Perkins, William

William Perkins (1555–1602) England Puritan and Demonologist, a Fellow at Christ’s College in Cambridge, whose views on witches and Witchcraft greatly shaped public opinion in the last decade of the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th century.

Perkins’ work, Discourse on the Damned Art of Witchcraft, was published posthumously in 1608 and surpassed James I’s Daemonologie as the leading witchhunter’s bible. He accepted completely the witch dogma of other Demonologists. He divided witchcraft into two types—”divining” and “working.” The second type included storm raising, the poisoning of air (which brings pestilence), the blasting of corn and crops and the “procuring of strange passions and torments in men’s bodies and other creatures, with curing of the same.” He said that witches should get a fair trial, but he favoured the use of torture.

Of Devil ’s Pacts, Perkins said:

When witches begin to make a league, they are sober and sound in understanding, but after they once be in the league, their reason, and understanding may be depraved, memory weakened, and all the powers of the soul blemished, they are deluded and so intoxicated that they will run into a thousand of fantastical imaginations, holding themselves to be transformed into the shapes of other creatures, to be transported in the air, to do many strange things, which in truth they do not.

Perkins set forth “safe” ways for discovering witches, which Cotton Mather endorsed and summarized in On Witchcraft: Being the Wonders of the Invisible World in 1692. These ways were not sufficient for conviction but raised conjecture that a suspect was a witch:

1. Notorious defamation as a witch, especially by “men of honesty and credit.”

2. Testimony by a fellow witch or magician.

3. A cursing, followed by a death.

4. Enmity, quarrelling or threats, followed by “mischief.”

5. Being the son or daughter, servant, familiar friend, near neighbour or old companion of a known or convicted witch, since witchcraft is an art that can be learned.

6. The presence of a Devil’s mark.

7. Unconstant or contrary answers to interrogation.

8. recovery from scratching [see Pricking] and swimming.

9. The testimony of a wizard who offers to show the witch’s face in a glass.

10. A deathbed oath by a victim that he has been bewitched to death.

The following were deemed sufficient for conviction:

1. A “free and voluntary confession” of the accused.

2. The testimony of two “good and honest” witnesses that the accused has entered into a pact with the Devil or has practiced witchcraft.

3. Other proof of a Devil’s pact.

4. Proof that the accused has entertained familiar spirits.

5. Testimony that the accused has done anything to infer entering into a Devil’s pact, using enchantments, divining the future, raising tempests or raising the form of a dead man.



  • Hansen, Chadwick. Witchcraft at Salem. New York: George Braziller, 1967.
  • Mather, Cotton. On Witchcraft: Being the Wonders of the Invisible World. 1692. reprint, mt. Vernon, N.Y.: The Peter Pauper Press, 1950.


The Encyclopedia of Witches, Witchcraft and Wicca – written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – Copyright © 1989, 1999, 2008 by Visionary Living, Inc.