Saducismus Triumphatus: or, Full and Plain Evidence Concerning Witches and Apparitions (1689)


Saducismus Triumphatus: or, Full and Plain Evidence Concerning Witches and Apparitions, written by Joseph Glanvil, examines the history of humanity’s relationship with the supernatural. Glanvil compiles evidence to prove the existence of the metaphysical.  This third edition of Glanvil’s work was published in 1689 by S. Lownds in London.

Joseph Glanvil

Born in 1636 in Plymouth, Devon, England, Joseph Glanvil studied at Oxford University until he moved on to Lincoln College.  He was a high ranking official in the Church of England, holding multiple positions throughout his life (PSI Encyclopedia).  Initially a known skeptic, Joseph Glanvil challenged the Royal Society on their beliefs in witchcraft and ghosts.  Due to his skepticism, he became a researcher of the paranormal so that he could disprove the existence of the paranormal.  Rather than disproving the paranormal, he became a firm believer.  He became the initiator of psychical research, trying to either prove or disprove the existence of the supernatural (Encyclopedia Brittanica). Glanvil began publishing his writings on ghosts and witches in 1666.  His first book, A Philosophical Endeavor Towards the Defence of the Being of Witches and Apparitions, was more a criticism of how the paranormal was studied and not much about his own findings in the field (PSI Encyclopedia). Sadly, the first edition of this text was destroyed in the Great Fire of London and a new edition was published the following year (PSI Encyclopedia).  Over the next fourteen years Glanvil would go on to publish three more books, almost all about the supernatural. He died in 1680 from unknown causes which left his final book, Saducismus Triumphatus: or, Full and Plain Evidence Concerning Witches and Apparitions, unpublished.  The book was published posthumously with the help of Henry More in 1681. While Glanvil wrote a few books about the supernatural, Saducismus Triumphatus is his most well-known piece of work.


To understand Glanvil’s fascination with witches and all things supernatural, the reader must first understand the historical context in which his book was written. In the period from the late 16th to the early 18th century, driven by gossip and religious fear of black magic, the belief in witchcraft gained momentum (All Empires). Stemming from many peoples’ fear of accused witches, which came as a a result of their religious beliefs, the first illustration in Saducismus Triumphatus is a depiction of the Witch of Endor, a story from the Bible.  The story of the Witch of Endor stems from the First Book of Samuel and the print depicts a witch summoning the spirit of Samuel before Saul, used by Glanvil as evidence for the existence of witchcraft (Biblelight).

Joseph Glanvil chronicles two more non-religious-based stories about the existence of witches. The Drummer of Tedworth is a story about a poltergeist in the home of John Mompesson, where a drummer named William Drury was accused of haunting the family’s home, although he was in jail for part of the time that the disturbances occurred (Birkbeck). Additionally, Glanvil cites the Mora Witch Trial in which a girl named Maret Jonsdotter was accused of being a witch in Sweden and was put on trial, leading to mass hysteria and executions of those accused (Liquisearch). All of these accounts of witchcraft were used as evidence to support Glanvil’s claim that spirits and apparitions did in fact exist within the time in which his book was written.

Binding and Printing

This version of Saducismus Triumphatus is 7.5 inches by 4.6 inches, indicating that it was a book probably owned by a common man. The smaller the book the more people were able to carry it around with them, and therefore more people had access to it.  This copy is bound in leather with a hollowed back of the spine and there is tooling, a technique used to create a design into the leather, along the edge of the cover. In addition, there is embossing on the edges of the cover, creating a golden design along the edges.  There is a thicker piece of paper in the front and back of the book, suggesting that it may have been rebound.

The printed illustrations in the book were set by an engraving plate.  There is an indentation around the edge of the paper where the paper was pressed against the metal plate.  It is also apparent that this is an engraving rather than a wood cut because the lines are thinner and more carefree, where as a  woodcut would be precise and thicker.  The type in the book is done by standard type setting, where one singularly places each letter and then uses a printing press to translate the text onto the paper. The stitching can be seen at the top and the bottom of the book, as well as loose stitches within certain pages, illuminating how it was bound.  Due to the various embellishments on the cover and spine, whoever owned it, probably someone of higher social standing, paid to have it bound (UCB Special Collections).

Glanvil was not always interested in witchcraft and apparitions. Scot’s Discovery of Witchcraft sparked Glanvil’s fascination in studying the supernatural and led him to become one of the most renowned authorities on the subject.  To view Scot’s work that influenced Glanvil visit HERE created by our colleagues at the University of British Columbia.

To access the copy of Saducismus Triumphatus held within CU Boulder’s Special Collections, a third edition published in 1689, click HERE.

-Amanda Duensing and Claire Deasy

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