The Feast

The feast, like the rest of the ritual, varied in detail in different places. It took place either indoors or out according to the climate and the season; in Southern France almost invariably in the open air, in Scotland and Sweden almost always under cover; in England sometimes one, sometimes the other. Where it was usual to have it in the open, tables were carried out and the food laid upon them; indoor feasts were always spread on tables; but in the English accounts of the open-air meal the cloth was spread, picnic-fashion, on the ground. The food was supplied in different ways; sometimes

entirely by the devil, sometimes entirely by one member of the community, and sometimes-picnic-fashion again-all the company brought their own provisions. Consequently the quality of the food varied considerably; on some occasions it was very good, on others very homely. But no matter who provided it, the thanks of the feasters were solemnly and reverently given to the Master, to whose power the production of all food was due.

In a certain number of cases it is said that the food eaten at the feasts was of an unsatisfying nature. This statement is usually made in the general descriptions given by contemporary writers; it is rarely found in the personal confessions. When it does so occur, it is worth noting that the witch is generally a young girl. If this were always the case, it would be quite possible that then, as now, dancing and excitement had a great effect on the appetite, and that the ordinary amount of food would appear insufficient.

The taboo on salt is interesting, but it does not appear to have been by any means universal. It does not seem to occur at all in Great Britain, where the food at the feasts was quite normal.

Some authorities appear to think that the witches ate the best of everything. They sit to Table where no delicate meats are wanting to gratifie their Appetites, all dainties being brought in the twinckling of an Eye, by those spirits that attend the Assembly'.[1] Though this is dramatically expressed it is confirmed by the statements of the witches themselves. The Lancashire witches had a great feast when they met in Malking Tower to consult as to the rescue of Mother Demdike.

' The persons aforesaid had to their dinners Beefe, Bacon, and roasted Mutton; which Mutton (as this Examinates said brother said) was of a Wether of Christopher Swyers of Barley: which Wether was brought in the night before into this Examinates mothers house by the said lames Deuice, this Examinates said brother: and in this Examinates sight killed and eaten. . . . And before their said parting away, they all appointed to meete at the said Prestons wiues house that day twelue-moneths; at which time the said Prestons wife promised to make them a great Feast.'[2]

[1. Pleasant Treatise of Witches, p. 5.

The feast of the Faversham witches was also indoors. 'Joan Cariden confessed that Goodwife Hott told her within these two daies that there was a great meeting at Goodwife Panterys house, and that Goodwife Dodson was there, and that Goodwife Gardner should have been there, but did not come, and the Divell sat at the upper end of the Table.'[1] This was always the Devil's place at the feast, and beside him sat the chief of the women witches. The Somerset trials give more detail than any of the other English cases. Elizabeth Style said that 'at their meeting they have usually Wine or good Beer, Cakes, Meat or the like. They eat and drink really when they meet in their bodies, dance also and have Musick. The Man in black sits at the higher end, and Anne Bishop usually next him. He useth some words before meat, and none after, his voice is audible, but very low.'[2] She enters into a little more detail in another place: They had Wine, Cakes, and Roastmeat (all brought by the Man in black) which they did eat and drink. They danced and were merry, and were bodily there, and in their Clothes.'[3] Alice Duke gave a similar account: 'All sate down, a white Cloth being spread on the ground, and did drink Wine, and eat Cakes and Meat.'[4] The Scotch trials show that it was usually the witches who entertained the Master and the rest of the band. Alison Peirson, whose adventures among the fairies are very interesting, stated that a man in green 'apperit to hir, ane lustie mane, with mony mene and wemen with him: And that scho sanit her and prayit, and past with thame 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 thame'.[5] On another occasion a very considerable meeting took place 'in an old house near Castle Semple, where a splendid feast was prepared, which pleased the royal visitor so much, that he complimented his entertainers for their hospitality, and endearingly addressed them as "his bairns"'.[6] The Forfar witches had many feasts; Helen Guthrie says of one occasion:

[1. Examination of Joan Williford, p. 6.

They went to Mary Rynd's house and sat doune together at the table, the divell being present at the head of it; and some of them went to Johne Benny's house, he being a brewer, and brought ale from hence . . . and others of them went to Alexander Hieche's and brought aqua vitae from thence, and thus made themselfes mirrie; and the divill made much of them all, but especiallie of Mary Rynd, and he kist them all except the said Helen herselfe, whose hand onlie he kist; and shee and Jonet Stout satt opposite one to another at the table.'[1]

Of the meeting at Muryknowes there are several accounts. The first is by little Jonet Howat, Helen Guthrie's young daughter: 'At this meiting there wer about twenty persones present with the divill, and they daunced togither and eat togither, having bieff, bread, and ale, and shoe did eat and drink with them hir self, bot hir bellie was not filled, and shoe filled the drink to the rest of the company.'[2] Elspet Alexander confirms this statement, 'The divill. and the witches did drinke together having flesh, bread, and aile';[3] and so also does the Jonet Stout who sat opposite to Helen Guthrie at the table, 'The divill and the said witches did eat and drinke, having flesh, bread, and aile upon ane table, and Joanet Huit was caper and filled the drinke'.[1] On one occasion they tried to wreck the Bridge of Cortaquhie; 'when we had done, Elspet [Bruce] gaive the divell ane goose in hir own house, and he dated hir mor than them all, because shee was ane prettie wornan.'[5] The Kinross-shire witches obtained their food from the Devil, and this is one of the few instances of complaints is to the quality of it. 'Sathan gave you [Robert Wilson] both meat and drink sundry times, but it never did you any good';[6] and Janet Brugh 'confessed that ye got rough bread and sour drink from Sathan at the Bents of Balruddrie'.[7] According to Marie Lamont, 'the devill. came to Kattrein Scott's house, in the midst of the night. He gave them wyn to drink, and wheat bread to eat, and they warr all very mirrie.'[8] Isobel Gowdie's confession gives a wealth of detail as usual:

'We would go to several houses in the night time. We

were at Candlemas last in Grangehill, where we got meat and drink enough. The Devil sat at the head of the table, and all the Coven about. That night he desired Alexander Elder in Earlseat to say the grace before meat, which he did; and is this:[1] "We eat this meat in the Devil's name " [etc.]. And then we began to eat. And when we had ended eating, we looked steadfastly to the Devil, and bowing ourselves to him, we said to the Devil, We thank thee, our Lord, for this. We killed an ox, in Burgie, about the dawing of the day, and we brought the ox with us home to Aulderne, and did eat all amongst us in an house in Aulderne, and feasted on it.'[2]

At Borrowstowness the witches went to different houses for their feasts, which seem to have been supplied partly by the hostess, partly by the Devil and the guests.

'Ye and each person of you was at several meetings with the devil in the links of Borrowstowness, and in the house of you Bessie Vickar, and ye did eat and drink with the devil, and with one another, and with witches in her house in the night time; and the devil and the said William Craw brought the ale which ye drank, extending to about seven gallons, from the house of Elizabeth Hamilton.'[3]

In 1692 Goodwife Foster of Salem gave a rather charming description of the picnic feast with the Coven from Andover:

'I enquired what she did for Victuals' [at the meeting]; 'She answered that she carried Bread and Cheese in her pocket, and that she and the Andover Company came to the Village before the Meeting began, and sat down together under a tree, and eat their food, and that she drank water out of a Brook to quench her thirst.'[4]

The Continental evidence varies very little from the British. Except in a few details, the main facts are practically the same. De Lancre summarizes the evidence which he himself collected, and contrasts it with what other authorities said on the subject:

'Les liures disent que les sorciers mangent au Sabbat de ce que le Diable leur a appresté: mais bien souue{n}t il ne s'y

[1. The complete grace is given on p. 167. It will be seen that it is a corrupt version of some ancient form of words.

2. Pitcairn, iii, pp. 612, 613. Spelling modernized.

3. Scots Magazine, 1814, p. 200. Spelling modernized.

trouue que des viandes qu'ils ont porté eux mesmes. Parfois il y a plusieurs tables seruies de bons viures, & d'autres fois de tres meschans: & à table on se sied selon sa qualité, ayant chacun son Demon assis auprés, & parfois vis à vis. Ils benissent leur table inuoquant Beelzebub, & le tenant pour celui qui leur faict ce bien.'[1]

The young man-witch, Isaac de Queyran, told de Lancre that the witches sat at a table with the Black Man at the end, and had bread and meat which was spread on a cloth.[2] The evidence at the trial of Louis Gaufredy at Aix in 1610 gives other details, though the eating of children's flesh is probably an exaggeration:

'They prouide a banquet, setting three tables according to the three diuersities of the people above named. They that haue the charge of bread, doe bring in bread made of corne. The drink which they haue is Malmsey. The meate they ordinarily eate is the flesh of young children, which they cooke and make ready in the Synagogue, sometimes bringing them thither aliue by stealing them from those houses where they haue opportunity to come. They haue no vse of kniues at table for feare least they should be laid a crosse. They haue also no salt.'[3]

Boguet also collected a considerable amount of information from the witches who fell into his hands:

'Les Sorciers, apres s'estre veautrez parmi les plaisirs immondes de la chair, banquettent & se festoient: leurs banquets estans composez de plusieurs sortes de viandes, selon les lieux, & qualitez des personnes. Par deçà la table estoit couuerte de beurre, de fromage, & de chair. Clauda Ianguillaume, Iaquema Paget, & quelques autres adioustoient qu'iI y auoit vne grande chaudiere sur le feu, dans laquelle chacun alloit prendre de la chair. On y boit aussi du vin, & le plus souuent de 1'eau. . . . Antoine Tornier a confessé qu'elle en auoit beu [le vin] dans vn goubelet de bois; les autrés parloient seulement d'eau. Mais il n'y a iamais sel en ces repas . . . Les Sorciers auant que de prendre leur repas benissent la table, mais auec des parolles remplies de blasphemes, faisans Beelzebub autheur & conseruateur de toutes choses . . . Ils accordent tous, qu'il n'y a point de gout aux viandes qu'ils mangent au Sabbat, & que la chair n'est autre chair que de cheual. Et adioustent en outre, que lors qu'ils sortent de

table, ils sont aussi affamez que quand ils entrent. Antide Colas racontoit particulierement que les viandes estoient froides. . . . Toutesfois il faut croire que bien souuent l'on mange au Sabbat à bon escient, & non par fantaisie & imagination.'[1]

The cold food occurs also in the accusation against a Belgian witch, Elizabeth Vlamynx, in 1595: 'Vous-même vous avez apporté aux convives un hochepot [hutsepot] froid, que vous aviez préparé d'avance.'[2]

In Sweden the witches collected the food and sent it to the Devil, who gave them as much of it as he thought fit. The feast was always held indoors in the house known as Blockula.

'In a huge large Room of this House, they said, there stood a very long Table, at which the Witches did sit down. . . . They sate down to Table, and those that the Devil esteemed most, were placed nearest to him, but the Children must stand at the door, where he himself gives them meat and drink. The diet they did use to have there, was, they said, Broth with Colworts and Bacon in it, Oatmeal, Bread spread with Butter, Milk and Cheese. And they added that sometimes it tasted very well, and sometimes very ill.'[3]

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