men who had actually written treatises on the subject! The assertion appears to have little basis for it and seems to serve more as a means of romanticising handreadings past, as if to augment its status by aligning it with something somehow dangerous, magical or subversive.
However, amongst the English nobility and aristocracy, interest in subjects like astrology and chiromancy was widespread. In Elizabethan times, it was customary for the families within the upper classes to have the nativities of their children cast. Henry VIII is known to have consulted astrologers (at least!) about the sex of his forthcoming children, and Cardinal Wolsey was, by all accounts was an avid devotee of the study of astrology. Queen Elizabeth I is known to have made considerable use of the prognostic skills of the astrologer and magician Dr John Dee (1527-160) and both Sir Walter Raleigh and William Harvey (who discovered the circulation of blood) were known to be sympathetic to the study of astrology. As was even Sir Isaac Newton.
After the Restoration of the Monarchy towards the end of the seventeenth century, Charles II is also known to have taken regular astrological advice. Indeed, during the English Civil War and the Interregnum, the services of astrologers and chiromancers such as William Lilly and George Wharton were in enormous demand by the politicians and generals of both sides. It is not going too far to suggest that their pronouncements had some considerable impact upon the course of the war itself, for at least one battle is known to have been delayed on the advice of Lilly until a more favourable moment. Such was Lilly's influence in seventeenth century society that by 1650, Lilly's almanac was selling at the rate of some 30,000 copies a year, vastly outselling even the Bible! In such a climate as this, it is hard to see that there could possibly be any truth to the assertion that astrologers and handreaders were vilified and persecuted in the maner various authors so vividly depict.
It has also been suggested that handreaders and astrologers were as much persecuted as were those that were prosecuted for witchcraft. Witchcraft persecution in Europe grew out of the Catholic Inquisition, which was originally designed to exterminate so-called heretical versions of Christianity such as practised by the Cathars and the Albigensians in areas of Europe where the Catholic power base had become undermined. The power of Inquisition was later extended to include the trial of any persons found guilty of magic or witchcraft, which was considered the ultimate heresy since by their own definition, this was deemed to be a practice which involved a 'pact' with the devil himself.
The persecution of so-called witches began in the late fourteenth century and became especially pronounced after the Papal Bull of Pope Innocent VIII of 1484 and the publication of 'Malleus Maleficarum' ('the hammer of evil') in 1486. However, in England the first Witchcraft Act was not passed until 1542 and it was then repealed only some five years later under Edward VI!
It was not until the reign of Elizabeth I and the Witchcraft Act of 1563 that the mania for witch-hunting really began in this country. However, the persecution of witches in England was never on the scale of that which took place on the continent under the Inquisition. This is possibly due to several factors, not least the secession of the Church of England from the Church of Rome and the fact that the use of torture to induce confessions was illegal in England. But it was perhaps also due to the desire for peace in the land and the desire for religious freedom and tolerance propagated by Elizabeth I in the wake of the hostilities between Protestants and Catholics in the years following the establishment of the Church of England.
In any case, despite the rantings of some religious zealots such as the Puritans and the Presbyterians in the post-Reformation period, for the most part witchcraft was considered an entirely different matter from either astrology or chiromancy. If a number of witches prosecuted happened also to be astrologers and chiromancers, then this was merely incidental, for the Witchcraft Act of 1563 did not cite anything specifically against either astrology or chiromancy.
Given the relative sympathy towards both subjects by those that decreed the laws of the land, it would have been surprising if it had done. Astrology was not witchcraft, for witchcraft meant maleficium, the doing of physical harm to others or their property through the laying on curses or through bringing about their death. The recorded history of the witchcraft trials show that this is both what witches were accused of and indeed what witches were tried for, whilst astrologers and chiromancers were never accused of being guilty of such crimes.
One famous example is sufficient to illustrate that the two subjects were not considered to be linked with either witchcraft or magic: in the late seventeenth century, the renowned astrologer William Lilly was indicted under the Witchcraft Act, but only on a charge of deceitfully taking money for locating stolen goods, which he had achieved through the use of divinatory astrology. He was defended by the Court Recorder who declared that astrology was in fact a lawful art, and the case was duly dismissed.
Despite the 'official' stance of the Roman Catholic Church and some overzealous Christian minority sects, the frenzied mania of psychopathic witch-finder generals and the phantasms of an ignorant and uneducated population, it is clear that there was not really any wholesale persecution of either handreaders or astrologers at all. This frequently perpetuated story turns out to be mythology.
Nevertheless, in these times of uncertainty it was fairly common for chiromantical treatises of this period to quote scripture, particularly Job 37:7, to demonstrate that the Bible does indeed pronounce favourably on the practise of chiromancy. Despite the fact that chiromancy was not legally deemed to be witchcraft or born of a pact with the devil, the association was preserved in the popular mind. The appeal to scripture was to give reassurance that the art was pleasing to God and indeed sanctioned by him.
In a similar vein, the gipsy fortune teller would reassure her clients with the words 'Cross my palm with silver'. The use of silver and the making of the sign of the cross were two known ways of warding off the devil; to perform this ritual before having one's fortune told was a certain way of ensuring that there was no witchcraft or devilry taking place in having one's hands read.
The Witchcraft Act of 1563 was amended under James I in 1604 and remained in force until 1735. The bulk of witchcraft prosecutions took place up until the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660 and after that those accused were more likely to be acquitted than sentenced. The decline in prosecutions came with the decline in the belief of magical powers in general and witchcraft in particular, and this change in world view was also to affect the fate of both chiromancy and astrology as we shall see later.
In 1735, the Witchcraft Act was amended again, this time to include provision only for those who pretended to practise witchcraft or use magical powers - rather than for the actual crime of witchcraft itself which was no longer officially recognised as being possible. However, the last prosecution under the Witchcraft Act for such fraudulent deception was against the materialisation medium Helen Duncan as late as 1946! The Act itself was only eventually fully repealed in 1951, whence it became the Fraudulent Mediums Act. Under this act, it is still illegal to purport to use clairvoyant or telepathic powers or to purport to act as a spiritualistic medium, especially if money is taken as a reward or payment.
The emphasis again reveals a fundamental disbelief in such abilities and the implication is that anyone who takes payment for such activities is both a deceiver and a fraud. Whilst this in no way affects the modern practice of analytical chirology, it does nonetheless affect those who claim to be 'clairvoyant' or 'psychic' palmists. Since such abilities are not recognised as being possible in law, anyone claiming to read hands by psychic or clairvoyant means must ipso facto be fraudulent. And if they receive any money for this, even if it is done in the manner of an entertainment, then they are clearly breaking the law. The simple fact is that to profess to have psychic abilities and to offer these as a service where there is payment of a fee, is still against the law.
Here there is an echo of the distinction that was made in the sixteenth century when the laws against witchcraft were first formulated, a distinction between the serious study of astrology and chiromancy pursued by the Renaissance intellectuals and the more spurious practices of the uneducated 'witches' and 'gipsies'. Richard Saunders was but one English chiromancer who bemoaned the existence of '..those sycophants and Delusive Ignorants through whose sides this pretious science is daily wounded..' ...as much as modern cheirologists or professional astrologers might bemoan the existence of fortune-telling palmistry and newspaper sunsign astrology today.
Witchcraft Act 1563
An Act agaynst Conjuracons Inchantments and Witchecraftes.
"Where at this present, there ys no ordinarye ne condigne Punishement provided agaynst the Practisers of the wicked Offences of Conjuracons and Invocacons of evill Spirites, and of Sorceries Enchauntmentes Charmes and Witchecraftes, the wch Offences by force of a Statute made in the xxxiij yere of the Reigne of the late King Henry the Eyghthe were made to bee Felonye, and so continued untill the sayd Statute was repealed by Thacte and Statute of Repeale made in the first yere of the Reigne of the late King Edwarde the vjth; sythens the Repeale wherof many fantasticall and devilishe psons have devised and practised Invocacons and Conjuracons of evill and wicked Spirites, and ahve used and practised Wytchecraftes Enchantementes Charms and Sorceries, to the Destruccoon of the Psons and Goodes of their Neighebours and other Subjectes of this Realme, and for other lewde Intentes and Purposes contrarye to the Lawes of Almighty God, to the Perill of theyr owne Soules, and to the great Infamye and Disquietnes of this Realme: For REFORMACON wherof bee it enacted by the Quenes Matie with thassent of the Lordes Spuall and Temporall and the Comons in this pnte Pliament assembled, and by thaaucthoritee of the same, That yf any pson or psons after the first daye of June nexte coming, use practise or exercise any Invocacons or Conjuracons of evill and wicked Spirites, to or for any Intent or Purpose; or els if any pson or psons after the said first daye of June shall use practise or exercise any Witchecrafte Enchantment Charme or Sorcerie, wherby any pson shall happen to bee killed or destroyed, that then aswell every suche offendor or offendors in Invocacons and Conjuracons as ys aforesayd, their Concellors & Aidours, as also every suche offendor or offendors in Witchecrafte Enchantement Charme or Sorcerie whereby the Deathe of anny pson dothe ensue, their Aidours and Concellors, being of either of the said Offences laufully convicted and attainted, shall suffer paynes of Deathe as a Felon or Felons, and shall lose the Priviledg and Benefite of Sanctuarie & Clergie: Saving to the Wief of such persone her Title of Dower, and also to the Heyre and Successour of suche pson his or theyr Tytles of Inheritaunce Succession and other Rightes, as thoughe nu suche Attayndour of the Auncestour or Predecessour had been hadd or made.
And further bee yt enacted by thaucthoritee aforesayd, That if any pson or psons, after the saide forst daye of June nexte comyng, shall use practise or exercyse any Wytchecrafte Enchauntement Charme or Sorcerie, wherby any pon shall happen to bee wasted consumed or lamed in his or her Bodye or Member, or wherby any Goodes or Cattles of any pson shalbee destroyed wasted or impayred, then every suche offendour or Offendours their Councelloures and Aydoures, being therof laufully caonvicted, shall for his or their first Offence or Offences, suffer Imprisonment by the Space of one whole Yere, without Bayle or Mayneprise, and once in every Quarter of the said Yere, shall in some Market towne, upon the Market Daye or at such tyme as any Fayer shalbee kepte there, stande openly upon the Pillorie by the Space of Syxe Houres, and there shall openly confesse his or her Erroure and Offence; and for the Seconde offence, being as ys aforesayd laufully convicted or attaynted shall suffer deathe as a Felon, and shall lose the Privilege of Clergie and Sanctuarye: Saving to the Wief [as above].
Provided alwaies, That yf the Offendour, in any of the Cases aforesayd for whiche the paynes of Deathe shall ensue, shall happen to bee a Peere of this Realme, then his Triall thereyn to be hadd by hys Peeres, as yt ys used in cases of Felonye or Treason and not otherwyse.
And further to thintent that all maner of practise use or exercise of Witchecrafte Enchantement Charme or Sorcerye shoulde bee from hensforthe utterly avoyded abolished and taken away; Bee it enacted by thaucthoritee of this pnte Pliament. That yf any pson or psons shall from and after the sayd first daye of June nexte coming, take upon him or them, by Witchecrafte Enchantement Charme or Sorcerie, to tell or declare in what Place any Treasure of Golde or Sylver shoulde or might bee founde or had in the Earthe or other secret Places, or where Goodes or Thinges lost or stollen should bee founde or becume, or shall use or practise anye Sorcerye Enchantement Charme or Witchcrafte, to thintent to provoke any pson to unlaufull love, or to hurte or destroye any pson in his or her Body, Member or Goodes; that then every suche pson or psons so offending, and being therof laufully convicted, shall for the said offence suffer Imprysonement by the space of One whole yere without Bayle or Mayneprise, and once in every Quarter of the said Yere, shall in some Market towne, upon the Marcket Daye or at such tyme as any Fayer shalbee kepte there, stande openly upon the Pillorie by the Space of Syxe Houres, and there shall openly confesse his or her Erroure and Offence; And yf anye pson or psons, beyng once convicted of the same Offences as ys aforesayd, doo eftesones ppetrate and comitt the lyke Offence, that then every suche Offendour beyng thereof the seconde tyme convicted as ys aforesaid, shall forfaitee unto the Quenes Majestie her heires and successoures, all his Goodes and Cattelles and suffer Imprysonement during Lyef."
Transcript of Witchcraft Act of 1736
"An Act to repeal the Statute made in the First Year of the Reign of King James the First, intituled, An Act against Conjuration, Witchcraft, and dealing with evil and wicked Spirits, except so much thereof as repeals an Act of the Fifth Year of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth, Against Conjurations, Inchantments, and Witchcrafts, and to repeal an Act passed in the Parliament of Scotland in the Ninth Parliament of Queen Mary, intituled, Anentis Witchcrafts, and for punishing such Persons as pretend to exercise or use any kind of Witchcraft, Sorcery, Inchantment, or Conjuration.
Be it enacted by the King's most Excellent Majesty, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the Authority of the same, That the Statute made in the First Year of the Reign of King James the First, intituled, An Act against Conjuration, Witchcaft, and dealing with evil and wicked Spirits, shall, from the Twenty-fourth Day of June next, be repealed and utterly void, and of none effect (except so much thereof as repeals the Statute made in the Fifth Year of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth) intituled, An Act against Conjurations, Inchantments, and Witchcrafts.
And be it further enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That from and after the said Twenty-fourth Day of June, the Act passed in the Parliament of Scotland, in the Ninth Parliament of Queen Mary, intituled, Anentis Witchcrafts, shall be, and is hereby repealed. And be it further enacted, That from and after the said Twenty-fourth Day of June, no Prosecution, Suit, or Proceeding, shall be commenced or carried on against any Person or Persons for Witchcraft, Sorcery, Inchantment, or Conjuration, or for charging another with any such Offence, in any Court whatsoever in Great Britain.
And for the more effectual preventing and punishing of any Pretences to such Arts or Powers as are before mentioned, whereby ignorant Persons are frequently deluded and defrauded; be it further enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That if any Person shall, from and after the said Twenty-fourth Day of June, pretend to exercise or use any kind of Witchcraft, Sorcery, Inchantment, or Conjuration, or undertake to tell Fortunes, or pretend, from his or her Skill or Knowledge in any occult or crafty Science, to discover where or in what manner any Goods or Chattels, supposed to have been stolen or lost, may be found, every Person, so offending, being thereof lawfully convicted on Indictment or Information in that part of Great Britain called England, or on Indictment or Libel in that part of Great Britain called Scotland, shall, for every such Offence, suffer Imprisonment by the Space of one whole Year without Bail or Mainprize, and once in every Quarter of the said Year, in some Market Town of the proper County, upon the Market Day, there stand openly on the Pillory by the Space of One Hour, and also shall (if the Court by which such Judgement shall be given shall think fit) be obliged to give Sureties for his or her good Behaviour, in such Sum, and for such Time, as the said Court shall judge proper according to the Circumstances of the Offence, and in such case shall be further imprisoned until such Sureties be given."
Fraudulent Mediums Act 1951http://www.corvardus...a/witch1951.htm
An Act to repeal the Witchcraft Act 1735, and to make, in substitution for certain provisions of section four of the Vagrancy Act 1824, express provision for the punishment of persons who fraudulently purport to act as spiritualistic mediums or to exercise powers of telepathy, clairvoyance or other similar powers.
Be it enacted by the King's most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same as follows:
(a) with intent to deceive purports to act as spiritualistic medium or to exercise any powers of telepathy, clairvoyance or other similar powers, or
( in purporting to act as a spiritualistic medium or to exercise such powers as aforesaid, uses any fraudulent device, shall be guilty of an offence.
(2) A person shall not be convicted of an offence under the foregoing subsection unless it is provided that he acted for reward; and for the purposes of this section a person shall be deemed to act for reward if any money is paid, or other valuable thing given in respect of what he does, whether to him or any other person.
(3) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding fifty pounds or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding four months or to both such fine and such imprisonment, or on conviction on indictment for a term not exceeding five hundred pounds or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or to both such fine and such imprisonment.
(4) No proceedings for an offence under this section shall be brought in England and Wales except by or with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
(5) Nothing in subsection (1) of this section shall apply to anything done solely for the purpose of entertainment.
2. The following enactments are hereby repealed, that is to say
(a) the Witchcraft Act 1735, so far as still in force and
( section four of the Vagrancy Act 1824, so far as it extends to persons purporting to act as spiritualistic mediums or to exercise any powers of telepathy, clairvoyance or other similar powers, or to persons who in purporting so to act or to exercise such powers, use fraudulent devices.
3. (1) This Act may be cited as the Fraudulent Mediums Act 1951
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