Want to really impress the werewolves, Donald Trumps, and pizza rats at this year’s Halloween party? Bone up on the history of witchcraft. Thanks to Cornell University Library’s Witchcraft Collection, becoming an expert witch-finder is easier than ever these days.
At the very least, you won’t have to worry about running out of reading material; the collection is huge, with more than 3000 rare books and manuscripts. Most of the materials cover superstition, witch hunts, and persecution in Europe.
And these documents are the real deal: the library holds original documents of witch trials and torture chamber depositions. It also contains the Malleus Maleficarum, a witch-hunter’s handbook that was like the 15th-century version of The Da Vinci Code: every conspiracy theorist had a copy. But unlike Dan Brown’s bestseller (at least as far as we know), the Malleus Maleficarum was responsible for the persecution, torture, and death of scores of innocent people. In fact, the book was so popular among Europe’s inquisitors that it was reprinted at least 35 times. Cornell’s library has 14 copies, including a first edition printed in the late 1400s.
If this seems like a researcher’s dream, it’s because it is the fulfillment of one. Most of the collection was acquired in the late 19th century by Cornell’s co-founder and first president, a bibliophile named Andrew Dickson White. With the help of librarian George Lincoln Burr, White amassed and curated spectacular collections on the French Revolution, architecture, the Protestant Reformation, and, yes, the history of witchcraft.
The Witchcraft Collection is now open to the public. Interested readers can submit a visitor request through the library website. Don’t feel like traveling, but still want to get your witch fix? No problem. More than 100 of the collection's books are available to read online.