In this article I hope to draw to the readers’ attention to a little known field of study known as the archaeology of folk magic. This is intimately related to what most people call witchcraft and involves the physical remains related to practices undertaken by the ‘white’ witch to protect people’s property from ‘black’ witches and also practices which lay-folk undertook by themselves for the same reason. There is a bias of material in my collection to the 16th and 17th centuries, this is because this is the focus of my PhD and also because it is when there was the most fear about witchcraft – hence more archaeology relating to protection. Where material is not dated assume that it comes from these two centuries. Before beginning with a description of the finds and theories about them, it is important that I set the context for the topic.
Historians are getting better at writing about witchcraft. About thirty years ago there was still a tendency amongst them to use exclamation marks when talking about the horrors of torture and to dismiss the belief in witchcraft as primitive heretical superstition or as over-enthusiastic religious faith. A classic and highly respectable work entitled The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology written by Robbins in 1959 has some of these hallmarks.1 While they were correct by our modern standards to be horrified by the tortures that occurred they did not attempt to compare the ‘witch-craze’ to Stalin’s purges or the holocaust or other comparable situations. Now we have books like Religion and the Decline of Magic by Keith Thomas2 which details the practices of the village cunning-men and wise-women (the ‘white’ witches who were really slightly grey) and Early Modern European Witchcraft – Centres and Peripheries edited by Ankarloo and Henningsen3 which collects together major articles which deal, among other things, with spirit flight and Icelandic witchcraft.
The rest of this article by Brian Hoggard, which was published in White Dragon at Beltane 1999, can be read on the White Dragon website.