In this feature, Papers answers a question that nobody actually bothered to ask but which sounds intriguing anyway. Today’s question comes from Macbeths-Physic on the Yog-Sothoth forums, who writes:
So, my question is: would a witch in the mid 1700s, in New England, likely have texts from Europe? I mean, how likely is it that he’d have something by Dee or Kelley, for instance?
As this question spans both magical and Cthulhian topics, I’ll do my best to answer it.
Taking the question to strictly pertain to texts of magic in the Colonial era, the evidence is present but questionable. Overall, what practitioners of magic existed in New England seemed to work in non-textual genres – a wise decision, as the Puritan mentality would likely have led to the confiscation of any such works that came to their attention. A few examples do exist of such works in the Colonies, but most of them are farther to the South in the more liberal atmospheres of Pennsylvania, Virginia, and South Carolina.
This does not mean that mystical subjects in general were neglected. A particular interest of some learned men was alchemy, and even John Winthrop Junior – the son of a governor of Rhode Island – had a collection in this area. Still, actual written manuals of magic – spirit-summoning, treasure-finding, wound-curing, and the like – do not seem to be part of the 18th century New England landscape.
That does not mean they were completely unknown, of course. Next time, some evidence from a famous American icon.