Elizabethan Witchcraft

In Elizabethan England they did not burn people for witchcraft; that sort of thing went on only in Scotland and continental Europe. In England witchcraft was not regarded as a religion or a heresy: in theory you could be a good Christian and a witch. Witches at this time did not congregate as a body, nor did they celebrate the Sabbath together. That all came later, in the next century. Nor were witches yet presumed to make a contract with the devil; that, too, was a later development. There was even a time in Elizabeth’s reign when, technically speaking, witchcraft was not against the law. In 1542, Henry VIII made witchcraft a hanging offense, but that was repealed on the King’s death in 1547; thereafter there was no anti-witchcraft law until the Witchcraft Act of 1563. This was far more lenient than Henry VIII’s legislation. It did not sanction the execution of all practitioners of the dark arts, nor did it condemn witches to death for the lesser magical arts of finding lost things, destroying cattle and goods, or causing a man to fall in love. The 1563 act made it a felony only to invoke evil spirits for any purpose whatsoever; and to cause the death of someone by witchcraft.