Tag Archives: JoanWallis

A confirmation and discovery of witchcraft

Brief summary:
Mostly a theoretical discussion asserting the existence of witchcraft, uses specific cases for the argument, discusses Elizabeth Deekes of Ratlesden in Suffolk and her confession of having imps, Ioane Wallis of Keyston who confessed to knowing the Devil as a black man, Elizabeth Clarke of Maningtree in Essex confessed to knowing the Devil sexually, discusses the confessions of many other witches but does not go into the details of the case, rather uses them for examples and evidence, mostly cases of Imps and sexual relations with the Devil.

Fuller summary:
Sterne, an English witch finder, wrote this pamphlet shortly after the death of his witch finding partner Matthew Hopkins. Sterne’s goal in this pamphlet is to prove the existence of witches, and detail the procedure for detecting them. He also reviews how to discern whether accused witches are guilty or innocent. Sterne begins by denouncing witchcraft as the foulest possible crime, as it represents the renunciation of the Christian God. He states that those witches who are perceived as good are still in league with the devil, and criminals on the same level as those witches who deal in curses.

Sterne starts the body of his pamphlet by suggesting that humans, by nature, are easily corruptible by Satan, but that the preaching of the Christian Gospel weakens the power of witchcraft. He then begins to address the arguments of those who state that witches do not exist. The first evidence Sterne presents is in the form of passages from the Old and New Testaments of the Christian Bible, all of which mention witches in some form, and provide an argument for their reality. He then provides evidence for witches still existing in his time in Christian countries, rather than having died out prior to the coming of Christianity.

After Sterne has set down his general arguments for the existence of witches, he states again that all witches are bad, once more using evidence from the Bible. He makes special note that more women than men are cursing witches, while more men are those who claim to be good, using both biblical and experiential evidence to back up his claim. The bulk of the pamphlet is made up of short examples, a paragraph or two in length each, from among those whom he had accused or seen accused. Each of these providing evidence for certain types of people being witches, certain activities of witches, and certain methods of determining which people are witches. These examples generally involve confessions from the supposed witches. The conclusion reached is that a variety of faults can lead a person to become a witch, chief among these being ignorance. Following the examples meant to provide information on the nature of witches, Sterne provides more examples that give insight on how to find witches, and what methods to use in determining the truth of an accusation. In particular, he goes into depth regarding marks that can appear on the witch’s skin, and how to differentiate them from natural marks.

Multiple themes run throughout A Confirmation and Discovery of Witchcraft. One is that all witches are allied with Satan, but that their pacts with the devil either are explicit or implicit, explicit in the case of cursing witches, but implicit in the case of most healing witches. Sterne also repeatedly mentions that, by biblical decree, all witches are deserving of death. Another major theme that Sterne brings up frequently is his own virtue and truthfulness. He attempts to make clear that he never falsely accused a witch, never falsified testimony, and never took bribes. He also mentions that he did not use banned torture methods, nor did he use them frequently when they were allowed. He also mentions that he believes his partner, Matthew Hopkins, did none of these things either. It appears that both Sterne and Hopkins had been accused of unsavory practices in their witchfinding careers, and it is likely that this pamphlet was written at least in part to try and clear their names. However, Sterne seems honest in his belief in witches, and may well have genuinely believed that he had done a great service to England and wanted to make it possible for others to follow in his footsteps.