Joseph Glanvill’s Saducismus Triumphatus is a seventeenth century book on witchcraft and the supernatural. Glanvill’s book is primarily an argument in favor of his belief that witchcraft was a real and dangerous threat. Although witchcraft trials continued to occur throughout Europe, there was increasing skepticism about the reality of witchcraft and the supernatural, and Glanvill’s was one of many such polemics entered into the debate.
One of the most interesting parts of Glanvill’s book is a series of contemporary reports of supernatural happenings, which he had gathered together as evidence for his argument. These stories range from accounts of alleged witchcraft to reports of ghosts and haunted houses.
One such anecdote presents one of the earliest known examples of a poltergeist, now known as the “Drummer of Tedworth.” Beginning in 1663 a Wiltshire House had reportedly been plagued by the sound of phantom drumbeats. Other occurrences followed: claw marks would sometimes appear on the floor, residents would find themselves grabbed or struck by invisible forces, and so forth. Glanvill claimed to have personally witnessed such phenomena, although others who visited the house had no such luck. (One of the introductory passages notes that people were already accusing Glanvill of helping to fabricate the entire story).
In another episode, a man named Thomas Goddard claimed that he had seen the ghost of his father-in-law, Edward Avon. Avon’s ghost appeared several times, first offering money for his daughter (whom he had been cruel to in life), then offering more money to pay his debts, and finally to identify the unmarked grave a man that Avon had robbed and murdered.
Part of what makes the book interesting today is the fact that it contains these stories that were, at one point, believed to be true, some of which constitute early examples of the same kinds of ghost stories that people continue to report to this day.