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Chilling real-life accounts of witches, from medieval Europe through colonial America, compiled by the New York Times bestselling author of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane and The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs

From a manual for witch hunters written by King James himself in 1597, to court documents from the Salem witch trials of 1692, to newspaper coverage of a woman stoned to death on the streets of Philadelphia while the Continental Congress met, The Penguin Book of Witches is a treasury of historical accounts of accused witches that sheds light on the reality behind the legends. Bringing to life stories like that of Eunice Cole, tried for attacking a teenage girl with a rock and buried with a stake through her heart; Jane Jacobs, a Bostonian so often accused of witchcraft that she took her tormentors to court on charges of slander; and Increase Mather, an exorcism-performing minister famed for his knowledge of witches, this volume provides a unique tour through the darkest history of English and North American witchcraft.

For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143106180
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/30/2014
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 298,730
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

About The Author
Katherine Howe (editor), the direct descendant of three accused Salem witches, is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs, and The House of Velvet and Glass, as well as the young adult novels Conversion and The Appearance of Annie van Sinderen. She lives with her family in New England and New York City.


Marblehead, MA

Place of Birth:

Houston, TX


B.A., Columbia University, 1999; M.A., Boston University, 2006

Read an Excerpt

The Penguin Book of Witches
The Early Colonies

   •  Joan Wright, Chesapeake Region, Virginia, 1626

   •  Warrant for the Apprehension of Sarah Good, and Officer’s Return, Monday, February 29, 1692

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***
Marblehead, Massachusetts, is a bedroom community in suburban Boston, a comfortable seaside enclave of historic houses. It has good public schools, intermittent bus service, and a weekly newspaper that is read mainly for the juicy names-naming police log. It is not the sort of place where one would expect to find a witch.

But a witch did live there, though she is not buried there. Wilmot Redd, or sometimes Reed, was one of the more than one hundred people who was accused during the Salem witch crisis of 1692, and, like the other condemned witches, her body was thrown into a shallow ditch at the base of a rocky ledge to the west of Salem Town after being cut down from the gallows. At that time, the area at the foot of the hill where the gallows stood was flooded with brackish water at high tide, and so Wilmot Redd, after resting uneasily in the rocky earth of coastal Essex County, was most likely carried out to sea. Today the ditch she was thrown into is hidden under a pharmacy parking lot.

Redd, like the other North American witches who have left impressions—sometimes lasting, sometimes glancing—in the historical record, presents something of a conundrum. How can the English colonists who settled North America, who were relatively literate compared with their European cousins, who were reasonably thoughtful and self-examining, who lived in tightly interconnected communities dependent on collective effort for success, have believed in witches? And not just believed in witches, but also put them to death? The historical fact of witchcraft weighs uneasily in our current culture, particularly given how much symbolic, nation-building weight the colonists are required to bear in the realms of popular history.

Histories of witchcraft have often revealed more about the time in which the historian was writing than about witchcraft itself. Within each all-encompassing theory of witchcraft in the English Atlantic world came a new set of contemporary biases and prerogatives, obscuring the fact that, to the individual living in the early modern world, from the sixteenth through the middle part of the eighteenth centuries, witchcraft was a legitimate, but dangerous, category for explaining reality. Witchcraft intersected, contained, and sometimes overwrote other important social questions—most notably of gender, class, inequality, and religion—but to treat it merely as a proxy for those other ideas, because those other ideas have persisted into our own time while witchcraft has not, strips away the explanatory power that witchcraft held for the people who were touched by it. An idea, even today, does not have to be empirically verifiable for it to matter.

A surer way to access the meaning and function of witchcraft in the early modern world is to peel back the layers of popular myth and academic historiography and to look with fresh eyes at the primary sources. What ultimately emerges is a complicated picture. The witch appears first, in biblical terms, as the Other, as that which is not doctrinaire. Witchcraft is less a set of defined practices than a representation of the oppositional, as the intentional thwarting of the machinery of power, whether that power lies with the church, with the king, or with the dominant cultural group. Under the heavy guidance of English theologians, witches and witchcraft assume a set of identifiable principles and practices, though those practices remain distilled from oppositional definitions. Witches pervert the generative properties of womanhood in their suckling of imps and their copulations with devils; they subvert the church’s authority by turning Christian rituals on end; and they undermine class hierarchy by claiming unearned power for themselves.

The English abstraction of who a witch is, and what she is likely to do, travels with the colonists to North America. While primarily a Puritan phenomenon on North American shores, witchcraft penetrates deeper into colonial life than might initially be suspected. The majority of witch trials were held in New England, though the cultural content of witchcraft finds expression throughout the colonies, and in ongoing dialogue with England. The use of English precedent as template and justification for the conduct of the Salem trials underscores the fact that Salem, rather than being an aberration, was instead the most intense, and perhaps the most defining, expression of North American religious, cultural, and legal thought.

Whereas nineteenth-century historians treated colonial-era belief in witchcraft as a faintly embarrassing holdover of medieval thought that was quickly purged, the belief in and pursuit of witches must instead be seen as a central concept informing a shifting North American identity. Even after Salem forever changed the way that witchcraft would (and, soon enough, would not) be prosecuted, belief in witchcraft persisted well into the Enlightenment. Witches served as both literal and figurative scapegoats for frontier communities under profound economic, religious, and political pressure. The figure of the witch, the idea of the witch, and the need to flush her out of her hiding place and into the light served as a binding agent among fragile communities that were subject to waves of arrival and departure, living with uncertain rights in unsecured territories. The witch—ever the embodiment of the oppositional— served a vital role in the formation of what would eventually be a new united nation. That’s one of the reasons that she and the events of Salem persist in our political discourse and in our popular culture. We need her in order to know who we are not so that we can begin to imagine who we are.
Witchcraft continues to fascinate us today, a fact evidenced by the ongoing popularity of witches in fiction, tourism, history, popular religion, and historical writing. Much of what we think we know about witchcraft is actually cribbed from popular culture. When we talk about witches, we imagine a Halloween stereotype of a woman with a pointy hat, broom, and cat, blended with the magic-using housewife of Bewitched, who could wiggle her nose to make a pot roast. But the real witches of early modern England and North America are not cackling cartoon characters in pointy hats. The reality of witchcraft in English North America is much more fascinating—and terrifying.
Or not at random. The photographs were arrayed around a cutout of the earth from a science magazine. On closer inspection, the pictures of women seemed to be generations of the former occupant’s family. Next to the altar—for that is what the wall of devotional pictures proved to be—stood a bookshelf packed with well-thumbed texts about witchcraft, mostly of the contemporary post–New Age variety that dated back to the 1970s. The neighbors rooted through her belongings, bartering for candlesticks, haggling over Federal-style end tables, unaware that a witch had been living next door for three decades.

I took home her dusty mantel clock, a simple table that became my desk, and the well-loved witchcraft books. But my real joy lay in knowing that my neighbor had found a connection to history that was meaningful to her, and from which she drew empowerment. Even after witchcraft disappeared as a deadly legal problem, the belief in witchcraft persists, continuing to do its cultural work, hiding in plain sight in the staid bedroom communities of Boston.

- Katherine Howe


If the expansion of the Salem witch trials was ignited by Tituba’s confession, then we must ask her reason for confessing and condemning these other women. It is tempting to say that Tituba confessed to save herself, but when she did, she did not know that she would be spared because of it. Usually in an early modern witch trial, if one confessed it would only hurry one to the gallows, as was the case with Ursula Kemp one hundred years before. It has been argued that Parris beat Tituba’s confession out of her; the descriptions of her body, when it was examined looking for her witch’s teat, also include evidence of bruising. We may never fully understand why she confessed. She was a slave and a woman in a rigidly hierarchal society. Her questioning was leading at best and aggressive at worst. Tituba confessed for the same reason that people confess to crimes they did not commit today—because she had been hounded into it by people in a position of power.

What we can understand is how she confessed, which may tell us something about why. Tituba’s confession displays a deep knowledge of English witchcraft: the covenanting with the Devil, the spirit familiars in the forms of animals, riding on a stick to the Sabbath, and sending out a spirit to do harm (often against children) are wholly consistent with English thinking about witchcraft. These details are perfectly consistent with English witchcraft manuals—too consistent. For someone who could not read (Tituba made her mark rather than sign her name) this kind of knowledge could only have come from someone else. Such details about witchcraft were scholastic, rather than common folk knowledge. These details coming from the mouth of an illiterate slave from Barbados strongly suggests coercion both in the act of the confession, as well as instruction in what specifically to say.

The First Examination of Tituba

Tituba the Indian Woman’s Examination, March 1, 1691/2

[Q]: Why do you hurt these poor children? What harm have they done unto you?
[A]: I did not pinch them at the first, but he made me afterward.

[Q]: Have you seen Good and Osburn ride upon a pole?
The Second Examination of Tituba

Second Examination, March 2, 1691/2

[Q]: What covenant did you make with that man that came to you? What did he tell you?

MONDAY, MARCH 21, 1692

 Martha Cory was the wife of Giles Cory and was the first woman accused whose accusation might be termed atypical. She was a full church member at a time when church membership was tantamount to social rank and respect, and meant probable membership in the elect who would advance to heaven. She was married, and not in a scandalous or volatile way. She was moneyed. Once Tituba’s confession planted the seed of the idea that there was a conspiracy in town, suspicion was then free to spread to members of the community who might otherwise have been thought to be above reproach.

Most striking in Martha Cory’s examination was her incredulity that this was really happening to her. In the course of her examination, she claimed that the children were “distracted,” that is, crazy. She laughed during the proceedings. She did not claim to know whether there were or were not witches “in the country.” The magistrates, in turn, pointed to Tituba’s confession as evidence that witches were around, privileging the word of a slave woman over that of a churchwoman.

Martha Cory had publicly suspected that the afflicted girls were lying from the beginning, but her doubt, rather than being heard as a voice of reason within the community, would have been taken by doctrinaire Puritans as an error of faith. To doubt the existence of witches or the Devil was to go against the truth as laid out in the Bible. It was Martha Cory’s very skepticism that made her worthy of suspicion and led to her eventual hanging.

Martha Cory’s Examination
[Mr. Hathorne]: You are now in the hands of authority. Tell me now why you hurt these persons.
[Martha Cory]: He said the child said.

[Cheever]: You speak falsely.
[Martha Cory]: he told me the children said I afflicted them.

[Mr. Hathorne]: How do you know what they came for? Answer me this truly. Will you say how you came to know what they came for?
[Children]: There is a man whispering in her ear.

[Mr. Hathorne]: What did he say to you?
[Mr. Hathorne]: Who do you improve to hurt them.

[Martha Cory]: I improved none.
[Martha Cory]: What can I do? Many rise up against me.

[Mr. Hathorne]: Why, confess!
[Mr. Hathorne]: Who doth hurt these if you do not?

[Martha Cory]: Can an innocent person be guilty?

[Mr. Hathorne]: Do you deny these words?
[Mr. Hathorne]: You say you are no witch. Maybe you mean you never covenanted with the Devil. Did you never deal with any familiar?
[Mr. Hathorne]: What book did you carry to Mary Walcott?

[Martha Cory]: I carried none. If the Devil appears in my shape.

Then Needham said that Parker some time ago thought this woman was a witch.
[Martha Cory]: The God that made me.

[Mr. Hathorne]: Who is that God?

[Martha Cory]: The God that made me.

[Mr. Hathorne]: What is his name?

[Martha Cory]: Jehovah.
Salem Village, March the 21st, 1691/2

The Reverend Mr. Samuel Parris being desired to take in writing the examination of Martha Cory, hath returned it as aforesaid. Upon hearing the aforesaid and seeing what we did then see, together with the charges of the persons then present we committed Martha Cory, the wife of Giles Cory of Salem Farms, unto the gaol in Salem as mittimus then given out.

John Hathorne. Assistant, Jonathan Corwin.


Excerpted from "The Penguin Book of Witches"
by .
Copyright © 2014 Katherine Howe.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“Haunting . . . Erudite, insightful, and resonant . . . There are unsettling, inescapable parallels to the recent police violence in Ferguson, Mo. . . . The Penguin Book of Witches . . . provides invaluable historical context, and makes fascinating reading about a past that all too well illuminates the present.” —

“Katherine Howe’s new book recalls a time when witchcraft wasn’t just a crime, it was enough to get you killed.” —NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday

“A fascinating selection of historical accounts.” —The Washington Post

“People have never been as interested to hear about a book I was reading as they were when I spent a few weeks in October carrying around The Penguin Book of Witches. . . . Ben Franklin was alive and you could still be publicly stoned to death in Philly for being a witch. Crazy. This book is a good gift to give to single women you know.” —Caity Weaver, Gawker, “The Best Things We Read in 2014”

“I am just glad there is now, in this world, a book with the title The Penguin Book of Witches, because, really, how cool is that.” —John Scalzi, New York Times bestselling and Hugo Award–winning author

“Invaluable . . . A fine compendium.” —The Independent

“An excellent read . . . Fascinating and completely different from [other] books on witchcraft . . . A sobering look at what fear and instability can do to communities through the demonization of anyone thought of as different. You will close the book with a broader understanding of what we are capable of doing to each other.” —Nerdist
“A cornucopia of fascinating and often unsettling texts . . . Deftly curated and exhaustively annotated . . . [Along with] Howe’s engaging, thorough, and thoughtful annotations . . . the excerpts . . . are fascinating windows into early ideas about gender, class, and social roles.” —Refinery 29

“Fascinating and insightful. With her usual skill, Katherine Howe navigates the winding path leading to Salem’s hysteria and beyond. A must-read for anyone who wants to know not only what happened but also how and why.” —Brunonia Barry, New York Times bestselling author of The Lace Reader

“This comprehensive collection of carefully selected documents and published primary materials, coupled with judicious and informative introductions, will help modern readers understand the seemingly inexplicable and persistent popular phenomenon of belief in witchcraft from the seventeenth century into more modern times.” —Mary Beth Norton, author of In the Devil’s Snare

“An informative and engaging series of texts that Katherine Howe introduces in a crisp and well-informed manner. The chronological breadth is unusual, but it allows us to grasp more fully the continuities that mark the history of witch-hunting on both sides of the Atlantic.” —David D. Hall, Harvard Divinity School

“With insightful notations . . . this superbly edited and annotated work provides in-depth material for those interested in the origins of witchcraft persecution in America.” —Library Journal

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