IF the distinction between magic and religion had been blurred by the medieval Church, it was strongly reasserted by the propagandists of the Protestant Reformation. From the very start, enemies of Roman Catholicism fastened upon the magical implications which they saw to be inherent in some fundamental aspects of the Church's ritual. The ultra-Protestant position was stated as early as 1395 by the Lollards in their Twelve Conclusions:

That exorcisms and hallowings, made in the Church, of wine, and wax, water, salt and oil and incense, the stone of the altar, vestments, mitre, cross, and pilgrims' staves, be the very practice necromancy, rather than of the holy theology. This conclusion is thus. For by such exorcisms creatures be charged to be of higher than their own kind, and we see nothing of change in no such creature that is so charmed, but by false belief, the which is the principle of the devil's craft.1

As an example of this principle, the Lollards cited the case of water. If the Church's exorcisms and blessing could really material effects, they argued, then holy water would be the best medicine for any sickness. That this was not the case showed that it was unreasonable and impious to expect God to assist at a ceremony designed to give ordinary water the power to bring health mind and body, to expel spirits, or drive away pestilence. Holy water, in fact, had no more virtue than well-water or river-water.'

NOTE: The aspect of the English Reformation considered in this is only briefly discussed in the admirable recent survey, A. G. Dickens, English Reformation (1964). Representative Lollard and Protestant opinion can be found in Foxe and in the volumes of the Parker Society, but much additional material is contained in other contemporary writings and in largely unpublished records of the ecclesiastical courts. In this chapter word 'Protestant' has been used to characterize the principles of sixteenth-century reformers; I am not concerned with their subsequent dilution or re-interpretation.

1.             H. S. Cronin. 'The Twelve Conclusions of the Lollards', E.H.R., xxii (1907), p. 298.

2.             Foxe, iii, pp. 179-80, 590, 596; iv, p. 230; E. Welch, 'Some Suffolk Lollards', Procs. SuDolk Inst. Archaeology, xxix (1962). p. 164; Thomson, Later Lollards, p. 248.


Neither did holy bread possess any new quality merely because an incantation had been pronounced over it! Similar objections were made to the consecration of church bells against tempests, and the wearing of words of scripture as a protection against danger. Such operations were sheer necromancy, a spurious attribution of effective virtue to the mere enunciation of words, a hopeless attempt to endow objects with a power and strength exceeding their natural qualities. The very procedures of the priests were modelled on those of the magician observed the Lollard Walter Brute. Both thought their spells more effective when pronounced in one place and at one time rather than another; both turned to the East to say them; and both thought that mere words could possess a magical virtue. 3.

This attitude, which was common to most of the differing opinions usually bracketed together as 'Lollardy', thus involved a sweeping denial of the Church's claim to manipulate any aspects of God's supernatural power. Ecclesiastical blessings, exorcisms, conjurations and hallowings had no effect. Neither did the curses which the clergy chose to call down upon lay offenders. Either such delinquents had broken God's law, in which case God bad already cursed them himself; or they had not, in which case the Church's curse could be of no avail.Early Protestantism thus denied the magic of the opus operatum, the claim that the Church had instrumental power and had been endowed by Christ with an active share in his work and office. For a human authority to claim the power to work miracles was blasphemy -a challenge to God's omnipotence. ‘For, if ye may make at your pleasure such things to drive devils away and to heal both body and soul, what need have ye of Christ?’

3. Foxe, iii, p. 596; iv, p. 230; Lincoln Diocese Documents, 1450-1544, ed. A. Clark (E.E.T.s., 1914), p. 91. The extreme Lollard view that holy bread and water were not just ineffective. but positively the worse for having been conjured (V.C.H., Cambs., ii, p. 164; Foxe, iii, p. 598) may have under¬lain the curious observation of a Kentish Lollard that one could obtain riches by abstaining from blessed bread and water on three Sundays in the year ('Ibomson, Later Lollards, p. 185).

4. Foxe, iii, pp. 590, 596, 581; An Apology for Lollard Doctrines, ed.

J. H. Todd (Camden Soc., 1842), pp. 90-92.

1.             Foxe, iii. pp. 179-80.

2.             Foxe, iii, p. 107. See also below, p. 600.

7. N. Dorcastor. The Doctrine of the Masse Booke (ISS4). sig. Alii.


This theme was taken up with some relish during the Tudor Reformation, when the denial of the efficacy of the Catholic rituals of consecration and exorcism became central to the Protestant attack. Who were ‘the vilest witches and sorcerers of the earth’, demanded James Calfhill, if not ‘the priests that consecrate crosses and ashes, water and salt, oil and cream, boughs and bones, stocks and stones; that christen bens that hang in the steeple; that conjure worms that creep in the field; that give St John's Gospel to hang about men's necks?’ How could the ‘conjuration’ of the agnus dei, asked Bishop Jewel, endow it with the power to preserve its wearer from lightning and tempest? Of what avail was a mere piece of wax against a storm sent by God? As for St Agatha's letters, the holy remedy against burning houses, they were, declared Bishop Pilkington, sheer sorcery, and the use of consecrated bells in a thunder-storm mere ‘witchcrafts’.8 In a similar manner were dismissed the sign of the cross,the relics of the saints, and the whole apparatus of Catholic magic. The Edwardian Injunctions of 1547 forbade the Christian to observe such practices as casting holy water upon his bed, ... bearing about him holy bread, or St John's Gospel, ... ringing of holy bells; or blessing with the holy candle, to the intent thereby to be discharged of the burden of sin, or to drive away devils, or to put away dreams, and fantasies; or ... putting trust and confidence of health and salvation in the same ceremonies.

In the reign of Elizabeth the import of the agnus dei or similar tokens was made into a serious offence. All this was but a preliminary to the onslaught on the central Catholic doctrine of the Mass. For if conjurations and exorcisms were ineffective, then what was transubstantiation but a spurious, piece of legerdemain, ‘the pretence of a power, plainly magical, changing the elements in such a sort as all the magicians of Pharaoh could never do, nor had the face to attempt the like. It being so yond all credibility’. The Papists, wrote Calvin, ‘pretend there is magical force in the sacraments, independent of efficacious faith’.

8. J. Calfhill, An 'Answer to John Martiall's Treatise of the Cross, ed.

R. Gibbings (Cambridge, P.S., 1846), p. 17; The Works of John Jewel, ed.

J. Ayre (Cambridge, P.S., 1845-50), ii, p. 1045; The Works of James Pil ton, ed. J. Scholefield (Cambridge, P.S., 1842), pp. 177, 536, 563.

9. Notably in Calfhill's lengthy Answer to Martiall.

10. Documents Illustrative of English Church History, ed. H. Gee

W. J. Hardy (1896). p. 428n; 13 Eliz., cap. 2


For Bishop Hooper the Roman Mass was ‘nothing better to be esteemed than the verses of the sorcerer or enchanter … holy words murmured and spoken in secret'. 11 In place of the miraculous transubstantiation of the consecrated elements was substituted a simple commemorative rite, and the reservation of the sacrament was discontinued. It went without saying that none of the Protestant reformers would countenance any of the old notions concerning the temporal benefits which might spring from communicating or from contemplating the consecrated elements. Instead, their prescriptions for the communion service were specially designed to eliminate any ground for the ancient superstitions. The 1552 Prayer Book specified that ordinary bread should be used for the communion service, in place of the special unleavened wafers of the Catholic past. There were even objections to the old precaution of consecrating no more bread and wine than was needed by the communicants, because it implied that the elements changed their quality during the rite. In such ways the Edwardian reformers violently repudiated Catholic ritual, and what Bishop Bale called ‘their masses and other sorcerous witchcrafts’.

In the reign of Elizabeth I the Kentish squire. Reginald Scot, further developed this line of argument in his Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584). This brilliant work is chiefly remembered today for its protest against the persecution of harmless old women, but it is also important as a thorough-going demonstration of the magical elements in medieval Catholicism and their affiliation with other contemporary kinds of magical activity. As far as Scot was concerned, the power of exorcism was a special gift to the Apostles, which had long ceased to be operative. The error of the Catholic Church was to have preserved the ritual into a time when miracles cou1d no longer be expected. Its formulae were as vain and superstitious as those of the back-street conjurers of Elizabethan London. Indeed, declared Scot, ‘I see no difference between these and Popish conjurations: for they agree on order, words and matter, differing in no


1.             H.More. A Modest Enquiry into the Mystery of Iniquity (1664). p. 428; F. Oark. Eucharistic Sacrifice and the Reformation (1960). p. 359; Frere and Kennedy, Articles and Injunctions. ii. p. 274.

2.             F. Procter and W. H. Frere, A New History of the Book of Common Prayer (1901). p. 74; C. W. Dugmore. The Mass and the English Reformer, (1958), p. 120; The Labororyouse Journey and Serche of John Leylande '" enlarged by Johan Bale, ed. W. A. Copinger (1895). p. 10.


circumstances, but that the Papists do it without shame openly, the other do it in hugger mugger secretly.’ A Popish consecration, agreed a contemporary, was but ‘a magical incantation’.11

A century of Protestant teaching was summed up in the incisive prose of Thomas Hobbes. In Leviathan (1651) he denounced the Roman Catholics for ‘the turning of consecration into conjuration, or enchantment’. As he carefully explained,

to consecrate is, in Scripture, to offer, give or dedicate, in pious and decent language and gesture, a man, or any other thing to God, by separating of it from common use; that is to say to sanctify or make it God's ... and thereby to change not the thing consecrated, but only the use of it, from being profane and common, to be holy and peculiar to God's service. But, when, by such words, the nature or quality of the thing itself, is pretended to be changed. It is not consecration, but either an extraordinary work of God, or a vain and impious conjuration. But seeing, for the frequency of pretending the change of nature in their consecrations, it cannot be esteemed a work extraordinary. It is no other than a conjuration or incantation, whereby they would have men to believe an alteration of nature that is not, contrary to the testimony of man's sight, and of all the rest of his senses.

The supreme example of such conjuration, declared Hobbes, ‘was the Roman sacrament of the Mass, in which the mere pronunciation of the appropriate formula was said to change the nature of the bread and wine, even though no visible change was apparent to the human senses. A similar incantation was used in baptism, ‘where the abuse of God's name in each several person, and in the whole Trinity, with the sign of the cross at each name, maketh up the charm’. For did not the Catholic priest conjure the devil out of the holy water, salt and oil, and then proceed to make the infant himself ‘subject to many charms’? And ‘at the church door the priest blows thrice in the child's face, and says: Go out of him unclean spirit and give place to the Holy Ghost the comforter: after which came exorcisms and ‘some other incantations’, Similarly, other rites, as of marriage, of extreme unction, of visitation of the sick, of consecrating churches and churchyards, and the like, were not ‘exempt from charms; inasmuch as there is in them the use of enchanted oil and water, with the abuse of the cross, and of the holy word of David, asperges me Domine hyssopo, as things of efficacy to drive away phantasms, and imaginary spirits.’    

1.             Scot, Discoverie, XV, xxii; E. Bulkeley, A Sermon (1586), sig. B4Y•

2.             T. Hobbes, Leviathan (16S1), chap. 44, ts. Thomson, Later Lollards, pp. 76, 106, 127; Welch in Procs. SuDolk Inst. Archaeology, xxix (1962), p. 163.


It was in accordance with this attitude that all the sacraments of the Church had been scrutinized by the early Protestants for any magical affiliations they might possess. Baptism, which some of the Lollards had declared to be unnecessary for salvation, 15 was purged of its more dramatic features. The exorcism was dropped from the second Edwardian Prayer Book, because of its implication that unbaptised infants were demoniacs, and so were the anointing and the chrisom. Nevertheless, the rite retained a status which was more than merely symbolic. The fate of infants who died before baptism was still controversial. The first Prayer Book stressed the need for baptism within the first days of life and its Elizabethan successor emphasised the urgency of the matter by permitting it on days other than Sundays and holidays in cases of ‘necessity’. Most Elizabethan theologians denied the Tridentine doctrine that baptism was absolutely necessary for salvation, but they still regarded it as ‘formally’ necessary. Anxiety on this score led some clergy to defend baptism in an emergency by a midwife or a layman and provoked others into such outspoken assertions as that of the Vicar of Ashford, Kent, who declared in 1569 that children who died without baptism were the firebrands of Hell. The issue long remained controversial.

It is not surprising that for many Puritans the rite still had ‘superstitious’ aspects. They denied that the font-water had any special virtue; they objected to the sign of the cross; and they disliked the office of godparent. The Presbyterian Directory of Public Worship (1644) omitted the sign of the cross, along with the requirement that the font should be placed in a special position near the church door. The minister was further required to remind the congregation that baptism was not so necessary that an infant might

16. A. Hussey, 'Archbishop Parker'S Visitation, 1569', Home Counties Magazine, v (1903), p. 286. ct. Proceedings Principally in the County 0/ Kent, ed. L. B. Larking (Camden Soc., 1862), p. 118. For arguments on the SUbject, see G. W. Bromiley, Baptism and the Anglican Reformers (1953), pp. 48-64, and W. H(ubbocke), An Ap%gie 0/ In/ants in a Sermon (1595). For talk on the subject at Archbishop Neile's dinner•table see ASSociated Architectural Societies, Reports and Papers, xvi (1881), p. 48. For a Puritan view, W. Perkins, 'A Discourse of Conscience! ... , ed. T. F. Merrill (Nieuwkoop, 1966), pp. 130-34; and for a Baptist one, T. Grantham,

The Infants Advocate, against the Cruel Doctrine of those Presbyterians. Who hold-that the Greatest Part of Dying Infants shall be Damned (1688).


be damned for want of it. Such stipulations did something to play down the importance of the ceremony as a rite of passage; a tendency which the sectarian demand for the abolition of infant baptism was to take to its logical conclusion. Yet some of the early separatists who had rejected infant baptism returned to the Church of England when they became parents, lest their children should die before they were christened;  and in nineteenth-century Dorset some country-folk had their children speedily baptized. because ‘they understood that if a child died without a name he did flit about in the woods and waste places and could get no rest’. In modern Britain there are many otherwise non-religious people who think it unlucky not to be baptized.

Confirmation, which had already been attacked, by the Lollards, was even more sweepingly dismissed by some reformers as nothing ‘but plain sorcery, devilry, witchcraft, juggling, legerdemain, and all that naught is. The bishop mumbleth a few Latin words over the child, charmeth him, crosseth him. smeareth him with stinking popish oil, and tieth a linen band about the child's neck and sendeth him home.’ 18 The Church of England denied the sacramental character of the ceremony and discarded the holy oil and linen band. It also made concessions to those who thought that the medieval Church had confirmed children too young, by requiring that no one be admitted to the rite until he had learned to say the Creed, the Lord's Prayer and the Decalogue, and to answer questions in the Catechism. It thus laid its emphasis on the catecheticaI preparation rather than on the ceremony itself. But these changes did not satisfy Puritan opinion. The laying-on of hands was thought to reinforce the old Catholic superstition that the bishop could give the child strength against the Devil; in any case the rite of baptism was deemed to make the ceremony superfluous. The Millenary Petition of 1604 accordingly requested its

17. P. Collinson. The Elizabethan Puritan Movement (1967), p. 369; Procter and Frere, A New History of the Book of Common Prayer. pp. 159-60; The Writings of Henry Barrow, 1590-1, ed. L. H. Carlson (1966).

p. 92; (A. Gilby), A pleasant dialogue (1581), sig. M5; A. G. Matthews, Cafamy Revised (Oxford, 1934), 'p. 521; A. C. Carter, The English Reformed Church in Am!.terdam in the Seventeenth Century (Amsterdam, 1964), p. 56.

1.             Kilvert's Diary, ed. W. Plomer (new edn, 1960), ii, pp. 442-3; B. R. Wilson, Religion in Secular Society (1966), pp. 10-12.

2.             T. Becon, Prayers and other Pieces, ed. J. Ayre (Cambridge, P.S., 1844), p. 234. ct. Thomson, Later Lol1ard.~. p. 127; Welch in Procs. Suffolk lnsf. Archaeology, xxix (1962), pp. 159, 163.

20. Gee and Hardy. Documents Illustrative of Englbh Church Hi.~tory, p. 509; The Seconde Parte of a Register, ed. A. Peel (Cambridge, 1915), i.


abolition. In fact, of course, the Church of England kept the rite. Indeed the subsequent raising of the age at which children are expected to undergo it to fourteen or so has given it a more pronounced role as a rite of passage marking the arrival of ‘social’ puberty. 21

Nevertheless the Protestant attack on sacramental magic had severely eroded the ritual of the established Church. Of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church (baptism, confirmation. marriage, the Mass, ordination. penance, extreme unction), only baptism and the eucharist retained their undoubted sacramental character, and even these had been considerably reduced in significance. The Lollard view that marriage in a church was unnecessary reappeared in the sectarian concept of civil marriage as a private contract, though it did not gain full legal recognition until 1833. Extreme unction and the sacrament of penance were abandoned. Between 1547 and 1549 the Church also discarded holy water, holy oil and holy bread. The anointing of the invalid was omitted in the ritual for the Visitation of the Sick prescribed by the second Edwardian Prayer Book; and the belief that consecrated bells could drive away devils was given up, along with faith in the wonder working power of holy candles and the sign of the cross. By the end of the sixteenth century there was substantial acceptance for the extreme Protestant view that no mere ceremony could have any material efficacy, and that divine grace could not be conjured or coerced by any human formula. ‘The sacraments,’ said the separatist John Canne. ‘were not ordained of God to be used as charms and sorceries.’

pp. 200, 259. For lay resistance see. e.g., Wiltshire County Records. Minutes of Proceedings in Sessions, 1563 and 1574 to 1592, ed. H. C. Johnson (Wilts. Archaeol. and Nat. Hist. Soc., 1949), p. 123.

1.             For the post-Refonnation history of confinnatiol'l. S. L. Ollard, 'Con¬finnation in the Anglican communion', Confirmation and the Laying' on of Hands, by Various Writers, i (1926). pp. 60-245. The distinction between 'social' and physiological puberty is drawn by A. van Gennep, The Rites Of Passage, trans. M. B. Vizedom and G. L. Caffee (1960). pp. 65, 67.

2.             Thomson, Later Lollards, pp. 41. 127.

3.             On confession see below, pp. 183-7.

4.             J. Canne, A Necessitie of Separation (1634), ed. C. Stovel (Hanserd K.nollys Soc., 1849), pp. 116-17.

25. B. L. Woodcock, Medieval Ecclesiastical Courts in the.. Diocese of Canterbury (1952), p. 80; Thomson, Later Lollards, pp. 40, 78, 183.


Another delicate subject was the consecration of churches. The whole notion of consecrated ground had been violently attacked by the Lollard and there can be no doubt that it would have been abandoned if the Edwardian reformers had had their way. John Scory, preaching at Faversham in 1542, denounced the dedication of the churches as a superstitious ceremony, invented for the profit of the bishops. If it were really necessary to conjure the devil out of bricks and mortar, he argued, it was surprising that any man’s house was fit to live in. Most of his Protestant contemporaries would have agreed that a church was ‘made a holy place, not by superstitious words of magical enchantment; not by making of signs and characters in stone; but by the will of God and . . . godly use’. Bishop Ridley accordingly forbade the hallowing of altars; and no ceremony for the consecration of churches was included in the Elizabethan Prayer Book. Only at the end of the sixteenth century did such formulae creep back. They were a prominent feature of the Laudian revival, and came to be accepted even by moderate Anglicans.

Meanwhile, the Elizabethan separatist Henry Barrow pointed out the magical notions implicit in the whole structure of existing church buildings. At their foundation, he observed,

the first stone. must be laid by the hands of the bishop or his suffragan, with certain magical prayers, and holy water, and many other idolatrous rites ... They have at the west end their hallowed bells, which are also baptised, sprinkled, etc .... They have in the body of their church their hallowed font, to keep the holy water wherewith they baptise ... They have also their holiest of all, or chancel, which peculiarly belongeth to the priest ... They have their roodloft as a partition between their holy and holiest of all. The priest also hath a peculiar door unto his chancel, through which none might pass but himself ... This church, thus reared up, is also thoroughly hallowed with their sprinkling water, and dedicated and baptised into the name of some especial saint or angel, as to the patron and defender thereof, against all enemies, spirits, storms. tempests, etc. Yet hath it within also the holy army of saints and angels in their windows and walls, to keep it. Thus I think can be no doubt made, but that the very erections of these synagogues (whether they were by heathens or papists) were idolatrous.

26. L.P., xviii (2). p. 305; Calfhill. An Answer to John Martiall's Treatise.

p. 131.

21. Introduction by J. W. Legg to English Orders for Consecrating

Churches in the Seventeenth Century (Henry Bradshaw 'Soc., 1911). esP• pp. xvii-xix.


The sectarian conclusion, therefore, was that the arrangement of the very stones of church buildings was so inherently superstitious that there was nothing for it but to level the whole lot to the ground and begin again. It was no answer to say that the churches had been purged of their idolatry by the Reformation, for

how then do they still stand in their old idolatrous shapes with their ancient appurtenances with their courts, cells, aisles, chancel, bells, etc.? Can these remain and all idolatrous shapes and relics be purged from them; which are so inseparably inherent unto the whole building, as it can never be cleansed of this fretting leprosy, until it be desolate, laid on heaps, as their younger sisters, the abbeys and monasteries are …. The idolatrous shape so cleaveth to every stone, as it by no means can be severed from them whiles there is a stone left standing upon a stone. 28

It thus became a commonplace for religious nonconformists to declare their indifference or contempt for consecrated places. Like their Lollard predecessors, the separatists boggled at the idea of burying the dead on consecrated soil, and denied that prayers offered up on holy ground were any more likely to prevail. In 1582 Elizabeth Jones of Cheltenham declared that she could serve God in the fields as well as in church. In 1613 an Essex woman justified her absence from church by defiantly asserting that she could say her prayers as effectively at home. On the eve of the Civil War a man at Portsmouth was presented for saying that the church and churchyard were no holier than the common field. This attitude reached its aggressive culmination in 1640, when the Root and Branch petition condemned the bishops for ‘the christening and consecrating of churches and chapels, the consecrating fonts, tables, pulpits. chalices, churchyards, and many other things, and putting holiness in them; yea, reconsecrating upon pretended pollution, as though everything were unclean without their consecrating’ .

28. The Writings of Henry Barrow, 1587-90, edt  L. H. Carlson (1962), pp. 466-8. 478. Similar views in C. Burrage, The Early English Dissenters (Cambridge, 1912), i, pp. 89. 240.

29. Thomson, Later Lollards, pp. 132, 183; Foxe, v, p. 34; B. Hanbury, Historical Memorials relating to the Independents (1839-44). ii, p. 88; Gloucester D.R., Vol. 50; Essex R.O., D/AFA 21, f. 3S (kindly shown me by Dr Alan Macfarlane); Extracts from 'Records . .. of the Borough of Portsmouth, ed. R. J. Murrell and R. East (Portsmouth. 1884). p. 124. For an extreme statement of the alternative viewpoint. N. Wallington. Historical Notices, ed. R. Webb (1869). i. pp. 189-90.

30. Gee and Hardy, Documents Illustrative of English Church History, p. 541.


Soon afterwards the sects resumed the demand for pulling down superstitious church buildings. It was wrong to worship in consecrated surroundings: a bar, stable or pigsty would do as well. The plain and functional Quaker meeting-house was the ultimate achievement of this school of thought.

Another semi-magical ceremony which the Anglican Church seemed reluctant to discard was the churching of women. In its prescription for this rite the Elizabethan Prayer Book followed medieval practice in laying its emphasis on the element of thanksgiving for a safe deliverance. But to Puritan observers it seemed that too many remnants of the old idea of ritual purification had been retained. They took offence at the stylized accompaniments of childbirth lying-in ‘with a white sheet upon her bed’, coming forth ‘covered with a veil, as ashamed of some folly’. The rubric of the Prayer Book did not require the woman to wear a white veil, but orthodox clergy insisted upon it and it was upheld in a legal judgment in the reign of James 1. Many churches had a special seat for the new mother, with her midwife at a discreet distance behind her. All this seemed to the Puritans to imply that a woman was unclean after childbirth, until she had been magically purified; and it was true that some of the bishops regarded ‘purifying’ as the mot juste. The need for such purification, declared one preacher, speaking of sexual intercourse, was clear proof ‘that some stain or other doth creep into this action which had need to be repented’.  Puritan suspicions were not allayed by the recitation at the ceremony itself of Psalm 121. with its strange incantation: ‘The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night’ -as if, snorted John Milton, the woman ‘had been travailing not in her bed, but in the deserts of Arabia’.

31. T. Edwards, Gangraena (2nd edn, 1646), i, p. 30; ii, p. 5; iii, p. 62.

d. C.S.P.D., 1635, p. 40: 1637, p. 508; C. Hill in Historical Essays 1600-1750 presented to David Ogg, ed. H. E. Bell and R. L. Ol1ard (1963), p. 51.

1.             The Puritan Manifestoes, ed. W. H. Frere and C. E. Douglas (1907), pp. 28-9; R. Bum, Ecclesiastical Law (2nd edn, 1767), i, p. 290.

2.             The Works of Henry Smith, ed. T. Smith (1866-7), i, p. 12. cf.

W. P. M. KeIUledy, The 'Interpretations' of the Bishops (Alcuin Club, 1908), p.36.

34. Complete Prose Works of John Milton (New Haven. 1953-), i, p. 939. cf. Gilby, A Pleasant Dialogue, sig. M5; K. Chidley, The Justification of the Independant Churches of Christ (1641), p. 57.


The taboo elements in the whole ritual were sardonically analysed by Henry Barrow:

After they have been safely delivered of childbirth, and have lain in, and been shut up, their month of days accomplished; then are they to repair to church and to kneel down in some place nigh the communion table (not to speak how she cometh wimpled and muffled, accompanied with her wives, and dare not look upon the sun nor sky, until the priest have put her in possession again of them) unto whom (thus placed in the church) cometh Sir Priest; straight ways standeth by her, and readeth over her a certain psalm, viz. 121, and assureth her that the sun shall not burn her by day, nor, the moon by night, [and] sayeth his Pater Noster, with the prescribed versicles and response, with his collect. And then, she having offered her accustomed offerings unto him for his labour, God speed her well, she is a woman on foot again, as holy as ever she was; she may now put off her veiling kerchief, and look her husband and neighbours in the face again ... What can be a more apish imitation, or rather a more reviving of the Jewish purification than this?

For Barrow the surest proof of the magical element in the ceremony was the ritual period of isolation which preceded it:

If she be not defiled by childbirth, why do they separate her? Why do they cleanse her? Why may she not return to Church (having recovered strength) before her month be expired? Why may she not come after her accustomed manner, and give God thanks? ... Why is she enjoined to come, and the priest to receive her in this prescript manner? Why are the women held in a superstitious opinion that this action is necessary?

Resistance to churching or to wearing the veil thus became one of the surest signs of Puritan feeling among clergy or laity in the century before the Civil War.  But the Anglican Church hung on to the ceremony, though dropping psalm 121 after the Restoration, and quietly abandoning the emphasis upon the obligatory character of the rite.

The same aversion to anything smacking of magic governed the Protestant attitude to prayer. Indeed the conventional distinction between a prayer and a spell seems to have been first hammered out, not by the nineteenth-century anthropologists, with whom it is usually associated, but by sixteenth-century Protestant theologians. It was well expressed by the Puritan Richard Greenham when he explained that parishioners should not assume that their ministers could give them immediate relief when their consciences were troubled.

35. The Writings Of Henry Barrow, 1587-90, pp. 462-3.

36. For some examples. Hale, Precedents, pp. 167, 169, 225. 230, 237; ~. Gibbons, Ely Episcopal Records (1890), p. 84; The State of the Church In the Reigns of Elizabeth and James I, ed. C. W. Foster (Lincoln Rec. Soc., 1926), pp. xxxix, lxxix, Ixxxi; V.C.H. Beds., i, p. 336n. 3; V.C.H., Wilts., iii, p. 36; C.S.P.D., 1637-8, pp. 382-3.


This [he wrote] is a coming rather as it were to a magician (who. by an incantation of words, makes silly, souls look for health rather than to the minister of God, whose words being most angelical comfort, not until, and so,much as, it pleaseth the Lord to give a blessing unto them; which sometime he doth deny. because we come to them with too great an opinion of them; as they were wise men [i.e. wizards], not unto such, as using their means, yet do look and stay for our comfort wholly from God himself.

Words and prayers, in other words, had no power in themselves, unless God chose to heed them; whereas the working of charms followed automatically upon their pronunciation. This same distinction lay behind William Tyndale's denunciation of the Roman Catholics for what he called

a false kind of praying, wherein the tongue and lips labour ... but the heart talketh not, ... nor hath any confidence in the promises of God; but trusteth in the multitude of words. and in the pain and tediousness of the length of the prayer; as a conjurer doth in his circles, characters, and superstitious words of his conjuration.

A prayer ‘repeated without understanding’, said another Protestant, was not ‘any better than a charm.’

In an effort to remove the Incantatory aspects of formal prayer the Anglican Church went over from Latin to the vernacular. Steps were also taken to eliminate any prayers which seemed to imply that supernatural power lay anywhere other than with God. Relics were no longer to be adored for their supposedly miraculous properties, and the idea of praying to saints was regarded as reprehensible; the Lollards had dismissed one of the most famous objects of pilgrimage as ‘the witch of Walsingham’. Most of the great shrines were systematically dismantled during the early Tudor Reformation. The Church also abandoned those other Popish rituals which, like the hymns sung on the feast of the Invention of the Cross, it thought to have been ‘conceived in the character of magic spells’. The Puritans would have liked to have gone further, and to have reformed or abolished


1.             The Workes of '" Richard Greenham, ed. H. H(olland) (3rd edn, 1601), p. 5; W. Tyndale, Expositions and Notes, ed. H. Walter (Cambridge, P.S., 1849), p. 80; Cooper, Mystery, p. 351.

2.             J. C. Dickinson, The Shrine of our Lady of Walsingham (Cambridge, 1956), p. 27.

3.             See the account in J. C. Wall, Shrines of British Saints (1905), chap. 6.

40. T. Jackson, A Treatise containing the Original/ of Unbelief (1625), p.236.


the Litany, whose numerous petitions they regarded as ‘nothing but an impure mass of conjuring and charming battologies’. At the Hampton Court Conference an effort was made to delete the prayer for delivery from violent death, on the grounds that it was a particularly obnoxious ‘conjuring of God’.4!

But the incantatory character of many prayers was not so easily eliminated. John Rogers, the seventeenth-century Fifth Monarchy Man. tells us that as a child he used to reel off his prayers in the hope that they would act as charms to keep him safe at night, when he was afraid ‘the devils would tear [him] to pieces’; sometimes frantically repeating them twice over, for fear he might have made some slip in pronunciation the first time. In the same way men had become habituated to reciting set prayers when planting and grafting, or even when looking for things they had lost.41

The Anglican Church clung on to the principle of set prayer, but it did at least take steps to remove rituals which appeared to be attempts to coerce the deity rather than to entreat him. In 1547 the Royal Injunctions put a stop to the religious processions traditionally held at times of special need. This step was said at first to have been taken because of the strife for precedence and general disorder which marked these occasions. But ultimately processions were admitted to be superfluous: prayer was just as effective if offered up less ostentatiously, within the church building.

One procession alone was retained: the annual perambulation of the parish in Rogation week. This was the sole survivor of the many medieval ceremonies which had been conducted in the open to secure fertility and good weather: blessing the trees on the Twelfth Day after Christmas, reading gospels to the springs to make their water purer, and the blessing of the corn by the young men and maids after they had received the sacrament on Palm Sunday.  The medieval Litanies or Rogations (major on St Mark's Day (25 April), and minor on the three days before Ascension Day) derived from earlier pagan ceremonies, and had been designed to combat war, illness, violent death and other non-agricultural

1.             Procter and Frere, A New History of the Book of Common Prayer, pp. 137-8, 129-30. cf. The Writings of Henry Barrow, 1590-1, p. 94.

2.             E. Rogers, Some Account of the Life and Opinions of Q Fifth¬Monarchy Man (1867), pp. 8, 11; The Country-man's Recreation (1654), p. 60; J. Dod and R. Cleaver, A Plaine and Familiar Exposition of the Ten Commandements (l8th edn, 1632), p. 95.

43. Aubrey, Gentilisme, pp. 40, 58, 59.


terrors.  But they also involved processing across the fields with cross, banners and bells to drive away evil spirits and bless the crops. Under the reformed procedure, laid down in the Royal Injunctions of 1559 and amplified in subsequent instructions, there was to be an annual perambulation of the parish boundaries at the accustomed time, i.e. Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday of Ascension week, carried out by the curate and substantial men of the parish. At convenient places the curate was to admonish the people of the need to give thanks for the fruits of the earth, and warn them of the curse which fell upon those who removed their neighbour's landmarks. Two psalms and the Litany were to be sung, and a sermon or homily preached. Every effort was made to purge these occasions of any popish associations. The curate was not to wear a surplice and there was to be no carrying of banners or stopping at wayside crosses. The ceremony, as Bishop Grindal stressed, was ‘not a procession but a perambulation’.

The perambulation was thus intended to make sure that the parish boundaries had not been encroached upon during the course of the year; and also to offer prayers for good weather and a successful harvest. But many contemporaries attributed a mechanical efficacy to the ceremony; it was too closely linked to its medieval antecedents: what Tyndale called ‘saying of gospels to the corn in the field in the procession week, that it should the better grow’. The meaning of such procedures had been emphasized as late as 1540 in the Postils of Richard Taverner, the Erasmian associate of Thomas Cromwell. Observing how pestilence was caused by the evil spirits which infected the air, Taverner explained that

for this cause be certain gospels read in the wide field amongst the corn and grass. that by the virtue and operation of God's word, the power of the wicked spirits which keep in the air may be laid down, and the air made pure and clean. to the intent the corn may remain unharmed and not infected of the said hurtful spirits. but serve us for our use and bodily sustenance.

Provided that the processions were made with due reverence, thought Taverner, there was no doubt ‘but that God’s word will utter and execute his virtue and strength upon the com and air, that those noisome spirits of the air shall do no hurt at all to our com and cattle’.411

44. Frere and Kennedy. Articles and Injunctions, iii, pp. 160, 164, 177,

208. 264, 290. 308-9, 334, 378; The Remains of Edmund Grindal, ed. W. Nicholson (Cambridge, P.S., 1843), pp. 240--41.

45. W. Tyndale, An Answer to Sir Thomas More's Dialogue, ed. H. Walter (Cambridge, P.S., 1850), p. 62.


The notion that the appropriate religious ritual could bring material benefit thus lingered on. The clergy had to be coerced into leaving behind their surplices and banners; and they were reluctant to give up reading prayers at the spots where the wayside crosses had once stood. Crosses were sometimes cut on tree trunks to mark where the gospel used to be read. At Standlake, Oxfordshire, the parson used to read it at the barrel's head in the cellar of the Chequers Inn, allegedly the site of the original cross. Indeed the medieval practice of reading the gospels in the corn fields survived in some areas until the Civil War even though the perambulation was supposed to limit itself to the parochial boundaries. Most parishes had their idiosyncratic customs about refreshment and entertainment on the route: at Great Gransden, Huntingdonshire, it was the practice to hold the vicar upside down with his head in a waterhole.

The Puritans accordingly displayed hostility towards the whole business. ‘Is there an idol here to be worshipped that you have a drinking?’, demanded an Essex perambulator in 1565. ‘Charming the fields’, Henry Barrow called it.48  At Deddington, Oxfordshire, typical scruples were displayed in 1631 by the Puritan incumbent. William Brudenell, who refused to wear his surplice on the outing, much to his parishioners' dismay, and jibbed at reading a gospel at the customary spot where a cross had been carved in the earth. He demanded ‘to what end he should read one, and said he would not stand bare to a hole, which any shepherd or boy might make for ought he knew, and said it was Popery to observe old customs; and he went further on and stood in a ditch under an elder tree, and then read in a book a homily’.  On another occasion he refused to go around the boundaries, demanding what purpose it served, and (significantly) ‘whether it would be any benefit or profit to the poor’. The only answer he received was that the ritual was a customary one; this failed to satisfy him, and he abstained from ‘the perambulation’.


46. R. Taverner. Postils on the Epistles and Gospels. ed. E. Cardwell (Oxford, 1841). p. 280. The passage suggests that the rationalism of contemporary 'Erasmianism' can be, exaggerated.

47 T. S. Maskelyne, 'Perambulation of Burton, 1733'. Wilts. Archaeol. and Nat. Hist. Mag., xl (1918); R. P(lot). The Natural History of Oxford¬Shire (Oxford. 1677), p. 203; Aubrey. Gentilisme. pp. 32-4. 40; M. W. Beresford and J. K. S. St Joseph, Medieval England: an Aerial Survey (1958), p. 77.

48. F. G. Emmison, An Introduction to Archives (1964). plate 12; The Writings of Henry Barrow, 1587-90, p. 543. ct. The Puritan Manifestoes.

p. 33; A short dialogue (1605), p. 12; Canoe, A Necessitie of Separation, p. 123.


These Rogation ceremonies, 'gang days’ or ‘cross days’, as they were called, were, of course. Not primarily regarded as a magical method for making the crops grow. Basically, they were the corporate manifestation of the village community, an occasion for eating and drinking, and the reconciliation of disputes. They fell into desuetude, less from any growth of rationalism, than because of the social changes which broke up the old community, and physically impeded anything so cumbersome as a perambulation around parochial boundaries. The ritual was well designed for open-field country, but enclosure and cultivation led to the destruction of old landmarks and blocking of rights of way. The decline of corporate feeling showed itself in the increasing reluctance of wealthy householders to pay for the riffraff of the village to drink themselves into a frenzy. At Goring in the 1620s a definite stand was taken when several inhabitants declared themselves ready to go to law rather than foot the bill for drink. Meanwhile the spread of better methods of surveying and map-making were making much of the procedure obsolete. The Laudian bishops tried to keep it alive as a means of intercession at time of threatened scarcity, and some parishes retained it for convivial reasons until the nineteenth century. But after the sixteenth century there were few men who suggested that the ceremony had any material efficacy. Protestantism also launched a new campaign against the relics of paganism with which the early Church had done so much to compromise. Popery was portrayed as the great repository of ‘ethnic superstitions’ and most Catholic rites were regarded as thinly concealed mutations of earlier pagan


49. Bod!., Oxford Diocesan Papers, c 26, fl. 182-184. Other examples of non-cooperation by ministers occu.r in Ely D.R., B 2/15, f. 4v; Wells D.R., A 102.

50. Bod!., Oxford Diocesan Papers, d 11, f. 226v. For other instances of drink being refused,. Hale, Precedents, p. 243; W. H. Turner, in Procs. of the Oxford Architectural and Hist. Soc., n.s., iii (1872-80), p. 137; Ely D.R., B 2/21, f. 83v (1601); V.C.H. Wilts., iii, p. 46; and for obstructions caused by enclosure and cultivation, M. Bowker, The Secular Clergy. in the Dio¬cese of Lincoln, 1495-1520 (Cambridge, 1968), pp. 113-14; Hale, Precedents, pp. 162, 237, 243; Heywood, Diaries, ii, p. 291.

51. e.g., Articles to be enquired of ... in the trienniall visitation of ..• Lancelot Lord Bishop of Winton . .. 1625. sig. B1.


ceremonies. Much energy was spent in demonstrating that holy water was the Roman aqua lustralis, that wakes were the Bacchanalia, Shrove Tuesday celebrations Saturnalia, Rogation processions ambarvalia, and so forth. 52 The early reformers also set out to stop such traditional calendar customs as the Plough Monday procession (banned in 1548), and the saints’ days associated with special trades and occupations (prohibited in 1547). By the dissolution of the religious gilds they put an end to such village institutions as plough gilds, hobby-horses, and collections for plough lights. The annual feast of the parish church's dedication was compulsorily moved to the first Sunday in October, and all other wakes forbidden. Later ecclesiastical injunctions prohibited the entry into the church or churchyard of rush-bearing processions, Lords of Misrule and Summer Lords and Ladies.

On these matters, as on so many others, later Protestant opinion was divided. The leaders of the Church in the early seventeenth century allowed May-games, Whitsun Ales, Morris dancing and maypoles; whereas the Puritans wanted the abolition of all remaining holy days, a ban on maypoles and Sunday dancing, and the purge of all secular accompaniments of religious ceremony.  They objected to the bagpipes and fiddlers who accompanied the bridal couple to the church and to the throwing of corn (the sixteenth-century equivalent of confetti). They repudiated such ritual appurtenances of funerals as the tolling bell, the mourning garments, and the distribution of doles to the poor, as ‘superstitious and heathenical’. They rejected the custom of giving New Year's gifts for the same reason.

1.             This is the theme of such works as T. Moresinus, Papatus, seu depra¬vatae religionis Origo et Incrementum (Edinburgh, 1594), and J. Stopford, Pagano-Papismus: or, an exact parallel between Rome-Pagan and Rome-Christian in their Doctrines and Ceremonies (1675). It culminated in Con¬yers ~iddleton's A Letter from Rome (1729). ct. W. Lambarde, A Peram¬bulation 01 Kent (1596), p. 335; S. Harsnet, A Declaration of Egregious Popish Impostures (1603), p. 88; Hobbes, Leviathan, chap. 45.

2.             Frere and Kennedy. Articles and Injunctions, ii, pp. 126, 175; iii, p. 271; loumal of the English Folk Dance and Song Soc., viii (1957), p. 76, n. 65; (A. Sparrow), A Collection of Articles (1684), p. 167.

54. See C. Hill. Society and Puritanism in Pre-Revolutionary England (1964), chap. S.

55. On weddings: Puritan Manifestoes, p. 27; Chetham Miscellanies, v (1875), p. 7; see also, below, pp. 740-41. On funerals: Puritan Manifestoes, p. 28; Canne. A Necessitie of Separation, p. 113; The Writings Of Henry Barrow, 1590-1, pp. 82-3; W. M. Palmer, in Procs. Cambs.  Antiq. Soc., xvi (1912), pp. 147-8; and below, pp. 721-2. On New Year's gifts: Brand, Antiquities, i, pp. 16, 18-19; The Workes of , .. William Perkins bridge, 1616-18~ ii, p. 676.


No doubtful practice escaped their eye. At Oxford the initiation rites for freshmen were discontinued under the Commonwealth and Protectorate; and in 1644 the Westminster Assembly resolved to ask Parliament ‘to review the superstitions that may in the order of knighthood’. The custom of drinking healths was also seen as a heathen survival, an oblation to some half-forgotten pagan deity. When the Cheshire Puritan John Bruen attended High Sheriff's feast, he refused to drink to the King, but said that he would pray for him instead. To contemporaries it was ideological scrupulosity of this kind which seemed the Puritan's distinguishing characteristic, and Sir John Harington could satirize the brother whose reaction, when someone exclaimed ‘Christ help!’  sneezing, was to say ‘twas witchcraft and deserved damnation’.  By obsessive attention to trivia of this kind, the Puritans satisfied their desire to eliminate all ceremonies, superstitions and which had non-Christian or magical overtones.

Extreme Protestants also diminished the role of supernatural sanctions in daily life by a new attitude to oath-taking, although courts of law after the Reformation continued to regard the oath a guarantee of testimony, the Lollards' objections to the practice revived by the Tudor separatists and their successors. Apart from the Anabaptists, the Reformers did not explicitly reject the use oaths altogether. They merely repudiated the practice of swearing by God's creatures (such as the saints or holy objects) rather than God himself.  But the Protestant emphasis upon the individual science inevitably shifted the ultimate sanction for truthfulness the external fear of divine punishment to the godly man's internal

1.             Wood, Life and Times, i, p. 140 (for earlier resistance, W. D. l.;nnsnc,; A Life of Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury (1871), i, pp. xii-xiii); Minutes of the Sessions of the Westminster Assembly. ed. A. Mitchell and J. Struthers (1874), p. 24.

2.             W. Hinde. A Faithfull Remonstrance of the Holy Life •.. of Bruen (1641), pp. 192-3. d. M. Scrivener, A Treatise against Drunkel (1685), pp. 120-21; J. Geree, A Divine Potion (1648), p. 5; A. Hildersha:m. CVIll. Lectures upon the Fourth of lohn (4th edn, 1656), p. 123; Vincent, Words of Advice to Young Men (1668), p. 96.

58. The Letters and Epigrams of Sir lohn Harington, ed. N. E. Mcuurel (Philadelphia, 1930), p. 180. Sneezing was sometimes regarded as an  W. Shelton, A Discourse of Superstition (1678), p. 25.

59. A distinction pointed out by H. G. Russell, 'Lollard opposition oaths by creatures', American H'ist. Rev., Ii (1946).


sense of responsibility, A man should keep his word simply because he had given it, Thomas Hobbes declared: ‘The oath adds nothing to the obligation.’ The Quakers accordingly refused to take oaths because of their unacceptable implication that an affirmation unaccompanied by an oath was less likely to be sincere; and in university ceremonies at Oxford during the Commonwealth oaths were replaced by promises.

For less conscientious men, however, the oath became less important because the terrors of supernatural vengeance had steadily receded. Complaints of perjury multiplied in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and successive statutes on the subject testify to the lack of any adequate secular sanction against the offence. The godly took oaths seriously, but the attitude of most people was less scrupulous, if the complaint of an early seventeenth-century Puritan is to be believed:

How many oaths are ministered daily to churchwardens, constables. jurors and witnesses, at every assize and sessions, in every court, baron and leet, in every commission, ... and no man regardeth them any more than the taking up of a straw; they think it is no more than the laying on the hand and kissing of the book. Tush', thinks every man, 'the taking of these oaths is a matter of nothing; all my neighbours have taken them before me, and made no reckoning of them.

In the later seventeenth century Sir William Petty agreed that ‘the sacred esteem of oaths is much lessened’. In New England the colonists devised ‘severe laws against perjury because they could no longer trust in miraculous punishments’.  At home the law was slower to be reformed. But in the business world self-interest had begun to supersede divine vengeance as the sanction for truthfulness. The oath was gradually replaced by the promise, which no successful trader could afford to break: as one Tudor merchant remarked: ‘If goods were lost much were lost; if time were lost more were lost; but it credit were lost all were lost.’ 113 So long as honesty was the best policy the decline of supernatural sanctions mattered less.


60. Hobbes, Leviathan, chap. 14; Wood, Life and Times, i, pp. 165, 207. For a fuller discussion of the whole subject of oaths. Hill. Society and PUritanism, chap. 11.

61. A. Hildersham. eLII Lectures upon Psalm LI (1635), p. 184; The Petty Papers, ed. Marquis of Lansdowne (1927), i, p. 275. d. T. Comber. The Nature and Usefulness Of Solemn ludicial Swearing (1682), p. 22; Sir

1. F. Stephen, A History of the Criminal Law of England (1883), iii, pp. 244-8.

62. B. C. Steiner, Maryland during the English Civil Wars (Baltimore, 1906-7), ii, pp. 92, 98; G. L. Haskins, Law and Authority in Early Massa. chusetts (New York, 1960), p. 125.


In all these different ways the Protestant reformers rejected the magical powers and supernatural sanctions which had been so plentifully invoked by the medieval Church. In Protestant mythology the  Middle Ages became notorious as the time of darkness, when spells and charms had masqueraded as religion and when the lead in magical activity had been taken by the clergy themselves. Scholastic learning was said to have included the arts of divination, and numerous English clerics, from Dunstan to Cardinals Morton and Wolsey, were portrayed as sorcerers who had dabbled in diabolic arts. An enormous list of Popes who had been conjurers, sorcerers or enchanters was put in circulation; and it included all eighteen pontiffs between Sylvester II and Gregory VII.  Such legends may have been reinforced by the way in which some of the Renaissance Popes had indeed compromised with hermetic magic and Neoplatonism.-But it was not the rediscovery of classical magic which underlay the complaints of the reformers: it was the basic ritual of the Catholic Church.

In the reign of Elizabeth I, therefore, the term ‘conjurer’ came to be a synonym for recusant priest. Bishop Richard Davies reminded the Welsh people of the ‘superstition, charms and incantations’ which had formed the religion of popish times, and a Puritan manifesto described the Church of Rome as the source of ‘all wicked sorcery’. A Yorkshire Protestant, shown a batch of Roman indulgences in 1586, could recognize them immediately as ‘witchcrafts, and papistry’. Catholic miracles were confidently attributed to witchcraft. Popery, in the words of Daniel Defoe, was ‘one entire system of anti-Christian magic’, and the Pope for the Elizabethan lawyer William Lambarde was the ‘witch of the world’.


1.             John Isham, Mercer and Merchant Adventurer, ed. O. D. Ramsay (Northants. Rec. Soc., 1962), p. 172.

2.             A. O. Dickens, Lollards and Protestants in the Diocese of York (1959). p. 124; Tyndale, Expositions and Notes, p. 308; F. Coxe, A Short Treatise (1561), sig. BiiijV; J. Oeree, Astrologo-Mastix (1646), p. 19; T. Rogers, The Catholic Doctrine Of the Church Of England, ed. 1. 1. S. Perowne (Cambridge, P.S., 1854), p. 180.

65. As is suggested by F. A. Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (1964). p. 143.

66. e.g., J. Strype, Annals (1725), ii, pp. 181-2; S. Haynes, A Collection of State Papers (1740), p. 603.


For Anglicans, however, this type of polemic could be embarrassing. The attack launched by the early reformers generated more radical variants; so that ultimately almost any kind of formal prayer or ceremony came to be denounced by its opponents as ‘witchcraft’ or ‘sorcery’. As Leslie Stephen was to remark, Protestantism inevitably became a screen for rationalism. The Church of England. which had kept what Bishop Jewel called its ‘scenic apparatus’, was duly criticised by radical Protestants for its ‘magical ceremonial rites’; and the sectary Henry Barrow described the Elizabethan clergy as ‘Egyptian enchanters’.  This terminology became so much part of the rhetoric of Puritanism that nonconformists could speak of the Prayer Book as ‘witchcraft’ and even interrupt the service by calling on the minister to ‘leave off his witchery, conjuration and sorcery’. Sir John Eliot thought that Parliament should stand firm against Laudian innovations ‘by restricting their ceremonies, by abolishing their sorceries’

67. O. Williams, The Welsh Church from Conquest to Reformation (Cardiff, 1962), p. 461; The Seconde Parte of a Register, i, p. 50; Borthwick, 2456; H. Foley, Records of the Engli.~h Province Of the Society of Jesus (1877-84), iv, p. 131; (D. Defoe), A System of Magick (1727), p. 352; William Lambarde and Local Government, ed; C. Read (Ithaca, N.Y., 1962), p. 101. For other examples of the extensive tradition linking Popery with magic see E. Worsop, A Discoverie Of Sundry Errours (1582), sig. E4;

 Holland, A Treatise against Witchcraft (Cambridge, 1590), sig. Bl; A. Roberts, A Treatise Of Witchcraft (1616), p. 3; Bernard, Guide, pp. 16-17;

 Oaule, Select Cases Of Conscience touching Witches and Witch crafts (1646), pp. 16-17; R. Bovet, Pandaemonium (1684), ed. M. Summers (Ald¬ington, Kent, 1951), pp. 71-3; Brand, Antiquities, iii, pp. 255-{); R. T. Davies, Four Centuries of Witch-Beliefs (1947), pp. 120-22.

68. L. Stephen, History Of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century (3rd edn, 1902), i, p. 79.

1.The Zurich Letters, trans. and ed. H. Robinson (Cambridge, P.S., 1842), p. 23; The Writings of Henry Barrow, 1587-90, pp. 346, 353, 381.

2.F. W. X. Fincham, 'Notes from the ecclesiastical court records at Somerset House', T.R.H.S., 4th ser., iv (1921), p. 121; T. Richards, Religious Developments in Wales (1654-62) (1923), p. 399 and n. 11; The Diary of Abraham de la Pryme, ed. C. Jackson (Surtees Soc., 1870), p. 293; S. R. Gardiner, History Of England from the Accession of James I to the Out¬break of the Civil War (1904-5), vi, p. 234. Davies, Four Centuries 0/ Witch-Beliefs, pp. 122-4, gives a good illustration of how Laudian ceremonies could be genuinely mistaken for ritual magic, but his suggestion that Eliot's speech implied that the Laudians had attempted to interfere with the 1604 witchcraft statute seems fanciful.


By 1645 the reaction against formal prayer had gone so far that an Essex Anabaptist could declare that no one but witches and sorcerers use to say the Lord's Prayer.  Extreme sectarians regarded the very idea of a professional clergyman as magical. John Webster asserted that all who were ordained by men, or who preached for hire, were magicians, sorcerers, enchanters, soothsayers, necromancers, and consulters with familiar spirits’. The Quakers, having dispensed with the priesthood. did not hesitate to denounce clergymen as ‘conjurers; and in Gerrard Winstanley's Digger utopia anyone who professed the trade of preaching and prayer was to be put to death ‘as a witch’.

Of course, this new Protestant attitude to ecclesiastical magic did not win an immediate victory; and some of the traditions of the Catholic past lingered on. Many of the old holy wells, for example, retained their semi-magical associations, even though Protestants preferred to regard them as medicinal springs working by natural means. In some areas the practice of bringing New Year's Day water or the ‘flower of the well’ into the church and placing it on the altar survived into the seventeenth century; and the dressing and decoration of such shrines long continued.  Pilgrimages, sometimes very large ones, were made to the famous well of St Winifred at Holywell throughout the seventeenth century, and it was not only recusants who went there in search of a cure. When a man was found dead at the well in 1630 after having made scoffing remarks about its supposed powers a local jury brought in a verdict of death by divine judgement.


1.             Essex R.O., Q/SBa 2/58 (a reference kindly supplied by Dr Alan Macfarlane).

2.             Introduction by J. Crossley to Potts (for Webster); A Brief Relation of the Irreligion of the Northern Quakers (1653), p. 74; The Works of Gerrard Winstanley, ed. G. H. Sabine (Ithaca, N.Y., 1941), p. 597. The Quaker leader, George Whitehead, was said to have declared that 'he who asserts there be. three persons in the blessed Trinity is a dreamer and a con• juror', R.B., Questions propounded to George Whitehead and George Fox (1659), p. 1.

3.             Plot, Natural History of Oxford-Shire, pp. 49--50; R. Lennard, 'The Watering-Places', Englishmen at Rest and Play, ed. R. Lennard (Oxford, 1931), p. 10; Aubrey, Gentilisme, pp. 33, 223-4; Brand, Antiquities, ii, pp. 374, 377-8; R. C. Hope, The Legendary Lore of the Holy Wells of England (1893), pp. 159, 170; The Diary of Thomas Crosfield, ed. F. S. Boas (1935).

p. 93; D. Edmondes Owen, 'Pre-Refonnation Survivals in RadnOl'Shire', Trans. of the Hon. Soc. of Cymmrodorion, 1912; A. R. Wright, British Calendar Customs. ed. T. E. Lones (Folk-Lore Soc., 1936-40), ii,


The wells also helped to keep alive the names of the saints, as did the holy days in the church year, and the dedications of ecclesiastical buildings. In 1589 in the Caemarvonshire parish of Oynnog, it was still customary to drive bullocks into the churchyard to dedicate them to the local patron, St Beuno, in the belief that the market price of the animals would rise accordingly. Each parish church in the Oynnog area had a saint who was held. according to an informant, ‘in such estimation as that in their extremities they do pray unto him for help ... when some sudden danger do befall them’ -only remembering to couple the name of God after more deliberation, when Cthey say, ‘God and Beuno, God and Ianwg. or God and Mary and Michael help us" '. In the later seventeenth century it was still believed that a sick person laid on St Beuno’s tomb on a Friday would either recover or die for certain within three weeks. John Aubrey retails the story of old Simon Brunsdon, the parish clerk of Winterbourne Bassett in Wiltshire, who had been appointed under Mary Tudor, but lived on into the reign of James I with his faith in the local patron saint unimpaired: ‘When the gadfly had happened to sting his oxen, or cows, and made them run away in that champaign country, he would run after them, crying out, praying, ‘Good St Katharine of Winterboume, stay my oxen. Good St Katharine of Winterbourne, stay my Oxen.’ Even in modern times gratings from the statues of saints on Exeter Cathedral have been employed in rural Devonshire to keep away disease from cattle and pigs.

1.             For the extensive sixteenth-and seventeenth-century history of the well, see Analecta Bollandiana, vi (Paris, 18-87), pp. 305-52; The Life and Miracles Of S. Wenefride (1712) (reissued with hostile commentary by W. Fleetwood in 1713); Foley, Records of the English Province Of the Society Of Jesus, iv, pp. 534-7. For a similar list of cures at St. Vincent's Well, Bristol, but without the same religious implications, see Sloane 640, fl. 340-51; 79, fl. 110--11.

2.             P.R.O., SP 12/224, f. 145 (also in Archaeologia Cambrensis, 3rd ser., i (1855), pp. 235-7); Memorials of John Ray, ed. E. Lankester (1846), p. 171.

3.             Aubrey, Gentilisme, pp. 28-9; Trans. Devonshire Assoc., lxxxiii (1951), p. 74; ibid., Ixxxvi (1954), p. 299; T. Brown, 'Some .Examples of Post-Refonnation Folklore in Devon', Folk-Lore, lxxii (1961), pp. 391-2.


Some of the old calendar rituals proved equally difficult to eradicate. Plough Monday remained a date in the agricultural year despite the Reformation, and gild ploughs were kept in some village churches until the late seventeenth century. Straw images or com ‘dollies’ were made at harvest homes. In his Characters (1615) Sir Thomas Overbury wrote of The Franklin that ‘Rock Monday, and the wake in summer, Shrovings, the wakeful ketches [i.e. catches or songs] on Christmas Eve, the holy or seed cake. these he yearly keeps, yet holds them no relics of Popery.’  Such calendar customs were convenient ways of dividing up the agrarian year, and provided a welcome source of entertainment. But they were also still credited with a preventive or prophylactic-power against evil spirits, or, more vaguely, bad luck. The rules about the special games or food-stuffs associated with these customs had to be strictly observed. Hot cross buns on Good Friday could bring good fortune and protect the house from fire; a Michaelmas goose meant luck for those who ate it; giving gifts at the New Year brought good fortune to the givers. The same sanctions were thought to attach to the wassail bowl at Christmas, or the wearing of new clothes at Easter.

It is hard to tell how clearly this aspect of such ritual observances was appreciated by those who took part; and often the ‘play' element must have predominated. But there is no doubt that such rites survived, though sometimes in an attenuated form, until the nineteenth century in many parts of the country. The fires on the hillsides continued to be lit on St John Baptist or St Peter's Eve; and the maypole and morris dance returned after their temporary banishment during the Commonwealth. Such activities could still retain a ritual solemnity. Between the two world wars an anthropologically-minded German professor asked an elderly member of a party of country mummers who had come to perform at an Oxford garden party whether women were ever allowed to take part. The reply was significant: ‘Nay sir. mumming don't be for the likes of them. There be plenty else for them that be fIirty-like, but this here mumming be more like parson's work’.


77. Ely O.R., B 2/34, ft. 4v-5; W. Saltonstall, Picturae Loquentes (Lut¬trell Soc., 1946), p. 28; Wright, British Calendar Customs, ii, p. 101; Brand, Antiquities, ii, pp. 16-33; M. W. Barley, 'Plough Plays in the East Mid¬lands', Journ. of the Eng. Folk Dance and Song Soc., vii (1953); W. M. Palmer, 'Episcopal visitation returns', Trans. Cambs. and Hunts. Archaeol. Soc., v (1930-7), p. 32 (ploughs to be removed from Willingham and Comberton, 1665).

1.             Brand, Antiquities, i, pp. 63, 156, 370, and passim; Wright, British Calendar Customs, i, pp. 69-73, 83; County Folk-Lore, ii, ed. Mrs Gutch (Folk-Lore Soc., 1901), p. 243. Rock Monday (i.e. Distaff Monday) was the Monday after Twelfth Day, when spinning restarted: Q.E.D.

2.             Durham Depositions, p. 235; Kilver(s Diary, iii, p. 344; Brand, Antiquities, i, pp. 299-311; A. Hussey, 'Archbishop Parker's Visitation, 1569', Home Counties Magazine, v (1903), p. 208; Wright, British Calendar Customs, iii, pp. 6-12, 24-5.

80. R. R. Marett, in lourn. Of the Eng. Folk Dance and Song Soc., i (1933), p. 75. For the morris see Brand, Antiquities, i, pp. 247-70; B. Lowe, 'Early Records of the Morris in England', lourn. of the Eng. Folk Dance and Song Soc., viii (1951); E. C. Cawte, 'The Morris Dance in Hereford¬shire, Shropshire and Worcestersbire', ibid., ix (1963).


There is also evidence to suggest that the old Catholic protective formulae could sometimes survive in otherwise Protestant milieux. In Lollard eyes the sign of the cross could ‘avail to nothing else but to scare away flies’, yet as late as 1604 the people of Lancashire were said to be in the habit of crossing themselves ‘in all their actions, even when they gape’.11  Elizabethans still swore ‘by our Lady', and a stylized version of the agnus dei was a common merchant's mark. Bishop Hall later assumed that a superstitious man would wear ‘a little hallowed wax’ as ‘his antidote for all evils’. Some Elizabethan Protestants thought that relics gave protection against the Devil; they were kept in York Minster as late as 1695.81 A few Anglican clergy even carried round holy water and made the sign of the cross over their parishioners or anointed them with holy oil when they were sick. Parasitic superstitions about the curative value of communion bread and offertory money survived into modern times; and there were many allied beliefs concerning the protective value of Bibles and other religious objects.

81. Welch in Procs. SuDolk Inst. Archaeology, xxix (1962), p. 158; H.M.C., Montagu of Beaulieu, p. 40. See also Shropshire Folklore, ed. C. S. Burne (1883-6), p. 167.

82. Gilby, A Pleasaunt Dialogue, sig. M3v; F. A. Girling, English Mer¬chants' Marks (1964), pp. 14, 17; The Works of ... loseph Hall, ed. P. Wynter (Oxford, 1863), vi, p. 110. See also J. Deacon and J. Walker, A Sum¬marie Answere (1601), p. 210.

1.             S. Harmet, A Discovery of the Fraudulent Practices of lohn Da"el (1599), p. 60; N. Sykes, From Sheldon to Secker (Cambridge, 1959), p. 186.

2.             J. S. Purvis, Tudor Parish Documents (Cambridge, 1948), p. 177; J. White, The First Century Of Scandalous, Malignant Priests (1643), p. 40; The Private Diary of Dr lohn Dee, ed. J. O. Halliwell (Camden Soc., 1842), p. 35; D.N.B., 'Whiston, William'; and see below, p. 590.

85. Kittredge, Witchcraft, p. 145; County Folk-Lore, v, ed. Mrs Gutch and M. Peacock (Folk-Lore Soc., 1908), pp. 94, 107-8; A Frenchman in England, 1784, ed. S. C. Roberts (Cambridge, 1933), p. 86; Kilvert's Diary, ii, p. 414, Fox, viii, pp. 148-9. ct. The Wonderful Preservation of Gregory Crow [1679].


All this merely goes to show that fundamental changes are not accomplished overnight. ‘Three parts at least of the people’ were ‘wedded to their old superstition still’.declared a Puritan document in 1584. This was not a reference to formal recusancy: the number of actively committed Catholics is uncertain, but the figure for Yorkshire in 1604 has been estimated at only one and a half per cent.  It is, however, a reminder that the devotional attitudes of the Catholic Middle Ages still lingered. The implications of the Protestant rejection of magic were slow to affect those areas where a preaching ministry had not yet been established. Sir Benjamin Rudyerd reminded the House of Commons in 1628 of ;the utmost skirts of the North, where the prayers of the common people are more like spells and charms than devotions’. He did not have self-conscious Catholic recusants in mind, but a semi-literate population who, in his opinion, knew little more about the central dogmas of Christianity than did the North American Indians.  if in such milieux  the primitive idea of religion as a direct source of supernatural power could still survive.

It was also kept alive by the teachings of the Catholic Church on the Continent, for the Papists preserved their trust in relics, pilgrimages and the agnus dei; and the Catholic martyrs swelled the number of holy objects and places. Recusant midwives produced holy girdles for their patients to wear in labour or encouraged them to call upon the Virgin for relief. Catholic missionaries prepared for the journey to England with special masses designed to secure protection from plague and other dangers;88 and recusant propagandists made great play with the numerous healing miracles still accomplished by Catholic clergy in England or at Catholic shrines on the Continent. It is true that the official spokesmen of post-Tridentine Catholicism endeavoured to restrain the excesses of popular devotion by carefully

86. The Seconde Parte Of a Register, i, p. 254; A. G. Dickens, 'The Ex¬tent and Character of Recusancy in Yorkshire, 1604', Yorks. Arch. lourn., xxxvii (1948), p. 33 (d. id. and J. Newton in ibid., xxxviii (1955». In Hamp¬shire it was much the same, J. E. Paul, 'Hampshire Recusants in the time of Elizabeth r, Procs. of the Hants. Field Club, xxi (1959), p. 81, n. 151.

1.             Memoirs of Sir Benjamin Rudyerd, ed. J. A. Manning (1841), p. 136.

2.             H.M.C., Hatfield, xv, p. 387.

89. e.g., Miracles lately wrought by the intercession of the glorious Virgin Marie, at Montaigu, nere unto Siche in Brabant, trans. R. Chambers (Ant¬werp, 1606). Instances of miraculous cures and deliverances in English recusant literature are too many to be worth enumerating. But see below, pp. 147 n. 51, 583.


investigating miracles, prohibiting the attempt to cure diseases by mere prayers or holy symbols, reducing the more obviously superstitious masses, and curbing the more licentious aspects of fertility rituals; Cardinal Bellarmine even questioned the utility of holy bells as a remedy against thunder:  But such a change of attitude was less discernible at the popular level, and it was the ‘superstitious’ character of popular devotion which most attracted the attention of English visitors to the Continent. The Catholic Church continued to provide a friendly environment for a variety of semi-magical practices. In South Germany peasants flocked to get water blessed by the image of St Francis Xavier as a preservative against the plague. In Rome it was the image of the Virgin Mary which drove away the pestilence. In Venice the inhabitants turned to St Rock. So long as it was possible for a Catholic prelate. like the Bishop of Quimper in 1620, to throw an agnus dei into a dangerous fire in the hope of putting it out, the Roman Church could hardly fail to retain the reputation of laying claim to special supernatural remedies for daily problems. In their campaign to re-establish the faith some of the recusant clergy did not fail to stress this aspect of their religion; and it is small wonder that those Englishmen who still trusted in the healing power of communion wine should have thought it particularly efficacious when received from the hands of a Catholic priest.

But despite these Catholic survivals there is no denying the remarkable speed with which the distaste for any religious rite smacking of magic had spread among some of the common people. It had started with the Lollards, who had been mostly men of humble means and little learning. In the fifteenth century pilgrimages and hagiography were on the decline; and Reginald Pecock was already complaining that some of the sacraments were by ‘some of the lay people holden to be points of witchcraft and blindings’.

90. R. Dingley, Vox Coeli (1658), pp. 134-5. On this neglected aspect of the Counter-Reformation, see M. Grosso and M. F. Mellano, La Controri¬forma nella Arcidiocesi 'di Torino (1558-1610) (Rome, 1957), ii, pp. 209, 250, 257; iii, p. 227 (cited by J. Bossy in his paper, 'Regimentation and Initiative in the Popular Catholicism of the Counter Reformation', prepared for the Past and Present Comerence on Popular Religion, 1966); A. Franz, Die Messe im deutschen Mittelalter (Freiburg-im-Breisgau, 1902), chap. 10.

91. V. L. Tapie, The Age of Grandeur, trans. A. R. William~n (1960) pp. 154-5; R. Crawfurd, Plague and Pestilence in Literature and Art (Ox¬ford, 1914); D.T.C., i, col. 612; and Thiers, Superstitions, passim. ' ,

92. Kittredge, Witchcraft, p. 148; and see below, pp. 586-8.

93. R. Pecock, The Repressor of Over Much Blaming of the Clergy, ed. C.


By the time of the Henrician Reformation there was a vigorous foundation of popular Protestantism. The vehemence of this attitude is reflected in the coarseness of the language with which the more outspoken Protestants rejected the conjurations and exorcisms of the Roman Church. Holy water, it was said. was ‘more savoury to make sauce ... because it is mixed with salt’ and ‘a very good medicine for a horse with a galled back; yea. if there be put an onion thereunto it is a good sauce for a giblet of mutton’. In the diocese of Gloucester in 1548 two inhabitants of Slimbridge were presented for saying that holy oil was ‘of no virtue but meet to grease sheep’. At Downhead in Somerset a man was reported to have remarked that ‘his mare will make as good holy water as any priest can’. and that his hands were ‘as good to deliver the sacrament of the altar to any man as well as the priest's hands’. When summoned to explain himself, he told .the court that, since water was made holy by being blessed, the blessing might be bestowed upon his mare's water to the same effect. Small wonder that a statute was passed in the first year of Edward VI to restrain irreverent speaking of the sacrament.

Yet. crude as this language was, it conveyed an essential point. Many men were now unwilling to believe that physical objects could change their nature by a ritual of exorcism and consecration. The Edwardian Reformation saw much iconoclasm and deliberate fouling of holy objects. Mass books, vestments, roods, images and crosses were summarily destroyed. Altar-stones were turned into paving stones, bridges, fireplaces, or even kitchen sinks. Dean Whittingham of Durham used two ex-holy-water stoups for salting beef and fish in his kitchen, and his wife burned St Cuthbert's banner. Common people sardonically demanded chrisom clothes for their new-born foals, or ostentatiously fed holy bread to their dogs. Images were taken away and given to children to play with as dolls. In Norfolk an advanced

Babington (Rolls. Series, 1860), p. 563; and the references cited above, p. 31, n.ll.

1.             n. Wilkins, Con cilia (1737), iii, pp. 804-7.

2.             Gloucester n.R., Vol. 4, p. 34; Wells n.R., A 22 (no foliation); 1 Edw. VI cap 1.

96. English Church Furniture, ed. E. Peacock (1866), passim; F. G. Lee, The Church under Queen Elizabeth (new edn, 1896), pp. 134-7; 'The Life of Mr William Whittingham', ed. M. A. E. Grec' rCamden Miscellany, vi, 1871), p. 32, n. 3; A Description ... of all the An(.lent ... Rites ... within the Monastical Church of Durham (1593), ed. J. Raine (Surtees Soc, 1842), p.23.


Protestant declared that he could ‘honour God as well with a fork full of muck as with a wax candle’. In Lincoln a shoemaker's wife claimed that her urine was as good holy water ‘as [that] the priest now makes and casteth upon us’. An early seventeenth-century diarist recorded how ‘four drunken fellows’ in Derbyshire drove a recently calved cow into church ‘and that which is appointed for churching a woman they read ... for the cow, and led her about the font: a wicked and horrible fact’. When the Civil War broke out Parliamentary troops resumed the work of iconoclasm, and even chopped down the Glastonbury thorn. Distasteful though all this violence and invective was intended to be, it exemplified a thoroughly changed attitude to the apparatus of the medieval Church. The decline of old Catholic beliefs was not the result of persecution; it reflected a change in the popular conception of religion.

Protestantism thus presented itself as a deliberate attempt to take the magical elements out of religion, to eliminate the idea that the rituals of the Church had about them a mechanical efficacy, and to abandon the effort to endow physical objects with supernatural qualities by special formulae of consecration and exorcism. Above all, it diminished the institutional role of the Church as the dispenser of divine grace. The individual stood in a direct relationship to God and was solely dependent upon his omnipotence. He could no longer rely upon the intercession of intermediaries, whether saints or clergy; neither could he trust in an imposing apparatus of ceremonial in the hope of prevailing upon God to grant his desires. The reformers set out to eliminate theatricality from church ritual and decoration, and to depreciate the status of the priesthood. The priest was no longer set apart from the laity by the ritual condition of celibacy, and he was no longer capable of working the miracle of the Mass. Extreme Protestants reacted against the surviving popish traditions which seemed to attach holy qualities to material things - days of the week, patches of ground, parts of the church. They denied that miracles

97. Gloucester n.R., Vol. 20, p. 25 (1563); Hale, Precedents, p. 124; J. W. Blench, Preaching in England in the Late Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries (Oxford, 1964), p. 122; L.P., xii(i), no. 1316; R. B. Walker, A History of the Reformation in the Archdeaconries of Lincoln and Stow, 1534-94

(Ph.n. thesis, Univ. •of Liverpool, 1959), p. 238.

1.             Sloane 1457, f. 19v; Hanbury, Historical Memorials Relating to the Independents, iii, p. 343.

2.             cf. 1. Bossy, Introduction to A. O. Meyer, England and the Catholic Church under Queen Elizabeth (1967 edn), p. xxiv.


were any longer an attribute of the true Church, and they dismissed the miracles of the papists as frauds, delusions or the work of the Devil; the Evesham recusant who scoffed at the Anglican clergy in 1624, declaring that they were but Parliamentary ministers and could do no miracles, was echoing a standard Catholic reproach. The Protestants were helping to make a distinction in kind between magic and religion, the one a coercive ritual, the other an antirecessionary one. Magic was no longer to be seen as a false religion, which was how medieval theologians had regarded it; it was a different sort of activity altogether.

By depreciating the miracle-working aspects of religion and elevating the importance of the individual's faith in God, the Protestant Reformation helped to form a new concept of religion itself. Today we think of religion a Protestant declared that he could ‘honour God as well Protestant’, but such a description would have fitted the popular Catholicism of the Middle Ages little better than it fits many other primitive religions. A medieval peasant's knowledge of Biblical history or Church doctrine was, so far as one can tell, usually extremely slight. The Church was important to him not because of its formalized code of belief, but because its rites were an essential accompaniment to the important events in his own life -birth, marriage and death. It solemnized these occasions by providing appropriate rites of passage to emphasize their social significance. Religion was a ritual method of living, not a set of dogmas. In the seventeenth century Jeremy Taylor wrote of the Irish peasantry that they could

give no account of their religion what it is: only they believe as their priest bids them, and go to mass which they understand not, and reckon their beads to ten the number and the tale of their prayers, and abstain from eggs and flesh in Lent, and visit St Patrick's well, and leave pins and ribbons, yarn or thread in their holy wells, and'pray to God, S. Mary and S. Patrick, S. Columbanus and S. Bridget, and desire to be buried with S. Francis cord about them, and to fast on Saturdays in honour of our Lady.

100. C.S.P.D., 1623-5, p. 187. cf. Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Her¬metic Tradition, p. 208; Foley, Records Of the English PrOVince of the Society of Jesus, vii, p. 1058.

101. A. R. Radcliffe-Brown, Structure and Function in Primitive Society (1952), pp. 155, 177.

102. The Whole Works of ... Jeremy Taylor, ed. R. Heber and revd by C. P. Eden (1847-54), vi, p. 175.


To Catholics the Church was also important as a limitless source of supernatural aid, applicable to most of the problems likely to arise in daily life. It offered blessings to accompany important secular activities, and exorcisms and protective rituals to secure them from molestation by evil spirits or adverse forces of nature. It never aimed to make human industry and self-help superfluous but it did seek to give them ecclesiastical reinforcement.

At first sight the Reformation appeared to have dispensed with this whole apparatus of supernatural assistance. It denied the value of the Church's rituals and referred the believer back to the unpredictable mercies of God. If religion continued to be regarded by its adherents as a source of power, then it was a power which was patently much diminished. Yet the problems for which the magical remedies of the past had provided some sort of solution were still there -the fluctuations of nature, the hazards of fire, the threat of plague and disease, the fear of evil spirits, and all the uncertainties of daily life. How was it that men were able to renounce the magical solutions offered by the medieval Church before they had devised any technical remedies to put in their place? Were they now mentally prepared to face up to such problems by sole reliance upon their own resources and techniques? Did they have to tum to other kinds of magical control in order to replace the remedies offered by medieval religion? Or was Protestantism itself forced against its own premises to devise a magic of its own? It is to these and associated questions that we must now turn.