THE subject of Witches and Witchcraft has always suffered from the biassed opinions of the commentators, both contemporary and of later date. On the one hand are the writers who, having heard the evidence at first hand, believe implicitly in the facts and place upon them the unwarranted construction that those facts were due to supernatural power; on the other hand are the writers who, taking the evidence on hearsay and disbelieving the conclusions drawn by their opponents, deny the facts in toto. Both parties believed with equal firmness in a personal Devil, and both supported their arguments with quotations from the Bible. But as the believers were able to bring forward more texts than the unbelievers and had in their hands an unanswerable argument in the Witch of Endor, the unbelievers, who dared not contradict the Word of God, were forced to fall back on the theory that the witches suffered from hallucination, hysteria, and, to use the modern word, 'auto-suggestion'. These two classes still persist, the sceptic predominating. Between the believer who believed everything and the unbeliever who disbelieved everything there has been no critical examination of the evidence, which presents a new and untouched field of research to the student of comparative religion.

Among the believers in witchcraft everything which could not be explained by the knowledge at their disposal was laid to the credit of supernatural powers; and as everything incomprehensible is usually supposed to emanate from evil, the witches were believed to be possessed of devilish arts. As also every non-Christian God was, in the eyes of the Christians, the opponent of the Christian God, the witches were considered to worship the Enemy of Salvation, in other words, the Devil. The greater number of these writers, however, obtained the evidence at first hand, and it must therefore be accepted although the statements do not bear the construction put upon them. It is only by a careful comparison with the evidence of anthropology that the facts fall into their proper places and an organized religion stands revealed.

The common beliefs as to the powers of the witches are largely due to the credulous contemporary commentators, who misunderstood the evidence and then exaggerated some of the facts to suit their preconceived ideas of the supernatural powers of the witches; thereby laying themselves open to the ridicule of all their opponents, past and present. Yet the ridicule is not fully deserved, for the facts are there, though the explanation is wrong; for even the two points, which are usually considered the ultimate proof of the absurdity and incredibility of the whole system the flying on a broomstick through the window or up the chimney, and the transformation into animals are capable of explanation. The first can be accounted for when the form of early mound-dwellings is taken into consideration, and when it is remembered that among savage tribes there are often taboos connected with the door, the two-faced god being essentially a deity of the door. Besides this the fertility rites connected with the broom should be taken into account. The second should be compared with similar accounts of transformation into animals among the cults of other nations. Mr. A. B. Cook's comment on the Greek ritual applies quite as well to Western as to Eastern Europe: 'We may venture on the general statement that within the bounds of Hellenic mythology animal-metamorphosis commonly points to a preceding animal cult .'[1]

It is interesting to note the class of mind among those contemporary writers who believed in the reality of the facts confessed at the trials as compared with those who disbelieved. It will be seen that the most brilliant minds. the keenest intellects. the greatest investigators. were among the believers: Bodin. Lord Bacon. Raleigh. Boyle. Cudworth. Selden. Henry More. Sir Thomas Browne. Matthew Hale. Sir George Mackenzie. and many others. most of whom had heard the evidence at first hand. The sceptics were Weyer. pupil of the occultist Cornelius Agrippa; Reginald Scot. a Kentish country squire;

[1. Journal of Hellenic Studies. 1894. p. 160. The italics are in the original.]

Filmer. whose name was a byword for political bigotry; Wagstaffe. who went mad from drink; and Webster. a fanatical preacher.[1] The sceptics. with the exception of Weyer. appear to have had little or no first-hand evidence; their only weapon was an appeal to common sense and sentiment combined; their only method was a flat denial of every statement which appeared to point to supernatural powers. They could not disprove the statements; they could not explain them without opposing the accepted religious beliefs of their time. and so weakening their cause by exposing themselves to the serious charge of atheism; therefore they denied evidence which in the case of any other accusation would have been accepted as proof.

The evidence which I now bring forward is taken entirely from contemporary sources. i.e. the legal records of the trials. pamphlets giving accounts of individual witches. and the works of Inquisitors and other writers. I have omitted the opinions of the authors. and have examined only the recorded facts. without however including the stories of ghosts and other 'occult' phenomena with which all the commentators confuse the subject. I have also. for the reason given below. omitted all reference to charms and spells when performed by one witch alone. and have confined myself to those statements only which show the beliefs. organization. and ritual of a hitherto unrecognized cult.

In order to clear the ground I make a sharp distinction between Operative Witchcraft and Ritual Witchcraft. Under Operative Witchcraft I class all charms and spells. whether used by a professed witch or by a professed Christian. whether intended for good or for evil. for killing or for curing. Such charms and spells are common to every nation and country. and are practised by the priests and people of every religion. They are part of the common heritage of the human race and are therefore of no practical value in the study of any one particular cult.

Ritual Witchcraft or. as I propose to call it. the Dianic

[1. See James Crossley's Introduction to Potts's Discoverie of Witchcraft. Chetham Society. pp. v-xii.]

cult-embraces the religious beliefs and ritual of the people. known in late mediaeval times as 'Witches'. The evidence proves that underlying the Christian religion was a cult practised by many classes of the community. chiefly. however. by the more ignorant or those in the less thickly inhabited parts of the country. It can be traced back to pre-Christian times. and appears to be the ancient religion of Western Europe. The god. anthropomorphic or theriomorphic. was worshipped in well-defined rites; the organization was highly developed; and the ritual is analogous to many other ancient rituals. The dates of the chief festivals suggest that the religion belonged to a race which had not reached the agricultural stage; and the evidence shows that various modifications were introduced. probably by invading peoples who brought in -their own beliefs. I have not attempted to disentangle the various cults; I am content merely to point out that it was a definite religion with beliefs, ritual, and organization as highly developed as that of any other cult in the world.

The deity of this cult was incarnate in a man, a woman, or an animal; the animal form being apparently earlier than the human, for the god was often spoken of as wearing the skin or attributes of an animal. At the same time, however, there was another form of the god in the shape of a man with two aces. Such a god is found in Italy (where he was called Janus or Dianus), in Southern France (see pp. 62, 129), and in the English Midlands. The feminine form of the name, Diana, is found throughout Western Europe as the name of the female deity or leader of the so-called Witches, and it is for this reason that I have called this ancient religion the Dianic cult. The geographical distribution of the two-faced god suggests that the race or races, who carried the cult, either did not remain in every country which they entered, or that in many places they and their religion were overwhelmed by subsequent invaders.

The dates of the two chief festivals, May Eve and November Eve, indicate the use of a calendar which is generally acknowledged to be pre-agricultural and earlier than the solstitial division of the year. The fertility rites of the cult bear out this indication, as they were for promoting the increase of animals and only rarely for the benefit of the crops. The cross -quarter-days, February 2 and August 1, which were also kept as festivals, were probably of later date, as, though classed among the great festivals, they were not of so high an importance as the May and November Eves. To February 2, Candlemas Day, probably belongs the sun-charm of the burning wheel, formed by the whirling dancers, each carrying a blazing torch; but no special ceremony seems to be assigned to August 1, Lammas Day, a fact suggestive of a later introduction of this festival,

The organization of the hierarchy was the same throughout Western Europe, with the slight local differences which always occur in any organization. The same organization, when carried to America, caused Cotton Mather to say, 'The witches are organized like Congregational Churches.' This gives the clue at once. In each Congregational Church there is a body of elders who manage the affairs of the Church, and the minister who conducts the religious services and is the chief person in religious matters; and there may also be a specially appointed person to conduct the services in the minister's absence; each Church is an independent entity and not necessarily connected with any other. In the same way there was among the witches a body of elders the Coven which managed the local affairs of the cult, and a man who, like the minister, held the chief place, though as God that place was infinitely higher in the eyes of the congregation than any held by a mere human being. In some of the larger congregations there was a person, inferior to the Chief, who took charge in the Chief's absence. In Southern France, however, there seems to have been a Grand Master who was supreme over several districts,

The position of the chief woman in the cult is still somewhat obscure. Professor Pearson sees, in her the Mother-Goddess worshipped chiefly by women. This is very probable, but at the time when the cult is recorded the worship of the male deity-appears to have superseded that of the female, and it is only on rare occasions that the God appears in female form to receive the homage of the worshippers. As a general rule the woman's position, when divine, is that of the familiar or substitute for the male god. There remains, however, the curious fact that the chief woman was often identified with the Queen of Faerie, or the Elfin Queen as she is sometimes called.

This connexion of the witches and fairies opens up a very wide field; at present it is little more than speculation that the two are identical, but there is promise that the theory may be proved at some later date when the subject is more fully worked out. It is now a commonplace of anthropology that the tales of fairies and elves preserve the tradition of a dwarf race which once inhabited Northern and Western Europe. Successive invasions drove them to the less fertile parts of each country which they inhabited, some betook themselves to the inhospitable north or the equally inhospitable mountains; some, however, remained in the open heaths and moors, living as mound-dwellers, venturing out chiefly at night and coming in contact with the ruling races only on rare occasions. As the conqueror always regards the religion of the conquered as superior to his own in the arts of evil magic, the dwarf race obtained the reputation of wizards and magicians, and their god was identified by the conquerors with the Principle of Evil. The identification of the witches with the dwarf or fairy race would give us a clear insight into much of the civilization of the early European peoples, especially as regards their religious ideas.

The religious rites varied according to circumstances and the requirements of the people. The greater number of the ceremonies appear to have been practised for the purpose of securing fertility. Of these the sexual ritual has been given an overwhelming and quite unwarranted importance in the trials, for it became an obsession with the Christian judges and recorders to investigate the smallest and most minute details of the rite. Though in late examples the ceremony had possibly degenerated into a Bacchanalian orgy, there is evidence to prove that, like the same rite in other countries, it was originally a ceremonial magic to ensure fertility. There is at present nothing to show how much of the Witches' Mass (in which the bread, the wine, and the candles were black) derived from the Christian ritual and how much belonged to the Dianic cult; it is, however, possible that the witches' service was the earlier form and influenced the Christian. The admission ceremonies were often elaborate, and it is here that the changes in the religion are most clearly marked; certain ceremonies must have been introduced when another cult was superimposed and became paramount, such as the specific renunciation of a previous religion which was obligatory on all new candidates, and the payment to the member who brought a new recruit into the fold. The other rites the feasts and dances show that it was a joyous religion; and as such it must have been quite incomprehensible to the gloomy Inquisitors and Reformers who suppressed it.

Much stress has always been laid by the sceptical writers on the undoubted fact that in many cases the witch confused dreams with reality and believed that she had visited the Sabbath when credible witnesses could prove that she had slept in her bed all the time. Yet such visions are known in other religions; Christians have met their Lord in dreams of the night and have been accounted saints for that very reason; Mahomed, though not released from the body, had interviews with Allah; Moses talked with God; the Egyptian Pharaohs record similar experiences. To the devotee of a certain temperament such visions occur, and it is only to be expected that in every case the vision should take the form required by the religion of the worshipper. Hence the Christian sees Christ and enters heaven; Mahomed was caught up to the Paradise of the true believers; the anthropomorphic Jehovah permitted only a back view to His votary; the Egyptian Pharaohs beheld their gods alive and moving on the earth. The witch also met her god at the actual Sabbath and again in her dreams, for that earthly Sabbath was to her the true Paradise, where there was more pleasure than she could express, and she believed also that the joy which she took in it was but the prelude to a much greater glory, for her god so held her heart that no other desire could enter in. Thus the witches often went to the gibbet and the stake, glorifying their god and committing their souls into his keeping, with a firm belief that death was but the entrance to an eternal life in which they would never be parted from him. Fanatics and visionaries as many of them were, they resemble those Christian martyrs whom the witch-persecutors often held in the highest honour.

Another objection is that, as the evidence of the witches at the trials is more or less uniform in character, it must be attributed to the publication by the Inquisitors of a questionary for the use of all judges concerned in such trials; in short, that the evidence is valueless, as it was given in answer to leading questions. No explanation is offered by the objectors as to how the Inquisitors arrived at the form of questionary, nor is any regard given to the injunction to all Inquisitors to acquaint themselves with all the details of any heresy which they were commissioned to root out; they were to obtain the information from those who would recant and use it against the accused; and to instruct other judges in the belief and ritual of the heresy, so that they also might recognize it and act accordingly. The objectors also overlook the fact that the believers in any given religion, when tried for their faith, exhibit a sameness in their accounts of the cult, usually with slight local differences. Had the testimony of the witches as to their beliefs varied widely, it would be prima facie evidence that there was no well-defined religion underlying their ritual; but the very uniformity of their confessions points to the reality of the occurrence.

Still another objection is that the evidence was always given under torture, and that the wretched victims consequently made reckless assertions and accusations. In most of the English and many of the Scotch trials legal torture was not applied; and it was only in the seventeenth century that pricking for the mark, starvation, and prevention of sleep were used. Even then there were many voluntary confessions given by those who, like the early Christian martyrs, rushed headlong on their fate, determined to die for their faith and their god.

Yet even if some of the evidence were given under torture and in answer to leading questions, there still remains a mass of details which cannot be explained away. Among others there are the close connexions of the witches with the fairies the persistence of the number thirteen in the Covens, the narrow geographical range of the domestic familiar, the avoidance of certain forms in the animal transformations, the limited number of personal names among the women-witches, and the survival of the names of some of the early gods.

In England the legal method of executing a witch was by hanging; after death the body was burnt and the ashes scattered. In Scotland, as a rule, the witch was strangled at the stake and the body burned, but there are several records of the culprit being sentenced to burning alive. In France burning alive was the invariable punishment.

In cases where popular fury, unrestrained by the law, worked its own vengeance on individuals, horrible scenes occurred; but these were the exception, and, examining only the legal aspect of the subject, it will be found that witches had a fair trial according to the methods of the period, and that their punishment was according to the law. There was, however, one popular method of dealing with a person accused of witchcraft which is interesting as showing the survival of a legal process, obsolete as regards the law itself, but remaining in full force among the people. This is the ordeal by water. In the Laws of Athelstan the full detail of this ordeal is given: after the person who was to undergo the ordeal had been prepared by prayer and fasting, he was tied, the right thumb to the right big toe, the left thumb to the left big toe, and was then cast into the water with suitable prayers to the Almighty to declare the right; if he sank he was considered innocent, if he floated he was guilty. The witch was 'tried' in the same way, except that she was tied 'crossways', i.e. the right thumb to the left big toe, and the left thumb to the right big toe. So great was the belief in this test that many women accused of witchcraft insisted on undergoing this ordeal, which was often conducted with solemnity and decency under the auspices of the minister of the parish and other grave persons. Unless there was strong feeling against the woman for other reasons, the mere fact of her floating did not rouse the populace against her, and she merely returned home; Widow Coman, for instance, was 'ducked' on three separate occasions at her own request.

The theologians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were greatly exercised by the conclusive evidence which proved that people known to be devout and professing Christians had been present at the Sabbath, joined in the ceremonies, and worshipped the witches' god. The Inquisitors recognized the fact, and devote many pages of their books to the discussion of the course to be followed in the case of Christian priests, coming finally to the conclusion that if a priest merely went to the Sabbath but was not in any way in an official position there his sacred character preserved him from evil. The theologians of the Reformed Churches, who could not accept the sanctity of the priesthood with the same ease and were also desirous of finding some means of accounting for the presence of the devout laity, boldly evolved the theory that the Devil could for his own purposes assume the shape of good Christians in order to mislead the witches. By this plea the accused often succeeded in escaping when the examiners were religious ministers, but it was of no value to them when the trial was in a court of law, and the fact of their presence at an illegal assembly was proved. Lord Coke's definition of a witch summed up the law on the subject: 'A witch is a person who hath conference with the Devil, to consult with him or to do some act', and any person proved to have had such conference was thus convicted of a capital offence and sentenced accordingly. This accounts for the fact, commented on by all students of witch-trials, that a witch was often condemned even though she had invariably used her skill for good and not for evil; for healing the sick, not for casting sickness. If it were proved that she had obtained her knowledge from the 'Devil' she had broken the law and must die.


OF the ancient religion of pre-Christian Britain there are few written records. but it is contrary to all experience that a cult should die out and leave no trace immediately on the introduction of a new religion. The so-called conversion of Britain meant the conversion of the rulers only; the mass of the people continued to follow their ancient customs and beliefs with a veneer of Christian rites. The centuries brought a deepening of Christianity which. introduced from above. gradually penetrated downwards through one class after another. During this process the laws against the practice of certain heathen rites became more strict as Christianity grew in power. the Church tried her strength against 'witches' in high places and was victorious. and in the fifteenth century open war was declared against the last remains of heathenism in the famous Bull of Innocent VIII.

This heathenism was practised only in certain places and among certain classes of the community. In other places the ancient ritual was either adopted into. or tolerated by. the Church; and the Maypole dances and other rustic festivities remained as survivals of the rites of the early cult.

Whether the religion which survived as the witch cult was the same as the religion of the Druids. or whether it belonged to a still earlier stratum. is not clear. Though the descriptions. of classical authors are rather too vague and scanty to settle such a point. sufficient remains to show that a fertility cult did once exist in these islands. akin to similar cults in the ancient world. Such rites would not he suppressed by the tribes who entered Great Britain after the withdrawal of the Romans; a continuance of the cult may therefore be expected among the people whom the Christian missionaries laboured to convert.

As the early historical records of these islands were made by Christian ecclesiastics. allowance must be made for the religious bias of the writers. which caused them to make Christianity appear as the only religion existing at the time. But though the historical records are silent on the subject the laws and enactments of the different communities. whether lay or ecclesiastical. retain very definite evidence of the continuance of the ancient cults.

In this connexion the dates of the conversion of England are instructive. The following table gives the principal dates:

597-604. Augustine's mission. London still heathen. Conversion of ^thelbert. King of Kent. After ^thelbert's death Christianity suffered a reverse.

604. Conversion of the King of the East Saxons. whose successor lapsed.

627. Conversion of the King of Northumbria.

628. Conversion of the King of East Anglia. 631-651. Aidan's missions.

635. Conversion of the King of Wessex.

653. Conversion of the King of Mercia.

654. Re-conversion of the King of the East Saxons.

681. Conversion of the King of the South Saxons.

An influx of heathenism occurred on two later occasions in the ninth century there was an invasion by the heathen Danes under Guthrum; and in the eleventh century the heathen king Cnut led his hordes to victory, As in the case of the Saxon kings of the seventh century, Guthrum and Cnut were converted and the tribes followed their leaders' example, professed Christianity, and were baptized.

But it cannot be imagined that these wholesale conversions were more than nominal in most cases, though the king's religion was outwardly the tribe's religion. If, as happened among the East Saxons, the king forsook his old gods, returned to them again, and finally forsook them altogether, the tribe followed his lead, and, in public at least, worshipped Christ, Odin, or any other deity whom the king favoured for the moment; but there can be hardly any doubt that in private the mass of the people adhered to the old religion to which they were accustomed. This tribal conversion is clearly marked when a heathen king married a Christian queen, or vice. versa; and it must also be noted that a king never changed his religion without careful consultation with his chief men.[1] An example of the two religions existing side by side is found in the account of Redwald, King of the East Saxons, who 'in the same temple had an altar to sacrifice to Christ, and another small one to offer victims to devils'.[2]

The continuity of the ancient religion is proved by the references to it in the classical authors, the ecclesiastical laws, and other legal and historical records.

'In an island close to Britain, Demeter and Persephone are venerated with rites similar to the orgies of Samothrace.'[3]

4th cent. Dionysius says that in islands near Jersey and Guernsey the rites of Bacchus were performed by the women, crowned with leaves; they danced and made an even greater shouting than the Thracians.[4]

7th cent. Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury, 668-690.

The Liber Poenitentialis[5] of Theodore contains the earliest ecclesiastical laws of England. It consists of a list of offences and the penance due for each offence; one whole section is occupied with details of the ancient religion and of its rites. Such are:

Sacrifice to devils.

Eating and drinking in a heathen temple, (a) in ignorance, (b) after being told by the [Christian] priest that it is sacrilege and the table of devils, (c) as a cult of idols and in honour of idols.

'Not only celebrating feasts in the abominable places of the heathen and offering food there, but also consuming it. Serving this hidden idolatry, having relinquished Christ. If anyone at the kalends of January goes about as a stag or a bull; that is, making himself into a wild animal and dressing in the skin of a herd animal, and putting on the heads of beasts; those who in such wise transform themselves into the appearance of a wild animal, penance for three years because this is devilish.'

4. Dionysius, Periegetes, II. 1120-5.

The Laws ofWihtraed, King of Kent,[1] 690. Fines inflicted on those who offer to devils.

8th cent. The Confessionale and Poeniteniale ofEcgberht, first Archbishop of York,[2] 734-766. Prohibition of offerings to devils; of witchcraft; of auguries according to the methods of the heathen; of vows paid, loosed, or confirmed at wells, stones, or trees; of the gathering of herbs with any incantation except Christian prayers.

The Law of the Northumbrian priests.[3]

'If then anyone be found that shall henceforth practise any heathenship, either by sacrifice or by "fyrt", or in any way love witchcraft, or worship idols, if he be a king's thane, let him pay X half-marks; half to Christ, half to the king. We are all to love and worship one God, and strictly hold one Christianity, and totally renounce all heathenship.'

9th cent. Decree attributed to a General Council of Ancyra.[4]

'Certain wicked women, reverting to Satan, and seduced by the illusions and phantasms of demons, believe and profess that they ride at night with Diana on certain beasts, with an innumerable multitude of women, passing over immense distances, obeying her commands as their mistress, and evoked by her on certain nights.'

10th cent. Laws of Edward and Guthrum.[5] After 901.

'If anyone violate christianity, or reverence heathenism, by word or by work, let him pay as well wer, as wite or lah-slit, according as the deed may be.'

Laws of King Athelslan,[6] 924-940.

We have ordained respecting witchcrafts, and lyblacs, and morthdaeds: if anyone should be thereby killed, and he could not deny it, that he be liable in his life. But if he will deny it, and at the threefold ordeal shall be guilty; that he be cxx days in prison.'

Ecclesiastical canons of King Edgar,[7] 959.

We enjoin, that every priest zealously promote Christianity, and totally extinguish every heathenism; and forbid

well worshipings. and necromancies. and divinations. and enchantments. and man worshipings. and the vain practices which are carried on with various spells. and with "frithsplots".[1] and with elders. and also with various other trees. and with stones. and with many various delusions. with which men do much of what they should not. And we enjoin. that every Christian man zealously accustom his children to Christianity. and teach them the Paternoster and the Creed. And we enjoin. that on feast days heathen songs and devil's games be abstained from.'

Laws of King Ethelred. [2] 978-1016.

'Let every Christian man do as is needful to him; let him strictly keep his Christianity. . . . Let us zealously venerate right Christianity. and totally despise every heathenism.'

11th cent. Laws of King Cnut.[3] 1017-1035.

'We earnestly forbid every heathenism: heathenism is. that men worship idols; that is. that they worship heathen gods. and the sun or the moon. fire or rivers. water-wells or stones. or forest trees of any kind; or love witchcraft. or promote morth-work in any wise.'

13th cent. Witchcraft made into a sect and heresy by the Church. The priest of Inverkeithing presented before the bishop in 1282 for leading a fertility dance at Easter round the phallic figure of a god; he was allowed to retain his benefice.[4]

14th cent. In 1303 the Bishop of Coventry was accused before the Pope for doing homage to the Devil.[3]

Trial of Dame Alice Kyteler. 1324.

Tried for both operative and ritual witchcraft. and found guilty.

Nider's Formicarius. 1337.

A detailed account of witches and their proceedings in Berne. which had been infested by them for more than sixty years.

[1. Frith = brushwood. splot = plot of ground; sometimes used for 'splotch. splash'.

4. Chronicles of Lanercost. p. 109. ed. Stevenson.

15th cent. Joan of Arc burnt as a witch. 1431. Gilles de Rais executed as a witch. 1440. Bernardo di Bosco. 1457.

Sent by Pope Calixtus III to suppress the witches in Brescia and its neighbourhood. Bull of Pope Innocent VIII. 1481.

'It has come to our ears that numbers of both sexes do not avoid to have intercourse with demons. Incubi and Succubi; and that by their sorceries. and by their incantations. charms. and conjurations. they suffocate. extinguish. and cause to perish the births of women. the increase of animals. the corn of the ground. the grapes of the vineyard and the fruit of the trees. as well as men. women. flocks. herds. and other various kinds of animals. vines and apple trees. grass. corn and other fruits of the earth; making and procuring that men and women. flocks and herds and other animals shall suffer and be tormented both from within and without. so that men beget not, nor women conceive; and they impede the conjugal action of men and women.'

It will be seen by the foregoing that so far from the Bull of Pope Innocent VIII being the beginning of the 'outbreak of witchcraft ', as so many modern writers consider, it is only one of many ordinances against the practices of an earlier cult. It takes no account of the effect of these practices on the morals of the people who believed in them, but lays stress only on their power over fertility; the fertility of human beings, animals, and crops. In short it is exactly the pronouncement which one would expect from a Christian against a heathen form of religion in which the worship of a god of fertility was the central idea. It shows therefore that the witches were considered to deal with fertility only.

Looked upon in the light of a fertility cult, the ritual, of the witches becomes comprehensible. Originally for the promotion of fertility, it became gradually degraded into a method for blasting fertility, and thus the witches who had been once the means of bringing prosperity to the people and the land by driving out all evil influences, in process of time were looked upon as being themselves the evil influences, and were held in horror accordingly.

The actual feelings of the witches towards their religion have been recorded in very few cases, but they can be inferred from the few records which remain. The earliest example is from Lorraine in 1408, 'lequel méfait les susdites dames disoient et confessoient avoir enduré à leur contentement et saoulement de plaisir que n'avoient eu onc de leur vie en tel pourchas'.[1] De Lancre took a certain amount of trouble to obtain the opinions of the witches, whereby he was obviously scandalized.

'Vne sorciere entre autres fort insigne nous dict qu'elle auoit tousiours creu, que la sorcelerie estoit la meilleure religion. Ieanne Dibasson aagee de vingt neuf ans nous dict que le sabbat estoit le vray Paradis, où il y a beaucoup plus de plaisir qu'on ne peut exprimer. Que ceux qui y vont trouuent le temps si court à force de plaisir & de contenteme{n}t, qu'ils n'en peuuent sortir sans vn merveilleux regret, de maniere qu'il leur tarde infiniment qu'ils n'y reuiennent. Marie de la Ralde, aagee de vingt huict ans, tres belle femme, depose qu'elle auoit vn singulier plaisir d'aller au sabbat, si bien que quand on la venoit semondre d'y aller elle y alloit comme à nopces: non pas tant pour la liberté & licence qu'on a de s'accointer ensemble (ce que par modestie elle dict n'auoir iamais faict ny veu faire) mais parce que le Diable tenoit tellement liés leurs coeurs & leurs volontez qu'à peine y laissoit il entrer nul autre desir . . . An reste elle dict qu'elle ne croyoit faire aucun mal d'aller au sabbat, & qu'elle y auoit beaucoup plus de plaisir & contentement que d'aller à la Messe, parce que le Diable leur faisoit à croire qu'il estoit le vray Dieu, & que la ioye que les sorciers prenoyent au sabbat n'estoit qu'vn commencement d'vne beaucoup plus grande gloire. Elles disoyent franchement, qu'elles y alloyent & voyoient toutes ces execrations auec vne volupté admirable, & vn desir enrager d'y aller & d'y estre, trouua{n}t les iours trop reculez de la nuict pour faire le voyage si desiré, & le poinct ou les heures pour y aller trop lentes, & y estant, trop, courtes pour vn si agreable seiour & delicieux amusement. En fin il a le faux martyre: & se trouue des Sorciers si acharnez à son seruice endiablé, qu'il n'y a torture ny supplice qui les estonne, & diriez qu'ils vont au vray martyre & à la mort pour l'amour de luy, aussi gayement que s'ils alloient à vn festin de plaisir & reiouyssance publique. Quand elles sont preuenues de la Iustice, elles ne pleurent & ne iettent vne seule larme, voire leur faux martyre soit de la torture, soit du gibet leur est si plaisant, qu'il tarde à plusieurs qu'elles ne

soiêt executées à mort, & souffre{n}t fort ioyeusement qu'on leur face le procez, tant il leur tarde qu'elles ne soient auec le Diable. Et ne s'impatientent de rien tant en leur prison, que de ce qu'elles ne lui peuuent tesmoigner co{m}bie{n}: elles souffrent & desirent souffrir pour luy."[1]

Bodin says, 'Il y en a d'autres, ausquelles Satan promet qu'elles seront bien heureuses apres cette vie, qui empesche qu'elles ne se repentent, & meurent obstinees en leur mechanceté'.[2]

Madame de Bourignon's girls at Lille (1661) 'had not the least design of changing, to quit these abominable Pleasures, as one of them of Twenty-two Years old one day told me. No, said she, I will not be other than I am; I find too much content in my Condition .'[3] Though the English and Scotch witches' opinions are not reported, it is clear from the evidence that they were the same as those of the Basses-Pyrénées, for not only did they join of their own free will but in many cases there seems to have been no need of persuasion. In a great number of trials, when the witches acknowledged that they had been asked to become members of the society, there follows an expression of this sort, 'ye freely and willingly accepted and granted thereto'. And that they held -to their god as firmly as those de Lancre put to death is equally evident in view of the North Berwick witches, of Rebecca West and Rose Hallybread, who 'dyed very Stuburn, and Refractory without any Remorss, or seeming Terror of Conscience for their abominable Witch-craft';[4] Major Weir, who perished as a witch, renouncing all hope of heaven;[5] and the Northampton witches, Agnes Browne and her daughter, who 'were never heard to pray, or to call vppon God, never asking pardon for their offences either of God or the world in this their dangerous, and desperate Resolution, dyed'; Elinor Shaw and Mary Phillips, at their execution 'being desired to say their Prayers, they both set up a very loud Laughter,

[1. De Lancre, Tableau, pp. 124, 125, 126, 135, 208, 458.

3. Bourignon, Parole, p. 87. Hale, p. 27. Full Tryals of Notorious Witches, p. 8.

4. Records of the Justiciary Court of Edinburgh, ii, p. 14. Arnot, p. 359.]

calling for the Devil to come and help them in such a Blasphemous manner, as is not fit to Mention; so that the Sherif seeing their presumptious Impenitence, caused them to be Executed with all the Expedition possible; even while they were Cursing and raving, and as they liv'd the Devils true Factors, so they resolutely Dyed in his Service': the rest of the Coven also died 'without any confession or contrition'.[1]

[1. Witches of Northhamtonshire, p. 8.]

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