The Esbat

Hell Really Exists

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Business. The Esbat differed from the Sabbath by being primarily, for business, whereas the Sabbath was purely religious. In both, feasting and dancing brought the proceedings to a close. The business carried on at the Esbat was usually the practice of magic for the benefit of a client or for the harming of an enemy. Sometimes the Devil appears to

have ordered his followers to perform some action by which to impress the imagination of those who believed in his power though they did not worship him. Very often also the Esbat was for sheer enjoyment only, without any ulterior object, as the following quotations show:

Estebène de Cambrue (1567), who is the authority for the name Esbat as applied to local meetings, says that 'les petites assemblées qui se font pres des villes ou parroisses, où il n'y va que ceux du lieu, ils les appellent les esbats: & se font ores en vn lieu de ladicte paroisse, ores en vn autre, où on ne faict que sauter & folastrer, le Diable ny estant auec tout son grand arroy comme aux grandes assemblees'.[1] Alesoun Peirsoun (1588) was taken by a party of men and women, under the leadership of a man in green, 'fordir nor scho could tell; and saw with thame pypeing and mirrynes and gude scheir, and wes careit to Lowtheane, and saw wyne punchounis with tassis with them '.[2] Jonet Barker (1643) said that 'scho and ye said Margaret Lauder being wthin ye said Jonet Cranstones house tua pyntis of beir war drukkin be thame thre togidder in ye said house at quhilk ye devill appeirit to thame in ye liknes of ane tryme gentill man and drank wt thame all thre and that he Imbracet the said margaret lauder in his armes at ye drinking of ye beir and put his arme about hir waist'.[3] Isobel Bairdie (1649) was accused of meeting the Devil and drinking with him, 'the devil drank to her, and she pledging him, drank back again to him, and he pledged her, saying, Grammercie, you are very welcome.[4] Janet Brown (1649) 'was charged with having held a meeting with the Devil appearing as a man, at the back of Broomhills, who was at a wanton Play with Isobel Gairdner the elder, and Janet Thomson'.[5] In Forfar Helen Guthrie (1661) confessed that she went to several meetings; at one in the churchyard they daunced togither, and the ground under them wes all fyre flauchter, and Andrew Watson hade his vsuale staff in his hand, altho he be a blind man yet he daunced alse nimblie as any of the companye, and made also

3. From the record in the Justiciary Court of Edinburgh.

great miriement by singing his old ballads, and that Isobell Shyrrie did sing her song called Tinkletum Tankletum; and that the divill kist every one of the women'. At another meeting they all daunced togither a whyle, and then went to Mary Rynd's house and sat doune together at the table . . . and made them selfes mirrie; and the divell made much of them all, but especiallie of Mary Rynd, and he kist them all'.[1] Elspet Bruce of the same Coven, 'by turning the sive and sheires, reased the divell, who being werry hard to be laid againe, ther wes a meiting of witches for laying of him . . . and at this meiting they had pipe-music and dauncing'.[2] Isobell Gowdie (1662) gives an account of one of these joyous assemblies: 'We killed an ox, in Burgie, abowt the dawing of the day, and we browght the ox with ws hom to Aulderne, and did eat all amongst ws, in an hows in Aulderne, and feasted on it.'[3] Marie Lamont (1662) also enjoyed her meetings; the first at which she was present was held in Kettie Scott's house, where the devil 'sung to them, and they dancit; he gave them wyn to drink, and wheat bread to eat, and they warr all very mirrie. She confesses, at that meiting the said Kettie Scott made her first acquaintance with the devill, and caused her to drink to him, and shak hands with him. Shee was with Katie Scot and others at a meitting at Kempoch, wher they danced, and the devil kissed them when they went away.'[4] Annaple Thomson and the other witches of Borrowstowness (1679)

'wis at several mettings with the devill in the linkes of Borrowstonenes, and in the howsse of you Bessie Vickar, and ye did eatt and drink with the devill, and with on another, and with witches in hir howss in the night tyme; and the devill and the said Wm Craw browght the ale which ye drank, extending to about sevin gallons, from the howss of Elizabeth Hamilton; and yow the said Annaple had ane other metting abowt fyve wekes ago, when yow wis goeing to the coalhill of Grange, and he inveitted you to go alongst, and drink with him . . . And yow the said Margret Hamilton has bein the devill's servant these eight or nyne yeeres bygane; and he appered and conversed with yow at the town-well at Borrowstownes, and several tymes in yowr awin howss, and drank severall. choppens of ale with you."

The magical ceremonies performed by the witches with, the help of the Devil were usually for the destruction of, or for doing harm to, an enemy. Sometimes, however, the spells were originally for the promotion of fertility, but were misunderstood by the recorders and probably by the witches themselves. Alexia Violaea (1589) said that 'nachdem sie were mit ihren Gespielen umb und umb gelauffen eine ziemliche gut Weile, habe sie pflegen in die Höhe über sich zu werffen ein reines subtiles Pulverlein, welches ihr der Teuffel darzu gegeben habe, darvon Raupen, Käffern, Heuschrecken, und dergleichen andere Beschädigung mehr, so Hauffenweise wüchsen, dass die Acker darmit in einem Augenblick überall beschmeist würden'.[1] Isobel Gowdie's magical charm (1662) to come under this category:

We went be-east Kinlosse, and ther we yoaked an plewghe of paddokis. The Devill held the plewgh, and Johne Yownge in Mebestowne, our Officer, did drywe the plewghe. Paddokis did draw the plewgh, as oxen; qwickens wer sowmes, a riglen's horne wes a cowter, and an piece of an riglen's horne wes an sok. We went two seuerall tymes abowt; and all we of the Coven went still wp and downe with the plewghe, prayeing to the Divell for the fruit of that land.'[2]

The greater number of meetings were occupied with business of a magical character with the intention of harming certain specified persons; though any other kind of business was also transacted. The North Berwick witches opened the graves which the Devil indicated in order to obtain the means of making charms with dead men's bones; on another occasion they attempted to wreck a ship by magic.[3] The Lang Niddry witches (1608) went to the house of Beigis Tod, where they drank, and there christened a cat.[4] The Lancashire witches (1613) met at Malking Tower for two purposes; the first was to give a name to the familiar of Alison Device, which could not be done as she was not present, being then in prison; the second was to arrange a scheme or plot for the release of Mother Demdike, the principal witch of the community, then a prisoner in Lancaster Castle; the plot involved

the killing of the gaoler and governor, and the blowing up of the castle.[1] In 1630 Alexander Hamilton was tried in Edinburgh,

'the said Alexr Hamiltoun haifing concaivet ane deidlie haitrent agains umqle Elizabeth Lausone Lady Ormestoun younger becaus the said Alexr being at her zet asking for almous she choisit him therfra saying to him "away custroun carle ye will get nothing heir". The said Alexr therupon in revenge therof accompaneit wt tua wemen mentionet in his depostiones come to Saltoun woid quhair he raisit the devill and quha appeirit to him and his associattis in the likenes of ane man cled in gray and the said Alexr and his associattis haifing schawin to him the caus of thair coming desyring him to schaw to thame be quhat meanes thay micht be revendget upon the said Lady."

Margaret Johnson (1633) deposed that 'She was not at the great witch-meeting on All Saints' Day, but was at a smaller meeting the Sunday after, 'where there was, at yt tyme, between 30 and 40 witches, who did all ride to the said meetinge, and the end of theire said meeting was to consult for the killinge and hurtinge of men and beasts.'[3] The Forfar witches (1661) claimed to have wrecked a ship.[4] Isobel Gowdie (1662) is as usual very dramatic in her account; on one occasion the witches met to make a charm against the minister of Auldearne, Mr. Harie Forbes: 'Satan wes with ws and learned ws the wordis to say thryse ower. Quhan we haid learned all thes wordis from the Divell, we fell all down wpon owr kneis, with owr hear down ower owr showlderis and eyes, and owr handis lifted wp, and owr eyes stedfastlie fixed wpon the Divell; and said the forsaidis wordis thryse ower to the Divell, striktlie, against Maister Harie Forbes his recowering from the said seiknes.' When making an image only a few of the witches were present with the Devil.[5] Marie Lamont (1662) claimed that her Coven raised storms on two occasions; and on a third, they in the likeness of 'kats', and the Devil as a man with cloven feet, made a charm with 'wyt

2. From the trial of 'Alexr Hamiltoun, warlok', in the Justiciary Court, Edinburgh.

sand' against Blackhall younger and Mr. John Hamilton.[1] Amongst the most detailed accounts of the wax or clay images, and of the ritual for killing the person whom the image represented, are those of the Somerset witches[2] (1664). The baptism of the figure is an interesting point. The Paisley witches (1678) had a meeting to make a clay figure in order to kill an enemy of the witch in whose house the meeting was held.[3] At Borrowstowness part of the accusation was that ( ye and ilk ane of vow was at ane metting with the devill and other witches at the croce of Murestane, upon the threttein of October last, where you all danced and the devill acted the pyiper, and where yow indewored to have destroyed Andrew Mitchell'.[4] In New England the witches accused George Burroughs 'that he brought Poppets to them, and Thorns to stick into those Poppets'.[5]

At the Esbats it is also evident that the Devil wished to maintain an appearance of miraculous power not only before the world at large, but in the eyes of the witches as well. This will account for the meetings on the sea-shore in raging storms when vessels were liable to be wrecked, and there are also many indications that the destruction of an enemy was effected by means more certain than the making and pricking of a wax or clay figure, means which were used after the figure had been made. Some of the methods of maintaining this prestige are of the simplest, others are noted without any explanation: 'Satan faict en ce lieu [le Sabbat] tant de choses estrâges & nouuelles que leur simplicité & abus prend cela pour quelques miracles.'[6] At Forfar (1661) the means of obtaining the result are apparent; during a great storm the Devil and the witches destroyed the bridge of Cortaquhie, and the destruction was so arranged as to appear to have been effected by magical power; but Helen Guthrie confessed that 'they went to the bridge of Cortaquhie with intentione to pull it doune, and that for this end shee her selfe, Jonnet Stout, and others of them, did thrust ther shoulderis againest the bridge, and that the divelt wes bussie among them acting

his pairt'. Issobell Smyth, who also assisted on the occasion, said, 'Wee all rewed that meitting, for wee hurt our selves lifting.'[1] Still more simple was the method of destroying the harvest of a field at Crook of Devon, where Bessie Henderson 'confessed and declared that Janet Paton was with you at ane meeting when they trampit down Thos. White's rie in the beginning of harvest, 1661, and that she had broad soales and trampit down more nor any of the rest'.[3] The Devil of Mohra in Sweden cared only to impress his followers; when the wall which they were building fell down 'some of the Witches are commonly hurt, which makes him laugh, but presently he cures them again'.[3]

Site. In some places the Esbat was held at a fixed site, in others the site varied from week to week. In both cases, the locality was always in the near neighbourhood of the village whose inhabitants attended the meeting.

'Pour le lieu ordinaire c'est és carrefours, com{m}e disoit Isaac de Queyran, qui deposoit y auoir esté au carrefour du Palays Galienne, près la ville de Bourdeaux; ou aux places des paroisses au deuant des Eglises, & le plus souuent au droict de la grand' porte, si l'Eglise est plantée au milieu de la place comme elle est souuent, afin que le Diable plante sa chaire tout vis à vis du grand autel où on met le Sainct sacrement: comme il est en la place d'Ascain, où tous les tesmoins du lieu, nous ont dict que le Sabbat se faisoit. Il a aussi accoustumé les tenir en quelque lieu desert, & sauuage, comme au milieu d'vne lande; & encore en lieu du tout hors de passage, de voisinage, d'habitation, & de rencontre: Et communement ils s'appellent Aquelarre[4] qui signifie Lane de Bouc, comme qui diroit la lane ou lâde, où le Bouc conuoque ses assemblées.'[5]

Danaeus emphasizes the variation of both site and date: 'They meete togither in certen apointed places, not al of them togither, nor at once, but certen of them whom he pleaseth to call, so that he apointeth where they shall meete, and at what houre of the day, or of the nighte.'[6] The Windsor

4. The full name is Aquelarre de verros, prado del Cabron.

5. De Lancre, Tableau, pp. 64-5. 5. Danaeus, ch. iv.]

witches, however, 'did accustome to meete within the backeside of Maister Dodges in the Pittes there'.[1] Boguet's evidence also points to there being a settled site for the Esbat in each village:

'Les Sorciers du costé de Longchamois s'assembloient en vn pré, qui est sur le grand chemin tirant à S. Claude, où l'on voit les ruines d'vne maison. Ceux du costé de Coirieres tenoient leur Sabbat, sous le village de Coirieres proche l'eau, en vn lieu appellé és Combes, qui est du tout sans chemin. [Autres] se retrouuoient en vn lieu dict és Fontenelles, sous le village de Nezan, qui est vn lieu assez descouuert . . . le Sabbat des Sorciers de la Moüille se tenoit en la Cour du Prioré du mesme lieu.'[2]

Jane Bosdeau (1594) went twice a week regularly to 'a Rendezvous of above Sixty Witches at Puy de dome'.[3] And the Swedish witches went so uniformly to one place that there was a special building for their rites:

'They unanimously confessed that Blockula is scituated in a delicate large Meadow whereof you can see no end. The place or house they met at, had before it a Gate painted with divers colours; through this Gate they went into a little Meadow distinct from the other . . . in a huge large Room of this House, they said, there stood a very long Table, at which the Witches did sit down: And that hard by this Room was another Chamber where there were very lovely and delicate Beds.'[4]

On the whole the weight of evidence in England and Scotland is in favour of Danaeus's statement that there was no fixed site, though this should be taken as referring to the local meetings only, not to the Great Assemblies. The Forfar witch-trials give much information: Helen Guthrie

'wes at a meitting in the church yeard of Forfar in the Holfe therof . . . Betwixt the oatseid and the bearseid [barleysowing], she wes at ane other meitting at the Pavilione hollis . . . This same year, betwixt the oatseid and bearseid, she was at a thrid meiting in the church yeard of Forfar in the holfe thereof, about the same tyme of the night as at the [former] meitings, viz. at midnight.-About the beginning of the last oat seid

3. F. Hutchinson, Historical Essay, p. 43.

tyme, Isabell Syrie did cary hir [Jonet Howat] to the Insch within the loch of Forfar, shoe saw at this tyme, about threteen witches with the divill, and they daunced togither . . . About four wiekes after the forsaid meiting in the Insch, the said Isabell Syrie caried hir to ane other meiting at Muryknowes. About three and a halfe yeares since, she [Elspet Alexander] was at a meiting with the divill at Peterden, midway betwixt Forfar and Dondie . . . About four wiekes after this mieting at Petterden, shoe was at ane second mieting at the Muryknowes . . . shoe was present at ane thrid mieting near Kerymure.'[1]

Isobel Gowdie's evidence is detailed as usual: 'The last tyme that owr Coven met, we, and an vther Coven, wer dauncing at the Hill of Earlseat; and befor that, betwixt Moynes and Bowgholl; and befor that we ves beyond the Meikleburne; and the vther Coven being at the Downie-hillis we went from beyond the Meikle-burne, and went besyd them, to the howssis at the Wood-end of Inshoch . . . Befor Candlemas, we went be-east Kinlosse.'[2] The same facts were elicited from the Kinross-shire witches; Robert Wilson 'confessed ye had ane meeting with the Devill at the Stanriegate, bewest the Cruick of Devon . . . the Devil appointed them to meet at the Bents of Balruddrie'. Margaret Huggon confessed 'that ye was at another meeting with Sathan at the Stanriegate, bewest the Cruik of Devon . . . lykeways ye confessed 'ye was at another meeting with Satan at the Heathrie Knowe be-east the Cruik of Devon, where the Gallows stands a meeting at the back of Knocktinnie at the Gaitside . . . and another at the bents of Newbiggin'. Janet Brugh 'confessed that ye was at ane meeting at Stanriegate . . . ye confessed that about Yule last bypast ye was at ane meeting with Sathan at Turfhills . . . lykeways ye confessed that ye was at the Bents of Balruddrie and Gibson's Craig, where Sathan was present at them both'. Christian Grieve 'freely confessed that ye was at ane meeting with Sathan at the back of Andrew Dowie his house".[3] The Somerset witches (1664) varied in this respect. Those of Wincanton met in different places: Elizabeth Style 'hath been at several general meetings in the night at High Common, and a Common near Motcombe, at a place near Marnhull, and at

other places'. Alice Duke 'hath been at several meetings in Lie Common, and other places in the night'. But the Brewham Coven appear to have met commonly at Hussey's Knap in Brewham. Forest.[1]

Occasionally a reason is given for the change of site. 'Parfois vn Sabbat finy à vn coin de paroisse, on s'en va le tenir à vne autre, où le Diable mene les mesmes personnes: mais là, on y en rencontre d'autres.'[2] Sometimes also a sidelight is thrown upon these gatherings, which explains the fact that in many cases the witches said that they did not know all the people present at a given meeting:

'Antoine Tornier, Et Iaquema Paget ont confessé, que comme elles retournoient à certain iour par ensemble de glanner, passans au long du pré de Longchamois, elles apperçeurent que l'on y tenoit le Sabbat; Surquoy elles poserent bas leurs fardeaux, & allerent au lieu predict, où elles firent comme les autres, & puis se retirerent chacune en leurs maisons, apres auoir reprins leurs fardeaux.'[3]

The Salem Witches (1692) met 'upon a plain grassy place, by which was a Cart path and sandy ground in the path, in which were the tracks of Horses feet'.4

Date and Hour. There was no fixed day or hour for the Esbat, and in this it differed from the Sabbath, which was always at night. The Devil let his followers know the time, either by going to them himself or by sending a message by the officer. The message might be by word of mouth, or by some signal understood by the initiated.

Though there was no fixed day for the Esbat, it seems probable that one day in the week was observed in each locality.

Danaeus, in his general survey of the cult in 1575, says: 'He apointeth where they shall meete, and at what houre of the day, or of the night: wherein they haue no surenes, nor certentie. For these meetinges are not weekely, nor monthly, nor yeerely, but when and how often it shall seeme good to this their maister. And many times himself warneth them to

meete, sometimes hee apoynteth others to warne them in his staede. But when he doth it himself, he appeareth. vnto them in likenesse of a man.'[1] De Lancre says that in the Basses-Pyrénées 'le lieu où on le trouue ordinairement s'appelle Lanne de bouc, & en Basque Aquelarre de verros, prado del Cabron, & là les Sorciers le vont adorer trois nuicts durant, celle du Lundy, du Mercredy, & du Vendredy. Les iours ordinaires de la conuocation du Sabbat, ou pour mieux dire les nuicts, sont celles du Mercredy venant au Ieudy, & du Vendredy venant au Samedy. Catherine de Naguille de la paroisse d'Vstarits, aagee de onze ans, & sa compagne, nous ont asseuré qu'elles auoie{n}t esté au Sabbat en plein midy." Jane Bosdeau (1594) 'every Wednesday and Friday met a Rendezvous of aboue Sixty Witches at Puy de dome'.[3] Boguet says that the day of the Sabbath was variable, usually Thursday night;[4] while, according to Bodin, the most frequent was 'entre la nuict du Lundi & Mardi'.[5] Boguet also goes on to say, 'Le Sabbat ne se tient pas tousiours de nuict, ains que les Sorciers y vont aussi quelquefois de iour, selon que firent Antoine Tornier, & Iaquema Paget, & plusieurs autres de leur secte le confessent.'[6] The Lorraine witches also had the same custom:

'Alle zugleich, so viel ihrer bisher in Lotharingen peinlich sind verhöret worden, bekandten, dass solche Versammlung in keiner andern Nacht, als welche zu nechst vor dem Donnerstag oder Sambstag hergehet, gehalten werden. Johannes a Villa und Agathina des Schneiders Francisci weib, sagt, eine oder zwey Stunde vor Mitternacht, were die bequemste Zeit darzu, und zwar nicht allein zu diesen Gespensten, sondern auch sonsten zu allerhand Gespensten, Bollergeisten, Irrgeisten, &c. Aber die Stunde nach Mitternacht diene nicht darzu.'[7]

The English and Scotch evidence is to the same effect. The witches 'are likewise reported to have each of them a Spirit or Imp attending on, or assigned to them. . . . These give the Witches notice to be ready on all Solemn appointments, and meetings, which are ordinarily on Tuesday or Wednesday night'.[8] Janet Breadheid of the Auldearne Coven emphasizes

the irregularity of the dates: 'Efter that, we vold still meit euerie ten, twelve, or twantie dayes continwally.'[1] Marie Lamont merely notes that the meetings were at night: 'The devil came to Kattrein Scott's house in the midst of the night. . . . When she had been at a mietting sine Zowle last, with other witches, in the night, the devill convoyed her home in the dawing.'[2] The Somerset witches had no special night: 'At every meeting before the Spirit vanisheth away, he appoints the next meeting place and time,'[3] and Mary Green went to a meeting 'on Thursday Night before Whitsunday last'.[4] At Paisley the meeting was on Thursday, the 4th of January, 1678, in the night, in John Stuart's house.[5] The Swedish witches were much harder worked: 'whereas formerly one journey a week would serve his turn, from their own Town to the place aforesaid, now they were forced to run to other Towns and places for Children, and that some of them did bring with them some fifteen, some sixteen Children every night.'[6]

The more modern examples suggest that the date became more fixed: 'On croit que c'est toujours un vendredi soir que les sorciers et sorcières se réunissent.'[7] 'Sorciers et sorcières vont au sabbat le vendredi, à travers les airs.'[8]

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