Discoverie Of Witchcraft
Written by Reginald Scot in 1584

A Modern English Rendering Of
Those Sections Of The 16th Century English
Document Dealing With Legerdemain

Modern English Text by Neil Alexander

    Authored by Reginald Scot (c. 1538-1599), a justice of the peace in Kent, England. The Discoverie of Witchcraft was first published in London, during 1584.

    In the 1500s witch hunts were sweeping continental Europe and Scotland, and would soon engulf England following the coronation of the fanatical King James I, in 1603.

    Scot's work was intended as a sensible argument disputing the existence of witches, and also as a reaction to and a protest against the rising tide of the persecution of innocents by a superstitious clergy.

    A very small portion, 22 pages out of 283 in the Dover Publications reprint, was devoted to performance magic; and became the basis for many of the books on magic tricks that appeared over the centuries following the printing of Discoverie.

    The Discoverie of Witchcraft was written in 16th century Elizabethan english, and is filled with archaic spelling and phrasing along with obsolete expressions common to those times. Shakespeare's first plays appeared six years after the publication of Scot's work and the english is similar, although the student of poetry will search Scot's writing in vain for any examples of iambic pentameter.

    It is a meticulously well researched study on the practice of witchcraft; and also touches on astrology, alchemy, divination, and more. The text presents logical evidences of the witches self-delusions or outright fraud.

    The complete work, covering such subjects as: charms; the names of demons, angels and other "words of power"; spells; rituals; sabbats; biblical and Egyptian magic; and more, was researched with such academic integrity that the Discoverie remains a much- quoted primary source for those interested in the occult sciences, whether believers or not.

    Scot was guided in writing the sections of the book dealing with legerdemain by John Cautares, a 16th century French sleight-of-hand artist who made his living as a laborer and resided in London. The sections devoted to magic tricks contain many effects still seen today, but include very little instruction on the handling of the sleights.

    The chapters were written with tremendous respect for the art of legerdemain, which it discusses using that very term. Scot emphasizes that he considers such entertainments to be to the betterment of society and its citizens, and not the work of the devil or his allies.

    The sections on legerdemain begin in Book 8, Chapter 22, following several chapters discussing the similarities between the claims of Pharaoh's magicians, false prophets, and "our witches", and how all use "juggling knacks" to convince others of their powers.

     [NOTE: The following is presented on the basis of its historical signifigance to students of contemporary stage conjuring. It is NOT intended as an instruction in magic; the explanations of effects contained herein are vague and frequently misleading, and there are virtually no details or guidance on the necessary sleight of hand. In the interest of remaining faithful to the original content no effort has been made to correct or revise the material, it has merely been rewritten to reflect current english speech.]

Discoverie Of Witchcraft




    Now, because it is relevant, and witchcraft so apparently accomplished through the art of sleight of hand, I thought it would be worthwhile to explain it. I am sorry to be the one to do this, and regret any effect this may have on those who earn their living performing such tricks for purposes of entertainment only, whose work is not only tolerable but greatly commendable. They do not abuse the name of God in this occupation, nor claim their power comes through him, but always acknowledge what they are doing to be tricks, and in fact through them unlawful and unpious deceivers may be exposed.

    The true art of sleight of hand consists of legerdemaine, the nimble use of your hands, in three principal ways. First, in the hiding and manipulation of balls; second, in the altering of money; and third, in the shuffling of cards. Whoever masters these techniques will create much pleasure and show many feats of skill, and be greater than all witches or magicians. All other parts of this art are taught in the explaining; but these techniques can not be mastered without tremendous amounts of practice and dedication. I intend to explain rather than teach these mysteries, and it will become obvious to you that the object of those who perform these tricks is to confuse the eyes and judgement of those who watch them. So, to put it in in plain words, my intention is to demonstrate certain magic effects: some of which are pleasant and enjoyable, others dreadful and frightening, but all mere illusions, as shall be seen by examining the techniques described by me in the following chapters.



    Concerning the manipulation of balls, the variations are infinite, and if you can handle them well you can demonstrate a hundred different feats. But whether you seem to throw a ball into your left hand, or into your mouth, or into a pot, or up into the air, it is always retained in your right hand. If you practice first with a lead bullet, you will find it that much easier to do when you switch to balls made of cork. The first thing you should learn is to conceal a large ball in the palm of your hand using your ring finger to help hold it in place. A small ball should be placed, with your thumb, between your ringfinger and middlefinger, then you practice it between the other fingers, then between forefinger and thumb, and with the forefinger and middlefinger together. Lastly, you should practice holding the same small ball in the palm of your hand, and with practice you will not only be able to retain the ball in your hand while appearing to place it elsewhere, but also be able to palm four or five balls as well as one. This being attained you will be able to work wonderful feats, such as:

    Place three or four balls on the table in front of you, and the same number of small candlesticks or bowls. Appear to place one ball into your left hand, then take one of the candlesticks, or any other thing having a hollow "foot" and not being too big, and appear to place the ball thought to be in your left hand under the candlestick. Do the same with the other balls and candlesticks, appearing to place each ball under each candlestick. Then, after uttering some magic words, pick up the first candlestick and blow, saying "You see that the ball is gone". Do the same with each candlestick, and the spectators will wonder what has become of the balls.

    But if, in lifting up the candlesticks with your right hand, you leave all three or four balls under one of them (which you can easily do by letting them fall down into your hand from out of your palm and holding them in place with your little and ringfingers), casting the balls up into the hollowness of the candlestick so they don't roll right out, then people will be astonished when you reveal all four balls under one candlestick. It will be even better if, while showing the other candlesticks empty, you leave under one of them a large ball, or any other thing, you will be set up for an even greater miracle.

    By now the spectators think you have made all the balls vanish through a miracle, and in the same way you have brought them all together again, and they do not suspect that anything remains under any of the candlesticks. This way, after you have performed some other tricks, you can go back to the candlesticks being careful not to touch the one containing the ball. Show an identical ball and, in the same manner as before, appear to place this duplicate ball under the candlestick farthest from the one holding the concealed ball. When you seem to cause the ball you just placed under a candlestick to disappear, and to reappear under a candlestick which you have not even touched, it will seem wonderful.


    Conceal one large ball, or three medium-sized balls, in your left hand. Display one little ball, or three little balls, in your right hand, and appear to place them into your left hand, not revealing the large ball or balls that are hidden in that hand. Using magic words, such as "Hey, fortuna furie, nunquam credo, passe, passe when come you sirra", you can now appear to make the ball or balls swell (grow larger), opening your hand to show they have increased in size.

    This can be varied one hundred ways, such as finding all the balls under a candlestick. Or, using the same method, you can go up to a spectator and, after removing his hat, show the balls to be there by loading the balls into it in the same manner as the candlestick, as you turn the bottom upward.


    If you take one ball, or more, and appear to place them into your left hand and, while saying magic words, let the balls now concealed in the right hand drop into your lap, it will appear amazing. Because, when you open your left hand to show the balls have disappeared some will say they are in your other hand, and when you open your right hand to show it is also empty, they will be greatly surprised.


    I will move on from speaking of tricks with balls, because I could go on about it all day, and still not be able to teach you how to use it, or fully understand what I mean or write concerning it. Remember that the right hand should always be kept open and straight, with the palm kept from view.

    You can end with this trick (which is chiefly concerned with provoking laughter):

    Balance one ball on your shoulder, another on your arm, and place the third on a table. Ask a spectator to pick up the one on the table and lay it on the point of a knife you are holding in one hand, saying you are going to throw all three balls into your mouth at once. When he is trying to balance the ball on the end of your knife, which you are holding like a pen, you may easily rap him on the fingers with the handle of the knife, for the other matter will be hard to do.

END PART 1 of 5