Magic Words

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The magic words known to the witches were used only for certain definite purposes, the most important use being to raise the Devil. I have omitted the charms which are founded on Christian prayers and formulas, and quote only those which appear to belong to the witch-cult.

In the section on Familiars it will be seen how the witches

[1. Scot. Hist. Soc., xxv, p. 348. See also Ross, Aberdour and Inchcolme, p. 339.

divined by means of animals, which animals were allotted to them by the Chief. In auguries and divinations of this kind in every part of the world a form of words is always used, and the augury is taken by the first animal of the desired species which is seen after the charm is spoken.

Agnes Sampson, the leading witch of the North Berwick Coven, 1590, summoned her familiar by calling 'Elva', and then divined by a dog, whom she dismissed by telling him to 'depart by the law he lives on'. She also used the formula, 'Haill, hola!', and 'Hola!' was also the cry when a cat was cast into the sea to raise a storm.' A man-witch of Alest, 1593, gave the devil's name as Abiron: 'quand il le vouloit voir il disoit: vien Abiron, sinon ie te quitteray.'[2] Andro Man at Aberdeen, 1597, 'confessis that the Devill, thy maister, is rasit be the speking of the word Benedicite, and is laid agane be tacking of a dog vnder thy left oxster in thi richt hand, and casting the same in his mouth, and speking the word Maikpeblis. He grantit that this word Benedicite rasit the Dewill, and Maikpeblis laid him againe, strikin him on the faice with ane deice with the left hand.'[2] Alexander Hamilton of East Lothian, 1630, when covenanting with the devil, had 'ane battoun of fir in his hand the devill than gave the said Alexr command to tak that battoun quhan evir he had ado with him and therewt to strek thruse upone the ground and to chairge him to ruse up foule theiff'; the divining animals in this case were crows, cats, and dogs.[4] Marie Lamont of Innerkip, 1662, was instructed to call the Devil Serpent when she desired to speak with him.[5]

The Somerset witches, 1664, cried out Robin at an appointed place, and the Master then appeared in his proper form as a man: Elizabeth Style and Alice Duke also called him Robin when summoning him privately, and Elizabeth Style added, 'O Sathan give me my purpose', before saying what she wished done.[6] The Swedish witches, 1669, called their Chief

4. From the record of the trial in the Justiciary Court of Edinburgh.

with the cry, 'Antecessor, come and carry us to Blockula'; this they did at an appointed place, and the Devil then appeared as a man.[1]

The words used before starting to a meeting are rarely recorded; only a few remain. The earliest example is from Guernsey in 1563, when Martin Tulouff heard an old witch cry as she bestrode a broomstick, 'Va au nom du diable et luciffer -p dessq{n} roches et espynes.' He then lost sight of her, with the inference that she flew through the air, though he acknowledged that he himself was not so successful.[2] The witches of the Basses-Pyrénées, 1609, anointed themselves before starting, and repeated the words 'Emen hetan, emen hetan', which de Lancre translates 'Ici et là, ici et là'. 'Quelquefois plus furieuses elles se batent entre elles mesmes, en disant, le suis Ie Diable, ie n'ay rien qui ne soit à toy, en ton nom Seigneur cette tien ne seruante s'oingt, & dois estre quelque iour Diable & maling Esprit comme toy.' When crossing water they cried, 'Haut la coude, Quillet,' upon which they could cross without getting wet; and when going a long distance they said, 'Pic suber hoeilhe, en ta la lane de bouc bien m'arrecoueille.'[3] Isobel Gowdie, 1662, gives two variants of the magic words used on these occasions: the first, 'Horse and hattock, in the Divellis name' is not unlike the form given by Martin Tulouff; the second is longer, 'Horse and hattock, horse and goe, Horse and pellattis, ho! ho!'[4] The Somerset witches, 1664, when starting to the meeting, said, 'Thout, tout a tout, tout, throughout and about'; and when returning, 'Rentum tormentum'. At parting they cried, 'A Boy! merry meet, merry part'[7] They also had a long form of words which were used when applying the flying ointment, but these are not recorded.

Other magical words were used at the religious services of the witches in the Basses-Pyrénées (1609). At the elevation

2. From the record of the trial in the Guernsey Greffe.

5. Glanvil, pt. ii, pp. 139, 141. 1 have pointed out that the cry of A Boy' is possibly the Christian recorder's method of expressing the Bacchic shout 'Evoe'. See Jour. Man. Or. Soc., 1916-17, p. 65.]

of the host the congregation cried, '"Aquerra goity, Aquerra beyty, Aquerra goity, Aquerra beyty," qui veut dire Cabron arriba Cabron abaro (sic)'; at the elevation of the chalice at a Christian service they said, 'Corbeau noir, corbeau noir.' There were two forms of words to be used when making the sign of the cross; the first was, 'In nomine Patrica, Aragueaco Petrica, Agora, Agora Valentia, Iouanda, goure gaitz goustia,' translated as 'Au nom de Patrique, Petrique, d'Arragon, à cette heure à cette heure Valence, tout nostre mal est passé'. The second roused de Lancre's horror as peculiarly blasphemous: 'In, nomine patrica, Aragueaco Petrica, Gastellaco Ianicot, Equidae ipordian pot,' 'au nom de Patrique, petrique d'Arragon. Iannicot de Castille faictes moy vn baiser au derriere.'[1] The mention of the ancient Basque god Janicot makes this spell unusually interesting. As the dances were also a religious rite the words used then must be recorded here. Bodin gives the formula, 'Har, har, diable, diable, saute icy, saute là, iouë icy, iouë là: Et les autres disoyent sabath sabath.'[2] The word diable is clearly Bodin's own interpellation for the name of the God, for the Guernsey version, which is currently reported to be used at the present day, runs 'Har, har, Hou, Hou, danse ici', etc.; Hou being the name of an ancient Breton god.[3] Jean Weir (1670) stated that at the instigation of some woman unnamed she put her foot on a cloth on the floor with her hand upon the crown of her head, and repeated thrice, 'All my cross and troubles go to the door with thee.'[4] This seems to have been an admission ceremony, but the words are of the same sentiment as the one recorded by de Lancre, 'tout notre mat est passé.'

There were also certain magical effects supposed to be brought about by the use of certain words. Martin Tulouff (1563) claimed that he could bewitch cows so that they gave blood instead of milk, by saying 'Butyrum de armento', but he admitted that he also used powders to accomplish his

3. The names of the smaller islands are often compounded with the name of this deity, e.g. Li-hou, Brecq-hou, &c.

purpose.[1] Isobel Gowdie (1662) described how the witches laid a broom or a stool in their beds to represent themselves during their absence at a meeting. By the time that this record was made the witches evidently believed that the object took on the exact appearance of the woman, having forgotten its original meaning as a signal to show where she had gone. The words used on these occasions show no belief in the change of appearance of the object:

'I lay down this besom [or stool] in the Devil's name, Let it not stir till I come again.'

Her statements regarding the change of witches into animals I have examined in the section on Familiars (p. 234). The words used to effect these changes are given in full. When a witch wished to take on the form of a hare she said:

'I sall goe intill ane haire, With sorrow, and sych, and meikle caire; And I sall goe in the Divellis nam, Ay quhill I com hom againe.'

To change into a cat or a crow the last two lines were retained unaltered, but the first two were respectively,

'I sall goe intill ane catt,

With sorrow, and sych, and a blak shot'

'I sall goe intill a craw,

With sorrow, and sych, and a blak thraw.'

To return into human form the witch said:

'Haire, haire, God send thee caire. I am in an haire's liknes just now, Bot I sal be in a womanis liknes ewin now.'

From a cat or a crow, the words were 'Cat, cat, God send thee a blak shott' or 'Craw, craw, God send thee a blak thraw', with the last two lines as before. When the witch in animal form entered the house of another witch, she would say 'I conjure thee, Goe with me'; on which the second witch would turn into the same kind of animal as the first. If, however, they met in the open, the formula was slightly different, 'Divell speid the,

Goe thow with me,' the result being the same. [1. From a trial in the Guernsey Greffe. 2. Pitcairn, iii, pp. 607-8, 611.]

The Somerset trials record the words used for cursing anything. These were simply 'A Pox take it', the curse being supposed to take effect at once. If the curse were pronounced over an image of a person the words were 'A Pox on thee, I'le spite thee'.[1]

Alexander Elder's grace over meat is probably a corrupt form of some ancient rite:

We eat this meat in the Divellis nam, With sorrow, and sych, and meikle shame; We sall destroy hows and hald; Both sheip and noat in till the fald. Litle good sall come to the fore Of all the rest of the litle store.'[2]

The 'conjuring of cats' was a distinct feature, and is clearly derived from an early form of sacrifice. The details are recorded only in Scotland, and it is possible that Scotland is the only country in which it occurred, though the sanctity of the cat in other places suggests that the omission in the records is accidental.

In the dittay against John Fian, 1590, he was fylit, for the chaissing of ane catt in Tranent; in the quhilk chaise, he was careit heich aboue the ground, with gryt swyftnes, and as lychtlie as the catt hir selff, ower ane heicher dyke, nor he was able to lay his hand to the heid off: And being inquyrit, to quhat effect he chaissit the samin? Ansuerit, that in ane conversatioune haldin at Brumhoillis, Sathan commandit all that were present, to tak cattis; tyke as he, for obedience to Sathan, chaissit the said catt, purpoiselie to be cassin in the sea, to raise windis for distructioune of schippis and boitis.'[3] Agnes Sampson of the same Coven as Fian confessed 'that at the time when his Majestie was in Denmark, shee being accompanied by the parties before speciallie named, tooke a cat and christened it, and afterwards bounde to each part of that cat, the cheefest parte of a dead man, and severall joyntis of his bodie: And that in the night following, the saide cat was convayed into the middest of the sea by all the witches, sayling in their riddles or cives, as is aforesaid, and so left the

2. Pitcairn, iii, p. 612. Sych = sighing, lamentation.

said cat right before the towne of Leith in Scotland. This doone, there did arise such a tempest in the sea, as a greater hath not bene seene.'[1] The legal record of this event is more detailed and less dramatic; the sieves are never mentioned, the witches merely walking to the Pier-head in an ordinary and commonplace manner. The Coven at Prestonpans sent a letter to the Leith Coven that

'they sould mak the storm vniuersall thro the sea. And within aucht dayes eftir the said Bill [letter] wes delyuerit, the said Agnes Sampsoune, Jonett Campbell, Johnne Fean, Gelie Duncan, and Meg Dyn baptesit ane catt in the wobstaris hous, in maner following: Fyrst, twa of thame held ane fingar, in the ane syd of the chimnay cruik, and ane vther held ane vther fingar in the vther syd, the twa nebbis of the fingars meting togidder; than thay patt the catt thryis throw the linkis of the cruik, and passit itt thryis vnder the chimnay. Thaireftir, att Begie Toddis hous, thay knitt to the foure feit of the catt, foure jountis of men; quhilk being done, the sayd Jonet fechit it to Leith; and about mydnycht, sche and the twa Linkhop, and twa wyfeis callit Stobbeis, came to the Pier-heid, and saying thir words, 'See that thair be na desait amangis ws'; and thay caist the catt in the see, sa far as thay mycht, quhilk swam owre and cam agane; and thay that wer in the Panis, caist in ane vthir catt in the see att xj houris. Eftir quhilk, be thair sorcerie and inchantment, the boit perischit betuix Leith and Kinghorne; quhilk thing the Deuill did, and went befoir, with ane stalf in his hand.'[2]

Beigis Todd was concerned in another 'conjuring of cats', this time at Seaton.

'Eftir thay had drukkin togidder a certane space, thay, in thair devillische maner, tuik ane katt, and drew the samyn nyne tymes throw the said Beigis cruik; and thaireftir come with all thair speed to Seaton-thorne, be-north the 3et. . . . And thay thaireftir past altogidder, with the Devill, to the irne 3et [iron gate] of Seatoun, quhair of new thay tuik ane cat, and drew the samyn nyne tymes throw the said Irne-3ett: And immediatlie thaireffir, came to the barne, foiranent George Feudaris dur, quhair thai christened the said catt, and callit hir Margaret: And thaireftir come all bak agane to the Deane-fute, quhair first thai convenit, and cuist the kat to the Devill.'[3]

[1. Newes from Scotland, see Pitcairn, i, pt. ii, p. 218.

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