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Witchcraze in Wesleyan England

Heather Putt
Eastern Michigan University

After the witch craze blazed across Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, leaving thousands dead in its wake, the hysteria died down and the continent entered a more progressive period. The Enlightenment, which spread through Europe in the eighteenth century esteemed science, philosophy, and reason, while questioning the superstitions and religious conventions that had previously dominated cultural thought. Despite this new intellectual movement and the Witchcraft Act of 1736 that repealed the English Statutes against witchcraft, suspicions of witches still permeated England. Interestingly these persistent superstitions coincided with the growing popularity of Methodism in the second half of the eighteenth century and early nineteenth century. John Wesley himself expressed belief in witchcraft, possession, and divine intervention. Why, in spite of the Enlightenment, did suspicions of witchcraft still abound in eighteenth and nineteenth century England, and why did this new faith play a large role in these beliefs? My research will show that this belief in witchcraft was still prevalent in eighteenth century England because Methodism, as propagated by John Wesley, promoted these suspicions. Even though England as a nation was enlightened, superstitions remained widespread.

ONU Student Research Colloquium