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OBSERVATIONS

ON

POPULAR

ANTIQUITIES.

SORCERY OR WITCHCRAFT.

WAIVING the consideration of the many controversies formerly kept up on this subject, founded on misinterpretation of various passages in the sacred writings, it is my purpose in the present section to consider witchcraft only as a striking article of popular mythology; which, however, bids fair in another century to be entirely forgotten.

Witchcraft is defined by Reginald Scot, in his Discovery, p. 284, to be, “in estimation of the vulgar people, a supernatural work between a corporal old woman and a spiritual devil ;” but, he adds, speaking his own sentiments on the subject, “it is, in truth, a cozening art, wherein the name of God is abused, prophaned, and blasphemed, and his power attributed to a vile creature.” Perkins defines witchcraft to be “an art serving for the working of wonders by the assistance of the Devil, so far as God will permit;” and Delrio,“ in which, by the power of the contract entered into with the Devil, some wonders are wrought which pass the common understanding of men.

Witchcraft, in modern estimation, is a kind of sorcery (especially in women), in which it is ridiculously supposed that an old woman, by entering into a contract with the Devil, is enabled in many instances to change the course of Nature, to raise winds, perform actions that require more than

an art

human strength, and to afflict those that offend her with the sharpest pains."

King James's reason, in his Dæmonology, why there are or were twenty women given to witchcraft for one man, is curious. “The reason is easy,” as this sagacious monarch thinks, “ for, as that sex is frailer than man is, so is it easier to be entrapped in these grosse snares of the Divell, as was over well proved to be true by the serpent's deceiving of Eva at the beginning, which makes him the homelier with that sexe sensine." His majesty, in this work, quaintly calls the Devil “God's ape and hangman.”

Gibbon, in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, viii. ed. 1789-90, p. 157, speaking of the laws of the Lombards, A.D. 643, tells us : "The ignorance of the Lombards, in the state of Paganism or Christianity, gave implicit credit to the malice and mischief of witchcraft; but the judges of the seventeenth century might have been instructed and confounded by the wisdom of Rotharis, who derides the absurd superstition, and protects the wretched victims of popular or judicial cruelty." He adds in a note : “See Leges Rotharis, No. 379, p. 47. Striga is used as the name of witch. It is of the purest classic origin (Horat. Epod. v. 20; Petron. c. 134); and from the words of Petronius (quæ Striges comederunt nervos tuos ?) it may be inferred that the prejudice was of Italian rather than barbaric extraction.”

Gaule, in his Select Cases of Conscience, touching Witches and Witchcrafts, 1646, observes, p. 4: “In every place and parish, every old woman with a wrinkled face, a furred brow, a hairy lip, a gobber tooth, a squint eye, a squeaking voice, a scolding tongue, having a rugged coate on her back, a skullcap on her head, a spindle in her hand, a dog or cat by her side, is not only suspected but pronounced for a witch.

1

1 Witch is derived from the Dutch witchelen, which signifies whinnying and neighing like a horse : in a secondary sense, also, to foretell and prophesy; because the Germans, as Tacitus informs us, used to divine and foretell things to come by the whinnying and neighing of their horses. His words are hinnitu et fremitu.In Glanvil's Sadducismus Tri. umphatus, postcript, p. 12, witch is derived from the verb “to weet," to know, i. e. “the knowing woman,” answering to the Latin Saga, which is of the same import. Wizard he makes to signify the same, with the difference only of sex.

Every new disease, notable accident, miracle of Nature, rarity of art, nay, and strange work or just judgment of God, is by them accounted for no other but an act or effect of witchcraft.” He says, p. 10: “Some say the devill was the first witch when he plaied the impostor with our first parents, possessing the serpent (as his impe) to their delusion (Gen.iii.); and it is whispered that our grandame Eve was a little guilty of such kind of society.” • Henry, in his History of Great Britain, iv. 543, 4to., speaking of our manners between A.D. 1399 and 1485, says : “There was not a man then in England who entertained the Jeast doubt of the reality of sorcery, necromancy, and other diabolical arts.”

According to the popular belief on this subject, there are three sorts of witches : the first kind can hurt but not help, and are with singular propriety called the black witches.

The second kind, very properly called white ones, have gifts directly opposite to those of the former; they can help, but not hurt. By the following lines of Dryden, however, the white witch seems to have a strong hankering after mischief:

“ At least as little honest as he could,

And like white witches mischievously good.” Gaule, as cited before, says: “According to the vulgar conceit, distinction is usually made between the white and the black witch ; the good and the bad witch. The bad witch they are wont to call him or her that workes malefice or mischiefe to the bodies of men or beasts; the good witch they count him or her that helps to reveale, prevent, or remove the

same.

Cotta, in the Tryall of Witchcraft, p. 60, says: "This kinde is not obscure, at this day swarming in this kingdom, whereof no man can be ignorant who lusteth to observe the uncontrouled liberty and licence of open and ordinary resort in all places unto wise men and wise women, so vulgarly termed for their reputed knowledge concerning such deceased persons as are supposed to be bewitched.” The same author, in his Short Discoverie of Unobserved Dangers, 1612, p. 71, says: mention of witchcraft doth now occasion the remembrance in the next place of a sort (company) of practitioners whom our custome and country doth call wise men and wise women, re

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