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AN ORIGINAL ESSAY ON WITCHCRAFT (1890)

By Thomas Webster

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"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
in vain." - - Thomas Webster


       IF we wish to form a just estimate of the human character in its progress through the various stages of civilization, from ignorance and barbarism, to science and refinement, we must search into the natural causes that actuate the human mind. The life of man is prolonged to a remoter period, but subjected to more casualties, and greater vicissitudes of fortune, than most other animals. From, these causes arises his anxious solicitude about futurity, and an eager desire to know his destiny ; and thus man becomes the most superstitious of all other creatures. In every nation there have been multitudes of oracles, augurs, soothsayers, diviners, fortune-tellers, witches, sorcerers, &c. whose business has been to communicate intelligence respecting futurity, to the rest of mankind.

       If we attend to history, we shall find this theory sufficiently confirmed by experience. The most superstitious part of the species are soldiers and sailors, who are more exposed to accidents than any other class. History is full of the superstitious observances of the Roman armies ; their regard to omens ; the entrails of victims ; the flight of birds, &c. and there are thousands of brave sailors of the present day, who would not sail in the finest ship of the British navy, without a horse-shoe were nailed on the main-mast.

       This passion of diving into futurity, naturally produced a number of "dealers in destiny's dark council " who soon found it turn out a very lucrative profession. From knowing the secrets, it was naturally inferred, that they were the favourites of those powers who are supposed to have the future happiness of mankind at their disposal. This we apprehend is the real source of that power which the priesthood hath ever exercised over the human mind.

       Pleasure and pain are the two great principles of human action which has given rise to, the good and evil principle common to all nations. Those who held communication and commerce
with the evil principle, are witches, wizzards, sorcerers,
&c. Although we have various laws and injunctions against witchcraft in scripture, yet we are still as much in the dark as ever, as no definition is given of it, nor is the particular actions which
constitute witchcraft enumerated, so as we can say wherein it consists. The story of the witch of Endor, is a case that throws more light on the subject than any other.

      But she appears to have acted more in the character of one of our second sighted seers, than one of our modern witches. According to our notions and ideas of witchcraft (as laid down by that sapient monarch James VI.), it is a poor ignorant old woman, who, through misery or malice, gives herself to the devil, soul and body, and renounces her baptism ; for which considerations Satan engages to assist her with his power to work a number of petty mischiefs on such as she has a spite at ; and sometimes he advances a little of the 'needful,' which, unfortunately for the poor old Jutg, turns out to be 'naething but sklite stands, and this most unaccountable contract is generally sealed by * carnal copulation ' And yet, after believing this, we call ourselves rational creatures, and other animals we term brutes ! !

      Many people have wondered, how so exalted a personage as the devil formerly was in days of yore, should latterly have taken up with such low company as our modern witches. He who tempted the very fathers of the church in so many various ways ; who kept the whole priesthood of the Catholic church constantly on the alert with holy water, exorcisms, etc. only to keep him in check ; who often attacked Luther and our other reformers, in very  ungentlemany disguises ; and had even the audacity to insult our covenanted saints, by bellowing like a bull, grunting like a pig, or groaning like a dying man. These were pranks something worthier of a devil than the tricks played off by the witches.

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