In her declaration before a justice of the peace, Cox admitted that the devil often tempted her to be a witch. One evening there came riding on broom-sticks three persons—a witch, a wizard who had been hanged years before, and a black man. The last-mentioned tempted her to give him her soul; but, though he offered great rewards, she did not yield—no, not for a moment.
Judge Archer told the jury he had heard a witch could not repeat that petition in the Lord's Prayer, "Lead us not into temptation;" and having this opportunity, he would try whether any reliance could be placed in the report. He then asked the prisoner whether she could say the Lord's Prayer. She declared she could, and went over it readily enough, except the part thereof just quoted. Several chances were given her to complete the prayer, but she could not finish it without mistakes. The jury found her guilty of witchcraft, and she was executed a few days afterwards without confessing her sins.
As an example of how the people's minds were filled with superstition, even in their merry moments, we give the following popular English song of the seventeenth century, as sung by Robin Goodfellow to the fairies:
"Round about, little ones, quicke and nimble; In and out, wheele about, run, hope, and amble; Joyne your hands louingly; well done, muisition: Mirth keepeth one in health like a physicion. Elues, vrchins, goblins all, and little fairyes That doe filch, blacke, and pinch maydes of the dairyes, Make a ring in this grasse with your quick measures: Tom shall play and I'le sing for all your pleasures.
Pinch and Patch, Gill and Grim, Gae you together; For you change your shapes Like to the weather: Sib and Tib, Licks and Lull, You all have trickes too: Little Tom Thumb that pipes, Shall goe betwixt you; Tom, tickle up thy pipes Till they be weary; I will laugh ho, ho, hoh, And make me merry. Make a ring on this grasse With your quicke measures: Tom shall play and I will sing For all your pleasures.
The moone shines faire and bright, And the owle hollows: Mortals now take their rests Upon their pillows: The bats around likewise, And the night rauen, Which doth use for to call Men to death's hauen. Now the mice peep abroad, And the cats take them; Now doe young wenches sleepe, Till their dreams wake them. Make a ring on the grasse With your quicke measures: Tom shall play, I will sing, For all your pleasures."
Elizabeth Style's Confession—Signing a Covenant with Blood—Alice Duke, Anne Bishop, and Mary Penny—Somerset Witches—Witch Oil—Power to injure Men and Cattle—Elizabeth Style sentenced to Death—Running backwards round a Church—Compact with Satan—More Mischief—Richard Hathaway's Accusation against Sarah Morduck—Women hunted in the Streets by a Mob—A Judge's Opinion of Witchcraft—Supposed Sufferer from Witchcraft prayed for in the Church, and a Subscription raised for him—Richard Hathaway convicted of falsely accusing a Woman of Witchcraft—Witch and Stolen Plate—Man Bewitched—Charm for Sore Eyes—Young Woman Bewitched—Flames issuing from a Bewitched Person's Mouth—Tormenting a Witch—Jane Wenham's Witchcrafts and Trial—The last Persons who suffered in England for Witchcraft—Long List of Persons who suffered as Witches.
Elizabeth Style, of Stoke Trister, Somersetshire, was accused, in the year 1664, by divers persons of witchcraft. She confessed before Robert Hunt, Esquire, a justice of the peace for the county, that the devil, ten years before that time, had appeared to her as a handsome young man, offered her money, said she would live gay, and have all the pleasures of the world for twelve years, if she would with her blood sign a document, binding herself to obey his laws, and give her soul over to him. She agreed to do as requested; whereupon he pricked the fourth finger of her right hand, and with a few drops of blood that issued from the wound she signed the engagement.
When she desired to do harm, Satan gave her power according to their agreement. About a month before her examination she desired him to torment Elizabeth Hall by thrusting thorns into her flesh—a request he promised to comply with. She declared that, not long before her apprehension, she, Alice Duke, Anne Bishop, and Mary Penny met the devil at night, in a common near Trister Gate. Their meeting terminated with dancing and feasting.
Similar meetings subsequently took place. Before Style and her companion witches started to midnight meetings, they anointed their foreheads with an oil given them by a spirit. They were then carried swiftly through the air. Sometimes they were present at the meetings in body, but more frequently in spirit only. The devil gave them power to injure men and cattle, either by a touch or curse. Style gave the names of many men and women in the neighbourhood who attended the meetings. The meetings being ended, the devil suddenly vanished or burnt himself in flames, and the people went home, singing "Merry we meet, merry we meet, and merry we part."
The poor miserable woman was tried before a jury of her countrymen, and found guilty of witchcraft. Sentence of death was passed on her, but she escaped punishment by the hands of an ordinary executioner, for before the day fixed for her execution she died in prison.
Alice Duke, a confederate of Elizabeth Style, being brought before Mr. Hunt for examination on a charge of witchcraft, stated that she and Anne Bishop went to the churchyard at night, and stepped backward round the church three times. In their first round they met a man in black clothes, who returned with them. In the second round they met a big black toad, which leapt into deponent's apron. As they went round the third time they met a rat, that vanished into air. Like many more witches entering into a compact with Satan, she could have her wishes and revenge. If she cursed any person or thing with "a pox," evil happened the object of her hatred.
Witches were found in every part of Somerset in the seventeenth century. Hundreds of them were brought to trial; but as their reported doings, confessions, and punishments were in all essential particulars the same as those of Elizabeth Style and Alice Duke, they are unimportant here.
Richard Hathaway appeared before Lord Chief Justice Holt at the Guildford assizes in 1701, to support a charge of witchcraft against Sarah Morduck. Hathaway frequently vomited pins in great numbers, pieces of tin, nails, and small stones. He foamed at the mouth, and barked like a dog; sometimes he felt a burning sensation, and not unfrequently lay as if dead. Being convinced that Sarah Morduck caused his troubles, he scratched her "above the breath," to draw blood from her. Subsequent to this operation he recovered, and remained well for six weeks. All his afflictions returned, and the suspected witch was scratched a second time. To escape her tormentors at Southwark, she went to London; but, her fame preceding or following her, she was hunted in the streets by an infuriated mob. Hathaway pursued the unhappy woman to the great metropolis, and took her before Sir Thomas Lane, a judge who regarded witchcraft in a different light to that which the Lord Chief Justice did. Sir Thomas ordered her to be stripped, to ascertain whether she had any witch-marks; and Hathaway, still suffering, scratched her for the third time. Sarah Morduck was committed to prison as a dangerous witch. Her supposed victim, Hathaway, became an object of prayer in the churches, and subscriptions were raised to defray his charges at the assizes. In July Sarah Morduck was brought, as already stated, before Lord Chief Justice Holt, but escaped with her life, for no other reason than that the judge did not believe in witchcraft. Hathaway's conduct being inquired into, he was brought to trial, when it was ascertained that his sayings about being bewitched were false. He was therefore sentenced, by the same judge that had liberated Sarah Morduck, to imprisonment for a year, and to stand in the pillory three times as a cheat and liar.
Sending a witch to catch a witch or thief occasionally had its beneficial results. On the communion service having been stolen from a church, a wise man instructed the church-wardens how to discover the thief. They did as directed, and, true enough, the thief hastened to give himself up to justice; and, what proved better, he restored the stolen plate. One man having a child sorely afflicted with boils, consulted a wizard. By direction of the cunning man, a portion of the child's hair was cut off and thrown into the fire. This had the effect of compelling a witch to hasten to the house and confess that she had in reality brought trouble on the child. The father scratched the witch "above the breath," and the sufferer recovered.
Jane Stretton, a young woman twenty years of age, was bewitched in 1669, and consequently suffered much by flax, hair, thread, and pins gathering in her throat. Still more strange, red-hot flames issued from her mouth. A wise man's wife was suspected of bringing about the calamity. Various means were resorted to with the view of establishing her guilt. Sympathising neighbours were consulted, and one of them suggested a method that proved effectual. Foam was collected from Jane's mouth and chin, and thrown into the fire, as a charm to injure her tormentor. We are assured the expedient succeeded admirably. While the foam hissed in the flames, the witch, compelled by the operation, came into the house to confess that she alone had caused the young woman's distemper.
One of the last persons generally supposed to have been condemned to death in England for witchcraft was Jane Wenham, residing in Walkerne, a village in Hertford. For years her neighbours suspected her to be a witch. In 1712 she was tried before one of the legal tribunals, and condemned on evidence of a singular nature. It appears that she went to Matthew Gibson, a servant to John Chapman, and asked for a pennyworth of straw. He refused to give her any, and she went away muttering threats against him. Soon thereafter Gibson became like an insane man, and ran three miles along the highway, asking every one he met for a pennyworth of straw. Then he gathered all the straws he could find by the roadside and put them into his shirt, which he used as a sack. Gibson's master met Jane, and called her a witch. Offended at such an imputation, she brought Mr. Chapman before Sir Herbert Chauncey, a magistrate, on the charge of defaming her character. The magistrate recommended the pursuer and defender to submit the case to the Rev. Mr. Gardiner, that the dispute might be settled quietly. To the parson they accordingly went; and he awarded Jane one shilling of damages. The decision did not please Jane; and out of revenge, it was subsequently alleged, she bewitched the minister's servant-maid, Anne Thorne. As soon as the suspected witch had left the parsonage, the maid felt a giddiness in her head, which impelled her to run away through fields and over fences, notwithstanding her having a very sore knee. On her way she met a little old woman, who asked her where she was going. To this inquiry Anne replied, "I am going to Cromer for sticks." The little woman said it seemed unnecessary to go so far, and pointed out an oak-tree close at hand where she could get them. The little woman vanished like a spirit, and Anne returned home, in a partial state of nudity, with a quantity of sticks wrapped in her gown and apron. Mrs. Gardiner, who, like the minister, her husband, believed in witchcraft, on hearing the girl's tale, said she would burn the witch; and, suiting the action to the words, threw the sticks into the fire. The charm had the desired effect; for immediately Jane Wenham came in, and made a false statement touching the cause of her call. That did not, however, deceive the people at the parsonage, who were convinced the burning of the sticks had made her come, whether she would or not. She was apprehended on suspicion, and put to the test. The minister asked her to repeat the Lord's Prayer, but she could not say it. This being regarded as presumptive evidence of guilt, Wenham's persecutors brought her to trial. Three clergymen and thirteen other witnesses gave evidence in the case. Proof was adduced that she had by witchcraft killed cattle, taken the power from men's bodies, destroyed people's substance, turned divers persons into a state of insanity, and by her curses and evil eye had killed a child. Witnesses also swore that she had on various occasions assumed the form of a cat. The jury found Wenham guilty, and the judge condemned her to death, but, like a humane Christian, he applied and obtained a pardon for the culprit.
We now come to the last victims who suffered in England for the alleged crime of witchcraft. One Mrs. Hicks, and her little daughter nine years of age, were executed on the scaffold at Huntingdon in 1716, for the suppositious offences of raising storms and selling their souls to the devil.
With the judicial murder of this unfortunate mother and her innocent daughter we close a long list of tragedies which disgraced England for hundreds of years—which exhibits the ignorance and violence of past ages. Dr. Sprenger estimates that nine million persons have been burned or otherwise put to death as witches during the Christian epoch. For such a dreadful waste of life Catholics and Protestants were equally guilty. Any one who raised his voice on behalf of the proscribed class, ran the risk of himself being accused of sorcery, or at least of heresy. At last, in 1563, J. Weier, a physician in Germany, spoke boldly against the belief in witchcraft. Twenty years later, Reginald Scot, as already stated, wrote and spoke, not against witches, but against the absurdity of believing that such persons existed.
Happily, no longer can hysterical girls and malicious individuals give false evidence in a court of law touching the feigned crime of witchcraft; no longer can the witch-finder exert his skill; no longer can judges and jury condemn to the flames or scaffold suspected witches and wizards; and no longer can an ignorant people listen to the despairing cries—cries which neither evoked pity nor secured mercy—of victims of superstition expiring amidst blazing faggots. But yet superstition lingers amongst us, as we shall show under the head "Superstition in the Nineteenth Century."
Scotchmen and Englishmen in America—Superstition in the Back Settlements—Witchcraft in New England—Rev. Cotton Mather's View of Witchcraft—Judges and Witnesses overawed by Witches—Men and Beasts bewitched—Bewitched Persons prayed for—Preternatural Diseases beyond Physicians' Skill—Trial of Susan Martin—Absurd Evidence—Belief in the Existence of Witchcraft—Witchcraft in Sweden—Commission of Inquiry appointed—The Devil's Tyranny—Deluded Children—Day of Humiliation appointed on account of Witchcraft—Threescore and Ten Witches in a Village—Children engaged in Witchery put to Death—How Witches were conveyed from place to place—Girl healed by the Devil—The Devil bound with an Iron Chain—An Angel's Warning Voice—Angel keeping Children from Wickedness—Witches on a Minister's Head—Witch assaulting another Minister—Witches' Imps—Butter of Witches—The Devil described—How Witches are punished—Horse burned on account of being supposed to be an Agent of Satan.
When Scotchmen and Englishmen went out first to inhabit America, they did not forget the superstitions of their native land. A belief in charms, incantations, and all kinds of witchcraft prevailed among the earlier settlers of the United States and Canada. From sire to son, and from mother to daughter, a belief in mysterious agencies has come down to the existing inhabitants of the transatlantic States. It may be that the inhabitants of large cities in the West have forgotten the traditions of their ancestors respecting things supernatural, but every observant American traveller knows that the burning embers of superstition have not expired in the back settlements of that vast country. Trials of persons accused of witchcraft were not unfrequent in New England in the seventeenth century. The Rev. Cotton Mather has written an account of proceedings connected with such cases, but want of space prevents us following him at great length. He says:
"We have now, with horror, seen the discovery of a great witchcraft. An army of devils has broken in upon this place, which is the centre, and, after a sort, the first-born of our English settlements; and the houses of the good people there are filled with the doleful shrieks of their children and servants tormented by invisible hands, with tortures altogether preternatural. After the mischiefs there endeavoured, and since in part conquered, the terrible plague of evil angels hath made its progress into some other places, where other persons have in like manner been diabolically handled.
"These, our poor afflicted neighbours, quickly, after they become infected and infested with these demons, arrive to a capacity of discerning those which they conceive the shapes of their troubles; and notwithstanding the great and just suspicion that the demons might impose the shape of innocent persons in their spectral exhibitions of the sufferers, (which may perhaps prove no small part of the witch-plot in the issue), yet many of the persons thus represented being examined, several of them have been convicted of a very damnable witchcraft: yea, more than one, twenty have confessed that they have signed unto a book which the devil showed them, and engaged in his hellish design, of bewitching and ruining our lands.
"We know not, at least I know not, how far the delusions of Satan may be interwoven into some circumstances of the confessions; but one would think all the rules of understanding human affairs are at an end, if after so many most voluntary, harmonious confessions, made by intelligent persons of all ages, in sundry towns, at several times, we must not believe the main strokes wherein those confessions agree; especially when we have a thousand preternatural things every day before our eyes, wherein the confessors do acknowledge their concernment, and give demonstration of their being so concerned. If the devils now can strike the minds of men with any poisons of so fine a composition and operation that scores of innocent people shall unite in the confessions of a crime which we see actually committed, it is a thing prodigious, beyond the wonders of the former ages, and it threatens not less than a sort of dissolution upon the world.
"Now, by these confessions 'tis agreed that the devil has made a dreadful knot of witches in the country, and by the help of witches has dreadfully increased the knot; that these witches have driven a trade of commissioning their confederate spirits to do all sorts of mischiefs to their neighbours. Whereupon there have ensued such mischievous consequences upon the bodies and estates of the neighbourhood as could not otherwise be accounted for."
Human beings were not always the only victims of superstition in olden times, for we have information of dumb animals suffering on account of it being thought they were active agents of Satan. The Inquisition in Portugal in 1601, in its sanguinary infatuation, condemned to the flames, for being possessed of the devil, a horse belonging to an Englishman, who had taught it to perform uncommonly clever tricks. And the poor animal was publicly burned at Lisbon. Instances are also on record of swine being burned, under the suspicion that they, too, were helpers of the devil.
Through sorcery, Mr. Mather thought witnesses were occasionally prevented from giving evidence in courts of justice against witches, and even judges were sometimes so overawed by the culprits' looks that they could not discharge their duties with firmness. A witch could, by a cast of her evil eye, strike people to the ground, and by the same visual organ kill cattle. Men and beasts were also bewitched into madness. To such an extent, we are told, were people tormented by witches in New England, that the Church appointed days of prayer on behalf of afflicted persons. And so peculiar were diseases, that the physicians declared their patients' troubles were preternatural. That being so, a little ingenuity, strengthened with spite, enabled the afflicted or the afflicted's friends to trace the disorder to the malevolence of a certain witch or witches.
In the trial of Susan Martin, in 1692, among other absurdities of circumstantial evidence relied on, was that her skirts were not draggled when out on a wet day, while the clothes of other women travelling with her were bespattered and clotted with mud.
Writers of no mean order, including clergymen, believed in the existence of witches, ghosts, and goblins, and boldly defended the proceedings in New England against the victims put to death for their alleged diabolical deeds through the agency of Satan.
Witchcraft spread alarm over Sweden in the seventeenth century. The news of particular acts of witchcraft coming to the king's ear, his Majesty appointed commissioners to inquire into the matter. From a public register of 1669 and 1670, we ascertain that the commission, consisting of clergymen and laymen, were instructed to visit Mobra and inquire into frightful proceedings there. The commissioners met at the parson's house to hear complaints. Both the minister and people of fashion complained, with tears in their eyes, of the miserable condition they were in, from the calamity of witchcraft. They gave the commissioners strange instances of the devil's tyranny among them—how, by the help of witches, he had drawn hundreds of children to him; how he had been seen going in visible shape through the country; how he had wrought upon the poorer people, by presenting them with meat and drink. The inhabitants begged earnestly, yet in the most respectful manner,
"The Lords Commissioners to root out this hellish crew, that rest and quietness might be regained; and the rather, because the children who used to be carried away in the district of Elfdale, since some witches had been burnt there, remained unmolested."
An elaborate report of the peculiar proceedings says:—
"That day," i.e. the 13th of August, "the last humiliation-day instituted by authority for removing of this judgment, the commissioners went to church, where there appeared a considerable assembly.... Two sermons were preached, in which the miserable case of those people, that suffered themselves to be deluded by the devil, was laid open....
"Public worship being over, all the people of the town were called together to the parson's house; nearly three thousand of them attended.
"Next day the commissioners met again, consulting how they might withstand this dangerous flood. After long deliberation, they resolved to execute such as the matter of fact could be proved upon. Examination being made, there were discovered no less than threescore and ten witches in the village. Three and twenty of whom, freely confessing their crimes, were condemned to die. The rest pleading not guilty, were sent to Fabluna, where most of them were afterwards executed.
"Fifteen children, who likewise confessed they were engaged in the witchery, died as the rest; six and thirty youths, between nine and sixteen years of age, who had been less guilty, were forced to run the gauntlet; twenty more, who had no great inclination, yet had been seduced to those hellish enterprises, because they were very young, were condemned to be lashed with rods upon their hands for three Sundays together at the church door; and the aforesaid six and thirty were also doomed to be lashed this way once a week for a whole year together. The number of the seduced children was about three hundred.
"Several of the witches were asked how they were able to carry so many children with them; and they answered, that they came into the chamber where the children lay, laid hold of them, and asked them whether they would go to a feast with them? to which some answered yes, others no; yet they were all forced to go. They only gave the children a shirt, a coat, and a doublet, which was either red or blue, and so they did set them upon a beast of the devil's providing, and then they rid away.
"The children confessed the same thing; and some added, that because they had very fine clothes put upon them, they were very willing to go.
"A little girl of Elfdale confessed that, on naming the name of Jesus as she was carried away, she fell suddenly upon the ground, and got a great hole in her side, which the devil presently healed up again, and away he carried her; and to this day the girl confessed she had exceeding great pain in her side.
"The children said they had seen sometimes a very great devil like a dragon, with fire round about him, and bound with an iron chain....
"Some of the children talked much of a white angel, which used to forbid them to do what the devil bade them do, and told them that those doings would not last long: what had been done was permitted because of the wickedness of the people, and the carrying away of the children should be made manifest. And they added, that this white angel would place himself sometimes at the door betwixt the witches and the children; and when they came to Blockula, their meeting-place, he pulled the children back, but the witches went in.
"The minister of Elfdale declared that one night the witches were, to his thinking, upon the crown of his head, and that from thence he had a long continued pain of the head.
"One of the witches confessed that the devil had sent her to torment the minister, and that she was ordered to use a nail and strike it into his head, but it would not enter very deep and hence came the headache.
"The minister said also that one night he felt a pain as if he were torn with an instrument, and when he wakened he heard somebody scratching and scraping at the window, but could see nobody. And one of the witches confessed that she was the person that did it, being sent by the devil.
"The minister of Mobra declared also that one night one of the witches came into his house, and did so violently take him by the throat that he thought he should have been choked; and waking, he saw the person that did it, but could not know her; and that for some weeks he was not able to speak, or perform divine service.
"They confessed also that the devil gave them a beast about the bigness and shape of a young cat, which they called a carrier; and that he gave them a bird too, as big as a raven, but white. And these two creatures they could send anywhere; and wherever they came, they took away all sorts of victuals they could get—butter, cheese, milk, bacon, and all sorts of seeds, whatever they found, and carried it to the witch. What the bird brought, they kept for themselves; but what the carrier brought, they reserved for the devil....
"They added, likewise, that these carriers filled themselves so full sometimes that they were forced to spue by the way, which spueing was found in gardens where colworts grew, and not far from the houses of witches. It was of a yellow colour like gold, and was called butter of witches.
"The Lords Commissioners were very earnest, and took great pains to persuade the witches to show some of their tricks, but to no purpose; for they unanimously said that, since they had confessed, they found that all their witchcraft was gone, and that the devil appeared to them very terrible, with claws on his hands and feet, and with horns on his head, and a long tail behind, and showed them a pit burning with a hand put out; but the devil did thrust the person down again with an iron fork, and suggested to the witches, that if they continued in their confession, he would deal with them in the same manner."
Superstition in France—Pope John XXII. celebrated in the History of Sorcery and Magic—A Bishop skinned alive and torn by Horses for Witchcraft—King Philippe and Superstition—Springs poisoned by Lepers and Jews—Extracting Teeth without Pain—A Dentist strangled by a Demon—Berne Witch—Charmed Ointment—Sorcerers in Navarre—Demoniacal Operations—Voice in the Air—Witch Flying—Witches meeting their Deserts—Maria Renata's Witchcrafts—Nuns possessed of Devils—Promise of Life by Satan—End of Renata—Jeanne D'Arc—Credulity of France and England—Fairies of Domremi—Charmed Tree—Sparkling Spring—Mandrakes—Jacques D'Arc and his Wife—Jeanne D'Arc in Childhood—Converse with Spirits and Angels—France under Tyranny—Jeanne's Heavenly Mission communicated to the Dauphin—Maid at the head of Troops—Her Achievements—Siege of Orleans—Great Victories—Dauphin Crowned—Jeanne's Desire to retire into Private Life—Opposition to her Retirement—The Maid's Feats of Valour—Heroine Betrayed—Charmed Sword—Jeanne's Surrender—King's Ingratitude—Great Rejoicing at the Maid's Downfall—Attempt to Escape—Trial and Condemnation—Maid Burned—A white Dove rising from her Ashes—Imitators—Unreliable Reports.
France, like her neighbouring nations, entertained strong opinions in regard to superstition; and so did the high dignitaries of Rome. Pope John XXII. is celebrated in the history of sorcery and magic. He believed that sorcery had been resorted to to procure his untimely death, soon after his accession to the Papacy, by the Bishop of Chahors, the Pope's native place. The bishop being brought before the College of Cardinals, was, after deposition from his holy office, delivered to the secular powers in Avignon to receive punishment. A cruel fate awaited him; the unfortunate bishop being first skinned alive, next torn by horses, and then burned. Pope John continued to persecute persons suspected of sorcery, and many an unhappy creature suffered at his suggestion.
In the spring of 1321 King Philippe summoned the States-General to meet at Poictiers, and proceeded in person to Poitou to hold his court there. Soon after the assembly of the Estates, information was given to the king that the lepers, of whom there were many in the place, had entered into a conspiracy to poison and bewitch the springs throughout Aquitaine, in order to kill the Christians, or reduce them to the same state of loathsome disease as they themselves suffered. Some who were arrested admitted, under torture, the accusation. The king became so greatly alarmed that he fled from Poitou, after giving orders to arrest and imprison all the lepers in France. Multitudes of them were condemned and burned; still the king thirsted for more blood. Jews were also accused of aiding to poison and bewitch the wells. At Chinon upwards of one hundred Jews suffered the extreme penalty of the law for such groundless crimes. After a show of trial, and trumped-up charges equally false, many more Jews and lepers were put to death in Paris.
Dentists will be surprised to learn that in bygone days none but those acquainted with occult science were supposed capable of extracting teeth without pain. In the seventeenth century an astrologer in France, who sold talismans and extracted teeth without pain, was strangled in bed by a demon.
A woman, executed at Berne, stated she belonged to a sect who had sworn eternal subjection to the devil, and that she knew how to prepare a decoction which, when swallowed by any one, would convert the novice into a witch equal in knowledge and power to the older members of her fraternity.
Here is a case exhibiting the power of charmed ointment. In the year 1527 a band of one hundred and fifty sorcerers, says Llorente, greatly disturbed Navarre. The sect held "Sabbath" orgies, where demons were adored, and transformations of witches and wizards took place, after anointing themselves with a compound made from the grease of reptiles. One witch, on condition of receiving a pardon, agreed to show the demoniacal operations gone through at the "Sabbath" meetings. Provided with a box of witch ointment, she ascended a high tower, accompanied by a commissioner of the royal council. In the sight of a vast concourse of people, she applied the ointment to various parts of her person. Having done this, she exclaimed in a loud voice, "Are you there?" From the air a voice answered, "Yes, I am here." The woman then descended the tower to its centre, crawling down the outside of the wall on her hands and feet. Suddenly she flew away, and vanished out of sight beyond the horizon. Her one hundred and forty-nine companions were brought to trial, and met their deserts.
Maria Renata, sub-prioress of a convent at Unterzell, proved to be a witch. She tormented the nuns at night, and, to assist her in the black art, she kept a considerable number of cats. General alarm prevailed; five of the nuns became possessed of devils. Renata avowed to her confessor that she was a witch, that she had often been carried bodily to witch Sabbaths, and presented to the prince of darkness. Her name appeared in a black book, and she consented to be the devil's property. In return, she received the promise of life for seventy years. After trial by the civil judges, they condemned Renata to the flames; but at the appointed time of execution, by way of showing a little mercy, her head was struck off before the flames kindled around her body. This tragedy took place in the year 1749—strange to say, in the seventy-first year of Renata's age.
We next give a more extraordinary story illustrative of superstitious sentiments in France, viz. the world-wide one of Jeanne D'Arc (sometimes called Johan of Arc, the Maid of Orleans), who fell a victim to the credulity prevalent in that country and in England. The small village of Domremi is a retired spot, where popular superstitions have been almost religiously preserved. Fairies were believed to frequent the neighbourhood of Domremi. Near to it stood a large ancient beech-tree, known as the charmed tree of Bourlemont, supposed to be a favourite haunt of elves. Beneath the spreading boughs gushed a sparkling fountain, of which people drank to preserve them from fevers. Witches went thither at night to dance with the fairies. Young men and maidens also resorted to the spot, to dance round the tree and fountain. Garlands were made there, and presented as offerings to our lady of Domremi. The priests of the village said mass once a year over the fountain, to strengthen its healing qualities. Under a hazel-tree, not far from the charmed tree, grew mandrakes, one of which never failed to add wealth and domestic happiness to any person who possessed it.
In the village lived a labouring man, named Jacques D'Arc, who, with his wife, the villagers looked upon with respect. They had several children, boys and girls. The youngest daughter, named Jeanne, was born in the year 1410. At childhood she assumed a reserved and pensive disposition, and often sought solitude within the village church. Having but a limited education, the superstitions of her time were implicitly believed in by her. In addition to dancing round the charmed tree and fountain with other young maidens, she often went there alone. She grew up to be an attractive young woman, of peculiar mind. Subject to fits or trances, she became prostrated by them; and she had, according to her own account, converse with angels and the spirits of dead saints.
At an early period of life Jeanne D'Arc received the impression that providence intended her to achieve great feats in behalf of her country. More than once she exclaimed, "Nobody but me can recover the kingdom of France!" At this time, it should be observed, France groaned under the tyranny of contending factions; and so low had the Dauphin sunk, that not a single place remained in his power except Orleans; and even it the English closely besieged. After various unsuccessful attempts, the Maid obtained permission to communicate her heavenly mission to the Dauphin. Assuming male attire and warlike equipments, including a white banner, she placed herself at the head of the French troops, who, through her example, became inspired with new enthusiasm. On the 29th April 1429 she threw herself, with supplies of provisions, into Orleans. Soon after arriving there she attacked Fort St. Loup, which she carried, while wielding a sword that had lain more than a century in a knight's tomb behind the altar of St. Catherine at Fierbois. In an assault on the English, Jeanne received a severe wound on the neck, from which a large quantity of blood flowed; but she said it was not blood, but glory, that streamed out. The siege of Orleans being raised on 8th May, Jeanne D'Arc carried the news to the Dauphin, and entreated him to come and be crowned at Rheims, then in possession of the English. The siege of Gergeau was next undertaken. Jeanne boldly went into the ditch, standard in hand, at a part most vigorously defended. The soldiers followed, and soon the town fell by the courageous woman's hands. She next took possession of Auxerre, Troyes, and Chalons, thus opening for the Dauphin the road to Rheims. Thither he proceeded, and on 17th July was crowned. Jeanne D'Arc (or the Maid of Orleans, as she is now called) assisted at the ceremony. The Maid having accomplished, so far, the object of her mission, wished to return home; but, seeing her presence inspired great confidence in the army, the king, and others of influence, opposed her departure. She therefore stuck to her post of military leader. She accompanied the king to Crepi, Senlis, and Paris. In the siege of Compeigne, in the year 1430, Jeanne made a sally, at the head of a hundred men, over the bridge, and twice repulsed the besiegers. The king's troops were surrounded, yet, after performing feats of valour, the Maid disengaged her company, who re-entered the town. The heroine remained in the rear to facilitate the retreat, and, when she wished to enter the town, the gates were shut. She again charged her pursuers, but finding herself unsupported she exclaimed, "I am betrayed!" It turned out as supposed: the shutting of the gates while Jeanne remained exposed to danger did not take place through accident. Jealousy and treachery were at work: her pretended friends had conspired to bring her bright career to a speedy end. Many brave soldiers fell under the Maid's charmed sword; but as one sword and a single hand could not mow down a whole army, she surrendered to Lionel Vasture of Vendome, who gave her up to John of Luxembourg. The latter nobleman basely sold Jeanne to her enemies—the English—for ten thousand livres; and, what appeared most cruel, the king did not attempt to redeem the heroine, to whom he and his kingdom owed much.
The ingratitude of Charles VII. has remained a blot on his memory. Even those who refuse to admit that Jeanne D'Arc possessed supernatural powers, regard his conduct with abhorrence. On Jeanne being made prisoner, the English rejoiced exceedingly. The Duke of Bedford thought it proper to disgrace her, in order to reanimate the courage of his countrymen. In Paris, the authorities, to evince their joy at her downfall, ordered salvoes of artillery to be fired. A te deum was sung in the church of Notre Dame; and preachers returned thanks to the Most High, for his mercy in bringing to an end the influence of such a wicked sorceress.
Jeanne, in an effort to escape from a high tower (her place of confinement), cast herself from its summit to the ground, yet, strange to say, sustained little injury. To guard against another attempt to gain liberty, iron chains were put round her legs and body. A court of French bishops met to try the Maid. The charge embraced seventy articles of impeachment. Questions were asked concerning politics; her belief in and intercourse with fairies; her favourite spiritual visitants, St. Catherine and St. Margaret; the devices of her banner; and the sacred sword.
A formula of sentence, after fifteen separate examinations, was read, declaring her guilty of apostacy, sorcery, etc., and setting forth that, lest the culprit should corrupt others, she should be cast out of the church, and delivered to the temporal authorities, praying them to deal mildly and humanely with her, and to rest satisfied with the death of her body. Burning the body only, the ecclesiastics considered mild treatment. Had they delivered their victim to Satan, loaded with the fearful curses contained in the greater excommunication, who can tell when her guilt would be expiated? As the secular powers were merely instruments of the ecclesiastical authorities, sentence of death by burning against the Maid of Orleans soon became an accomplished fact. Fastened to a stake, without much delay, the flames consumed her fair form, at the age of nineteen years. To the very last she believed in the reality of her visions, and intercourse with the spirits of departed saints. Her dying agonies were witnessed by a pitying crowd, who separated to proclaim abroad, that at the moment her breath went out a pure white dove rose from the pile and soared up to heaven.
Subsequent to this heroine's death several women emerged from obscurity, and feigned to be inspired in the same way as Jeanne D'Arc had been. Two young maids residing near Paris pretended that her mantle had fallen on them. The clergy interfered. The young women were apprehended, tried, and declared guilty of holding communication with evil spirits. One of them recanted, and thereby saved her life; the other remained firm, and perished at the stake.
After the real or unreal execution of Jeanne D'Arc, the report became current that she was alive, and playing a conspicuous part in society at a considerable distance from the scene of her triumphs and degradation. Some would have it that she escaped punishment through the interference of her admirers; but the general belief remained, that she really suffered in terms of her sentence. Another report represents the Maid's persecutors as being overtaken by more than ordinary misfortunes in their estate, in addition to suffering the torments of accusing consciences.
SUPERSTITION IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY.
Generality of Superstition—The Church and Superstition—St. Mourie—People forbidden to resort to the island Innis Maree—Various Modes of Superstition—Charms—Lucky and Unlucky Times—A Tinker's Curse and a Gipsy's Warning—Sailors' and Fishermen's Delusions—Spitting on one's Loof—Weddings, Funerals, and Baptisms—Spae Wives—May Dew—Holy-days—Kirk-session Records—Fort-William Fisherman—Dipping in Fountains—Lochmanur—Holy Well of Kilvullen—Well of Craiguck—Superstition in the Highlands—Warlock Willox—Superstition in Dundee.
Notwithstanding the progress of religion, science, and education generally so called, superstition prevails in this and other countries to an extent scarcely credible, and certainly not creditable to the leaders of public opinion. In every town and country, in every village and hamlet, yea, in every domestic circle, a belief in the supernatural has a place. Although the time has gone by for the burning of witches, and though the human mind is less disturbed by the thoughts of ghosts and Satan in corporeal shape than in past centuries, nevertheless man has not been able to rise altogether above the notion that there are such mortal creatures as witches and warlocks, and such immortal visible visitants to our sublunary world as spirits and the devil. Not only is there a general belief in the existence of ghosts, but we have people asserting that they possess the faculty of making spirits of the dead answer them at pleasure. Learned men (men in high position) have written lengthy arguments in favour of the spiritual theory.
Signs and omens are observed, faith in miracles have not died out, charms are not considered valueless, curses and evil wishes make a large proportion of our population tremble, dreams are believed in. Indeed nearly all, if not all, the various aspects and phases of superstition of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries are, to a certain extent, believed in in the nineteenth century. We make no mere random statement, but are stating facts falling under our own notice and that of reliable witnesses.
Fear of the supernatural is confirmed by the dread one has of passing a graveyard at night. Among the English, Scotch, and Irish people the tales of their forefathers are remembered. Who has forgotten his nursery tales? Who does not remember the stories of aged friends as they sat round the winter fire? We have somewhere read of our nursery tales under eight heads. First, of a hero waging successful war with monsters; (2nd), of a neglected individual mysteriously raised into position, like "Cinderella;" (3rd), of one thrown into a magic trance, like the "Sleeping Beauty;" or (4th) of a person overpowered by a monster, as in the case of "Little Red Riding Hood." "Blue Beard," says the writer from whom we have just quoted, is a specimen of a group of tales, in which (5th) the hero or heroine is forbidden to do something, but disobeys. "Beauty and the Beast" and "The White Cat" are examples of a large group in which (6th) a brilliant being is transformed, by means of a spell, into the form of a lower animal. A number of stories, such as "Fortunatus and his Companions," turn upon (7th) the possession of magic implements or spells. The concluding group consists (8th) of moral tales. But these eight groups are far too few to supply examples of either ancient or modern superstition. Hahn endeavoured to group the folk-tales of Europe under forty heads, and Baring Gould has followed his example. In every corner of Christendom some form of kelpie, sprite, troll, gnome, imp, or demon has a place in the mind of the people, much the same as in Pagan times.
Those who have turned their attention to archaeology are in a position to corroborate what is here advanced. No doubt, modern superstition, in its various forms, is the result of ancient delusion in regard to religion and moral rectitude. To overlook or neglect the prescribed formula in regard to blessing and cursing, was certain to bring its own punishment. Superstition is believed in by persons accounted neither irreligious nor desperately profane. Church dignitaries, once foremost in the persecution of reputed witches, found it necessary to change their front. Everything bordering on witchcraft, devil worship, or such like, met with ecclesiastical censure. Let the inhabitants of Applecross say why they and their forefathers sacrificed to St. Mourie, their patron saint, at certain seasons; and let the Synod of Glenelg and the Presbytery of Lochcarron say why they considered it necessary to forbid the people resorting to the island Innis Maree on 25th August. And let those reverend bodies say whether certain stones are not consulted as to future events—whether oblations are not left on hills—and whether a species of adoration is not paid to wells.
Why is the mountain ash, or rowan tree, seen growing in almost every garden, when not another tree adorns the landscape or shelters the family dwelling? Why are the caudal appendages of the cottar's cow and calf adorned with red thread? and wherefore are horse-shoes nailed to stable-doors, ships' masts, and buried under thresholds? What parish or district has not its haunted house and "white lady?" In what quarter do not the young fear to pass ruined castles after sundown? And have we not everywhere a confessed belief in lucky and unlucky times and circumstances, and admitted presentiments of evil?
The tinker's curse and the gipsy's warning are prophetically regarded. In the north of Scotland there is a class of lay preachers, or catechists, known as the "Men," who lay claim to prophetic talent; yea, there are among them enthusiasts, who pretend they possess keys equal in efficacy to those of St. Peter. At the seaside, among the sailors and fishermen, strong indications of superstition are observable. Buyers and sellers, especially cattle dealers and hucksters, daily evince their adherence to the credulity of their progenitors, by spitting on the first money received by them in the morning, and preferring to deal first with persons reputed to have good luck. Athletes (particularly boxers and wrestlers) spit into their loofs before commencing a combat, thinking that by so doing they are more likely to prevail.
At wedding-parties, baptisms, and funerals we have seen numerous forms of superstition displayed. First, the bride's dress must consist of certain fabrics, while the flowers with which her person is adorned must not include hated sprigs, repellers of love, or such as attract evil spirits. All know the custom, if not the value, of throwing slippers, rice, etc. after a newly-wedded pair; and the ceremony of breaking a cake over a bride's head as she first enters her husband's house is not forgotten. Who has not eaten the "child's cheese," and been forbidden to depart from the infantile home before drinking the young one's health, on every occasion the nursery was entered before the christening. Maidens dream, as often as they have the chance, on "children's cheese" and brides' cakes, in order to obtain glimpses in their slumbers of future love and matrimony.
Tea in abundance has been infused to supply the necessary material for the spae-wife to read her cups. Coins and jewellery, deposited with the fortune-teller to enable him or her to discover the fortune of the owners, have too often failed to be restored to the lawful owners. Servant-girls can tell how often they and their employers have been plundered by fortune-tellers in the guise of beggars and pedlars.
May-dew has not lost its virtue; the carrying of fire round houses, fields, and boats are still supposed to drive away witches and evil spirits; and diseases are supposed to be capable of cure by means of charms.
Superstitious families are less terrified at thunder and lightning than at the ticking of the death-watch (anobium tesselatum), whose noise is supposed to prognosticate an early death in the household. With little less fear are the crowing of cocks, the lowing of cattle, and the howling of dogs at night listened to. The passing of a sharp-edged or pointed instrument from one lover to another is continued to be looked upon with anything but favour, as such articles, even pins, divide affection. If an angler step over his fishing-rod, he will have indifferent piscatory sport. It is a good sign for swallows to build their nests at one's windows; but if a person destroy a swallow's nest, or kill any of those birds of passage, he should prepare for misfortunes. Unusually dark-coloured magpies flying about a house, betokens grief to the inmates. When the palm of one's hand itches, money may be looked for; when the sole of the foot itches, prepare for a long journey.
Of particular festive and holy-days we have more than once taken notice, and pointed out how they were observed. Well, we have Christmas, Hallow-e'en, Good Friday, observed with something resembling the fashion of olden times. The evergreens, kail-stocks, pan-cakes, and buns have the same significations as they had in generations past. To break a Good Friday bun between two persons, is accepted as a pledge of friendship. Many superstitious persons keep a Good Friday bun throughout the year, to secure good fortune, prevent fires, and keep disease away.
At a recent meeting of the British Archaeological Association, Mr. H. Syer Cuming, F.S.A., said it was only a few years since he saw a woman drink a little grated cross-bun in water, to cure a sore throat, and that, at the time he was speaking, twenty stale cross-buns, strung on a cord, were suspended as a festoon above the door of an apartment at Brixton Hill, to scare away evil spirits. Fortunately, those who adopt such precautions do so now without fear of punishment. No doubt the Church of Rome interdicts her adherents from eating flesh on Fridays and other prescribed times, but the laws are changed since the seventeenth century. An extract from the kirk-session records of Dunfermline for 1640-89 will show the ecclesiastical law of that period:—
"21 December 1641.—That day John Smart, flesher, being convict for selling a carkeis of beefe, and hav^g pott on a rost at hes fire y^e last fasting day, is ordainit to pay 8 mks., qhlk. he payit. And William Anderson in knockes for bring^g a hamelading of y^e s^d carkeis of beefe y^e fast day, is ordainit to pay 30s., q^r of he payit 24s."
Of the magical properties of May dew little is now known, compared with the knowledge of former times. Our grandmothers firmly believed that three applications of it at the beginning of May preserved the complexion in brilliant bloom for a year; consequently they were up and out long before sunrise, to wash their faces in the charmed moisture. There is still much value in the recipe, which is, however, applicable to all the dewy-morning months. It was not only on the brightness of the cheek that May dew was believed to have a marvellous effect, but many physical ailments were amenable to its virtues. It is related that the people about Launceston say that a child weak in the back may be cured by being drawn through the wet grass thrice on the mornings of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd of May. Swellings in the neck are similarly cured; but the dew in such cases should, if the patient is a man, be sought on the grave of the last young woman buried, and if a woman, on that of the last young man interred.
These May-day practices are not confined to England. The medicinal and cosmetic properties of spring rain and May dew appear to have been at one time universally credited. In fact, water, in whatever shape—dew, rain, river—when associated with spring, was invested with a sort of divine enchantment in the popular mind. The heavy dew which brightened and refreshed the young and tender green of all growing things was holy and hallowing. Running water shared in the same veneration.
In some parts of Russia, at the present day, the girls go into the water up to the girdle on May-day, or, if the streams be still frozen, they dance about a hole broken in the ice, and sing a welcome to the "beautiful spring." The sick are carried down to the banks of a river and sprinkled with water, which has received a healing power from the new season. Cattle are driven afield at early dawn through the May dew, and the young people roll about in it where it lies thickest.
Not many years ago a fisherman near Fort William purchased a set of nets, to enable him to prosecute the herring fishing. He toiled all night without catching any fish. Dispirited, he returned home in the morning to his anxious wife, who was expecting to receive a heavy haul. On learning her husband had been so unfortunate while their neighbours had been successful, she suspected the nets were bewitched, and therefore procured consecrated water wherewith to sprinkle them. The experiment proved successful beyond expectation: every morning the fisherman went to sea he returned with so many fish that his circumstances were considerably improved.
Holy water is kept, in certain localities in the north, for sprinkling on the sea to still the waves in case of a storm. Holy oil, we are assured, is equally efficacious. We have seen a lady turning her chair three times round, to secure luck at cards.
Dipping in a fountain or lake in Scotland for the purpose of healing diseases, is a matter of frequent occurrence. In the beginning of August (old style), between midnight and early morning, may be seen the impotent, the halt, and the lunatic immersing themselves, or being immersed by their friends, in Lochmanur, Sutherlandshire, in the full expectation that benefit to mind and body will be secured by the operation. One who has witnessed the strange scenes within the last ten years, i.e. since 1870, gives the following graphic account of the superstitious actions he beheld:—
"The hour was between midnight and one o'clock in the morning, and the scene was absurd beyond belief, though not without a touch of weird interest, imparted by the darkness of the night and the superstitious faith of the people. The lame, the old, and young were waiting for an immersion in Lochmanur or Lochmonaire. About fifty persons were present near one spot, and other parts of the loch were similarly occupied. About twelve stripped and walked into the loch, performing their ablutions three times. Those who were not able to act for themselves were assisted, some of them being led willingly and others by force, for there were cases of each kind. One young woman, strictly guarded, was an object of great pity. She raved in a distressing manner, repeating religious phrases, some of which were very earnest and pathetic. She prayed her guardians not to immerse her, saying that it was not a communion occasion, and asking if they could call this righteousness or faithfulness. No male, so far as I could see, denuded himself for a plunge. These gatherings take place twice a year, and are known far and near to such as put belief in the spell. But the climax of absurdity is in paying the loch in sterling coin."
Another writer says he has seen even more than fifty dipping in this loch in one night. A third eye-witness never saw more than two or three of a night venturing into the loch; but many more, he adds, were present to see and be seen. And there are persons who have declared they derived benefit from bathing in it. The late Rev. D. Mackenzie, minister at Farr, who often denounces from the pulpit the superstitious practice of dipping in the loch, says, in his description of it in the New Statistical Account of Scotland: "Numbers from Sutherland, Caithness, Ross-shire, and even from Inverness and Orkney, come to this far-famed loch."
The holy well of Kilvullen, on the Irish coast, is as good as Lochmanur. Every year, in the month of August, there are high festivals held there. The water has a wonderful repute for healing qualities. It has worked miraculous cures ever since the great saint of Kilvullen flourished in the parish. The inhabitants have vague though reverential notions of the date of St. Kilvullen's existence. That he was of foreign extraction would appear to be proven, some way or other, through a boulder lying on the beach, on which, it is stated, the blessed Kilvullen travelled here direct from Rome, with a commission from the Pope to convert the Irish. To wriggle under a cavity in this stone and come out on the other side, is an infallible remedy for lumbago.
There is a mountain not far distant from Kilvullen with a gap in it, supposed to have been made by a single bite of the devil. There is scarcely an eminence in Ireland out of which the demon has not devoured a bit. Travellers are shown the devil's bites, the devil's gaps, and the devil's punch-bowls, over nearly every part of the country.
Dr. Arthur Mitchell, while lecturing on Scottish superstition, said: "The adoration of wells continues in certain aspects to the present day, from John-o'-Groat's to the Mull of Galloway. I visited a well at Craiguck, in the parish of Avoch, Ross-shire, some years ago, and found numerous offerings fastened to a tree beside it; and of at least a dozen wells in Scotland the same thing is more or less true. An anxious loving mother would bring a sick child to such a well at early morning on the 1st May, bathe the child, then cause the little one to drop an offering into the well—usually a pebble, but sometimes a small coin. Then a bit of the child's dress was attached to a bush or tree growing on the side of the well. These visits were paid in a spirit of earnestness and faith, and were kept more or less secret. Some of the wells have names of Christian saints attached to them; but I never knew of a case in which the saint was in any way recognised or prayed to. There is reason to believe these wells were the objects of adoration before the country was christianised, and that such adoration was a survival of the earlier practice to which Seneca and Pliny referred."
However much the custom of seeking health by bathing or dipping in lakes, or drinking from certain springs, may be deplored, it is tolerable compared with the superstitious belief that prevails, of epilepsy being cured by the affected person drinking water out of a suicide's skull, or by tasting or touching the blood of a murderer.
A gentleman, writing lately from Fort William, says:—"It is a mistake to suppose that superstition is entirely extinct in the Highlands, or that it is confined to old women alone. It was only the other day a certain spinster in Lochaber, who has reached the shady side of sixty, owned a cow. Up to last week the cow was a model one in every sense of the term, but last week it showed sure signs of the effect of the 'evil eye.' The symptoms were chiefly deficiency in quantity and quality of milk. A consistory of old women was soon called, and, among a host of other queer contrivances, they had recourse to one—commendable chiefly for its simplicity, and also for its complete success. It was no other than smearing the brute all over with soot and salt! As this was done for the purpose of spoiling the beauty of the beast, it may be better guessed than described how completely it answered the purpose."
Another gentleman, writing from Grantown, assures us that "One night in 1878, two men, one of whom was blind, entered the village of Grantown and inquired as to the nearest route to Tomintoul. They came from a parish north of Inverness, and the object of their long journey was to visit a representative of the family of the warlock Willox, with a view to overturn some bad luck which had beset the course in life of the younger of the two. The attempt to dissuade them from proceeding further on their foolish errand was fruitless. Their faces had been set on the journey, and they were sternly resolved to accomplish it at all hazards. They pressed on their way, the blind man leaning on the arm of his companion, though night was on the point of falling. The matter pressed heavily on the younger, and it was in vain he tried to conceal his thoughts, being either 'crazed with care or crossed in hopeless love.'"
We have not learned how the travellers succeeded, but this we know, that members of the Willox family have been supposed for generations to profess knowledge of the occult science. Those of the nineteenth century, to whom the hidden secrets of their fathers have been imparted, eke out a livelihood by cultivating a small patch of land in a mountainous district, and vending nostrums for the cure of diseases in man and beast, and selling charms to counteract witchcraft. Persons have been known to travel more than a hundred miles to consult a Willox. That a wide-spread belief exists of this family's mystical powers, is manifest from the number of people seeking their advice. Further, the warlocks of untainted Willox blood not only direct attention to the healing art and the means of outwitting witches, but they aid in discovering lost and stolen property.
In 1871 a little boy in Dundee was afflicted with a sore upon his right leg. Medical skill proved of no avail, and the parents began to fear the boy would be rendered helpless for life. One day, however, an old Irish woman saw the boy, and, on ascertaining the nature of his disease, declared that she could by means of the "gold-touch" heal the sore. She asked for and obtained the marriage ring of the invalid's mother. With the ring the strange woman rubbed three times round the sore. She performed the same operation next day, and on the next again. On the fourth day no mark of a sore could be discovered. No doubt remained on the parents' and neighbours' minds that the operator was a white witch, possessed of valuable charms.
Ghost at Sea—Tragical Event—Ghosts in Edinburgh—Fear of Ghosts in Glasgow—Fortune-telling—Choice of Lovers, how decided—A handsome Dowry—Old Irish Story—How a Ghost settled a Land Question—A Highland Prophecy respecting the Argyll Family—Gipsies and Superstition—Yetholm Gipsies—Episode in a Police Court—Curses—Superstition among Fishermen—Superstition among Seamen—Providing for the Dead—A Warning—Blood Stains—Various Superstitions—Hallow-e'en at Balmoral—Faith in Dreams, Signs, Omens, Predictions, and Warnings—Self-accusing Catalogue—Reflections on the Memories of our Ancestors.
A strange story is told in connection with the report of the murder at sea on board the barque "Pontiac," of Liverpool, by Jean Moyatos, a Greek sailor, in custody in Edinburgh a few years ago. We do not know whether the particulars we are about to relate came out in the investigation, but undoubtedly they had a strong bearing on the case, and made it probable, that but for the hallucination of one of the crew—not the Greek sailor—the murder would not have taken place.
Five days after the "Pontiac" left Callao, Jean Moyatos murdered one of his fellow-seamen, and stabbed another in such a dangerous manner that his life was despaired of. Two nights before the fatal occurrence the mate of the "Pontiac" was standing near the man at the helm, no other person being on the quarter-deck at the time, when the latter in great terror called out, "What is that near the cabin door?" The mate replied that he saw nothing, and looked about to see if any one was near, but failed to discover any person. The steersman then, much terrified, said the figure he saw was that of a strange-looking man, of ghostly appearance, and almost immediately afterwards exclaimed, "There he is again, standing at the cabin window!" The mate, though in view of the place referred to, saw no figure near it, nor at any other part of the quarter-deck, though he looked round and round. Next day the report went from one to the other that a ghost was on board, which filled some of the sailors with alarm, while others made a jest of it. Next night a boy (a stowaway) was so dreadfully alarmed in his bunk by something he saw or felt (we do not know which), that he cried out so loudly as to waken all the seamen in bed. The boy was sure it was the ghost seen the previous night that had frightened him; and others of more mature years were inclined to think so too. Perhaps more than one-half of those on board believed that something supernatural was in the ship, and that some calamity would soon happen. But there were two at least on board who did not believe the ghost stories, and these were the man subsequently murdered, and his companion who was stabbed. The former joked with the boy about the ghost, and said he would have his knife well sharpened and ready for the ghost if it appeared the next night. He would give it a stab and "chuck" it overboard. The latter joined in the joke, saying he also would help "to do for the ghost;" and others said they would have letters ready for the ghost to carry to their friends in the other world. Jean Moyatos overheard what was said as to stabbing and throwing overboard; and in consequence of his imperfect knowledge of the English language, and having previously supposed there was a combination against him, thought the threats were made against him, and therefore resolved to protect himself. A few hours after the jesting we have briefly explained took place, he stabbed the two men who principally carried on the jest, with the fatal result known. The murder, as might be expected, filled every one on board with horror; and the terror of the sailors who believed there was a ghost on board became overwhelming. At night, whether in bed or on watch on deck, they had great dread, it being heightened by reports that strange noises were heard below. Not even at the end of the voyage had the fear been overcome; for, after the ship lay moored in the docks of Leith, two of the crew who had agreed to sleep on board became so frightened, after their companions were paid off, that they refused to remain in the vessel at night.
Jean Moyatos, on being brought to trial before the High Court of Justiciary, was found to be insane; and therefore the Court ordered him to be confined in a lunatic asylum during Her Majesty's pleasure.
A circumstance, freely spoken of within the past few years, has given rise to a rumour that ghosts frequent the neighbourhood of the Dean Cemetery, Edinburgh. The story is, that about three o'clock one morning a private watchman named Clark (employed to look after a block of buildings at Bell's Mills, Water of Leith) and his friend the constable on the beat, were surprised, in the midst of a friendly talk, by a tall figure—which, at least to their startled eyes, seemed to be in white—clearing a wall and alighting on the ground close beside them. It darted along the road towards the Dean Cemetery. As it ran, the two men heard, or thought they heard, a clinking sound like that made by a horse with a loose shoe. Too much frightened to watch the movements of their visitor, Clark and his companion took to their heels, nor thought of halting until they were a considerable distance from the locality. Clark refused to return to his post, and some difficulty was even experienced in getting the constable to look upon the matter from a business point of view.
Whether the same ghost or not we cannot tell, but not long ago many in Edinburgh became startled at rumours of a ghost being seen in various parts of Edinburgh. On a Saturday night the movements of a ghost caused great excitement in the Fountainbridge district, particularly at Murdoch Terrace, Bainfield, where a large crowd collected. On the ghost being observed, five men, armed with bludgeons, pursued it till it reached the Dalry Cemetery, where it jumped over the wall, and was not seen again. Bodies of men formed themselves into a detective force, to lie in wait at different places for the apparition. It was gravely alleged that the ghost made its appearance in varied attire—sometimes in black, sometimes in white, and occasionally with the addition of horns. One dark night a cabman, driving through the Grange, and looking about him with great fear, and trembling for the appearance of this irrepressible "Spring-heel Jack," suddenly heard a loud noise over his head, and the next instant something descended with such force on his shoulders as to send his pipe flying over the splashboard, and himself nearly after it.
The alarm excited in the weak-minded and ignorant can scarcely be credited. We know of one case where a cab-driver, who was ordered to go at an early hour in the morning to a house in the suburbs to convey a lady and gentleman from an evening party, positively refused to go, through sheer terror of encountering "Jack," as the ghost was named, preferring rather to risk losing his situation. It is said that the girls employed in factories in the vicinity of the Canal would not venture to their work till it was fairly daylight, and even then they went in a body. Several policemen asserted that they had seen the ghost. The stories about the ghost created such an impression on the minds of many young people residing within a wide radius of the haunted district, that they would not venture out after dark.
Glasgow, as recently as 1878, had its ghost also, or supposed it had. The residents in the Northern District of that city were thrown into a state of excitement, hardly to be credited in enlightened times. One night it was whispered that the school at the corner of Stirling Street and Milton Street had become the abode of a horde of warlocks, whose cantrips were equalled only by the antics cut by their demoniacal ancestors in "Alloway's Auld Haunted Kirk." It was seriously averred by dozens of persons that they had actually witnessed the hobgoblins in the enjoyment of their fiendish fun. In a brief space of time the whole neighbourhood turned out to see the terrible visitants that had come among them. Frequently as many as from four to six thousand people—the large majority of whom were children in groups of threes and fours, clinging to each other's hands, and evidently in mortal terror of being suddenly spirited away no one knew where—assembled to catch a glimpse of the mysterious cause of the commotion. To such a height did the excitement grow, that one night the authorities stationed no fewer than nine policemen round the school, for the purpose of restoring order. On the following night "the ghost," as it was now called, still uncaught, and gliding as noiselessly and swiftly through the deserted rooms as on the first night of its appearance, frightening the souls and raising the hair of all who believed in it, and the authorities, being suspicious of mischief on the part of some one concealed on the premises, sent two detectives into the attics of the building, for the purpose of arresting the apparition should it stalk in their direction and prove to be made of flesh and blood. After waiting several hours the officers relinquished their watching, and left the school to its ghostly occupant. All sorts of theories were propounded to account for the unearthly sights that were witnessed through the windows of the building, but it turned out that a very innocent combination of circumstances had caused all the excitement. It was believed that the reflection from a set of mirrors in the house opposite, falling upon a series of thickly-glazed maps hanging upon the school wall, had produced the appearances which served to create so great a sensation.
We have seen there was neither ghost nor goblin in the city of St. Mungo, but we have also seen from the above incident that time has not enabled us to cast off altogether the fetters of superstition.
Cunning, duplicity, and falsehood are associated with fortune-telling. An instance in exemplification is within our recollection. Not far from the junction of the Gadie and Urie with the Don, in Aberdeenshire, dwelt a rich farmer. His only daughter possessed rare natural charms, gifts, and graces. She could spin, sew, manage the dairy, sing with a voice equal to that of the mavis or blackbird, while her heart was as tender as that of any other sighing maiden. Two lovers sought her hand—one rich, the other poor. The poor man she declared to be her choice, but the purse-proud father declared his firlot of silver money, his twelve cows, and as many calves, his sheep and oxen, intended as his daughter's dower, would never enrich a pennyless man without houses and lands. So he said; yet he changed his mind through the influence of a fortune-teller, hired to tell what pleased her employers best. In presence of father and mother the sibyl professed to see, first, in her cup a splendid mansion, with wealth in great store, cattle, and fields of waving corn, then gradual decline of riches, until the young lady, her husband, and six or eight children, were seen living in a little hut in great poverty.
On hearing such an evil prophecy, the interpreter desired to cast the cup again, to ascertain whether the Fates were resolved to adhere to their former announced decree. Father and mother leaned back in their chairs, giving utterance to disquieting thoughts. Through various incantations the gods were propitiated. A second cup disclosed a small beginning for the daughter and her husband, but a grand ending. To prove which prediction was the correct one, the fortune-teller had recourse to the egg and lead tests—pouring the white of an egg and boiling lead into water, and watching the fantastic figures produced. Every fresh trial terminated in favour of the poor wooer. Father and mother changed their minds; the daughter almost leaped for joy; two fond hearts were united, and the promised dower was not kept back. For many years the young couple throve, and at last died, in peace and possession of plenty, leaving an honourable name, likely to descend to future generations.
The immediately preceding anecdote reminds us of an old Irish story bearing on the land question, and showing how agrarian difficulties were settled in ancient times, without recourse to assassination.
One night in 1662, one Francis Taverner, while riding home near Drumbridge, observed two horsemen pass him silently. Not even the treading of the horses' feet could be heard, and presently a third horseman appeared in the likeness of James Haddock, formerly a farmer at Malone, where he died five years previously. Mr. Taverner asked the spectre rider number three (for in reality the three riders were apparitions) why he appeared to him. To this the ghost replied, that if he would ride his (the ghost's) way he would inform him. Mr. Taverner refused to go any other way than that which led to his own home. Man and ghost parted company; but no sooner had they done so than a dreadful storm arose, in the midst of which hideous screeches rose above the gale. Mr. Taverner and his horse were sensible of some evil influence being near them; and they continued in a state of semi-stupor until cock-crowing. Chanticleer's clarion notes seemed to work a charm; for as they wakened the morn, all became calm—placid as an inland lake unrippled by the wind.
Next night an apparition in the likeness of James Haddock appeared again to Mr. Taverner, and bade him go to Eleanor Welsh, wife of one Davis, but formerly the spouse of James Haddock, by whom she had an only son, to whom Haddock had by will given a lease of a farm, but of which the son was deprived by Davis. "Tell her," said the ghost, "that it is the will of your former husband that our son should be righted in the lease." Through some infatuation, the man disregarded the instructions of the apparition, and for his neglect he was haunted and threatened by the apparition in several forms.
So uneasy did Mr. Taverner feel, that he left his mountain home and went to Belfast. Thither the ghost followed him, and again threatened to tear him in pieces unless he delivered the message. He therefore went to Lord Chichester, owner of the farm, and with tears in his eyes related the whole story. Dr. Lewis Downs, a minister in Belfast, hearing the relation, at first questioned the lawfulness of obeying a spirit, but, on mature consideration, and having respect to the injured son's interest, not only thought the message should be delivered, but agreed to accompany Taverner to Davis's house to hear it communicated.
Dr. Taylor, bishop of Down, Connor, and Dromore, after strictly examining Taverner anent the whole matter, expressed his belief in the realness of the apparition. No doubt the medium of communication suffered much mental torture, and great excitement prevailed in the north of Ireland; but, however, to use a hackneyed phrase, "All's well that ends well." The apparition's mission to earth was fulfilled; for the young man's wrongs were redressed, and he remained for many years in secure possession of his father's lands.
An old Highland prophecy respecting the Argyll family has been brought to mind by the marriage of the Marquis of Lorn, heir apparent to the dukedom, with a princess of England. It was foretold that all the glories of the Campbell family would be renewed in the first chief who in the colour of his locks approached nearest to that of the great Jan Roy Cean (Red John the Great), Duke of Argyll. Nature has performed her part in the person of the noble Marquis, and fate is not likely to allow the prophecy to remain unfulfilled.
Gipsies have always been associated with superstition. In their tents, and elsewhere, the women belonging to that class are professed fortune-tellers. We have heard them in all parts of Scotland and England telling fortunes, and seen people trembling at their curses, and witnessed others highly elated at their blessings and favourable predictions. In far-back times the leaders of the gipsies were chosen as their chiefs in consequence of this acknowledged power of divination and enchantment; they were therefore regarded not as kings or princes, but as prophets or magicians.
At Yetholm the gipsies have an idea that it is unlucky to have unbaptized children in their houses. Women of that village sell dreaming powders, by sleeping on which for a certain number of nights the sleepers are privileged to see their future partners in life.
As an instance in the belief of unholy prayers, we give an episode in the Leith police court in 1878. A woman named Allan was charged with assaulting a man because he had ill-used one of her boys. She was a person of wild passions, and upbraided the man with divers acts of cruelty to her children. Bursting out into loud cursing, she reminded the man that, eight years previously, she had, in consequence of him kicking her orphan child, prayed that neither he nor his wife should have children; "and you know," she exclaimed, "my prayers have been answered!" The woman professed to believe her unholy prayers had hindered the subjects of her wrath from having offspring. The man quailed under the termagant's piercing eye, and trembled at the renewed curses.
At the same court, a few years ago, it transpired that two women in the fishing village of Newhaven had a quarrel, during which one of them cursed the other and "salted her," i.e. threw salt at her. To cast salt with an evil intent after one, is as unlucky, in the estimation of fishermen and their wives, as it is to tell a fisherwoman that a hare's foot is in her creel, or to mention "Brounger" or the name of a four-footed beast at sea.
A few sceptical friends, not believing all they had heard regarding the superstitious notions of fishermen, were advised to put a young pig among some fishermen's lines on board of a boat at Newhaven pier. The trick being performed, and discovered before the boat put to sea, both pig and lines were tossed overboard, to the spoiling of a whole day's fishing.
A boat's crew recently left Newhaven pier for the oyster dredging in the Firth of Forth. One of the crew, a young lad, who had been at a circus in Edinburgh the previous evening, happened, while giving an account of what he had seen, to say "horse." No sooner had the hated word been uttered, than his companions assailed him in a most unmerciful manner. His disregard of the tradition of his fathers put an end to the fishing, it not being considered prudent by the men to prosecute their calling any more that day. In these superstitions, fishermen are following the examples of the ancients. It will be remembered the names of the Furies, Kings, etc. were not to be named, and that there were birds and beasts of ill omen.
Fishermen have an aversion to go to sea in a boat from which a man has been drowned, and they are opposed to the breaking up of an old boat. This last-mentioned superstition continues to prevail, and it accounts for so many useless crafts being seen at fishing towns unnecessarily occupying much valuable ground, as in olden times, and as mentioned by us under "Signs, Omens, and Warnings," at page 399. At the Tweed, fishermen still (1879) have a belief in the power of fairies to affect the fisheries. It is the custom not only to impregnate nets with salt, but also to throw part of that commodity into the water, to blind the mischievous elves, who are said to prevent fish being caught. The salting process was carried on at Coldstream very recently, with a result highly satisfactory to the operators, if not to others.
A ship captain has informed us that, when a young man, he incurred the displeasure of an old seaman, with whom he sailed in one of the old trading smacks between Leith and London. On refreshments being served out, according to custom, one day, he (our informant) handed a jug of beer to the old sailor through the steps of a ladder. For this act the aged salt swore at him, and called him an unlucky lubber, while at the same time he dealt him a severe blow on the face.