Witchcraft:  (From Saxen Wicea, a contraction of miega, a prophet or sorcerer.) The cult of persons who, by means of satanic assistance or the aid of evil spirits or familiars, are enabled to practice minor black magic. But the difference between the sorcerer and the witch is that the former has sold his soul to Satan for complete dominion over him for a stated period, whereas the witch usually appears as the devoted and often badly treated servant of the diabolic power. But she is often mistress of a familiar, her bounden slave, and among certain savage peoples her occult powers are self-evolved. The concept of witchcraft was perhaps brought into being by the mythic influence of conquered races. It closely resembles in ritual and practice the deraonism of savage races, from which it probably sprang. That is, the non-Aryan peoples of Europe who preceded the Aryan population, carrying on the practice and traditions of their religions more or less in secret, awoke in the Aryan mind the idea that such practices were of "magical" character. This idea they would not fail to assist, and would probably exaggerate such details as most strongly impressed the Aryan mind, to which their gods would appear as "devils," and their religious ritual as sorcery. This view has been combated on the ground that the gap betwixt, say, the extinction of the pre-Aryan religion known as Druidism and the first notices of witchcraft, is too great to bridge. But Druidism continued to exist long after it was officially extinct, and British witchcraft is its lineal successor. The theory is further advanced that on the failure of the non-Aryan priesthood novices would be adopted from the invading race for the purpose of carrying on the old religion. It seems to the present writer that the circumstance that the greater number of the upholders of this ancient tradition were women points to the likelihood of an early custom of the adoption or marriage of Aryan women by a non-Aryan people who would prefer to recruit their novices and devotees from the more plastic sex, naturally distrusting the masculine portion of an alien people to fall in with their religious ideas, and that the almost exclusive employment of women in the cult (in Britain, at least) originated in this practice. Then individually all claimed to have been initiated. Says Gomme, " I am inclined to lay great stress upon the act of initiation. It emphasizes the idea of a caste distinct from the general populace, and it postulates the existence of this caste anterior to the time when those who practice their supposed powers first come into notice. Carrying back this act of initiation age after age, as the dismal records of witchcraft enable us to do for some centuries, it is clear that the people from time to time thus introduced into the witch caste carried oa the practices and assumed the functions of the caste even though they came to it as novices and strangers. We thus arrive at an artificial means of descent of a peculiar group of superstition, and it might be termed initiatory descent." This concept, thinks Gomme (Folklore as an Historical Science, p. zor at seq.) was influenced in the
by another. 

Traditional practices, traditional formula, and traditional beliefs are no doubt the elements of witchcraft, but it was not the force of tradition which produced the miserable doings of the Middle Ages, and of the seventeenth century against witches. These were due to a psychological force, partly generated by the newly acquired power of the people to read the Bible for themselves, and so to apply the witch stories of the Jews to neighbors of their own who possessed powers or peculiarities which they could not understand, and partly generated by the carrying on of traditional practices by certain families or groups of persons who could only acquire knowledge of such practices by initiation or family teaching. Lawyers, magistrates, judges, nobles and monarchs are concerned with witchcraft. These are not minds that have been crushed by civilization, but minds which have misunderstood it or misused it."


The mediaeval criminal records abound in descriptions of a ceremony at which the rites of the witch cult were periodically celebrated. This was the witches' Sabbath. The Sabbath was generally held in some wild and solitary spot, often in the midst of forests or on the heights of mountains, at a great distance from the residence of most of the visitors. The circumstance connected with it most difficult of proof was the method of transport from one place to another. The witches nearly all agreed in the statement that they divested themselves of their clothes and anointed their bodies with an ointment made for that especial purpose. They then strode across a stick, or any similar article, and, muttering a charm, were carried through the air to the place of meeting in an incredibly short space of time. Sometimes the stick was to be anointed as well as their persons. They generally left the house by the window or by the chimney, which perhaps suggests survival of the custom of an earth-dwelling people. Sometimes the witch went out by the door, and there found a demon in the shape of a goat, or at times of some other animal, who carried her away on his back, and brought her home again after the meeting was dissolved. In the confessions extorted from them at their trials, the witches and sorcerers bore testimony to the truth of all these particulars; but those who judged them, and who wrote upon the subject, asserted that they had many other independent proofs in corroboration.

We are told by Bodin that a man who lived at the little town of Loches having observed that his wife frequently absented herself from the house in the night, became suspicious of her conduct, and at last by his threats obliged her to confess that she was a witch, and that she attended the Sabbaths. To appease the anger of her husband, she agreed to gratify his curiosity by taking him with her to the next meeting, but she warned him on no account whatever to allow the name of God or of the Savior to cross his lips. At the appointed time they stripped and anointed themselves, and, after uttering the necessary formula, they were suddenly transported to the landes of Bordeaux, at an immense distance from their own dwelling. The husband there found himself in the midst of a great assembly of both sexes in the same state of deshabille as himself and his wife, and in one part he saw the devil in a hideous form; but in the first moment of his surprise he inadvertently uttered the exclamation, " Man Lieu! ou sommes-nous ? " and all disappeared as suddenly from his view, leaving him cold and naked in the middle of the fields, where he wandered till morning, when the countrymen coming to their daily occupations told him where he was, and he made his way home in the best manner he could. But he lost no time in denouncing his wife, who was brought to her trial, confessed, and was burnt.

As the witches generally went from their beds at night to the meetings, leaving their husbands and family behind them, it may seem extraordinary that their absence was not more frequently perceived. They had, however, a method of providing against this danger, by casting a drowsiness over those who might be witnesses, and by placing in their bed an image which, to all outward appearance, bore an exact resemblance to themselves, although in reality was nothing more than a besom or some other similar article. But the belief was so inculcated that the witches did not always go in. body to the Sabbath—that they were present only in spirit, whilst their body remained in bed. Some of the more rational writers on witchcraft taught that this was the only manner in which they were ever carried to the Sabbaths, and various instances are deposed to where that was manifestly the case. The president, Touretta told Bodin that he had examined a witch, who was subsequently burnt in the Dauphine, and who was carried to the Sabbath in this manner. Her master one night found her stretched on the floor before the fire in a state of insensibility and imagined her to be dead. In his attempt to arouse her, he first beat her body with great severity, and then applied fire to the more sensitive parts, which being without effect, he left her in the belief that she had died suddenly. His astonishment was great when in the morning he found her in her own bed, in an evident state of great suffering. When he asked what ailed her, her only answer was, "Ha! mon maistre, tant m'avez batue!" When further pressed, however, she confessed that during the time her body lay in a state of insensibility, she had been herself to the witches' Sabbath, and upon this avowal she was committed to prison. Bodin further informs us that at Bordeaux, in 1571, an old woman, who was condemned to the fire for witchcraft, and confessed that she was transported to the Sabbath in this manner. One of her judges, who was personally known to Bodin, while she was under examination, pressed her to show him how she was effected, and released her from the fetters for that purpose. She rubbed herself in different parts of the^body with " a certain grease," and immediately became stiff and insensible and, to all appearance, dead. She remained in this state about five hours, and then as quickly revived, and told her inquisitors a great number of extraordinary things, which showed that she must have been spiritually transported to far distant places.

The description of the Sabbath given by the witches differed only in slight particulars of detail; for their examinations were all carried on upon one model and measure—a veritable bed of Procrustes, and equally fatal to those who were placed upon it. The Sabbath was, in general, an immense assemblage of witches and demons, sometimes from distant parts of the earth, at others only from the province or district in which it was held. On arriving, the visitors performed their homage to the evil one with unseemly ceremonies, and presented their new converts. They then gave an account of all the mischief they had done since the last meeting. Those who had neglected to do evil, or who had so far overlooked themselves as to do good, were treated with disdain, or severely punished. Several of the victims of the French courts in the latter part of this century confessed that, having been unwilling or unable to fulfill the commands of the evil one, when they appeared at the Sabbath he had beaten them in the most cruel manner. He took one woman, who had refused to bewitch her neighbor's daughter, and threatened to drown her in the Moselle. Others were plagued in their bodies, or by destruction of their property. Some were punished for their irregular attendance at the Sabbath; and one or two, for slighter offences, were condemned to walk home from the Sabbath instead of being carried through the air. Those, on the other hand, who had exerted most their mischievous propensities were highly honored at the Sabbath, and often rewarded
with gifts of money, After this examination was passed, the demon distributed among his worshippers unguents, powders, and other articles for the perpetration ot evil. A French witch, executed in 1580, confessed that some of her companions offered a sheep or a heifer; and another, executed the following year, stated that animals of a black color were most acceptable. A third, executed at Gerbeville in 1585, declared that no one was exempt from this offering, and that the poorer sort offered a hen of a chicken, and some even a lock of their hair, a little bird, or any trifle, they could put their hands upon. Severe punishments followed the neglect of this ceremony. In many instances, according to the confessions of the witches, besides their direct worship of the devil, they were obliged to show their abhorrence of the faith they had deserted by trampling on the cross, and blaspheming the saints, and by other profanations.

Before the termination of the meeting, the new witches received their familiars, or imps, who they generally addressed as their " little masters," although they were bound to attend at the bidding of the witches, and execute their desires. These received names, generally of a popular character, such as were given to cats, and dogs, and other pet animals and the similarity these names bear to each Other in different countries is very remarkable. 

After all these preliminary ceremonies had been transacted, and a great banquet was laid out, and the whole company fell to eating and drinking and making merry. At times, every article of luxury was placed before them, and they feasted in the most sumptuous manner. Often, however, the meats served on the table were nothing but toads and rats, and other articles of a revolting nature. In general they had no salt, and seldom bread. But, even when-best served, the money and the victuals furnished by the demons were of the most unsatisfactory character ; a circumstance of which no rational explanation is given. The coin when brought forth by open daylight! was generally found to be nothing better than dried leaves or bits of dirt; and, however, greedily they may have eaten at the table, they commonly left the meeting in a state of exhaustion from hunger.

The tables were next removed, and feasting gave way to wild and uproarious dancing and revelry. The common dance, or carole, of the middle ages appears to have been performed by the persons taking each other's hand in a circle, alternately a man and a woman. This, probably the ordinary dance among the peasantry, was the one generally practiced at the Sabbaths of the witches, with this peculiarity, that their backs instead of their faces were turned inwards. The old writers endeavor to account for this, by supposing that it was designed to prevent them from seeing and recognizing each other. But this, it is clear, was not the only dance of the Sabbath; perhaps more fashionable ones were introduced for witches in better conditions in society; and moralists of the succeeding age maliciously insinuate that many dances of a not very decorous character invented by the devil himself to heat the imaginations of his victims, had subsequently been adopted in classes in society who did not frequent the Sabbath. It may be observed, as a curious circumstance that the modern waltz is first traced among the meetings of the witches and their imps ! It was also confessed, in almost every case, that the dances at the Sabbaths produced much greater fatigue than commonly arose from such exercises. Many of the witches declared that, on their return home, they were usually unable to rise from their bed for two or three days.

Their music, also, was by no means of an ordinary character. The songs were generally obscene, or vulgar, or ridiculous. Of instruments there was considerable variety, but all partaking of the burlesque character of the proceedings.

"Some played the flute upon a stick or bone; another was seen striking a horse's skull for a lyre; there you saw them beating the drum on the trunk of an oak, with a stick; here, others were blowing trumpets with the branches, The louder the instrument, the greater satisfaction it gave; and the dancing became wilder and wilder, until it merged into a vast scene of confusion, and ended in scenes over which, though minutely described in the old treatises on demonology, it will be better to throw a veil." The witches separated in time to reach their homes before cock-crow.

We then see that Satan had taken the place of the deities of the older and abandoned cults of the non-Aryans, whose obscene rites were attended by "initiated" or "adopted" neophytes of a race to the generality of which they were abominable, that witches often worked by means of familiars, whose shapes they were able to take, or by means of direct satanic agency. But there were probably mythological elements in witchcraft as well.

Powers of Witches

In the eyes of the populace the powers of witches were numerous. The most peculiar of these were : The ability to blight by means of the evil eye the sale of winds to sailors, power over animals, and capacity to transform themselves into animal shapes. Thus, says Gomme—" The most usual transformations are into cats and hares, and less frequently into red deer, and these have taken the place of wolves. Thus, cat-transformations are found in Yorkshire, hare-transformations in Devonshire, Yorkshire and Wales, and Scotland, deer-transformations in Cumberland, raven-transformations in Scotland, cattle-transformations in Ireland.

Indeed the connection between witches and the lower animals is a very close one, and hardly anywhere in Europe does it occur that this connection is relegated to a subordinate place. Story after story, custom after custom is recorded as appertaining to witchcraft, and animal transformation appears always.

Witches also possessed the power of making themselves invisible, by means of a magic ointment supplied to them by the devil, and of harming others by thrusting nails into a waxen image representing them.

Witchcraft among primitive People—Witchcraft among primitive people is, of course, allied to the various cults of demonism in vogue among barbarian folk all over the world. These are indicated in the various articles dealing with uncultured races. The name witchcraft is merely a convenient English label for such savage demon-cults, as is " witch-doctors " applied to those who " smell out " these practitioners of evil.

Evidence for Witchcraft

The evidence for witchcraft, says Podrnore (Modern Spiritualism) falls under four main heads: (a) the confessions of witches themselves; (b) the corroborative evidence of lycanthropy, apparitions, etc.; (c) the witch-marks; (d) the evidence of the evil effects produced upon the supposed victims.

The confessions, as is notorious, were for the most part extracted by torture, or by lying promises of release. In England, where torture was not countenanced by the law, the ingenuity of Matthew Hopkins and other professional witch-finders could generally devise some equally efficient substitute, such as gradual starvation, enforced sleeplessness, or the maintenance for hours of a constrained and painful posture. But apart from these extorted confessions, there is evidence that in some cases the accused persons were actually driven by the accumulation of testimony against them, by the pressure of public opinion, and the singular circumstances in which they were placed, to believe and confess that they were witches indeed. Some of the women in Salem who had pleaded guilty to witchcraft explained afterwards, when the persecution had died down they had been "consternated and affrighted even out of their reason" to confess that of which they were innocent. And there were not a few persons who voluntarily confessed to the practice of witchcraft, nocturnal rides, compacts with the devil, and all the rest of it." The most striking instances of this voluntary confession are afforded by children. For even among the earlier writers on witchcraft the opinion was not uncommonly held that the nocturnal rides and banquets with the devil were merely delusions, thought the guilt of the witch was not lessened thereby. And in. the sixteenth centuries, at least in English-speaking countries this belief seems to have been generally alike by believers in witchcraft and their opponents. Thus Gaule: "But the more prodigious or stupendous (of the things narrated by witches in their confessions) are effected merely by the devil; the witches all the while either in a rapt ecstasy, a charmed sleep, or a melancholy dream; and the witches imagination, phantasie, common sense, only deluded with what is now done, or pretended. Even Antoinette Bourig-non, observing her scholars eat "great pieces of bread and butter" at breakfast, pointed out to them that they could not have such good appetites if they had really fed on dainty meats at the devil's Sabbath the night before.

But if the witch's own account of her marvelous feats may be explained as, at best, the vague remembrance of a nightmare, it is hardly necessary to go beyond this explanation to account for the prodigies reported by others. In most cases there is no need to suppose even so much foundation for the marvels, since the evidence (e.g., for lycanthropy) is purely traditional. And when we get accounts at first hand, they are commonly concerned, not with such matters as levitation, or transformation of hares into old women, but merely with vague shapes seen in the dusk, or the unexplained appearance of a black dog. Even so the evidence comes almost exclusively from ignorant peasants, and is given years after the events."

The evidence for "witch-marks" does not greatly concern us. The insensible patches on which Matthew Hopkins and other witch-finders relied may well have been genuine in some cases. Such insensible areas are known to occur in hysterical subjects, and the production of insensibility by means of suggestion is a commonplace in modern times. The supposed witches' teats, which the imps sucked, appear to have been found almost exclusively, like the imps themselves, in the English-speaking countries. Any wart, boil, or swelling would probably form a sufficient warrant for the accusation ; we read in Cotton Mather of a jury of women finding a preter-natural teat upon a witch's body, which could not be discovered when a second search was made three or four hours later, and of a witch's mark upon the finger of a small child, which took the form of " a deep red spot, about the bigness of a flea-bite." And the witch-mark which brought conviction to the mind of Increase Mather in the case of George Burroughs was his ability to hold a heavy gun at arm's length, and to carry a barrel of cider from the canoe to the shore.

Of most of the evidence based upon the injuries suffered by the witches' supposed victims, it is difficult to speak seriously. If a man's cow ran dry, if his horse stumbled, his cart stuck in a gate, his pigs or fowls sickened, if his child had a fit, his wife or himself an unaccustomed pain, it was evidence acceptable in a court of law against any old woman who might be supposed within the last twelve months—or twelve years^-to have conceived some cause of offence against him and his. Follies of this kind are too well known to need repetition.

But there is another feature of witchcraft, at any rate of the cases occurring in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in England and America, which is not so well recognized, and which has a more direct bearing upon our present inquiry—the predominant part played in the initial stages of witch persecution by malevolent or merely hysterical children and young women."

Symptoms of Bewitchment

Mr. Podmore remarks: "The symptoms of the alleged bewitchment were, in all these cases monotonously alike, The victims would fall into fits or convulsions, of a kind which the physicians called in were unable to diagnose or to cure. In these fits the children would commonly call out on the old woman who was the imaginary cause of their ailment; would profess, at times, to see her shape present in the room, and would even stab at it with a knife or other weapon. (la the most conclusive cases the record continues that the old woman, being straightway sought for, would be found attempting to. conceal a corresponding wound on her person.) These fits, which sometimes lasted, with slight intermission, for weeks together would be increased in violence by the approach of the supposed witch; or, as Hutchinson notes, by the presence of sympathetic spectators. The fits, as was also commonly noted by contemporary chroniclers, would diminish or altogether cease when the witch was imprisoned or condemned; on the other hand, if the supposed witch were released the victim would continue to suffer horrible tortures, insomuch that at the Salem trials one old woman who had been acquitted by the jury was, because of the hideous outcry from the afflicted persons in court, straightway re-tried and condemned. The witch's touch would always provoke severe attacks, indeed, contact with the witch or the establishment of rapport between her and the victim by means of some garment worn by the latter, as in Mistress Faith Corbet's case, was generally regarded as an essential pre-requisite of the enchantment. Once this rapport established the mere look of the witch, or the direction of her evil will would suffice. The afflicted in Salem were, as the Mathers testify, much tortured in court by the malevolent glances of the poor wretches on trial; and two ' visionary' girls added greatly to the weight of the evidence by foretelling with singular accuracy, when such or such of the afflicted persons then present would feel the baneful influence, and howl for anguish. It should be added—though the evidence as we now understand the word, for the fact alleged is of course practically negligible—that it was commonly reported that the witch's victim could, although blindfolded, distinguish her tormentor by the touch alone from all other persons, and could even foresee her approach and discern her actions at a considerable distance.

"The effect of the convulsions and cataleptic attacks, which modern science would unhesitatingly dismiss as being simply the result of hysteria, was heightened in many cases by manifestations of a more material kind. It was a common feature for the victim to vomit pins, needles, wood, stubble, and other substances; or for thorns or needles to be found embedded in her flesh. In a case recorded by Glanvil an hysterical servant girl, Mary Longdon, in addition to the usual fits, vomiting of pins, etc., was tormented by stones being continually flung at her, which stones when they fell to the ground straightway vanished. Her master bore witness in court to the falling of the stones and their miraculous disappearance. Moreover, the same Mary Longdon would frequently be transported by an invisible power to the top of the house, and there " laid on a board betwixt two Sollar beams," or would be put into a chest, or half suffocated between two feather-beds.

" Gross as these frauds appear to us, it is singular that for the most part they remained undetected, and even, it would seem, unsuspected, not merely by the ignorant peasants, for whose benefit the play was acted in the first instance, but in the larger theatre of a law court. But there are some notorious instances of confession or detection-Edmund Robinson, the boy on whose accusation the Lancashire witches were tried, subsequently confessed to imposture. Other youths were detected with blacklead in their mouths when foaming in sham epileptic fits, coloring their urine with ink, concealing crooked pins about their persons in order to vomit them later, scratching the bed posts with their toes, and surreptitiously eating to repletion during a pretended fast. But commonly the spectators were so convinced beforehand of the genuineness of such portents that they held it superfluous to examine the claims of any particular performance of this kind on their credence.

"It is difficult to know if such cases where self-deception ends and where malevolent trickery begins. Nor would the examination of these bygone outbreaks of hysteria trivial in themselves as terrible in their consequences—be of interest in the present connection, except for the fact that we find here the primitive form of those Poltergeist manifestations which gave the popular impetus in 1848 to the belief in Modern Spiritualism, and which are still appealed by those who maintain the genuineness of the physical manifestations of the seance room as instances of similar phenomena occurring spontaneously."

Difference between British and Continental Witchcraft

The salient difference between British and Continental witchcraft systems seems to have been that whereas the former was an almost exclusively female system, the Continental one favoured the inclusion in the ranks of sorcerers (as foreign witches were called) of the male element; this at least was the case in France and Germany, but there is evidence that in Hungary and the Slavonic countries, the female element was the more numerous. In Ireland we find women also pre-eminent; this is probably to be accounted for by the circumstance before noted that the non-alien priesthoods in their decline became almost entirely dependent upon the offices of women. But the various forms of witchcraft are duly entered in the several articles dealing with European countries.

Growth of Belief in Witchcraft

It is significant that in early times the supernatural side of witchcraft won little public credence. People believed in such things as magical poisoning and the raising of tempests by witches, but they refused to give credence to such superstitions as that the witch rode through the air, or had communion in any way with diabolic agency. As early as 800 A.D. an Irish synod pronounced the belief of flight through the air and vampirism, to be incompatible with Christian doctrine, and many early writers like Stephen of Hungary and Regino state that flight by night and kindred practices are merely a delusion. Indeed those who held these beliefs were actively punished by penance. In face of the later development of belief in witchcraft, this frank skepticism is almost amazing, and it is most strange that the tenth and eleventh centuries should have rejected superstitions embraced widely by the sixteenth and seventeenth.

From the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries we find the conception of witchcraft and demonology greatly furthered and assisted by the writings of scholars and the institution of the Inquisition to deal with the rise of unbelief. A vast amount of literature was circulated dealing with questions relating to magic and sorcery, and regarding the habits and customs of witches, magicians and practitioners in "black magic," and many hairs were split. The Church gladly joined in this campaign against what it regarded as the forces of darkness, and indeed both accused and accusers seem to have lingered under the most dreadful delusions— delusions which were to cost society dear as a whole. The scholastic conception of demonology was that the witch was not a woman but a demon. Rationalism was at a discount and the ingenuity of scholars disposed of all objections to the phenomena of witchcraft. The deities of pagan times were cited as practitioners of sorcery, and erudition, especially in ecclesiastical circles, ran riot on the subject. There also arose a class of judges or inquisitors like Bodin in Trance and Sprenger in Germany, who composed lengthy treatises upon the manner of discovering witches, of putting them to the test, and generally of presiding in witchcraft trials. The cold-blooded cruelty of these textbooks on current demonology can only be accounted for by the likelihood that their authors felt themselves justified in their composition through motives of fidelity to their church and religion. The awful terror disseminated especially among the intelligent by the possibility of a charge of witchcraft being brought against them at any moment brought about an intolerable condition of things. The intellectual might be arraigned at any time on a charge of witchcraft by any rascal who cared to make it. Position or learning were no safeguard against such a charge, and it is peculiar that the more thoughtful and serious part of the population should not have made some attempt to put a period to the dreadful condition of affairs brought about by ignorance and superstition. Of course the principal reason against their being able to do so was the fact that the whole system was countenanced by the Church, in whose bands the entire procedure of trials for witchcraft lay.

Strangely enough convents and monasteries were often the centers of demoniac possession. The conception of the incubi and succubi undoubtedly arose from the ascetic tortures of the monk and the nun. Wholesale trials, too, of wretched people who were alleged to attend Sabbatic orgies of the enemy of mankind on dreary heaths were gone through with an elaborateness which spread terror in the public mind. The tortures inflicted on those unfortunates were generally of the most fiendish description, but they were supposed to be for the good of the souls oi those who bore them. In France the majority of these trials took place in the fifteenth century; whereas in England we find that most of them were current in the seventeenth century. Full details regarding these will be found in the articles France and England. The famous outburst of fanaticism in New England under Cotton Mather (See America) in 1691 to 1692 was by no means the last in an English-speaking country, for in 1712 a woman was convicted of witchcraft in England, and ia Scotland the last trial and execution for sorcery, took place in 1722. In Spain we find burnings by the Inquisition in 1781; in Germany as late as 1793, and as regards Latin South America a woman was burned in Peru so recently as 1888. The death of the belief in witchcraft was brought about by a more sane spirit of criticism than had before obtained. Even the dull wits of the inquisitorial and other courts began to see that the wretched creatures upon whom they passed sentence either confessed because of the extremity of torture they had to suffer, or else were under hallucination regarding the nature of their connection with the satanic power. Reginald Scot in his Discovery of Witchcraft (1584) proved that the belief on the part of the witch that she was a servant of the Devil was purely imaginary, and in consequence drew upon his work the wrath of the British Solomon, James I., who warmly replied to him in his Demonologie. But Friedrich von Spec's Caittio Criminalis, 1631, advanced considerations of still greater weight from the rationalistic point of view— considerations of such weight indeed that Bodin, the arch-demonologist, denounced him and demanded that he should be added to the long list of his victims,

Psychology of Witchcraft 

No doubt exists nowadays when the conditions of savage witchcraft have been closely examined and commented upon, that the witch and the sorcerer of the Middle Ages, like their prototypes among the native races of Africa, America, Asia and elsewhere, have a firmly-rooted belief in their own magical powers, and in their connection with unseen and generally diabolic agencies. It is a strange circumstance that in many instances the confessions wrung from two or more witches, when a. number of them have been concerned in the same case, have tallied with one another in almost every detail. This would imply that these women suffered from collective hallucination, and actually believed that they had seen the supernatural beings with whom they confessed fellowship, and had gone through the rites and acts for which they suffered. A period arrived in the mediaeval campaign against witchcraft when it was admitted that the whole system was one of hallucination; yet, said the demonologists, this was no palliation of the offence, for it was equally as evil to imagine such diabolic acts as actually to take part in them.

There is also evidence which would lead to the belief that the witch possessed certain minor powers of hypnotism and telepathy, which would give her real confidence in her belief that she wielded magical terrors. Again the phenomena of spiritualism and the large possibilities it offers for fraud suggest that some kindred system might have been in use amongst the more shrewd or the leaders in these Sabbatic meetings, which would thoroughly convince the ignorant among the sisterhood of the existence in their midst of diabolic powers. Trance and hysteria, drugs and salves, there is good reason to believe, were also used unsparingly, but the great source of witch-belief undoubtedly exists in auto-suggestion, fostered and fomented from ecclesiastical and scholastic sources, and by no means lessened by popular belief.

Since the above article was written an exhaustive examination of the phenomena of witchcraft has been made by Miss M. A. Murray, lecturer on Egyptology at University College, London. Basing her conclusions upon the suggestions of C. G. Leland, in his "Aradia, or the Witches of Italy," and those of other modern writers, she inclines to the hypothesis that witchcraft was in reality the modern and degraded descendant of an ancient nature-religion, the rites of which were actually carried out in deserted places and included child-sacrifice and other barbarous customs. In the Satanic presence at such gatherings she sees the attendance of a priest of the cult. In brief, her hypothesis tends to prove the actual Reality of the witch-religion as against that of hallucination which, until recently, was the explanation accepted by students of the subject. Her remarks, too, upon the familiar, go to show that a large body of proof exists for the belief that this conception also rested upon actual occurrences. (S« her papers in Man and elsewhere.)

Recent researches on the part of the writer have convinced him of the soundness of these views, but have added the conviction that witchcraft religion was, in some manner, possessed of an equestrian connection, the precise nature of which is still dark to him. The broomstick appears to be the magical equivalent of a horse, the witches occasionally rode to the Sabbath on horseback, and one of the tests for a witch was to see if her eye held the reflection or likeness of a horse. May it not be that the witch-religion was the remnant of a prehistoric horse-totem cult ? But this is, after all, merely of the nature of surmise. The writer has also found good evidence for the existence of a witch-cult precisely similar to that of Europe in pre-Columbian Mexico, and has even encountered a picture of a naked witch with peaked cap riding on a broomstick in the native Mexican painting known as the Codex Fejervary-Wayer, which seems to show that the witch-religion was in no sense limited to Europe, and was of most ancient origin.  


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Soul Ages

Our goal sets the theme for a lifetime, acting as a primary motivator that guides our course of direction in life.


The Old Soul

Learn about the Overleaves, personality traits that shape our individual experience during each lifetime.