War on Witches is about one king’s hunt witches. This continues our witch theme for October. It is 1590: England is ruled by Queen Elizabeth and Scotland is ruled by King James I. King James I had a vendetta. He had a vendetta against witches. In May 1590, King James I was returning to Scotland from Denmark. Storms were stirred up in the North Sea. King James was in danger of sinking. Winds and waves slammed the ship. The passengers thought the storm was caused unnaturally.
Was the storm caused by witches? The King had powerful enemies. He had been abandoned by his mother and his father was dead. He was brought up by four men and these men were driven into exile or murdered. There were several assassinations and kidnapping attempts over his reign in Scotland. It was enough to make any man paranoid. The storm that struck in the North Sea just fed his paranoia.
This storm convinced King James that it was another attempt on his life and it was an attempt by witches to kill him. During his time in the Danish court, he observed that the culture that went after witches. Denmark was one of the intellectual centers for Witch Hunting. He was able to exchange information and learning with the leading minds of the Danish Court. King James would bring these beliefs back to Scotland.
Witch-hunting flared up when there were periods of fighting between Catholics and Protestants. Witches made deals with the devil in exchange for supernatural powers. The people wanted to get rid of evil. They targeted each other, and thousands of people were killed as a result of the witch trials. 130 women were burned to death in one village in Germany. In 1590, witch-hunting did not reach the English or Scottish shores.
When King James came home from his honeymoon, he brought this belief to the Scottish shores. The storm convinced him that witches were after him. Among the common people, there was a belief in natural magic and folk magic. This was good magic that healed people and animals. The people who practiced this were called wise or cunning folk. Unfortunately, this belief was challenged when King James came back.
Historian Joyce Froome shows off a book of spells that was written by a cunning man. This book had recipes and herbal remedies to help the people. Folk magic was important because doctors were expensive. The cunning people were essential members of the community. Agnes Sampson was one of these cunning people. She served both the rich and the poor. She had a reputation for healing. Unfortunately, she would be swept up in the witch trials.
On the opposite of the good magic the cunning people practiced, some people practiced dark magic. The spellbook Froome shows off also included spells to harm people, such as making a thief confess to theft. Historian Ronald Hutton shows off a display of objects that could be used for dark magic. Hutton discusses how both good and bad magic were lumped together in the eyes of the Church.
To continue to learn more about James I and his desire to hunt witches watch the rest of this documentary.
Ronald Hutton, one of my favorite historians, takes part in this documentary. I enjoyed his discussion on witch-hunting increased when the fighting between Protestants and Catholics increased. There was also fascinating archaeology shown in this documentary that demonstrated the common beliefs of the people. I would show this documentary in the classroom or for independent study students. You are limited by your imagination when it comes to using YouTube in the classroom!
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