Smugglers and brigands are much addicted to superstition. On the apprehension of one Jackson, a smuggler, who died in Chichester, there was found in his possession a linen purse containing the following charm:
"Ye three holy kings, Gaspar, Melchior, Balthasar, Pray for us now and at the hour of death."
The charm had actually touched the heads of three kings at Cologne, and was thought by the smuggler to be an effectual protection against accidents, headaches, falling sickness, witchcraft, and various kinds of mischief. Jackson died suddenly, but this did not prove the charm to be worthless, as he lost it before his end came.
Various nations in the East entertained superstitious opinions concerning serpents and reptiles. They attributed numberless powers of good and evil to these reptiles. A belief prevailed, that if one killed a snake, the whole race to which it belonged would persecute the cruel individual. When any one was bitten by a serpent, a sovereign remedy was found in a particular stone. Such valuable stones were rare, and consequently they were greatly prized, even, more so than gold.
Arabs believed that the smoke of burnt hair taken from a Christian's head would cure a patient, whatever the disease was under which he laboured. They also wore enchanted rings, and carried herbs to strengthen their arms in the day of battle.
A young lady thought she could discover the social position and character of her future husband, by pulling a large flower and taking off the leaves and petals one by one, while she repeated,
"Rich man, poor man, farmer, ploughman, thief."
The one who happened to be named at plucking the last leaf or petal was, she supposed, to be her husband. Another way: pluck an even ash leaf, and keep it in the hand, saying,
"The even ash leaf in my hand, The first I meet shall be my man;"
then put the leaf into the glove, and say,
"The even ash leaf in my glove, The first I meet shall be my love;"
and then put it into the bosom, and repeat,
"The even ash leaf in my bosom, The first I meet shall be my husband."
Immediately after this the future husband will make his appearance.
Another method: After nightfall the sighing maiden may walk through the garden with a rake in her left hand, and throw hemp seed over her right shoulder while she keeps repeating,
"Hemp seed I set, hemp seed I sow, The man that is my true love come after me and mow."
Sure enough, we are assured, the future husband will appear beside the fair sower with a scythe, ready to cut down the crop when it grows.
We are further assured that a lady would succeed quite as well, were she, on going to bed, to place her shoes so as to form the letter T, and say,
"Hoping this night my true love to see, I place my shoes in the form of a T;"
or were she, on retiring for the night, to write the alphabet on small pieces of paper, and put them into a basin of water, with the letters downwards,—in the former case she would in her dreams perceive her future husband, and in the latter she might expect to find, in the morning, the first letter of his name turned upwards, and all the other letters downwards, as she had left them.
Earl of Derby's Death—A Queen Enchanted—Image of a young King made for Wicked Purposes—Belgrave on Charms—Childebert's Device for detecting Witches—A Pot of Ointment—Witch Burned—Witch Ointment—Men-Wolves—Component Parts of Witch Ointment—Church Authorities' Instructions to Inquisitors—Killing by a Look or Wish—The King of Sweden and his Witches—Witches' Help in War—Witches causing a Plague—Cattle Poisoned—Various Charms—How to make Hair grow Long and Yellow—Holy Vestments—An Angel's Charm to Pope Leo—Physicians' Faith in Charms—Illusions—Inescation—Insemination—Method of discovering if one is Bewitched—Egyptian Laws—Curing the King's Evil.
Andrews, in his continuation of Henry's History of Great Britain, speaking of Ferdinand, Earl of Derby, says his death was attributed to witchcraft. No doubt the disease appeared to be peculiar. After his death a wax image with hair, in colour like that of the earl, was found in his chamber, which confirmed the suspicions entertained as to the cause of his demise. Another alleged atrocious crime was that of the wife of Marshal D'Ancre. She was beheaded for witchcraft, in so far as she had enchanted the queen, and made an image of the young king in virgin wax, and melted away one of its legs that he might become a cripple. Old Belgrave, in his Astrological Practice of Physic, observes: "Under adverse planets, and by Satan's subtlety, witches injured man and beast by making images or models of them, and pricking the likenesses with thorns, pins, or needles."
Childebert's device for detecting witches who dealt in charms, was to torture them by putting sharp instruments betwixt every nail of their fingers and toes. Judges, before whom witches were tried, were cautioned not to allow them to come near their persons nor the seat of judgment. That they might be all the more secure from witchcraft, judges kept suspended from their necks conjured salt, palm, holy herbs, and wax hallowed by the Church. To compel witches to confess their guilt, officers of justice were wont to write the seven words spoken on the cross, and cause these, with relics of saints, to be hung round the culprits' necks. When these charms were thus applied, it was impossible for witches to refrain from confessing their guilt, if at the same time they were sufficiently racked and tortured.
An incredible story is told of a gentlewoman in Lyons, who possessed a pot of ointment of such rare virtue, that the application of it to one's body proved sufficient to transport the individual, in an instant, through the air to distant towns and countries. The lady being one evening in a room with her lover, anointing herself with part of the ointment, and repeating words in an under tone, was in the twinkling of an eye carried away through the air. Her companion, though astonished and somewhat alarmed, did as he had observed his fair friend do, and presto he was conveyed away many miles to an assembly of witches. Afraid at what he beheld, he uttered a holy ejaculation. In an instant the assembly vanished, leaving him alone. He returned on foot to Lyons, and brought an accusation of witchcraft against his lover. The charge being proven, the woman, with her ointment, was consigned to the flames.
Witches and warlocks, learned in the art of transubstantiation, could by means of witch ointment turn themselves into wolves. Peter Burget and Michael Worden, having by means of such ointment turned themselves into wolves, killed and ate a large number of people. One night, when the men-wolves were out on one of their murderous expeditions, an archer shot one of them with a charmed arrow. Tracing the wounded creature to Peter's residence, the pursuers found the luckless man in bed in his natural shape, with the arrow deep in his thigh. Another man-wolf was punished by having his feet amputated, and in a moment he became a man without hands or feet.
Mountain parsley, wolves-bane, leaves of the poplar, and soot were frequently used in the preparation of witch ointment; and so were yellow water-cresses, the blood of a mouse, night-shade, oil, etc. A witch, rubbed all over with a preparation of these, could skim through the air in a moonlight night, singing, dancing, and otherwise making merry with her companions.
So generally did the belief in witchcraft, incantations, and charms prevail in the time of Pope Innocent VIII. and of Pope Julius II., that the Church authorities sent to the inquisitors the following official notice and instructions:—"It has come to our ears that many lewd persons of both kinds, as well male as female, using the company of the devils Incubus and Succubus, with incantations, charms, conjurations, etc., to destroy the births of women with child, the young of all cattle, the corn of the field, the grapes of the vines, the fruit of the trees; also men, women, and cattle of all kinds, and beasts of the field; and with their said enchantments, etc., do utterly extinguish and spoil all vineyards, orchards, meadows, pastures, grass, green corn, and ripe corn: yea, men and women themselves are by their imprecations so afflicted with external and internal pains and diseases that the births of children are but few: Our pleasure therefore is, that all impediments that may hinder the inquisitors' office be utterly removed from among the people, lest this blot of heresy proceed to poison and defile them that may yet be innocent: And therefore we ordain, by virtue of the apostolical authority, that our inquisitors may execute the office of inquisition by all tortures and afflictions, in all places, and upon all persons, what and wheresoever, as well in every place and diocese as upon any person; and that as freely as though they were named, expressed, or cited in this our commission."
Witches have confessed their power to kill a neighbour by a word, a wish, or a look.
In the wars between the kings of Denmark and Sweden, in 1563, the Danes wrote that the King of Sweden carried about with him in camp four old witches, who with their charms so affected the Danes that they were thereby unable to annoy their enemies. One of the witches, on being taken prisoner, confessed her guilt.
The West Indians, Muscovites, and Huns sought the help of witches in time of war.
A band of witches in Italy, in 1536, renewed a plague, then almost ceased, by besmearing with an ointment and a powder the posts and doors of men's houses. One of the wicked old hags having been apprehended and examined, confessed the fact. The like villany was perpetrated elsewhere about the same time. Weeping and lamentation were heard in every dwelling for fathers stricken down by death; but, strange to say, the women escaped injury. Cattle were killed through wolves' dung being hidden in stalls and among the pasture where they fed. The stench caused the animals to refrain from eating, and made them run about as if they were mad.
Witches highly prized, and frequently used in their nefarious art, the hair growing on the end of a wolf's tail, the brain of a cat, the head of a lizard, the bone of a green frog from which the flesh had been eaten by ants. One bone of a frog engendered love, while another bone caused hatred.
Garments of the dead, candles that had burned before a stiffened corpse, and needles wherewith dead bodies had been sewn in sheets, were precious in the eyes of cunning persons.
Witches and magicians had power, by means of charms, to put into the minds and consciences of men such thoughts as they pleased; and, moreover, they could induce people to disclose their heart secrets.
Maids hung up a quantity of their hair before the image of St. Urbane, trusting that by so doing their hair would grow long and yellow.
A holy vest was at times given by the Pope to a faithful son of Mother Church, to protect him from violence of every description. The manner of making a charmed waistcoat is thus explained:—On Christmas night, flax thread was spun by a virgin girl, and afterwards woven by her. After the garment was sewn by the same little hands which had spun the thread and woven the cloth, two figures in needlework were wrought on it to resemble Beelzebub and the Cross. One of these vestments gave the wearer courage in the hour of danger: witches were unable to harm him, bullets could not hit him, the sword's edge was turned aside, and the pointed spear levelled against him proved harmless.
Leo, Pope of Rome, reported that an angel delivered to him the following holy writing—a charm of inestimable value, as we shall presently learn:—"+ Jesus, + Christus, + Messias, + Soter, + Emmanuel, + Sabbath, + Adonii, + Unigenitus, + Majestas, + Paracletus, + Salvator Noster, + Agiros Iskiros, + Agios, + Adonatos, + Gasper, + Melchior, + Mattheus, + Marcus, + Lucas, + Johannes." The angel, so said Leo, directed him to take it to King Charles when he went to the battle of Roncesvalles. Moreover, the holy messenger said that whatever man or woman carried a copy of this writing, and every day said three paternosters, three aves, and one creed, would not be overcome by enemies, either bodily or ghostly; nor would the person thus protected be robbed, or slain by thieves, pestilence, thunder, or lightning; neither would he be hurt by fire or water.
By the writings of various authors, we gather that both the physician and priest placed a high value on amulets, charms, and incantations. Argerius Ferrarius, a celebrated physician, expressed the opinion that physic might benefit a patient to a certain degree, but that, to complete a cure, the application of amulets, charms, and characters was desirable. He cited many cases that came under his own observation and that of other physicians. Galen expressed the opinion that charms prevented bones sticking in people's throats.
Physicians skilled in magic applied three seeds of three-leaved grass to tertian ague, and four to a quartian. Of Homerical medicines, Argerius Ferrarius writes there are four sorts, whereof amulets, characters, and charms are three; but he commends and prefers the fourth, which, he says, consists in illusions or stratagems. He tells how Philodotus put a cap of lead upon one's head who imagined he was headless, whereby the person was freed from his delusion. Another cured a woman, under the impression that a serpent continually gnawed her entrails, by giving her a vomit, and making her believe that she vomited a little serpent.
A man who imagined that he was always burning in a fire, had his illusion dispelled by seeing fire taken out from beneath his bed. Great stress is put on the alleged fact that hiccough is cured by sudden fear or startling news, and that agues and many other diseases may be removed by excitement.
Inescation is a curious method practised for the cure of certain diseases. The cure may be effected by impregnating a proper medium or vehicle with some of the mumia or vital spirit of the patient, and giving it to an inferior animal to swallow. It is pretended that the animal unites and assimilates the mumia with itself, and imbibes its vicious qualities, and by that means restores health to the person to whom the mumia belonged.
Insemination is a cure, in certain respects, not unlike to that of inescation. It is performed by mixing the medium, impregnated with the mumia taken from the patient, with earth wherein has been sown the seed of a plant appropriate to the disease; but care must be taken to sprinkle it from time to time with water wherein the part affected had been washed. The disease, we are told, becomes less virulent as the plant grows.
By pouring molten lead into water held above a sick man, it could be discovered whether he was bewitched. If his illness arose from wicked and cruel tormentors, his image appeared in the lead; but if the disease resulted from natural causes, no distinct impression remained on the lead.
Montaigne says that it was an Egyptian law that the physician should for the first three days take charge of his patient at the patient's own peril, but afterwards at his own. He mentions that, in his time, physicians gave their pills in odd numbers, appointed remarkable days in the year for taking medicine, and gathered their simples at certain hours.
The mode of curing the King's Evil, or scrofula, by royal touch, has been so often referred to by various writers that we might well pass it without notice, were it not that our object is to bring together in these pages the many varied particulars of ancient superstition. Consequently we shall briefly describe the ceremonies gone through when sick persons were brought before the king. Let us premise, in the first place, that all parties are neither agreed as to the time nor the sovereign who first applied his royal hand to this method of healing disease. The kings of England and France long pretended to possess the power of curing scrofula by touching the sore. The right or faculty, the French people say, existed originally in their monarch; but the English nation would not admit this, and claimed the power for their king. In support of England's claim, monkish writers assert that the virtue was inherent in our kings as early as the days of Edward the Confessor. Others will have it that King Robert first exhibited the miraculous gift. Charles VIII. of France touched several persons at Rome, and cured them. At whatever time the power first manifested itself is of little importance; and through whatever royal line it descended need not trouble those alive, seeing, we are assured, the virtue perished with the last British sovereign of the House of Stuart. But, to return to the manner of curing the king's evil, we shall give, as an instance, the method pursued by Charles II. of England, Scotland, and Ireland, when healing any of his subjects:—
On 14th May 1664 a notice was given that his sacred Majesty would continue the healing of his people for the evil during the remainder of that month, and then cease doing so until Michaelmas. His Majesty sat in state in the banqueting house, and the chirurgeons led the sick to the throne; there, the invalids kneeling, the monarch stroked their bodies with his hands. The ceremony being concluded, a chaplain in attendance said, "He put his hands upon them, and healed them." These words were repeated as every one was touched. After all the diseased persons were operated on, another chaplain, kneeling, delivered gold angels, attached to white ribbons, to his Majesty, who suspended one about the neck of every one to whom his healing virtue had gone forth. Prayers being said for the sick, the ceremony concluded by his Majesty washing his hands in a basin brought to him by the lord chamberlain and comptroller of the household.
If a monarch could not be found to cure the king's evil, it might have been effected by the touch of a seventh son, between whom and his eldest brother no daughter had come to swell the family circle. And the virtue of healing by laying on of hands existed in particular noble families of untainted blood.
Precious Stones regarded as Objects of uncommon Virtue—Extravagance in Jewellery accounted for—Significance in relation to Gems—Abraham's Precious Stones—Altars called Living Stones—The Urim and Thummim—Rod of Moses—Charmed Rings—Sacred Rings and Belts—Sacred Cairns, etc.—Destiny and Fate—The Month of one's Nativity has connection with one or other of the Precious Stones—Examples adduced—Kings of England hallowing Rings—Ring preserved in Westminster Abbey—Cramp Rings—Various Stones of great Virtue—Iona Relics—The Green Stone of Arran—A Crystal kept by ancient Priests as a Charm—A Conjuring Beryl—Prophetic Stones—The Coronation Stone or Stone of Destiny.
From an early period of history man has regarded precious stones as objects of uncommon virtue. A belief in their excellence has prevailed among Pagans, Jews, and Christians down to the present period. Extravagance in jewellery originated not so much from a love of finery as from a belief that jewels possessed efficacy or power peculiar to themselves. When we consider that every gem is supposed to be an amulet, we cannot be surprised at hearing of people in distant lands wearing jewels on their fingers and toes, on their ankles and arms, in their noses and ears, and even in their lips; nor can we be astonished at seeing in modern times the weaker sex loaded with rings, bracelets, pendants and other such articles, studded with precious stones.
As a language of flowers is known among botanists, so there is a significance in relation to gems, understood by the credulous. Every stone has its virtue, at least so we are told, as surely as every light and shadow produces its own effects. Important events connected with the lives of great men and memorable circumstances desired to be kept in remembrance, help to lend importance to sparkling gems and less ornamental stones. This will be better understood as we proceed.
Descendants of Abraham believed, as will be found under "Rise and Progress of Superstition," that their great ancestor wore, suspended from his neck, a precious stone the sight of which cured every disease. An interesting legend is also given there concerning Abraham and the stones marching, ready hewn, to find a place in the Kaaba he was about to build; of the black stone left out, which afterwards became so famous; and of the stone to which Abraham tied the beast he rode on when going to sacrifice his son. In that part of our work it will also be ascertained that altars were called living stones, from a belief that a portion of divine spirit resided in them.
Josephus and others maintain that the precious stones of Aaron's breast-plate were the Urim and Thummim, and that they discovered or predicted the issue of events to those who consulted them; and the Rabbins held that the rod of Moses consisted partly of sapphire. At page 27 it will be seen that the Greeks wore charmed rings, and at pages 7 and 58 we have stated that priests sold charms to credulous persons. At page 280 we have noticed the custom of negro children being provided with sacred rings and belts, to protect them from evil spirits. Again, when treating of magic and astrology, we pointed out that magicians supplied people with precious stones, supposed to be of immense value as amulets.
From time immemorial an opinion has obtained that there are sacred edifices, piles, cairns, and separate stones, which possess peculiar virtue. Not a few instances of these have been adduced in preceding pages; but a few more examples, we venture to say, will not be considered void of interest, more particularly if they can be connected with the destiny of man.
Every individual is supposed to be born under a particular destiny or fate (as has been over and over again stated in these pages), which it is impossible to avoid. The month of his nativity has a mysterious connection with one or other of the precious stones. This was so well understood by the ancients, that when one wished to make the object of his affections an acceptable present, a ring was given, set with the jewel by which the fate of the receiver was determined and described. For instance, we are informed by an old author, that the ring of a woman born in January should have a jacinth or garnet in it, for these stones belong to that month, and express constancy and fidelity. A list of the months and stones therewith connected, and their respective significance, is as follows:—
JANUARY—Jacinth, or Garnet—Constancy and fidelity in every engagement.
FEBRUARY—Amethyst—This month and stone preserve mortals from strong passions, and ensure them peace of mind.
MARCH—Bloodstone—Courage, and success in dangers and hazardous enterprises.
APRIL—Sapphire or Diamond—Repentance and innocence.
MAY—Emerald—Success in love.
JUNE—Agate—Long life and health.
JULY—Cornelian or Ruby—The forgetfulness or the cure of evils springing from friendship or love.
SEPTEMBER—Chrysolite—Preserves from or cures folly.
OCTOBER—Aquamarine or Opal—Misfortune and hope.
NOVEMBER—Topaz—Fidelity in friendship.
DECEMBER—Torquoise or Malachite—The most brilliant success and happiness in every circumstance of life. The torquoise has also the property of securing friendly regards, as is verified by the old saying, "He who possesses a torquoise will always be sure of friends."
Anciently, the kings of England, on Good Friday, hallowed, with great ceremony, certain rings the wearing of which was believed to prevent the falling sickness. The custom originated from a ring, long preserved in Westminster Abbey, which is reported to have been brought to King Edward by persons from Jerusalem. The rings consecrated by the sovereigns were called "cramp rings." Andrew Boorde, speaking of the cramp, says, "The King's Majesty hath great help in this matter in hallowing 'cramp rings' without money or petition."
Writing of Fladda Chuan, Martin writes: "There is a chapel in the isle, dedicated to St. Columbus. It has an altar in the east end, and therein a blue stone of a round form on it, which is always moist. It is an ordinary custom, when any of the fishermen are detained in this isle by contrary winds, to wash the blue stone with water, all round, expecting thereby to procure a favourable wind. And so great is their regard for this stone that people swear decisive oaths upon it." Martin also says it was an ancient custom among the islanders to hang a he-goat's skin to the boat's mast, in the hope of securing a favourable wind.
There was a stone in Iona, over which, if a man stretched his arm three times, he would never err in steering a vessel. In the island of Bernera there was a stone in the form of a cross, near St. Mary's Church, about five feet high, which the natives called the water cross. The old inhabitants were in the practice of erecting it when they wished rain, and of laying it flat on the ground when they desired dry weather. Martin further mentions a green stone, about the size of goose's egg, in the island of Arran, which possessed rare virtue, and was consequently handed down to posterity for many ages. By laying it on the side of a person troubled with pains in that part of his body, the patient immediately recovered, unless doomed to die. If the latter event were to happen, the stone removed of its own accord from the side; but if the patient was to recover, it rested where placed until the cure became complete. Disputed cases between the islanders were settled by oath at this stone. It possessed another virtue—causing powerful enemies to run away when it was thrown at their front. The custody of this valuable relic long remained a privilege of the Chattans.
In the Highlands of Scotland a large oval crystal—probably a Cairngorm stone—was kept by the ancient priests by which to work charms. Water poured upon it was given to the cattle, to preserve them from disease. Such charms were common in Scotland, England, and Ireland. Lilly describes a conjuring beryl or crystal. It was, he tells us, as large as an orange, and set in silver with a cross at the top, and round about it were engraved the names of the angels Raphael, Gabriel, and Uriel. A delineation of another charm is engraved in the frontispiece to Aubrey's Miscellanies. A mode of making inquiry by charms is imputed to Dr. Dee, the celebrated mathematician. The stone used by him came into the possession of Horace Walpole, and was long, if not now, in the Strawberry Hill collection. Sorcerers or magicians, says Grose, did not always employ their art to do mischief, but, on the contrary, frequently exerted it to cure diseases inflicted by witches, to discover thieves, recover stolen goods, to foretell future events, and the state of absent friends. A favourite method of consultation was this: The conjuror having repeated the necessary adjuration, and applied the proper charms, with the litany or invocation peculiar to the spirits or angels whose assistance was to be asked, the seer looked into a crystal or beryl, wherein he saw, or pretended he saw, the answers to his interrogatories, represented either by types or figures. Sometimes the spirits or angels answered audibly.
This part of our subject would be incomplete without reference to the Coronation Stone, the history of which is as interesting as it is curious. We have made mention of a stone or stones, under various names—Jacob's Pillow, Lia-Fail, Stone of Destiny, Marble Chair, Coronation Stone, etc. Writers on archaeological subjects are not agreed as to whether all these are or are not different names for one and the same relic. On the whole, we are inclined to think that there was but one coronation stone, but we leave that point to be definitely settled by others. From the information before us, we assume there was but one stone, and therefore proceed on this assumption, which is supported by tradition.
The Stone of Destiny, we are told, formed Jacob's pillow on the plain of Luz, and consequently was regarded as a sacred relic by the Jews. It was carried to Egypt, thence to Spain, and from the latter country it was conveyed by Simon Breck to Ireland, where it became known as the "Lia-Fail" or "Stone of Destiny" of the Irish kings. Ireland is often, from this stone, called by the priests Innis-phail. The ancient Irish supposed that, in whatsoever country this stone remained, there one of their blood would reign. They pretended to have authentic memoirs of the stone for a period extending backwards more than two thousand years. In the practical tales of Ossian we find:
"Though the sun glitters upon the heath, I will not behold her golden rays; though the stag should start by me, Ossian will chase him no more. Although Manus should cross the ocean again to invade Albin, my sword is not victorious in the slaughter, and my fame is not celebrated by the bards. I am not invited to a feast. My kiss is scorned by the virgin. My esteem is not equal to a king's son; one day is like a year to me.
"It was the reverse in Innis-phail, also in Selma, the mansions of my mighty father: Ossian was honoured above the rest: behold the uncertainty of everything under the sun."
After the enchanted stone—for it was regarded as such—had long been kept at Tarah, it was sent to Fergus, the first actual king of Scots; and it remained in Argyle (the original seat of the Scots in Britain) until about the year 842. Three hundred and thirty years before the Christian era, Fergus was crowned and seated on the famous chair. Kenneth, the second son of Alpin, having enlarged his dominions by the conquest of the Picts, transferred the stone to Scone. As the supreme kings of Ireland and the kings of the Scots used to be inaugurated by being seated on the ancient chair before it was carried to Scone, so were the kings at Perth installed into regal office down to the time that Edward I. carried to England the sacred relic, highly prized by every Scotchman. As soon as the news of the loss spread, great concern was manifested. The death of a beloved monarch, or the loss of many battles, where brave sons and fathers had fallen, would have been as nothing compared with the national loss sustained. In fact, many in the highest circles conceived that the glory of the kingdom had departed.
It appears from a document found among the records of England, that King Edward treated the relic with great veneration. With the intention of using it for the same purposes in England as it had been used for in Scotland and Ireland, he proposed to make it a part of a throne or royal seat, and ordered his goldsmith to prepare a copper case for it. He changed his mind, and gave instructions for a wooden chair being made, and the stone inserted in the seat. Such was the estimation in which he held the stone, that he placed it in the most sacred place in England—close to the altar and shrine of St. Edward. There are reasons for concluding that Edward had intended to return the stone to Scotland, and had made arrangements to that effect in a treaty; but the citizens of London, who were anxious to retain the stone in England, remonstrated against its being restored to the legal owners, and the king complied with their wishes. This famous "Stone of Destiny," long sacred in Ireland, and on which the kings of Scotland were crowned for more than a thousand years, now forms part of the coronation chair of the kings and queens of England.
When the supreme kings of Ireland were inaugurated, in the times of heathenism, on the hill of Tarah, the stone, which was enclosed in a wooden chair, was supposed to emit a sound under the rightful heir to the throne, but to be mute under a man seeking power under false pretences. On Aidanus being elected by universal acclamation, and solemnly seated in the same chair, he was crowned by St. Columba, who with his right hand placed the diadem on the king's head, while in his left he held a trumpet or wooden tube, to announce to the assembled throng the completion of the joyful event. This tube was long preserved with great care at Dunkeld. Some suppose that the fatality long assigned to the stone was fully believed in by Kenneth, by whose orders the following couplet was carved on the chair:—
"Where'er this marble's placed, there, sure as fate, Shall be the Scottish monarch's regal seat."
Wintoun tells us that Fergus, the son of Ere,
"Braucht this stane wytht-in Scotland Fyrst quhen he came and wane that land, And fyrst it set in Ikkolmkil, And Skune thare-eftir it was braucht tyle; And there it wes syne mony day, Qhyll Edward gert have it away."
Without endorsing the opinion that Scotland and Ireland have lost their wonted power, or suffered decline through the "Prophetic or Fatal Stone" being carried away, it is an indisputable fact that in neither of these countries is there, strictly speaking, a "monarch's regal seat." The "Enchanted Stone"—the "palladium of Scottish liberty"—is certainly, as the English well know, one of the most ancient and valuable relics in Westminster Abbey.
TRIALS BY ORDEAL.
Trials by Ordeal resorted to in Modern and Ancient Times—Ordeal by means of Hot Iron—Plunging the Arm into Boiling Water or Oil—Walking Blindfold in Dangerous Places—Weighing a Witch—Extending the Arms before a Cross—Swallowing Consecrated Bread—Ordeal among the Hindoos—Touching a Dead Body—A Murdered Traveller—An Inquest, how conducted long ago—Dead Henry's Wounds—Sir George M'Kenzie's Opinion of Trial by Ordeal—Killing a Brother by Sorcery—Touching a Dead Body—Sir K. Digby on Trial by Ordeal.
Trial by ordeal were resorted to by many people and nations both in ancient and modern times, with the view of establishing the criminality or innocence of suspected persons. Among the ordeals may be enumerated: holding in the hand a red-hot bar of iron, plunging the arm into boiling water or oil, walking blindfold amidst burning ploughshares, passing through fires, swallowing a morsel of consecrated bread, swimming or sinking in water (or, as it was occasionally termed, weighing a witch), stretching out the arms before the cross until the sorest wearied competitor dropped his arms, and so lost his cause, and therewith perhaps his life or his estate, or it might be both.
* * * * *
A dispute occurred between the Bishop of Paris and the Abbot of St. Denis about the patronage of a monastery; and Pepin, surnamed the Short, not being able to decide such an intricate question, decreed that the matter should be settled by ordeal. Each of the disputants chose a man, and both the men appeared in a chapel, where they extended their arms in the form of a cross. Numerous spectators were present to witness the trial, and betted on the feat. The bishop's representative dropped his arms first, and thereby ruined his employer.
Warren Hastings has found, from Asiatic researches, that trial by ordeal was common among the Hindoos. He says these trials are conducted in nine ways: first, by the balance; secondly, by fire; thirdly, by water; fourthly, by poison; fifthly, by the Cosha, or water in which an idol has been washed; sixthly, by rice; seventhly, by boiling oil; eighthly, by red-hot iron; ninthly, by images.
"I. Ordeal by the balance is thus performed:—The beam having been previously adjusted, the cord fixed, and both scales made perfectly even, the person accused and a Pandit fast a whole day; then, after the accused has been bathed in sacred water, the homa, or oblation, presented to fire, and the deities worshipped, he is carefully weighed; and, when he is taken out of the scale, the Pandits prostrate themselves, and pronounce a certain mentra or incantation, agreeably to the Sastras, and having written the substance of the accusation on a piece of paper, bind it on his head. Six minutes after, they place him again in the scale, and, if he weigh more than before, he is held guilty; if less, innocent; if exactly the same, he must be weighed a third time; when, as it is written in the Mitacshera, there will certainly be a difference in his weight. Should the balance break down, it would be considered a proof of guilt.
"II. For the fire ordeal, an excavation, nine hands long, two spans broad, and one span deep, is made in the ground, and filled with a fire of pippal wood: into this the person accused must walk bare-footed, and, if his foot be unhurt, they hold him blameless; if burned, guilty.
"III. Water ordeal is performed by causing the person accused to stand in a sufficient depth of water, either flowing or stagnant, to reach his navel; but care must be taken that no ravenous animal be in it, and that it be not moved by much air: a Brahman is then directed to go into the water, holding a staff in his hand, and a soldier shoots three arrows on dry ground from a bow of cane; a man is next despatched to bring the arrow which has been shot farthest, and, after he has taken it up, another is ordered to run from the edge of the water; at which instant the person accused is told to grasp the foot or the staff of the Brahman, who stands near him in the water, and immediately to dive into it. He must remain under water till the two men who went to fetch the arrows are returned; for, if he raise his head or body above the surface before the arrows are brought back, his guilt is considered as fully proved. In the villages near Banares, it is the practice for the person who is to be tried by this kind of ordeal to stand in water up to his navel, and then, holding the foot of a Brahman, to dive under it as long as a man can walk fifty paces very gently; if before the man has walked thus far the accused rise above the water, he is condemned; if not, acquitted.
"IV. There are two sorts of trial by poison. First, the Pandits having performed their homa, and the person accused his ablution, two retti's and a half, or seven barley-corns, of vishanaga, a poisonous root, or of sanc'hya, that is, white arsenic, are mixed in eight mashas, or sixty-four retti's of clarified butter, which the accused must eat from the hand of a Brahman: if the poison produce no visible effect, he is absolved; otherwise, condemned. Secondly, the hooded snake, called naga, is thrown into a deep earthen pot, into which is dropped a ring, a seal, or a coin; this the person accused is ordered to take out with his hand; and, if the serpent bite him, he is pronounced guilty; if not, innocent.
"V. Trial by the cosha is as follows: the accused is made to drink three draughts of the water in which the images of the sun, of Devi, and other deities have been washed for that purpose; and if within fourteen days he has any sickness or indisposition, his crime is considered as proved.
"VI. When several persons are suspected of theft, some dry rice is weighed with the sacred stone called salcram; or certain slocas are read over it; after which the suspected persons are severally ordered to chew a quantity of it: as soon as they have chewed it, they are to throw it on some leaves of the pippal, or, if none be at hand, on some b'hurja patra, or bark of a tree from Nepal or Cashmir. The man from whose mouth the rice comes dry or stained with blood, is holden guilty; the rest are acquitted.
"VII. The ordeal by hot oil is very simple: when it is heated sufficiently, the accused thrusts his hand into it; and, if he be not burned, is held innocent.
"VIII. In the same manner they make an iron ball, or the head of a lance, red-hot, and place it in the hands of the person accused; who, if it burn him not, is judged guiltless.
"IX. To perform the ordeal by dharmarch, which is the name of the sloca appropriated to this mode of trial, either an image named Dharma, or the Genius of Justice, is made of silver, and another, called Adharma, of clay or iron, both of which are thrown into a large earthen jar; and the accused, having thrust his hand into it, is acquitted if he bring out the silver image, but condemned if he draw forth the iron; or the figure of a deity is painted on white cloth, and another on black, the first of which they name dharma, and the second adharma: these are severally rolled up in cow-dung, and thrown into a large jar without having ever been shown to the accused; who must put his hand into the jar, and is acquitted or convicted as he draws out the figure on white or black cloth."
Touching the body of a murdered person was one way, in Scotland, England, and elsewhere, of discovering who the murderer was. The practice, we are informed, originated in Denmark. Certain gentlemen in that kingdom, being together in a house, one evening fell out among themselves, and from words came to blows. Unfortunately the candles went out during the fray, and before lights could be procured one of the gentlemen was stabbed. The murderer was unknown. Christernus II., then king, to find out the murderer, caused all who were present at the brawl to stand around the dead body, and commanded that one after the other should lay his right hand on the dead man's breast, and swear that he had not committed the foul deed. The gentlemen complied; and no sign appeared to indicate the guilt of any of them, until the king's pursuivant kissed the feet of the corpse, and laid his hand on the breast. As soon as he did so, the blood gushed out in great abundance from the wound and nostrils. Thus condemned, the pursuivant confessed his guilt. By the king's sentence, the criminal was beheaded. Hence arose the practice, which was long common in many places, of finding out unknown murders. In most cases the murderer was discovered by the corpse bleeding the instant the bloodstained hand was placed on the cold inanimate clay, but at times the sign was given by the dead man opening his eyes on the slayer approaching the corpse.
A traveller was found murdered on a highway in Denmark; and because the slayer was unknown, the magistrates of the place caused one of the hands of him that was slain to be cut off, and hung up by a string at the top of a room in the town prison. About ten years after the crime was committed, the murderer happened to enter the apartment; and as soon as he did so, the dry withered hand began to drop blood on a table below it. The gaoler, beholding this, detained the man and called in the magistrates, who extracted from him a confession of his guilt.
In Herefordshire, in the time of Charles I., Johan Norkett, wife of Arthur Norkett, was found dead. At first it was thought she had committed suicide, but afterwards circumstances transpired which led to the belief that the unfortunate woman did not lay violent hands upon herself. A jury was summoned, and, after deliberation, the coroner directed that the body, which had been buried for a month, should be exhumed, and four suspected persons brought to touch the corpse. The persons being afterwards brought to trial at the assizes, an old minister swore that, the body being taken out of the grave and laid on the grass, the accused were required to touch it. On laying their hands on the brow, which before was of a livid and carrion colour, it began to have a dew or gentle sweat upon it, which increased by degrees until the sweat ran down the face. The brow then turned to a lifelike and flesh colour, and the dead woman opened one of her eyes and shut it again, and this opening the eye was done three times. She likewise thrust out the ring or marriage finger three times, and the finger dropped blood on the grass. Another clergyman corroborated the statement of the first witness. Sir Nicholas Hyde threw doubt on the correctness of the evidence, but the jury found three of the prisoners guilty of murder, and two of them were executed; the third being a woman, escaped with her life.
The popular superstition that the wounds of a murdered person would bleed afresh when touched by the murderer, is thus referred to by Shakspeare:
"Dead Henry's wounds Open their congealed mouths, and bleed afresh;"
And Dryden says:
"If the vile actors of the heinous deed Near the dead body happily be brought, Oft hath been proved the breathless corpse will bleed."
That murder might be discovered in the way referred to, was generally believed in Scotland in the seventeenth century. Sir George Mackenzie, when conducting the prosecution in the trial of Philip Stansfield, said: "That divine power which makes the blood circulate during life, has oft-times, in all nations, opened a passage to it after death upon such occasions, but most in this case; for after the wounds had been sewed up, and the body designedly shaken up and down, and, which is most wonderful, after the body had been buried for several days, which naturally occasions the blood to congeal, upon Philip touching it, the blood darted and sprang out, to the great astonishment of the chirurgeons themselves, who were desired to watch this event; whereupon Philip, astonished more than they, threw down the body, and became so faint that they were forced to give him a cordial."
In the middle of the seventeenth century, Christina Wilson was accused, in one of the supreme courts of Scotland, of having killed her brother by sorcery. On being suspected of the crime by the minister and others, she was brought in to touch the corpse. At the first sight of the dead body, she prayed that He who made the sun to shine on their house would bring the murder to light, and immediately thereafter she touched the corpse. It bled, though it did not do so before when touched by others. Of course this was held sufficient proof against the unfortunate woman, and she suffered according to her supposed guilt.
In another case a man was condemned on similar evidence for the murder of his father; but the prisoner insisted that the bleeding was owing to an incision made on the body, and not to his presence. The defence was disregarded; but this need not be a matter of surprise, when such men as Sir K. Digby and Sir George Mackenzie took it for granted that the corpse of a murdered person would bleed on being touched by the murderer. He (Sir K. Digby) says in his Religio Medica: "And to this cause, peradventure, may be ascribed the strange effect which is frequently seen in England, when, at the approach of the murderer, the slain body suddenly bleedeth afresh: for certainly the souls of them that are treacherously murdered by surprise leave their bodies with extreme unwillingness, and with vehement indignation against them that forced them to so unprovided and abhorred a passage. The soul then, to wreak its evil talent against the hated murderer, and to draw a just and desired revenge upon his head, would do all it can to manifest the author of the fact. To speak it cannot, for in itself it wanteth organs of voice, and those it is parted from are now grown too heavy, and are too benumbed for it to give motion unto; yet some change it desireth to make in the body, which it hath so vehement inclination to, and therefore it is the aptest for it to work upon. It must then endeavour to cause a motion in the sublimest and most fluid parts (and consequently the most moveable ones) of it. This can be nothing but the blood, which, being violently moved, must needs gush out at those places where it findeth issues."
The swallowing of a piece of barley bread, over which mass had been performed, was not unfrequent in trials of ordeal. If the suspected person swallowed the bread without injury, he was declared innocent; but if the bread choked him in the attempt to swallow it, then was he considered to be guilty. At times cheese was given with the bread; but when that was done, it was essential to supply ewe-milk cheese made in the month of May.
A Popular Story—Ordeal of Red-hot Iron—Ordeal by Boiling Water—Theatberge, wife of Lothaire, accused of Incest—Purgation by Cold Water—Forbes's Memoirs—Ordeals by Boiling Oil—Trial by Wager of Battle—When Trial by Wager of Battle ceased—Trial by Jury—Combats in Germany—Bier placed near the Combatants—Court of King's Bench deciding the Legality of Trial by Battle—Sir Walter Scott's Illustrations of Superstition and Trial by Battle in Olden Times.
A popular story is told of Emma, mother of Edward the Confessor, being accused of too great familiarity with the Bishop of Leicester. To justify herself, she demanded the ordeal of red-hot iron. Her demand was complied with, and she passed barefooted and blindfolded over nine red-hot ploughshares without touching them. Her innocence was thereby held to be proved.
Nobles and great persons who submitted to ordeal by water were purged by boiling water, but the populace had to undergo the cold-water test.
Theatberge, wife of Lothaire of France, having been accused of incest, certain bishops were consulted as to the manner of establishing her guilt or innocence; and they concluded that recourse should be had to proof by boiling water. She was ordered to plunge her hand into a basin of boiling water, and take out a ring put therein. In place of complying, she availed herself of a privilege the law allowed—to find a substitute. He whom she chose produced the ring without injuring his hand, in spite of the fire under the caldron being so intense that the water boiled over.
In the trial or purgation by cold water, the accused, after prayers and other ceremonies, was cast into deep water, swaddled or tied in such a manner as to make it impossible for him or her to swim. If the accused sank, he or she was held criminal, and allowed to drown. If the person floated, it was regarded as a proof of innocence, and the lucky one was drawn out of the water to be set free.
Mr. Forbes, in his Oriental Memoirs, says that, among the curious circumstances connected with his administration of justice at Dheeborg, he was sometimes obliged to determine causes by ordeal trial. In one instance a man was accused of stealing a child wearing many jewels. Circumstances were against him, on which he demanded trial by ordeal. Mr. Forbes was at first averse to adopt such a measure, but, at the request of the Hindoo arbitrators, who sat on the carpet of justice, and especially at the request of the child's parents, he consented. A vessel full of boiling oil was brought into the durbar, and, after a short ceremony by the Brahmins, the accused person, without showing any anxiety, plunged his hand to the bottom and took out a small silver coin. He did not appear to have sustained any hurt, or to suffer the least pain. The suspected person's innocence being thus established in the eyes of the arbitrators and parents, he was set free.
Another instance of trial by ordeal is mentioned by Mr. Forbes. The coolies of a village in the northern part of Guzerat were accused of having seized and imprisoned a Bohra, and, of extorting a bond from him for 450 rupees. The chief, a Khemaria coolie, named Wagajee, denied the charge, and, for proof of his innocence and that of his people, offered to submit to trial by any kind of ordeal. The Bohra agreed to this mode of proof, and it was determined that the coolie should immerse his hand in a vessel of boiling oil. A large copper-pot full of oil was put on a fire in the market place, and a pair of blacksmith's bellows applied to blow the fire until the oil became very hot. A rupee was then thrown into the pot. The accused, when requested, came forward, stripped himself, said his prayers, and protested his innocence. He resisted every attempt to dissuade him from the trial. A crowd of people, impressed with the awfulness of such an immediate appeal to the deity, prayed devoutly that, if he were not guilty, he might pass through the test unhurt. Wagajee walked up to the boiling oil, dipped his hand into it, and laid hold of the rupee. He then held up his hand, that the spectators might satisfy themselves of his veracity. His hand appeared as if it had been merely put into cold oil. All parties were satisfied, and Wagajee was dismissed with the present of a new turban.
Trial by ordeal was introduced into England by the Saxons. Under the English laws, a prisoner might choose whether he would be tried by ordeal or by jury. Trial by ordeal was abolished in this country in the year 1218.
Trial by or wager of battle may be mentioned as a form of superstition which remained as a legal way of deciding criminal cases down to the time of George III.
In 1817 a young man, charged with murdering his sweetheart in England, claimed the right to have his case decided by wager of battle: the court admitted the claim, but he whose right it was to accept the challenge refused to fight, and so the accused escaped punishment. This led to the law, which allowed trial by battle, being repealed in 1819.
Before commencing the fight, the combatants were compelled to swear that neither of them would resort to sorcery or witchcraft. If the accused were slain, the judges regarded the fatal deed as proof of his guilt. If overpowered, but not killed, he was adjudged guilty, and sentenced to be immediately executed. Women, priests, infants, men sixty years of age, or lame or blind, had it in their option to refuse wager of battle, and were entitled to demand trial by jury.
An old author says: "If two neighbours dispute respecting the boundaries of their possessions, let a piece of turf of the contested land be dug up by the judge, and brought by him into the court, and the two parties shall touch it with the points of their swords, calling on the Most High to witness their claims. After this let them combat, and let victory prove who is right and who is wrong."
Sir Walter Scott gives a good illustration of the superstition of olden times, and of trial by battle, in Ivanhoe. We are told that after Ivanhoe was wounded at the tournament, Rebecca, the Jewess, lost no time in causing the patient to be removed to her father's dwelling, and with her own hands bound up his wounds. The Jews, both male and female, possessed and practised the medical science; and the monarchs and powerful barons of the time, says the novelist, frequently, when wounded or in sickness, committed themselves as patients to the charge of an experienced person among the despised people. A general belief prevailed among Christians that the Jewish rabbins were acquainted with the occult sciences, and particularly with the cabalistical art. The rabbins did not disavow such acquaintance with supernatural arts. Rebecca's knowledge of the healing art had been acquired under an aged Jewess, the daughter of a celebrated doctor. Miriam fell a sacrifice to the fanaticism of the times, but her secrets had survived in her apt pupil. The wounded knight, as might be expected, recovered under the medical treatment of Rebecca. For this she was accused of working cures by words, sigils, and other cabalistical mysteries.
"Nay, reverend and brave knight," answered Isaac, Rebecca's father, in reply to Beaumanoir, who brought the charge against the Jewess, "but in chief measure by a balsam of marvellous virtue;" and in reply to another question, Isaac reluctantly told that Rebecca had obtained her secret from Miriam, whom the Grand Master designated a witch and enchantress, whose body had been burned at a stake, and her ashes scattered to the four winds. "The laws of England," exclaimed Beaumanoir, "permit and enjoin each judge to execute justice within his own jurisdiction. The most petty baron may arrest, try, and condemn a witch found within his own domain.... The witch shall be taken out of the land, and the wickedness thereof shall be forgiven. Prepare the castle-hall for the trial of the sorceress."
Poor Rebecca was brought before the Grand Master, charged with various crimes. "We have," said the Master, "summoned to our presence a Jewish woman, by name Rebecca, daughter of York—a woman infamous for sortileges and for witcheries; whereby she hath maddened the blood, and besotted the brain, not of a churl, but of a knight—not of a secular knight, but of one devoted to the service of the holy temple—not of a knight champion, but of a preceptor.... By means of charms and of spells, Satan had obtained dominion over the knight, perchance because he cast his eyes too lightly upon a damsel's beauty."
Witnesses being invited by the Grand Master, forward came a once bedridden man, whom the prisoner had restored to the perfect use of his limbs by a miraculous balsam. Unwillingly he testified to Rebecca curing him, giving him a pot of spicy smelling ointment, and supplying him with money to pay his expenses to his father's house, whither he wished to repair. Other witnesses deponed that Rebecca muttered to herself in an unknown tongue, that the songs she sang were peculiarly sweet, that her garments were of a strange mystic form, and that she had rings with cabalistic devices. A soldier testified that he had seen her cure a wounded man in a mysterious way. He said she made certain signs upon the wound, and repeated words he understood not. The result, he declared, was that the iron head of a cross-bow bolt disengaged itself from the wound, the bleeding was staunched, the wound closed, and the seemingly dying man was within a quarter of an hour walking upon the ramparts. Another soldier deponed that he had seen Rebecca perch herself upon a high turret, and there take the form of a white swan, under which appearance she flitted three times round the castle of Torquailstone. Again she settled on the turret, and once more assumed her womanly form. The evidence was considered more than enough to condemn the unhappy Jewess; and in a solemn tone the Grand Master demanded what she had to say against sentence of condemnation being pronounced against her. Rebecca knew the law; she maintained her innocence, claimed the privilege of trial by combat, and offered to appear by a champion.
Brian de Bois-Gilbert was appointed to do battle on behalf of himself and the order of knights to which he belonged; and the day came when the die would be cast that was to decide the fate of Rebecca. At the castle of Templestowe everything was prepared by the prosecutor for the combat, but for poor Rebecca no champion appeared. Near the lists was a pile of faggots so arranged around a stake as to leave a space for the accused to enter within the fatal circle, chained by fetters, in order to be ready for the fiery punishment. At the hour appointed for the champions to meet, the large bell of St. Michael tolled mournfully, the drawbridge fell, the gates opened, and a knight, bearing a great standard, sallied forth from the castle, preceded by six trumpeters, and followed by the knights preceptors, the Grand Master coming behind. Then came Brian de Bois-Gilbert, armed cap-a-pie, accompanied by two godfathers and many squires and pages. After these followed a guard of warders, with the trembling Jewess, stripped of all her ornaments, lest there should be among them amulets, which Satan was supposed to bestow upon his victims, to deprive them of the power of confession, even when under torture. While the Grand Master took his exalted seat, the unfortunate culprit was conducted to the black chair, near the ready prepared pile. Everything being arranged, a loud and long flourish of trumpets announced that the proceedings of the court were to begin. Brian de Bois-Gilbert stood ready for the combat, but a champion was still wanting for the appellant. Lest Jew or Pagan should charge the court with injustice, the Grand Master declared his readiness to wait till the shadows were in the west, to see if a champion would appear for the culprit. But the general belief prevailed that no one would stand up for her; and the craven knights whispered to each other, when the day was far gone, that the time had come for declaring the pledge of Rebecca forfeited. At this instant, a knight, urging his horse forward, appeared on the plain advancing towards the lists. A hundred voices exclaimed, "A champion! a champion!" Yes, it was a champion, the renowned Wilfred of Ivanhoe. "Rebecca," said he, riding up to the black chair, "dost thou accept me for thy champion?" The answer was in the affirmative. Little time was now lost; the champions confronted each other. Trumpets sounded, and the knights charged in full career. The wearied horse of Ivanhoe, and its no less exhausted rider, went down, as all had expected, before the well-aimed lance and vigorous steed of the Templar. This result all had foreseen; but although the spear of Ivanhoe did but lightly touch the shield of Bois-Gilbert, that combatant reeled in his saddle, lost his stirrups, and fell in the lists. Ivanhoe, extricating himself from his fallen horse, was soon on foot, hastening to mend his fortune by the sword; but his antagonist rose not. Wilfred, placing his foot on his opponent's breast, and the sword's point to his throat, commanded him to yield, or die on the spot. Bois-Gilbert returned no answer. The fallen knight was unhelmed. His eyes were closed—he was dead, supposed to have died a victim to the violence of his own passions. When the first moments of surprise were over, the Grand Master pronounced the maiden free and guiltless.
The conclusion of this story is touching in the extreme. Soon after this Ivanhoe and the Lady Ravena were married. On the second morning after the nuptials, Rebecca waited on the Lady of Ivanhoe, and presented her with a small silver casket containing jewels of great value; and leaving a message to her champion, who never ceased to remember her, she hastened away to other lands, to tend the sick, feed the hungry, and relieve the distressed.
CURSES AND EVIL WISHES.
Curses, Excommunication, and Anathemas—Dirae, the Executioners of Vengeance—Curses and Anathemas not confined to the Vulgar—Excommunication generally accompanied by Anathema—Excommunicated Persons lost their Civil Rights—Heretics forfeited their Lives—Interment of Excommunicated Persons—Excommunication among the Hebrews—Different Degrees of Excommunication—Solemn Curses pronounced against Impenitent Persons—Stone laid on an Accursed Person's Coffin—Last Degree of Excommunication sometimes followed by Banishment or Death—Form of Excommunication used by Ezra and Nehemiah when they cursed the Samaritans—Death upon the Cross, Sawing asunder, and other Punishments—Mode of Punishment among the Romans, Greeks, and Persians—The Greek Church annually excommunicated Roman Catholics—The Druids resorted to Excommunication—Whole Families excommunicated with Horrible Ceremonies and Dreadful Imprecations—Bishops excommunicating Rats, Mice, Caterpillars, and other Insects and Vermin—The Pope's Claim—Napoleon I. excommunicated—Victor Emmanuel excommunicated—Effects of Excommunication—The Inquisition and its Terrible Doings—The Pope's Fearful Curse—Mr. Donald Cargill excommunicating the King and Nobles—Indulgences, Pardons, and Penance.
Curses, excommunication, and anathemas have often been followed by sad consequences; but whether arising directly or indirectly from the denunciations, we do not say. Ancient nations had their goddesses Dirae, who were supposed to be the executioners of vengeance. They were called Furies on earth, and Eumenides in hell. These goddesses were invoked with prayers and charms. Curses and anathemas were not in former ages confined to the vulgar classes of persons, such as in the present time. Imprecations were hurled out by the priest and prophet, by the educated and uneducated, by professed Christian laymen, by the heathen, by the wandering gipsies, and the croaking crones.
Excommunication is generally accompanied by anathema, or ecclesiastical curse, and punishment, whereby a heretic is not only cut off from the society of the faithful, but is consigned to Satan, that condign punishment may follow. Sixty penalties have been reckoned as accruing upon excommunication. Major excommunication separates or cuts off the delinquent from all communion and fellowship with society—disables him from defending his civil rights. In more than one kingdom, a person who is not absolved from his excommunication in a year's time is deemed a heretic; and we know the punishment dealt out to such persons. Even in our own country, before the time of Charles II., a heretic forfeited his life, and generally expiated his guilt at the stake.
By law, an excommunicated person was not allowed to be interred according to the ordinary form and rites of burial, but the body was flung into a pit, or covered with a heap of stones called imblocare corpus. There was a time when the people believed that the bodies of excommunicated persons not absolved did not rot, but remained entire for ages, a horrible spectacle to posterity. This is attested by Matthew Paris and other writers. The Greeks, till recently, entertained the same opinion.
In the Hebrew republic the punishment of excommunication was devised by courts of justice, and inflicted by public sentence upon the offenders. There were three degrees of excommunication among the Jews: the first was a casting out of the synagogue, and implied a separation from all commerce and society, either with man or woman, for the distance of four cubits; also from eating or drinking with any one; from shaving, washing, or the like, according to the pleasure of the judge and the seriousness of the offence. It was in force for thirty days, unless there was repentance expressed and forgiven.
If the sinner remained impenitent longer than thirty days, he was sentenced to more severe punishment, with the addition of a solemn curse. This is supposed to be the same as delivering over to Satan. The offence was published in the synagogue, and, at the time of the publication of the curse, candles were lighted, and when it was extended they were extinguished, as a sign that the excommunicate was deprived of the light of heaven. His goods were confiscated; his male children were not permitted to be circumcised. If he died without repentance, a stone, according to judicial sentence, was cast upon his coffin or bier, to show that he deserved to be stoned. He was not mourned for with solemn lamentation, nor followed to the grave, nor buried with common burial.
The last degree of excommunication was anathematising, which was inflicted when the offender had often refused to comply with the sentence of court, and was followed by corporal punishment, and often with banishment or death. Drusius gives a form of excommunication which, the Jews say, was used by Ezra and Nehemiah against the Samaritans, in this manner:—The whole congregation was assembled in the Temple, and there were brought three hundred priests, three hundred boys, three hundred trumpets, and three hundred books of the law, and the Levites, singing, cursed the Samaritans by all forms of excommunication, particularly with the curse of the superior house of judgment, and with the curse of the inferior house of judgment. At the same time it was commanded that no Israelite should partake of a Samaritan's food. Hence arose the saying in reference to the breaker of this commandment: "He who eats a Samaritan's bread is as he who eats swine's flesh." Moreover, it was decreed that the excommunicate should have no part in the resurrection of the dead.
There were other punishments introduced among the Hebrews in later times of their government, which were borrowed from other nations. These were principally, death upon the cross, sawing asunder, condemnation to fight with wild beasts, the wheel, drowning in the sea, beating to death with cudgels, and boating. The first and third punishments were properly Roman inflictions; the second was likewise used by the Romans, but whether it was originally taken from them is doubtful; the fourth and sixth were Grecian penalties; the fifth was, in substance, in use among the Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans, but in the manner of drowning they differed, for the Hebrews tied a mill-stone about the culprit's neck; the last punishment was derived from the Persians, and is thus described:—The condemned person was laid upon his back in a boat, with his hands tied to the sides thereof; another boat was put over him, covering all his body except the head. In this posture the unhappy person was fed with milk and honey till the worms ate his very bowels, and thereby ended his days in extreme pain.
Every year the Greek Church, at Constantinople, pronounces excommunication against the Roman Catholic Church. Heathens as well as Christians resorted to excommunication. The Druids made use of excommunication against rebels, and interdicted the communication of their mysteries to such as refused to submit to their judgments.
In the Christian Church, excommunication has been practised in all ages, and ecclesiastics have had continual recourse to it as one of their spiritual weapons. Not only have they excommunicated individuals, but whole families and provinces have come under their law, with horrible ceremonies and dreadful imprecations. Even kings have not escaped the Church's maledictions. Fevret, writing of excommunications in the Romish Church, says that lighted torches were at times thrown on the ground, with curses and anathemas, and then trampled out while bells were rung. This is somewhat similar to part of the ceremony of excommunication by bell, book, and candle, to be afterwards more particularly described.
There are instances of bishops excommunicating caterpillars and other insects; and Fevret gives instances of excommunications going out against rats and mice. It sometimes happened that popes and churches excommunicated one another, each cutting off the other from the communication of the faithful, and delivering over the anathematised person or church to the devil. In 850 the synod of Pavia resolved that all who refused to submit to the discipline of the Church should be anathematised, and cut off from every Christian hope and consolation.
For fifteen centuries the Pope has claimed the power of disposing of men's souls as seems best to him. Whom he blesses, he says, are blessed; and whom he curses, he would make us believe, are cursed. He arrogates to himself the authority of holding the keys of heaven and hell.
In 1809 the Pope excommunicated Napoleon I., and in 1860 his Holiness excommunicated Victor Emmanuel, king of Italy—sentences which implied spiritual condemnation, and deprivation of earthly power. The subjects of an excommunicated king were freed from allegiance to their sovereign. It is supposed the Pope's power extends so far that he may pronounce excommunication against the dead, even to the debarring of deceased persons from being cleansed from their sins in purgatory, and the consigning of them to the place of eternal punishment.
Terror and amazement followed the footsteps of the inquisitionists. They proceeded with the greatest secrecy and silence. When a heretic was seized, the world abandoned him; his nearest friends durst not say a word in his defence. The heretical criminals were generally arrested in the stillness of night, examined, tortured, and, unless they recanted, condemned and executed without seeing or knowing who were their accusers. Usually the accused persons were tortured until they condemned themselves; and although witnesses were sometimes examined, the form of procedure was a mockery of justice.
As a convincing proof of how dreadful the Romish Church's anathemas are, we give the Pope's fearful curse, taken from a form of excommunication copied from the "Leger Book" of the church of Rochester, long in the custody of the dean and chapter there:—
"By the authority of God Almighty, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and of the holy canons, and of the undefiled Virgin Mary, the mother and patroness of our Saviour, and of all the celestial virtues, angels, archangels, thrones, dominions, powers, cherubims and seraphims, and of the holy patriarchs, prophets, and of all the apostles and evangelists, and of the holy innocents who in the sight of the Holy Lamb are found worthy to sing the new song, of the holy martyrs and holy confessors, and of the holy virgins, and of all the saints, and together with all the holy and elect of God: we excommunicate and anathematise him or them, malefactor or malefactors, and from the threshold of the holy church of God Almighty we sequester them, that he or they may be tormented, disposed and delivered over with Dathan and Abiram, with those who say to the Lord God, Depart from us, we desire not Thy ways. And as fire is quenched with water, so let the light of him or them be put out for evermore, unless it shall repent him or them, and they make satisfaction. Amen. May the Father who created man, curse him or them. May the Son, who suffered for us, curse him or them. May the Holy Ghost, who was given to us in baptism, curse him or them. May the holy cross of Christ, for our salvation triumphing over his enemies, ascend and curse him or them. May the eternal and holy Virgin Mary, mother of God, curse him or them. May St. Michael, the advocate of holy souls, curse him or them. May all the angels and archangels, principalities and powers, and all the heavenly host, curse him or them. May the laudable number of patriarchs and prophets curse him or them. May St. John, the chief forerunner and baptist of Christ, curse him or them. May St. Peter and St. Paul, and St. Andrew, and all other Christ's apostles, together with the rest of his disciples and evangelists, who by their preaching converted the universal world, curse him or them. May the holy and wonderful company of martyrs and confessors, who by their holy works are found pleasing to God Almighty, curse him or them. May the holy choir of the holy virgins, who for the honour of Christ have despised the things of this world, curse him or them. May all the saints, who from the beginning of the world to everlasting ages are found to be the beloved of God, curse him or them. May the heavens and the earth, and all the holy things remaining thereon, curse him or them. May he or they be cursed wherever he or they be, whether in their house, or in their field, or in the highway, or in the path, or in the wood, or in the water, or in the church. May he or they be cursed in living, in dying, in eating, in drinking, in being hungry, in being thirsty, in fasting, in sleeping, in slumbering, in waking, in walking, in standing, in sitting, in lying, in working, in resting, in * * * * in * * * * and in blood-letting. May he or they be cursed in all the faculties of their body. May he or they be cursed inwardly and outwardly. May he or they be cursed in the hair of his or their head. May he or they be cursed in his or their brain. May he or they be cursed in the top of his or their head, in their temples, in their foreheads, in their ears, in their eyebrows, in their cheeks, in their jaw-bones, in their nostrils, in their teeth or grinders, in their lips, in their throat, in their shoulders, in their wrists, in their arms, in their hands, in their fingers, in their breast, in their heart, and in the interior parts to the very stomach, in their veins, in their groin, in their thighs, in their genitals, in the hips, in the knees, in the legs, in the feet, in the joints, and in the nails. May he or they be cursed in all their joints, from the top of the head to the sole of the foot. May there not be any soundness in him or them. May the Son of the Living God, with all the glory of His Majesty, curse him or them; and may heaven, with all the powers which move therein, rise against him or them, to damn him or them, unless he or they shall repent, or that he or they shall make satisfaction. Amen, Amen. So be it."
The superstition connected with excommunication was not confined to the churches and nations already mentioned. It extended to the Reformed Churches, and indeed this form of superstition lingers among them still. A most enthusiastic Reformer (the Rev. Donald Cargill), eminent in his day for piety and learning, who suffered martyrdom in 1681, scrupled not, a year before his death, to excommunicate at Torwood, Stirlingshire, several of the most notable and violent persecutors of the time—the King, the Dukes of York, Monmouth, Lauderdale, and Rothes, Sir George Mackenzie, and Sir Thomas Dalzell. If Mr. Cargill did not curse others whom he thought had done him and the cause of truth wrong, he predicted that evil would befall them; and what he foretold came to pass. He told James Irvine of Bonshaw, who apprehended him shortly before his execution, that his persecutor would not long escape a just judgment, not far from the place the arrest was made. This prediction was verified; for soon after Irvine had received 5000 merks as a reward for apprehending Mr. Cargill, he was killed in a duel near Lanark. One John Nesbet mockingly said one day to Mr. Cargill, "Will you not give us a word?" The reverend divine looked on the man with concern, while he said, "Wicked, poor man, mock not; ere you die you shall desire one word, but shall not have it." Soon after, this man was struck dumb, and died in great terror. When Rothes, one of those whom Mr. Cargill excommunicated, threatened him with torture and a violent death, he said, "Forbear to threaten me; for, die what death I may, your eyes shall not see it." This prophecy also came to pass. Rothes died, as is well known, a few hours before the condemned divine and his fellow-martyrs suffered the last penalty of man's law—death temporal.
One can easily imagine the terror into which a weak-minded person would be cast by having the Pope's dire curses pronounced against him, were it not known that he who is authorised to fulminate the ecclesiastical censure and bans, may, for a moderate pecuniary consideration, or by a mortification of the flesh, or good works, have the woes pronounced against him mitigated, if not entirely removed. Indulgences have been purchasable since the early centuries for this world, and for the remission of suffering in purgatory as well. Those most acquainted with the holy places in Rome are best able to make known the facilities with which indulgences are obtained. There is scarcely a church or a station, a convent or a holy place, neither is there hardly a service or a ceremony, which has not its own peculiar indulgences. Indulgences for hundreds of years may be secured by the exercises of a single day. The holy stairs, wherever they are situated, said to have belonged to the palace of Pontius Pilate, consisting of twenty-eight steps, possess peculiar virtue. Leo IV. conceded nine years' indulgence for each step ascended by a devotee on his bare knees. Thus, he who reaches the highest step secures an indulgence of two hundred and fifty-two years, whether he remains here, or finds himself in purgatory. Whoever kisses a cross at one end of the Colosseum of Rome, acquires an indulgence of one year and forty days; and there is a wooden cross in the centre of the arena, which secures an indulgence of two hundred days to every one who kisses it.
Leo XII. conceded for ever an indulgence of forty years and one thousand six hundred days, applicable also to the dead, for every time a faithful believer visits, during Lent, the churches where there are prescribed stations. He also conceded a plenary indulgence to all who have made such visits three times in three distinct days. For the information of all good Catholics, a carefully prepared index has been drawn up, showing the churches and stations which should be visited, together with the most effectual times of repairing thither. In conclusion, we give the following examples, to illustrate the system of procuring indulgences by pilgrimage to sacred places:—
Thus a visit "on January 1 to a station at S. Marie, in Transtevere, secures an indulgence of 30 years and 1200 days."
"On Ash Wednesday, to S. Tabina, an indulgence of 15 years and 600 days.
"On the following Thursday, to S. Georgio, in Velabro, an indulgence of 10 years and 400 days.
"On the fourth Sunday in Lent, to S. Croce, an indulgence of 15 years and 600 days.
"On Palm Sunday, to S. Giovanni, in the Laterno, an indulgence of 25 years and 1000 days.
"On holy Thursday, to S. Giovanni, a plenary indulgence.
"On holy Friday, to S. Croce, an indulgence of 30 years and 1200 days.
"On Easter Sunday, to S. Marie Maggiore, a plenary indulgence.
"On Easter Monday, to S. Pietro, in Vaticano, an indulgence of 30 years and 1200 days.
"On Thursday, Ascension-day, to S. Pietro, a plenary indulgence.
"On Wednesday, to Pietro Vaticano, an indulgence of 30 years and 1200 days."
St. Adelbert's Curse a Charm against Thieves—Complexion of Blackamoors attributed to a Curse of Noah—False Accusation, and its Results—Preservation of Children—A Joyful Mother—Ancestors of the Whelphs and Guelphs of Germany—An Interesting Legend—A Curse turned into a Blessing—A Gipsy's Curse—A Cruel Father and Husband—Morrar-na-Shean's Despair—Bitter Grief—Restoration of Three Daughters—A Grateful Father—Ancestors of the Sinclairs of Caithness, and of the noble family of Keith—The Curse of Moy—A Cruel Chieftain of Clan Chattan—A Lady's Dilemma—A Father yielding up his Life—Swearing by the Hand of a Bride—Grant of Glenmorriston waiting his Doom—Death of a Father and Lover—An Imprisoned Maiden—Maledictions and Prediction—Lady leaping from a Lofty Tower into a Lake beneath—The Monroes of Foulis—Foraying Expedition—An Unreasonable Request—End of a Relentless Tyrant—Prediction fulfilled.
St. Adelbert's curse was a charm against thieves. It was full of cursing against dishonest persons, and prayers that they might have their share with Dathan and Abiram, whom the earth swallowed up, and have their part with Judas. Thieves were to be cursed in their houses, fields, and everywhere; they were to be denied Christian burial; yea, the very ground in which they rested was to be cursed. Their bodies, in all their separate parts, and their children, were damned; and as Lucifer was expelled out of heaven, and Adam and Eve driven from Paradise, so they were sought to be expelled from the light of day. The terrible curse was pronounced with bell, book, and candle; and concluded with this fearful denunciation: "And as the candle, which is thrown out of my hand here, is put out, so let their works and their souls be quenched in the stench of hell-fire, except they restore that which they have stolen; and let every one say, Amen."
Perhaps few are aware that the dark complexion of the blackamoors is attributed to a curse of Noah; but as that statement has been disputed, we shall pass it without further notice.
Irmentrude, a German countess, accused a noble lady of adultery because she had three children at one birth, saying that she deserved to be tied up in a sack and thrown into the sea. Next year the countess herself was delivered of more sons at a birth than the lady had brought forth. Touched with remorse for the hard saying she had uttered against her neighbour, she concluded it was a just punishment inflicted; but being anxious to conceal the most extraordinary result, she sent a maid to drown all the children except one—a son—to heir his father's estate. Fate so determined that her husband, the earl, met the young woman as she was going to consign the young inoffensive infants to a watery grave. On asking what was in her lap, she answered that she was going to drown some whelps. The earl being a great hunter, and consequently fond of dogs, demanded to see the whelps, that he might judge whether they should be destroyed. To his astonishment, he found children in place of young dogs, all living, well-proportioned, and beautiful, but small. From the maid he learned the whole truth; whereupon he enjoined her to silence, and caused the infants to be carried to one of his tenants to be brought up. When they became of age, they were sent for to his house, after being dressed like their brother, who had been cared for by the mother. As soon as the countess cast her eyes on her offspring she knew them, and wept in a state between shame and joy. From those children descended the family of the Whelphs or Guelphs, long renowned in Germany.
An interesting legend is current in the north of Scotland, of a curse being turned into a blessing. It is said that Lochmore Castle, in the parish of Halkirk and county of Caithness, was built and inhabited by a person called Morrar-na-Shean, which signifies, Lord of the Game or Venison, because he was a great sportsman. He was very anxious to have a son to inherit his estates, but his hopes in this respect were blasted by the curse of a wandering gipsy. It appears that the gipsy was one day near Lochmore Castle, with a pretty little dark-haired swarthy-complexioned boy, her son, when she encountered Morrar-na-Shean in a towering passion—a state of mind in which he was often to be found. He ordered her and her "beggar bastard brat" to be off, or he would shoot them. The woman, instead of running away with her child or imploring mercy, knelt down and cursed him, and praying at the same time that he might never have an heir to carry down his name to posterity. However far the fortunes of Morrar-na-Shean's family were affected by the gipsy's curses and prayers, it is impossible to say; but this much is true, he never had a son. His lady had a daughter, at which he was greatly disappointed; she had a second daughter, at which he exhibited marked signs of displeasure; and in course of time a third daughter was born to the churlish parent. Disappointed and enraged at not having a son, he abused the mother and daughters to such an extent that the unhappy lady, for the sake of peace, and to save the lives of her children, sent them away privately, to be brought up by friends. They grew up beautiful and accomplished young ladies, while at the time their cruel father thought they were dead. Morrar-na-Shean, after the lapse of years, despaired of having any children to survive him, and therefore gave himself up to grief. In bitterness of soul, he wished that he had now even one of the little girls he spurned as if she were not his own flesh and blood. His lady, finding his mind so much changed, embraced a favourable opportunity of presenting him with his three daughters. Immediately, on seeing them, he was overcome by tender affection, evoked by the charms of three blooming girls he was privileged to call daughters. He lived to be grateful that fortune had so willed it that his estates would not be in the possession of one child, but would be claimed by three children whom he dearly loved. The daughters were soon disposed of in marriage—the eldest to a gentleman named Sinclair, an ancestor of the well and favourably known Caithness-shire family of that name; the second to a gentleman named Keith, whose descendants have long borne an honourable name in Scotland; and the third, to a nobleman, the scions of whose house have carved out for themselves niches in the temple of fame.
"The curse of Moy" was a fearfully realised one. On the larger of two small islands at Loch Moy (a beautiful lake, twelve miles from Inverness), may be seen the ruins of an ancient castle. Centuries ago a noble edifice stood where those decayed buildings are, occupied by a cruel chieftain of Clan Chattan. He and his followers had an encounter with another Highland chieftain and his retainers from Glenmorriston, when the latter chief, his fair daughter Margaret, and her lover Allan, the young heir of Alvie, were taken prisoners, and carried to Castle Moy. While the captured chieftain and Allan were immured in the dungeon, Margaret was conveyed to a feast in the hall, thence she was transferred to an apartment in the tower, where the chief of Clan Chattan (who, it should be remarked, was a rejected suitor of Margaret) tried to induce her to become his bride. To all his entreaties she turned a deaf ear, preferring to remain true to her youthful Allan. She pleaded earnestly for her father and lover's lives, and, after many entreaties and tears, succeeded so far as to obtain a promise that only one of them would die. She was permitted to make choice of the one she wished liberated, but was warned that by so doing she sealed the doom of the other captive.
As might be expected, the lady sank fainting on the floor, where she lay, more like one dead than alive, until rude attendants, desirous to please their lord, raised her up and hurried her into the presence of her father and lover, for whose sakes she would have willingly laid down her life if it could have saved theirs. With sobbing and tears, she made known the resolution of the hard-hearted revengeful monster, into whose power destiny had placed them. While the broken-hearted Margaret's eyes were now fixed on her lover's manly figure, and then on the bowed form of her aged father, and before she could really understand the full extent of responsibility that rested on her, she was embraced by her father, who took her hand and that of Allan, and joined them together, beseeching them to live and remember him when he was no more. He then made Allan swear by the hand of his bride that he would avenge his death, and so leave no stain on their honour or names. Girding himself up like a man of courage, he sent this message to the tyrant chief: "The Grant of Glenmorriston waits his doom."