Reading Demonology King James I

Demonology: Includes News From Scotland on the Death of a Notable Sorcerer. King James I of England. The Book Tree. San Diego, CA. 2002.
Reviewed by Erzebet

Originally published in 1597, this is a reprint of the 1924 edition and includes Newes from Scotland, first published in 1591. This slender little volume, written by His Notorious Highness King James I of England, begins with a frighteningly informative foreword by Paul Tice. James was a man obsessed with evil and with evildoers — most especially with witches, but also with magicians of any sort. In his own words, the book was written in order to prove that “the assaults of Satan are most certainly practiced, and that the instruments thereof, merits most severely to be punished”. James presents this evidence by way of a discourse between two characters, Philomathes and Epistemon, regarding the nature of Satan and his special instrument, the witch.

One might hope to find in these pages some insight into the methods by which these instruments performed their acts of evil, but spells, recipes and chants are practically nonexistent. James informs us that witches can and do fly to Sabbats, but he neglects to tell us anything about the art of flight itself. Every act can be laid at the feet of Satan, and the king spared no ink in reminding his readers of this fact at any opportunity. James’ sadistic nature is revealed in the latter part of the book, Newes from Scotland, in which he revels in the methods and devices used to elicit confessions from those found guilty of the use of magic.

As fixated as the author was, this book’s merit lies in its glimpse at the thinking of the day. Granted, that thinking was done by a man perhaps more mad than many, but this is the man who provided the world with the King James Bible, thereby influencing the vast majority of Western culture. For anyone interested in the history of the witch-hunts, this book is an interesting example of the literature used to promote the idea that witches, magicians and sorcerers were dangerous breeds, best put to death posthaste. For those searching for more practical information about what those evildoers were actually doing, it might be best to look elsewhere.