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  • Wicked Words- Books from the George Fraser Black Witchcraft Collection

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An exhibit drawn from the  
Special Collections of the University Library 

Curated by Jennifer Heise 

Drew University Library

October 15-November 15, 2008

George Fraser Black Collection on Witchcraft 

Pre-modern notions of witchcraft, and the witch persecutions that flourished in the 15th through 17th centuries, are a puzzle that is part and parcel of our culture. From the Halloween witches of October to the political and/or criminal “witch-hunt,” idea of malicious and possibly devil-worshiping ‘witches’ is familiar to everyone. But even before “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” appeared on TV, historians were re-examining the history of witchcraft.

One place for historians to look is in the texts of the witch persecution era. Drew is fortunate to have the George Fraser Black collection on Witchcraft, which includes a number of pre-17th century printed works as well as a variety of other historical works on Witchcraft. George Fraser Black, an early twentieth century librarian at the New York Public Library, researched a variety of topics, from the history of Scotland, the culture of the Romany [Gypsies], and including a study of witchcraft history.

The collection, first donated to Fairleigh Dickinson University and transferred to Drew in 2001, is a representative sample of the research tools available to the late nineteenth and early twentieth century scholar. It predates the extensive distribution of primary source materials via microfiche and microfilm, let alone the appearance of digitized images and/or transcriptions of such sources online. While these items are often available in reprints or via library sites (or Google Books), it’s a visual experience to see the originals and early reprints shown here.
George Fraser Black, 1865-1948 
A lifelong librarian, Dr. Black emigrated from Scotland in 1896. He was on the staff of the New York Public Library and its predecessor, the Astor Library from 1896 to 1931. His scholarly publications included bibliographies, reference works, handlists, and grammars; he was a frequent contributor to the Bulletin of the New York Public Library and the proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. Though Black remains famous in onomastic circles for his monumental Surnames of Scotland, his interests branched out from Scottish history into gypsy lore, the history of witchcraft, and a variety of other folklore, historic, and linguistic areas.

While Dr. Black planned to write a history of witchcraft after he retired, this project was never completed. The witchcraft section of his scholarly library was eventually donated to Fairleigh Dickinson University, and passed from their keeping into Drew’s in 2001. The collection’s edition of the Malleus Malificarum was featured in a story in the Drew Magazine in 2007, and was studied by Dr. Louis Hamilton’s First Year Seminar class in their study of the history of witchcraft.

The Exhibit 

The Black collection includes a number of early editions of texts written about witchcraft at the beginning and the height of the era of witch persecutions from the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries. The provenance of these volumes is unclear; they may have belonged to judicial personnel, theologians, or scholars with academic interests in witchcraft and magic. What is clear is that the volumes displayed here were owned and read during the witch-hunting period.

Institoris, Heinrich. Mallevs maleficarvm; in tres divisvs partes, in quibus concurrentia ad maleficia, maleficiorum effectus, remedia aduersus maleficia, et modus deniq; procedendi, ac puniendi maleficos abundè continetur, praecipuè autem omnibus inquisitoribus, & diuini verbi concionatoribus vtilis, ac necessarius. Auctore Iacobo Sprengero ... Omnia summo studio illustrata, & à multis mendis recens vindicata. Cum indice quaestionum & rerum memorabilium copioso. (Francofvrti ad Moenvm, apud Nicolaum Bassaeum, 1580). Drew University Library Special Collections, BF1569 .I5 1580

The 1487 Hammer of Witches is the best known of the witch-hunting manuals. Not only was it widely available during the witchcraft persecution era, but the distribution of a 1928 translation by Reverend Montague Summers made it accessible for modern commentators on witchcraft and the persecutions. German inquisitor Henrich Kramer and Dominican Johann Sprenger’s text is considered to be one of the most misogynist…. Drew’s copy is a 1580 printing and contains annotations, possibly made by someone involved in witchcraft investigations.

Weyer, Johann. De praestigiis daemonum, et incantationibus ac ueneficijs, libri V. (Basileae, Per Ioannem Oporinum, 1566). Drew University Library Special Collections, BF1520 .W65 1566

Johann Weyer [Wier], a Lutheran physician, wrote On the Illusions of the Demons and on Spells and Poisons, one of the first books to contest the sixteenth-century idea of witchcraft. Weyer compared the contemporary idea of witchcraft and that described in the Bible and declared that while Biblical-style sorcerers could exist, the contemporary idea of a witch was not Biblical and in fact was contrary to theology. His claims that alleged witches and/or their victims suffered from delusion, mental illness and/or senile dementia, are often invoked as the first psychological treatment of witchcraft. Jean Bodin and other writers responded with attacks on such skeptical treatment of witchcraft throughout the following century. The original Latin edition, was published in 1563; the Latin edition owned by Drew is from 1566.

Godelmann, Johann Georg. Tractatus de magis, veneficis et lamiis, deque his recte cognoscendis et puniendis. Propter varias et controversas de hac quæstione hominum sententias, utilissimus, [et cunctis ad rerumpulicarum gubernacula sedentibus maxime necessarius.. (Francofurti, Ex officina typographica I. Saurii, impensis N. Bassei, 1601). Drew University Special Collections, BF1520 .G63 1601

Johann Godelmann’s A Treatise on Magicians, Sorcerers, and Witches and How Properly to Identify and Punish Them was another of the anti-witchhunt texts. Godelmann, a Lutheran lawyer and law scholar, claimed that witchcraft should be subject to the regular rules of evidence and criminal procedure in the German courts, and not as the crimen exemplum that Bodin advocated. While Godelmann was skeptical about certain types of witchcraft, he also argued that those who could be proven to have used magic to cause harm should be punished. (Pacts with the Devil, weatherworking and shapechanging, he wrote, were merely delusional and not punishable.) The book was originally published in 1591; the Drew copy is from 1601.

Bodin, Jean. Ioannis Bodini, Andegavensis, De magorvm demonomania, sev Detestando lamiarum ac magorum cum Satana commercio, libri IV. : Recens recogniti, et mvltis in locis *a mendis repurgati. Accessit eivsdem opinionvm Ioannis Wieri confutatio, non minus docta quam pia. Francofvrti, : Typis Wolfgangi Richteri, : Impensis omnium hredum Nicolai Bassi., 1603. Drew University Library Special Collections, BF1520 .B6 1603

Political philosopher Jean Bodin’s 1580 On the Demonmania of Sorcerers is a radical departure from his more liberal political and historical writing. Demonmania, published partly in response to Johann Weyer’s skeptical work, discussed the necessity of believing in witchcraft and advocated harsh trial procedures. Bodin considered witchcraft a crimen exemplum (extraordinary crime) which required a suspension of the usual rules of judicial process, including reduced rules of evidence, reliance on torture, and penalties for nearly everyone accused of witchcraft whether convicted or not.

Francisci, Erasmus. Der höllische Proteus, oder tausend-künstige Versteller vermittelst Erzehlung der vielfältigen Bildverwechslungen erscheinender Gespenster/werfender und poltrender Geister/gespenstischer Vorzeichen der Todes-Fälle/wie auch andrer abentheuerlicher Händel/arglistiger Possen/und seltsmer Aufzüge dieses verdammten Schauspielers/und ... Betriegers ... abgebildet durch Erasmum Francisci. Nürnberg: In Verlegung W.M. Endters, 1695. Drew University Library Special Collections, BF1445 .F82

This comparatively obscure text is a compendium of ghost stories in German, which the author attributes to the Devil, a.k.a. “the Infernal Proteus.”

Remy, Nicolas. Demonolatry, by Nicolas Remy ... in 3 books; translated by E. A. Ashwin, edited with introduction and notes by the Rev. Montague Summers; drawn from the capital trials of 900 persons, more or less, who within the last fifteen years have in Lorraine paid the penalty of death for the crime of witchcraft. London, J. Rodker, 1930. [French original first published, Lyon, 1595.] . Drew University Library Special Collections, BF1520 .R45 1930

Though Remy’s claims of attending 900 witchcraft trials have never been substantiated, he was a famous magistrate and witch-hunter in Lorraine, France. Remy, a Catholic, connects the alleged contemporary practices of witches with historical Roman and Greek pagans, as well as describing in great detail and with many examples the alleged crimes of the witches. Later authors, including Francesco Maria Guazzo, were much influenced by him. This volume was also translated by Montague Summers, who in his introduction makes much of Remy’s accusations against the “Satanists.”

Guazzo, Francesco Maria. Compendium maleficarum, collected in three books from many sources by Brother Francesco Maria Guazzo, showing iniquitous and execrable operations of witches against the human race, and the divine remedies by which they may be frustrated; edited with notes by the Rev. Montague Summers, translated by E. A. Ashwin. (London, J. Rodker, 1929). [original publication of the text, 1628] . Drew University Library Special Collections, BF1559 .G813 1929

This influential seventeenth-century work is especially known for its elaborate classification of demons and discussion of incubi and succubi. It was enhanced with illustrations, including the depiction, shown here, of witches attending a Sabbat.

“Witches’ Sabbath,” Hans Baldnug Grien: Prints and Drawings. (New Haven : Yale University Art Gallery, 1981). P116-119. Drew University Library, 769.943 B179B

Witches, and witchcraft, proved a popular theme for engravers in the sixteenth century, though they apparently did not figure widely in art before the mid-fifteenth century. Following in the footsteps of his master, Albrecht Durer, Hans Baldung Grien executed several depictions of the Witches’ Sabbath, including those shown here.

Summers, Montague. The Discovery of Witches: A study of Master Matthew Hopkins commonly called Witch Finder General, together with a reprint of The discovery of witches from the rare original of 1647. (London: Cayne Press, 1928). Drew University Library Special Collections, BF1581 .S8 1928

Montague Summers was an enthusiastic, if eccentric, early twentieth century amateur scholar of the witch-hunt. This text combines Summers’ summation of the career of Matthew Hopkins, witchfinder, and a transcription of Hopkin’s 1557 Discovery of Witches: In answer to several Queries . . . which summarizes Hopkins’ beliefs and methods. Though Summers was a believer in witchcraft, he condemns Hopkins and his witchfinding-for-hire motives and methods in the roundest terms.  
Institoris, Heinrich. Malleus maleficarum, translated with an introduction, bibliography and notes by the Rev. Montague Summers. [London] J. Rodker, 1928. Drew University Library Special Collections, BF1569 .A2 I5 1928.

Because Summers’ translation of the Malleus is so well-distributed, it has had a huge effect on modern beliefs about the witch persecutions. However, Summers, an ardent condemner of “Satanism,” is widely considered to have been a somewhat biased, and perhaps sometimes inaccurate translator.  
Institoris, Heinrich and Jacobus Sprenger. Malleus maleficarum; edited and translated by Christopher S. Mackay. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Drew University Library, 133.430940902 I87m 2006.

This two-volume Latin and English translation edition of the Malleus by classical Latin scholar Mackay, is one of two recent scholarly translations. (The other is by historian P.G. Maxwell-Stuart.) These newer translations are intended to replace the Summers version.

Leland, Charles G. Gypsy sorcery and fortune telling: illustrated by numerous incantations, specimens of medical magic, anecdotes and tales. (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1891). . Drew University Library Special Collections, DX155 .L4 1891

During the nineteenth century, a large number of amateur anthropologists, historians and folklorists attempted to collect and organize oral and written traditions relating to magic and the supernatural. Charles Leland, during his lifetime (1824-1903), was most known as a humorous writer; but it is his folkloric and antiquarian works that have secured his legacy. Black’s copy of the first printing of Leland’s influential Gypsy sorcery and fortunetelling was probably among those Black used for Gypsy Bibliography.

Leland’s authorial detachment and accuracy have been questioned, especially in one of his final works, the sensational and popular Aradia, or The Gospel of the Witches, widely used by modern neo-Pagans as a source text.

An act, made and passed by the Great and General Court of Assembly of Her Majesty's Province of Massachusetts Bay in New England, held at Boston the 17th day of October, 1711. [Reproduction] Drew University Library Special Collections, BF1575 .A2 1711

Though the witchcraft persecutions in Salem, Massachusetts, are the most famous American example of a witch hunt, they are distinguished also by this piece of legislation. The Salem incident is the first recorded in which not only were the convicted later exonerated, but their families were also given victims’ compensation.

Poole, William Frederick. Cotton Mather and Salem witchcraft. Boston: [University Press] 1869; Reprinted from the North American Rreview for April, 1869. Drew University Library Special Collections, BF1576 .P66 1869

Comparatively few documents in the Black collection refer to the Salem witch trials, though Drew has a number of books on the topic, and many original documents are reproduced in the ATLA microfiche set. Poole, in this volume, attempts to defend the character of Cotton Mather, one of the Massachusetts ministers who first supported and then turned against the witch persecution.

de Givry, Grillot. Le musée des sorciers, images et alchemists [Picture museum of sorcery, magic & alchemy]. Paris, Librairie de France, 1929, p 46-47. Drew University Library Special Collections, BF1576 .P66 1869

De Givry’s early 20th century book includes explanatory text on witchcraft beliefs, but is most useful for the reproduction of illustrations, such as this 1517 woodcut of “an assembly of witches” and the 1489 “Meal of the Witches”. Black’s collection included both this first, French edition, and the 1931 English translation.

Scott, Walter. Letters on demonology and witchcraft: addressed to J.G. Lockhart, Esq. New York : J. & J. Harper, 1830. Drew University Library Special Collections, BF1531 .S5 1887.

Sir Walter Scott’s analysis of witchcraft and demonology for the Harper “Family Library” series would have been of particular interest to Black for its treatment of early witchcraft trials. This skeptical and philosophical work for hire draws heavily on Scott’s background in folklore and song.

George Fraser Black’s Witchcraft Scholarship 

George Fraser Black was apparently led to a study of witchcraft from his interest in all things Scottish. As a staff member of the New York Public Library in the early part of the twentieth century, he was able to do extensive bibliographic work and research in the area.

Black, George Fraser. List of Works in the New York Public Library Relating to Witchcraft in the United States. (New York: New York Public Library, 1908). Reprinted from the New York Public Library Bulletin, v. 12, p. 658-675. Drew University Library Special Collections, Z6878 .W8 B53 1908

The illustration on the verso is of the “Old Witch House” in Salem Massachusetts, Home of Witch Trials Judge Jonathan Corwin. Also bound in with this is a reproduction of the Act of the Massachusetts Assembly, shown elsewhere in this exhibit, as well as reproduction portraits of Samuel Sewall and Cotton and Increase Mather, and title pages from Increase Mather’s Cases of Conscience Concerning evil Spirits and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s copy of Lawson’s Christ’s Fidelity.  

Black, George Fraser. List of Works in the New York Public Library Relating to Witchcraft in Europe. (New York: New York Public Library, 1911) Reprinted from the New York Public Library Bulletin, December 1911. Drew University Library Special Collections, Z6878 .W8 B53 1911 (Note: full text of this item is available on Google Books.)

Some Unpublished Scottish Witchcraft Trials, Transcribed and Annotated by Dr. George Black. (New York: New York Public Library, 1941). Drew University Library Special Collections, BF1581 .B55 1941

Dr. Black copied these from “a manuscript abridgement of the Books of Adjournal in the Library of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.” In the days before photocopying, let alone digitizing, printed editions of such unpublished texts were one of the few ways of making them available to scholars unable to travel to libraries holding the material, an especial concern during the Second World War. Dr. Black received many compliments for publishing these transcriptions, both in the Bulletin of the New York Public Library (April-May-August-September, 1941) and in the pamphlet edition shown here. Pages 4-5 show the beginning of the trial record for Isobel Young, 1629. The “dittay” would be the list of charges, and the “panel” would be the defendant, Isobel Young.

Black, George Fraser. A Calendar of Cases of Witchcraft in Scotland: 1510-1727. (New York, New York Public Library, 1938). Labelled “Working copy.” Drew University Library Special Collections, BF1581 .B53 1938

Dr. Black here collected a year-by-year accounting of the witchcraft trials in Scotland, summarized with names, main charge, and verdict/outcome as available. Collected from a wide variety of sources, this chronology has been widely cited in scholarly works. This text was republished by Kessinger Publishing in 2003, and that edition is searchable in Google Books. One wonders whether Dr. Black would have approved, or not, of such widespread availability of rare books and scholarly publications.

Bell, John. Tryal of Witchcraft, Or, Witchcraft Arraign'd and Condemn'd. Photostat reproduction, 1937, of the 1705 Glasglow edition. Drew University Library Special Collections, BF1581 .B45 1705

Black was working in an era before digitization, the advent of xerographic photocopying (office photocopiers were first introduced in the 1950s) or even the widespread use of microfilm to distribute reproductions of rare books. The microfilm collection, Early English Books, from UMI, in which this text later appeared, did not come into being until 1947. Photographic copies like this photostat, or laborious transcription, were the only alternative to the purchase of costly rare books in the original. John Bell’s text, being Scottish, was of especial interest to Black. Bell was quoted by several witch historians for his description of ‘witch-marks.’ This volume is of special interest for the presence of Dr. Black’s bookplate.

George Fraser Black. Bookplate. (Reproduction)

Given that the traditional punishment for witches in Scotland was hanging, there’s a grim humor in the implied threat to hang those who steal or otherwise mistreat Dr. Black’s books! 

For Further Reading 

Bailey, Michael D. _Historical dictionary of witchcraft. (Lanham, Md. : Scarecrow Press, 2003)_REF 133.4303 B155h

Burns, William E. Witch Hunts in Europe and America: an Encyclopedia (Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, 2003)
REF 133.4309 B967w

Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: the Western Tradition. Richard M. Golden, editor. (Santa Barbara [Calif.] : ABC-CLIO, 2006)
REF 133.4303 E56e

Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. The encyclopedia of witches and witchcraft. (New York : Facts On File, 1999)
REF 133.4303 G956e

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