For centuries, organized religions and governments have condemned the practice of witchcraft. Accusations of witchcraft and the resulting witchcraft hysteria meant persecution, prosecution and usually, the death of the person accused. To Americans the most famous of these events happened in Salem, Massachusetts, during the seventeenth century, but many other countries have experienced similar phenomena. Popularized by Arthur Miller's play The Crucible(1), which used them as a parable for the anti-Communist crusade of Senator Joe McCarthy and his supporters, "witch hunt" has become a handy phrase for referring to unproven but widespread accusations of evil moral, religious or political practice. Most recently, accusations against gays(2), suspected child abusers(3), the spouses of child abusers(4), Executive Branch nominees(5) and the police officers convicted of beating Rodney King(6) have effected the charge of "witch hunt." Accusations of witchcraft continue to be made today.
Witch Trials in History
Legal issues involved with accusations of witchcraft include immense problems of proof, governmental and religious objections to the practice, and suspicions that the accusers had something to gain by making the accusations. The acccusations which overwhelmed Salem in the late 1600s ended only when those claiming to be bewitched accused the governor's wife. The trials stopped immediately and the surviving defendants were released.
Behringer, Wolfgang, Witchcraft and the law in Bavaria: popular magic, religion, and the state in early modern Germany (NY: Cambridge University Press, 1997)(Past and Present Publications).
Bosken, Clemens-Peter, Hexenprozess: Gerresheim 1737/38 : die letzte Hexenverbrennung im Rheinland (Dusseldorf: Grupello, 1996).
Carnell, Elisabeth, Crimen Excepta: Torture, Jesuits and Witches in Early Seventeenth Century Germany.
Frigon, Sylvie, Femmes, heresies et controle social: des sorcières aux sages-femmes et au-delà, 7 Can. J. Women & L. 133 (Winter/Spring 1994).
Geis, Gilbert, Revisiting Lord Hale, misogyny, witchcraft and rape, 10 Crim. L. J. 319 (October 1986).
Gottschalk, Jack A., Witchcraft and and other supernatural forces in American justice, 24 U. W. L. A. L. Rev. 119 (1993).
Henningsen, Gustav, The witches' advocate: Basque witchcraft and the Spanish Inquisition, 1609-1614 (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1980).
Hexenverfolgung im Rheinland: Ergebnisse neuerer Lokal- und Regionalstudien (Bergisch Gladbach: Thomas-Morus-Akademie Bensberg, 1996)(Bensberger Protokolle; 85).
Hunter, Ian A., The shape of the devil: the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, 27 Law Soc'y Gazette 59 (March 1993).
Hallen, B., Knowledge, Belief and Witchcraft: Analytic Experiments in African Philosophy (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997). Reprint of an article originally published in Ethnographica.
Hiltunen, Risto, "Tell Me, Be You A Witch?": Questions in the Salem Witchcraft Trials of 1692, 9 Int'l J. Semiotics of L. 17 (1996).
Levack, Brian P., Possession, witchcraft, and the law in Jacobean England, 52 Wash. & Lee L. Rev. 1613 (Winter 1996).
Levack, Brian P., The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe (2d ed., London: Longman, 1994).
McLeod, Carol, Travesties of justice: the Salem Witch trials, 16 Can. Law. 11 (December 1991/January 1992).
Santana, Francisco, Bruxas e curandeiros na Lisboa joanina (Lisbon? Academia Portuguesa da Historia, 1997).
Starkey, Marion Lena, The Devil in Massachusetts, a modern inquiry into the Salem witch trials (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1969).
Modern historical reevaluation of the Salem witch hysteria began with the publication of Starkey's book, which has become a classic study of the role of mob psychology in popular movements.
Weisman, Richard, Witchcraft and religion: the politics of popular belief (Amherst, University of Massachusetts Press, 1984).
Young, Martha M., The Salem witch trials 300 years later: how far has the American legal system come? How much further does it need to go? 64 Tulane L. Rev. 235 (November 1989).
Influence of the Trials on Civil Procedure
The recognition that evidentiary standards were biased against the defendants in a witchcraft trial emerged with more tolerance for minority beliefs and an increasing respect for the scientific method.
Geis, Gilbert and Ivan Bunn, Sir Thomas Browne and witchcraft: a cautionary tale for contemporary law and psychiatry, 4 Int'l J. L. & Psych. 1 (Winter/Spring 1981).
Landsman, Stephan, Of witches, madmen, and products liability: an historical survey of the use of expert testimony, 13 Behavioral Sci. & L. 131 (Spring 1995).
McIntyre, Monty A., The wicked witch is dead, isn't she? Only time will tell, 106 L. A. Daily J. 7 (September 2, 1993).
Robinson, Daniel N., Wild beasts and idle humours: legal insanity and the finding of fault, 69 Philosophy 159 (1994)(supp. 37).
Modern Day Accusations of Witchcraft:
Problems of Protection and Proof
Ameyibor, Edward, [Article on Ghanian Women Suspected of Witchcraft], Buffalo News, August 31, 1997, at 1E.
Clark, David S., Witchcraft and legal pluralism: the case of Celimo Miquirucama, 15 Tulsa L.J. 679 (Summer 1980).
Drell, Adrienne, Witchcraft murder defense fails; judge bars expert testimony on defendant's belief in victim's supernatural powers, 79 A.B.A. J. 40 (May 1993).
Kanter, Andrew M., The Yenaldlooshi in court and the killing of a witch: the case for an Indian cultural defense, 4 S. Cal. Interdisciplinary L.J. 411 (Winter 1995).
McGrath, Dan, When the witness is a witch: Sacramento D.A. seeks third trial of defendant anyway, 106 L. A. Daily J. 6 (September 27, 1993).
Nsereko, Daniel D.N., Witchcraft as a criminal defence, from Uganda to Canada and back, 24 Manitoba L.J. 38 (Fall 1996).
Ottley, Bruce L. and Jean G., Zorn, Criminal law in Papua New Guinea: code, custom and the courts in conflict, 31 Am. J. Comp. L. 251 (1983).
Salamone, Frank A., The clash between indigenous, Islamic, colonial and post-colonial law in Nigeria, 1983 J. Legal Pluralism and Unofficial L. 15.
Stern, Pia, Every witch way: what's all the bruja about? 14 Cal. Law. 96 (November 1994).
Van Nieuwaal, E.A.B. van Rouveroy, Sorcellerie et justice coutumiere dans une societe togolaise une quantite negligeable? 1990 J. Legal Pluralism & Unofficial L. 137.
The Legal Status of Witchcraft in the U.S. Today
Alpern, Ingrid, Helms questions tax-exemptions for witchcraft group, 18 Tax Notes 1191 (March 28, 1983).
Chorak, Elizabeth, Legal literacy: dramatization of Salem witch trial, 12 Update on Law-Related Educ. 15 (Winter 1988).
Cohen, Alisa, Don't Call Them Witches: Those Who Practice the Wicca Faith Say It's a Valid Religion--and Forget the Broomstick Riding, Stereotypes, Buffalo News, August 31, 1997, at 1E.
Cooper, Alan, Witchcraft practiced by 'white witches' ruled a religion, 9 Nat'l L.J. 8 (September 22, 1986).
Dresslar, Tom, Student witchcraft issue mulled; religious group challenges activities in grade-school reading series, 105 L. A. Daily J. 3 (March 24, 1992).
Flynn, Maggie, Witchcraft and tax exempt status under Section 501(c)(c) of the Internal Revenue Code, 21 U. S. F. L. Rev. 763 (1987).
Goldberg, Dick, Court refuses to bar teachings on witches, 107 L. A. Daily J. 3
(June 16, 1994).
Good parents, good witches, 100 L. A. Daily J. 4 (August 27, 1987).
Sevareid, Peter, Sex and witchcraft, an interdisciplinary, jointly-taught course in comparative dispute settlement, 1986 Third World Legal Studies 79.
Wilson, Tracy, Haun Talked of Witchcraft, Black Magic, Witness Says; Trial: Co-Worker Admits Under Cross-Examination that Defendant in Slaying of Sherri Dally May Have Been Joking, L.A. Times, August 19, 1997, at B1.
Wise, Stuart, Witching hour in San Jose, 8 Nat'l L.J. 67 (August 18, 1986).
Bibliographies and Research Aids
Britain and Ireland, Bibliography
Cuhulain, Kerr, The law enforcement guide to Wicca (Victoria, BC: Horned Owl Publications, 1997).
Institoris, Heinrich, and Jakob Sprenger, Malleus maleficarum: the classic study of witchcraft (London: Bracken Books, 1996, repr. 1928).
Melton, J. Gordon, Magic, witchcraft, and paganism in America: a bibliography : compiled from the files of the Institute for the Study of American Religion (NY: Garland Press, 1982)(Garland Bibliographies on Sects and Cults; 1)(Garland reference library of social science; 105).
Witchcraft in Popular Culture
Bedknobs and Broomsticks
Bell, Book and Candle
The Blair Witch Project
The Crucible (Les Sorcieres de Salem)(Kingsley International, 1958).
Escape from Witch Mountain
I Married a Witch
Three Sovereigns for Sarah
Witches' Brew (1980)
The Witches of Eastwick (Warner Brothers, 1987).
Sabrina the Teenage Witch
Tucker's Witch (1982).
Hoffman, Alice, Practical Magic
Updike, John, The Witches of Eastwick
Ruddigore. Operetta by Gilbert and Sullivan. Filmed in 1966, 1972 and 1982.
Additional Search Terms
- Trials (Witchcraft) (subdivided by jurisdiction, as Trials (Witchcraft)--Germany)
- Witchcraft (subdivided by jurisdiction, as Witchcraft--Europe)
September 17, 1997
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1. (NY: Viking, 1954).
2. Bill Maxwell, Gay lawyer is target of Florida witch hunt, 106 L. A. Daily J. 6 (August 16, 1993).
3. Richard A. Gardner, Apparatchiks turn 'child abuse' into 'witch hunt', 133 N.J.L.J. 17 (March 3, 1993).
4. Nancy Hollander, Modern witch hunt; mothers aren't to blame for spouses' abuse of children, 106 L. A. Daily J. 6 (July 29, 1993).
5. Bruce Shapiro, The right wing foments a racist witch hunt, 106 L. A. Daily J. 6 (June 2, 1993).
6. Susan Seager, King II: second shot at justice or politically motivated witch hunt?, 106 L. A. Daily J. 1 (February 2, 1993).