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James Randi Educational Foundation

An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural

Introduction | "R" Reading | Curse of the Pharaoh | End-of-the-World Prophecies

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Scot, Reginald (1538?-1599) In English writer Reginald Scot's The Discouerie [sic] of Witchcraft (1584), we find an in-depth serious attempt to refute the superstitious belief in witchcraft, demons, and devils. The book, written in the vernacular, consists of sixteen divisions, with the last four devoted to charms and the tricks of jugglers and conjurors; in the sixteenth century, even street performers were suspected of demonic powers, and Scot wished to show that what they did was merely clever trickery.


The title page of Scot's 1584 book, a later (1665) edition.

      Conjurors recognize many familiar and still-popular tricks among those Scot mentioned: swallowing a knife, burning a playing card and reproducing it from the spectator's pocket, transferring a coin from one pocket to another, converting coins into tokens and back again into money, making a coin appear in a spectator's hand, passing a coin through a tabletop, making a coin vanish when wrapped into a handkerchief, tying a knot into a handkerchief and making it untie itself, removing beads threaded onto a cord while both ends of the cord are held, transferring rice from one container to another, turning wheat into flour, burning a thread and restoring it, pulling yards of ribbon from the mouth, sticking a knife into the arm, passing a ring through the cheek, and decapitating a person and restoring him. Wow. Let's hear that applause.
      Scot's book is very rare in its first edition, because when James I of England succeeded Elizabeth I to the throne in 1603, he ordered all copies burned. James was most eager to hang anyone suspected of witchcraft, and since Scot claimed that belief in witches was silly and illogical, that might have interfered with James's religious work. It was sixty-seven years later, in 1651, that Scot's book again appeared in print, well after the death of King James.
      See also conjuring, Johannes Weyer, and witchcraft.



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