Magic and Occult in England
(For the pre-Saxon inhabitants of England, See Celts.) The Anglo-Saxon system of magic was of course Teutonic. Their pretenders to witchcraft were called wicca, scin-laeca, galdor-craeftig, wiglaer, and morthwyrtha. Wiglaer is a combination from wig, an idol or a temple, and laer, learning. He was the wizard, as wicca was the witch. Scinlaeca was a species of phantom or apparition, and was also used as a name of the person who had the power of producing such things: it is, literally, "a shining dead body." Galdor-craeftig implies one skilled in incantations; and morth-wyrtha is, literally, "a worshipper of the dead."
Another general appellation for such personages was dry, a magician.
The best laws visited these practices with penal severity. The best account that can be given of them will be found in the passages proscribing them.
"If any wicca, or wiglaer, or false swearer,or morth-wyrtha, or any foul, contaminated, manifest horcwenan (whore, quean or strumpet), be any where in the land, man shall drive them out." "We teach that every priest shall extinguish all heathendom, and forbid wilweorthunga (fountain-worship), and licwiglunga(incantations of the dead), and hwata (omens), and galdra (magic), and man-worship, and the abominations that men exercise in various sorts of witchcraft, and in frithspottum, and with elms and other trees, and with stones, and with many phantoms."
From subsequent regulations, we find that these practices were made the instruments of the most fatal mischief; for penitentiary penalties are enjoined if any one should destroy another by wicce craefte; orif any should"drive sickness on a man"; or if death should follow from the attempt.
They seem to have used philtres; for it it also made punishable if any should use witchcraft for another's love, or should give him to eat or drink with magic. They were also forbid to wiglian (or to divine)by the moon. Canute renewed the prohibitions. He enjoined them not to worship the sun or the moon, fire or floods, wells or stones, or any sort of tree; not to love wiccecraeft, or frame death-spells, either by lot or by torch; nor to effect any thing by phantoms. From the Poenitentiale of Theodore we also learn, that the power of letting loose tempests was also pretended to.
Another name for magical arts among the Anglo-Saxons was unlybban wyrce,"destructive of life." The penitence is prescribed for a woman who kills a man byunlybban. One instance of philtre using is detailed to us. A woman resolving on the death of her step-son, or to alienate from him his father's affection, sought a witch, who knew how to change minds by arts and enchantments. Addressing such a one with promises and rewards, she enquired how the mind of the father might be turned from the child, and be fixed on herself. The magical medicament was immediately made, and mixed with the husband's meat and drink. The catastrophe of the whole was the murder of the child and the discovery of the crime by the assistant, to revenge the step-mother's ill-treatment.
The charms used by the Anglo-Saxons were innumerable. They trusted in their magical incantations for the cure of disease, for the success of their tillage, for the discovery of lost property, and for the prevention of casualties. Specimens of their charms for these purposes still remain to us. Bede tells us, that "many, in times of disease (neglecting the sacraments) went to the erring medicaments of idolatry, as if to restrain God's chastisements by incantations, phylacteries, or any other secret of the demoniacal arts."
Their prognostications, from the sun, from thunder, and from dreams, were so numerous, as to display and to perpetuate superstition. Every day of every month was catalogued as a propitious or unpropitious season for certain transactions. We have Anglo-Saxon treatises which contain rules for discovering the future and disposition of a child, from the day of its nativity. One day was useful for all things; another, though good to tame animals was baleful to sow seeds. One day was favourable to the commencement of business; another to let blood; and others wore a forbidding aspect to these and other things. On this day one must buy, on a second sell, on a third hunt, on a fourth do nothing. If a child was born on such a day, it would live; if on another, its life would be sickly; if on another, he would perish early. In a word, the most alarming fears, and the most extravagant hopes, were perpetually raised by these foolish superstitions, which tended to keep the mind in the dreary bondage of ignorance and absurdity, which prevented the growth of knowledge, by the incessant war of prejudice, and the slavish effects of the most imbecile apprehensions.
The same anticipations of futurity were made by noticing on what day of the week or month it first thundered, or the new moon appeared, or the new year's day occurred. Dreams likewise had regular interpretations and applications; and thus life, instead of being governed by counsels of wisdom, was directed by those solemn lessons of gross superstition, which the most ignorant peasant or our days would be ashamed to avow.
Although witchcraft was of early origin in England, we do not find many notices of it in the literature of the country, nor does it seem to have been systematically punished until past Reformation times. That is not to say, that no prosecution ever took place against witchcraft in Plantagenet and early Tudor times, but that in all probability the vogue of sorcery was so widespread, and so powerful was supposed to be the protection of a Church that nothing like a crusade was directed against it. Again it was regarded as a political offence to employ sorcery against the ruling powers, and as such it was punished severely enough, as is witnessed by the execution of the Duchess of Gloucester in Henry VI's reign, and the Duke of Buckingham in 1521. In Henry VI's time Lord Hungerford was beheaded for consulting certain soothsayers concerning the duration of the King's life.
According to Sir William Blackstone, "To deny the possibility, nay, the actual existence of witchcraft and sorcery is at once flatly to contradict the revealed Word of God in various passages of the Old and New Testaments, and the thing itself is a truth to which every nation in the world hath in its turn borne testimony."
At very early periods the Church fulminated against those who practised it. In 696 a Canon of Council held at Berkhampstead condemned to corporal punishment those who made sacrifices to evil spirits, and at subsequent dates Statutes against Witchcraft were enacted by the Parliaments of Henry VIII, Elizabeth and James I. Mr. Inderwick says, "For centuries in this country strange as it may now appear, a denial of the existence of such demoniacal agency was deemed equal to a confession of Atheism and to a disbelief in the Holy Scriptures themselves. But not only did Lord Chancellors, Lord Keepers, benches of Bishops and Parliament attest the truth and the existence of witchcraft, but Addison writing as late as 1711, in the pages of the Spectator, after describing himself as hardly pressed by the arguments on both sides of this question expresses his own belief that there is and has been, witchcraft in the land."
It is in the twelfth Century that a first distinct glimpse is obtained of the bond between the Evil One and his victim. The tale of the old woman of Berkeley which Southey's Ballad has familiarised, is related by William of Malmesbury on the authority of a professed eye-witness. When the devil informed the witch of the near expiry of her contract, she summoned the neighbouring monks and her children, and after confessing her criminal compact displayed great anxiety lest Satan should secure her body as well as her soul. She gave directions to be sewn in a stag's hide and placed in a stone coffin, shut in with lead and iron, to be loaded with heavy stones and the whole fastened down with three iron chains. In order to baffle the power of the demons, she further directed fifty psalms to be sung by night, and fifty masses to be sung by day, and that at the end of three nights, if her body was still secure, she said that it might be buried with safety. All these precautions however, proved of no avail. The monks bravely resisted the efforts of the fiends on the first and second nights, but on the third night in the middle of a terrific uproar an immense demon burst into the monastery and in a voice of thunder commanded the dead witch to rise. She replied that she was bound with chains, which however the demon snapped like a thread, the coffin lid fell aside, and on the witch arising the demon bore her off on a huge black horse and galloped into the darkness, while her shrieks resounded through the air. The first trial for witchcraft in England occurred during the tenth year of the reign of King John, when according to the Abbreviato-Placitorum, the wife of Ado the merchant, accused one Gideon of the crime. He proved his innocence however, by the ordeal of the red-hot iron. A trial was reported with more detail in the year 1324. Certain citizens of Coventry had suffered at the hands of the prior whose extortions were approved of and supported by two of Edward II's favourites. By way of revenge they plotted the death of the prior, the favourites, and the King.
In order to carry this into effect they consulted John of Nottingham, a famous Magician of the time and his servant Robert Marshall of Leicester. Marshall however, betrayed the plot and stated that together with his master they fashioned images of wax to represent the King, his two favourites, the prior, his caterer and steward, and one Richard de Lowe - the latter being brought in merely as an experimental lay-figure in which to test the effect of the charm. At an old ruined house near Coventry, on the Friday following Holy Cross Day, John gave his man a sharp pointed leaden branch and commanded him to plunge it into the forehead of the figure representing Richard the Lowe. This being done John dispatched his servant to Lowe's house to find out the result of the experiment. Lowe seems it had lost his sense and went about screaming "Harrow." On the Sunday before Ascension John withdrew the branch from the image's forehead, and thrust it into the heart, where it remained till the following Wednesday when the unfortunate victim died. Such was the evidence of Marshall, but the judges gave it little belief, and after several adjournments the trial was abandoned.
The first enactment against witchcraft in England was by the Parliament of 1541. In 1551 further enactments were levelled at it, but it was not until 1562 that Parliament defined witchcraft as a Capital Crime. Thenceforth followed the regular persecution of Witches. Many burnings occurred during the latter years of Elizabeth's reign.
At the village of Worboise, (q.v.) in the County of Huntingdon in 1589 dwelt two country gentlemen, Robert Throgmorton and Sir Samuel Cromwell. Mr. Throgmorton's family consisted of his wife and five daughters of whom the eldest Joan, a girl of fifteen was possessed with a mind and imagination well stocked with ghost- and witch-lore. On one occasion she had to pass the cottage of a labouring family of the name of Samuel. This family consisted of a man, his wife, and their grown-up daughter. Mother Samuel was sitting at the door wearing a black cap, and busily engaged in knitting. Joan declared that she was a witch, ran home and fell into strange convulsive fits, stating that Mother Samuel had bewitched her. In due course the other daughters respectively were attacked with similar fits, and attributed the blame to Mother Samuel. The parents now began to suspect that their children were really bewitched and reported the matter to Lady Cromwell, who, as an intimate friend of the family took the matter up and along with Sir Samuel ordered that the alleged witch should be put to ordeal. Meanwhile the children let loose their imagination and invented all sorts of weird and grotesque tales about the old woman. Eventually Thogmorton had the poor old woman dragged to his grounds where she was subjected to torture, pins being thrust into her body to see if blood could be drawn. Lady Cromwell tore out a handful of the old crone's hair which she gave to Mrs. Throgmorton requesting her to burn it as an antidote against witchcraft. Suffering under these injuries the old woman invoked a curse against her tortures which was afterwards remembered, though she was allowed her liberty. She thereafter suffered much persecution at the hands of the two families, all ills and misfortunes occurring amongst their cattle and stock being laid to her charge. Eventually Lady Cromwell was seized with an illness that caused her death, and upon old Mother Samuel was laid the responsibility. Repeated efforts were made to persuade her to confess and amend what she had done. At last, tormented beyond endurance, she let herself be persuaded to pronounce an exorcism against the spirits and confessed that her husband and daughter were also associates with her and had sold themselves to the devil. On the strength of this confession the whole family were imprisoned in Huntington Gaol. At the following Session the three Samuels were put upon trial indicated with various offences and "bewitching unto death" the Lady Cromwell. In the agony of torture the old woman confessed all that was required, but her husband and daughter strongly asserted their innocence. All were sentenced to be hanged and burned. The executions were carried out in April 1595.
It is related that in 1594 the Earl of Derby attributed the cause of his death to witchery, though he had no idea of the person who had bewitched him.
The Accession of James I himself a great expert in witchcraft and the author of the famous treatise on demonology (q.v.) gave a great impetus to the persecution of witches in England. "Poor old women and girls of tender age were walked, sworn, shaved, and tortured, the gallows creaked and the fires blazed."
In 1606 there were tried at King's Lynn the wife of one Henry Smith a grocer, for cursing a sailor who had struck a boy, and for cursing her neighbours because they were more prosperous in their trades than she was.
After hearing the most absurd evidence she was convicted and sentenced to death. Upon the scaffold she confessed to various acts of witchcraft.
In 1633 arose the famous case of the Lancashire Witches (q.v.). On the assertion of a boy called Robinson, that he had been carried off and witnessed a witches' Sabbath at the Hoare Stones, some eighteen women were brought to trial at Lancaster Assizes.
As the result of the severe legislation against witchcraft, there arose a class of self-constituted impugners or witch-finders who to their personal advantage were the means of the sacrifice of many innocent lives.
The most famous of these witch-finders was Matthew Hopkins of Manningtree, in Essex. He assumed the title of "Witch-finder General," and with an assistant, and a woman whose duty was to examine female suspects for devil's marks, he travelled about the Counties of Essex, Sussex, Huntington, and Norfolk. In one year this murderer - for want of a better name - caused the death of sixty people. His general test was that of swimming. The hands and feet of accused were tied together crosswise. She was wrapped in a sheet and thrown into a pond. If she sank as frequently happened, she was deemed innocent, but at the cost of her life, if she floated she was pronounced guilty and forthwith executed. Another test was to repeat the Lord's Prayer without a single falter or stumble, a thing accredited impossible for a witch. On one occasion she was weighed against the Church Bible, obtaining her freedom if she outweighed it. It is alleged but without certainty, that on his impostures being found out an angry crowd subjected him to his own test by swimming, but whether he was drowned or executed authorities fail to agree.
In his Witch, Warlock and Magician Mr. Adams says, "I think there can be little doubt that many evil-disposed persons availed themselves to the prevalent belief in witchcraft as a cover for their depredations on the property of their neighbours, diverting suspicion from themselves to the poor witches, who through accidental circumstances had acquired notoriety as the devil's accomplices. It would also seem probable that not a few of the reputed witches similarly turned to account their bad reputation."
It was not till the close of the seventeenth Century that convictions began to be discouraged by the Courts. But an old superstition dies hard, and in the early part of the eighteenth Century witchcraft was generally believed in, in England, even among the educated classes.
Probably the revolution of opinion was effected between the Restoration and the Revolution. According to Dr. Parr, the last execution of witches in England took place at Northampton where two were hung in 1705, and at the same place five others suffered a like fate in 1712. Hutchison commenting on this in his Historical Essay says, "This is the more shameful as I shall hereafter prove from the literature of that time, a disbelief in the existence of witches had become almost universal among educated men, though the old superstition was still defended in the Judgment Seat, and in the pulpit." Wesley who had more influence than all the Bishops put together says, "It is true likewise that the English in general, and, indeed, most of the men of learning in Europe, have given up all accounts of witches and apparitions as mere old wives' fables. I am sorry for it. The giving up of witchcraft, is in effect giving up the Bible. But I cannot give up to all the Deists in Great Britain in existence of witchcraft, till I give up the credit of all history sacred and profane."
Every year however, diminished the old belief, and in 1736, a generation before Wesley stated the above opinions, the laws against witchcraft were repeated, but as illustrative of the long lived prevalence of the superstition in 1759 Susannah Hannaker of Wengrove, in Wiltshire, was put to the ordeal of weighing, but she fortunately outweighed the Bible. Cases of ducking supposed witches occurred in 1760 at Leicester, in 1785 at Northampton, and in 1829 at Monmouth, while as recently as 1863 a Frenchman died as the result of an illness caused by his having been ducked as a Wizard, at Castle Hedingham in Essex, and on September 17th, 1875, an old woman named Ann Turner, a reputed witch, was killed by a feeble-minded man at Long Compton in Warwickshire.
See Wright, Narrative of Sorcery and Magic; and Mackay, Extraordinary Popular Delusions.
Magic in England in early times is of course one with witchcraft, and it is only when we discern the stupendous figure of Roger Bacon (q.v.) that we find any thing like separation between the two. Of course, the popular traditions concerning Bacon are merely legendary, but they assist to crystallise for us the idea of an English magician of medieval times. The Elizabethan History of Friar Bacon was probably the first which placed these traditions on record. Here we have no concern with the Bacon of science, for the Bacon of magic is a magician who cheated the Devil, who made a brazen head that spoke, and who engaged in all manner of black magic.
In England the popular belief in magic was strengthened by the extraordinary effects of natural processes then known only to a small number of individuals who concealed their knowledge with the most profound secrecy. In England, as we approach the age of the Reformation, we find that the study of magic and alchemy have become extremely common among the Romish clergy. The rapid rise to power of men like Wolsey and Cromwell led people to think that they had gained their high positions through diabolical assistance. The number of Magicians in the reign of Henry VIII was exceedingly great, as is witnessed by documents in the Record Office. At the height of Wolsey's greatness, a magician who is described as "one Wood, gent." was dragged before the Privy-council, charged with some misdemeanour which was connected with the intrigues of the day. In a paper addressed to the lords of the council, Wood states that William Neville had sent for him to his house at Oxford, it being the first communication he had ever had with that "person." After he had been at Weke a short time, Neville took him by the arm and led him privately into the garden, and, to use the quaint language of the original, "their demawndyd of me many questyons, amownd all other askyd (if it) were not possible to have a rynge made that should brynge man in favor with hys prynce, saying my lord cardinale had suche a rynge that whatsomevere he askyd of the kynges grace that he hadd yt, 'and master Cromwell, when he and I were servauntys in my lord cardynales house, dyd hawnt to the company of one that was seyne in your faculté, and shortly after no man so grett with my lord cardynale as master Cromwell was." Neville added, that he had spoken "with all those who have any name in this realm," who had assured him that in the same way he might become "great with his prince," and he ended by asking of the reputed magician what books he had studied on the subject. The latter continued, "and I, at the harté desire of hym showyd that I had rede many bokes, and specyally the boke of Salamon, and how his rynges be made and what mettell, and what vertues they had after the canon of Salamon." He added, that he had also studied the magical work of Hermes. William Neville then requested him to undertake the making of a ring, which he says that he declined, and so went away for that time. But Neville sent for him again, and entered into further communication with him on the old subject, telling him that he had with him another conjurer, named Wade, who could show him more than he should; and, among other things, had showed him that "he should be a great lord." This was an effective attempt to move Wood's jealousy; and it appears that Neville now prevailed upon him to make "moldes," probably images, "to the entent that he showld wed mastres Elezebeth Gare," on whom he seemed to have set his love. Perhaps she was a rich heiress. Wood then enters into excuses for himself, declaring that, although at the desire of "some of his friends," he had "called to a stone for things stolen," he had not undertaken to find treasures, and he concluded with the naive boast, "but to make the phylosofer's stone, I will chebard (i.e. jeopard) my lyffe to do hyt, yf hyt plesse the kynges good grace to command me do hyt." This was the pride of science above the low practitioner's. He even offered to remain in prison until he had performed his boast, and only asked "twelve months upon silver, and twelve and a half upon gold."
The search for treasures, which the conjurer Wood so earnestly disclaims, was, however, one of the most usual occupations of our magicians of this period. The frequent discoveries of Roman or Saxon, or medieval deposits, in the course of accidental digging - then probably more common than at present - was enough to whet the appetite of the needy or the miserly, and the belief that the sepulchral barrow, or the long deserted ruin, or even the wild and haunted glen, concealed treasures of gold and silver of great amount has been carried down to our own days in a variety of local legends. Hidden treasures were under the particular charge of some of the spirits who obeyed the magician's call, and we still trace his operations in many a barrow that has been disturbed, and ruined floor that has been broken up. That these searches were not always successful will be evident from the following narrative:
In the reign of Henry VIII, a priest named William Stapleton was placed under arrest as a conjurer, and as having been mixed up in some court intrigues, and at the request of Cardinal Wolsey he wrote an account of his adventures, still preserved in the Roll's House records (for it is certainly addressed to Wolsey, and not, as has been supposed, to Cromwell). Stapleton says that he had been a monk of the mitred abbey of St. Benet in the Holm, in Norfolk, where he was resident in the nineteenth year of Henry VIII, i.e. in 1527 or 1528, at which time he borrowed of one Dennys, of Hofton, who had procured them of the vicar of Watton, a book called Thesaurus Spirituum, and after that another, called Secreta Secretorum, a little ring, a plate, a circle, and also a sword for the art of digging, in studying the use of which he spent six months. Now it appears that Stapleton had small taste for early rising, and after having been frequently punished for being absent from matins and negligent of his duty in church he obtained a licence of six months from the abbot to go into the world, and try and raise money to buy a dispensation from an order which seemed so little agreeable to his taste. The first person he consulted with was his friend Dennys, who recommended him to try his skill in finding treasure, and introduced him to two "knowing men," who had "placards" or licences from the king to search for treasure trove, which were not unfrequently bought from the crown at this period. These men lent him other books and instruments belonging to the "art of digging," and they went together to a place named Sidestrand in Norfolk, to search and mark out the ground where they thought treasure should lie. It happened, however, that the lady Tyrry, to whom the estate belonged, received intelligence of their movements, and after sending for them and subjecting them to a close examination, ordered them to leave her grounds.
After this rebuff, the treasure-seekers went to Norwich, where they became acquainted with another conjurer named Godfrey, who had a "shower" of spirit, "which spirit," Stapleton says, "I had after myself," and they went together to Felmingham, and there Godfrey's boy did "scry" unto the spirit, but after opening the ground they found nothing there. There are Roman barrows at Felmingham, which, when examined recently, appeared to have been opened at a former period in search of treasure. The disappointed conjurers returned to Norwich, and there met with a stranger, who brought them to a house in which it was supposed that treasure lay concealed, and Stapleton again applied himself to his incantations, and called the spirit of the treasure to appear, but he turned a deaf ear to their charms, "for I suppose of a truth," is the pithy observation of the operator," that there was none."
Disappointed and disgusted, Stapleton now gave up the pursuit. In Norfolk, however, he son met with some of his old treasure seeking acquaintances, who urged him to go to work again, which he refused to do unless his books were better. They told him of a man of the name of Leech, who had a book, to which the parson of Lesingham had bound a spirit called "Andrea Malchus;" and to this man he went. Leech let him have all his instruments, and told him further that the parson of Lesingham and Sir John of Leiston (another eccleseiastic) with others, had called up of late by means of the book in question three spirits, Andrea Machus (before mentioned), Oberion and Ichubus. "Whn the spirits," he said, "were all raised, Oberion would in nowise speak. And then the parson of Lesingham did demand of Andrea Malchus, and so did Sir John Leiston also, why Oberion would not speak to them. And Andrea Malchus made answer, "For because he was bound unto the lord cardinal." And that also they did entreat the said person of Lesingham, and the said Sir John of Leiston, that they might depart as at that time; and whensoever it might please them to call them up again, they would gladly do them any service they could."
When Stapleton had made this important acquisition, he repaired again to Norwich, where he had not long been, when he was found by a messenger from the personage whom he calls the lord Leonard Marquees, who lived at "Calkett Hall," and who wanted a person expert in the art of digging. He met lord Leonard at Walsingham, who promised him that if he would take pains in exercising the said art he would sue out a dispensation for him to be a secular priest, and to make him his chaplain. The lord Leonard proceeded rather shrewdly to make trial of the searcher's talents; for he directed one of his servants to hide a sum of money in the garden, and Stapleton "hewed" for it, and one, Jackson "scryed," but he was unable to find the money. Yet, without being daunted at this slip Stapleton went directly with two other priests, Sir John Shepe and Sir Robert Porter, to a place beside Creke Abbey, where treasure was supposed to be, and Sir John Shepe called the spirit of the treasure, and I shewed to him, but all came to no purpose."
Stapleton now went to hide his disappointment in London, and remained there some weeks, till the lord Leonard, who had sued out his dispensation as he promised, sent for him to pass the winter with him in Leicestershire, and towards spring he returned to Norfolk. And there he was informed that there was "much money" hidden in the neighborhood of Calkett Hall, and especially in the Bell Hill (probably an ancient tumulus or barrow), and after some delay, he obtained his instruments, and went to work with the parish priest of Gorleston, but "of truth we could bring nothing to effect." On this he again repaired to London, carrying his instruments with him, and on his arrival he was thrown into prison at the suit of the lord Leonard, who accused him of leaving his service without permission, and all his instruments were seized. These he never recovered, but he was soon liberated from prison, and obtained temporary employment in the church.
But his conjuring propensities seem still to have lingered about him, and we find this ex-monk and hermit, and now secular priest, soon afterwards engaged in an intrigue which led him eventually into a much more serious danger. It appears by Stapleton's statements, that one Wright, a servant of the Duke of Norfolk, came to him, and "at a certain season shewed me that the duke's grace, his master was soore vexed with a spyrytt by the enchantment of your grace" (he is addressing Wolsey). Stapleton says, that he refused to interfere, but that Wright went to the duke and told him that he, Stapleton, knew of his being enchanted by Cardinal Wosley, and that he could help him; upon which the duke sent for Stapleton, and had an interview with him. It had previously been arranged by Wright and Stapleton (who says that he had been urged into the plot by the persuasion of Wright, and by the hope of gain and prospect of obtaining the duke's favour) that he should say he knew that the duke was persecuted by a spirit, and that he had "forged" an image of wax in his similitude, which he had enchanted, in order to relieve him. The Duke of Norfolk appears at first to have placed implicit belief in all that Stapleton told him; he inquired of him if he had certain knowledge that the Lord Cardinal had a spirit at his command, to which he replied in the negative. He then questioned him as to his having heard anyone assert that the cardinal had a spirit; on which Stapleton told him of the raising of Oberion by the parson of Lesingham and Sir John of Leiston, and how Oberion refused to speak, because he was the lord cardinal's spirit. The duke, however, soon after this, became either suspicious or fearful, and he eventually sent Stapleton to the cardinal himself, who appears to have committed him to prison, and at whose order he drew up the account here abridged.
The foregoing is the history of a man who, after having been a victim to his implicit belief in the efficiency of magical operations was himself driven at last to have recourse to intentional deception. The number of such treasure-hunters appears to have been far greater among his contemporaries, of almost all the classes of society, than we should at first glance be led to suppose. A few years before the date of these events, in the 12th year of Henry VIII, or A.D. 1521, the king had granted to Robert, Lord Curzon, the monopoly of treasure-seeking in the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk, and Lord Curzon immediately delegated to a man, named William Smith, of Clopton, and a servant or retainer of his own, named Amylyon, not only the right of search thus given to him, but the power to arrest and proceed against any other person they found seeking treasures within the two counties. It appears that Smith and Amylyon had in some cases used this delegated authority for purposes of extortion; and in the summer of the same year, Smith was brought up before the court of the city of Norwich, at the suit of William Goodred, of Great Melton, the minutes of the proceedings against him still remaining on the records. We here again find priests concerned in these singular operations.
It appears that the treasure-diggers, who had received their "placard" of Lord Curzon in March, went to Norwich about Easter, and paid a visit to the schoolmaster, named George Dowsing, dwelling in the parish of St. Faith, who, they had heard, was "seen in astronymye." They shewed him their licence for treasure-seeking, which authorised him to press into their service any persons they might find who had skill in the science; so that it would appear that they were not capable of raising spirits themselves without the assistance of "scholars." The schoolmaster entered willingly into their project, and they went, about two or three o'clock in the morning, with one or two other persons who were admitted into their confidence, and dug in ground beside "Butter Hilles," within the walls of the city, but "found nothing there." These "hilles," also, were probably tumuli. They next proceeded to a place called "Seynt William in the Wood by Norwich," where they excavated two days (or rather two nights), but with no better success.
They now held a meeting at the house of one Saunders, in the market of Norwich, and called to their assistance two ecclesiastics, one named Sir William, the other Sir Robert Cromer, the former being the parish priest of St. Gregory's. At this meeting, George Dowsing raised "a spirit of two," in a glass; but one of the priests, Sir Robert Cromer, "began and raised a spirit first." This spirit, according to the depositions, was seen by two or three persons. Amylyon deposed that "he was at Saunders's where Sir Robert Cromer held up a stone, but he could not perceive anything in it; but that George Dowsing caused to rise in a glass a little thing of the length of an inch or thereabout, but whether it was a spirit or a shadow he cannot tell, but the said George said it was a spirit." However, spirit or no spirit, they seem to have had as little success as ever in discovering the treasure.
Unable after so many attempts, to find the treasure themselves, they seem now to have resolved on laying a general contribution on everybody who followed the same equivocal calling. They went first and accused a person of the name of Wikman, or Morley Swanton, in the county of Norfolk, of "digging of hilles," and, by threatening to take him before Lord Curzon, they obtained from him ten shillings. Under the same pretext, they took from a lime-burner of Norwich, named White, a "christal-stone," and twelvepence in money in order that he "should not be put to further trouble." They took both books (probably conjuring books) and money from John Wellys, of Hunworth, near Holt Market, whom, similarly, they accused of "digging the hilles." And of another person, labouring under the same charge, they took "a christal stone and certain money."
With the era of Dr. Dee (q.v.) Edward Kelly, (q.v.) their school, a much more definite system of magico-astrology was evolved on English soil. Although Dee was credulous and Kelly was a rogue of the first water, there is little doubt that the former possessed psychic gifts of no mean character. His most celebrated followers were William Lilly (q.v.) and Evans (q.v.). Lilly gathered about him quite a band of magicians, Ramsey, Scott, Hodges, and others, not to speak of his "skryers" Sarah Skelhorm and Ellen Evans. But these may be said to be the last of the practical magicians of England. Their methods were those of divination by crystal-gazing and evocation of spirits, combined with practical astrology.
For the beginnings of spiritualism in England we must go back to the middle of the seventeenth century when Maxwell and Robert Fludd (q.v.) flourished and wrote concerning the secrets of mysticism and magnetism. Fludd was a Paracelsian pure and simple and regarded man as the microcosm of the universe in miniature. He was an ardent defender of the Rosicrucians, concerning whom he wrote two spirited works, as well as his great Tractatus Apologeticus and many other alchemical and philosophical treatises. The part of the Tractatus which deals with natural magic is one of the most authoritative ever penned on the subject, and divides the subject most minutely into its several parts. Thomas Vaughan (q.v.) is likewise a figure of intense interest about this period. He was a supreme adept of spiritual alchemy and his many works written under the Pseudonym of Eugenius Philalethes show him to have possessed an exalted mind. It is to men of this type, magi, perhaps, but none the less spiritualists, that the whole superstructure of English spiritualism is indebted.
(See further Spiritualism in England under article Spiritualism.)
Did You Enjoy This Article? Share It With Your Friends
Shop at the
New Age Store