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View Full Version : T or F -- Witchcraft illegal in England till 1951?


O J
October 30th 04, 03:06 PM
Hi All,

Yes, witchcraft has been a topic here before, but I just heard a new
slant on the theme and since the date seems appropriate...

A poster in the newsgroup rec.pets.cats.anecdotes mentioned an AP
article covering a story about one of Scotland's baronial courts
pardoning the witches which were hanged in its jurisdiction. (The AP
article can be read here at the site of a daily carrying the story:
http://www.myrtlebeachonline.com/mld/myrtlebeachonline/10049104.htm

From the article:
>Sunday's ceremony will publicly pardon 81 people executed in the
>16th and 17th centuries for being witches. The pardons have been
>granted under ancient feudal powers due to be abolished within weeks.

I followed up in characteristic fashion (for me, not the group) with
the best diatribe I could manage on short notice about the last gasps
of inbred descendents of a feudal aristocracy. Not much of a surprise
there!

Finally, we come to the UL. In a reply to a follow-up, the original
poster remarked that:

>In 1944 a British woman was prosecuted for and convicted of being a
>witch, and served jail time for it. The British Witchcraft Act wasn't
>repealed until 1951.

Strange but true, there really was a "Witchcraft Act 1735" on the
books till 1951. Upon checking the background though of what I had
been sure was a UL, I was vaguely disappointed to learn that the act
hadn't outlawed 'being' a witch, what it did was do away with the
crime of 'real witchcraft' as well as making it a crime to pretend to
be a witch (ie: act as a medium, sell love potions, etc)

The 1944 conviction refers to the case of Helen Duncan who was acting
as a medium and preying on the widows of servicemen killed in the war.
Duncan was found guilty under section four of the Witchcraft Act of
1735, which states:

>"Whereby ignorant persons are frequently deluded and defrauded,
>if any person shall pretend to exercise or use any kind of witchcraft,
>sorcery, enchantment or conjuration, he shall be exposed to penalties".

The Witchcraft Act was replaced by the "Fraudulent Mediums Act 1951",
a far more pedestrian sounding statute. The preamble to the act
reads:

>(14 and 15 Geo 6 c 33)
>An Act to repeal the Witchcraft Act 1735 and to make, in
>substitution for certain provisions of section four of the Vagrancy
> Act 1824 express provision for the punishment of persons who
> fraudulently purport to act as spiritualistic mediums or to exercise
> powers of telepathy, clairvoyance or other similar powers
>(22 June 1951).

So I suppose the answer to the T/F question in the subject line is
true. An interesting side note is that some present day 'witches' are
trying to clear Helen Duncan's name. Some of those claim that the Home
Office only prosecuted her because they were afraid she might reveal
secret war plans.

I'm left stricken by the well-constructed logic and concise language
of section four of the Witchcraft Act. I'd vote to enact it today.

Regards,
O J Gritmon

O J
October 30th 04, 03:21 PM
O J (me) wrote:

>Hi All,
>
>Yes, witchcraft has been a topic here before, but I just heard a new
>slant on the theme and since the date seems appropriate...
---------------------<snip>----------------------

I beg your pardon folks, I meant to post the original article in this
thread to alt.folklore.urban. My thanks to Jeanne H. for providing
the inspiration.

Regards and Purrs,
O J

O J
October 30th 04, 03:21 PM
O J (me) wrote:

>Hi All,
>
>Yes, witchcraft has been a topic here before, but I just heard a new
>slant on the theme and since the date seems appropriate...
---------------------<snip>----------------------

I beg your pardon folks, I meant to post the original article in this
thread to alt.folklore.urban. My thanks to Jeanne H. for providing
the inspiration.

Regards and Purrs,
O J

O J
October 30th 04, 03:21 PM
O J (me) wrote:

>Hi All,
>
>Yes, witchcraft has been a topic here before, but I just heard a new
>slant on the theme and since the date seems appropriate...
---------------------<snip>----------------------

I beg your pardon folks, I meant to post the original article in this
thread to alt.folklore.urban. My thanks to Jeanne H. for providing
the inspiration.

Regards and Purrs,
O J