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Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft

by

Walter Scott

 

LETTER I

Visual Nerve, those upon the Ear next considered — Delusions of the Touch chiefly experienced in Sleep — Delusions. of the Taste — And of the Smelling — Sum of the Argument.

 

LETTER II

Consequences of the Fall on the Communication between Man and the Spiritual World — Effects of the Flood — Wizards of Pharaoh — Text in Exodus against Witches — The word Witch is by some said to mean merely Poisoner — Or if in the Holy Text it also means a Divineress, she must, at any rate, have been a Character very different to be identified with it — The original, Chasaph, said to mean a person who dealt in Poisons, often a Traffic of those who dealt with familiar Spirits — But different from the European Witch of the Middle Ages — Thus a Witch is not accessary to the Temptation of Job — The Witch of the Hebrews probably did not rank higher than a Divining Woman — Yet it was a Crime deserving the Doom of Death, since it inferred the disowning of Jehovah's Supremacy — Other Texts of Scripture, in like manner, refer to something corresponding more with a Fortune-teller or Divining Woman than what is now called a Witch — Example of the Witch of Endor — Account of her Meeting with Saul — Supposed by some a mere Impostor — By others, a Sorceress powerful enough to raise the Spirit of the Prophet by her own Art — Difficulties attending both Positions — A middle Course adopted, supposing that, as in the Case of Balak, the Almighty had, by Exertion of His Will, substituted Samuel, or a good Spirit in his Character, for the Deception which the Witch intended to produce — Resumption of the Argument, showing that the Witch of Endor signified something very different from the modern Ideas of Witchcraft — The Witches mentioned in the New Testament are not less different from modern Ideas than those of the Books of Moses, nor do they appear to have possessed the Power ascribed to Magicians — Articles of Faith which we may gather from Scripture on this point — That there might be certain Powers permitted by the Almighty to Inferior, and even Evil Spirits, is possible; and in some sense the Gods of the Heathens might be accounted Demons — More frequently, and in a general sense, they were but logs of wood, without sense or power of any kind, and their worship founded on imposture — Opinion that the Oracles were silenced at the Nativity adopted by Milton Cases of Demoniacs — The Incarnate Possessions probably ceased at the same time as the intervention of Miracles — Opinion of the Catholics — Result, that witchcraft, as the Word is interpreted in the Middle Ages, neither occurs under the Mosaic or Gospel Dispensation — It arose in the Ignorant Period, when the Christians considered the Gods of the Mahommedan or Heathen Nations as Fiends, and their Priests as Conjurers or Wizards — Instance as to the Saracens, and among the Northern Europeans yet unconverted — The Gods of Mexico and Peru explained on the same system — Also the Powahs of North America — Opinion of Mather — Gibb, a supposed Warlock, persecuted by the other Dissenters — Conclusion.

 

LETTER III

Creed of Zoroaster-Received partially into most Heathen Nations Instances among the Celtic Tribes of Scotland — Beltane Feast — Gudeman's Croft-Such abuses admitted into Christianity after the earlier Ages of the Church-Law of the Romans against Witchcraft — Roman customs survive the fall of their Religion — Instances Demonology of the Northern Barbarians-Niicksas-Bhar-geist-Correspondence between the Northern and Roman Witches — The power of Fascination ascribed to the Sorceresses-Example from the ” Eyrbiggia Saga” — The Prophetesses of the Germans — The Gods of Valhalla not highly regarded by their Worshippers — Often defied by the Champions — Demons of the North — Story of Assueit and Asmund — Action of Ejectment against Spectres — Adventure of a Champion with the Goddess Freya — Conversion of the Pagans of Iceland to Christianity — Northern Superstitions mixed with those of the Celts — Satyrs of the North-Highland Ourisk-Meming the Satyr.

 

LETTER IV

The Fairy Superstition is derived from different sources — The Classical Worship of the Silvans, or Rural Deities, proved by Roman Altars discovered — The Gothic Duergar, or Dwarfs — Supposed to be derived from the Northern Laps, or Fins — “The Niebelungen-Lied” — King Laurin's Adventure — Celtic Fairies of a gayer character, yet their pleasures empty and illusory — Addicted to carry off Human Beings, both Infants and Adults — Adventures of a Butler in Ireland — The Elves supposed to pay a Tax to Hell — The Irish, Welsh, Highlanders, and Manxmen held the same belief — It was rather rendered more gloomy by the Northern Traditions — Merlin and Arthur carried off by the Fairies — Also Thomas of Erceldoune — His Amour with the Queen of Elfland — His re-appearance in latter times — Another account from Reginald Scot — Conjectures on the derivation of the word Fairy.

 

LETTER V

Those who dealt in fortune-telling, mystical cures by charms, and the like, often claimed an intercourse with Fairyland Hudhart or Hudikin — Pitcairn's “Scottish Criminal Trials” — Story of Bessie Dunlop and her Adviser — Her Practice of Medicine — And of Discovery of Theft — Account of her Familiar, Thome Reid-Trial of Alison Pearson — Account of her Familiar, William Sympson-Trial of the Lady Fowlis, and of Hector Munro, her Stepson — Extraordinary species of Charm used by the latter-Confession of John Stewart, a Juggler, of his Intercourse with the Fairies — Trial and Confession of Isobel Gowdie — Use of Elf-arrow Heads — Parish of Aberfoyle — Mr. Kirke, the Minister of Aberfoyle's Work on Fairy Superstitions — He is himself taken to Fairyland — Dr. Grahame's interesting Work, and his Information on Fairy Superstitions — Story of a Female in East Lothian carried off by the Fairies — Another instance from Pennant.

 

LETTER VI.

Immediate Effect of Christianity on Articles of Popular Superstition — Chaucer's Account of the Roman Catholic Priests banishing the Fairies — Bishop Corbett imputes the same Effect to the Reformation — His Verses on that Subject — His Iter Septentrionale — Robin Goodfellow and other Superstitions mentioned by Reginald Scot — Character of the English Fairies — The Tradition had become obsolete in that Author's Time — That of Witches remained in vigour — But impugned by various Authors after the Reformation, as Wierus, Naudζus, Scot, and others — Demonology defended by Bodinus, Remigius, &c. — Their mutual Abuse of each other — Imperfection of Physical Science at this Period, and the Predominance of Mysticism in that Department.

 

LETTER VII

Penal Laws unpopular when rigidly exercised — Prosecution of Witches placed in the hand of Special Commissioners, ad inquirendum — Prosecution for Witchcraft not frequent in the Elder Period of the Roman Empire — Nor in the Middle Ages — Some Cases took place, however — The Maid of Orleans — The Duchess of Gloucester — Richard the Third's Charge against the Relations of the Queen Dowager — But Prosecutions against Sorcerers became more common in the end of the Fourteenth Century — Usually united with the Charge of Heresy — Monstrelet's Account of the Persecution against the Waldenses, under pretext of Witchcraft ——Florimond's Testimony concerning the Increase of Witches in his own Time — Bull of Pope Innocent VIII. — Various Prosecutions in Foreign Countries under this severe Law — Prosecutions in Labourt by the Inquisitor De Lancre and his Colleague — Lycanthropy — Witches in Spain — In Sweden — and particularly those Apprehended at Mohra.

 

LETTER VIII.

The Effects of the Witch Superstition are to be traced in the Laws of a Kingdom — Usually punished in England as a Crime connected with Politics — Attempt at Murder for Witchcraft not in itself Capital — Trials of Persons of Rank for Witchcraft, connected with State Crimes — Statutes of Henry VIII. — How Witchcraft was regarded by the three Leading Sects of Religion in the Sixteenth Century; first, by the Catholics ; second, by the Calvinists ; third, by the Church of England and Lutherans — Impostures unwarily countenanced by individual Catholic Priests, and also by some Puritanic Clergymen — Statute of 1562, and some cases upon it — Case of Dugdale — Case of the Witches of Warbois, and the execution of the Family of Samuel — That of Jane Wenham, in which some Church of England Clergymen insisted on the Prosecution — Hutchison's Rebuke to them — James the First's Opinion of Witchcraft — His celebrated Statute, I Jac. I — Canon passed by the Convocation against Possession — Case of Mr. Fairfax's Children — Lancashire Witches in 1613 — Another Discovery in 1634 — Webster's Account of the manner in which the Imposture was managed — Superiority of the Calvinists is followed by a severe Prosecution of Witches — Executions in Suffolk, &c. to a dreadful extent — Hopkins, the pretended Witchfinder, the cause of these Cruelties — His Brutal Practices — His Letter — Execution of Mr. Lowis — Hopkins Punished — Restoration of Charles — Trial of Coxe — Of Dunny and Callendar before Lord Hales — Royal Society and Progress of Knowledge — Somersetshire Witches — Opinions of the Populace — A Woman Swum for Witchcraft at Oakly — Murder at Tring — Act against Witchcraft abolished, and the belief in the Crime becomes forgotten — Witch Trials in New England — Dame Glover's Trial — Affliction of the Parvises, and frightful Increase of the Prosecutions — Suddenly put a stop to — The Penitence of those concerned in them.

 

LETTER IX

Scottish Trials — Earl of Mar — Lady Glammis — William Barton — Witches of Auldearne — Their Rites and Charms — Their Transformation into Hares — Satan's Severity towards them — Their Crimes — Sir George Mackenzie's Opinion of Witchcraft — Instances of Confessions made by the Accused, in despair, and to avoid future annoyance and persecution — Examination by Pricking — The Mode of judicial Procedure against Witches, and nature of the Evidence admissible, opened a door to Accusers, and left the Accused no chance of escape — The Superstition of the Scottish Clergy in King James VI.'s time led them, like their Sovereign, to encourage Witch — Prosecutions — Case of Bessie Graham — Supposed Conspiracy to Shipwreck James in his Voyage to Denmark — Meetings of the Witches, and Rites performed to accomplish their purpose — Trial of Margaret Barclay in 1618 — Case of Major Weir — Sir John Clerk among the first who declined acting as Commissioner on the Trial of a Witch — Paisley and Pittenweem Witches — A Prosecution in Caithness prevented by the Interference of the King's Advocate in 1718 — The Last Sentence of Death for Witchcraft pronounced in Scotland in 1722 — Remains of the Witch Superstition — Case of supposed Witchcraft, related from the Author's own knowledge, which took place so late as 1800.

 

LETTER X

Other Mystic Arts independent of Witchcraft — Astrology — Its Influence during the 16th and 17th Centuries — Base Ignorance of those who practised it — Lilly's History of his Life and Times — Astrologer's Society — Dr. Lamb — Dr. Forman — Establishment of the Royal Society — Partridge — Connexion of Astrologers with Elementary Spirits — Dr. Dun — Irish Superstition of the Banshie — Similar Superstition in the Highlands — Brownie — Ghosts — Belief of Ancient Philosophers on that Subject — Inquiry into the respect due to such Tales in Modern Times — Evidence of a Ghost against a Murderer — Ghost of Sir George Villiers — Story of Earl St. Vincent — Of a British General Officer — Of an Apparition in France — Of the Second Lord Lyttelton — Of Bill Jones — Of Jarvis Matcham — Trial of two Highlanders for the Murder of Sergeant Davis, discovered by a Ghost — Disturbances at Woodstock, anno 1649 — Imposture called the Stockwell Ghost — Similar Case in Scotland — Ghost appearing to an Exciseman — Story of a Disturbed House discovered by the firmness of the Proprietor — Apparition at Plymouth — A Club of Philosophers — Ghost Adventure of a Farmer — Trick upon a Veteran Soldier — Ghost Stories recommended by the Skill of the Authors who compose them — Mrs. Veal's Ghost — Dunton's Apparition Evidence — Effect of Appropriate Scenery to Encourage a Tendency to Superstition — Differs at distant Periods of Life — Night at Glammis Castle about 1791 — Visit to Dunvegan in 1814.