Candles

At first sight it would seem that the candles were naturally used only to illuminate the midnight festivities, but the evidence points to the burning lights being part of the ritual. This is also suggested by the importance, in the cult, of the early-spring festival of Candlemas; a festival which has long been recognized as of pre-Christian origin.

The light is particularly mentioned in many instances as being carried by the Devil, usually on his head; the witches often lit their torches and candles at this flame, though sometimes it seems that the Devil lit the torch and then presented it to the witch. To call the chief of the cult Lucifer was therefore peculiarly appropriate, especially at the Candlemas Sabbath.

In 1574 the witches of Poictiers went to a cross-roads: 'là se trouuoit vn grand bouc noir, qui parloit comme vne personne

aux assistans, & dansoyent a l'entour du bouc: puis vn chacun luy baisoit le derriere, auec vne chandelle ardente.'[1] The witches of North Berwick in 1590 mention candles as part of the ritual:

'At ther meting be nycht in the kirk of Northberick, the deuell, cled in a blak gown with a blak hat upon his head, preachit vnto a gret nomber of them out of the pulpit, having lyk leicht candles rond about him.' John Fian blew up the Kirk doors, and blew in the lights, which were like mickle black candles, holden in an old man's hand, round about the pulpit.[3] [John Fian] was taken to North Berwick church where Satan commanded him to make him homage with the rest of his servants; where he thought he saw the light of a candle, standing in the midst of his servants, which appeared blue lowe [flame].'[4]

In 1594 at Puy-de-Dome Jane Bosdeau went 'at Midnight on the Eve of St John into a Field, where there appeared a great Black Goat with a Candle between his Horns'.[5] At Aberdeen in 1597 Marion Grant confessed that 'the Deuill apperit to the, within this auchteine dayis or thairby, quhome thow callis thy god, about ane hour in the nicht, and apperit to the in ane gryte man his lickness, in silkin abuilzeament [habiliment], withe ane quhyt candill in his hand'.[6] In 1598 the witches whom Boguet tried said that

'les Sorciers estans assemblez en leur Synagogue adorent premierement Satan, qui apparoit là, tantost en forme d'vn grand homme noir, tantost en forme de bouc, & pour plus grand hommage, ils luy offrent des chandelles, qui rendent vne flamme de couleur bleue. Quelquefois encor il tient vne image noire, qu'il fait baiser aux Sorciers. Antide Colas & ses compagnes, en baisant ceste image, offroient vne chandelle ou buche d'estrain ardente. Ces chandelles leur sont baillées par le Diable, & se perdent & esuanouissent dés lors qu'elles luy ont esté offertes. Il s'en est trouué qui ont confessé qu'ils alloient allumer le plus soutient leurs chandelles à vne autre chandelle, que le Demon, estant en forme de bouc, portoit au dessus de la teste entre les deux cornes.'[7]

3. Pitcairn, i, pt. ii, p. 246. The ploughman, Gray Meal, who took a large part in the ceremonies, was an old man.

Some of the witches of the Basses-Pyrénées, tried in 1609, said that the Devil was

'comme vn grand bouc, ayät deux cornes deuant & deux en derriere. Mais le commun est qu'il a seulement trois cornes, & qu'il a quelque espece de lumiere en celle du milieu, de laquelle il a accoustumé au sabbat d'esclairer, & donner du feu & de la lumiere, mesmes à ces Sorcieres qui tiennent quelques chandelles alumees aux ceremonies de la Messe qu'ils veulent contrefaire. On luy voit aussi quelque espece de bonet on chapeau au dessus de ses cornes. Toute l'assemblee le vient adorer le baisant sous la queuë, & allumant des chandelles noires.'[1]

Barthélemy Minguet of Brécy, a man of twenty-five, tried in 1616, described the ceremonies of the Sabbath; after the sermon the worshippers 'vont à l'offerte, tenant en leurs mains des chandelles de poix noire qui leur sont données par le Diable . In 1646 Elizabeth Weed of Great Catworth, Hunts, .confessed that the Devil came to her at night, 'and being demanded what light was there, she answered, none but the light of the Spirit.'[3] In 1652 a French witch stated that at the Sabbath 'on dansait sans musique, aux chansons. Toutes les femmes y étoient tenues par les diables par lors il y avoit de la lumière une chandelle tenue au millieu par une femme que ne connoit. . . Au milieux il y auoit une feme masquée tenant une chandelle.'[4] Barton's wife was at a witch meeting in the Pentland Hills, 'and coming down the hill when we had done, which was the best sport, he [the Devil] carried the candle in his bottom under his tail, which played ey wig wag wig wag.", Helen Guthrie in 1661 does not expressly mention candles or torches, but her description of the flickering light on the ground suggests their use. She I was at a meiting in the churchyeard of Forfar in the Holfe therof, and they daunced togither, and the ground under them wes all fyre

5. Sinclair, p. 163. The account given by Barton's wife of the position of the candle on the Devil's person is paralleled by the peculiarly coarse description of the Light-bearers at the witch-sabbaths at Münster. Humborg, p, 120.]

flauchter'.[1] The Somerset witches stated that, when they met, 'the Man in Black bids them welcome, and they all make low obeysance to him, and he delivers some Wax Candles like little Torches, which they give back again at parting.'[2] The light seems to have been sometimes so arranged, probably in a lantern, as to be diffused. This was the case at Torryburn, where the assembly was ht by a light 'which came from darkness', it was sufficiently strong for the dancers to see one another's faces, and to show the Devil wearing a cap or hood which covered his neck and ears.'[3] The latest account of a witch-meeting in the eighteenth century describes how the witches of Strathdown went to Pol-nain and there were 'steering themselves to and fro in their riddles, by means of their oars the brooms, hallooing and skirling worse than the bogles, and each holding in her left hand a torch of fir'.[4]

There is one account where the candle was for use and not for ritual. John Stuart of Paisley, in 1678, admitted the Devil and some witches into his room one night in order to make a clay image of an enemy. 'Declares, that the black man did make the figure of the Head and Face and two Arms to the said Effigies. Declares, that the Devil set three Pins in the same, one in each side, and one in the Breast: And that the Declarant did hold the Candle to them all the time the Picture was making.'[5] John Stuart was the principal person on this occasion, and therefore had the honour of holding the light. The description of the event suggests that the saying 'To hold a candle to the Devil' took its rise in actual fact.

The material of which the candles or torches were made was pitch, according to de Lancre, and at North Berwick the lights were 'like lighted candles' burning with a blue flame. The white candle seems to have been essentially the attribute of the devil, the black candles or torches being distinctive of the witches. That the lights burned blue is due to the material of which the torches were made. The evanescent character of the light, when a wisp of straw was used, is noted in the evidence of Antide Colas.

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