Page images
PDF
EPUB

rendered obsolete by the progress of knowledge, were yet, when first enacted, founded in wisdom and on justice.”

“ Really, my love,” replied the Bachelor, looking aghast at this observation, “you begin to grow paradoxical. You do not mean to contend that there was ever any such crime as that for which so many poor wretches suffered death, in consequence of those absurd and superstitious laws ?”

“But I do though,” said Egeria ; “ I do not, it is true, contend, that ever any such power as that which was ascribed to the wizard and the witch actually existed; but, what was almost the same thing, the belief that it did exist was universal; and wicked and malicious persons, by pretending to the possession of it, acquired an influence over the minds of their neighbours, which they often exercised with the worst and most baneful effect. Think, for a moment, what must have been his feelings who believed himself under the influence of their malignant spells ! Misfortunes were not to him merely causes of regret and sorrow, but subjects of the most hideous and horrible conteniplation. He saw not his cattle die of disease, but the victims of unutterable incantations. It was not the wind nor the rain of nature by which his corn was laid, but the trampling of hell-hags, furious with enmity against himself. His sleep was not disturbed by indigestion, or by infirm health, but by dreadful charms, mingled by accursed hands, and made efficacious by the ministry of diabolical agents. The anguish of sickness was exasperated by the pangs of mental suffering; and the invalid who pined in consumption, trembled with the

frightful thought of a waxen image of himself, framed with mysteries under disastrous aspects of the heavens, revolving and melting before an enchanted fire, round which the most loathsome and detestable of beings were convened. The changes of his sensations told him when their cruelty damped the flame, to waste him lingeringly; and, in his sharp and shooting pains, he thought of the witches piercing the image with pins and bodkins. They sat on his heart in his sleep, and they haunted him in his shadow. Were not the causes of such agonies, though but by the management of the imaginations and the ears of the subjects, worthy of punishment ? and shall we therefore say, that the laws, which were framed to deter wretches from the practice of impostures so fatal, were either in themselves uncalled for or unwise ? That those who practised witchcraft believed themselves possessed of the power to which they pretended is not impossible, but I am more inclined to think, that the spell formed but a part of the devices of their malignant cunning ;though it cannot be supposed that there ever was any such ceremonies in use among them as those of the absurd tales of the mysteries of their visitations. For example, look at Gaule's account of the business; was ever any such absurdities either done or attempted as the following ?”

INITIATION OF A WITCH. “ The convention for such a solemn initiation being proclaimed (by some herald imp) to some others of the confederation, on the Lord's day, or some great holyday or chief festival, they meet in some church near the font or high altar, and that very early, before the

mo hide his clovenissing, &c. ape and prote

consecrated bell hath tolled, or the least sprinkling of holy water; or else very late, after all services are past and over. Here the party, in some vesture for that purpose, is presented, by some confederate or familiar, to the prince of devils sitting now on a throne of infernal majesty, appearing in the form of a man (only labouring to hide his cloven foot.) To whom, after bowing, and homage done in kissing, &c. a petition is presented to be received unto his association and protection; and first, if the witch be outwardly Christian, baptism must be renounced, the party must be re-baptized in the devil's name, and a new name is also imposed by him; and here must be god-fathers too, for the devil takes them not to be so adult as to promise and vow for themselves. But above all, he is very busy with his long nails, in scraping and scratching those places of the forehead where the sign of the cross was made, or where the chrism was laid. Instead of both which, he himself impresses or inures the mark of the beast, the devil's flesh brand, upon one or other part of the body, and teaches them to make an oil or ointment of live infants, stolen out of the cradle (before they be signed with the sign of the cross), or dead ones stolen out of their graves; the which they are to boil to a jelly ; and then drinking one part, and besmearing themselves with another, they forth with feel themselves imprest and endowed with the faculties of this mystical art. Further, the witch (for his or her part) vows, (either by word of mouth, or peradventure by writing, and that in their own blood) to give both body and soul to the devil, to deny and defy God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, but especially the blessed Virgin, convitiating her with one infamous nick-name or other ; to abhor the word and sacraments, but especially to spit at the saying of mass; to spurn at the cross, and tread saints’ images under feet; and, as much as possible they may, to profane all saints' reliques, holy water, consecrated salt, wax, &c. To be sure to fast on Sundays, and eat flesh on Fridays, not to confess their sins however they do, especially to a priest. To separate from the Catholic church, and despise God's vicar's primacy. To attend his nocturnal conventicles, sabbaths, sacrifices. To take him for their God, and worship, invoke, obey him, &c. To devote their children to him, and to labour all that they may to bring others into the same confederacy. Then the devil, for his part, promises to be always present with them, to serve them at their beck. That they shall have their wills upon any body; that they shall have what riches, honours, pleasures, they can imagine. And if any be so wary as to think of their future being, he tells them they shall be principalities ruling in the air; or shall but be turned into imps at worst. Then he preaches to them to be mindful of their covenant, and not to fail to revenge themselves upon their enemies. Then he commends to them (for these purposes) an imp or familiar, in the shape of dog, cat, rat, mouse, weasle, &c. After this they shake hands, embrace in arms, dance, feast, and banquet, according as the devil hath provided in imitation of the supper. Nay, ofttimes he marries them ere they part, either to himself, or their familiar, or to one another, and that by the Book of Common Prayer (as a pretender to witch-finding told me in the audience of many.) After this they part, till the next great conventicle, or Sabbath of theirs, which meets thrice in a year, conveyed as swift as the winds from remotest parts of the earth, where the most notorious of them meet to redintegrate their covenant, and give account of their improvement. Where they that have done the most execrable mischief, and can brag of it, make most merry with the devil; and they that have been indiligent, and have done but petty services in comparison, are jeered and derided

by the devil, and all the rest of the company. And such as are absent, and have no care to be assigned, are amerced to this penalty, so to be beaten on the palms of their feet, to be whipt with iron rods, to be pinched and sucked by their familiars till their heart blood come, till they repent them of their sloth, and promise more attendance and diligence for the future.”

“ And what was the condition of the poor wretches,” said the Bachelor, 6 after all this, think you ? Excommunication, horror, and misery, in every form that detestation, contumely, and insult, could inflict. There was no humanity for them. They were regarded as having held hideous commerce with infernal beings. Every evil which befell their neighbours was imputed to their malice. Children fled at their approach, or pursued them with execrations, and hootings, and peltings. Many would not sell to them the necessaries of life. They were tried, by casting them into pools and rivers, and often murdered with impunity. I know few states of human distress more touching, than the condition of an innocent and harmless poor old creature suspected of the crime of witchcraft; an affecting instance of this is mentioned in Satan's Invisible World Discovered, in the case of a miserable woman condemned in 1649. She had been some time accused of the sin; and, being arrested, confessed to the minister of the parish and other witnesses her guilt. Her confession was however suspected, and she was urged to revoke it; but she persisted, and was doomed to suffer. Being carried to the place of execution, she remained silent during the first, second, and third prayer, at the end of which she cried out,”—

« PreviousContinue »