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It has been reported of several famous for their astrologic skill, that they have suffered a voluntary death, merely to verify their owa predictions ; this has been said of Cardan, and of Burton the author of the Anatomy of Melancholy.
It is curious to observe the shifts to which astrologers are put when their predictions are not verified. Great winds were predicted by a famous adept, about the year 1586. No unusual storms, however, happened. Bodin, to save the reputation of the art, applied it as a figure to some revolutions in the state; and of which there were instances enough at that moment. Among their lucky and unlucky days, astrologers pretend to give those of various illustrious persons and of families. One is very striking.–Thursday was the unlucky day of our Henry the Eighth. He, his son Edward the Sixth, queen Mary, and queen Elizabeth, all died on a Thursday.
The life of Lilly the astrologer, written by himself, is a curious work. He is the Sidrophel of Butler in his Hudibras.
Astrology greatly flourished in the time of the civil wars. The royalists and the rebels had their astrologers, as well as their soldiers, and the predictions of the former had a great influence over the latter.
In 1670 the passion for horoscopes, and expounding the stars, prevailed in France among the first rank. The new-born child was usually presented naked to the astrologer, who read in its forehead, and the transverse lines in its hand, and thence wrote down its future destiny. Catherine de Medicis brought Henry the Fourth, then a child, to old Nostradamus, whom antiquaries esteem more for his Chronicle of Provence, than his vaticinating powers. The sight of the reverend seer, with a beard which “streamed like a meteor in the air,” is said to have terrified the future hero.-Will it be credited, that one of these magicians having assured Charles the Ninth that he would live as many days as he could turn about upon his heels in an bour standing upon one leg, that his majesty every morning performed that solemn exercise for an hour? the principal officers of the court, the judges, the chancellors, and generals likewise, in compliment, standing on one leg, and turning round!
WITCHCRAFT, This was a supernatural power, which persons were formally supposed to obtain the possession of, by entering into compact with the devil. They gave themselves up to him, body and soul; and he engaged that they should want for nothing, and that he would avenge them upon all their enemies. As soon as the bargain was concluded, the devil delivered to the witch an imp, or familiar spirit, to be ready at a call
, and to do whatever it was directed. By the assistance of this imp of the devil, the witch, who was almost always an old woman, was enabled to transport herself in the air on a broomstick or a spit to distant places, to attend the meeting of the witches, at which the devil always presided. They were enabled also to transform themselves into various shapes, particularly to assume the form of cats and hares, in which they most delighted; to inflict diseases
077 on whomsoever they thought proper; and to punish their enemies in a variety of ways.
The belief that certain persons were endowed with supernatural power, and that they were assisted by invisible spirits, is very ancient. The sages of the Romans seem rather to have been sorcerers than witches; indeed, the idea of a witch, as above described, could not have been prevalent till after the propagation of Christianity, as the heathens had no knowledge of the evil spirit, styled by Christians the devil. Witchcraft was universally believed in Europe till the sixteenth century, and even maintained its ground with tolerable firmness till the middle of the seventeenth. Vast numbers of reputed witches were convicted, and condemned to be burnt, every year. The methods of discovering them were various. One was, to weigh the supposed criminal against the church bible, which, if she was guilty, would preponderate ; another, by making her attempt to say the Lord's prayerthis no witch was able to repeat entirely, but would omit some part or sentence thereof. It is remarkable, that all witches did not hesitate at the same place ; some leaving out one part, and some another. Teats, through which the imps sucked, were indubitable marks of a witch ; these were always raw, and also insensible, and, if squeezed, sometimes yielded a drop of blood. A witch could not weep more than three tears, and that only out of the left eye. This want of tears was, by the witch-finders, and even by some judges, considered as a very substantial proof of guilt. Swimming a witch, was another kind of popular ordeal generally practised ; for this she was stripped naked, and cross bound, the right thumb to the left toe, and the left thumb to the right toe. Thus prepared, she was thrown into a pond or river, in which, if guilty, she could not sink ; for having, by her compact with the devil, renounced the benefit of the water of baptism, that element, in its return, renounced her, and refused to receive her into its bosom. Sir Robert Filmer mentions two others, by fire: the first, by burning the thatch of the house of the suspected witch; the other, burning any animal supposed to be bewitched by her, as a hog or ox: these, it was beld, would force a witch to confess. The trial by a stool, was another method used for the discovery of witches. It was thus managed. Having taken the suspected witch, she was placed in the middle of a room upon a stool or table, cross-legged, or in some uncasy posture, to which if she submitted not, she was then bound with cords ; there she was watched, and kept without meat or sleep for the space of twenty-four hours, for they said, within that time they should see her imp come and suck. A little hole was likewise made in the door, for imps to come in at; and lest it should come in some less discernible shape, they that watched were taught to be ever and anon sweeping the room, and, if they saw any spiders or flies, to kill them; if they could not kill them, then they might be sure they were imps. If witches, under any examination or torture, would not confess, all their apparel was changed, and every hair of their body shaven off with a sharp razor, lest they should secrete magical charms to prevent their confessing. Witches were most apt to confess on Fridays. By such trials as these, and by the accusation of children, old women, and fools, were thousands of unhappy women
condemned for witchcraft, and burnt at the stake. It would be ridiculous to attempt a serious refutation of the existence of witches, and at present, luckily, the task is unnecessary. In this country, at least, the discouragement long given to all suspicion of witchcraft, and the repeal of the statutes against that crime, have very much weakened, though perhaps they have not entirely eradicated, the persuasion, On the continent, too, it is evidently on the decline ; and notwithstanding the exertions of Dr. De Haen, and of the celebrated Lavater, we have little doubt that in a short time posterity will wonder at the credulity of their ancestors.
That there ever were witches, is an opinion that cannot for a mo. ment be believed by a thinking man. The actions imputed to them were either absurd or impossible; the witnesses, by whose evidence they were condemned, being either weak enthusiasts or doworight villains ; and the confessions ascribed to the witches themselves, the effects of a disordered imagination, procured by cruel treatment and excessive watchings. As to the nightly meetings, demonologists themselves have been obliged to confess that they were nothing else but uneasy dreams, often produced by soporific compositions. The facts which have been brought forward by the advocates for witchcraft bear in their front the most evident marks of trick and imposture ; and this has constantly been found out, whenever these facts have been properly examined. The crime of witchcraft, which was punished capitally by the law of Moses, was justly punished under the Jewish Theocracy, as an act of rebellion against the Divine Majesty, in attempting to deceive the people by leading them to trust in demons and other imaginary beings.
Sorcery, on Magic. This is the power which sone persons were formerly supposed to possess, of commanding the devil and the infernal spirits, by skill in charms and invocations, and of soothing them by fumigation. Sor. cery is therefore to be distinguished from witchcraft, it being an art wbich was supposed to be practised, not only by commanding evil spirits, but by compact with the devil. As an instance of the power of bad smells over demons or evil spirits, we may mention the flight of the evil spirit mentioned in Tobit, into the remote parts of Egypt, produced, it is said, by the smell of the burnt liver of a fish. Lilly informs us, that one Evans, having raised a spirit at the request of Lord Bothwell and Sir Kenelm Digby, and forgetting a fumigation, the spirit, vexed at the disappointment, pulled him without the circle, and carried him from his house in the Minories, into a field near Battersea Causeway. King James, in his Demonologia, has given a very
full account of the art of sorcery. *Two principal things (says he) cannot well in that errand be wanted; holy water, and some present of a living thing unto him. These things being all prepared, circles are made, triangular, quadrangular, round, double, or single, according to the form of the apparition they
When the conjured spirit appears, which will not be uatil after many ceremonies, Lord's prayers, and much muttering and mur
SORCERY, OR MAGIC.
679 murings of the conjurors, if they have missed one jote of all their rites, or if any of their feet slyde over the circle, through terror of his fearful apparition, he paies himself at that time, of that due debt which they owed him, and otherwise would have delaied longer to have paied him. I mean, he carries them with bin, body and soule."
How the conjurors made triangular or quadrangular circles, his majesty has not informed us, nor does he seem to imagine there was any difficulty in the matter. We therefore suppose that he learned his mathematics from the sanie system as Dr. Scheverell, who, in one of bis sermons, made use of the following simile : “ They concur like parallel lines, meeting in one comnion centre.”
Another mode of consulting spirits was by the beryl, by means of a speculator or seer; who, to have a complete sight, ought to be a pure virgin, a youth who had not known woman, or at least a person of irreproachable life and purity of manners. The method of consultation is this : The conjuror having repeated the necessary charms and adjurations, with the litany or invocation peculiar to the spirits or angels he wishes to call, (for every one has his particular form,) the seer looks into a crystal or beryl, wherein he will see the answer represented either by types or figures ; and sometimes, though very rarely, will hear the angels or spirits speak articulately. Their pronunciation is, as Lilly says, like the Irish, much in the throat. Lilly describes one of these beryls or crystals. It was, he says, as large as an orange, set in silver, with a cross at the top, and round about engraved the names of the angels Raphael, Gabriel, and Uriel. A delineation of another is engraved in the frontispiece to Aubery's Miscellanies.
The sorcerers or magicians do not always employ their art to do mischief; but, on the contrary, frequently exert it to cure diseases inflicted by witches; to discover thieves; recover stolen goods; to foretell future events, and the state of absent friends. On this account they are frequently called white witches. Our ancestors had great faith in these fables, when they enacted, by stat. 33 Hen. VIII. C. 8. all witchcraft and sorcery to be felony without benefit of clergy; and again by statute 1 Jac. I. c. 12. that all persons invoking an evil spirit, or consulting, covenanting with, entertaining, employing, feeding, or rewarding, any evil spirit, or taking up dead bodies from their graves to be used in any witchcraft, sorcery, charms, or enchantment; or killing, or otherwise hurting, any person by such infernal arts; should be guilty of felony without benefit of clergy, and suffer death; and if any person should attempt by sorcery to discover hidden treasure, or to restore stolen goods, or to provoke unlawful love, or to hurt any man or beast, though the same were not effected, he or she should suffer imprisonment and pillory for the first offence, and death for the second. These acts continued long in force, to the terror of all ancient females in the kingdom; and many poor wretches were sacrificed thereby to the prejudice of their neighbours and their own illusions, not a few having by some means or other confessed the incredible facts at the gallows; but all executions for this dubious crime are now abolished. It is enacted by stat. 9 Geo. II. c. 5. that
no prosecution shall for the future be carried on against any person for conjuration, witchcraft, sorcery, or enchantment. But the misdemeanor of persons pretending to use witchcraft, tell fortunes, or discover stolen goods, by skiil in the occult sciences, is still deservedly punished with a year's imprisonment, and standing four times in the pillory.
AMULETS. In the customs of almost all the nations of antiquity, amulets were favourite and sometimes very important, instruments of superstition and empiricism. They were most frequently suspeuded from the neck, and contained the name or exploits of some deity, whose protection they were supposed to ensure, and of whose service they were the token or badge. They were formed of all sorts of materials, though precious stones were naturally preferred, and thus they often added to the elegance of dress, what was meant for the safety of the person. In their formation, or their being made into amulets, particular times were imagined to be very propitious, especially after the reveries of the astrologers succeeded the early discoveries of astronomy. Various herbs and plants, gathered at these times, of which the full age of the moon was considered one of the most important, were presented as sovereign remedies for many fatal disorders, the bite of venomous reptiles, &c. The Egyptians had a great variety of them, of which the most popular was the Abraxas, a Cabalistic word engraven on a stone, to which it gave name. The Jews had an early propensity to using them for similar purposes. (Compare Deut. xviii. 10-12, with Jer. viii. 17. In later times the Mishna allowed an amulet to be worn, which had previously been three times successful in the cure of any disease.
The Chaldeans, Persians, and oriental nations, also held them in the highest estimation. Amongst the Greeks, parts of animals, minerals, and herbs, were used as amulets, especially in exciting and conquering the passion of love ; and Pliny mentions inany that were ia use among the Romans. Ovid speaks of Mount Caucasus as celebrated for yielding the necessary plauts,
(An quæ Lecta Promotheis dividit herba jugis, supposed to spring from the blood of Prometheus; and Colchis is mentioned by other poets as noted for similar productions. Amulets were also sometimes appended to the bodies of beasts, for medical and other purposes. They are still commonly worn in the East, and among the Turks, with whom magical words, numbers, and figures, sentences of the koran, prayers, &c. inscribed on scrolls of paper or silk, are in great request in time of war.
Christianity, in the decline of the Roman empire, supplied numerous amulets to her nominal converts from Paganism, in crosses, agnus dei's, relics of the saints and martyrs, &c. The pope is said still to claim a prerogative of creating them. Their connexion with ancient British customs is also important. Burton, prescribing some,