« PreviousContinue »
the Edda. The Scandinavian sorceresses are there stated to have ridden on wolves, and to have tamed snakes. Grimm gives, from authentic sources, many interesting particulars of these witch-journeys and gatherings.
Horst, in his “Dæmonomagie,” treats at great length of the sorcery-period from the sixth to the thirteenth century. All kinds of belief in magic shaped themselves, through so many centuries, even more fantastically and richly, till they were finally worked into a complete system in the Hexenhammer. The characteristic feature of this period seems to be, the more determinate form and the greater distinctness with which the devil, who earlier had been a creature of the fancy, now pushed himself forward bodily, and placed himself by the side of the saints in all his power and influence. Instead of giving many quotations, Horst singles out the terrible devils of the pious Guthlac, according to his own description of them—“They had thick, broad, and large heads, long necks, thin yellow faces, long, dirty beards, horseteeth, fiery eyes like burning coals (the black eyes glowing like embers appear more frequently in the annihilating process of the Templars), fiery throats, wide mouths, swelled knees, crooked legs, and feet turned backwards.” And now behold the contest with these repulsive beings! When Guthlac prayed or gave himself up to pious contemplations, they hauled him out of his cell, plunged him into bogs, dragged him through hedges and thorn-bushes, lashed him with iron whips, bore him on their hideous wings now high into the air, now down into the depths of the earth, then deep into the waters, or again into the fire-caves, where they torment the souls of men. By fervent calling upon St. Bartholomew, he at length rescued himself from these tormenting devils. The apparitions of the devil to other hermits, and their temptations, particularly those of St. Anthony and Macarius, are well known.
In the eighth century, when people already began to work out the dogmatic system, superstition kept pace with it, and advanced to the utmost absurdity. John of Damascus, at first in the service of a Saracenic Caliph, afterwards a monk in the monastery of Siba in Jerusalem, a writer of high reputation, speaks of the devils as no other than flying dragons, as burning, long serpents thick as pine
trees, who speed through the air, and enter through windows, and have communication with those in alliance with them. He also speaks, completely in the spirit of the after witch-times, of sorcery by which men and beasts are tormented, by which children are bewitched even in their mothers' wombs, who are destroyed at the time of birth ; and of others whose livers are entirely eaten away. Some, however, attribute these accounts to spurious manuscripts.
The stories of witches carrying on their plans of sorcery by changing themselves into the shapes of beasts, were extant much earlier than the middle ages, though in a more undetermined and fanciful form,-as bears' heads and war-wolves. In the Templar prosecutions, the cat and he-goat metamorphoses showed themselves; and also those into other natural productions, such as apples, toads, etc. These animal metamorphoses, in which a vast deal of haunting and wickedness took place, are mentioned, amongst others, by Luitprand, who was first Bishop of Cremona, and at that time imperial ambassador at Constantinople, and in the year 963 interpreter at Rome (Descriptio legationis ad Niceph. Phocam, published by Baroni, Canisius, etc.) Bewitching was common amongst the Bulgarians, and particularly bewitching of women. Clear-headed men, however, were not wanting, who endeavoured to check the progress of this devil-practice. Amongst these was Ratherius, Bishop of Verona in the tenth century; and his
exposures of these absurdities shone like sparks of fire, says Horst, in the general darkness of the time (Extracts from his Writings by Dachery, Spicileg. t. i.)
The power and number of the devils grew in proportion to the increasing numbers and authority of the saints ; and we might almost say that the history of the devils is the most interesting one of the time. In science and in art, in labour and conflict, in victory and enterprise, the devils at this period played the chief part in the world, and it was as much matter of faith to believe in the miracles performed by the devil as in those performed by God the Father and Son. Thence it came that people rather consented to enter, as it were, silently into the alliance of the devil than to expose themselves to his wrath and persecution. In the compacts with the devil men promised to serve him for ever, to do as
much mischief and evil as they could ; and, on the other hand, the devil promised all possible protection and prosperity, and immunity from the influence of friends or enemies. The contract was generally signed with the blood of the mortal contractor, and on the other part the devil marked him with a mole, that made the possessor of it invulnerable to stabs, blows, or gunshots. These moles the executioners of the Inquisition had to discover. The devil was accustomed to give to the breath of those in compact with him a magic power which no maiden was able to resist. They became mad with love of him who possessed this power, as soon as his breath had touched their nostrils. This practice seems to have been discovered in France, and to have been more particularly in vogue there. The faith in such compacts and base practices continued firm till the seventeenth century. Even in 1689 a celebrated teacher at Jena wrote 6. De nefando Lamiarum cum diabolo coitu."
Such compacts were also formed on a large scale; even cities and communities entered into agreement to pay yearly sums to the sorcerers and dealers in the black-art, that the weather-makers, chiefly women, and often miserable old women, might protect their fields against damage from bail and failure of crop. In the writings of Agobard, the bishop of Lyons in 841, “ Contra Judicia Dei,” in Henke's Church History, Th. ii., we find a description of this period, and of the most zealous endeavours to put a stop to the superstition which died away like a voice in the wilderness. Other heads of the church also attacked this general and increasing madness, -as Hincmar, Archbishop of Rheims, Rabanus Maurus, Archbishop of Mainz, etc., who left many writings behind them, amongst which those “De Magicus Artibus” are most to our present purpose. Amongst those magic arts people of that time reckoned the production of vermin, worms, and maggots. By exorcism, however, they believed that these and other productions of the devil might be destroyed, since the power of God and of his saints was the greater. Horst gives examples from Maynald and Dell' Ossa, how people at Lausanne, and afterwards at Troyes in France, in the fifteenth century, expelled by the bann, through the prayers of the Holy Church, mischievous beasts which devoured the gardens and orchards, but which were compelled to take their departure at the striking of one o'clock, to seek their prey in other countries.
But not merely were bribes given, punishment was severely enacted against these conjurations; which appears far the more natural, since wicked men and cheats, under the pretence of being possessed or mad, made the streets and highways dangerous, and committed robberies, violence, and murders. Never, as it appears, has the corruption of morals reached a higher pitch than in the ninth and tenth centuries. The most audacious contempt of all law and order, perjury, shameless defiance of honour and good manners, especially in the southern countries and in Italy, were the order of the day; and the discipline of the church was at the same time in the most deplorable condition. The sword of justice, alas ! rarely struck the guilty; and the base sorcerers of the time increased in proportion to the wretched condition of the courts of law. The Ordeal was brought into use as the judgment of God, which was to discover innocence, on the principle that God will not allow it to perish: but horrible abuse and delusion took the place of just judgment and calm enquiry. Everything which deviated from ordinary life was set down as sorcery, and every one who distinguished himself in any manner was condemned as a master of the black art: learned men were not rarely accused as such; nay, once even a Pope, Sylvester II., was declared to have seized on the papal tiara by means of this black art.
After absurdity had thus reached its acme, the moral and intellectual horizon began in the eleventh and twelfth cen. turies to grow lighter. Many external attractions, as the Crusades, increase of knowledge, and religious enlightenment, and often, indeed, wit, expelled the terrible devils and the frightful sorcery. The devil was generally represented in fables, ballads, and spiritual comedies, as a cunning wag, who, as a subtle deceiver, carried on much sport; but who by the help of a saint, or the exhibition of relics, or the making the sign of the cross, was easily expelled.
The devil, however, did not long tolerate this subjection : in the thirteenth century he began again to rage more mightily. New kinds of heretics came forth with new names, as Beguins, Lollards, Spiritualists, Waldenses, Tex erants, or Weavers, etc. A young girl belonging to the
Texerants of the neighbourhood of Trier, which country was especially notorious for sorcery, was burnt in the fourteenth century, though her witch-instructress and reckless seducer escaped by means of a piece of twine out of the window. Old women were now particularly the object of suspicior, because they would not confess that they occasionally appeared as toads, or that they had witnessed such transformations; for toads now came forward as disguised demons in the arena of witchcraft. Trier particularly distinguished itself at that time, for many deviations from the orthodox faith existed there. In a Synod held there in 1231 against heresy the question was,—“tribus in ea urbe scholis eorum "
The devil now first appeared amongst the male heretics in the form of tom-cats and he-goats; amongst the women as toads and geese, and finally as cats. Gregory IX. writes of such toads and geese to Prince Henry, the son of the Emperor Frederick, as “the outwardly evil shapes, because his inner person was overcome by Jesus Christ. After many witches and three wizards had been burnt at Trier, the burning of such people, according to Semler, spread extensively in those countries, quite to the Rhine, so that at length earnest complaints were made in Mainz, that many totally innocent people had been burnt, because they would not confess that they were occasionally toads; and one Ansfried there confessed that he had himself put many innocent people to death for that reason. And now the frenzy passed over from old women and common people to nobles and counts, and they were accused of witchcraft with such unsparing violence that the evil was obliged to be put an end to. An example of false wit, of the greatness and universality of the heretical faith, is shewn by the following passage in a bull of Pope Gregory IX., where it is said :-" Novitio præcedenti occurrit miri palloris homo, nigerrimos habens oculos, adeo extenuatus et macer, quod consumptis carnibus sola cutis relicta videtur ossibus
superducta. Hunc novitius osculatus sensit frigidum sicut glaciem, et post osculum catholicæ memoria fidei de ipsius corde totaliter evanescit.” In the same vein he proceeds :-“Completo convivio, per quondam statuam, quæ in scholis hujusmodi esse solet, descendit retrorsum, ad modum canis mediocris,