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Joseph Glanvill: the philosopher and defender of witchcraft who initiated psychical research

Joseph Glanvill
Joseph Glanvill

Joseph Glanvill was an English philosopher, born in 1636 and educated at Oxford University.

He was raised in a very strict Puritan family and later he became a skeptic and defender of the reality of witchcraft and ghosts.

He was a self-styled apologist who initiated psychical research and inspired many occultists, writers, and poets.

Joseph Glanvill, 1681 engraving by William Faithorne
Joseph Glanvill, 1681 engraving by William Faithorne

In 1681 he wrote, “Sadducismus Triumphatus” in which he affirmed the existence of witches and criticized the skepticism about their existence.

He described witches as creatures with evil powers and abilities to do magic. He argued about the preexistence of the soul and its immortality.

In the book, he had written the story of the Drummer of Tedworth, based on a report from 1661.

According to the report, a local landowner, John Mompesson, accused an unlicensed vagrant drummer, William Drury, of collecting money by treachery.


Drummer of Tedworth
Drummer of Tedworth

Mompesson won the lawsuit against Drury and the local bailiff gave the drum to Mompesson.

Soon, he reported complaints about hearing drumming noises in the house during the evenings. So, it was assumed that all that noise was Drury’s fault and he was convicted again but this time for witchcraft.

Following these reports, in 1663, Glanvill went to the house and claimed that he had heard mysterious scratching noises from the children’s room.

When he used the story as an apology of his beliefs on witches and witchcraft, Glanvill was confronted by many scholars who proposed logical explanations of the event.

The devil and the drum, from the frontispiece to the third edition of Saducismus Triumphatus (1700)
The devil and the drum, from the frontispiece to the third edition of Saducismus Triumphatus (1700)

For example, in 1881, Amos Norton Craft argued that Mompesson had servants in his house who empathized with Drury because he was a gypsy who was falsely accused.

So they might had made all that noise to scare Mompesson thus made him believe that he couldn’t get rid of the drumming if he got rid of the man.

The Witch of Endor: from the frontispiece to Glanvill's Sadducismus Triumphatus
The Witch of Endor: from the frontispiece to Glanvill’s Sadducismus Triumphatus

Moreover, “Sadducismus Triumphatus” was the inspiration for the 1693 book by Cotton Mather- “Wonders of the Invisible World” in which he justified the Salem witch trials.

It also inspired Francis Hutchinson in 1718 to write his book “A Historical Essay Concerning Witchcraft”.

Here is another “witch-related” story from us:The Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle, England holds the world’s largest collection of witchcraft memorabilia

Later, Glanvill was quoted by Edgar Allan Poe in his short stories “Ligeia” and “A Descent into the Maelström”, in Aleister Crowley’s book “Diary of a Drug Fiend” and in the short stories “The Lottery and Other Stories” by Shirley Jackson. 

Tijana Radeska

Tijana Radeska is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News