The unknown often brings about a sense of fear: And 500 years ago people awoken by nighttime terrors and intense physical pain sometimes led to accusations of witchcraft as family and community members struggled to explain the symptoms of the afflicted.

In this episode of Speaking of … College of Charleston, CofC’s official podcast, junior Francesca Gibson, a double-major in history and psychology, and Jason Coy, chair of the Department of History whose expertise includes the history of witch-hunts, talk about documented experiences of bewitchment in the 16th and 17th centuries. With funding through a Summer Undergraduate Research with Faculty (SURF) grant, Gibson and Coy explored a time in history when people believed in and feared witchcraft. Their research closely examines this fascinating period through the lens of history and psychology. It was a time when someone – usually a woman – could be accused of witchery and then sentenced to death based on the testimony of a member of the community. Digging deep into a myriad of archived sources, like court testimonies, their research reveals the power of the mind to cause sleep disorders, nighttime terrors and physical pain.

Featured on this Episode:

Jason Coy earned his doctorate from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2001. His research interests include the history of early modern Europe, Reformation-era Germany and the European Witch-Hunts. He is the author of Strangers and Misfits: Banishment, Social Control, and Authority in Early Modern Germany (Brill, 2008) and The Devil’s Art: Divination and Discipline in Early Modern Germany (University of Virginia, 2020). Coy has started preliminary research on a project that will focus on the legacy of the early modern witch-hunts in the modern world. Focusing on the period after 1950, his research examines the public memorialization and legal rehabilitation of victims of the witch-hunts, the emergence of Wicca and neopaganism, and the portrayal of the witch-hunts in contemporary popular culture, mass media and social media.

Francesca Gibson is a junior in the Honors College majoring in psychology and history. A native of Charlottesville, Virginia, Gibson is involved in CofC organizations such as the Charleston Fellows, Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) Ambassadors, the History Club and Honors Ambassadors. Additionally, she is a research assistant in the Department of Psychology for Associate Professor Stephen Short and Associate Professor Chelsea Reid. Gibson plans on applying to doctoral programs in history with a specific interest in medical history. Outside of her academic interests, she loves to read, write and spend time with her amazing friends and cat, Athena.

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Resources for this Episode:

The Devil’s Art: Divination and Discipline in Early Modern Germany

Sleep Paralysis among Cambodian Refugees

The Cornell University Witchcraft Collection

Early English Books