The Superstitions of Witchcraft
by Howard Williams
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They ride in sieves on the sea, on brooms, spits magically prepared; and by these modes of conveyance are borne, without trouble or loss of time, to their destination. By these means they attend the periodical sabbaths, the great meetings of the witch-tribe, where they assemble at stated times to do homage, to recount their services, and to receive the commands of their lord. They are held on the night between Friday and Saturday; and every year a grand sabbath is ordered for celebration on the Blocksberg mountains, for the night before the first day of May. In those famous mountains the obedient vassals congregate from all parts of Christendom—from Italy, Spain, Germany, France, England, and Scotland. A place where four roads meet, a rugged mountain range, or perhaps the neighbourhood of a secluded lake or some dark forest, is usually the spot selected for the meeting.[92]

[92] 'When orders had once been issued for the meeting of the sabbath, all the wizards and witches who failed to attend it were lashed by demons with a rod made of serpents or scorpions. In France and England the witches were supposed to ride uniformly upon broom-sticks; but in Italy and Spain, the devil himself, in the shape of a goat, used to transport them on his back, which lengthened or shortened according to the number of witches he was desirous of accommodating. No witch, when proceeding to the sabbath, could get out by a door or window were she to try ever so much. Their general mode of ingress was by the key-hole, and of egress by the chimney, up which they flew, broom and all, with the greatest ease. To prevent the absence of the witches being noticed by their neighbours, some inferior demon was commanded to assume their shapes, and lie in their beds, feigning illness, until the sabbath was over. When all the wizards and witches had arrived at the place of rendezvous, the infernal ceremonies began. Satan having assumed his favourite shape of a large he-goat, with a face in front and another in his haunches, took his seat upon a throne; and all present in succession paid their respects to him and kissed him in his face behind. This done, he appointed a master of the ceremonies, in company with whom he made a personal examination of all the witches, to see whether they had the secret mark about them by which they were stamped as the devil's own. This mark was always insensible to pain. Those who had not yet been marked received the mark from the master of the ceremonies, the devil at the same time bestowing nick-names upon them. This done, they all began to sing and dance in the most furious manner until some one arrived who was anxious to be admitted into their society. They were then silent for a while until the new comer had denied his salvation, kissed the devil, spat upon the Bible, and sworn obedience to him in all things. They then began dancing again with all their might and singing.... In the course of an hour or two they generally became wearied of this violent exercise, and then they all sat down and recounted their evil deeds since last meeting. Those who had not been malicious and mischievous enough towards their fellow-creatures received personal chastisement from Satan himself, who flogged them with thorns or scorpions until they were covered with blood and unable to sit or stand. When this ceremony was concluded, they were all amused by a dance of toads. Thousands of these creatures sprang out of the earth, and standing on their hind-legs, danced while the devil played the bagpipes or the trumpet. These toads were all endowed with the faculty of speech, and entreated the witches there to reward them with the flesh of unbaptized infants for their exertions to give them pleasure. The witches promised compliance. The devil bade them remember to keep their word; and then stamping his foot, caused all the toads to sink into the earth in an instant. The place being thus cleared, preparations were made for the banquet, where all manner of disgusting things were served up and greedily devoured by the demons and witches, although the latter were sometimes regaled with choice meats and expensive wines, from golden plates and crystal goblets; but they were never thus favoured unless they had done an extraordinary number of evil deeds since the last period of meeting. After the feast, they began dancing again; but such as had no relish for any more exercise in that way, amused themselves by mocking the holy sacrament of baptism. For this purpose the toads were again called up, and sprinkled with filthy water, the devil making the sign of the cross, and all the witches calling out—[some gibberish]. When the devil wished to be particularly amused, he made the witches strip off their clothes and dance before him, each with a cat tied round her neck, and another dangling from her body in form of a tail. When the cock crew they all disappeared, and the sabbath was ended. This is a summary of the belief that prevailed for many centuries nearly all over Europe, and which is far from eradicated even at this day.'—Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions, by C. Mackay.

A mock sermon often concludes the night's proceedings, the ordinary salutation of the osculum in tergo being first given. But these circumstances are innocent compared with the obscene practices when the lights are put out; indiscriminate debauchery being then the order of the night. A new rite of baptism initiated the neophyte into his new service: the candidate being signed with the sign of the devil on that part of the body least observable, and submitting at the same time to the first act of criminal compliance, to be often repeated. On these occasions the demon presents himself in the form of either sex, according to that of his slaves. It was elicited from a witch examined at a trial that, from the period of her servitude, the devil had had intercourse with her ut viri cum f[oe]minis solent, excepting only in one remarkable particular.

During the pontificate of Julius II.—the first decade of the sixteenth century—a set of sorceresses was discovered in large numbers: a dispute between the civil and ecclesiastical authorities averted their otherwise certain destruction. The successors of Innocent VIII. repeated his anathemas. Alexander VI., Leo X., and Adrian VI. appointed special commissioners for hunting up sorcerers and heretics. In 1523, Adrian issued a bull against Haeresis Strigiatus with power to excommunicate all who opposed those engaged in the inquisition. He characterises the obnoxious class as a sect deviating from the Catholic faith, denying their baptism, showing contempt for the sacraments, in particular for that of the Eucharist, treading crosses under foot, and taking the devil as their lord.[93] How many suffered for the crime during the thirty or forty years following upon the bull of 1484, it is difficult exactly to ascertain: that some thousands perished is certain, on the testimony of the judges themselves. The often-quoted words of Florimond, author of a work 'On Antichrist,' as given by Del Rio the Jesuit ('De Magia'), are not hyperbolical. 'All those,' says he, 'who have afforded us some signs of the approach of antichrist agree that the increase of sorcery and witchcraft is to distinguish the melancholy period of his advent; and was ever age so afflicted with them as ours? The seats destined for criminals before our judicatories are blackened with persons accused of this guilt. There are not judges enough to try enough. Our dungeons are gorged with them. No day passes that we do not render our tribunals bloody by the dooms we pronounce, or in which we do not return to our homes discountenanced and terrified at the horrible contents of the confessions which it has been our duty to hear. And the devil is accounted so good a master that we cannot commit so great a number of his slaves to the flames but what there shall arise from their ashes a number sufficient to supply their place.'

[93] Francis Hutchison's Historical Essay concerning Witchcraft, chap. xiv.; the author quotes Barthol. de Spina, de Strigibus.

It is within neither the design nor the limits of these pages to repeat all the witch-cases, which might fill several volumes; it is sufficient for the purpose to sketch a few of the most notorious and prominent, and to notice the most remarkable characteristics of the creed.

Maximilian I., Emperor of Germany, protected the inquisitorial executioners from the indignant vengeance of the inhabitants of the districts of Southern Germany, which would have been soon almost depopulated by an unsparing massacre and a ferocious zeal: while Sigismund, Prince of the Tyrol, is said to have been inclined to soften the severity of a persecution he was totally unable, if he had been disposed, to prevent. Ulric Molitor, under the auspices of this prince, however, published a treatise in Switzerland ('De Pythonicis Mulieribus') in the form of a dialogue, in which Sigismund, Molitor, and a citizen of Constance are the interlocutors. They argue as to the practice of witchcraft; and the argument is to establish that, although the practicers of the crime are worthy of death, much of the vulgar opinion on the subject is false. Even in the middle of the fifteenth century, and in Spain, could be found an assertor, in some degree, of common sense, whose sentiments might scandalise some Protestant divines. Alphonse de Spina was a native of Castile, of the order of St. Francis: his book was written against heretics and unbelievers, but there is a chapter in which some acts attributed to sorcerers, as transportation through the air, transformations, &c., are rejected as unreal.

From that time two parties were in existence, one of which advocated the entire reality of all the acts commonly imputed to witches; while the other maintained that many of their supposed crimes were mere delusions suggested by the Great Enemy. The former, as the orthodox party, were, from the nature of the case, most successful in the argument—a seeming paradox explained by the nature and course of the controversy. Only the received method of demoniacal possession was questioned by the adverse side, accepting without doubt the possibility—and, indeed, the actual existence—of the phenomenon. Thus the liberals, or pseudo-liberals, in that important controversy were placed in an illogical position. For (as their opponents might triumphantly argue) if the devil's power and possession could be manifested in one way, why not by any other method. Nor was it for them to determine the appointed methods of his schemes, as permitted by Providence, for the injury and ruin of mankind. The diabolic economy, as evidently set forth in the work of man's destruction, might require certain modes of acting quite above our reason and understanding. To the sceptics (or to the atheists, as they were termed) the orthodox could allege, 'Will you not believe in witches? The Scriptures aver their existence: to the jurisconsults will you dispute the existence of a crime against which our statute-book and the code of almost all civilised countries have attested by laws upon which hundreds and thousands have been convicted; many, or even most, of whom have, by their judicial confessions, acknowledged their guilt and the justice of their punishment? It is a strange scepticism, they might add, that rejects the evidence of Scripture, of human legislature, and of the accused persons themselves.'[94] Reason was hopelessly oppressed by faith. In the presence of universal superstition, in the absence of the modern philosophy, escape seemed all but impossible.

[94] Sir W. Scott's Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft, chap. vi.

If preeminence in this particular prejudice can be assigned to any single region or people, perhaps Germany more than any other land was subject to the demonological fever. A fact to be explained as well by its being the great theatre for more than a hundred years of the grand religious struggle between the opposing Catholics and Protestants, as by its natural fitness. The gloomy mountain ranges—the Hartz mountains are especially famous in the national legend—and forests with which it abounds rendered the imaginative minds of its peoples peculiarly susceptible to impressions of supernaturalism.[95] France takes the next place in the fury of the persecution. Danaeus ('Dialogue') speaks of an innumerable number of witches. England, Scotland, Spain, Italy perhaps come next in order.

[95] How greatly the imagination of the Germans was attracted by the supernatural and the marvellous is plainly seen both in the old national poems and in the great work of the national mythologist, Jacob Grimm (Deutsche Mythologie).

Spain, the dominion of the Arabs for seven centuries, was naturally the land of magic. During the government of Ferdinand I., or of Isabella, the inquisition was firmly established. That numbers were sent from the dungeons and torture-chambers to the stake, with the added stigma of dealing in the 'black art,' is certain; but in that priest-dominated, servilely orthodox southern land, the Church was not perhaps so much interested in confounding the crimes of heresy and sorcery. The first was simply sufficient for provoking horror and hatred of the condemned. The South of France is famous for being the very nest of sorcery: the witch-sabbaths were frequently held there. It was the country of the Albigenses, which had been devastated by De Montfort, the executioner of Catholic vengeance, in the twelfth century, and was, with something of the same sort of savageness, ravaged by De Lanere in the seventeenth century. Scotland, before the religious revolution, exhibits a few remarkable cases of witch-persecution, as that of the Earl of Mar, brother of James III. He had been suspected of calling in the aid of sorcery to ascertain the term of the king's life: the earl was bled to death without trial, and his death was followed by the burning of twelve witches, and four wizards, at Edinburgh. Lady Glammis, sister of the Earl of Angus, of the family of Douglas, accused of conspiring the king's death in a similar way, was put to death in 1537. As in England, in the cases of the Duchess of Gloucester and others, the crime appears to be rather an adjunct than the principal charge itself; more political than popular. Protestant Scotland it is that has earned the reputation of being one of the most superstitious countries in Europe.

In 1541 two Acts of Parliament were passed in England—the first interference of Parliament in this kingdom—against false prophecies, conjurations, witchcraft, sorcery, pulling down crosses; crimes made felony without benefit of clergy. Both the last article in the list and the period (a few years after the separation from the Catholic world) appear to indicate the causes in operation. Lord Hungerford had recently been beheaded by the suspicious tyranny of Henry VIII., for consulting his death by conjuration. The preamble to the statute has these words: 'The persons that had done these things, had dug up and pulled down an infinite number of crosses.'[96] The new head of the English Church, if he found his interest in assuming himself the spiritual supremacy, was, like a true despot, averse to any further revolution than was necessary to his purposes. Some superstitious regrets too for the old establishment which, by a fortunate caprice, he abandoned and afterwards plundered, may have urged the tyrant, who persecuted the Catholics for questioning his supremacy, to burn the enemies of transubstantiation. Shortly before this enactment, eight persons had been hanged at Tyburn, not so much for sorcery as for a disagreeable prophecy. Elizabeth Barton, the principal, had been instigated to pronounce as revelation, that if the king went on in the divorce and married another wife, he should not be king a month longer, and in the estimation of Almighty God not one hour longer, but should die a villain's death. The Maid of Kent, with her accomplices—Richard Martin, parson of the parish of Aldington; Dr. Bocking, canon of Christ Church, Canterbury; Deering; Henry Gold, a parson in London; Hugh Rich, a friar, and others—was brought before the Star Chamber, and adjudged to stand in St. Paul's during sermon-time; the majority being afterwards executed. In Cranmer's 'Articles of Visitation,' 1549, an injunction is addressed to his clergy, that 'you shall inquire whether you know of any that use charms, sorcery, enchantments, witchcrafts, soothsaying, or any like craft, invented by the devil.'

[96] Hutchison's Historical Essay concerning Witchcraft. The author, chaplain in ordinary to George I., published his book in 1718. It is worth while to note the colder scepticism of the Hanoverian chaplain as compared with the undoubting faith of his predecessor, Dr. Glanvil.

During the brief reigns of Edward VI. and Mary I. in England, no conspicuous trials occur. As for the latter monarch, the queen and her bishops were too absorbed in the pressing business of burning for the real offence of heresy to be much concerned in discovering the concomitant crimes of devil-worship.[97] An impartial judgment may decide that superstition, whether engaged in vindicating the dogmas of Catholicism or those of witchcraft, is alike contemptible and pernicious.

[97] Agreeably to that common prejudice which selects certain historical personages for popular and peculiar esteem or execration, and attributes to them, as if they were eccentricities rather than examples of the age, every exceptional virtue or vice, the 'Bloody Queen' has been stigmatised, and is still regarded, as an extraordinary monster, capable of every inhuman crime—a prejudice more popular than philosophical, since experience has taught that despots, unchecked by fear, by reason, or conscience, are but examples, in an eminent degree, of the character, and personifications of the worst vices (if not of the best virtues) of their time. Considered in this view, Mary I. will but appear the example and personification of the religious intolerance of Catholicism and of the age, just as Cromwell was of the patriotic and Puritanic sentiment of the first half, or Charles II. of the unblushing licentiousness of the last half, of the seventeenth century.

In the year of Elizabeth's accession, 1558, Strype ('Annals of the Reformation,' i. 8, and ii. 545) tells that Bishop Jewell, preaching before the queen, animadverted upon the dangerous and direful results of witchcraft. 'It may please your Grace,' proclaims publicly the courtly Anglican prelate, 'to understand that witches and sorcerers, within these last few years, are marvellously increased within your Grace's realm. Your Grace's subjects pine away even to the death, their colour fadeth, their flesh rotteth, their speech is benumbed, their senses are bereft. I pray God they never practise further than upon the subject.' For himself, the bishop declares, 'these eyes have seen most evident and manifest marks of their wickedness.' The annalist adds that this, no doubt, was the occasion of bringing in a bill the next Parliament, for making enchantments and witchcraft felony; and, under year 1578, we are informed that, whether it were the effect of magic, or proceeded from some natural cause, the queen was in some part of this year under excessive anguish by pains of her teeth, insomuch that she took no rest for divers nights, and endured very great torment night and day. The statute of 1562 includes 'fond and fantastic prophecies' (a very common sort of political offences in that age) in the category of forbidden arts. With unaccustomed lenity it punished a first conviction with the pillory only.

Witch-persecutions (which needed not any legal enactment) sprung up in different parts of the country; but they were not carried out with either the frequency or the ferocity of the next age, or as in Scotland, under the superintendence of James VI. A number of pamphlets unnecessarily enforced the obligatory duty of unwearied zeal in the work of discovery and extermination.[98] Among the executions under Elizabeth's Government are specially noticed that of a woman hanged at Barking in 1575; of four at Abingdon; three at Chelmsford; two at Cambridge, 1579; of a number condemned at St. Osythes; of several in Derbyshire and Staffordshire. One of the best known is the case at Warboys, in Huntingdonshire, 1593.

[98] One of these productions, printed in London, bore the sensational title, 'A very Wonderful and Strange Miracle of God, shewed upon a Dutchman, of the age of 23 years, who was possessed of ten devils, and was, by God's Mighty Providence, dispossessed of them again the 27 January last past, 1572.' Another, dedicated to Lord Darcy, by W. W., 1582, sets forth that all those tortures in common use 'are far too light, and their rigour too mild; and in this respect he (the pamphleteer) impudently exclaimeth against our magistrates who suffer them to be but hanged, when murtherers and such malefactors be so used, which deserve not the hundredth part of their punishment.'

The author of the 'Discoverie' relates a fact that came under his personal observation: it is a fair example of the trivial origin and of the facility of this sort of charges. 'At the assizes holden at Rochester, anno 1581, one Margaret Simons, wife of John Simons, of Brenchly in Kent, was arraigned for witchcraft, at the instigation and complaint of divers fond and malicious persons, and especially by the means of one John Farral, vicar of that parish, with whom I talked about the matter, and found him both fondly assotted in the cause and enviously bent towards her: and, which is worse, as unable to make a good account of his faith as she whom he accused. That which he laid to the poor woman's charge was this. His son, being an ungracious boy, and 'prentice to one Robert Scotchford, clothier, dwelling in that parish of Brenchly, passed on a day by her house; at whom, by chance, her little dog barked, which thing the boy taking in evil part, drew his knife and pursued him therewith even to her door, whom she rebuked with such words as the boy disdained, and yet nevertheless would not be persuaded to depart in a long time. At the last he returned to his master's house, and within five or six days fell sick. Then was called to mind the fray betwixt the dog and the boy: insomuch as the vicar (who thought himself so privileged as he little mistrusted that God would visit his children with sickness) did so calculate as he found, partly through his own judgment and partly (as he himself told me) by the relation of other witches, that his said son was by her bewitched. Yea, he told me that his son being, as it were, past all cure, received perfect health at the hands of another witch.' Not satisfied with this accusation, the vicar 'proceeded yet further against her, affirming that always in his parish church, when he desired to read most plainly his voice so failed him that he could scant be heard at all: which he could impute, he said, to nothing else but to her enchantment. When I advertised the poor woman thereof, as being desirous to hear what she could say for herself, she told me that in very deed his voice did fail him, specially when he strained himself to speak loudest. Howbeit, she said, that at all times his voice was hoarse and low; which thing I perceived to be true. But sir, said she, you shall understand that this our vicar is diseased with such a kind of hoarseness as divers of our neighbours in this parish not long ago doubted ... and in that respect utterly refused to communicate with him until such time as (being thereunto enjoined by the ordinary) he had brought from London a certificate under the hands of two physicians that his hoarseness proceeded from a disease of the lungs; which certificate he published in the church, in the presence of the whole congregation: and by this means he was cured, or rather excused of the shame of the disease. And this,' certifies the narrator, 'I know to be true, by the relation of divers honest men of that parish. And truly if one of the jury had not been wiser than the others, she had been condemned thereupon, and upon other as ridiculous matters as this. For the name of witch is so odious, and her power so feared among the common people, that if the honestest body living chanced to be arraigned thereupon, she shall hardly escape condemnation.'


The 'Discoverie of Witchcraft,' published 1584—Wier's 'De Praestigiis Daemonum, &c.'—Naude—Jean Bodin—His 'De la Demonomanie des Sorciers,' published at Paris, 1580—His authority—Nider—Witch-case at Warboys—Evidence adduced at the Trial—Remarkable as being the origin of the institution of an Annual Sermon at Huntingdon.

Three years after this affair, Dr. Reginald Scot published his 'Discoverie of Witchcraft, proving that common opinions of witches contracting with devils, spirits, or their familiars, and their power to kill, torment, and consume the bodies of men, women, and children, or other creatures, by disease, or otherwise, their flying in the air, &c., to be but imaginary, erroneous conceptions and novelties: wherein also the lewd, unchristian, practices of witchmongers upon aged, melancholy, ignorant, and superstitious people, in extorting confessions by inhuman terrors and tortures, is notably detected.'[99]

[99] The edition referred to is that of 1654. The author is commemorated by Hallam in terms of high praise—'A solid and learned person, beyond almost all the English of that age.'—Introduction to the Literature of Europe in the Fifteenth, Sixteenth, and Seventeenth Centuries.

This work is divided into sixteen books, with a treatise affixed upon devils and spirits, in thirty-four chapters. It contains an infinity of quotations from or references to the writings of those whom the author terms witch-mongers; and several chapters are devoted to a descriptive catalogue of the charms in repute and diabolical rites of the most extravagant sort. On the accession of James I., whose 'Demonologie' was in direct opposition to the 'Discoverie,' it was condemned as monstrously heretical; as many copies as could be collected being solemnly committed to the flames. This meritorious and curious production is therefore now scarce.

Prefixed is a dedicatory epistle, addressed to the Right Worshipful, his loving friend, Mr. Dr. Coldwell, Dean of Rochester, and Mr. Dr. Readman, Archdeacon of Canterbury, in which the author appealingly expostulates, 'O Master Archdeacon, is it not pity that that which is said to be done with the almighty power of the Most High God, and by our Saviour his only Son Jesus Christ our Lord, should be referred to a baggage old woman's nod or wish? Good sir, is it not one manifest kind of idolatry for them that labour and are laden to come unto witches to be refreshed? If witches could help whom they are said to have made sick, I see no reason but remedy might as well be required at their hands as a purse demanded of him that hath stolen it. But truly it is manifest idolatry to ask that of a creature which none can give but the Creator. The papist hath some colour of Scripture to maintain his idol of bread, but no Jesuitical distinction can cover the witchmongers' idolatry in this behalf. Alas! I am ashamed and sorry to see how many die that, being said to be bewitched, only seek for magical cures whom wholesome diet and good medicine would have recovered.'[100] An utterance of courage and common sense equally rare and useless. Reginald Scot, perhaps the boldest of the early impugners of witchcraft, was yet convinced apparently of the reality of ghostly apparitions.

[100] Writing in an age when the magical powers of steam and electricity were yet undiscovered, it might be a forcible argument to put—'Good Mr. Dean, is it possible for a man to break his fast with you at Rochester, and to dine that day in Durham with Master Dr. Matthew?'

Johannes Wierus, physician to the Duke of Cleves, and a disciple of the well-known Cornelius Agrippa (himself accused of devotion to the black art), in 1563 created considerable sensation by an attack upon the common opinions, without questioning however the principles, of the superstition in his 'De Praestigiis Daemonum Incantationibus et Veneficiis.' His common sense is not so clear as that of the Englishman. Another name, memorable among the advocates of Reason and Humanity, is Gabriel Naude. He was born at Paris in 1600; he practised as a physician of great reputation, and was librarian successively to Cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin, and to Queen Christina of Sweden. His book 'Apologie pour les Grands Hommes accuses de Magie,' published in Paris in 1625, was received with great indignation by the Church. Some others, both on the Continent and in England, at intervals by their protests served to prove that a few sparks of reason, hard to be discovered in the thick darkness of superstition, remained unextinguished; but they availed not to stem the torrent of increasing violence and volume.

A more copious list can be given of the champions of orthodoxy and demonolatry; of whom it is sufficient to enumerate the more notorious names—Sprenger, Nider, Bodin, Del Rio, James VI., Glanvil, who compiled or composed elaborate treatises on the subject; besides whom a cloud of witnesses expressly or incidentally proclaimed the undoubted genuineness of all the acts, phenomena, and circumstances of the diabolic worship; loudly and fiercely denouncing the 'damnable infidelity' of the dissenters—a proof in itself of their own complicity. Jean Bodin, a French lawyer, and author of the esteemed treatise 'De la Republique,' was one of the greatest authorities on the orthodox side. His publication 'De la Demonomanie des Sorciers' appeared in Paris in the year 1580: an undertaking prompted by his having witnessed some of the daily occurring trials. Instead of being convinced of their folly, he was or affected to be, certain of their truth, setting himself gravely to the task of publishing to the world his own observations and convictions.

One of the most surprising facts in the whole history of witchcraft is the insensibility or indifference of even men of science, and therefore observation, to the obvious origin of the greatest part of the confessions elicited; confession of such a kind as could be the product only of torture, madness, or some other equally obvious cause. Bodin himself, however, sufficiently explains the fact and exposes the secret. 'The trial of this offence,' he enunciates, 'must not be conducted like other crimes. Whoever adheres to the ordinary course of justice perverts the spirit of the law both divine and human. He who is accused of sorcery should never be acquitted unless the malice of the prosecutor be clearer than the sun; for it is so difficult to bring full proof of this secret crime, that out of a million of witches not one would be convicted if the usual course were followed.'[101] He speaks of an old woman sentenced to the stake after confessing to having been transported to the sabbath in a state of insensibility. Her judges, anxious to know how this was effected, released her from her fetters, when she rubbed herself on the different parts of her body with a prepared unguent and soon became insensible, stiff, and apparently dead. Having remained in that condition for five hours, the witch as suddenly revived, relating to the trembling inquisitors a number of extraordinary things proving she must have been spiritually transported to distant places.[102] An earlier advocate of the orthodox cause was a Swiss friar, Nider, who wrote a work entitled 'Formicarium' (Ant-Hill) on the various sins against religion. One section is employed in the consideration of sorcery. Nider was one of the inquisitors who distinguished themselves by their successful zeal in the beginning of the century.

[101] Yet the lawyer who enunciated such a maxim as this has been celebrated for an unusual liberality of sentiment in religious and political matters, as well as for his learning. Dugald Stewart commends 'the liberal and moderate views of this philosophical politician,' as shown in the treatise De la Republique, and states that he knows of 'no political writer of the same date whose extensive, and various, and discriminating reading appears to me to have contributed more to facilitate and to guide the researches of his successors, or whose references to ancient learning have been more frequently transcribed without acknowledgment.'—Bayle considered him 'one of the ablest men that appeared in France during the sixteenth century.'—Dissertation First in the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Hallam (Introduction to the Literature of Europe) occupies several of his pages in the review of Bodin's writings. Jean Bodin, however, on the authority of his friend De Thou, did not escape suspicion himself of being heretical.

[102] In witchcraft (as in the sacramental mystery) it was a subject for much doubt and dispute whether there might not be simply a spiritual (without a real corporeal) presence at the sabbath. Each one decided according to the degree of his orthodoxy.

The Swiss witches, like the old Italian larvae and most of the sisterhood, display extraordinary affection for the blood of new-born unbaptized infants; and it is a great desideratum to kill them before the preventive rite has been irrevocably administered; for the bodies of unbaptized children were almost indispensable in the witches' preparations. Soon as buried their corpses are dug out of their graves and carried away to the place of assembly, where they are boiled down for the fat for making the ointments.[103] The liquid in which they are boiled is carefully preserved; and the person who tastes it is immediately initiated into all the mysteries of sorcery. A witch, judicially examined by the papal commission which compiled the 'Malleus,' gives evidence of the prevalence of this practice: 'We lie in wait for children. These are often found dead by their parents; and the simple people believe that they have themselves overlain them, or that they died from natural causes; but it is we who have destroyed them. We steal them out of the grave, and boil them with lime till all the flesh is loosed from the bones and is reduced to one mass. We make of the firm part an ointment, and fill a bottle with the fluid; and whoever drinks with due ceremonies of this belongs to our league, and is already capable of bewitching.' 'Finger of birth-strangled babe' is one of the ingredients of that widely-collected composition of the Macbeth witches.

[103] A practice not entirely out of repute at the present day if we may credit a statement in the Courrier du Havre (as quoted in The Times newspaper, Nov. 7, 1864), that recently the corpse of an old woman was dug up for the purpose of obtaining the fat, &c., as a preventive charm against witchcraft, by a person living in the neighbourhood of Havre.

The case at Warboys, which, connected with a family of some distinction, occasioned unusual interest, was tried in the year 1593. The village of Warboys, or Warbois, is situated in the neighbourhood of Huntingdon. One of the most influential of the inhabitants was a gentleman of respectability, Robert Throgmorton, who was on friendly terms with the Cromwells of Hitchinbrook, and the lord of the manor, Sir Henry Cromwell. Three criminals—old Samuel, his wife, and Agnes Samuel their daughter, were tried and condemned by Mr. Justice Fenner for bewitching Mr. Throgmorton's five children, seven servants, the Lady Cromwell, and others. The father and daughter maintained their innocence to the last; the old woman confessed. A fact which makes this affair more remarkable is, that with the forty pounds escheated to him, as lord of the manor, out of the property of the convicts, Sir Samuel Cromwell founded an annual sermon or lecture upon the sin of witchcraft, to be preached at their town every Lady-day, by a Doctor or Bachelor of Divinity of Queen's College, Cambridge; the sum of forty pounds being entrusted to the Mayor and Aldermen of Huntingdon, for a rent-charge of forty shillings yearly to be paid to the select preacher. This lecture, says Dr. Francis Hutchison, is continued to this day—1718.

Four years previously to this important trial, Jane Throgmorton, a girl ten years of age, was first suddenly attacked with strange convulsive fits, which continued daily, and even several times in the day, without intermission. One day, soon after the first seizure, Mother Samuel coming into the Throgmortons' house, seated herself as customary in a chimney-corner near the child, who was just recovering from one of her fits. The girl no sooner noticed her than she began to cry out, pointing to the old woman, 'Did you ever see one more like a witch than she is? Take off her black-thumbed cap, for I cannot abide to look at her.' The illness becoming worse, they sent to Cambridge to consult Dr. Barrow, an experienced physician in that town; but he could discover no natural disease. A month later, the other children were similarly seized, and persuaded of Mother Samuel's guilt. The parents' increasing suspicions, entertained by the doctors, were confirmed when the servants were also attacked. About the middle of March, 1590, Lady Cromwell arrived on a visit to the Throgmortons; and being much affected at the sufferings of the patients, sent for the suspected person, whom she charged with being the malicious cause. Finding all entreaty of no avail in extorting an admission of guilt, Lady Cromwell suddenly and unexpectedly cut off a lock of the witch's hair (a powerful counter-charm), at the same time secretly placing it in Mrs. Throgmorton's hands, desiring her to burn it. Indignant, the accused addressed the lady, 'Madam, why do you use me thus? I never did you any harm as yet'—words afterwards recollected. 'That night,' says the narrative, 'my lady Cromwell was suddenly troubled in her sleep by a cat which Mother S. had sent her, which offered to pluck the skin and flesh off her bones and arms. The struggle betwixt the cat and the lady was so great in her bed that night, and she made so terrible a noise, that she waked her bedfellow Mrs. C.' Whether, 'as some sager' might think, it was a nightmare (a sort of incubus which terrified the disordered imagination of the ancients), or some more substantial object that disturbed the rest of the lady, it is not important to decide; but next day Lady Cromwell was laid up with an incurable illness. Holding out obstinately against all threats and promises, the reputed witch was at length induced to pronounce an exorcism, when the afflicted were immediately for the time dispossessed. 'Next day being Christmas-eve and the Sabbath, Dr. Donington [vicar of the parish] chose his text of repentance out of the Psalms, and communicating her confession to the assembly, directed his discourse chiefly to that purpose to comfort a penitent heart that it might affect her. All sermon-time Mother S. wept and lamented, and was frequently so loud in her passions, that she drew the eyes of the congregation upon her.' On the morrow, greatly to the disappointment of the neighbours, she contradicted her former confession, declaring it was extracted by surprise at finding her exorcism had relieved the child, unconscious of what she was saying.

The case was afterwards carried before the Bishop of Lincoln. Now greatly alarmed, the old woman made a fresh announcement that she was really a witch; that she owned several spirits (of the nine may be enumerated the fantastic names of Pluck, Hardname, Catch, Smack, Blew), one of whom was used to appear in the shape of a chicken, and suck her chin. The mother and daughters were, upon this voluntary admission, committed to Huntingdon gaol. Of the possessed Jane Throgmorton seems to have been most familiar with the demons.[104]

[104] The following ravings of epilepsy, or of whatever was the disorder of the girl, are part of the evidence of Dr. Donington, clergyman in the town, and were narrated and could be received as grave evidence in a court of justice. They will serve as a specimen of the rest. The girl and the spirit known as Catch are engaged in the little by-play. 'After supper, as soon as her parents were risen, she fell into the same fit again as before, and then became senseless, and in a little time, opening her mouth, she said, "Will this hold for ever? I hope it will be better one day. From whence come you now, Catch, limping? I hope you have met with your match." Catch answered that Smack and he had been fighting, and that Smack had broken his leg. Said she, "That Smack is a shrewd fellow; methinks I would I could see him. Pluck came last night with his head broke, and now you have broken your leg. I hope he will break both your necks before he hath done with you." Catch answered that he would be even with him before he had done. Then, said she, "Put forth your other leg, and let me see if I can break that," having a stick in her hand. The spirit told her she could not hit him. "Can I not hit you?" said she; "let me try." Then the spirit put forth his leg, and she lifted up the stick easily, and suddenly struck the ground.... So she seemed divers times to strike at the spirit; but he leaped over the stick, as she said, like a Jackanapes. So after many such tricks the spirit went away, and she came out of her fit, continuing all that night and the next day very sick and full of pain in her legs.'

The sessions at Huntingdon began April 4, 1593, when the three Samuels were arraigned; and the above charges, with much more of the same sort, were repeated: the indictments specifying the particular offences against the children and servants of the Throgmortons, and the 'bewitching unto death' of the lady Cromwell. The grand jury found a true bill immediately, and they were put upon their trial in court. After a mass of nonsense had been gone through, 'the judge, justices, and jury said the case was apparent, and their consciences were well satisfied that the said witches were guilty, and deserved death.' When sentence of death was pronounced, the old woman, sixty years of age, pleaded, in arrest of judgment, that she was with child—a pleading which produced only a derisive shout of laughter in court. Husband and daughter asserted their innocence to the last. All three were hanged. From the moment of execution, we are assured, Robert Throgmorton's children were permanently freed from all their sufferings. Such, briefly, are the circumstances of a witch case that resulted in the sending to the gallows three harmless wretches, and in the founding an annual sermon which perpetuated the memory of an iniquitous act and of an impossible crime. The sermon, it may be presumed, like other similar surviving institutions, was preserved in the eighteenth century more for the benefit of the select preacher than for that of the people.


Astrology in Antiquity—Modern Astrology and Alchymy—Torralvo—Adventures of Dr. Dee and Edward Kelly—Prospero and Comus Types respectively of the Theurgic and Goetic Arts—Magicians on the Stage in the 16th century—Occult Science in Southern Europe—Causes of the inevitable mistakes of the pre-Scientific Ages.

The nobler arts of magic, astrology, alchymy, necromancy, &c., were equally in vogue in this age with that of the infernal art proper. But they were more respected. Professors of those arts were habitually sought for with great eagerness by the highest personages, and often munificently rewarded. In antiquity astrology had been peculiarly Oriental in its origin and practice. The Egyptians, and especially the Chaldaeans, introduced the foreign art to the West among the Greeks and Italians; the Arabs revived it in Western Europe in the Middle Age. Under the early Roman Empire the Chaldaic art exercised and enjoyed considerable influence and reputation, if it was often subject to sudden persecutions. Augustus was assisted to the throne, and Severus selected his wife, by its means. After it had once firmly established itself in the West,[105] the Oriental astrology was soon developed and reduced to a more regular system; and in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Dee and Lilly enjoyed a greater reputation than even Figulus or Thrasyllus had obtained in the first century. Queen Elizabeth and Catherine di Medici (two of the astutest persons of their age) patronised them. Dr. Dee in England, and Nostradamus in France, were of this class. Dr. Caius, third founder of a college still bearing his name in the university of Cambridge, Kelly, Ashmole, and Lilly, are well-known names in the astrological history of this period. Torralvo, whose fame as an aerial voyager is immortalised by Cervantes in 'Don Quixote,' was as great a magician in Spain and Italy as Dee in England, although not so familiar to English readers as their countryman, the protege of Elizabeth. Neither was his magical faculty so well rewarded. Dr. Torralvo, a physician, had studied medicine and philosophy with extraordinary success, and was high in the confidence of many of the eminent personages of Spain and Italy, for whom he fortunately predicted future success. A confirmed infidel or freethinker, he was denounced to the Inquisition by the treachery of an associate as denying or disputing the immortality of the soul, as well as the divinity of Christ. This was in 1529. Torralvo, put to the torture, admitted that his informing spirit, Zequiel, was a demon by whose assistance he performed his aerial journeys and all his extraordinary feats, both of prophecy and of actual power. Some part of the severity of the tortures was remitted by the demon's opportune reply to the curiosity of the presiding inquisitors, that Luther and the Reformers were bad and cunning men. Torralvo seems to have avoided the extreme penalty of fire by recanting his heresies, submitting to the superior judgment of his gaolers, and still more by the interest of his powerful employers; and he was liberated not long afterwards.

[105] The diffusion and progress of astrology in the last two centuries before the Empire, in Greece and Italy, was favoured chiefly by the four following causes: its resemblance to the meteorological astrology of the Greeks; the belief in the conversion of the souls of men into stars; the cessation of the oracles; the belief in a tutelary genius.—Sir G. C. Lewis's Historical Survey of the Astronomy of the Ancients, chap. v.

The life of Dr. Dee, an eminent Cambridge mathematician, and of his associate Edward Kelly, forms a curious biography. Dee was born in 1527. He studied at the English and foreign universities with great success and applause; and while the Princess Elizabeth was quite young he acquired her friendship, maintained by frequent correspondence, and on her succession to the throne the queen showed her good will in a conspicuous manner. John Dee left to posterity a diary in which he has inserted a regular account of his conjurations, prophetic intimations, and magical resources. Notwithstanding his mathematical acumen, he was the dupe of his cunning subordinate—more of a knave, probably, than his master. In 1583 a Polish prince, Albert Laski, visiting the English court, frequented the society of the renowned astrologer, by whom he was initiated in the secrets of the art; and predicted to be the future means of an important revolution in Europe. The astrologers wandered over all Germany, at one time favourably received by the credulity, at another time ignominiously ejected by the indignant disappointment, of a patron.[106] Dee returned to England in 1589, and was finally appointed to the wardenship of the college at Manchester. In James's reign he was well received at Court, his reputation as a magician increasing; and in 1604 he is found presenting a petition to the king, imploring his good offices in dispelling the injurious imputation of being 'a conjuror, or caller, or invocator of devils.' Lilly, the most celebrated magician of the seventeenth century in England, was in the highest repute during the civil wars: his prophetic services were sought with equal anxiety by royalists and patriots, by king and parliament.[107] Sometimes the professor of the occult science may have been his own dupe: oftener he imposed and speculated upon the credulity of others.

[106] While traversing Bohemia, on a particular occasion, it was revealed to be God's pleasure that the two friends should have a community of wives; a little episode noted in Dee's journal. 'On Sunday, May 3, 1587, I, John Dee, Edward Kelly, and our two wives, covenanted with God, and subscribed the same for indissoluble unities, charity, and friendship keeping between us four, and all things between us to be common, as God by sundry means willed us to do.' A sort of inspiration of frequent occurrence in religious revelations, from the times of the Arabian to those of the American prophet.

[107] William Lilly wrote a History of his own life and times. His adroitness in accommodating his prophecies to the alternating chances of the war does him considerable credit as a prophet.

Prospero is the type of the Theurgic, as Comus is of the Goetic, magician. His spiritual minister belongs to the order of good, or at least middle spirits—

'Too black for heav'n, and yet too white for hell.'[108]

[108] Released by his new lord from the sorceric spell of that 'damn'd witch Sycorax,' he comes gratefully, if somewhat weariedly, to answer his 'blest pleasure; be't to fly, to swim, to dive into the fire, to ride on the curl'd clouds,' &c.

Prospero, by an irresistible magic, subdued to his service the reluctant Caliban, a monster 'got by the devil himself upon his wicked dam:' but that semi-demon is degraded into a mere beast of burden, brutal and savage, with little of the spiritual essence of his male parent. Comus, as represented in that most beautiful drama by the genius of Milton, is of the classic rather than Christian sort: he is the true son of Circe, using his mother's method of enchantment, transforming his unwary victims into the various forms or faces of the bestial herd. Like the island magician without his magical garment, the wicked enchanter without his wand loses his sorceric power; and—

'Without his rod reversed, And backward mutters of dissevering power,'

it is not possible to disenchant his spell-bound prisoners.

In the sixteenth century many wonderful stories obtained of the tremendous feats of the magic art. Those that related the lives of Bacon, and of Faust (of German origin), were best known in England; and, in the dramatic form, were represented on the stage. The comedy of 'Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay,' and the tragedy of 'The Life and Death of Dr. Faustus,' are perhaps the most esteemed of the dramatic writings of the age which preceded the appearance of Shakspeare. In the latter Faustus makes a compact with the devil, by which a familiar spirit and a preternatural art are granted him for twenty-four years. At the end of this period his soul is to be the reward of the demons.[109] From the 'Faustus' of Christopher Marlow, Goethe has derived the name and idea of the most celebrated tragedy of our day.

[109] Conscious of his approaching fate, the trembling magician replies to the anxious inquiries of his surrounding pupils—'"For the vain pleasure of four-and-twenty years hath Faustus lost eternal joy and felicity. I writ them a bill with my own blood; the date is expired; this is the time, and he will fetch me." First Scholar—"Why did not Faustus tell us of this before, that divines might have prayed for thee?" Faust—"Oft have I thought to have done so; but the devil threatened to tear me in pieces if I named God; to fetch me body and soul if I once gave ear to divinity. And now it is too late."' As the fearful moment fast approaches, Dr. Faustus, orthodox on the subject of the duration of future punishment, exclaims in agony—

'Oh! if my soul must suffer for my sin, Impose some end to my incessant pain. Let Faustus live in hell a thousand years— A hundred thousand, and at the last be saved: No end is limited to damned souls. Why wert thou not a creature wanting soul? Oh, why is this immortal that thou hast?' &c.

Mephistopheles, it need hardly be added, was on this occasion true to his reputation for punctuality. Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay is remarked for being one of the last dramatic pieces in which the devil appears on the stage in his proper person—1591. It is also noticeable that he is the only Scripture character in the new form of the play retained from the miracles which delighted the spectators in the fifteenth century, who were at once edified and gratified by the corporal chastisement inflicted upon his vicarious back.

Magic and necromantic prowess was equally recognised in Southern Europe. The Italian poets employed such imposing paraphernalia in the construction of an epic; and Cervantes has ridiculed the prevailing belief of his countrymen.[110]

[110] Benvenuto Cellini, the Florentine engraver, in his amusing Autobiography, astonishes his readers with some necromantic wonders of which he was an eyewitness. Cellini had become acquainted and enamoured with a beautiful Sicilian, from whom he was suddenly separated. He tells with his accustomed candour and confidence, 'I was then indulging myself in pleasures of all sorts, and engaged in another amour to cancel the memory of my Sicilian mistress. It happened, through a variety of odd accidents, that I made acquaintance with a Sicilian priest, who was a man of genius, and well versed in the Latin and Greek authors. Happening one day to have some conversation with him upon the art of necromancy, I, who had a great desire to know something of the matter, told him I had all my life felt a curiosity to be acquainted with the mysteries of this art. The priest made answer that the man must be of a resolute and steady temper who enters upon that study.' And so it should seem from the event. One night, Cellini, with a companion familiar with the Black Art, attended the priest to the Colosseum, where the latter, 'according to the custom of necromancy, began to draw marks upon the ground, with the most impressive ceremonies imaginable; he likewise brought thither asaf[oe]tida, several precious perfumes and fire, with some compositions which diffused noisome odours.' Although several legions of devils obeyed the summons of the conjurations or compositions, the sorceric rites were not attended with complete success. But on a succeeding night, 'the necromancer having begun to make his tremendous invocations, called by their names a multitude of demons who were the leaders of the several legions, and invoked them by the virtue and power of the eternal uncreated God, who lives for ever, insomuch that the amphitheatre was almost in an instant filled with demons a hundred times more numerous than at the former conjuration ... I, by the direction of the necromancer, again desired to be in the company of my Angelica. The former thereupon turning to me said, "Know that they have declared that in the space of a month you shall be in her company." He then requested me to stand resolutely by him, because the legion were now above a thousand more in number than he had designed; and besides, these were the most dangerous, so that after they had answered my question it behoved him to be civil to them and dismiss them quietly.' The infernal legions were more easily evoked than dismissed. He proceeds—'Though I was as much terrified as any of them, I did my utmost to conceal the terror I felt; so that I greatly contributed to inspire the rest with resolution. But the truth is,' ingenuously confesses the amorous artist, 'I gave myself over for a dead man, seeing the horrid fright the necromancer was in.'—Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini, chap. xiii., Roscoe's transl.—The information was verified, and Benvenuto enjoyed the society of his mistress at the time foretold.

Alchymy, the science of the transformation of baser metals into gold, a pursuit which engaged the anxious thought and wasted the health, time, and fortunes of numbers of fanatical empirics, was one of the most prized of the abstruse occult arts. Monarchs, princes, the great of all countries, eagerly vied among themselves in encouraging with promises and sometimes with more substantial incentives the zeal of their illusive search; and Henry IV. of France could see no reason why, if the bread and wine were transubstantiated so miraculously, a metal could not be transformed as well.[111]

[111] The class of horoscopists (the old Chaldaic genethliacs), or those who predicted the fortunes of individuals by an examination of the planet which presided at the natal hour, was as much in vogue as that of any other of the masters of the occult arts; and La Fontaine, towards the end of the seventeenth century, apostrophises the class:

'Charlatans, faiseurs d'horoscope! Quittez les cours des princes de l'Europe; Emmenez avec vous les souffleurs tout d'un temps; Vous ne meritez pas plus de foi.'....

Fables, ii. 13.

But it is only necessary to recollect the name of Cagliostro (Balsamo) and others who in the eighteenth century could successfully speculate upon the credulity of people of rank and education, to moderate our wonder at the success of earlier empirics.

Among the eminent names of self-styled or reputed masters of the nobler or white magic, some, like the celebrated Paracelsus, were men of extraordinary attainments and largely acquainted with the secrets of natural science. A necessarily imperfect knowledge, a natural desire to impose upon the ignorant wonder of the vulgar, and the vanity of a learning which was ambitious of exhibiting, in the most imposing if less intelligible way, their superior knowledge, were probably the mixed causes which led such distinguished scholars as Paracelsus, Cornelius Agrippa, Cardan, and Campanella to oppress themselves and their readers with a mass of unintelligible rubbish and cabalistic mysticism.[112] Slow and gradual as are the successive advances in the knowledge and improvement of mankind, it would not be reasonable to be surprised that preceding generations could not at once attain to the knowledge of a maturer age; and the teachers of mankind groped their dark and uncertain way in ages destitute of the illumination of modern times.'[113]


'Cardan believed great states depend Upon the tip o' th' Bear's tail's end,'

correctly enough expresses both the persuasion of the public and that of many of the soi-disant philosophers of the intimate dependence of the fates of both states and individuals of this globe upon other globes in the universe.

[113] It was not so much a want of sufficient observation of known facts, as the want of a true method and of verification, which rendered the investigations of the earlier philosophers so vague and uncertain. And the same causes which necessarily prevented Aristotle, the greatest intellect perhaps that has ever illuminated the world, from attaining to the greater perfection of the modern philosophy, are applicable, in a greater degree, to the case of the mediaeval and later discoverers. The causes of the failure of the pre-scientific world are well stated by a living writer. 'Men cannot, or at least they will not, await the tardy results of discovery; they will not sit down in avowed ignorance. Imagination supplies the deficiencies of observation. A theoretic arch is thrown across the chasm, because men are unwilling to wait till a solid bridge be constructed.... The early thinkers, by reason of the very splendour of their capacities, were not less incompetent to follow the slow processes of scientific investigation, than a tribe of martial savages to adopt the strategy and discipline of modern armies. No accumulated laws, no well-tried methods existed for their aid. The elementary laws in each department were mostly undetected.' The guide of knowledge is verification. 'The complexity of phenomena is that of a labyrinth, the paths of which cross and recross each other; one wrong turn causes the wanderer infinite perplexity. Verification is the Ariadne-thread by which the real issues may be found. Unhappily, the process of verification is slow, tedious, often difficult and deceptive; and we are by nature lazy and impatient, hating labour, eager to obtain. Hence credulity. We accept facts without scrutiny, inductions without proof; and we yield to our disposition to believe that the order of phenomena must correspond with our conceptions.' A profound truth is contained in the assertion of Comte (Cours de Philosophie Positive) that 'men have still more need of method than of doctrine, of education than of instruction.'—Aristotle, by G. H. Lewes.


Sorcery in Southern Europe—Cause of the Retention of the Demonological Creed among the Protestant Sects—Calvinists the most Fanatical of the Reformed Churches—Witch-Creed sanctioned in the Authorised Version of the Sacred Scriptures—The Witch-Act of 1604—James VI.'s 'Demonologie'—Lycanthropy and Executions in France—The French Provincial Parliaments active in passing Laws against the various Witch-practices—Witchcraft in the Pyrenees—Commission of Inquiry appointed—Its Results—Demonology in Spain.

In the annals of black magic, the silent tribunals of the Inquisition in Southern Europe which has consigned so many thousands of heretics to the torture room and to the flames, do not reveal so many trials for the simple crime of witchcraft as the tribunals of the more northern peoples: there all dissent from Catholic and priestly dogma was believed to be inspired by the powers of hell, deserving a common punishment, whether in the form of denial of transubstantiation, infallibility, of skill in magic, or of the vulgar practice of sorcery. Throughout Europe penalties and prosecutions were being continually enacted. The popes in Italy fulminated abroad their decrees, and the parliaments of France were almost daily engaged in pronouncing sentence.

Where the papal yoke had been thrown off in Northern Germany, in Scotland, and in England, the belief and the persecution remained in full force, indeed greatly increased; and it is obvious to inquire the cause of the retention, with many additions, of the doctrine of witchcraft by those who had at last finally rejected with scorn most of the grosser religious dogmas of the old Church, who were so loud in their just denunciation of Catholic tyranny and superstition. A general answer might be given that the Reformation of the sixteenth century, while it swept away in those countries in which it was effected the most injurious principles of ecclesiasticism, the principles of infallibility and authority in matters of faith, for the destruction of which gratitude is due to the independent minds of Luther, Zuinglius, and others, was yet far from complete in its negations. The leaders of that great revolution, with all their genius and boldness, could only partially free themselves from the prejudices of education and of the age. To develope the important principles they established, the rights of private judgment and religious freedom, was the legacy and duty of their successors; a duty which they failed to perform, to the incalculable misfortune of succeeding generations. The Sacred Scriptures, the common and only authority on faith among the different sections of Protestantism, unfortunately seemed to inculcate the dread power of the devil and his malicious purposes, and both the Jewish and Christian Scriptures apparently taught the reality of witchcraft. Theologians of all parties would have as easily dared to question the existence of God himself as to doubt the actual power of that other deity, and the unbelievers in his universal interference were not illogically stigmatised as atheists. With the Protestants some adventitious circumstances might make a particular church more fanatical and furious than another, and the Calvinists have deserved the palm for the bitterest persecution of witchcraft. But neither the Lutheran nor the Anglican section is exempt from the odious imputation.[114]

[114] Lord Peter, and his humbler brothers Martin and Jack, in different degrees, are all of them obnoxious to the accusation; and Bossuet (Variations des Eglises Protestantes, xi. 201), who is assured that St. Paul predicted the 'doctrines of devils' to be characteristic of Manichaean and Albigensian heresy, might have more safely interpreted the prophecy as applicable to the universal Christian Church (at least of Western Europe) of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

The followers of Calvin were most deeply imbued with hatred and horror of Catholic practices, and, adopting the old prejudice or policy of their antagonists, they were willing to confound the superstitious rites of Catholicism with those of demonolatry. The Anglican Church party, whose principles were not so entirely opposite to the old religion, had far less antipathy: until the revolution of 1688 it was for the most part engaged in contending against liberty rather than against despotism of conscience; against Calvinism than against Catholicism. Yet the Church of England is exposed to the reproach of having sanctioned the common opinions in the most authoritative manner. In the authorised version of the Sacred Scriptures, in the translation of which into the English language forty-seven selected divines, eminent for position and learning, could concur in consecrating a vulgar superstition, the most imposing sanction was given. Had they possessed either common sense or courage, these Anglican divines might have expressed their disbelief or doubt of its truth by a more rational, and possibly more proper, interpretation of the Hebrew and Greek expressions; or if that was not possible, by an accompanying unequivocal protest. But the subservience as well as superstition of the English Church under the last of the Tudors and under the Stuarts is equally a matter of fact and of reprobation.

It was in the first year of the first King of Great Britain that the English Parliament passed the Act which remained in force, or at least on the Statute Book, until towards the middle of last century.[115] After due consideration the bill passed both Houses; and by it, it was enacted that 'If any person shall use any invocation or conjuration of any evil or wicked spirit, or shall consult, covenant with, entertain, employ, feed, or reward any evil or cursed spirit to or for any intent or purpose, or take up any dead man, woman, or child out of the grave—or the skin, bone, or any part of the dead person, to be employed or used in any manner of witchcraft, sorcery, charm, or enchantment; or shall use, exercise, or practice any sort of witchcraft, &c., whereby any person shall be destroyed, killed, wasted, consumed, pined or lamed in any part of the body; that every such person being convicted shall suffer death.' Twelve bishops sat in the Committee of the Upper House.[116]

[115] The 'Witch Act' of James I. was passed in the year 1604. The new translation, or the present authorised version, of the Bible, was executed in 1607. The inference seems plain. An ecclesiastical canon passed at the same period, which prohibits the inferior clergy from exorcising without episcopal licence, proves at the same time the prevalence of 'possession' and the prevalence of exorcism in the beginning of the seventeenth century.

[116] The parliament of James I. would have done wisely to have embraced the philosophic sentiment of a Hungarian prince (1095-1114) who is said to have dismissed the absurd superstition with laconic brevity: 'De strigis vero, quae non sunt, nulla quaestio fiat.'

The Scottish Parliament, during Queen Mary's reign, anathematised the papistical practices; and from that time the annals of Scottish judicature are filled with records of trials and convictions. James was educated among the stern adherents of Calvin. In whatever matters of ecclesiastical faith and rule the countryman of Knox may have deviated from the teaching of his preceptors, he maintained with constant zeal his faith in the devil's omnipotence; and we may be disposed to concede the title of 'Defender of the Faith' (so confidently prefixed to successive editions of the Authorised Version) to his activity in the extermination of witches, rather than to his hatred of priestcraft. While monarch only of the Northern kingdom, he published a denunciation of the damnable infidelity of the 'Witch Advocates,' and his own unhesitating belief. James VI. and his clerical advisers were persuaded, or affected to be persuaded, that the devil, with all his hellish crew, was conspiring to frustrate the beneficial intentions of a pious Protestant prince. Infernal despair and rage reached the climax when the marriage with the Danish princess was to be effected. But, far from being terrified by so formidable a conspiracy, he gloried in the persuasion that he was the devil's greatest enemy; and the man who shuddered at the sight of a drawn sword was not afraid to enter the lists against the invisible spiritual enemy.

The 'Demonologie' was published at Edinburgh in 1597. The author introduces his book with these words: 'The fearful abounding at this time in this country of these detestable slaves of the devil, the witches or enchanters, hath moved me (beloved reader) to despatch in post this following treatise of mine, not in any wise (as I protest) to serve for a show of my learning and ingine, but only moved of conscience to press thereby so far as I can to resolve the doubting hearts of many; both that such assaults of Sathan are most certainly practised, and that the instruments thereof merits most severely to be punished: against the damnable opinions of two principally in our age, whereof the one called Scot, an Englishman, is not ashamed in public print to deny that there can be such a thing as witchcraft, and so maintains the old error of the Sadducees in denying of spirits. The other, called Wierus, a German physician, sets out a public apology for all these crafts-folks, whereby procuring for their impunity, he plainly bewrays himself to have been one of that profession. And for to make this treatise the more pleasant and facile, I have put it in form of a dialogue, which I have divided into three books: the first speaking of magic in general, and necromancy in special; the second, of sorcery and witchcraft; and the third contains a discourse of all those kinds of spirits and spectres that appears and troubles persons, together with a conclusion of the whole work. My intention in this labour is only to prove two things, as I have already said: the one, that such devilish arts have been and are; the other, what exact trial and severe punishment they merit; and therefore reason I what kind of things are possible to be performed in these arts, and by what natural causes they may be. Not that I touch every particular thing of the devil's power, for that were infinite; but only, to speak scholasticly (since this cannot be spoken in our language), I reason upon genus, leaving species and differentia to be comprehended therein.'[117]

[117] Speculating on the manner of witches' aerial travels, he thinks, 'Another way is somewhat more strange, and yet it is possible to be true: which is, by being carried by the force of their spirit, which is their conductor, either above the earth or above the sea swiftly to the place where they are to meet: which I am persuaded to be likewise possible, in respect that as Habakkuk was carried by the angel in that form to the den where Daniel lay, so think I the devil will be ready to imitate God as well in that as in other things, which is much more possible to him to do, being a spirit, than to a mighty wind, being but a natural meteor to transport from one place to another a solid body, as is commonly and daily seen in practice. But in this violent form they cannot be carried but a short bounds, agreeing with the space that they may retain their breath; for if it were longer their breath could not remain unextinguished, their body being carried in such a violent and forcible manner.... And in this transporting they say themselves that they are invisible to any other, except amongst themselves. For if the devil may form what kind of impressions he pleases in the air, as I have said before, speaking of magic, why may he not far easier thicken and obscure so the air that is next about them, by contracting it straight together that the beams of any other man's eyes cannot pierce through the same to see them?' &c.—Cyclopaedia of English Literature, edited by Robert Chambers.

The following injunction is characteristic of all persecuting maxims, and is worthy of the disciple of Bodin: 'Witches ought to be put to death according to the law of God, the civil and the imperial law, and the municipal law of all Christian nations. Yea, to spare the life and not to strike whom God bids strike, and so severely in so odious a treason against God, is not only unlawful but doubtless as great a sin in the magistrate as was Saul's sparing Agag.' It is insisted upon by this sagacious author (echoing the rules laid down in the 'Malleus'), that any and every evidence is good against an exceptional crime: that the testimony of the youngest children, and of persons of the most infamous character, not only may, but ought to be, received.

This mischievous production is a curious collection of demonological learning and experience, exhibiting the reputed practices and ceremonies of witches, the mode of detecting them, &c.; but is useless even for the purpose of showing the popular Scottish or English notions, being chiefly a medley of classical or foreign ideas, inserted apparently (spite of the royal author's assurance to the contrary) to parade an array of abstruse and pedantic learning. That some of the excessive terror said to have been exhibited was simulated to promote his pretensions to the especial hostility of Satan, is probable: but that also he was impressed, in some degree, with a real and lively fear scarcely admits of doubt. The modern Solomon might well have blushed at the superior common sense of a barbaric chief; and the 'judges of the seventeenth century might have been instructed and confounded at the superior wisdom of Rotharis [a Lombardic prince], who derides the absurd superstition and protects the wretched victims of popular or judicial cruelty.'[118]

[118] Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, xlv. It would have been well for his subjects if he could have congratulated himself, like Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (the model of philosophic princes, and a more practically virtuous, if not wiser, philosopher than the proverbial Solomon, and of whom Niebuhr, History of Rome, v., asserts, 'If there is any sublime human virtue, it is his'), that he had learnt from his instructors to laugh at the bugbears of witches and demons.—[Greek: Ta eis heauton.]—The Meditations of M. A. Antoninus.

Previously to the 'Witch Act,' the charge of sorcery was, in most cases, a subordinate and subsidiary one, attached to various political or other indictments. Henceforward the practice of the peculiar offence might be entirely independent of any more substantial accusation. In England, compared with the other countries of Europe, folly more than ferocity, perhaps, generally characterises the proceedings of the tribunals. During the pre-Reformation ages, France, even more than her island neighbour, suffered from the crime. The fates of the Templars, of Jeanne d'Arc, of Arras, of those suspected of causing the mad king's, Charles VI., derangement (when many of the white witches, or wizards, 'mischievously good,' suffered for failing, by a pretended skill, to effect his promised cure) are some of the more conspicuous examples. But in France, as in the rest of Europe, it was in the post-feudal period that prosecutions became of almost daily occurrence.

A prevalent kind of sorcery was that of lycanthropy, as it was called, a prejudice derived, it seems, in part from the Pythagorean metempsychosis. A few cases will illustrate the nature of this stupendous transformation. That it is mostly found to take place in France and in the southern districts, the country of wolves, that still make their ravages there, is a fact easily intelligible; and if the devil can enter into swine, he can also, in the opinion of the demonologists, as easily enter into wolves. At Dole, in 1573, a loup-garou, or wehr-wolf (man-wolf), was accused of devastating the country and devouring little children. The indictment was read by Henri Camus, doctor of laws and counsellor of the king, to the effect that the accused, Gilles Garnier, had killed a girl twelve years of age, having torn her to pieces, partly with his teeth, and partly with his wolf's paws; that having dragged the body into the forest, he there devoured the larger portion, reserving the remainder for his wife; also that, by reason of injuries inflicted in a similar way on another young girl, the loup-garou had occasioned her death; also that he had devoured a boy of thirteen, tearing him limb by limb; that he displayed the same unnatural propensities even in his own proper shape. Fifty persons were found to bear witness; and he was put to the rack, which elicited an unreserved confession. He was then brought back into court, when Dr. Camus, in the name of the Parliament of Dole, pronounced the following sentence: 'Seeing that Gilles Garnier has, by the testimony of credible witnesses and by his own spontaneous confession, been proved guilty of the abominable crimes of lycanthropy and witchcraft, this court condemns him, the said Grilles, to be this day taken in a cart from this spot to the place of execution, accompanied by the executioner, where he, by the said executioner, shall be tied to a stake and burned alive, and that his ashes be then scattered to the winds. The court further condemns him, the said Gilles, to the costs of this prosecution. Given at Dole this 18th day of January, 1573.' Five years later a man named Jacques Rollet was burned alive in the Place de Greve for the same crime, having been tried and condemned by the Parliament of Paris.[119]

[119] A still more sensational case happened at a village in the mountains of Auvergne. A gentleman while hunting was suddenly attacked by a savage wolf of monstrous size. Impenetrable by his shot, the beast made a spring upon the helpless huntsman, who in the struggle luckily, or unluckily for the unfortunate lady, contrived to cut off one of its fore-paws. This trophy he placed in his pocket, and made the best of his way homewards in safety. On the road he met a friend to whom he exhibited a bleeding paw, or rather a woman's hand (so it was produced from the hunter's pocket) upon which was a wedding ring. His wife's ring was at once recognised by the other. His suspicions aroused, he immediately went in search of his wife, who was found sitting by the fire in the kitchen, her arm hidden beneath her apron: when the husband seizing her by the arm found his terrible suspicions verified. The bleeding stump was there, evidently just fresh from the wound. She was given into custody, and in the event was burned at Riom in presence of thousands of spectators. Among some of the races of India, among the Khonds of the mountains of Orissa, a superstition obtains like that of the loup-garou of France. In India the tiger takes the place of the wolf, and the metamorphosed witch is there known as the Pulta-bag.

A kindred prejudice, Vampirism, has still many adherents in Eastern Europe. The vampire is a human being who in his tomb maintains a posthumous existence by ascending in the night and sucking the bodies of the living. His punishment was necessarily less tremendous than that of the witch: the dead body only being burned to ashes. An official document, quoted by Horst, narrates the particulars of the examination and burning of a disinterred vampire.

Several witches were burned in successive years throughout the kingdom. In 1564, three witches and a wizard were executed at Poictiers: on the rack they declared that they had destroyed numbers of sheep by magical preparations, attended the Sabbaths, &c. Trois Echelles, a celebrated sorcerer, examined in the presence of Charles IX. and his court, acknowledged his obligation to the devil, to whom he had sold himself, recounting the debaucheries of the Sabbath, the methods of bewitching, and the compositions of the unguents for blighting cattle. The astounding fact was also revealed that some twelve hundred accomplices were at large in different parts of the land. The provincial parliaments in the end of this and the greater part of the next century are unremittingly engaged in passing decrees and making provisions against the increasing offences.[120] 'The Parliament of Rouen decreed that the possession of a grimoire or book of spells was sufficient evidence of witchcraft; and that all persons on whom such books were found should be burned alive. Three councils were held in different parts of France in 1583, all in relation to the same subject. The Parliament of Bordeaux issued strict injunctions to all curates and clergy whatever to use redoubled efforts to root out the crime of witchcraft. The Parliament of Tours was equally peremptory, and feared the judgments of an offended God if all these dealers with the devil were not swept from the face of the land. The Parliament of Rheims was particularly severe against the noueurs d'aiguillettes or 'tiers of the knot'—people of both sexes who took pleasure in preventing the consummation of marriage that they might counteract the command of God to our first parents to increase and multiply. This parliament held it to be sinful to wear amulets to preserve from witchcraft; and that this practice might not be continued within its jurisdiction, drew up a form of exorcism 'which could more effectually defeat the agents of the devil and put them to flight.'[121]

[120] Montaigne, one of the few Frenchmen at this time who seemed to discredit the universal creed, in one of his essays ventures to think 'it is very probable that the principal credit of visions, of enchantments, and of such extraordinary effects, proceeds from the power of the imagination acting principally upon the more impressible minds of the vulgar.' He is inclined to assign the prevalent 'liaisons' (nouements d'aiguillettes) to the apprehensions of a fear with which in his age the French world was so perplexed (si entrave). Essais, liv. i. 20.

[121] Extraordinary Popular Delusions, by Mackay, whose authorities are Tablier, Boguet (Discours sur les Sorciers), and M. Jules Garinet (Histoire de la Magie).

In France, and still more in Italy, there is reason for believing that many of the convicts were not without the real guilt of toxicological practices; and they might sometimes properly deserve the opprobrium of the old venefici. The formal trial and sentence to death of La Marechale de l'Ancre in 1617 was perhaps more political than superstitious, but witchcraft was introduced as one of the gravest accusations. Her preponderance in the councils of Marie de Medici and of Louis XIII. originated in the natural fascination of royal but inferior minds. Two years afterwards occurred a bona fide prosecution on a large scale. A commission was appointed by the Parliament of Bordeaux to inquire into the causes and circumstances of the prevalence of witchcraft in the Pyrenean districts. Espaignol, president of the local parliament, with the better known councillor, Pierre de l'Ancre, who has left a record ('Tableau de l'Inconstance des Mauvais Anges et Demons, ou il est amplement traite des Sorciers et Demons: Paris'), was placed at the head of the commission. How the district of Labourt was so infested with the tribe, that of thirty thousand inhabitants hardly a family existed but was infected with sorcery, is explained by the barren, sterile, mountainous aspect of the neighbourhood of that part of the Pyrenees: the men were engaged in the business of fishermen, and the women left alone were exposed to the tempter. The priests too were as ignorant and wicked as the people; their relations with the lonely wives and daughters being more intimate than proper. Young and handsome women, some mere girls, form the greater proportion of the accused. As many as forty a day appeared at the bar of the commissioners, and at least two hundred were hanged or burned.

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