« PreviousContinue »
superhuman spirit, and possessed by it. In the former case human deceit was condemned as mischievous ; here the man was punished with death as the vehicle or work-tool of the wicked one, or as identical with him. According to the pagan notion, the influence of spirits came from without; according to that of the Judaic-Christian system, the devil entered into the body of the man, and before the sorcerer could cease to practise his arts he must be expelled thence by spiritual force. Amongst the heathen, an idiot was supposed to be made so by the elves ; the accused lunatic was said to be possessed. The elves stole the children of the heathen and left a changeling in its place: amongst the Christians, the devil entered the changeling. The devils, however, took possession of horses and cattle as well as of men, as Noisy Ghosts—Poltergeister. Amongst the heathen, at most, the little Grey Man took up his quiet abode there, not to mock, but to help,—not to terrify and injure.
Amongst the Greeks and Romans, where formerly Homeric, Virgilian, and Ovidian gods presented themselves, and sorcery consisted in beautiful paintings of the imagination, magic had a totally different character to that which it assumed in the Judaic-Christian faith, where the devil played the chief part. The magical arts were not, in old time, attributed to the influence of the powers of darkness, but to people who were in familiar intercourse with the gods and demons. The ancient German and northern elves approximated nearer to those of the Christian world; yea, they constitute, to a certain degree, the foundation and the underwork of the following witch-period. Here men understood by sorcery rather the operation of secret powers, which were ascribed to wicked men and fallen beings, and not to the gods who performed the higher miracles, and who merely worked for good. Among the ancient Germans only, a species of intermediate beings between God and men were considered as enchanted, deeply subtle giants and wicked giantesses, cunning elves and dwarfs, whose art was, in a manner, inborn.
“ TI real sorcerer is the upward-striving man. By the side of his health-bringing practice a pernicious one developed itself. The original cause of all sorcery must have proceeded from the very bosom of the holiest, the united wisdom of all heathenism, operating on the worship
of the gods and the art of poetry. Sacrifices and singing passed over into representations of magic; priests and poets, , men admitted to the confidence of the gods, and participants of divine inspiration, soon merged into the diviner and sorcerer” (Grimm, a. a. 0. S. 579. The ancient Germans were acquainted with sorcery and the sorcerer, but in the former, not in the latter character, where sorcery and the devil were all one. Properly, sorcery only signified the miraculous in certain persons, and the old Saxon word Wikken meant to divine or prophesy; and still, says Grimm, Wikken, or Wicheln, means to divine; Wikker, a wizard, and Wichler, a witch or soothsayess.
There is no good in the world which has not its opposite, or which may not become mischievous through its abuse. The revelation of the Christian religion is the greatest gift of God to man, and which is intended to enlighten the understanding and to soften the heart. But reason is erratic, and the heart is a member of Belial; or does the heart follow the eye? and does the understanding prove the depth and the movements of the heart ? Yes, there are people whose hearts, says the psalmist, will ever go astray, and the heart of a fool is like a vessel which will not bold water!
What confusions of the understanding havo not arisen out of the teaching of the new religion! And what abuses of reason have not led to the most insensate actions ! Instead of the true faith producing the noblest fruits of wisdom, power, and love, there arose the winter of a devouring superstition and of the most maniacal fanaticism! It is, in fact, wonderful how the doctrines of religion can lead the human mind so completely into error and inconsistency; it is scarcely credible that Christianity, during the early period of proselytism from heathendom, should have conducted so many professors of its name to delusion and madness. Plebeians and nobles, young and old, put more living faith in a supernatural world of spirits than in God and physical nature. Their imagination created a heaven and an earth, and peopled them with opposing spirits, to whom they gave up man and the world as the arena of their warfare. The pious and the reckless entered into social arrangements with spirits likethemselves, nay even into marriage connections with them. Torturing pangs of conscience drove
unhappy individuals to the confessions of sins, and many accused themselves of crimes which it was impossible for them to commit, and which the wise ones of the time, -learned theologians, physicians, and jurists,-endeavoured to demonstrate as possible with the most heated zeal, the inost sophistical acumen, and the most incontestible facts. The belief in sorcery, and in compacts with the devil, rose to such a pitch of madness and of universal confusion of the Christian world, that men attributed to the devil the violent possession of innocent as well as guilty men; and therefore took the field promiscuously against the defenceless, the unhappy, and the insane; sought and found upon them all the tokens of sorcery, and suspended over them all kinds of torments; and, finally, drove many hun
, dred thousands of vainly resisting wretches to death by fire and sword. The Hexen-hammer contains extraordinary memorials of that time of wonder, and of the highest possible pitch of mental blindness and of horrible superstition which the human race ever arrived at on the earth. The whole of nature was converted into a world of sorcery; no one any longer believed his own senses ; life was a sport of demons; no one thought any more of fixed laws of nature; all was miracle effected by supernatural spirit, but which had not the spirit of Christ, love, as a result, but the terrors and the tyranny of hell.
Thus the idea of magic at that time was become totally different to its original one,- that of the art of inquiring into the secret powers of nature in order to use them to advantage. Now all extraordinary natural phenomena passed for the work of the devil, and were ascribed directly to certain spirits, or to men possessed by them: but, strictly speaking, all magic and sorcery, and all those marvellous appearances, were understood as the work of the devil.
If we inquire into the possible origin of so terrible a superstition, we may observe that we have the elements of it in the former heathenism on the one hand, and in the tone of mind introduced by Christianity on the other. Thereby the motives were given for carrying at once the mind from physical nature into the absolutely supernatural world, which had first been opened up by the idea of immortality and freedom of life after death. In this manner we see how the belief in magic and miracle by degrees arose out of the root and grew into the full tree, with all the varied forms of the times and of national culture; and the history of the witch-prosecutions is no longer to be wondered at as an isolated fact, but to be studied as a singular and important judicial procedure.
The name of Hexe, Witch, comes originally, according to Keisler (“De Mulieribus fatidicis,antiq. septentrion. et celt.,” 1720), from the word Haegse, a wise woman; and Haegse from Hygia, according to Olaus Worm, in Lexico runico, which means wisdom. This word, says Keisler, was changed into Hesee, witch, and then signified a wicked woman who had a spirit of sorcery and divination, which meaning, after the introduction of the Christian religion, was connected with a sort of spectres, in the same manner that the Alrunes—those prophetic priestesses--came to mean the same thing, only in a ludicrous point of view. The Celtic Alrune is the oldest and general name of a soothsaying and sacred woman
amongst the Germans, as we read in Cæsar and Tacitus. Wholly of the signification, according to Horst, is Alrune stil, in the Islandic, that is, witch in a good or bad meaning,-a knowing woman,-Fiol Kuni; and a wizard, a much-knowing man,-Fiol Kuningar. Alrune means, literally, all or muchknowing,- from all, much, and runen, to know, inquire. This word had, therefore, no other signification than Magus, diviner, Mantic, soothsayer, prophet amongst other people. So said Cicero—“Sagæ a sagiendo dictæ, quia multa scire volunt. Sagire enim sentire acute est” (De Divinatione, lib. i.) Grimm derives Hexe, a witch, from Hegtese, old Saxon, and Hegese, English, Hag, and from hagr, artistic. Hexe is a subtle crafty woman; Hexen, fascinare, Heig Heiang, seem to express sorcery. But, down to the seventeenth century, the word Fiend was preferred to_these unusual terms, which means diabolism.
Drut, Druid, was synonymous with witch, and meant a plaguing and oppressive nightmare. Strix, Striga, Old French, estrie, Italian, strega, stregora, --sorcerer. Originally, strix was a bird of sorcery:
“Striges ab avibus ejusdem nominis, quia maleficæ mulieres volaticæ dicuntur” (Testus).
Christianity has altered the heathenish idea of witch
craft in many ways; yet there is an obvious agreement in it with the sacrifices, assemblies of the people, and the spiritworld of the ancient Germans. The Salic laws speak of such assemblings, of the cookery of the witches, and of witch kettles; for more of which see Grimm.
These soothsaying women, at the period of the diffusion of Christianity, were very numerous in Germany and the north of Europe ; and, as they were equally frequent amongst the ancient votaries of the gods, and as those gods came to to be regarded as demons and evil spirits, thus, consequently, the strange doings of these women came to be regarded as produced by the help of demons, and the women themselves as witches, and the accomplices of devils. It is certain that, in the early ages of the Church, the Fathers did not regard divination in this evil point of view. Clemens of Alexandria says (Stromat., lib. i. p. 97)—“ There are amongst the Germans so called prophetic women, who, according to the running of the river, and the form of the waves, etc., divine, and foretell future events.” Later, when the dreams of spirits, and a superstitious belief in the devil and spectres so increased, that in the middle ages
all the elements were full of spirits, undines, kobolds, and salamanders; when an especial power was acknowledged in the formulæ of sorcery, to exorcise and banish spectres; when every phenomenon of nature, and even the severest sicknesses, were attributed to the influence of the devil ; when people, by a proneness to subjective groping, and to a rabid fanaticism, without any attention to an objective knowledge of nature and to genuine religious revelation, confused the sign with the thing, interposed the vision of the thing for the thing itself; when the people came in the excitement of this madness to confess impossibilities, and the educated world of judges and clergymen accepted the maniacal confessions of weak and sickly persons as perfectly valid “Species facti,” and judged accordingly ;—then had the Black Arts, in fact, their highest bloom, and the devil reached the summit of his power, and the name of witch was a word of terror for young and old, for small and great. And now was the time which, alas ! stands in history as a horrible evidence of the total confusion and utter degeneracy of the human mind, when witches were no longer prophetic women,