What is witchcraft? I myself cannot truly define this matter. However during the 17th and 18th century judges, courts, and citizens believed they could define this issue, and prosecute anyone who is guilty of taking part in witchcraft.
For example Charles Tilbrook was accused of cutting his grandmother Mary King with the intent of murder on June 16th 1862. Mrs. King presents her case to the court by saying that her grandson had informed her that she should not live to see May-day, and two weeks later he attacked her with a razor, and a wooden stick. Tilbrook cut Mrs. King across her forehead, and Mrs. King says he attempted to cut her throat. Tilbrook claims that his grandmother is evil, and that he did not intend to kill her but to spill her blood. For evidence Mr. King informs the court that he was there when the incident occurred. Mr. King said his grandson, “Knocked me unsensed.” Mr.King also informs the court that he could hear his grandson beating his wife, and when he was able to regain consciousness the prisoner fled the scene. Mr.King said he saw his razor with blood all over it on the kitchen table, along with the wooden stick the prisoner used to beat his wife. The court then called policeman William Marshal for his side of the story. Marshal said the prisoner was deranged, and he claimed that, “I have done it and I do not wish to run away.” The court also asked for the surgeon Caudell Clark to give a statement. The surgeon said that Mary King suffered from deep razor cuts along her entire body. Prisoner Tilbrook’s last rebuttal was that he shed her blood so his grandmother could no longer have power over him. “She’s evil” he proclaimed. He expected the law to do very little about the matter because “People consider themselves so much enlightened in these days that they do not believe in such a crime, but I do believe in it.” Charles Tilbrook is then found guilty-penal servitude for life.
I must take issue with the fact that there is no solid evidence for this case. Witchcraft was based on mere he say she say, and those with the most convincing argument apparently won the case. Mrs. King says that her grandson tried to kill her for no apparent reason; I believe that her grandson was fed up with her foolish ways and he wanted to scare her. Tilbrook claims his grandmother is involved in witchcraft, and in all honesty I side more with him than with Mrs. King. Tilbrook never provides a solid reason as to why he believes his grandmother practices witchcraft; he only says he knows she practices this devilish art. This case is so illogical to me. If it was presented in modern society I am sure it would be thrown out of the court system because it is solely based on word of mouth, and lack of evidence for the accusations. After reading through the trial Mrs. King’s argument makes her seem somewhat evil, and manipulative. I found myself giving her the side eye by the end of the story. Now by no means do I believe Tilbrook is innocent…I think he is damn near crazy for trying to “Spill her blood.” I must say that this case seems like a bunch of malarkey, especially because the document does not even mention the plaintiff bringing in evidence (the bloody razor, or the wodden stick) to support their case.
The allegations presented in the Tilbrook case suggest that people during the 18th century believed there were evil witches that practiced witchcraft amongst them. Thomas Hobbes would beg to differ in Ankarloo and Clarke’s Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: The Eighteenth and Ninetieth Century he is quoted saying, “As for Witches, I Think not that their witchcraft is any real power.” He goes on to say that “The power of witches is attributed in ignorance of how to distinguish dreams.” Hobbes presents a very different yet realistic perspective on the issue of witches and witchcraft. The allegations presented in the Tilbrook case in my opinion sounds very similar to Hobbes philosophy. I believe the prisoner may have had some convoluted dream that his grandmother was practicing witchcraft. This doesn’t seem farfetched to me because with all of the gossip going on about witchcraft im sure Tilbrook’s imagination could have wondered off in his sleep. Therefore, Hobbes philosophy could very well be true that Tilbrook doesn’t know how to distinguish his dreams about his evil grandmother practicing witchcraft from reality. I agree with Hobbes ideology that witchcraft has “no real power.” I say this because if Tilbrook’s grandmother was indeed a witch, she would have been able to fly off or put a hex on her grandson. She does neither!
Ankarloo also states that, “Witchcraft delusions, were in short, the malady of weak minds. Those believing themselves bewitched or possessed were victims of their own naiveté.” (p200). This suggests that there is no such thing as witchcraft. Ankarloo’s assertion goes against the grain of many individuals during the enlightenment period. Charles and Ankarloo would have two opposing perspectives on Tilbrook’s Case. Ankarloo would have argued that Charles is weak minded, and incapable of thinking logical. Ankarloo could have argued that Tilbrook is using witchcraft as a scapegoat for his inner desire to kill or cause harm to his grandmother. Overall Tilbrook damages his grandmother’s reputation by accusing her of witchcraft, which he could not prove.
Sciafe’s True Ghost Story addresses the idea of superstition during the 18th c. Tilbrook’s belief in witchcraft inevitably, “influenced and controlled” his destiny. (Scaife) Scaife’s story highlights how believing in superstitious things such as witchcraft, and the supernatural “dominates the life of the savage to whom nature presents.” This relates to Tilbrook because he let his belief that his grandmother was a witch, and practiced witchcraft control his mind, body, and spirit resulting in him attacking his grandmother. Tilbrook became savage like claiming that, “I have done it and I do not wish to run away.” Tilbrook was not mentally stable which resulted in his beliefs of witchcraft consuming his entire life. Witchcraft was used by priest and other high authority members of society to scare citizens, and to achieve religious order. This gets out of hand when radical individuals like Tilbrook lose their sanity and threatens the lives of others. This inevitably brings about disdain for superstitions because individuals cannot decipher between reality and radical notions.
Lastly, there is no rational enlightened way of thinking when individuals subjectively accuse others of participating in witch craft. Overall, I think it is clear that there is no clear cut way to determine if someone is indeed a witch or practices witch craft. It’s all a matter of subjectivity.