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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, “an art 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 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. :.
I 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 Triumphatus, 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 least 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 upto 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: “The 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
puted a kind of good and honest harmless witches or wizards, who by good words, by hallowed herbes, and salves, and other superstitious ceremonies, promise to allay and calme divels, practices of other witches, and the forces of many diseases."
Perkins by Pickering, 8vo. Cambr. 1610, p. 256, concludes with observing : “It were a thousand times better for the land if all witches, but specially the blessing witch, might suffer death. Men doe commonly hate and spit at the damnifying sorcerer, as unworthie to live among them, whereas they flie unto the other in necessitie, they depend upon him as their God, and by this meanes thousands are carried away to their finall confusion. Death, therefore, is the just and deserved portion of the good witch.”
Baxter, in his World of Spirits, p. 184, speaks of those men that tell men of things stolen and lost, and that show men the face of a thief in a glass, and cause the goods to be brought back, who are commonly called white witches. “When I lived,” he says, “at Dudley, Hodges, at Sedgley, two miles off, was long and commonly accounted such a one, and when I lived at Kederminster, one of my neighbours affirmed, that, having his yarn stolen, he went to Hodges (ten miles off), and be told him that at such an hour he should have it brought home again and put in at the window, and so it was; and as I remember he showed him the person's face in a glass. Yet I do not think that Hodges made any known contract with the devil, but thought it an effect of art.”
The third species, as a mixture of white and black, are styled the gray witches ; for they can both help and hurt.
Thus the end and effect of witchcraft seems to be sometimes good and sometimes the direct contrary. In the first case the sick are healed, thieves are bewrayed, and true men come to their goods. In the second, men, women, children, or animals, as also grass, trees, or corn, &c., are hurt.
The Laplanders, says Scheffer, have a cord tied with knots for the raising of the wind : they, as Ziegler relates it, tie three magical knots in this cord; when they untie the first there blows a favorable gale of wind; when the second, a brisker ; when the third, the sea and wind grow mighty, stormy, and tempestuous. This, he adds, that we have reported concerning the Laplanders, does not in fact belong to them, but to the Finlanders of Norway, because no other writers mention
it, and because the Laplanders live in an inland country. However, the method of selling winds is this : "They deliver a small rope with three knots upon it, with this caution, that when they loose the first they shall have a good wind; if the second, a stronger ; if the third such a storm will arise that they can neither see how to direct the ship and avoid rocks, or so much as stand upon the decks, or handle the tackling.” The same is admitted by King James in his Dæmonology, p. 117. See also the notes to Macbeth.
Pomponius Mela, who wrote in the reign of the Emperor Claudius (P. Mela, iii. c. 6), mentions a set of priestesses in the Island of Sena, or the Ile des Saints, on the coast of Gaul, who were thought to have the quality, like the Laplanders, or rather Finlanders, of troubling the sea, and raising the winds by their enchantments, being, however, subservient only to seafaring people, and only to such of them as come on purpose to consult them.
Ranulph Higden, in the Polychronicon, p. 195, tells us that the witches in the Isle of Man anciently sold winds to mariners, and delivered them in knots tied upon a thread, exactly as the Laplanders did."
The following passage is from Scot's Discovery, p. 33 : “No one endued with common sense but will deny that the elements are obedient to witches and at their commandment, or that they may, at their pleasure, send rain, hail, tempests, thunder, lightning, when she, being but an old doting woman, casteth a flint stone over her left shoulder towards the west, or hurleth a little sea-sand up into the element, or wetteth a broomsprig in water, and sprinkleth the same in the air ; or diggeth a pit in the earth, and, putting water therein, stirreth it about with her finger; or boileth hog's bristles; or layeth sticks across upon a bank where never a drop of water is ; or buryeth sage till it be rotten : all which things are confessed by witches, and affirmed by writers to be the means that witches use to move extraordinary tempests and rain.”
“ Ignorance,” says Osbourne, in his Advice to his Son, 8vo. Oxf. 1656, “reports of witches that they are unable to hurt
The power of confining and bestowing is attributed to Eolus in the Odyssey. Calypso, in other places of the same work, is supposed to have been able to confer favorable winds. See Gent. Mag. for Jan. 1763, xxxii. 13, with the signature of T. Row [the late Dr. Pegge].