Witchcraft, in Popular Estimation
Witchcraft, In Popular Estimation, is the practice and powers of a person supposed to have formed a compact with Satan. The powers deemed to be possessed by the witches, and the rites and incantations by which they acquired those powers, were substantially the same as belonged to the devotees of the Greek Hecate, the Striga and Venefica of the ancient Romans, and the Vala or Wise Woman of the Teutonic pagans. But when, along with the knowledge of the one true God, the idea of a purely wicked spirit, the enemy of God and man, was introduced, it was natural that all supernatural powers not proceeding directly from the true God should be attributed to Satan. This gave an entirely new aspect to such arts; they became associated with heresy; those who practiced them must be in compact with the devil, and have renounced God and the true faith. Previous to the development of this doctrine, if a witch was punished, it was because she had been guilty, or, at least, was believed to have been guilty, of poisoning or some other actual mischief. Now, however, such power was only the power to work evil; and merely to be a witch was in itself a sin and crime that filled the pious mind with horror. This feeling, zealously fostered, first by the Catholic clergy, and then no less by the Protestant, rose to a frenzy that for four centuries filled Europe with the most shocking bloodshed and cruelty.
1. The creed of witchcraft, in its full development, involved almost all the notions and practices previously connected with magic and sorcery. What was new and distinctive in the witchcraft of Christendom was the theory of magical arts which it involved. The doctrine of Satan, as finally elaborated in the Middle Ages, established in the world a rival dominion to that of the Almighty. The arch-fiend and his legions of subordinate daemons exercised a sway, doubtless only permitted, but still vast and indefinite, not only over the elements of nature, but over the minds and bodies of men, except those who' had been admitted to the number of the faithful, and were guarded by the faith and rites of the Church. But even they were not altogether exempt from diabolical annoyance, for the protection does not seem to have extended to their belongings. All persons in possession of these supernatural powers (and there was no doubt of their existence in all ages) must, therefore, have derived them from the prince of darkness, and be acting under his agency — excepting, of course, those miraculous powers which had been bestowed upon the Church directly by Heaven. But Satan, bestowing these powers, was supposed to demand an equivalent; hence it came to be the established belief that, in order to acquire the powers of witchcraft, the person must formally sell his or her soul to the devil. This, however, was not the early view. Magicians had been diligent students of their art. Alchemists, astronomers, and astrologers had searched into the hidden things of nature as deeply as circumstances would permit. The higher kind of European magic in the Middle Ages was mixed up with what physical science there then was; and the most noted men of the time were addicted to the pursuit, or were at least, reputed to be so. So far from deriving their power from the kingdom of darkness, the scientific magician, by the mere force of his art, could compel the occasional services of Satan himself, and make inferior daemons the involuntary slaves of his will. A belief, however, had early existed that individuals in desperate circumstances had been tempted to purchase, at the price of their own souls, the help of the devil to extricate them from their difficulties; and hence the suspicion began to gain adherence that many magicians, instead of seeking to acquire their power by the laborious studies of the regular art, had acquired it in this illegitimate way. The chief cause of the prominent part in this matter assigned to females, particularly old, wrinkled, and deformed women, is the natural dislike of ugliness. It may also be noted that their more excitable temperament renders them peculiarly liable to those ecstasies which have been associated with the gift of divination from the priestess of the ancient heathen oracle down to the medium of modern spiritualism. And when witchcraft came to be prosecuted for heresy, the part assigned to woman in the Scripture account of the fall led to her being looked upon as specially suited to be the tool of the devil. Upon this circumstance was founded the doctrine in the creed of witchcraft which alleged carnal intercourse between witches and evil spirits.
The bargain by which the soul was sold to the devil was usually in writing, and signed with the witch's own blood. She was rebaptized, receiving a new name, and had to trample on the cross and renounce God and Christ (among the Roman Catholics also the Virgin Mary) in forms parodying the renunciation of the devil in Christian baptism. She received a "witch mark," which remained, and the location of it was known by that part becoming callous and dead — a matter of great interest to witch-finders. The powers conferred by Satan upon these servants were essentially the same as those ascribed to sorcerers, and the mode of exercising them was the same, viz. by charms, incantations, concoctions, etc. The only change was in the theory, that is, that instead of any power inherent in the sorcerer or derived from any other source, the results were all wrought by the devil through the witch as his servant. The power was also exerted exclusively to work evil — to raise storms, blast crops, render men and beasts barren, inflict racking pain on an enemy, or make him pine away in sickness. If a witch attempted to do good, the devil was enraged and punished her, and whatever she did she was powerless to serve her own interests, for witches always remained poor and miserable.
A prominent feature of witchcraft was the belief in stated meetings of witches and devils by night, called Witches' Sabbaths. The places of meeting were always such as had feelings of solemnity and awe connected with them, such as old ruins, neglected churchyards, and places of heathen sacrifices. First anointing her feet and shoulders with a salve made of the fat of murdered and unbaptized children, the witch mounted a broomstick, rake, or similar article, and making her exit through the chimney, rode through the air to the place of rendezvous. If her own particular daemon- lover came to fetch her, he sat on the staff before, and she behind him; or he came in the shape of a goat, and carried her off on his back. At the place of assembly the archdaemon, in the shape of a large goat with a black human countenance, sat on a high chair and received the homage of the witches and daemons. The feast was lighted up with torches, all kindled at a light burning between the horns of the great goat. Among the viands there was no bread or salt, and they drank out of ox-hoofs and horses' skulls, but the meal neither satisfied the appetite nor nourished. After eating and drinking they danced. In dancing they turned their backs to each other; and in the intervals they related to one another what mischief they had done, and planned more. The revel concluded with obscene debauchery, after which the great goat burned himself to ashes, which he divided among the witches to raise storms. Then they returned as they came. (For a vivid and entertaining description of one of these revels, see the Tam O'Shanter of Robert Burns.)
2. The prosecutions for witchcraft form a sad episode in human history. Thousands of lives of innocent persons were sacrificed to the silly superstition, and thousands more were tortured in various ways because they were suspected of having some connection with the black art. In the Twelve Tables of Rome there were penal enactments against him who should bewitch the fruits of the earth, or conjure away his neighbor's corn into his own field. A century and a half later one hundred and seventy Roman ladies were convicted of poisoning under the pretence of charms and incantations, and new laws were added. But, in these and in all other heathen laws the was no penalty attached, except in the case of positive injury done. Magical or supernatural power was looked upon rather with favor than otherwise, only it was feared that it might be abused by its possessor.
The early Church was severe in its judgments against magic, astrology, augury, charms, and all kinds of divination. The civil law condemned the Mathematici, or men that formed calculations for the prediction of fortunes. Veneficium, or Maleficium, poisoning and mischief-making, was the name given to sorcery. The Church would not, by a law of Constantine, baptize astrologers, nor a special class of them called Genethliaci, or those who calculated what stars had been in. the ascendant at a man's nativity. The twenty-fourth canon of Ancyra says: "Let those who use soothsaying after the manner of the heathen, or entertain men to; teach them pharmacy or lustration, fall under the canon, of five years' (penance), viz. three years of prostration, two years of communion in prayer without the oblation." Those who consulted or followed such soothsayers as were supposed to be in compact with Satan were to be cast out of communion. Constantine, however, made such divination a capital crime, as well on the part of those who practiced it as of those who sought information from it. Amulets, or spells to cure disease, were reckoned a species of idolatry, and the makers of such phylacteries shared in the same condemnation. Theabraxis or abracadabra (q.v.) of the Basilidians came, under similar censure. But the prosecutions against: witchcraft as such were of minor importance comparatively until as late as the 11th century, when the prosecutions against heresy were systematically organized. Hitherto magic had been distinguished as white or black; now no distinction was made, and all magic was reckoned black. Almost all heretics were accused of magical practices, and their secret meetings were looked upon as a kind of devil- worship. Fostered by the proceedings against heresy, the popular dread of witchcraft had been on the increase for centuries, and numerous executions had taken place in various parts of Europe. At last Innocent VIII, by his celebrated bull, Summis Desiderantes, issued in 1484, gave the full sanction of the Church to these notions concerning sorcery, and charged. the inquisitors and others to discover and put to death all guilty of these arts. He appointed two special inquisitors for Germany, Heinrich Institor and Jacob. Sprenger, who, with the aid of a clergyman of Constance, Johannes Gremper, drew up the famous Malleus Maleficarum, or Hammer for Witches, in which the whole doctrine of witchcraft was elaborated, a form of trial laid down, and a course of examination appointed by which the inquisitors could discover the guilty parties. This was the beginning of the witch-mania proper. Theedict of Innocent was reinforced by a bull of Alexander VI in 1494, of Leo X in 1521, and of Adrian VI in 1522, each adding strength to its predecessor, and calculated to increase the popular agitation. The results were deplorable. Armed with the Malleus Maleficarum, the judge had no difficulty in convicting the most innocent. persons. If the accused did not confess at once, they were ordered to be shaved and examined for "witchmarks." If any strange mark was discovered on the person, no further evidence was required. But failing in this, the accused was put to the torture, which in almost all instances elicited confession. Many, in order to avoid this ordeal, confessed at once, and were forthwith led to execution. Others seem to have become insane because of the prevalent excitement, and fancied themselves witches. The extent of the prosecutions in Germany is appalling to consider. In the bishopric of Bamberg 600 victims, fell within four years, and in Wirzburg 900. In the district of Lindheim a twentieth part of the population perished in the same time. And during this inquisition 7000 lives were sacrificed at Trier. Such atrocities were rivalled by 1000 executions in the Italian province of Como within a single year, 400 at Toulouse in one day, and 500 at Geneva in three months. It is said that in France, about the year 1520, fires for the execution of witches blazed in every town. The madness seized upon all nations and all estates of men, alike on Catholics and Protestants, and often on the accused as firmly as on their accusers, so that the trials represented pure and unmingled delusions. Even Luther looked on his earache as "peculiarly diabolical," and exclaimed of witches, "I could burn them all." England, by its insular position and intense political life, was kept longest from the witch mania; but when it came, it was no less violent than it had been on. the Continent. The statute of Elizabeth, in 1562, first made witchcraft in itself a crime of the first magnitude, whether directed to the injury of others or not. The act of James I (VI of Scotland), in the first year of his reign in England, defines the crime still more minutely. It is as follows: "Any one that shall use, practice, or exercise invocation of any evil or wicked spirit, to or for any purpose, or take up any dead man, etc., such offenders, duly and lawfully convicted and attainted, shall suffer death." Soon the delusion spread throughout all England, and increased to a frenzy. Witch-finders passed through the country from town to town, professing to rid the community of all witches, and receiving therefor a stipulated sum. Their methods were most inhuman. They stripped the accused, shaved them, and thrust pins into their bodies to discover witches' marks; they wrapped them in sheets with the great toes and thumbs tied together, and dragged them through ponds or rivers, and if they sank they were accounted innocent; but if they floated, which they were sure to do for a time, they were set down as guilty, and executed. Many times the poor creatures were kept fasting and awake, and sometimes walking incessantly, for twenty-four or forty-eight hours. Indeed, such cruelties were practiced as an inducement to confession, that the unhappy victims were glad to confess and end their miseries at once. During the sittings of the Long Parliament, three thousand persons are said to have been executed on legal convictions, besides the vast number that perished at the hands of the mob. Even so wise and learned a judge as Sir Matthew Hale condemned two women for witchcraft in 1664. Chief justices North wand Holt were the first to set their faces steadily against the continuance of this delusion. This was in 1694, but summary executions continued as far down as 1716, when the last victim was hanged at Huntington. The English laws against witchcraft were repealed in 1736.
The burning of witches forms a dark chapter in the history of Scotland, and the penal laws are said to have been first inflicted in the reign of James III. In that reign twelve women are said to have suffered, but their witchcraft was associated with treason and murder. James VI was a notorious witch- finder, but his wellknown statute was only in accordance with the spirit of the times. The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and its presbyteries, from convictions of duty, had often taken the matter up, for the Old Test. had expressly said, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." The number of victims in Scotland from first to last is estimated at over four thousand. When the penal laws were at length repealed, the early seceders mourned over the repeal as a sad dereliction of national duty to God. The principal scenes of witchcraft were in the lowlands, the fairies of the highlands being harmless and ingenious sprites, rather than dark, ugly, and impious fiends. Many of the Scottish witches, as appears from their trial, were the victims of miserable hallucination; others seem to have gloried in a fancied power to torment others, and to have profited by it; others when some sudden calamity happened, or some individual was afflicted with any mysterious malady, malignantly took credit as having had a hand in producing it; and others made the implied compact with Satan a knavish cover for crimes of various kinds, both against families and against the state. New England was settled at a time when the excitement over witchcraft was very general and intense, and several persons were executed ins Massachusetts prior to the extraordinary outburst at Salem. As in Scotland and elsewhere, the clergy were the prime movers. Two clergymen have obtained an unenviable notoriety for the part they had in it. The one was Cotton Mather, a man who was considered a prodigy in learning and piety, but whose writings and proceedings in regard to the trial and punishment of witches display an amount of bigotry almost incredible. The other was Samuel Parris, of Salem Village (now Danvers Centre), who seems to have made use of the delusion to gratify his own personal dislikes. Previous to the outbreak the last instance had been the hanging of an Irish woman in Boston, in 1688, accused of bewitching four children belonging to the family of a Mr. Goodwin. During the winter of 1691 and 1692 a company, consisting mostly of young girls, was accustomed to meet at the house of Mr. Parris for the purpose of practicing magic, necromancy, etc. They soon began to exhibit nervous disorders, contortions, spasms, sometimes dropping insensible to the floor. The children were declared to be bewitched, and, being pressed to reveal the perpetrator of the mischief, they accused an Indian woman, named Tituba, a servant in the family of Mr. Parris; Sarah Good, a woman of ill-repute, and Sarah Osburn, who was bedridden. These were tried before the magistrates March 1, 1692. From this time the excitement became intense. The clergy were zealous in the prosecution, being urged by the belief that Satan was making a special effort to overthrow the kingdom of God in that locality, and all classes were subject, more or less, to the delusion. The special court appointed to try these cases met the first week in June, and continued its sessions until September 9. Nineteen victims were hanged, as a result of the investigation, some of them pious and respectable citizens. An old man, more than eighty years of age, was pressed to death for refusing to plead to a charge of witchcraft. A reaction now set in, and subsequent sentences were not executed. In May following the governor discharged all then in prison, about one hundred and fifty in number.
Witchcraft still remained, in the minds of the people of many countries, a reality for almost a century after the general excitement had abated. The last judicial execution did not occur in Germany until 1756, in Spain until, 1780, and in Switzerland until 1782. And from the cessation of executions many think that belief in witchcraft has entirely passed away, but facts are contrary to such a supposition. Some occurrences in England in very recent times point to the fact that the popular mind is still infected with the belief in witchcraft as a thing of the present. In 1865 a poor old paralyzed Frenchman died in consequence of having been dragged through the water as a wizard at Castle Heddingham, in Essex; in 1875 the trial at Warwick Assizes of the murderer of a reputed witch brought out the fact that over one third of the villagers of Long Compton are firm believers in witchcraft; and in April 1879, at East Dereham, Norfolk, a man was fined for assaulting the daughter of an old woman who was alleged to have charmed him by means of a walking toad. With very rare exceptions educated people do not believe in witchcraft, but among the ignorant and illiterate of all countries the belief still retains a firm hold. To the mass of the adherents of Buddhism, in Central Asia, the lama, or priest, is merely a wizard who knows how to' protect them from the malignity of evil spirits; and, according to modern travellers, trials and executions for witchcraft are at this day common throughout Africa, as they were in Europe in the 17th century, and under very similar forms.
3. The literature of the subject is copious. Among the many works the following may be noted: Wier, De Praestigiis Daemonum (Basle, 1563); Scot, The Discoverie of Witchcraft (Lond. 1584); Glanvil, Sadducismus Triumphatus; or, Full and Plain Evidence concerning Witches and Apparitions (ibid. 1689); Baxter, Certainy of the World of Spirits; Mackenzie, A History of the Witches of Renfrewshire (1678); Mather, Memorable Providences relating to Witchcraft and Possessions, with Discoveries and Appendix (Loand. and Boston, 1689); Hutchinson, Historical Essay concerning Witchcraft (1718); Williams, Superstitions of Witchcraft (1865); Mackay, Extraordinary and Popular Delusions (1841); Soldan, Geschichte der Hexenprocesse (Stuttgart, 1843); Upham, Salem Witchcraft (Boston, 1867); Mudge, Witch Hill: a History of Salem
Witchcraft (N.Y. 1871); Conway, Demonology and Devil Lore (Lond. 1879). SEE SUPERSTITION.