Renaissance Beasts : Of Animals, Humans, and Other Wonderful Creatures (Extrait/Excerpt)

DOG LOVE – Page 144

Marjorie Garber – 1997 – ‎Snippet view – ‎More editions
In late-nineteenth-century Paris, certain maisons de tolerance specialized in exhibitions of women having sexual intercourse with dogs. … when the laptop has replaced the lapdog as the favorite portable object for many women and men (and a computer program called Golden Retriever fetches … As pop culture analyst Faith Popcorn, the owner of a tiny Japanese chin, explained, “It’s lonely at the top.

The Psychopathy of Love: The Abuses, Aberrations, and Crimes of the …

Jacobus X – 1900 – ‎Snippet view
… by a quotation borrowed from Louis Fiaux. According to him and many other authors, bestiality is a source of gain for the Paris brothels, where unnatural old debauchees are shown the odious spectacle of a woman copulating with a dog.

Royal Musical Association Research Chronicle

2001 – ‎Snippet view – ‎More editions
By representing female singers and admirers of opera in sexually subversive activities, the epistles amplify the sexual danger of Italian opera. … Above all, woman is portrayed as possessing an insatiable lust and deviant carnal desire that is satisfied by resorting to adultery, bestiality, lap-dogs, dildoes, servants, … Edition et sedition: L’Univers de la litterature clandestine au XVllf siecle (Paris, 1991), esp.
Research Chronicle – Volumes 33-34 – Page 30

Royal Musical Association – 2002 – ‎Snippet view – ‎More editions
By representing female singers and admirers of opera in sexually subversive activities, the epistles amplify the sexual danger of Italian opera. … woman is portrayed as possessing an insatiable lust and deviant carnal desire that is satisfied by resorting to adultery, bestiality, lap-dogs, dildoes, servants, … Edition el sedition: L’Univers de la litlerature clandestine au XV11T siecle (Paris, 1991), esp. 179-215 …

“Bitches and Queens”: Pets and Perversion
at the Court of France’s Henri III
Juliana Schiesari
Desire and the beast intersect in myriad and suggestive ways, to the point
of becoming figures for each other: not only is desire metaphorized as
beastly, but the beast is also represented as an emblem of desire, especially
forbidden or perverse desire. The beastliness of desire is a common staple,
since at least Plato, of moralizing discourses that prescribe moderation and
restraint of bodily pleasures. However, what one could call (with a certain
Lacanian irony), the desire of the beast retains its fascinating currency across
a number of literary texts, going back at least as far as the ancient poems
and epigrams featured in Maximus Planudes’s Greek Anthology (first published in Florence in 1494). “Beauty and the Beast” is one of the most overt
of countless narratives that phrase both the fear and attraction of desire as
a confrontation with the nonhuman, which in a most magical way converts
the beast into the human at the right moment. This conversion from beast
to human also both represents and eschews the eroticism of the encounter
and thus dispels its terror while underscoring pleasure. One might also interpret the narrative as a fantasy of a nonpatriarchal symbolic order whose
expression is allowed ideologically to unfold to the extent that the conclusion of the narrative recodes the relationship between Beast and Beauty into
the familiar patriarchal bond of husband and wife.
But often what one could call the desire of the beast raises hackles for a
symbolic order predicated on a heteronormative ideal. In the Renaissance,
what was commonly perceived by humanists from Ariosto to Conrad Gesner as the excessive attention of ladies to their lapdogs found its literarily
respectable correlate in the Greek Anthology, where the loved object may be
not only a male or female human but also a horse, a dolphin, a bird, or even
a cicada.1 Thanks to the editorial efforts of Maximus Planudes, the Greek
Anthology had an enormous effect on Renaissance poetry, first in Quattrocento Italy, then in sixteenth-century France and England. In this regard, the court of King Henri III of France offers one of the best contexts
within which to observe the slippery relations between petkeeping and divergent sexualities. Henri III was known for collecting both young boys
(his infamous “mignons”) and lapdogs (especially the papillon or chienlion). It is not certain which of these two loves proved most shocking to a
France wreaked by religious, civil, and dynastic conflict. Henri III’s keeping of lapdogs—as was in vogue by contemporary, mostly aristocratic
women—and his cross-dressing at elaborate costume balls with his mignons, blurred gender categories and sexual identities. Understood to be
the ultimate drag queen in Agrippa D’Aubigné’s satiric remark that “chacun estoit en peine / S’il voyoit un Roy femme ou bien un homme Reyne”2
(“all had trouble knowing whether what they saw was a woman king or a
man queen”), Henri III comes in the writings of his contemporaries to emblematize within the royal body the dissension and corruption of the body
Brantôme, for example, describes with obvious disgust how the king’s
affection for lapdogs is manipulated by a gentleman seeking admission to
a royal order of knighthood:
[Un gentilhomme] arriva au bout de ces années, sur le poinct que le roi projectoit son Ordre et qu’il s’estoit mis en verrue d’aymer de beaux petitz chiens
de lions et turquetz et autres. L’on dist au roy, et luy en fit-on grand cas, que
ce gentilhomme avoit deux turquetz, les plus beaux qu’on sçavoit voir au
monde. Le roy les vouloit voir, et les trouva encore plus beaux qu’on ne les
luy avoit faictz, et pour ce les luy demanda, qui en récompense le fit chevalier de ce bel Ordre. Voylà un Ordre bien donné et posé, pour deux petitz
chiens! Tant d’autres pareilz fatz contes apporterois-je, pour monstrer es
abuz de ces chevalliers en leurs eslections, que je n’aurois faict.3
[(A nobleman) came to court at the end of this time, when the king was
making projects for his Order and had gotten all worked up with his love
for beautiful little Lion dogs and Turqués and others. It was told to the king,
and much was made of it, that this nobleman had two Turqués, the most
beautiful that could be seen in the world. The king wanted to see them, and
found them even more lovely than they had been made out to be, and on
account of this, asked to have them, making the owner a Knight in this beautiful Order by way of recompense. There indeed is an Order easily granted
and posited, for two little dogs! I could bring up many other such stories
than I could have to show the abuse made by these knights in their appointments.]
In his Histoire Universelle, Agrippa d’Aubigné devotes a passage to Henri’s
“excessive” interest in dogs in order to develop a critique that moves from
a simple moral indictment to a charge of lèse-majesté because the expense
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involved in Henri’s habit travels the path from moral bankruptcy to the
state’s financial destitution and “sterility”:
Le roi … s’avance à Lion, où il donna plusieurs subjets de penser, dire,
prescher et escrire contre les moeurs. Il lui prit un goust excessif d’amasser
et de nourrir une telle quantité de petis chiens de Lyon qu’en une grande
stérilité et destruction de finances, il en fit en estat, qui montoit plus de cent
mille escus par an. Ceux qui en ont escrit, et mesmes aux histoires universelles, doublent ma dose, et, certes, il est constant qu’on lui en a veu plus
d’un millier, desquels il en faisoit porter plus de deux cents avec lui. Chaque
huictaine, ayant une gouvernante et une femme pour la servir et un cheval
de bagage, si bien que ces deux cents chiens faisoyent six cents chevaux, et
aussi la despence ordinaire estoit de huit cent francs par jours, sur quoi il
faut déduire que le nombre n’estoit pas toujours complet.4
[The king . . . advanced to Lyon, where he gave several occasions for thinking, speaking, preaching and writing against customs. He developed an excessive taste for collecting and nurturing so great a quantity of Little Lion
Dogs that he brought about a state of great sterility and financial destruction,
amounting to more than one hundred thousand écus per annum. Those who
have written about this, even in universal histories, double the dose I list, and
certainly, it is a constant that he was seen to have more than a thousand, of
which he had over two hundred borne along with him. Each eight dogs had
a governess and a servant woman and a pack horse, such that these two hundred dogs required six hundred horses, and so the normal expense was about
eight hundred francs per day, from which it can be deduced that the number
was not always complete.]
Not just an eccentric habit that makes for a colorful court history, Henri’s
petkeeping propensities emblematize the vice of his reign. The uncontrolled
population of tiny dogs serves as a powerful synecdoche of the excess, sterility, and general ruin of the kingdom under his rule. Or, to be more accurate,
the excess that is metonymized by Henri’s immoderate taste in dogs (not just
too many in number, but too little in size; earlier French kings had kept large
hunting dogs, such as “les grands chiens blancs du roi,” by the hundreds, but
these were obviously of “practical” value, nor would their upkeep have been
as expensive as what D’Aubigné describes, with a governess, servant, and pack
horse for every eight dogs) is the sign of a “sterility” that is as sexual as it is
financial and moral. In turn, all such excesses become seen as the cause of
much ruin and destruction, if not the very disintegration of the nation. And
although the category of deviance may prove anachronistic when applied to
the Renaissance, the concept of luxury certainly is readily available to a contemporary Huguenot reader and thus able to be subsumed into a broad specpets and perversion
trum of vices. Indeed, in the Calvinist imaginary, luxury is the antithesis of
the bourgeois virtue of frugality and a synonym of Catholic ostentation and
idolatry. What could be a better symbol of this sinfulness than Henri’s dogs,
the little dogs that are said to share his bed and to be catered to by special
governesses and driven around in fancy carriages?
Indeed, D’Aubigné’s biting satire of the later Valois’s court life in Book II
of Les Tragiques, “Princes,” really heats up when, after an initial and rather
traditional critique of the malicious role of flatterers, the poet turns to Henri’s
animal obsessions. In fact, the turn to the bestial in the text is what allows
D’Aubigné to move from the common and undaring critique of evil counselors to the more direct and trenchant depiction of a depraved monarchy.
Furthermore, it is the monarchy’s sinfulness itself that leads to a horrific inversion of the social hierarchy and to the catastrophe of civil war.At the same
time, though, the sinful nature of the Valois kings is itself the manifest work
of divine retribution: “Dieu veut punir les siens quand il leve sur eux, / Comme
sur des meschans, les princes vicieux”5 (“God wants to punish his own when
he raises over them / as over the wicked, vicious princes”). This conclusion is
prepared, a hundred verses earlier, when the subject of the king’s attitude to
animals and its possible inversion/perversion of the norm are first introduced:
Il est permis aux grands, pourveu que l’un ne face
De l’autre les mestier et ne change de place,
D’avoir renards, chevaux et singes et fourmis,
Serviteurs esprouvez et fideles amis.6
[It is permissible for the great, so long as one does not
do the other’s job and changes places,
to have foxes, horses and monkeys and ants,
proven servants and loyal friends.]
The great are permitted to indulge in the pleasures of petkeeping as long as
they do not allow for any change in the hierarchy of domestication: animals
must be their servants, not the other way around. However, their characterization as “proven servants and loyal friends” allows the entire following passage to be read as an allegory of the proper relations between a king and his
human underlings. In such a way and in a manner typical of D’Aubigné, the
passage on royal petkeeping reads as a true syllepsis, at once literal and figural:
Mais le mal-heur avient que la sage finesse
Des renards, des chevaux la necessaire adresse,
La vistesse, la force et le coeur aux dangers,
Le travail des fourmis, utiles menagers,
S’employe aux vents, aux coups; ils se plaisent d’y estre.7
juliana schiesari
[But the misfortune occurs by which the wise finesse
of foxes, the necessary dexterity, speed
force and courage of horses,
the hard work of ants, useful managers
is cast to the winds, to chance; they are content just to be there.]
The perversion of Henri’s rule means that everything is out of order, and
the good qualities of beasts/servants (wisdom, dexterity, courage, hard
work) are left to waste, whereas that most useless and exotic of pets, the
monkey, actually overturns the relations of domination and rules the ruler:
Tandis le singe prend à la gorge son maistre,
Le fait haïr, s’il peut, à nos princes mignons
Qui ont beaucoup du singe et fort peu des lions.
Qu’advient-il de cela? Le bouffon vous amuse,
Un renard ennemi vous fait cuire sa ruse,
On a pour oeconome un plaisant animal,
Et le prince combat sur un singe à cheval.8
[While the monkey grabs his master by the throat,
makes him hated, if he can, by our mignon princes
who have much of the monkey and very little of the lion.
What gives from this? The buffoon amuses you,
an enemy fox makes you swallow his ruse,
you have a joker of an animal for making economies,
and the prince fights riding horseback upon a monkey.]
Deceit, cowardice, and wastefulness are the vices the monkey brings in the
place of the other animals’ virtues. These vices are also used to describe the
infamous “mignons” of Henri’s court, who are also accused of taking over
the royal governance at the expense of faithful lords and hard-working civil
servants. Very much hated by many people, the mignons were seen as unscrupulous social climbers whose ambitions were realized though sexual favors, as the last line just quoted indicates through its oblique reference to anal
intercourse or as D’Aubigné makes more explicit a thousand lines later in
the same book, when through the voice of Fortune he describes the mignons
“faisans… par le cul d’un coquin chemin au coeur d’un Roy” (“making way
to the king’s heart by way of a rogue’s ass”).9 Very quickly, then, the totality
of D’Aubigné’s satire of late Valois court society, which he continues to elaborate in every sordid detail for another 1,200 lines, has been skillfully and
concisely sketched in just over a dozen lines. By arguing that petkeeping is
perverse, D’Aubigné’s critique becomes a synecdoche for the generalized perversion of Henri’s rule, where
pets and perversion
les desirs, comme des bestes fieres,
Desirs, dis-je, sanglants, grondent en devorant
Ce que l’esprit volage a ravi en courant.10
[desires, like fierce beasts,
desires, I say, dripping with blood, growl while devouring
what a flighty mind has ravished on the run].
An inversion of the moral order takes place and becomes a veritable world
turned upside down,11 where beasts rule men when men are not ruled by
their own (bestial) desires, mignons run the government, foreigners (under
the aegis of the Italian and very Catholic queen mother, Catherine de Medicis) drive out native Frenchmen, vice trades places with virtue, and men
dress as women and vice versa.
The point of D’Aubigné’s monkey example is to demonstrate the folly of
Henri’s ways: by elevating the simian mignons to high status, he not only
undercuts his own ruling nobility and retainers but also jeopardizes himself because these unscrupulous upstarts can just as easily conspire against
him (“le singe prend à la gorge son maistre, le fait haïr”), foreshadowing
Henri’s eventual murder, not by a Huguenot but a discontented monk. For
D’Aubigné, unleashed depravity knows no bounds, and the king must pay
dearly for his not keeping pets and subjects in their proper places. The passage that follows just after the one about the monkey reinforces this theme
by evoking the animal whose magnanimity and courage makes it the antithesis of the monkey, namely the king of the beasts, the lion:
Qu’ai-je dit des lions? Les eslevez courages
De nos Rois abaissoyent et leur force et leurs rages,
Doctes à s’en servir; les sens effeminez
De ceux-ci n’aiment pas les fronts determinez,
Tremblent de leurs lions, car leur vertu estonne
De nos coulpables Rois l’ame basse et poltronne.
L’esprit qui s’employoit jadis à commander
S’employe, degenere, à tout apprehender.12
[What did I say about lions? The haughty courage
of our kings lowered both their force and their rage,
wise to make use of them; the effeminate senses
of these ones do not like determined brows,
tremble before their lions, for their virtue astonishes
the lowly and cowardly soul of our guilty kings.
The spirit that once upon a time would command
is used, now degenerate, to fear everything.]
juliana schiesari
The lions quite clearly refer to the nobility whose (masculine) force and
virtue, instead of providing strength to the very heart of the realm, constitute a threat to the low, cowardly, and effeminate Valois kings who, in another example of inversion and “degeneration,” learn to fear everyone and
everything over which they are empowered to command. This inversion is
inscribed into the heart of the monarch himself, whose traditional “highness” and courage are overturned in a “low and cowardly soul” and who
thereby bears responsibility for the morewidespread inversion of values that
afflict the body politic as a whole. The ensuing “guilt” that is here specifically
attributed to the Valois kings, and not just to evil flatterers or bad company,
is a move D’Aubigné dares to make for the first time.
This inversion that explains royal paranoia is then portrayed as the
source of irrational violence, not against the metaphorical lions of the nobility but against the literal lions of his palace menagerie, who are hysterically slaughtered in the aftermath of a “premonitory” dream:
Pourtant ce Roy, songeant que les griffes meurtrieres
De ses lions avoyent crocheté leurs tanieres
Pour le deschirer vif, prevoyant à ces maux
Fit bien mal à propos tuer ces animaux.
Il laissa le vrai sens, s’attachant au mensonge.13
[But this king, dreaming that the murderous claws
of his lions had burst through their lairs
in order to rip him alive, very inappropriately
had these animals killed to forestall such harm.
He left the true meaning behind and attached himself to the lie.]
This incident is not D’Aubigné’s satirical invention (although it certainly
seems made to order) but is historically authenticated by other sources, particularly Pierre de L’Estoile, who relates the story in his journal under the
date of January 21, 1583:
[Le Roy] s’en revint au Louvre, où arrivé il fist tuer à coups de harquebuzes
les lions, ours, taureaux et autres semblables bestes qu’il souloit nourrir pour
combattre avec les dogues; et ce, à l’occasion d’un songe qui lui estoit advenu, par lequel il lui sembla que les lions, ours et dogues le mangeoient et
dévoroient. Songe qui sembloit présager ce que depuis on a veu advenir,
lorsque ces bestes furieuses de la Ligue, se ruans sur ce pauvre prince, l’ont
déchiré et mangé avec son peuple.14
[The king returned to the Louvre, where upon his arrival he had the lions, bears,
bulls and other such beasts he would nurture for combat with his mastiffs
killed by blunderbuss shots; and all this, on the occasion of a dream that came
pets and perversion
to him, by which it seemed that the lions, bears and mastiffs were eating and
devouring him.A dream that seemed to foretell what we have since seen come
about, when those enraged beasts of the League, hurling themselves upon that
unfortunate prince, tore him to pieces and ate him along with his people.]
D’Aubigné concurs with L’Estoile that Henri misreads literal for figural
lions, thus massacring the royal zoo at the expense of his own throne:
Un bon Joseph eust pris autrement un tel songe.
Et eust dit: “Les lions superbes, indomptez,
Que tu dois redouter, sont princes irritez,
Qui briseront tes reins et tes faibles barrieres
Pour n’estre pas tournez aux proyes estrangeres.”15
[A good Joseph would have taken the dream otherwise,
and would have said: “The proud, untamed lions
that you must fear, are angry princes,
who will break your back and weak frontiers
for not being directed towards foreign prey.”]
But D’Aubigné, ever the didactic preacher, relates Henri’s inability to deal
with recalcitrant nobles back to his personal vices: pet dogs, cross-dressing, and religious decadence.
Apren, Roy, qu’on nourrit de bien divers moyens
Les lions d’Afrique, ou de Lion les chiens:
De ces chiens de Lion tu ne crains le courage
Quand tu changes des Rois et l’habit et l’usage,
Quand tu blesses des tiens les coeurs à millions,
Mais tu tournes ta robbe aux yeux de tes lions
Quand le royal manteau se change en une aumusse,
Et la couronne au froc d’un vilain Picque-Puce.16
[Learn, o king, that there are very different means of nurturing
African lions and the dogs of Lyon:
You need not fear the courage of these Lion dogs
when you change the costume and habits of kings,
when you wound by the millions the hearts of those who
belong to you,
but you turn your robe in the eyes of your lions
when the royal mantle is traded for an amice,
and the crown for the shabby frock of Pique-Puce.]
Once again, the satire of Henri’s vices is triggered by the instance of the toy
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dogs. In this case, these toy dogs are none other than the Little Lion Dogs, so
called from their being bred in Lyon, where, in the passage quoted earlier
from the Histoire Universelle, we saw him shopping for dogs. The reintroduction of these toy dogs into the narrative coincides with the return of
syllepsis and thus confounds again the literal versus figural distinction that
L’Estoile blames for Henri’s problems. At the most literal level, we are told a
training banality: that one must not raise African lions like little Lion dogs,
the unstated but obvious assumption being that the African lions need much
more skill and attention than the Lion dogs, who implicitly remain nothing
more than cuddly objects of fetishistic pleasure requiring no particular force
of domestication. On one metaphorical level, then, the lesson would be that
the king should pay more attention to his seditious Catholic lords than to his
hundreds of lapdogs.At another level, we can read the “chiens de Lions [dont]
tu ne crains le courage” as once again a reference to his cowardly mignons
who, earlier on, were caricatured by their simian affinities. The mignons are
not upset by the king’s strange habits or dress, nor by his bouts of devotion,
where they would join in Henri’s penitent processions wearing the “aumuce”
and flagellating themselves. Or they would accompany him in his monastic
“retreats” such as at the Franciscan abbey of Picpus (which D’Aubigné humorously links back to the canine theme as the abbey of Picque-Puce, or flea
picking, and of course Saint Francis is well known in Catholic iconography
for his love and care of animals). On the other hand, the “lions” of the Catholic League were very incensed by what they understood—rightly or
wrongly—as a hypocritical masquerade and as the king’s near-treasonous
abandonment of his royal duties in a time of national crisis. Catherine de
Medicis, the king’s own mother, is said to have made this same complaint to
the papal nuncio, while the former charge appeared in satirical verses such
as the following:
Mignons qui portez doucement
En croupe le sang de la France
Ne battez le dos seulement
Mais le cul qui a fait l’offense.17
[Mignons who softly bear
The royal blood in your crotch
Don’t just beat your back
But also the ass, which committed the offense.]
If Henri’s actions were intended to give a few strokes to the savage beasts
of Catholic orthodoxy, they backfired. The “African” lions, so D’Aubigné
pets and perversion
seems to say, need firm discipline to maintain their respect and loyalty, not
the indulgent pats one gives little Lion dogs.
Historically, though, it seems that Henri’s actions were inspired by a sentiment quite close to D’Aubigné’s own, that the kingdom’s troubles were to
be explained by the wrath of God falling on France. In the Catholic reading,
this is not just an example of God’s mysterious ways and hidden actions that,
in the Calvinist understanding, require an even greater act of sheer faith on
the part of the righteous. Rather, causes are induced (human moral depravity) and remedies prescribed in the form of good deeds: appease God’s anger
through acts of public penitence and self-immolation. As Henri writes in a
1582 letter to his ambassador in Venice, “Notre seigneur veut étendre son ire
sur nous et nous admonester par ce châtiment de changer de voies et avoir
recours à sa bonté par bonnes oeuvres” (“Our Lord wants to cast his ire upon
us and admonish us by this punishment to change our ways and have recourse to his goodness by doing good deeds”).18 To think that one could
change God’s mind by the ostentation of ritualized masochism, while appearing hypocritical to Henri’s Catholic opposition, could only come off as
absurd superstition or madness for Huguenot commentators such as François Hotman.19 For D’Aubigné, as we have seen, far from being a response to
God’s wrath, Henri’s actions, general conduct, and weakness of character are
themselves signs of it.
Chief among the signs of Henri’s viciousness is the dog obsession, to
which D’Aubigné returns at the close of this opening passage in the long
invective against the Valois court that makes up the bulk of “Princes:”
Les Rois aux chiens flatteurs donnent le premier lieu,
Et, de cette canaille endormis au milieu,
Chassent les chiens de garde.20
[The kings give first place to the flattering dogs,
and chase the watchdogs out
from that riff-raff asleep in the middle.]
Again, the sylleptic reading tells us that Henri has unconscionably elevated
his untrustworthy mignons while foolishly exiling powerful protectors of
the realm and has also abandoned the large breeds traditional of masculine
power to collect instead the small toy breeds associated with ladies, and wanton ones at that. It is said that he developed a miniature breed of spaniel,
the papillon, small enough to be carried around in basket or pocket and to
be placed in the royal bed by the dozen. And if the cross-dressing might invite a reading of Henri as desiring to appropriate a certain femininity, his
keeping of lapdogs certainly moved, as L’Estoile notes, from being simply a
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symbolic appropriation of feminine habits and styles to the literal seizure
of women’s pets:
[Le Roi] va en coche, avec la Roine son epouse, par les rues et maisons de
Paris, prendre les petits chiens damerets, qui à lui et à elle viennent à plaisir;
va semblablement, par tous les monastères de femmes estans aux environs
de Paris, faire pareille queste de petits chiens, au grand regret et desplaisir
des dames ausquelles les chiens appartenoient.21
[The king rides by carriage, with the queen his spouse, along the streets and
houses of Paris, to get little ladylike dogs, which give pleasure to both him
and her; he goes in the same way, to all the monasteries for women in the
vicinity of Paris, carrying out a similar quest for little dogs, to the great regret and displeasure of the ladies to whom the dogs belonged.]
From his desire not for women but for “les petits chiens damerets,” to his
forcible taking of such dogs from the “dames” to whom these dogs belonged,
we see how the beastliness of desire has crossed over into an uncontrollable
desire for the beast.
For D’Aubigné, of course, whatever is bestial, or approximates it in his
metaphorical arsenal, is consistently linked with what is abject, degenerate,
evil, or simply “monstrous.” To no surprise, Henri III comes off as a monstrous beast: “Ce Roy donc n’est plus Roy, mais monstrueuse beste.”22Catherine de Medicis is described at length in bestial terms: “savage et carnaciere
beste,” “ce serpent monstrueux,” “Cette Hydra renaissant,” “de basilique
veuë,” and so on.23 The horrors of religious war are emblematized by beasts
run amok and feasting on human cadavers in the aftermath of battle.24
Should we be surprised that monstrous bestiality is also in association with
femininity and foreignness? The Italian Catholic queen, Catherine de Medicis, egregiously condenses all of these attributes in her sole person, thereby
sharply cathecting the energy of D’Aubigné’s invective. The exchangeability
of these traits in myriad combinations supplies an unlimited amount of fuel
for the metaphorical engines that drive Les Tragiques. The evil Italian influences of the “faux Machiavel” and “la beste de Rome” are relayed and amplified by “les hermaphrodites, monstres effeminez” who inhabit the court,
dominate the state, and corrupt the nation.25
In a sense, there is nothing particularly surprising about such animal metaphors in the derogatory rhetoric of texts understood to be “humanist” in
orientation, although there does exist in the same period a contrary tradition of theriophilia among the later humanists, such as Montaigne’s famous
panegyrics to animal intelligence and morality over and against human presumptuousness.26 Perhaps of greater interest in our context is that the court
mentality under Henri III, although obviously more favorable to little dogs,
pets and perversion
monkeys, cross-dressing monarchs, and perfumed mignons, does not differ
appreciably from D’Aubigné’s assessment in terms of the metaphorical hierarchies in question. Femininity, animality, and cultural alterity remain
linked together in a paradigm that invests petkeeping with an erotic fascination that stems from the unpredictable and pluridirectional quality of desire27 associated with the nonutilitarian domestic animal, or household beast,
consistent with this associative network. Certainly the African lion deserves
to be feared more than a Lion dog, but nothing seems to compare with the
Little Lion Dog’s capacity, far out of proportion to its miniature stature and
status, to scramble the very foundations of social, sexual, and gender identity. In fact, if one reads D’Aubigné with close attention, it seems that the lapdog is a much greater threat to the realm than the figural wild beasts of the
League or the literal ones of the Louvre’s menagerie.After all, in the first passage that we read by him, D’Aubigné was quick to attribute the king’s puppy
mania as having a direct consequence on the realm’s “great sterility and destruction of finances.” On the other hand, Henri’s own attraction to swarms
of little creatures is motivated by their relation to femininity (“les petits chiens
damerets”) and the exotic (monkeys ordered by the boatload).28All in all, the
pet turns out to be an extraordinary bearer of cathected desire whose consequences are not only psychological but social and political as well.

The original traditional marriage

The original traditional marriage’s basically and practically arranged marriage though the way it’s arranged varies between communities, families and individuals. You could get semi-arranged marriage where you either get to marry the person you desire for as long as your family approves of them or you marry that person but where their in-laws expect you to do favours (especially among Baka Pygmy). Then there’s forced marriage and regular arranged marriage.

Keep in mind, interracial/interethnic marriage existed before but often as a consequence of migration. There were Anglo-Gaelic intermarriages in Ireland. Some Pygmies, especially women, migrate and then marry into Bantu families. It’s confirmed that some Jews are a byproduct of historical intermarriages between Jews and Italians. That’s still a thing to do this day.

Albeit to whatever extent that is in addition to neighbourly negotiations. (If I’m not mistaken about the Medici, Lorenzo’s parents made him date and marry Clarice if because she’s useful enough to elevate their position and prestige more than if he married the love of his life Lucrezia.) At other times, especially in Europe at some point men also married up. Especially if a rich daughter-in-law’s needed to better their financial situation.

Marquis de Sade’s family nearly went broke and to better save his family’s finances, he married the wealthier Renee-Pelagie de Montreuil. Jakob Fugger married Sibylle for similar reasons, ad infinitum for his peers and others before him. It’s not that love marriages didn’t happen before. Quite likely poorer people had semi-arranged marriages and among heterodox Muslim communities, love marriages are often the norm but because there’s almost nobody else kind enough to them.

It’s not that desire was entirely nonexistent but it was either not the only reason, just one of the few options in a hostile world (especially for heterodox Muslims) or accompanied by obligations (Baka-Pygmies and when Marcantonio Serego married an Alighieri woman, his son was made to add her maiden-name to theirs). Desire as the sole main reason for marriage en masse happened much more recently.

Though it can be argued some parents leer at their children whenever they marry somebody not up to their expectations and standards so it’s like arranged marriage has a persistent half-life or something.

Analogous to the past

I’m not sure if I’m being racist in my assumptions but I get the impression of Africa today being similar to what Europe was like before. Both of them have recovered/are recovering from serious epidemics (replace Black Plague with AIDS, though this is imperfect), were colonies of other empires and are/were economically rising.

The fact that much of Africa’s increasingly middle class with Rwanda and Ethiopia making good recoveries as well as further international intervention suggest that for most of the part Africa’s improving. Just like Europe before. Another’s that both of them are/were highly religious with a strong belief in witchcraft.

In fact, some African churches associate dogs with witchcraft too just as their European counterparts did before. That and lower female education and literacy rates (though this is changing) as well as rapid mass conversion to Christianity makes me think that 21st century Africa’s really analogous to medieval and early modern Europe in some regards.

Something about Africa

Religiously speaking and to some extent, culturally and socially (though not technologically) 21st century Africa’s the closest one gets to what early modern Europe may’ve been like. Not just in terms of conflict with Islam (and in the Maghreb itself, Christians and Jews in hiding, especially under the guise of nominal Muslims which’s also the case in the former Ottoman Empire and still is).

But also a profound belief in witchcraft matched with high Christian (or sometimes Islamic) religiosity, relatively low levels of female literacy and education (though this is improving) and rising economies. I sometimes think 21st century Europe is socially, religiously and culturally far removed from the Early Modern period whereas 21st century Africa’s pretty close to it. (That and rising love marriages though that’s also true in Turkey and India.)

Some African weddings involve cases where people are expected to give gifts or do favours to their future spouses, which’s close to the use of dowry in early modern European marriages. Since most Africans technically have pets for mostly practical purposes (though the sentimental aspect’s not lost and some African clergy do keep pets themselves), that’s likely similar in early modern Europe.

Given we’ve yet to have a working time machine, 21st century Africa’s the closest thing to early modern Europe really at this point. And being former colonies too.

No need for time machines

As for wanting to revisit past centuries, sometimes you needn’t a time machine for it. Maybe my phrasing’s incorrect but I often get the impression of 21st century Africa being the closest to early modern Europe in terms of religiosity and economic rise (indeed, Spain, the Nethelands and England were beginning to become immense colonial powers). That and lowered female literacy/education rate and bad brownouts (though these are already being dealt with).

In fact the religiosity of early modern Europe would be exactly like that of contemporary African nations should these be adjusted and quantified. Quite logically, countries like India and Japan are the closest to Ancient Greek and Rome in the sense of paganism still being practised as well as vices, social classes (to an extent) and influence. Both of them had immense empires and still have immense soft power.

(The Greek Empire morphed into the Byzantine Empire and then the Ottoman Empire whilst the Roman Empire begat the Holy Roman Empire and then the Spanish, Austrian, British, Portuguese and French Empires. Thus spread Christianity.)

Admittedly my understanding of history’s flawed but these countries are enough to give me an idea of what Europe’s actually like.


The history of Scotland. With a survey of the religious history of Scotland … (Google Books)



We must now turn to a subject which may, by some, be considered as below the dignity of history, yet which was profoundly mixed up, in the age of which we are speaking, with men’s thoughts and habitudes. It is astonishing, when we look closer into the personal intrigues of the Scottish nobles of James’s reign, how frequently they had recourse to the supposed agency of witchcraft; and James himself, whose mind was remarkably superstitious, shared fully in the belief held on this matter by his subjects. James appears to have been convinced from the first, that the storms, which had impeded his marriage, were the result of agency of the kind to which we allude; and, soon after his return to Scotland, events occurred which confirmed him in this notion. The story we are going to relate forms one of the dark pages in the national annals.

At the little town of Tranent, on the firth of Forth, about nine miles from Edinburgh, there was, we are told, a man named David Seytoun, who held the office of deputybailiff of the town. He had a servant, a young woman named Geillis Duncan, who suddenly became celebrated among the town’s-people for her extraordinary skill in curing diseases. Grave suspicions took the mind of her master, which were increased by the discovery that she was in the habit of secretly absenting herself from home every other night. David Seytoun took his servant apart and questioned her closely,

but without effect; and he then presumed upon his office so far as to call in some of his acquaintance and put her privately to torture, but even this produced no confession. They then proceeded to put in practice one of the least fallible methods of discovering a witch, and, having carefully searched every part of her body, they at last found the devil’s mark on the fore-part of her throat. Unable to resist the force of such evidence, the poor woman now confessed that she performed her cures through the agency of witchcraft. She was immediately committed to prison, and there made a more full confession, in which a number of persons living in different parts of Lothian were implicated, and several persons were arrested in consequence. Of these, the most remarkable were Dr. John Fian, otherwise called John Cunningham, and three women, Agnes Sampsoun, Euphame Mackalzeane, and Barbara Napier. Fian was a schoolmaster of Tranent, and gave the following account of his acquaintance with the evil one. He said that the man, in whose house he lodged, at Tranent, having once offended him by not fulfilling a promise to whitewash his chamber, he lay in bed musing and thinking how he might be revenged, when the devil suddenly appeared to him, clad in a white garment, and said— “Will ye be my servant, and adore me and all my servants, and ye shall never want?” The temptation was irresistible, and Dr. Fian became a servant of Satan, and revenged himself next day by burning the house. The second night the devil appeared in the same guise, and put his mark upon Fian’s person. From this time the doctor became a perfect sorcerer; he was often carried away in the night to visit distant parts of the earth; was present at all the uightly conventions of witches, held in the district of Lothian; and rose so high in the devil’s favour, that, being a scholar, he was appointed to the office of Satan’s registrar and secretary. After the burning of the house, Kan appears to have gone to lodge in the neighbouring township of Preston Pans, from whence he was carried at night, as if, to use his own phrase, “he had been skimming across the earth,” to the church of North Berwick, a distance of about fourteen miles along the coast, where he found a number of witches and sorcerers assembled, with a candle in the middle of them, burning blue. Satan, in one of his grim forms, stood preaching to them from a pulpit. He exhorted them to have no fear of him, promising them that as long as they served him they should never want, and that as long as they had their hairs on their bodies they should receive no injury; and, exhorting them to do all the evil they could in the world, and to eat, drink, and make merry. Fian seems to have been an ill-dispositioned man, and to have acted upon Satan’s recommendation to the utmost of his power. He appears to have believed fully in the extraordinary powers Satan was understood to have endowed him with, and to have tried at least to exercise them for wicked purposes. He stated, in his examination, that one night, while residing at Tranent, he went to sup at the miller’s, some distance from the town, and, remaining there late, he was conveyed home on horseback by one of the miller’s men. The night being dark, Fian raised up, by Satanic agency, four candles, placed on the horse’s ears, and one on the staff of his conductor. The night, which was a very dark one, was thus made to appear to them as light as day. Dr. Fian agreed with the other witches in stating that, after the sermon was ended, Satan made them all do homage to him by kissing him behind.

The three women just mentioned were of a better class of persons than the generality of witches. Agnes Sampsoun is described as a grave matron, and was known, from the place of her residence, as the wise wife of

Keith. She also was celebrated for curing diseases; and it seems, by her confession, which was very wild and extraordinary, that she was employed even by persons of rank. She said that she had learnt the art of knowing and healing diseases from her father; but that, after the death of her husband, the devil appeared to her in the likeness of a man, and, as he promised her riches, and she was herself poor, she consented to renounce her Saviour and become a servant of the evil one. The form iu which he generally appeared to her was that of a dog, from which she received answers to her questions. She related how on one occasion, when she was attending the old lady Edmestoune in a grievous sickness, she went out into the garden at night to call upon the evil one, who appeared in his usual shape of a dog, and informed her that the lady would not recover, inasmuch as “her days were gone.” He then asked her where the gentlewomen, the lady’s daughters, were; and when she answered that she expected them to come with her into the garden, he added that he would have one of them. Agnes, however, replied that this should not be the case; upon which he went away howling into the well, and remained concealed there till after supper. When supper was over, the young ladies came into the garden, and the dog, rushing out and terrifying them all, seized upon one, the lady Torsenye, and attempted to drag her into the well to drown her, when Agnes also seized hold of the young lady andproved strongerthan the devil. The latter gave a terrible howl and disappeared. In fact, Agnes seems to have been a woman of spirit, for sometimes she quarrelled violently with the evil one himself. On one occasion she met some other witches on the bridge of Foulstruther; and, wanting some service from Satan, they threw a cord into the river, and Agnes Sampsoun cried out, “Hail, holoa!” The end of the cord which was in the water became immediately heavy, and when they drew it out, the devil came up at the end of it. He examined them if they had all been good servants to him, and, being answered in the affirmative, he gave them a charm to effect the purpose for which they had consulted him.

Euphame Mackalzeane was a lady of rank, being the only daughter and heiress of the lord Cliftounhall, a distinguished scholar, lawyer, and statesman. She was devoted to the party of the earl of Bothwell, and her love of political intrigue seems to have led her into the society of the witches. She confessed that she had been first made a witch by means of an Irishwoman, and that she was inaugurated into th.3 art by a witch who dwelt in St. Ninian’s-row, in Edinburgh. She also was evidently a wicked woman, for she was accused of having recourse to poison as well as sorcery; and it was believed that by these means she had procured the deaths of her own husband, her father-in-law, and various other persons.. She had become acquainted with Agnes Sampsoun at the time of the birth of her eldest son, having applied to her to ease her of her pains in childbirth, which she did by transferring them to a dog. On the birth of her second son, Agnes was again called in for the same purpose, and she then transferred her pains to a cat. Barbara Napier was also a woman of some station in society. The others were persons of low condition; one of whom, a poor peasant whom they nicknamed Gray Meal, was keeper of the door at the meetings of the witches.

The favourite place of meeting was the church of North Berwick. One Allhallowcve (which was a great night for such unholy doings), Agnes Sampsoun said “she was accompanied with a great many other witches, to the number of two hundred, and that all they together went to sea, each one in a riddle or sieve, and went into the same very substantially, with flagons of wine, making merry and drinking by the way, in the same riddles or sieves, to the kirk of North Berwick, in Lothian; and that after they had landed, they took hands on the land, and danced this reel or short dance, singing, all with one voice—

“Commer, gae ye before, commer gae ye,
Gif ye wall not gae before, commer, let me.”

At which time she confessed that Geillis Duncan did go before them, playing this reel or dance upon a small trump called a Jew’s-trump, until they entered into the kirk of North Berwick.” On another occasion, Dr. Fian, with Agnes Sampsoun, one Robert Greirsoun, and others, went out to sea in a boat from Preston Pans, and entering a ship they therein drunk good wine and ale; after which, as they quitted the ship, they caused it to sink, with all that were in it. At another time, as we learn from the confession of Agnes Sampsoun, a party of them went out from North Berwick in a boat like a chimney, the devil leading them in the form of a rick of hav; and that in

this manner they encountered a ship called the ” Grace of God,” which they immediately entered, and there they made good cheer; and, as it would appear from the sequel of the story, they took the ship’s money. When they left the ship, the devil raised a hurricane, and, placing himself beneath, he threw it over so that it sank. Dr. Fian stated, that, in the summer of 1589, the fiend told them, beforehand, of the leak which would endanger the queen’s ship, and force her to take refuge in Norway. And when they knew that the queen was actually on her way from Denmark, they held a convention at the Broom-hills, whence the whole company went out to sea in riddles, Robert Greirsoun being their ” admiral,” or leader; and on this occasion they again entered a ship, in which they regaled themselves, and made merry. Before quitting it, they threw a dog overboard, with certain ceremonies—the consequence of which was that the ship turned over and sank, and a great storm was raised which helped to drive the queen back.

The great storm which endangered the queen’s fleet was raised by extraordinary ceremonies, which was fully detailed in the confessions of these unearthly conspirators. A meeting of the witches and sorcerers was held expressly for this purpose, in the house of a webster at Preston Pans. Among others there were present Agnes Sampsoun, Dr. Fian, and Geillis Duncan, the servant of David Seytoun, by whom the whole was brought to light. They there proceeded to baptize a cat, a ceremony which, according the confession of Agnes Sampsoun, was performed in the following manner:—” First, two of them held one finger in the one side of the chimney crook, and another held another finger in the other side, the two nibs of the fingers meeting together; then they put the cat thrice through the links of the crook, and passed it thrice under the chimney.” They next tied four joints of dead men to the four feet of the cat; and thus prepared it was conveyed to Leith, where, at midnight, the witches took it to the pierhead and threw it into the sea. Another party of the witches threw a cat into the sea at Preston Pans the same night at eleven o’clock. By these combined preparations so dreadful a storm was raised, that the boat between Leith and Kinghorn perished, with all on board. The queen having, however, escaped the supposed effects of their malice, the witches determined to try their arte upon the king. Another cat was thrown into the sea to raise a storm during the king’s voyage to Denmark; and, previous to Lis return, a new convention was held, at which the fiend himself was present, and he promised to raise a mist on James’s homeward voyage which should cause him to be carried into an English port. For this purpose, as Dr. Fian confessed, Satan threw a thing like a football into the sea, from which vapours and smoke arose when it touched the water. It was now evident that James was proof against witchcraft by sea, and Satan himself was obliged to confess, using a French phrase, that the king was un homme de Dieu, and that he had little power over him.

James, as we have seen, arrived safe at Lcith on the 1st day of May, 1590. Not long after his return, a new plot was laid against him. On Lammas eve (the 31st of July, 1590), a grand convention was held at a spot named the Fairy hills, at Newhaven. Among those present were nine of the principal sorcerers, including Dr. Fian, Agnes Sampsoun, Euphame Mackalzeane, and Barbara Napier. Their whole number amounted to thirty; and the devil made his appearance amongst them in the shape of a black man. When they had taken their place, Agnes Sampsoun opened the proceedings by proposing that they should consult for the destruction of the king. The devil told them their designs were likely to be frustrated; nevertheless, he promised them ao. image of was; and he directed them to hang up and roast a toad; and they were to lay the drippings of this toad, mixed with strong wash, an adder’s skin, and the thing in the forehead of a new foaled foal, in the way where the king was to pass, or hang it in a position where it might drop on his body. Agnes Sampsoun was appointed to make the image, which she gave to the fiend, who took it with him, promising to prepare it and give it them back for use within a short time. In the meantime the toad was duly prepared, and the dripping was to have fallen on the king “during his majesty’s being at the Brig of Dee, the day before the common bell rang for fear the carl BothwelL should have entered Edinburgh;” but James disappointed the conspirators on this occasion by suddenly taking a different way from that by which he was expected to go.

Ail this time the image of wax went on rsry slowly, Satan alleging that the extreme

piety and wisdom of king James presented a formidable obstacle to the progress of his incantations. In the last night of October— the eve of Hallowmass, 1590—there was an unusually large and solemn meeting in the church of North Berwick. According to the account given in the confessions, there were no less than a hundred present, in which number there were only six men. Agnes Sampsoun said that she went thither on horseback, and that on her arrival, at about eleven o’clock at night, they all danced across the churchyard, Dr. Fian as usual leading the way, and Geillis Duncan playing on the trump or Jew’s harp. On arriving at the church door, the women first paid their homage, turning six times round “widderschinnes,” or in a direction contrary to that of the course of the sun; and after them the men performed the same ceremony nine times. Dr. Fian then blew open the church doors, and having passed into the church, he blew in the lights, which were like great black candles, each held in the gristly hand of an old man, and ranged round the pulpit, in which the devil suddenly rose up in the form of a black man, with a black beard sticking out like that of a goat, and a high-ribbed nose falling down like the beak of a hawk. He wore a black gown, with a black skull-cap on his head, the latter of which was described in the confessions of the witches as being “ill-favoured.” Dr. Fian stood beside the pulpit as clerk, and Robert Greirsoun stood next to him. Of the rest of the company, some sat and others stood. Satan began by bringing forth a black book, from which he read the names of those who had been summoned to this meeting, and each person answered to her or his name, ” Here, master I” It must be remarked that in these meetings each person was called by a nickname, and not by the true name, which it was considered a great breach of etiquette to use. Satan at this meeting seems to have been vexed or put out of his way, for when he came to the name of Robert Greirsoun, whose nickname was Rob the Rower, he calledj him by his own proper name instead of using the nickname; and, to make matters worse, the fiend made the same mistake immediately afterwards in the names of Euphame Mackalzeane and Barbara Napier. These mistakes excited much clamour and tumult, and they all “ran hirdie-girdie,” as they expressed it, and became very angry. As soon as this tumult could be appeased,

Satan made a short sermon, exhorting them all to be good servants, and to persist in doing as much evil of every description as they could. A new and great uproar now took place about the image of wax, which was not forthcoming. Robert Greirsoun, urged on by the women, said, “Where is the thing ye promised?” As Satan appears at first to have hesitated in replying to this question, the tumult became greater, and, to appease it, he was obliged to promise that “It should be gotten the next meeting, and he would hold the next assembly, for that cause, the sooner”; it^was not ready at that time.” This excuse was considered anything but satisfactory; and Robert Greirsoun, who seems to have been offended by the mistake about his name, shouted out rudely—” Ye promised twice, and deceived us!” Some of the women now raised their voices in the matter, and became so mutinous, that the fiend was compelled by their importunity to enter into a promise that he would not wait for another meeting, but that the image should be delivered very shortly to Barbara Napier and Euphame Mackalzeane. The company seems now to have been quieted again; though another subject of offence had arisen from the indiscretion of Gray Meal, the door-keeper, who was imprudent enough to say in the midst of the tumult—”Nothing ailed the king yet, God be thanked!” for which the fiend gave him a great blow. The business of the evening was now considered to be over, and the company indulged in a wild revel, after which they opened two graves within and one without the church, and took the joints of the dead, which were shared among them, to make charms of. Before they departed, each saluted the evil one with a kiss behind.

All these strange stories were avowed by about thirty persons, who had been seized and subjected to examination; and, as the king took the matter under his own special care, they afforded him amusement during the winter. We are told that he “took great delight” in the examinations, and that the various confessions put him “in a wonderful admiration.” His vanity was highly gratified by Satan’s confessions to the royal piety and wisdom. He even took a pleasure in making Geillis Duncan play before him on her trump the same tune to which the witches had danced in their meetings. Little justice, however, was observed in the manner of conducting the examiua

tions; and we are not surprised at any con, fessions made by people subjected to such tortures, as were here applied, under the king’s own direction and eye. The very firmness with which some of them suffered for a while, rather than confess, was only looked upon as diabolical obstinacy, and provoked severer punishment. The torture to which Dr. Fian was subjected was too horrible to be described. Agnes Sampsoun was examined before the king at Holyroodhouse, and bore the torture, which was of a very cruel description, firmly and without confession; upon this, she was stripped naked, the hair shaved from her body, and the search for the devil’s mark carried on in such a manner that she confessed anything rather than submit to further indignities.

On the 26th of December, Dr. Fian was found guilty and condemned to be burnt, and the sentence was put in execution at the beginning of the January of 1591. Agnes Sampsoun received her sentence on the 27th of January, and she was burnt on the castle-hill of Edinburgh, after having been first strangled at the stake. Most of the minor offenders were, at different times, put to death in the same manner. Agnes Sampsoun had confessed that Bothwell had consulted her on the probable duration of the king’s life; and she added that her spirit, in the form of a dog, had told her that the king was proof against incantations. The two other women, Euphame Mackalzeane and Barbara Napier, were reserved till the summer of 1591, in the hope of obtaining from them further revelations with relation to the earl of Bothwell and his accomplices. More particulars, calculated to criminate Bothwell, were extorted from a notorious sorcerer named Richard Graham; who confessed that the earl had consulted with him on some means to be used to hasten the king’s death. He said that Bothwell had informed him that it had been predicted by a necromancer in Italy, that he (Bothwell) should become great in power and in temporal possessions; that he should kill two men, and fall into trouble with the king for two capital crimes; but that he should be pardoned for the first, and suffer for the second. Up to a certain point he believed the prophecy to have been fulfilled. He had become a great baron; he had killed sir William Stuart and Davie the devil, the nickname of David Hume of Manderston; he had been once pardoned. and now he or the king must go. Graham gave the king a particular account of the charms emplojed ineffectually to compass his destruction. Euphame Mackalzeane was not condemned until the 7th of June, when it was cruelly ordered that she should be burnt alive, instead of being strangled first When Barbara Napier was put upon her trial, the jury appears not to have been satisfied with the evidence, and acquitted her of the chief articles of the charge against her. The king was highly provoked by this proceeding; he determined to punish

the jurors, and on the 7th of June he went to Falkland to preside in person at their trial. They all tried to avoid the king’s further displeasure by pleading guilty, and throwing themselves upon his mercy \ whereupon he made a long oration, dwell. ing upon the evident existence of witchcraft, the heinousness of the crime, and the necessity of rooting out the offenders. He ended by pardoning the erring jurors, who were overjoyed at their escape. From this time, James set himself up for an oracle in all matters connected with sorcery.

Witch, Warlock, and Magician: Historical Sketches of Magic and Witchcraft in … (Google Books)

Witchcraft, Magic and Superstition in England, 1640-70 – Page 57

Frederick Valletta – 2000 – ‎Snippet view – ‎More editions
Moreover, the association of a high-born prince with witchcraft meant that popular witchcraft beliefs could be validated … Horses, dogs and cats were all believed to be more closely linked to the natural world than Man, and as a result it was …


The severe legislation against witchcraft had thus the effect—which invariably attends legislation when it becomes unduly repressive — of increasing the offence it had been designed to exterminate. Clt was attended, also, by another result, which is equally common—bringing to the front a number of informers who, at the cost of many innocent lives, turned it to their personal advantage. Of these witch-finders, the most notorious was Matthew Hopkins, of Manningtree, in Essex. When he first started his infamous trade, I cannot ascertain, but his success would seem to have been immediate. His earliest victims he found in his own neighbourhood. But, as his reputation grew, he extended his operations over the whole of Essex; and in a very short time, if any case of supposed witchcraft occurred, the neighbours sent for Matthew Hopkins as an acknowledged expert, whose skill would infalliby detect the guilty person),

His first appearance at the assizes was in the spring of 1645x when he accused an unfortunate old woman, named Elizabeth Clarke. To collect evidence against her, he watched her by night in a room in a Mr. Edwards’s house, in which she was illegally detained. At her trial he had the audacity to affirm that, on the third night of his watching, after he had refused her the society of one of her imps, she confessed to him that, some six or seven years before, she had given herself over to the devil, who visited her in the form of ‘ a proper gentleman, with a hazel beard.’ Soon after this, he said, a little dog came in—fat, short-legged, and with sandy spots besprinkled on the white ground-colour of its tub-like body. When he prevented it from approaching the woman—who declared it was Jacmara, one of her imps—it straightway vanished. Next came a greyhound, which she called Vinegar Tom; and next a polecat. Improving in fluent and fertile mendacity, Hopkins went on to assert that, on returning home that night, about ten of the clock, accompanied by his own greyhound, he saw his dog give a leap and a bound, and hark away as if hunting a hare; and on following him, he espied a little white animal, about the size of a kitten, and observed that his greyhound stood aloof from it in fright; and by-and-by this imp or kitten danced about the dog, and, as he supposed, bit a piece from its shoulder, for the greyhound came to him shrieking and crying, and bleeding from a great wound. Hopkins further stated that, going into his yard that same night, he saw a Black Thing, shaped like a cat, but thrice as big, sitting in a strawberry-bed, with its eyes fixed upon him. When he approached it, the Thing leaped over the pale towards him, as he thought, but, on the contrary, ran quite through the yard, with his greyhound after it, to a great gate, which was underset ‘ with a pair of tumbril strings,’ threw it wide open, and then vanished, while his dog returned to him, shaking and trembling exceedingly.

In these unholy vigils of his, Hopkins was accompanied by one ‘ John Sterne, of Manningtree, gentleman,’ who, as a matter of course, confirmed all his statements, and added the interesting detail that the third imp was called Sack-and-Sugar. The two wretches forced their way into the house of another woman, named Rebecca West, from whom they extracted a confession that the first time she saw the devil, he came to her at night, told her he must be her husband, and finally married her! The cruel tortures to which these and so many other unhappy females were exposed must undoubtedly have told on their nervous systems, producing a condition of hysteria, and filling their minds with hallucinations, which, perhaps, may partly have been suggested by the ‘leading questions’ of the witch-finders themselves. It is to be observed that their confessions wore a striking similarity, and that all the names mentioned of” the so-called imps or familiars were of a ludicrous character, such as Prick – ear, Frog, Robin, and Sparrow. Then the excitement caused by these trials so wrought on the public mind that witnesses were easily found to testify—apparently in good faith—to the evil things done by the accused, and even to swear that they had seen their familiars. Thus one man declared that, passing at daybreak by the house of a certain Anne West, he was surprised to find her door open. Looking in, he descried three or four Things, like black rabbits, one of which ran after him. He seized and tried to kill him, but in his hands the Thing seemed a mere piece of wool, which extended lengthwise without any apparent injury. Full speed lie made for a neighbouring spring, in which he tried to drown him, but as soon as he put the Thing in the water, he vanished from his sight. Returning to the house, he saw Anne West standing at the door ‘ in her smock,’ and asked her why she sent her imp to trouble him, but received no answer.

His experiments having proved successful, Hopkins took up witch-finding as a vocation, one which provided him with the means of a comfortable livelihood, while it gratified his ambition by making him the terror of many and the admiration of more, investing him with just that kind of power which is delightful to a :narrow and commonplace mind. Assuming the title of ‘ Witch-finder-General,’ and taking with him John Sterne, and a woman, whose business it was to examine accused females for the devil’s marks, he travelled through the counties of Essex, Norfolk, Huntingdon, and Sussex.

He was at Bury, in Suffolk, in August, 1645, and there, on the 27th, no fewer than eighteen witches were executed at once through his instrumentality. A hundred and twenty more were to have been tried, but the approach of the royal troops led to the adjournment of the Assize. In one year this wholesale murderer caused the death of sixty poor creatures. The ‘test’ he generally adopted was that of ‘swimming,’ which James I. recommends with much unction in his ‘ Demonologie.’ The hands and feet of the accused were tied together crosswise, the thumb of the right hand to the big toe of the left foot, and vice versd. She was then wrapped up in a large sheet or blanket, and laid upon her back in a pond or river. If she sank, she was innocent, but established her

innocence at the cost of her life; if she floated, which was generally the case, as her clothes afforded a temporary support, she was pronounced guilty, and hanged with all possible expedition.

Another ‘test’ was the repetition of the Lord’s Prayer, which, it was believed, no witch could accomplish. Woe to the unfortunate creature who, in her nervousness, faltered over a syllable or stumbled at a word! Again she was forced into some awkward and painful attitude, bound with cords, and kept foodless and sleepless for four-and-twenty hours. Or she was walked continuously up and down a room, an attendant holding each arm, until she dropped with fatigue. Sometimes she was weighed against the church Bible, obtaining her deliverance if she proved to be heavier. But this last-named test was too lenient for the Witch-finder-General, who preferred the swimming ordeal.

One of his victims at Bury was a venerable clergyman, named Lowes, who had been Vicar of Brandeston, near Framlingham, for fifty years. ‘After he was found with the marks,’ says Sterne, ‘in his confession’—when made, to whom, or under what circumstances, we are not informed—’ he confessed that in pride of heart to be equal, or rather above God, the devil took advantage of him, and he covenanted with the devil, and sealed it with his blood, and had those familiars or spirits which sucked on the marks found on his body, and did much harm both by sea and land, especially by sea; for he confessed that he, being at Lungar Fort [Landguard Fort], in Suffolk, where he preached, as he walked upon the wall or works there, he saw a great sail of ships pass by, and that, as they were sailing by, one of his three imps, namely, his yellow one, forthwith appeared to him, and asked him what he should do, and he bade him go and sink such a ship, and showed his imp a new ship among the middle of the rest (as I remember), one that belonged to Ipswich; so he confessed the imp went forthwith away, and he stood still and viewed the ships on the sea as they were a-sailing, and perceived that ship immediately to be in more trouble and danger than the rest; for he said the water was more boisterous near that than the rest, tumbling up and down with waves, as if water had been boiled in a pot, and soon after (he said), in a short time, it sunk directly down into the sea as he stood and viewed it, when all the rest sailed down in safety; then he confessed he made fourteen widows in one quarter of an hour. Then Mr. Hopkins, as he told me (for he took his confession), asked him if it did not grieve him to see so many men cast away in a short time, and that he should be the * cause of so many poor widows on a sudden; but he swore by his Maker he was joyful to see what power his imps had: and so likewise confessed many other mischiefs, and had a charm to keep him out of the jail and hanging, as he paraphrased it himself; but therein the devil deceived him, for he was hanged that Michaelmas time, 1645, at Bury St. Edmunds.’ Poor old man! This so-called confession has a very dubious air about it, and reads as if it had been invented by Matthew Hopkins, who, as Sterne naively acknowledges, ‘took the confessions,’ apparently without any witness or reporter being present.

The Witch-finder-General, when on his expeditions of inquiry, assumed the style of a man of fortune. He put up always at the best inns, and lived in the most luxurious fashion, which he could well afford to do, as, when invited to visit a town, he insisted on payment of his expenses for board and lodging, and a fee of twenty shillings. This sum he claimed under any circumstances; but if he succeeded in detecting any witches, he demanded another fee of twenty shillings for each one brought to execution. Generally his pretensions were admitted without demur; but occasionally he encountered a sturdy opponent, like the Rev. Mr. Gaul, of Great Staughton, in Huntingdonshire, who attacked him in a brisklywritten pamphlet as an intolerable nuisance. Hopkins replied by an angry letter to one of the magistrates of the town, in which he said: ‘I am to come to Kimbolton this week, and it shall be ten to one but I will come to your town first; but I would certainly know afore whether your town affords many sticklers for such cattle [i.e. witches], or [is] willing to give and afford us good welcome and entertainment, as other where I have been, else I shall waive your shire (not as yet beginning in any part of it myself), and betake me to such places where I do and may persist without control, but with thanks and recompense.’

Neither Mr. Gaul nor the magistrates of Great Staughton showed any anxiety in regard to the witchfinder’s threat. On the contrary, Mr. Gaul returned to the charge in a second pamphlet, entitled ‘Select Cases of Conscience touching Witches and Witchcraft,’ in which, while admitting the existence of witches—for he was not above the superstition of his age and country—he vigorously attacked Hopkins for accusing persons on insufficient evidence, and denounced the atrocious cruelties of which he and his associates were guilty. I have no doubt that this manly language helped to bring about a wholesome change of public opinion. In the eastern counties so bitter a feeling of resentment arose, that Hopkins found it advisable to seek fresh woods and pastures new. In the spring of 1647 he was at Worcester, where four unfortunates were condemned on the evidence of himself and his associates. But the indignation against him deepened and extended, and he hastily returned to his native town, trembling for his wretched life. There he printed a defence of his conduct, under the title of ‘The Discovery of Witches, in answer to several queries lately delivered to the Judge of Assize for the county of Norfolk; published by Matthew Hopkins, witch-finder, for the benefit of the whole kingdom.’ His death occurred shortly afterwards. According to Sterne, he died the death of a righteous man, having ‘no trouble of conscience for what he had done, as was falsely reported for him.’ But the more generally accepted account is an instance of ‘poetical justice’—of Nemesis satisfied—which I heartily hope is authentic. It is said that he was surrounded by a mob in a Suffolk village, and accused of being himself a wizard, and of having, by his tricks of sorcery, cheated the devil out of a memorandum-book, in which were entered the names of all the witches in England. ‘Thus,’ cried the populace, ‘you find out witches, not by God’s name, but by the devil’s.’ He denied the charge; but his accusers determined that he should be subjected to his favourite test. He was stripped; his thumbs and toes were tied together; he was wrapped in a blanket, and cast into a pond. Whether he was drowned, or whether he floated, was taken up, tried, sentenced, and executed, authorities do not agree; but they agree that he never more disturbed the peace of the realm as a witch-finder.

Butler has found a niche for this knave, among other knaves, in his ‘Hudibras’:

‘Hath not this present Parliament
A lieger to the Devil sent,
Fully empowered to set about
Finding revolted witches out 1
And has he not within a year
Hanged threescore of them in one shire t
Some only for not being drowned,
And some for sitting above ground
Whole days and nights upon their breeches,
And, feeling pain, were hanged for witches. . .
Who proved himself at length a witch,
Aud made a rod for his own breech’—

the engineer hoist with his own petard—happily a by no means infrequent mode of retribution.

Sterne, the witch-finder’s colleague, not unnaturally shared in the public disfavour, and in defence of him

self and his deceased partner gave to the world a ‘Confirmation and Discovery of Witchcraft,’ in which he acknowledges to have been concerned in the detection and condemnation of some 200 witches in the counties of Essex, Suffolk, Northampton, Huntingdon, Bedford, Norfolk and Cambridge, and the Isle of Ely. He adds that ‘in many places I never received penny as yet, nor any like, notwithstanding I have bonds for satisfaction, except I should sin; but many rather fall upon me for what hath been received, but I hope such suits will be disannulled, and that when I have been out of moneys for towns in charges and otherwise, such course will be taken that I may be satisfied and paid with reason.’ One can hardly admire sufficiently the brazen effrontery of this appeal!

The number of persons imprisoned on suspicion of witchcraft grew so large as to excite the alarm of the Government, who issued stringent orders to the country magistrates to commit for trial persons brought before them on this charge, and forbade them to exercise summary jurisdiction. Eventually a commission was given to the Earl of Warwick, and others, to hold a gaol-delivery at Chelmsford. Lord Warwick, who had done good service to the State as Lord High Admiral, was sagacious and fair-minded. But with him went Dr. Edmund Calamy, the eminent Puritan divine, to see that no injustice was done to the parties accused. This proved an unfortunate choice; for Calamy, who, in his sermon before the judges, had enlarged on the enormity of the sin of witchcraft, sat on the bench with them, and unhappily influenced their deliberations in the direction of severity.. As a result, sixteen persons were hanged at Yarmouth, fifteen at Chelmsford, besides some sixty at various places in Suffolk.

Whitlocke, in his ‘Memorials,’ speaks of many ‘witches’ as having been put upon their trial at Newcastle, through the agency of a man whom he calls ‘ the Witch-finder.’ Another of the imitators of Hopkins, a Mr. Shaw, parson of Rusock, came to condign humiliation (1660). Having instigated some bucolic barbarians to put an old woman, named Joan Bibb, to the water-ordeal, she swam right vigorously in the pool, and struggled with her assailants so strenuously that she effected her escape. Afterwards she brought an action against the parson for instigating the outrage, and obtained £20 damages.

In 1664, Elizabeth Styles, of Bayford, Somersetshire, was convicted and sentenced to death, but died in prison before the day fixed for her execution. It is said that she made a voluntary confession— without inducement or torture—in the presence of the magistrates and several divines—another case (if it be true) of the morbid self-delusion which in times of popular excitement makes so many victims.

One feels the necessity of speaking with some degree of moderation respecting the credulity of the ignorant and uneducated classes, when one finds so sound a lawyer and so admirable a Christian as Sir Matthew Hale infected by the mania. No other blot, I suppose, is to be found on his fame and character; and that he should have incurred this indelible stain, and fallen into so pitiable an error, is a problem by no means easy of solution.

At the Lent Assize, in 1664, at Bury St. Edmunds, two aged women, named Rose Cullender and Amy Duny were brought before him on a charge of having bewitched seven persons. The nature of the evidence on which it was founded the reader will appreciate from the following examples:

Samuel Pacey, of Lowestoft, a man of good repute for sobriety and other homely virtues, having been sworn, said: That on Thursday, October 10 last, his younger daughter Deborah, about nine years old, fell suddenly so lame that she could not stand on her feet, and so continued till the 17th, when she asked to be carried to a bank which overlooked the sea, and while she was sitting there, Amy Duny came to the witness’s house to buy some herrings, but was denied. Twice more she called, but being always denied, went away grumbling and discontented. At this instant of time the child was seized with terrible fits; complained of a pain in her stomach, as if she were being pricked with pins, shrieking out ‘with a voice like a whelp,’ and thus continuing until the 30th. This witness added that Amy Duny, being known as a witch, and his child having, in the intervals of her fits, constantly exclaimed against her as the cause of her sufferings, saying that the said Amy did appear to her and frighten her, he began to suspect the said Amy, and accused her in plain terms of injuring his child, and got her ‘set in the stocks.’ Two days afterwards, his daughter Elizabeth was seized with similar fits; and both she and her sister complained that they were tormented by various persons in the town of bad character, but more particularly by Amy Duny, and by another reputed witch, Rose Cullender.

Another witness deposed that she had heard the two children cry out against these persons, who, they said, threatened to increase their torments tenfold if they told tales of them. ‘At some times the children would see Things run up and down the house in the appearance of mice; and one of them suddenly snapped one with the tongs, and threw it in the fire, and it screeched out like a bat. At another time, the younger child, being out of her fits, went out of doors to take a little fresh air, and presently a little Thing like a bee flew upon her face, and would have gone into her mouth, whereupon the child ran in all haste to the door to get into the house again, shrieking out in a most terrible manner; whereupon this deponent made haste to come to her, but before she could reach her, the child fell into her swooning fit, and, at last, with much pain and straining, vomited up a twopenny nail with a broad head; and after that the child had raised up the nail she came to her understanding, and being demanded by this deponent how she came by this nail, she answered that the bee brought this nail and forced it into her mouth.’

Such evidence as this failing to satisfy Serjeant Keeling, and several magistrates who were present, of the guilt of the accused, it was resolved to resort to demonstration by experiment. The persons bewitched were brought into court to touch the two old women; and it was observed (says Hutchinson) that when the former were in the midst of their fits, and to all men’s apprehension wholly deprived of all sense and understanding, closing their fists in such a manner as that the strongest man could not force them open, yet, at the least touch of one of the supposed witches—Rose Cullender, by name—they would suddenly shriek out, opening their hands, which accident would not happen at any other person’s touch. ‘And lest they might privately see when they were touched by the said Rose Cullender, they were blinded with their own aprons, and the touching took the same effect as before. There was an ingenious person that objected there might be a great fallacy in this experiment, and there ought not to be any stress put upon this to convict the parties, for the children might counterfeit this their distemper, and, perceiving what was done to them, they might in such manner suddenly alter the erection and gesture of their bodies, on purpose to induce persons to believe that they were not natural, but wrought strangely by the touch of the prisoners. Wherefore, to avoid this scruple, it was privately desired by the judge that the Lord Cornwallis, Sir Edmund Bacon, and Mr. Serjeant Keeling, and some other gentleman then in court, would attend one of

the distempered persons in the farthest part of the hall whilst she was in her fits, and then to send for one of the witches to try what would then happen, which they did accordingly; and Amy Duny was brought from the bar, and conveyed to the maid. They then put an apron before her eyes; and then one other person touched her hand, which produced the same effect as the touch of the witch did in the court. Whereupon the gentlemen returned, openly protesting that they did believe the whole transaction of the business was a mere imposture.’ As, in truth, it was.

It is remarkable that Sir Matthew Hale was still unconvinced. He invited the opinion of Sir Thomas Browne, a man of great learning and ability—the author of the ‘Religio Medici,’ and other justly famous works — who admitted that the fits were natural, but thought them ‘heightened by the devil co-operating with the malice of the witches, at whose instance he did the villanies.’ Sir Matthew then charged the jury. There were, he said, two questions to be considered: First, whether or not these children were bewitched? And, second, whether the prisoners at the bar had been guilty of bewitching them 1 That there were such creatures as witches, he did not doubt; and he appealed to the Scriptures, which had affirmed so much, and also to the wisdom of all nations, which had enacted laws against such persons. Such, too, he said, had been the judgment of this kingdom, as appeared by that Act of Parliament which had provided punishment proportionable to the quality of the offence. He desired them to pay strict attention to the evidence, and implored the great God of heaven to direct their hearts in so weighty a matter; for to condemn the innocent, and set free the guilty, was ‘an abomination to the Lord.’

After a charge of this description, the jury naturally brought in a verdict of ‘Guilty.’ Sentence of death was pronounced; and the two poor old women, protesting to the last their innocence, suffered on the gallows. Who will not regret the part played by Sir Matthew Hale in this judicial murder? It is no excuse to say that he did but share in the popular belief. One expects of such a man that he will rise superior to the errors of ordinary minds; that he will be guided by broader and more enlightened views—by more humane and generous sympathies. Instead of attempting an apology which no act can render satisfactory, it is better to admit, with Sir Michael Foster, that ‘this great and good man was betrayed, notwithstanding the rectitude of his intentions, into a great mistake, under the strong bias of early prejudices.’

Gradually, however, a disbelief in witchcraft grew up in the public mind, as intellectual inquiry widened its scope, and the relations of man to the Unseen World came to be better understood. Among the e lucated classes the old superstition expired much more rapidly than among the poorer; and so we find that though convictions became rarer, committals and trials continued tolerably frequent until the closing years of the eighteenth century. To the ghastly roll of victims, however, additions continued to be made. Thus in August, 1682, three women, named Temperance Lloyd, Susannah Edwards, and Mary Trembles, were tried at Exeter before Lord Chief Justice North and Mr. Justice Raymond, convicted of various acts of witchcraft, and sentenced to death. Before their trial they had confessed to frequent interviews with the devil, who appeared in the shape of a black man as long (or as short) as a man’s arm; and one of them acknowledged to have caused the death of four persons by witchcraft. Some portion of these monstrous fictions they recanted under the gallows; but even on the brink of the grave they persisted in claiming the character of witches, and in asserting that they had had personal intercourse with the devil.

In March, 1684, Alicia Welland was tried before Chief Baron Montague at Exeter, convicted, and executed.

To estimate the extent to which the belief in witchcraft, during the latter part of the seventeenth century, operated against the lives of the accused, Mr. Inderwick has searched the records of the Western Circuit, from 1670 to 1712 inclusive, and ascertained that out of fifty-two persons tried in that period on various charges of witchcraft, only seven were convicted, and one of these seven was reprieved. • What occurred on the Western,’ he remarks, ‘probably went on at each of the several circuits into which the country was then divided; and one cannot doubt that in Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Huntingdon, and Lancashire, where the witches mostly abounded, the charges and convictions were far more numerous than in the West. The judges appear, however, not to have taken the line of Sir Matthew Hale, but, as far as possible, to have prevented convictions. Indeed, Lord Jeffreys—who, when not engaged on political business, was at least as good a judge as any of his contemporaries—and Chief Justice Herbert, tried and obtained acquittals of witches in 1685 and 1686 at the very time that they were engaged on the Bloody Assize in slaughtering the participators in Monmouth’s rebellion. It is also a remarkable fact that, from 1686 to 1712, when charges of witchcraft gradually ceased, charges and convictions of malicious injury to property in burning haystacks, barns, and houses, and malicious injuries to persons and to cattle, increased enormously, these being the sort of accusations freely made against the witches before this date.’

I think there can be little doubt that many evildisposed persons availed themselves of the prevalent belief in witchcraft as a cover for their depredations on the property of their neighbours, diverting suspicion from themselves to the poor wretches who, through accidental circumstances, had acquired notoriety as the devil’s accomplices. It would also seem probable that not a few of the reputed witches similarly turned to account their bad reputation. It is not impossible, indeed, that there may be a certain degree of truth in the tales told of the witches’ meetings, and that in some rural neighbourhoods the individuals suspected of being witches occasionally assembled at an appointed rendezvous to consult upon their position and their line of operations. The practices at these gatherings may not always have been kept within the limits of decency and decorum; and in this way the loathsome details with which every account of the witches’ meetings are , embellished may have had a real foundation.

Qrhat the judges at length began persistently to discourage convictions for witchcraft is seen in the action of Lord Chief Justice Holt at the Bury St. Edmunds Assize in 1694. An old woman, known as Mother Munnings, of Harks, in Suffolk, was brought before him, and the witnesses against her retailed the village talk—how that her landlord, Thomas Purnel, who, to get her out of the house she had rented from him, had removed the street-door, was told that ‘his nose should lie upward in the churchyard’ before the following Saturday; and how that he was taken ill on the Monday, died on the Tuesday, and was buried on the Thursday. How that she had a familiar in the shape of a polecat, and how that a neighbour, peeping in at her window one night, saw her take out of her basket a couple of imps—the one black, the other white. And how that a woman, named Sarah Wager, having quarrelled with her, was stricken dumb and lame. All this tittle-tattle was brushed aside in his charge by the strong commonsense of the judge; and the jury, under his direction, J

returned a verdict of ‘ Not guilty.’ Dr. Hutchinson remarks: ‘Upon particular inquiry of several in or near the town, I find most are satisfied that it is a very right judgment. She lived about two years after, without doing any known harm to anybody, and died declaring her innocence. Her landlord was a consumptive-spent man, and the words not exactly as they swore them, and the whole thing seventeen years before. . . . The white imp is believed to have been a lock of wool, taken out of her basket to spin; and its shadow, it is supposed, was the black one.’

In the same year (1694) a woman, named Margaret Elmore, was tried at Ipswich ; in 1695 one Mary Gay at Launceston; and in 1696 one Elizabeth Hume at Exeter; but in each case, under the direction of Chief Justice Holt, a verdict of acquittal was declared. Thus the seventeenth century went its way in an unaccustomed atmosphere of justice and humanity

Woman as witch. Ashiepattle. Kindred group-marriage. The German passion-play … (Google Books)

A similar institution was the Handfasting in Eskdalemuir at the annual fair, where the unmarried of both sexes selected partners for the space of one year. If they were satisfied with the marriage, they continued again after the year, but if not they separated. This old Scottish custom seems to have combined the Mayfee and the wife-hire. All are most noteworthy, as indicating that the licentious extravagances of the witch – gatherings point back to a form of marriage totally different from that of the patriarchal system, and peculiar to an age when the status of woman in both social and religious matters was far freer than it could be after the advent of Christianity and the martial organisation which accompanied the age of the folk-wanderings.

If, then, I have indicated that we must look upon the witch-gatherings as fossils of high festivals for dancing, feasting, and the choice of sweethearts by the younger folk, I have still to show that the devil as master of the ceremonies is a late importation. I can do this best by citing to you the legend of the Bensberg in the Herkenrath district. Here there is a spot in the forest termed the weichen Hahn, which appears to be a corruption of the wichen Hain, or sacred grove. At this place, according to tradition, there are great witchgatherings on May night and Midsummer night. Over these gatherings the devil and his grandmother preside. Three lads who once went as unobserved spectators were, according to the legend, astonished by the number of witches present, and by a grandeur of which they had never dreamt. Upon a resplendent throne, the jewels of which lighted up the wood, sat the she-devil in youthful beauty, at her feet sat her grandson, the devil himself, and in a large half-ring round stood the witches, who kept flying in. Then the witches began a rhythmic movement with song and resonant music, ever bending towards the throne. The devil’s grandmother consecrated them with water from a golden vessel, using instead of the usual water-sprinkler a bunch of green ears of corn, which she carried in her right hand; in her left hand she held a beautiful golden apple. All the witches appeared young’ and active maidens of astonishing beauty, such as the observers had never before seen, and the music sung was sweeter than any they had ever heard.

It is true that when the lads’ presence was dis* Compare the young witch in Baldung Grien’s cut, p. 30.

covered all things became hideous and horrible, but the legend retains its significance all the same. The devil as a minor person seated at the feet of his grandmother, who with corn ears and apple is obviously a goddess of the harvest like Ceres, worshipped by fair maidens with dance and song. I know no legend more striking than this in the manner in which it shows the origin of witch ceremonies in the old worship of a goddess of fertility by her woman devotees. But this same superiority of the devil’s mother or grandmother over the devil is marked whenever we find traditions about them.” She cajoles him and wheedles secrets out of him, and at Soest is said even for a time to have banished him to the Brocken in the Harzgebirge on account of his idleness. Not only in Westphalia, but right away down to the Danube, we find traces of the devil’s mother as a person of great importance. She builds a palace on the Danube, she hunts with black dogs in the night through Swabia, and wherever the devil himself can achieve nothing there he sends his mother. The devil’s dam, hunting with black dogs through the night, directly associates this goddess with a number of female deities who ride with their dogs and a wild following through the dark on Twelfth Night, May Day, Midsummer Eve, or at Yule-tide. Thus in Mecklenburg, Frau Gode, described as a weather-witch, hunts through the night, sometimes on a white horse, sometimes on a sleigh drawn by dogs. She eats human flesh, she brings the plague, and no spinning must be done on the nights

* The fact that we hear of the Teufelsstiefbruder but never of his father is also not without value as determining the mother-age character of the civilisation, from which this mother and son dual deity took its origin.

when she is abroad. In Thüringen, Frau Holda or Holla rides with the wild hunt on Walpurgisnacht. She looks after spinning, and punishes in the most brutal and cruel fashion the idle as well as those who insult her. She, too, is accompanied by her dogs. In Hesse, Frau Holle yearly passes over the land, and gives it fruitfulness. She can be friendly and helpful to her worshippers. She has her dwelling in a mere or well, and she makes women who go and bathe therein healthy and fruitful. Only a century ago songs used to rise to Frau Holle as the women dressed the flax, and to her sacred hill peasants and their wives were wont to go at Whitsuntide with music and dancing. A scarcely less noteworthy figure is that of Berchta with her plough. She waters the meadows, and on Twelfth Night she goes her round to punish idle spinsters, often in the most brutal manner. In Swabia, on Twelfth Night, a broom is carried in her procession, or she is represented with a broom in one hand and fruit in the other. This list of goddesses might be largely extended did our time permit; but it may serve, as it is, to show that the devil’s mother is only a degraded form of a goddess of fertility and domestic activity. She is but one of those goddesses whose symbols are those of agriculture, the pitchfork and the plough, or of domestic usefulness, the broom and the spindle. She is associated with symbols of fertility, the ears of corn, fruit, the swine, and the dog. Her well brings with its water fertility to the land and fruitfulness to women. Her worship is associated with cruelties, human sacrifices, which point to an early stage of civilisation, and with licentiousness scarce paralleled in the worship of any male deity. In her it is the activities of the woman and not the man which come into prominence; the civilising work of woman in the home and on the fields; she is type of the civilisation which is peculiarly woman’s work. Replace the devil at witch-meetings by such a mother-goddess as Holle or Berchta, or reduce him at least to the menial office of cook, and there is not a single feature of witchcraft which is not replete with suggestion for the civilisation of the mother-age. The broom and the pitchfork no longer seem anomalies; they are the symbols of the goddess, and as such are borne by her worshippers. As the blood of the lamb on the door-post hindered Jehovah from venting his anger upon his own worshippers, so the broom, which was actually carried by witches, if placed on the threshold, signified to the goddess that her worshippers were within. The symbol of the witch was originally the sign of the worshipper, the protection against the anger of the goddess, or of the priestess, her servant. How suggestive in this respect becomes all the folklore of brooms’ The solemn night gathering and night binding of brooms on New Year’s Day; the dance of men and maids round the fire at Midsummer Eve, the men carrying burning brooms; the crossed brooms before the doorways in the Obererzgebirge on Walpurgisnacht as a protection against the witches;” the besom by the cradle or at the door in Mecklenburg to protect the new-born child; the cows and the stall protected in the same district from witchcraft by an inverted broom or the presence of a goat, the favourite animal of the witch, and therefore presumably of her mistress, the goddess of fertility; the riding of youth or maid on a broomstick to the pig-sty on New Year’s Eve, when the answer of the swine determines the nature of the future bride or groom; the burning of brooms on Walpurgisnacht in Thüringen to frighten the witches; the procession to the well at Saulgau, which was headed by a man bearing a broom, followed by one with a fork, and between them a third clothed in a sheepskin, and carrying a tree with apples and other eatables (termed the Adam’s tree); the procession of men wearing women’s clothes, with brooms and fire-forks, on Fast-Nacht at Erlingen; the brooms which the witches will not step over in Nassau, or which protect the cottage doors in the Pfalz against the entrance of witches; the broom stuck in the dunghill in Schlesien to protect the homestead, or in the flax field to increase its fertility, or the brooms burnt on Midsummer Night with a wild dance, in the same district; the besom which, laid on the bed, protects men against the cobbolds in North Germany, where we find again the same broomstick ride to the pig-sty, and the same burning of brooms at dances in the woods; the old brooms which frighten away changelings; and the worn-out brooms which are burnt in the fires on Midsummer Eve in the Pfalz. All these evidences of broom-worship show how universal was the respect for the mother-goddess and her servants the witch-priestesses throughout the length and breadth of Germany. Similar folklore as to the distaff, the cooking ladle,

* The broom was also an essential feature of a Gretna Green marriage, just as the Feuergabel or tongs characterise the gipsy wedding, —another link betweenmarriage folklore and the worship of the tribal goddess at the great folk-festivals of sex.

and the pitchfork might be cited, the noteworthy point being that these symbols occur in identical ways at witch ceremonies and at peasant weddings—in fact, at the old and the new marriage rites. At the witches’ feast there is a great kettle, and the devil as cook dances with the cooking ladle; boys dance with brooms and cooking ladles on Walpurgisnacht. On the other hand, there is a special dance of the cook with a ladle at peasant weddings in Mecklenburg and in other parts of Germany. In the confession of Geseke Hagenmeister, a sixteenth-century witch, she described the cooking at witch-meetings as being exactly like that at a wedding. Indeed, the correspondences are most striking and suggestive. It is a charge against witches that they dance back to back with the devils; this is precisely the form of peasant wedding dance illustrated by Albrecht Dürer.” The witches smear their feet to pass rapidly through the air. The Hochzeitsbitter, or person who bids to the peasant weddings in Mecklenburg, asks the guests to smear their boots and shoes that they may come the quicker. The witches dance on hilltops; in Uderstädt, in Thüringen, on the second day of the marriage feast, the whole marriage company were bound by ancient custom to dance on the top of the Tafelsberg, a neighbouring hill, whither they proceeded in procession with music. The dancing round the bride-stake and the distaff at weddings are strangely akin to the dancing round the Maypole, about the sacred tree, or with the broom on May Day, Midsummer Night, or at witch-gatherings. On Walpurgisnacht, in Westphalia, the young men go round with music and song to honour their brides and sweethearts; elsewhere they plant May-trees before their sweethearts’ doors; witches and wilde Frauen—that is, the hags or women of the woods—come in Swabia to weddings and to births. What is this but a relic of the day when the priestess of the goddess of fertility came to marriages and births as of right? In North Germany the witch has power over the new-born and the new-bought; she comes to take the tithe for sacrifice to the goddess. In Swabia, and in the Pfalz also, the midwife, according to the legends, is often a witch who baptizes the children in the devil’s name, or again she lends women the Drutenstein or trud’s stone to protect their babes against witches; it is the hag or woman of the woods who knows and collects the herbs which relieve the labours of birth. Here we have the priestess of the old civilisation as medicine woman and midwife relieving human suffering, putting the symbol of her goddess on the cradle, but taking her tithe of human life for sacrifice to the goddess—to whom without question all children born on Walpurgisnacht belong (Pfalz)—and exercising strange and hostile influences over women in childbed who do not submit to the old religious rites.

* See also a 1600 Siegburger jug in the Berlin Gewerbe Museum.

The old human sacrifice is a marked feature of the religion of which witchcraft is the fossil. Witches, we are told, kill and eat children, especially the unbaptized. They boil them down, as all early sacrificial feasts and nearly all savage meals appear to be boilings and not roastings. Remarkable in this respect is the offering of wax figures of babies at shrines of the Virgin Mary as thank-offerings for easy birth. The Virgin Mary takes the place in innumerable ways of the old mother-goddess of fertility. But the human sacrifice to the goddess was not confined to children. In Heilbronn we have the common feast, the common dance, and the burning of a scarecrow or guy as trace of sacrifice; elsewhere in Swabia a female figure in the form of a witch is burnt, and her ashes scattered over the land to increase its fertility; in Spain it is an old woman with a distaff in her hand, and it seems more than probable that the priestess herself was occasionally, perhaps as representative of the goddess, sacrificed by burning on the sacred hill or drowning in the sacred well. The goddess of fertility is killed in autumn, that she may arise rejuvenated in spring. This may possibly be the origin of Dido’s self-immolation, and the popular legend of the sacrifice of the queen-priestess which is found in so many different localities. That male victims were also common is proved not only by the direct evidence of early historians but by many still extant folk-customs. These instances of witches as fossils of the priestesses of a goddess of fertility are not contradicted by the hostility which witches exhibit to marriage, or the fact that marriages on their great days, such as Twelfth Day and Walpurgis Day, are considered very unlucky. When we remember that the marriage of the civilisation, of which witches are fossils, was a group-marriage and not a monogamic marriage, we easily grasp why the old priestly caste would oppose the changes which led to the patriarchal system and the downfall of the old civilisation. Thus VOL. II D

it comes about that the bride must propitiate the goddess or her servant. Newly-married couples in Esthonia, one of the Russian Baltic provinces, carry an offering to the great water-mother in the shape of a goat; in Bohemia and other parts of Austria the bride sacrifices a cock; in England the bride had to anoint the threshold of the door, or smear the door-posts with swine’s grease to avoid the “mischievous fascinations of witches.” This must be compared with the blood of a black dog which was smeared on the door-posts to protect the house from witches, much as the blood of a lamb was smeared by the Jews at Passover. In Brandenburg the bride carries salt and dill to prevent the witches injuring her. In North Germany salt and dill are also used to protect newly-built bridges against witches. This is the more noteworthy as Tacitus tells us that the German priestesses prepared salt, and witches are famed for brewing salt and collecting herbs. There is no doubt that the salt and the dill were symbols of a goddess, -types of the discoveries due to woman’s work in the old mother-age civilisation,—and as such symbols they consecrated both bridge and bride to the goddess, and saved them from the anger of her priestesses, as the blood of the sheep saved from the anger of Jehovah. If my general theory be at all a correct one, we ought to find in witchcraft fossils of the old law of inheritance peculiar to the mother-age, and something akin to this we do find. In the Rheinthal we hear of wralte Heavensippe—families where from time immemorial witchcraft has been handed down from mother to daughter. Then we have the widely-spread German proverb: Die Mutter eine Hexe, die Tochter auch eine Heae, or, “The mother a witch, the daughter one too.” The charms, spells, and potions seem to have been handed down from mother to daughter in long line, and were only learnt by men from women as a special favour. Many are the legends of the witch who takes her husband or the farm-servant with her to a witchgathering; but it is always in a subordinate position, and the unfortunate man, not knowing the full ritual, produces a confusion, which ends, as a rule, disastrously for his skin. Another noteworthy fact is that in many parts of Germany any heirloom banishes witches or protects the person who carries it against them. Thus to stand within an inherited chain, or upon an inherited harrow, or with an inherited key or sieve, renders witchcraft powerless. It is difficult to look upon all these very diverse inherited things as symbols of the goddess which mark and protect her servants. I am inclined to think that they are really typical of the civilisation which first attained what we should term a law of inheritance, of a civilisation which was distinguished from that of the old mother-age when property belonged to the group and passed through the women, by the custom of property passing from father to son. Thus the man took as symbol of his new civilisation the heirloom, and used it as a sign to protect himself against the priestesses of the old faith. That the goddesses served by the witches were essentially goddesses of agriculture is demonstrated by the various ceremonies with regard to plants and herbs

which take place on the great witch-nights. In Esthonia, where the Virgin Mary has taken the place of an old goddess of fertility, there is a ceremonial planting of cabbages by the women on the Feast of her Annunciation shortly before Midsummer Day. In Brandenburg there is a ceremonial gathering of herbs on May Day. Once when I was ill in the Black Forest I had herbtea brought to me by an old peasant woman, the herbs having been gathered on St. John’s night. In Mecklenburg herbs are gathered on Midsummer Night, which protect people against witches. In Thüringen caterpillars are banished from the cabbage plot by a woman running naked round the field or garden before sunrise on the eve of the annual fair. In the Pfalz, flax will not thrive unless it is sown by the women, and it has to be done with strange ceremonies, including the scattering over the field of the ashes of a fire made of wood consecrated during matins. As high as the maids jump over the fires on the hilltops on Midsummer Night, so high will the flax grow; but we find also that as high as the bride springs from the table on her marriage night, so high will the flax grow in that year. Green cabbages gathered at Yule-tide or on Twelfth Night, and eaten by man and beast, protect them against witches; in other words, those who eat it, like those who eat the paschal lamb, are performing a rite which protects them from the anger of the deity. Besides this relation to herbs and plants, the goddess shows her relation to fruitfulness in the matter of wells, springs, and ponds. At the Siveringer spring, near Vienna, crowds of people come on feast – days, especially on Midsummer Night; many spend the night in the woods, and if a stone taken from the Agneswiese be laid in the water of the spring, and then under the pillow, prophetic dreams follow. The spring is supposed to be sacred to a fay, Agnes, who is friendly to mortals. Margretha Beutzins, tried for witchcraft in the sixteenth century, confessed that she and other witches fetched water out of a stream, boiled it with herbs in a large caldron over a fire, and bathed the devil therein. This bathing ceremony in a sacred stream at witch-gatherings or on Midsummer Night appears to be very general. In Thüringen, near Tieffurt, is a sacred spring still called Weihbrunnen; this well is one of the wells from which children are brought, —that is, the well of a goddess of fertility—and there are legends about children being found there, who afterwards return to dance round the well. On the Virgin Mary’s birthday—the festival of maids, as it was still called at the beginning of our century—the maidens in Thüringen used to rise before daybreak and bathe with the water of a sacred spring, which made them beautiful. In Hesse bathing in Frau Holle’s pond, or in various sacred wells, makes barren women fruitful. Here we have the same notion of fertility due to the sacred water of the goddess; but in later days she has been replaced by the Virgin Mary. In Halle is a well termed the Freucklerin well; it is said to be so called from an old woman, who had a great knowledge of how to cure diseases, and we evidently have a trace of an old healing goddess. In Steisslingen, in Swabia, the wells are decorated on May Day; there is dancing and a feast at night. May-Day baths are frequently mentioned in the old chronicles, as well as special Midsummer-Day baths. They seem to have frequently preceded the dancing round the sacred well. Near Burgeis is the Zerzerbrunnen, a well of three wild maidens. Alongside it there used to be an altar to which shepherds and huntsmen brought their firstlings. The altar is now replaced by a chapel. Such wells which legend attributes to a well-maiden, or three sisters, or wild maidens, are very frequent. Often the maidens come out from the well, and join in the peasant dances of the neighbourhood; this occurs especially on St. John’s night. The wilde Frauen thus associated with wells are not exactly witches, but, like witches, they come to weddings and births, and are accompanied by dogs. They are the three sisters to whom so many mediaeval charms and incantations are addressed, and to whom men go for counsel and aid. They are rather the legendary form of an old triune goddess of fertility than the degenerate form which her priestess has taken as a witch. They are goddesses of fertility, but also of disease and death, as well as of medicine and life. For pest and death are in early times represented as women, not as men. The healing goddess is related to the “great virgin” of Esslingen, who, we are told, outwitted all men, priests and laymen, even the most famous physicians, with her magic. That these spring or well goddesses had a side in dark contrast to their dancing, singing, and healing characteristics is clearly enough evidenced by the traces we have of human sacrifices to wells and springs, and of licentious gatherings in their neighbourhood. As goddesses they are frequently represented in the legends as spinning; they come to weddings and spin; they punish idle spinsters, and their worship is closely connected with the distaff as symbol. Another phase of their worship is connected with the village spinning-room and the licentiousness which then and now surrounds that institution. But to enter into the folklore and practice of the spinning-room and its fossils in still more ill-famed resorts might indeed throw much light on the mother-age, but it would lead us too far from our present subject of witchcraft. I have endeavoured to interpret various obscure witch-customs as fossils of an ancient woman civilisation, especially as fossils of its religious worship, reflecting as all religion the social habits and modes of thought of the society in which it originated. We shall see these phases of the old life still further emphasised if we note a few—a very few—of the ceremonies which occur in Germany on Walpurgisnacht, May Day or Midsummer Day—times especially associated with witches and the old feminine deities. In the Russian Baltic provinces we find that there are festivals on the first of May with torch or candle processions comparable with the witch gatherings and the Friesian marriage; that a May king is chosen, who does reverence to the May queen, and that a free feast is given to the women and maidens. As usual, there is music and dancing in the evening exactly as at witch-dances. In Dantzig there is dancing on the Fayusberg, possibly the fairy’s hill. In Denmark we find processions with choral dances of maidens, communal feasting and drinking, while we have still extant songs made by pious folk to replace the old ribald May-Day songs. In Esthonia, at midsummer, the maidens go to certain hilltops, and there, bedecked with flowers, dance and sing round fires. On Midsummer Night this often degenerated into a veritable bacchanal; there were dances of nude women and a licentiousness such as we hear of at the witchgatherings. The privilege of a similar license was claimed by women also at the great festival of spring, in which respect it may be noted that February in Mecklenburg is said to be the woman’s month, i.e. the month in which women rule. On the Königstuhl, near Heidelberg, when I was a student there, the whole town was to be found on Walpurgisnacht. Groups of maidens and students went up singing through the woods, there was dancing at the top, and waiting to see the sun rise. At Whitsuntide, in the Obererzgebirge, there used to be dancing outdoors all night. In Mecklenburg, on Midsummer Night, a great caldron is carried round, in which eggs, butter, milk, are collected; there are choral dances, especial antique dances, and a common meal lasting till late into the night. The special lighting of the Midsummer fires and the driving the herds through them to protect them from witchcraft, the Hahnenschlag,—trace of an old cock-sacrifice, —all which occur in the same district, are fossils of old religious rites. Noteworthy and suggestive is the appearance of the caldron – the witches’ caldron —

* The May – Day ceremonies here closely approach the Mylitta feast at Babylon; see Essay XI.

* Even as the same folk have recently replaced the old bridal songs in Iceland !

at many folk-festivals. It is closely connected with the common and free meal of the ancient group. This common meal occurs in the marriage rites of a later age; thus in Altenburg, at the time of a wedding, a waggon is sent round to collect provisions; there is music, and often dancing, even to the church; and on the evening of the wedding there is a feast free to all upon the food collected, a general dancing, and in the old times there was great licentiousness. In the early days the food seems to have gone even into the church; a fossil of this old custom is still preserved in the wine and cake handed round in some places at weddings inside the church. In Mecklenburg at weddings we have dancing out of the bridal house and down the village, also a procession of maidens with candles exactly as in the Friesian wedding. This dancing down the public streets recurs in many places; for example, in old days the Faddy dance on May Day in Cornwall in and out of the houses and down the village. In Rottweil we find dancing in the public streets and feasting on high festivals, and even at weddings, accompanied, as usual, by great license. In Thüringen on Walpurgisnacht we have dancing round the linden tree, and on Midsummer Night a fire festival for maids and men. At Whitsuntide the men collect food for a common meal, and it is followed by a dance; in return the maidens fetch the youths to a dance and give them a meal, paying for the music. This is termed the feast of the Brunnenfege, and seems to be a relic of an old well-worship. In Hesse we have a decoration of the wells on May Day, and choral dances of the maids on Midsummer Night; in the very same

district the witches meet on the former night for dancing, and there is a common meal under the Hexenlinde, or witches’ linden tree. In Heilbronn, on Walpurgisnacht, there is a common meal and the burning of a scarecrow—relic of an old human sacrifice. This is said to be done to hinder the witches, but yet this very night, according to the folklore of the country round, they are most active and have most power. In North Germany the witches are said to dance away the snow from the Blocksberg on Walpurgisnacht; in other words, they are friendly servants of a goddess of fruitfulness, whose influence over women agriculturists is well marked in the custom in Uker- and Mittel-mark of putting a scarecrow called Walpurg on the land of those maidens who have not completed their digging of the soil by May Day. Traces of the sacrifice of cats or horses on Walpurgisnacht are very frequent, and a cat or dog is the usual companion of the primitive goddess or her priestess, the witch. The Scandinavian goddess Freya is drawn by cats, the alte Fricke goes with dogs, so does Frü Gode. The dog, the cat, and the three ears of corn are symbols of the Virgin Mary, but also of Walpurg, and the devil’s grandmother as well, clearly indicating how many of the characteristics, and even the symbols of the old mother-goddesses, were passed on to the Virgin in early Christian times. Nay, like Holle and Gode and Berchta, she became a goddess of spinning, which was not allowed on her holy days. The picture of primitive woman taming the cat and the dog, domesticating the smaller animals, including the pig, the goat, and the goose, is brought clearly out in their becoming the companions and symbols of the primitive goddess; just as the broom, the distaff, and the pitchfork, the ears of corn, and the apple, show her activity in the direction of domestic economy and in the earliest forms of agriculture. I cannot do better than conclude the witchcraft evidence of woman’s primitive ascendency by referring to one out of the many local mother-goddesses who were converted into local saints by early Christianity. The one which I will consider is Walpurg, from whom the name of the great witch-gathering Walpurgisnacht takes its origin. According to the legend, Walpurg was a female missionary who accompanied St. Boniface and was canonised as a virgin saint of the Catholic Church. But let us see the real nature of Walpurg in folklore and local usage. Many wells or springs are associated with her name; the waters of these wells heal diseases. Her bones, or the stone on which they were formerly exhibited, exuded oil, and this oil was sold or carried off by pilgrims in little bottles to cure toothache and relieve the pangs of childbirth. The exuding began on Walpurgisnacht, on which occasion her oil was also drunk as old ale. On May Day in 1720 the priests from no less than forty parishes came to Attigny, one of the shrines of Walpurg, to share in the distribution of oil. Lutheran women who had been assisted in childbirth by the oil entered the Catholic Church. Walpurg is represented with an oil flask in her hand. In Bavaria there is an old chapel at Kaufering to Walpurg. At this chapel the folk say health offerings used to be made to idols in the old days, and in a neighbouring building the old plague cars were preserved. Walpurg is thus associated with a being who once protected the people from disease. The dog is peculiarly sacred to Walpurg, and she cures the bite of mad dogs. Thus the dog, the token of fertility, is sacred to her as to Holle and Frick. She carries three ears of corn in her hand—the symbol of the goddess of agricultural fertility. On Walpurgistag there is a procession in the Frankenwald which opens with the Walber, a man clothed with straw; there is a dance round the Walber tree—a symbolic driving out of winter and a heralding of spring. In Lower Austria the harvest days are especially consecrated to Walpurg. She then goes through all the fields and gardens with a spindle blessing them. Like the witches, she brings in spring, and by dancing makes the fields fertile. We have already noted that the great common meals of the Germans, with their accompanying worship of some goddess of fertility, were not abolished by the introduction of Christianity. In many places they were converted into a Kirmes or ecclesiastical feast. Such a common meal used to be held at Monheim in a church dedicated to Walpurg. Oxen and swine were carried for this purpose into the church itself. It will be obvious from the above and from the general character of the feastings and dancings on Walpurgisnacht that Walpurg could not have originally represented an

* Folk-gatherings remained for many ages linked to the old heathen goddess festivals and their sacred spots. It is interesting from this standpoint to notice that the place of gathering for the commons of Norwich was at the chapel of “the blessed Virgin in the Fields.”

The witch hysteria

I pretty much compared Africa to early modern and medieval Europe in things like relatively low female literacy rates and most especially religiosity and rising economies. That and being part of former colonies as well as rising from a serious medical epidemic. Maybe not exactly but close to what Europe was like before, even if it’s not that exact.

A good number of African churches, like their early modern European counterparts, take the fear of witchcraft very, very seriously. Some even produce films to warn people about those and have websites stating that wizards are capable of harm and shapeshift into common animals. Just like early modern demonology books. That and misogyny if I remember from one Ghanaian book were it states that women are more suspectible to witchcraft than men.

(Just like the Malleus Maleficarum.)

Whilst I don’t necessarily condone their beliefs, their suspicions aren’t that out of place in Early Modern Europe and may give a good idea into how and why the witch hysteria developed in Europe in the first place.

Africa, Europe’s twin

I actually think that Africa is in some regards early modern Europe’s twin and much more so in some places whether in terms of additions to dogs and dog owners (Cameroon, Uganda, Ghana, South Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Zimbabwe, Zambia and possibly Ethiopia when it comes to certain religious communities and to an almost stereotypical extent, the Maghreb, Mali and Niger though Taiwan and Russia are closer), degree of female illiteracy (it’s still a thing there) or most notably strong belief in witchcraft.

Early modern Europe was rocked by witchcraft crazes a lot, driven in part by politics and religion. I actually think since the fear of witchcraft’s taken more seriously in Africa along with relatively low female literacy/education rates and curiously odd attitudes to dogs and dog owners (though this may not be universally consistent and same for cats), it gives a better idea of what early modern Europe’s like. (Though I still think the Taiwanese suspicion towards female stray dog feeders’s relatively comparable to the European suspicion to female lapdog owners.)

Not always exactly nor consistently the case but close enough to what Europe was like both religiously, culturally and economically.