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The (Cursed?) Original Book of Witchcraft

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And so it begins…the title page of Reginald Scot’s 1584 edition of “The Discoverie of Witchcraft.” Rare Book & Special Collections Division.

This article was co-researched and co-written by digital library specialist Elizabeth Gettins, who also had the brilliant idea for the piece.

An ancient tome delving into the dark arts of witchcraft and magic…a book of doom…yet it lives…at the Library of Congress.

You’re forgiven if you think we’re talking about H.P. Lovecraft’s fictional book of magic, “Necronomicon,” the basis for the plot device in “The Evil Dead” films, or something Harry Potter might have found in the Dark Arts class at Hogwarts.

But, as the darkness of Halloween descends, we’re not kidding. A first edition of “The Discouerie of Witchcraft,” Reginald Scot’s 1584 shocker that outraged King James I, survives at your favorite national library in the Rare Book and Special Collections Reading Room. (The Library has a copy of the original edition, as well as a 1651 edition.)

It is believed to be the first book published on witchcraft in English and extremely influential on the practice of stage magic. Shakespeare likely researched it for the witches scene in “Macbeth.” It was consulted and plagiarized by stage magicians for hundreds of years. Today, you can peruse its dark secrets online. How could your wicked little fingers resist? Scot promises to reveal “lewde dealings of witches and witchmongers”! The “pestilent practices of Pythonists”!  The “vertue and power of natural magike”!

Also, juggling.

It is one of the  foundational examples of grimoire, a textbook on magic, groundbreaking for its time and nearly encyclopedic in its information. Scot’s research included consulting dozens of previous thinkers on various topics such as occult, science and magic, including Agrippa von Nettesheim’s “De Occulta Philosophia,” in 1531 and John Dee’s “Monas Hieroglyphica” in 1564. The result is a most impressive compendium.

The heavens, as used in witchcraft. “The Discoverie of Witchcraft,” P. 283. Rare Book & Special Collections.

But Scot wasn’t lurking about in a hooded cape, looking for eyes of newts and toes of frogs to bewitch mortals. A skeptic, he wrote to make it plain that “witches” were not evil, but instead were resourceful and capable women who practiced the art of folk healing as well as sleight of hand. Their apparently miraculous feats were in no way wicked. He wrote, “At this day it is indifferent to say in the English tongue, ‘she is a witch’ or ‘she is a wise woman.’ ”

Born in 1538 in Kent under the rule of Henry VIII, Scot was landed gentry. He was educated and a member of Parliament. He admired, and may have joined, the Family of Love, a small sect comprised of elites who dismissed major Christian religions in favor of arriving at spiritual enlightenment through love for all. By publishing “Witchcraft,” he meant to expose it as superstition, hoping to better England by forwarding knowledge. Since most people who were accused – and often hanged – for it were impoverished women on the margins of society, he hoped to garner social empathy for them and other scapegoats.

He also hoped to dispel the common belief in magic tricks performed on stage before gasping audiences. To do this, he researched and explained how magicians carried out their illusions. Beheadings? See the diagrams!

Detail from “To cut off ones head, and to laie it in a a platter, which the jugglers call the decollation of John Baptist.” P. 282, “The Discoverie of Witchcraft,” Rare Book & Special Collections Division.

How to appear to “thrust a bodkin (needle) into your head” and survive? See page 280!

Detail on how to use a false bodkin. P. 280, “The Discoverie of Witchcraft.” Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

This noble effort, as the kids say, went left.

The book was blasted by the religious faithful, according to “The Reception of Reginald Scot’s Discovery of Witchcraft: Witchcraft, Magic and Radical Religion,” a study by S.F. Davies in the Journal of the History of Ideas, published in 2013. The King of Scotland, James VI, was outraged. Like many of his subjects, he was convinced that witches worked in concert with the devil. He thought a coven of witches was trying to kill him. He published “Daemonologie” in 1597, in part to refute Scot’s work. He also became King James I of England in 1603. There’s a legend that he ordered all copies of Scot’s book burned, but the historical record is silent on the subject. Still, it’s clear James I loathed the book. There was growing concern at the time that women’s use of so-called magic was counter to the aims of the state and church. Thus, James sought to instill fear in female communities and spoke out directly against witches and their perceived occultisms.

“Almost every English author who subsequently wrote on the subject of witchcraft mentioned Scot disparagingly,” Davies writes of the period. Scot died in 1599; the book was not republished during his lifetime. There was an abridged Dutch translation published in 1609, Davies notes, but was not republished in England until 1651, nearly three quarters of a century after its initial publication.

Still, the book survived, “mined as a source on witchcraft and folklore,” and his material on practical magic and sleight of hand “found a large audience,” Davies writes. For Scot’s original aims, that wasn’t good. Rather than debunking stage magic for the masses as he’d hoped, “Discoverie” became a handbook for magicians in Europe and America, well into the 17th and 18th centuries. Famous works such as “Hocus Pocus ” and the “The Juggler’s Oracle drew heavily on “Witchcraft,” thus spreading the very mysteries that Scot had hoped to quell. Davies: “[I]t travelled in directions Scot himself may never have imagined.”

Today, 435 years after it was published, the book sits on the shelf, silent, patient, having done the work its author did not want it to do. It’s almost as if…the thing had a hex on it.

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Comments (72)

  1. It is without a doubt a very interesting subject that I would enjoy learning a lot more about.
    Example: The Witches that heal the sick, and those that can and maybe did work magic? It’s the what if,this may
    be real knowledge?

  2. This is wonderful!!! Thank you so much for saving this Beautiful piece of history!

  3. Very cool. Great job.

  4. Worthless not worth it’s space

  5. i want to be immortal.

  6. i think this is gret! i am in love with this.

  7. I have family that practice and I want to convert. What really comes first.

  8. Thanks for sharing. So interesting

  9. I would love a copy of that book any wicca or wiccan or pegon or wizard books that you have I want to open a school and teach the art to people

    • Hi Kristopher,

      The Library has large collections of books on all these subject. Try our Ask a Librarian service to help you get started. One important note: The Library is a research institution, not a lending library. We can, though, refer you to books to borrow from your local library, or look for elsewhere.

      The link:


  10. Dear friends;
    There’s many many things to say about magic , voodoo &…. but never the less, although there could be powers with spells and magic acts and most people think like;(ok, what’s the bad thing if i be able to use the power for good!)
    But believe me my friends as a person who knows a little about this subject, “ THERE’S ALWAYS A BIG PRICE FOR WHAT YOU ARE LOOKING FOR” and such things never come for good just to help you!!
    NEVER,NEVER Go after dark knowledge. even with a great experience and hard work , first of all you should became full honest with yourself and never go for your own benefit
    And as I said there’s never anything good about magic
    And it “ALWAYS HAS ITS OWN PRICE “ which is beyond what you can expect and handle
    Having pure heart and honest love to yourself and respected relation with creation will bring you way more power than you could imagine
    You will be able to see true nature of others personally and will understand the meaning of your own life and the whole creation reason
    The key is right in our hands, we just have to know it
    The whole magic stuff are just like a baby toy in front of your inner power
    If and only if we could be able to understand it

  11. Interesting. I recently read that witchcraft books had been published until the sixteenth century in England, that is to say until the big witch hunt.

  12. What you have said above is extremely interesting. I have been interested in Witcchcraft ever since reading: 5 steps to becoming a witch. Witches Aren’t Evil, The Truth About Witchcraft, Many Finbarr books on Witchcraft, Some Llewellyn Witchcraft books also Raymond Buckland’s Complete Book Of Witchcraft. That book I just mentioned last says everything one should know or learn about witchcraft. I now use witchcraft very often. it has made my life a lot easier. I know witchcraft does not show instant results. Even the bible says it takes time for all things to occur. Whenever I am low on money. I do a money come to me spell and then a few days after I find money in different places. Once $5.00 on my way to Walmart. A bunch of cash near a bus stop but that was mixed with cigarette butts. Probably many passed by that not look closely at those cigarette butts but I was curious so I looked. I wondered why the cigarette butts were so shiny. it was because of the cash. Obviously some smoker dropped some cash. Almost $15.00 You want money to come to you? Write Money to Money Please Come to me Quickly. AS I want and will so mote it be. (on light green paper using dark green ink. Wrap it up tightly. Then put a dark green string around it tightly. Place under your pillow. Then dream of money coming to you in Various Ways.

  13. Hi my friends

    I have read the wicth craft book and hear more important things. So i could like to have this book, how can i will get it in Namibia please…?

    • Hi Paulus,

      Thanks for writing! If you click on the link of the title in the story, that will take you to digital pictures of each page. If you’d like a copy of your own, most online retailers sell them.

      All best,

  14. I watched a movie about the witch and the curse, and guess what? I found myself researching this kind of stuff… how nice…

  15. I would like to read up on this it sounds very interesting if I may ask if you can send any info from the book I would appriciate any thing you can send me thank you

    • Hi Sandy,

      You can find the book free online at any number of sites, the most prominent of which is probably at Project Gutenberg.

      All best,

  16. Beautiful Beautiful

  17. I just sent my details to find out about this book and it was sent to the ministry of Congress. A bit out there for me as I’m from England and wasn’t expecting that. Will I get a response? Has anyone else

    • Hi there,

      We’re just the Library of Congress in the United States, no worries! And yes, if you used our Ask a Librarian service, a reference will get back to you directly.


  18. Hell0, I am Into voodoo magic and Spells, can you teach me a little bit more? I was gad to learn what I learned today! Thanks for that!

  19. Good and excellent

  20. Beautiful write-up but I know more about the practical magic or the witch Craft. The craft is important to know since like it is written is not evil.

  21. Sind me a spell

  22. i love being possessed by dolls subscribe and like

  23. I would love to talk to Rimartic about the witchcraft & more.
    How can i get in touch with this person? Im very interested in witch books, one that are the oldest, true real ancient and ancestral knowledge!! Not some fake book stories that people write to make money… I need an amazing teacher.

  24. great.

  25. LOL, this is all made up and fake. The history of the belief is interesting but it’s like studying the unicorn in my garage.

  26. There is nothing new under the sun. idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, discord, practice witchcraft, factions, hatred, rivalry, contentions, enmities, sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, drunkeness, orgies, murders, lovers of death, arrogance, professing to be wise but are fools, false teachers, heresies, perverting nature, seditions, divination, enchanter, shapeshifter, rebellious, heretics, false prophets, denying the creator and worshipping the creature, lovers of self, deceptive, impious, dreadful, evil, seared conscious, reprobate, demon possed, lost, chaotic, insanity, diabolical, devilish, depraved, sinful, liar, vicious, filled with iniquity, pernicious, corrupt, destructive, wicked, overtaken by evil spirits, fearful, hater of truth, terrorized, cursed, under a spell, spiritually darkened & on & on. Wow!, what a list and unfortunately we all have committed these things and worse! Many will remain in bondage and stay shackled to these until their last breath on this Earth. Many will hear the call and their spiritual eyes will be opened by the spirit of truth and be set free. We need a spiritual realignment with the Great Spirit, The Creator of all life. A pure cleansing is like a drink of fresh water for a dried up, burned out thirsty soul. This thing called unconditional love is like healing every part of us and life refreshing energy drenched, surrounded, protected, peace…deep peace quenches and strengthens our dry bones and spirit. Leave the old crusty dying exhausted existence behind and become fully alive by learning how to be fully dead to our own destructive ways. Welcome the Spirit of Life into your heart and ask to be cleansed.

  27. That last sentence about the book being hexed reminds me of Uri Geller in the 1970s – when Johnny Carson and James Randi exposed Geller as a fraud on TV, it actually made Geller a mainstream celebrity and more popular than ever rather than debunking him as (presumably?) intended.
    history repeats itself in funny ways.

  28. Yes things are here and a new world is here people are talking without talking and people are seeing in the dark. What matters the most to me is my broken heart because of my unconditional love and its not setting me free its painful and the dark ones have him and i have to respect that choice. And seeing the truth is scary and beleive me youll cover your eyes and wish u was not given the gift.

  29. Hi. My history includes a lot of witchcraft. Many people think witchcraft is just a myth. It’s not though. This book was very cool and intresting. I have tried to preform many little spells and be leave it or not but most of them worked. Little things worked like floating pencils or invisiblity. I enjoyed looking at this book. If you people want to try to do spells then this book is a way to start.

  30. my voice sound like someone else and the thoughts sound like them what can you call that sense the time of birth and how you help me on that it is a curse

  31. I want to be the most powerful witch

  32. You will develop a phycological problem and may develop delusions, of a multicolor world. If your copping strategies don’t rely on most natural methods exercise nutrition hydration, you could be wasting your time on Jargon……..,

  33. I want to learn.

  34. I would like to learn witchcraft on how to heal people from sickness and draw money to me through witchcraft

  35. I love it hw can I download it

  36. Where can I get a digital copy of this

  37. A piece of history like this is fantastic. I’m new to wicca if I could I would read this book from front to back.

  38. Hi

  39. i realy want to know witch spells bc i want to help humans that are poor

  40. I want pdf files on black magic spells and curses.
    I also want love spells and good spells like that

  41. I’ve been trying to study witchcraft… anyone know where i should start?

  42. I need a book to let me know when witchcraft is being done on someone

  43. I am interested in joining your course.

  44. i whould like to read it

  45. This is very good i love it but i want to see the OG book.

  46. I have never read this book but it sounds interesting. I do believe that if there is any such thing as real magic The public would never know about it because only the wealthy or the military and/or politicians would be the only people that would None of its existence and I am so sure use it at their disposal. Science says that psychics are b******* however I have met a psychic who has since passed in 2012 who would write men’s names on one index card and women’s names on another and then he would speak and you would have to write everything He would say I went to him in 2003 when I was 17 years old he told me about the man I am currently with For the last 15 years, He would also have these little asterix signs next to the names and if somebody was going to die or be sick he would write “poor” in front of the name, as well as a cross after the name…that’s what he wrote about my father poor Robert ( Unfortunately There is no way I can make a cross due to the whole politically correct bs) “the last time Robert will ever lay on the couch, and he died. My brother, poor Derek with n rx next to his name…my brother developed many mental and physical problems and takes more meds then a young man of 14 should ever take n still does today, he got sick after I turned 18…There were names of ppl I didn’t know but I do now, Everything, EVERYTHING that he told me has come to pass and I know what you’re thinking because I would be skeptical too, if somebody told me this and I never experienced it for myself. His name was Mr. Dee, located in Philadelphia on Roosevelt Blvd, and he Believed in God Heaven and h*** Angels and Demons…my point n it took a long for me to get to it, lol, is that we have gifts, but most of us are so beaten down by this world our gifts, Most of us, never manifest…but I very much wonder about those whose gifts do, like Mr. Dee (rip) n also I believe in real magic, There are so many secrets that we will never ever get to know anything about, so many liars and charlatans

  47. Need break cures that set on me can u help

  48. i want to bring my mom back to life

  49. I’ve studied this for 20 years. Love it. I learn new stuff everyday.

  50. Worked

  51. I want to become a vampire now am

  52. Hello, my name is Tessa Revere. I am a pure blood born High Priestess, or grand grey witch. I do not showcase my powers. but my most powerful ability is my empathic power. I can sense emotions and so much more. anyway i would love to read this book. I love everything old and ancient. I have collected spells from my ancestors for centuries. My father has cancer my great great aunt was Margaret Jones she was murdered in Salem during the witch trials she not only had a milignant touch but she also had the power to heal. she used herbs and potions to heal the sick. I was hoping to find something on her in the book or anything about healing. I’ve been able to keep my dad alive so far but i need to find the right ingredients to cure his cancer. so how can i look at this book? what do i do?

  53. I want to know if this book would work if you use it the right way i am very intrested in voodoo shamans and all the history on this

  54. Hi there, any one here know how to chant a witchcarf? I want to learn or maybe you can do it for me!

  55. I want to be a witch

  56. How about every one of y’all that are interested in becoming a witch let me tell you what the Bible says about using witchcraft can use in spells, etc. on Gods children, trust me, the Bible is the truth, it says “so whoever uses any kind of sorcery witchcraft, black magic, voodoo etc so against gods children will get sevenfold pay back to them“ that doesn’t mean 7 fold for all the times you have cursed someone or put a spell on someone it means for every victim that you have hurt, etc, and only you know how many victims you have targeted, so think about that for eternity you will spend in hell and you will get the wrath of God sevenfold. If you don’t believe me look it up yourself, the best power of the all is not the power from Satan, because that is all you’re getting your power from is the evil one, the best power is the knowledge of the Bible walk in the righteous path with the Lord, spend eternity in paradise, change your ways. Now it’s not too late, Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins, so there’s still time the second coming is coming sooner than you think, hope this message gets through to some of you, and can you can you change your ways, I have been a victim, and it is the worst thing I’ve ever been through, but by the grace of God, and the help from a wonderful minister with the greatest gift from God that I have ever seen, freed me from the 8 years of hell I went through, and to see a miracle happen by Jesus Christ ride in front of your face will change the way you think, the way you believe you will KNOW the truth, I felt the entity leave my body by the power of Jesus Christ, that in itself is a miracle, God Bless and shalom!!! 777 John 3:16


  58. Ohh gawwwd… Which witchcraft is actually real these days…

  59. would love to know more about witch craft

  60. Great

  61. Very cool blog, It has really given me an insight of what im busy doing every day

  62. For studies

  63. Yes my name is Ralph Lee Gould Jr. I am studying up on the facts and study of real wicca or witch craft. I would like all the facts in front of me. I would like to have the chance to read the ancient books of witch craft the ancient grimoire. As I would like the read from these ancient books of craft and determining for myself if it is for real of non sense without the influence of others that have opinions and not hard facts or evidence if infact witchcraft is real and still exists among us.

  64. Don’t believe it

  65. This book doesn’t belong to the library of congress it belongs to my family.

  66. Holy cow

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