white witch

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Reginald Scot (1538—1599) writer on witchcraft

John Brand (1744—1806) antiquary and topographer


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This term, together with the equivalent ‘good witch’, or even ‘witch’ on its own, might be applied in Tudor and Stuart times to people who used healing spells and performed other useful services. Bishop Latimer complains in 1552 that ‘A great many of us, when we be in trouble, or sickness, or lose anything, we run hither and thither to witches, or sorcerers, whom we call wise men … seeking aid and comfort at their hands’. Reginald Scot notes in 1584 that ‘At this day, it is indifferent to say in the English tongue, “she is a witch” or “she is a wise woman”. This usage seems rare in later folk-speech, where healers were politely called ‘blessers’, ‘charmers’, or ‘wise women’. Nevertheless, Brand and some other folklorists adopted the term ‘white witch’, so it is now widely known.

It is sometimes suggested that women tried for malevolent witchcraft were in fact healers, but trial records show this was very rarely so (Hester, 1992: 116; Sharpe, 1996: 174–5).

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