Many of us have preconceived notions of “witches,” whether they are fearsome, magical, or comical.  This exhibition explores the origins and spread of the belief in witchcraft across Europe, which, in the words of one dissenter, left “The World Bewitch’d.” Tens of thousands lost their lives in the Great Witch Hunts of the 16th and 17th centuries. The map below depicts the intensity of witch hunting in Europe in 1600. The Bible’s admonition, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” underpinned both religious and civil persecutions, as villagers turned in fear against each other. We examine such themes as gendered stereotypes, belief in night flying and demonic pacts, forced confessions, and witch epidemics.

Built by Cornell University’s first president, Andrew Dickson White, the Cornell Witchcraft Collection is the largest in North America, with over 3,000 items dating from the 15th century to the present. Notable holdings include the first book ever printed on witchcraft, the earliest printed image of witches in flight, rare and unique editions on demonology and the writings of the few who opposed it, and a treasure trove of testimonies and trial records not available elsewhere. Recent collecting efforts document the continuing cultural preoccupation with witchcraft and possession, particularly through fiction and cinema.

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