Witchcraft and the Law:

A Selected Bibliography of Recent Publications

Last Updated 08/31/04

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.

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.

Modern Day Accusations of Witchcraft:
Problems of Protection and Proof

The Legal Status of Witchcraft in the U.S. Today

Bibliographies and Research Aids

          Britain and Ireland, Bibliography

          Scotland, Bibliography

Additional Search Terms

C. Corcos
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).

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