The word "witches" may cause modern minds to leap to Harry Potter and the fantastical world of Hogwarts, but witches and witchcraft have a real and troubled place in our history. A new anthology, The Penguin Book of Witches, edited by Katherine Howe, takes a close look at that history, compiling shocking excerpts from a number of influential anti-witchcraft screeds and guides from previous centuries. Below is an excerpt from the anthology, taken from William Perkins's 1608 text “A Discourse of the Damned Art of Witchcraft.” The passage includes Biblical justifications for the persecution of supposed witches, as well as analysis of what qualifies a person as a witch. In her introduction to the excerpt, Howe notes that Perkins's writings on witchcraft "can be credited with importing widespread Continental beliefs about witchcraft to England" and "were widely read among religious Puritans in the North American colonies" -- no small thing given the witch hunts that plagued Puritan communities in the ensuing years.
First, because witchcraft is a rife and common sin in these our days, and very many are entangled with it, being either practitioners thereof in their own persons, or at the least, yielding to seek for help and counsel of such as practice it.