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AN ORIGINAL ESSAY ON WITCHCRAFT (1890)
By Thomas Webster
Our King James gives the reason, because "the consuniation of the
world, and our deliverance drawing neere, makes Satan so rage the more
in his instruments, knowing his kingdom to be so neere an end." James
was a little out in his reckoning here, " the consumption of the world"
not having taken place as yet, and the
The devil kingdom is not to be destroyed by acts of parliament and burning of witches ; these expedients have been tried in vain all over Europe and America, without effect ; but now, when every person can bewitch with impunity, not a witch is to be found ; and the devil, though left at large, has retreated to the Highlands and islands, where he is seldom seen, even by those who Siave the second sight.
The true engines for battering the strong holds of Satan, and driving
him and his imps into utter darkness, are science and philosophy ;
these are the weapons that have compelled him to retrogade movements,
after lavishing rivers of holy water
These stories, however, convey a strong likeness of the times in which
they were acted. In our day, it is almost impossible to believe, that
human beings could give credit to such gross absurdities as we have
laid before the public in this little work,
To us it does not appear improbable, but that too many of the poor
deluded wretches actually imagined themselves to be witches. Nor will
this appear so very surprizing, if we consider the circumstances of the
case. At that period, any person who doubted of witchcraft, was looked
upon as an athiest, and worse than mad ; the whole country, from one
end to the other, was continually ringing with tales of witches,
devils, and fairies, with such other trash. Is it not then most likely,
that people should dream about them ? and is there any thing unnatural
in supposing, that they should mistake these dreams for
realities? As is evidently proved in several cases, and then
confess, not the actions they really did,
Moreover, when confined for this imaginary crime,they were tortured in
all manner of ways, deprived of sleep, flung into water, and brodit, as
they called it, being striped naked and searched for the devil's mark,
in the most indecent manner. These confessions,
An old woman in the Isle of Teree (as related by Mr Frazer, page 165), took in her head that she was in heaven no less, and had eat and drank there ; and so firmly had the poor creature imbibed the notion, that it was with some difficulty she could be undeceived.A curious account of a pretended meeting with the devil, is given by a gentleman of Normandy, in the Memoirs of Literature for November 1711.
pretended meeting, about which those who believe they have been at it,
relate so many extravagant things, is only in their imagination. I
own,that some country people, especially shepherds, do now and then rub
their skin with some narcotick
"When they are thus asleep, they fancy they see every thing that was
told them concerning the devil's meeting, by their fathers, who were
also shepherds, or wizards, if you will have me to call them so.
Whereupon I will inform you of what I have been told by a country
friend of mine, who pretended to have a mind to go to the devil's
meeting with his own shepherd, who had the reputation of being a great
sorcerer. Having frequently urged that shepherd to carry him thither,
at last he obtained his desire. He went to him in the night at the
"The shepherd immediately gave him something to grease himself withal.
He took the grease as if he had a mind to rub his skin with it ; but he
desired that the shepherd's son, who was to go to the devil's meeting
with his father, should anoint himself first. Which being done, that
gentleman told the shepherd, that he should be glad to know what would
become of young man. Not long after, the young man fell fast asleep,
and when he awaked, though he had not stirred from that place, he gave
an account of every thing he thought he had seen at the devils meeting,
and even named several persons whom he pretended to have seen there."
"My friend perceived then, that what is commonly said of the devils meeting was a mere fancy. I have told you this story, that you may impart it to your brethren, who being prepossest with popular errors about witchcraft, do frequently hang and burn poor wretches, whose crime does only consist in the weakness of their imagination."
A thousand more instances might be produced to show, that the devil
hath no meetings any where, but in the perturbed brain of ignorant
credulity. The history of superstition is however of great use. We
there see its dangerous influence upon the
Theology seems to have been particularly infected with this pestiferous
contagion. The clergy were generally in the front rank of
witch-hunters, and through their influence, the most of them were put
to death. In places where the minister was inflamed
Since the repeal of the statutes against witchcraft, several
prosecutions have been instituted against witches, who were convicted
and punished ; but it was bewitching silly ignorant people out of their
money, goods, and common sense, by pretending a knowledge of futurity a
power of relieving maladies in man or beast or procuring the affection
of some favourite swain to a love-sick maiden. The dupes of these
impostors do not altogether escape, as they are made the laughing stock
of their neighbours ; and by these means even this trade is now nearly
annihilated. Happily for our times, the refulgent brightness of
philosophy and science, hath dispelled these dark clouds of benighted
superstition, and left us in possession only of
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