We Don’t Get Questions but Answer Them Anyway

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.

Published in: on January 30, 2009 at 5:57 pm  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Dan, would you consider the colonies of 1700s New England to be more oral and not literate (by this I’m refering to the uses of the terms within the context of say, Ong’s ‘Orality and Literacy’). I’m not up on my New England history, but I would think that if this is the case then, coupled with the puritanical attitudes you mentioned, it would make it more rare (not to mention ‘elite’) to even consider books as a source of power.

  2. I haven’t read Ong, but I’ve read some similar authors on the topic. It appears that the Puritans were highly literate, though, so the lack of magical books isn’t likely due to them being a particularly “oral” culture.

  3. There’s a joke there somewhere but I just can’t pull it off.

    Puritanical tangent: Has anyone that you know of used Cromwell as a Lovecraftian antagonist? Or at least the easily duped ‘straight man’ to some cult leader’s comedy team.

  4. I haven’t heard of it – it could be in one of the monographs I haven’t read. He does get a mention in “The Shadow out of Time.”

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