Reginald Scot wrote his 1584 Discoverie of witchcraft in order to counter what he called the fable of witchcraft. “Almost all divines, physicians and lawyers, who should best know these matters,” he lamented, give too much credit to the notion of diabolical witchcraft and are wont to pass “too rash and unjust sentence of death upon witches” (Scot, sig. Bivv). Written immediately before the most deadly phase of witch hunting on the continent, Discoverie was a deeply skeptical text that challenged the assumptions and arguments of those he dubbed “witchmongers.” For him, those poor, simple people who found themselves accused of all manner of unnatural absurdities were more in need of a physician than an executioner (Scot, sig. Bivv).

For Scot, the notion of diabolical witchcraft as it had developed by his day defied the premises of natural philosophy. It was impossible for the devil, as...

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