The Witch-cult in Western Europe - A Study in Anthropology
by Margaret Alice Murray
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A Study in Anthropology




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The mass of existing material on this subject is so great that I have not attempted to make a survey of the whole of European 'Witchcraft', but have confined myself to an intensive study of the cult in Great Britain. In order, however, to obtain a clearer understanding of the ritual and beliefs I have had recourse to French and Flemish sources, as the cult appears to have been the same throughout Western Europe. The New England records are unfortunately not published in extenso; this is the more unfortunate as the extracts already given to the public occasionally throw light on some of the English practices. It is more difficult to trace the English practices than the Scotch or French, for in England the cult was already in a decadent condition when the records were made; therefore records in a purely English colony would probably contain much of interest.

The sources from which the information is taken are the judicial records and contemporary chroniclers. In the case of the chroniclers I have studied their facts and not their opinions. I have also had access to some unpublished trials among the Edinburgh Justiciary Records and also in the Guernsey Greffe.

The following articles have already appeared in various journals, to whose editors I am indebted for kind permission to republish: 'Organization of Witch Societies' and 'Witches and the number Thirteen' in Folk Lore; 'The God of the Witches' in the Journal of the Manchester Oriental Society; 'Child Sacrifice', 'Witches' Familiars', 'The Devil's Mark', 'The Devil's Officers', 'Witches' Fertility Rites', 'Witches Transformations', in Man; and 'The Devil of North Berwick' in the Scottish Historical Review.

My thanks are due to Georgiana Aitken, W. Bonser, and Mary Slater for much kind help, also to Prof. C. G. Seligman for valuable suggestions and advice as to lines of research.








1. As God 28

2. As a Human Being 31

3. Identification 47

4. As an Animal 60


1. General 71

2. The Introduction 76

3. The Renunciation and Vows 77

4. The Covenant 79

5. The Baptism 82

6. The Mark 86


1. The Sabbath. Method of going. The site. The date. The hour 97

2. The Esbat. Business. The site. The time. 112


1. General 124

2. Homage 126

3. The Dances 130

4. The Music 135

5. The Feast 138

6. Candles 144

7. The Sacrament 148

8. Sacrifices: Of animals. Of children. Of the God 152

9 Magic Words 162

VI. THE RITES, continued 169

1. General 169

2. Rain-making 172

3. Fertility 173


1. The Officer 186

2. The Covens 190

3. Duties 194

4. Discipline 197


1. The Divining Familiar 205

2. The Domestic Familiar 208

3. Methods of obtaining Familiars 222

4. Transformations into Animals 230


Fairies and Witches 238


Trial of Silvain Nevillon. Taken from De Lancre's L'Incredulite et Mescreance 246


A. Covens and Names of Members 249

B. Index of Witches' Names, with Notes 255


Notes on the Trials of Joan of Arc and Gilles de Rais 270


Some Notes on 'Flying' Ointments. By Prof. A. J. Clark 279




The subject of Witches and Witchcraft has always suffered from the biassed opinions of the commentators, both contemporary and of later date. On the one hand are the writers who, having heard the evidence at first hand, believe implicitly in the facts and place upon them the unwarranted construction that those facts were due to supernatural power; on the other hand are the writers who, taking the evidence on hearsay and disbelieving the conclusions drawn by their opponents, deny the facts in toto. Both parties believed with equal firmness in a personal Devil, and both supported their arguments with quotations from the Bible. But as the believers were able to bring forward more texts than the unbelievers and had in their hands an unanswerable argument in the Witch of Endor, the unbelievers, who dared not contradict the Word of God, were forced to fall back on the theory that the witches suffered from hallucination, hysteria, and, to use the modern word, 'auto-suggestion'. These two classes still persist, the sceptic predominating. Between the believer who believed everything and the unbeliever who disbelieved everything there has been no critical examination of the evidence, which presents a new and untouched field of research to the student of comparative religion.

Among the believers in witchcraft everything which could not be explained by the knowledge at their disposal was laid to the credit of supernatural powers; and as everything incomprehensible is usually supposed to emanate from evil, the witches were believed to be possessed of devilish arts. As also every non-Christian God was, in the eyes of the Christian, the opponent of the Christian God, the witches were considered to worship the Enemy of Salvation, in other words, the Devil. The greater number of these writers, however, obtained the evidence at first hand, and it must therefore be accepted although the statements do not bear the construction put upon them. It is only by a careful comparison with the evidence of anthropology that the facts fall into their proper places and an organized religion stands revealed.

The common beliefs as to the powers of the witches are largely due to the credulous contemporary commentators, who misunderstood the evidence and then exaggerated some of the facts to suit their preconceived ideas of the supernatural powers of the witches; thereby laying themselves open to the ridicule of all their opponents, past and present. Yet the ridicule is not fully deserved, for the facts are there, though the explanation is wrong; for even the two points, which are usually considered the ultimate proof of the absurdity and incredibility of the whole system—the flying on a broomstick through the window or up the chimney, and the transformation into animals—are capable of explanation. The first can be accounted for when the form of early mound-dwellings is taken into consideration, and when it is remembered that among savage tribes there are often taboos connected with the door, the two-faced god being essentially a deity of the door. Besides this the fertility rites connected with the broom should be taken into account. The second should be compared with similar accounts of transformation into animals among the cults of other nations. Mr. A. B. Cook's comment on the Greek ritual applies quite as well to Western as to Eastern Europe: 'We may venture on the general statement that within the bounds of Hellenic mythology animal-metamorphosis commonly points to a preceding animal cult.'[1]

It is interesting to note the class of mind among those contemporary writers who believed in the reality of the facts confessed at the trials as compared with those who disbelieved. It will be seen that the most brilliant minds, the keenest intellects, the greatest investigators, were among the believers: Bodin, Lord Bacon, Raleigh, Boyle, Cudworth, Selden, Henry More, Sir Thomas Browne, Matthew Hale, Sir George Mackenzie, and many others, most of whom had heard the evidence at first hand. The sceptics were Weyer, pupil of the occultist Cornelius Agrippa; Reginald Scot, a Kentish country squire; Filmer, whose name was a byword for political bigotry; Wagstaffe, who went mad from drink; and Webster, a fanatical preacher.[2] The sceptics, with the exception of Weyer, appear to have had little or no first-hand evidence; their only weapon was an appeal to common sense and sentiment combined; their only method was a flat denial of every statement which appeared to point to supernatural powers. They could not disprove the statements; they could not explain them without opposing the accepted religious beliefs of their time, and so weakening their cause by exposing themselves to the serious charge of atheism; therefore they denied evidence which in the case of any other accusation would have been accepted as proof.

The evidence which I now bring forward is taken entirely from contemporary sources, i.e. the legal records of the trials, pamphlets giving accounts of individual witches, and the works of Inquisitors and other writers. I have omitted the opinions of the authors, and have examined only the recorded facts, without however including the stories of ghosts and other 'occult' phenomena with which all the commentators confuse the subject. I have also, for the reason given below, omitted all reference to charms and spells when performed by one witch alone, and have confined myself to those statements only which show the beliefs, organization, and ritual of a hitherto unrecognized cult.

In order to clear the ground I make a sharp distinction between Operative Witchcraft and Ritual Witchcraft. Under Operative Witchcraft I class all charms and spells, whether used by a professed witch or by a professed Christian, whether intended for good or for evil, for killing or for curing. Such charms and spells are common to every nation and country, and are practised by the priests and people of every religion. They are part of the common heritage of the human race and are therefore of no practical value in the study of any one particular cult.

Ritual Witchcraft—or, as I propose to call it, the Dianic cult—embraces the religious beliefs and ritual of the people known in late mediaeval times as 'Witches'. The evidence proves that underlying the Christian religion was a cult practised by many classes of the community, chiefly, however, by the more ignorant or those in the less thickly inhabited parts of the country. It can be traced back to pre-Christian times, and appears to be the ancient religion of Western Europe. The god, anthropomorphic or theriomorphic, was worshipped in well-defined rites; the organization was highly developed; and the ritual is analogous to many other ancient rituals. The dates of the chief festivals suggest that the religion belonged to a race which had not reached the agricultural stage; and the evidence shows that various modifications were introduced, probably by invading peoples who brought in their own beliefs. I have not attempted to disentangle the various cults; I am content merely to point out that it was a definite religion with beliefs, ritual, and organization as highly developed as that of any other cult in the world.

The deity of this cult was incarnate in a man, a woman, or an animal; the animal form being apparently earlier than the human, for the god was often spoken of as wearing the skin or attributes of an animal. At the same time, however, there was another form of the god in the shape of a man with two faces. Such a god is found in Italy (where he was called Janus or Dianus), in Southern France (see pp. 62, 129), and in the English Midlands. The feminine form of the name, Diana, is found throughout Western Europe as the name of the female deity or leader of the so-called Witches, and it is for this reason that I have called this ancient religion the Dianic cult. The geographical distribution of the two-faced god suggests that the race or races, who carried the cult, either did not remain in every country which they entered, or that in many places they and their religion were overwhelmed by subsequent invaders.

The dates of the two chief festivals, May Eve and November Eve, indicate the use of a calendar which is generally acknowledged to be pre-agricultural and earlier than the solstitial division of the year. The fertility rites of the cult bear out this indication, as they were for promoting the increase of animals and only rarely for the benefit of the crops. The cross-quarter-days, February 2 and August 1, which were also kept as festivals, were probably of later date, as, though classed among the great festivals, they were not of so high an importance as the May and November Eves. To February 2, Candlemas Day, probably belongs the sun-charm of the burning wheel, formed by the whirling dancers, each carrying a blazing torch; but no special ceremony seems to be assigned to August 1, Lammas Day, a fact suggestive of a later introduction of this festival.

The organization of the hierarchy was the same throughout Western Europe, with the slight local differences which always occur in any organization. The same organization, when carried to America, caused Cotton Mather to say, 'The witches are organized like Congregational Churches.' This gives the clue at once. In each Congregational Church there is a body of elders who manage the affairs of the Church, and the minister who conducts the religious services and is the chief person in religious matters; and there may also be a specially appointed person to conduct the services in the minister's absence; each Church is an independent entity and not necessarily connected with any other. In the same way there was among the witches a body of elders—the Coven—which managed the local affairs of the cult, and a man who, like the minister, held the chief place, though as God that place was infinitely higher in the eyes of the congregation than any held by a mere human being. In some of the larger congregations there was a person, inferior to the Chief, who took charge in the Chief's absence. In Southern France, however, there seems to have been a Grand Master who was supreme over several districts.

The position of the chief woman in the cult is still somewhat obscure. Professor Pearson sees in her the Mother-Goddess worshipped chiefly by women. This is very probable, but at the time when the cult is recorded the worship of the male deity appears to have superseded that of the female, and it is only on rare occasions that the God appears in female form to receive the homage of the worshippers. As a general rule the woman's position, when divine, is that of the familiar or substitute for the male god. There remains, however, the curious fact that the chief woman was often identified with the Queen of Faerie, or the Elfin Queen as she is sometimes called.

This connexion of the witches and fairies opens up a very wide field; at present it is little more than speculation that the two are identical, but there is promise that the theory may be proved at some later date when the subject is more fully worked out. It is now a commonplace of anthropology that the tales of fairies and elves preserve the tradition of a dwarf race which once inhabited Northern and Western Europe. Successive invasions drove them to the less fertile parts of each country which they inhabited, some betook themselves to the inhospitable north or the equally inhospitable mountains; some, however, remained in the open heaths and moors, living as mound-dwellers, venturing out chiefly at night and coming in contact with the ruling races only on rare occasions. As the conqueror always regards the religion of the conquered as superior to his own in the arts of evil magic, the dwarf race obtained the reputation of wizards and magicians, and their god was identified by the conquerors with the Principle of Evil. The identification of the witches with the dwarf or fairy race would give us a clear insight into much of the civilization of the early European peoples, especially as regards their religious ideas.

The religious rites varied according to circumstances and the requirements of the people. The greater number of the ceremonies appear to have been practised for the purpose of securing fertility. Of these the sexual ritual has been given an overwhelming and quite unwarranted importance in the trials, for it became an obsession with the Christian judges and recorders to investigate the smallest and most minute details of the rite. Though in late examples the ceremony had possibly degenerated into a Bacchanalian orgy, there is evidence to prove that, like the same rite in other countries, it was originally a ceremonial magic to ensure fertility. There is at present nothing to show how much of the Witches' Mass (in which the bread, the wine, and the candles were black) derived from the Christian ritual and how much belonged to the Dianic cult; it is, however, possible that the witches' service was the earlier form and influenced the Christian. The admission ceremonies were often elaborate, and it is here that the changes in the religion are most clearly marked; certain ceremonies must have been introduced when another cult was superimposed and became paramount, such as the specific renunciation of a previous religion which was obligatory on all new candidates, and the payment to the member who brought a new recruit into the fold. The other rites—the feasts and dances—show that it was a joyous religion; and as such it must have been quite incomprehensible to the gloomy Inquisitors and Reformers who suppressed it.

Much stress has always been laid by the sceptical writers on the undoubted fact that in many cases the witch confused dreams with reality and believed that she had visited the Sabbath when credible witnesses could prove that she had slept in her bed all the time. Yet such visions are known in other religions; Christians have met their Lord in dreams of the night and have been accounted saints for that very reason; Mahomed, though not released from the body, had interviews with Allah; Moses talked with God; the Egyptian Pharaohs record similar experiences. To the devotee of a certain temperament such visions occur, and it is only to be expected that in every case the vision should take the form required by the religion of the worshipper. Hence the Christian sees Christ and enters heaven; Mahomed was caught up to the Paradise of the true believers; the anthropomorphic Jehovah permitted only a back view to His votary; the Egyptian Pharaohs beheld their gods alive and moving on the earth. The witch also met her god at the actual Sabbath and again in her dreams, for that earthly Sabbath was to her the true Paradise, where there was more pleasure than she could express, and she believed also that the joy which she took in it was but the prelude to a much greater glory, for her god so held her heart that no other desire could enter in. Thus the witches often went to the gibbet and the stake, glorifying their god and committing their souls into his keeping, with a firm belief that death was but the entrance to an eternal life in which they would never be parted from him. Fanatics and visionaries as many of them were, they resemble those Christian martyrs whom the witch-persecutors often held in the highest honour.

Another objection is that, as the evidence of the witches at the trials is more or less uniform in character, it must be attributed to the publication by the Inquisitors of a questionary for the use of all judges concerned in such trials; in short, that the evidence is valueless, as it was given in answer to leading questions. No explanation is offered by the objectors as to how the Inquisitors arrived at the form of questionary, nor is any regard given to the injunction to all Inquisitors to acquaint themselves with all the details of any heresy which they were commissioned to root out; they were to obtain the information from those who would recant and use it against the accused; and to instruct other judges in the belief and ritual of the heresy, so that they also might recognize it and act accordingly. The objectors also overlook the fact that the believers in any given religion, when tried for their faith, exhibit a sameness in their accounts of the cult, usually with slight local differences. Had the testimony of the witches as to their beliefs varied widely, it would be prima facie evidence that there was no well-defined religion underlying their ritual; but the very uniformity of their confessions points to the reality of the occurrence.

Still another objection is that the evidence was always given under torture, and that the wretched victims consequently made reckless assertions and accusations. In most of the English and many of the Scotch trials legal torture was not applied; and it was only in the seventeenth century that pricking for the mark, starvation, and prevention of sleep were used. Even then there were many voluntary confessions given by those who, like the early Christian martyrs, rushed headlong on their fate, determined to die for their faith and their god.

Yet even if some of the evidence were given under torture and in answer to leading questions, there still remains a mass of details which cannot be explained away. Among others there are the close connexions of the witches with the fairies, the persistence of the number thirteen in the Covens, the narrow geographical range of the domestic familiar, the avoidance of certain forms in the animal transformations, the limited number of personal names among the women-witches, and the survival of the names of some of the early gods.

In England the legal method of executing a witch was by hanging; after death the body was burnt and the ashes scattered. In Scotland, as a rule, the witch was strangled at the stake and the body burned, but there are several records of the culprit being sentenced to burning alive. In France burning alive was the invariable punishment.

In cases where popular fury, unrestrained by the law, worked its own vengeance on individuals, horrible scenes occurred; but these were the exception, and, examining only the legal aspect of the subject, it will be found that witches had a fair trial according to the methods of the period, and that their punishment was according to the law. There was, however, one popular method of dealing with a person accused of witchcraft which is interesting as showing the survival of a legal process, obsolete as regards the law itself, but remaining in full force among the people. This is the ordeal by water. In the Laws of Athelstan the full detail of this ordeal is given: after the person who was to undergo the ordeal had been prepared by prayer and fasting, he was tied, the right thumb to the right big toe, the left thumb to the left big toe, and was then cast into the water with suitable prayers to the Almighty to declare the right; if he sank he was considered innocent, if he floated he was guilty. The witch was 'tried' in the same way, except that she was tied 'crossways', i.e. the right thumb to the left big toe, and the left thumb to the right big toe. So great was the belief in this test that many women accused of witchcraft insisted on undergoing this ordeal, which was often conducted with solemnity and decency under the auspices of the minister of the parish and other grave persons. Unless there was strong feeling against the woman for other reasons, the mere fact of her floating did not rouse the populace against her, and she merely returned home; Widow Coman, for instance, was 'ducked' on three separate occasions at her own request.

The theologians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were greatly exercised by the conclusive evidence which proved that people known to be devout and professing Christians had been present at the Sabbath, joined in the ceremonies, and worshipped the witches' god. The Inquisitors recognized the fact, and devote many pages of their books to the discussion of the course to be followed in the case of Christian priests, coming finally to the conclusion that if a priest merely went to the Sabbath but was not in any way in an official position there his sacred character preserved him from evil. The theologians of the Reformed Churches, who could not accept the sanctity of the priesthood with the same ease and were also desirous of finding some means of accounting for the presence of the devout laity, boldly evolved the theory that the Devil could for his own purposes assume the shape of good Christians in order to mislead the witches. By this plea the accused often succeeded in escaping when the examiners were religious ministers, but it was of no value to them when the trial was in a court of law, and the fact of their presence at an illegal assembly was proved. Lord Coke's definition of a witch summed up the law on the subject: 'A witch is a person who hath conference with the Devil, to consult with him or to do some act', and any person proved to have had such conference was thus convicted of a capital offence and sentenced accordingly. This accounts for the fact, commented on by all students of witch-trials, that a witch was often condemned even though she had invariably used her skill for good and not for evil; for healing the sick, not for casting sickness. If it were proved that she had obtained her knowledge from the 'Devil' she had broken the law and must die.


[Footnote 1: Journal of Hellenic Studies, 1894, p. 160. The italics are in the original.]

[Footnote 2: See James Crossley's Introduction to Potts's Discoverie of Witchcraft, Chetham Society, pp. v-xii.]


Of the ancient religion of pre-Christian Britain there are few written records, but it is contrary to all experience that a cult should die out and leave no trace immediately on the introduction of a new religion. The so-called conversion of Britain meant the conversion of the rulers only; the mass of the people continued to follow their ancient customs and beliefs with a veneer of Christian rites. The centuries brought a deepening of Christianity which, introduced from above, gradually penetrated downwards through one class after another. During this process the laws against the practice of certain heathen rites became more strict as Christianity grew in power, the Church tried her strength against 'witches' in high places and was victorious, and in the fifteenth century open war was declared against the last remains of heathenism in the famous Bull of Innocent VIII.

This heathenism was practised only in certain places and among certain classes of the community. In other places the ancient ritual was either adopted into, or tolerated by, the Church; and the Maypole dances and other rustic festivities remained as survivals of the rites of the early cult.

Whether the religion which survived as the witch cult was the same as the religion of the Druids, or whether it belonged to a still earlier stratum, is not clear. Though the descriptions of classical authors are rather too vague and scanty to settle such a point, sufficient remains to show that a fertility cult did once exist in these islands, akin to similar cults in the ancient world. Such rites would not be suppressed by the tribes who entered Great Britain after the withdrawal of the Romans; a continuance of the cult may therefore be expected among the people whom the Christian missionaries laboured to convert.

As the early historical records of these islands were made by Christian ecclesiastics, allowance must be made for the religious bias of the writers, which caused them to make Christianity appear as the only religion existing at the time. But though the historical records are silent on the subject the laws and enactments of the different communities, whether lay or ecclesiastical, retain very definite evidence of the continuance of the ancient cults.

In this connexion the dates of the conversion of England are instructive. The following table gives the principal dates:

597-604. Augustine's mission. London still heathen. Conversion of AEthelbert, King of Kent. After AEthelbert's death Christianity suffered a reverse.

604. Conversion of the King of the East Saxons, whose successor lapsed.

627. Conversion of the King of Northumbria.

628. Conversion of the King of East Anglia.

631-651. Aidan's missions.

635. Conversion of the King of Wessex.

653. Conversion of the King of Mercia.

654. Re-conversion of the King of the East Saxons.

681. Conversion of the King of the South Saxons.

An influx of heathenism occurred on two later occasions: in the ninth century there was an invasion by the heathen Danes under Guthrum; and in the eleventh century the heathen king Cnut led his hordes to victory. As in the case of the Saxon kings of the seventh century, Guthrum and Cnut were converted and the tribes followed their leaders' example, professed Christianity, and were baptized.

But it cannot be imagined that these wholesale conversions were more than nominal in most cases, though the king's religion was outwardly the tribe's religion. If, as happened among the East Saxons, the king forsook his old gods, returned to them again, and finally forsook them altogether, the tribe followed his lead, and, in public at least, worshipped Christ, Odin, or any other deity whom the king favoured for the moment; but there can be hardly any doubt that in private the mass of the people adhered to the old religion to which they were accustomed. This tribal conversion is clearly marked when a heathen king married a Christian queen, or vice versa; and it must also be noted that a king never changed his religion without careful consultation with his chief men.[3] An example of the two religions existing side by side is found in the account of Redwald, King of the East Saxons, who 'in the same temple had an altar to sacrifice to Christ, and another small one to offer victims to devils'.[4]

The continuity of the ancient religion is proved by the references to it in the classical authors, the ecclesiastical laws, and other legal and historical records.

1st cent. Strabo, 63 B.C.-A.D. 23.

'In an island close to Britain, Demeter and Persephone are venerated with rites similar to the orgies of Samothrace.'[5]

4th cent. Dionysius says that in islands near Jersey and Guernsey the rites of Bacchus were performed by the women, crowned with leaves; they danced and made an even greater shouting than the Thracians.[6]

7th cent. Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury, 668-690.

The Liber Poenitentialis[7] of Theodore contains the earliest ecclesiastical laws of England. It consists of a list of offences and the penance due for each offence; one whole section is occupied with details of the ancient religion and of its rites. Such are:

Sacrifice to devils.

Eating and drinking in a heathen temple, (a) in ignorance, (b) after being told by the [Christian] priest that it is sacrilege and the table of devils, (c) as a cult of idols and in honour of idols.

'Not only celebrating feasts in the abominable places of the heathen and offering food there, but also consuming it. Serving this hidden idolatry, having relinquished Christ. If anyone at the kalends of January goes about as a stag or a bull; that is, making himself into a wild animal and dressing in the skin of a herd animal, and putting on the heads of beasts; those who in such wise transform themselves into the appearance of a wild animal, penance for three years because this is devilish.'

The Laws of Wihtraed, King of Kent,[8] 690.

Fines inflicted on those who offer to devils.

8th cent. The Confessionale and Poenitentiale of Ecgberht, first Archbishop of York,[9] 734-766.

Prohibition of offerings to devils; of witchcraft; of auguries according to the methods of the heathen; of vows paid, loosed, or confirmed at wells, stones, or trees; of the gathering of herbs with any incantation except Christian prayers.

The Law of the Northumbrian priests.[10]

'If then anyone be found that shall henceforth practise any heathenship, either by sacrifice or by "fyrt", or in any way love witchcraft, or worship idols, if he be a king's thane, let him pay X half-marks; half to Christ, half to the king. We are all to love and worship one God, and strictly hold one Christianity, and totally renounce all heathenship.'

9th cent. Decree attributed to a General Council of Ancyra.[11]

'Certain wicked women, reverting to Satan, and seduced by the illusions and phantasms of demons, believe and profess that they ride at night with Diana on certain beasts, with an innumerable multitude of women, passing over immense distances, obeying her commands as their mistress, and evoked by her on certain nights.'

10th cent. Laws of Edward and Guthrum.[12] After 901.

'If anyone violate christianity, or reverence heathenism, by word or by work, let him pay as well wer, as wite or lah-slit, according as the deed may be.'

Laws of King Athelstan,[13] 924-940.

'We have ordained respecting witchcrafts, and lyblacs, and morthdaeds: if anyone should be thereby killed, and he could not deny it, that he be liable in his life. But if he will deny it, and at the threefold ordeal shall be guilty; that he be cxx days in prison.'

Ecclesiastical canons of King Edgar,[14] 959.

'We enjoin, that every priest zealously promote Christianity, and totally extinguish every heathenism; and forbid well worshipings, and necromancies, and divinations, and enchantments, and man worshipings, and the vain practices which are carried on with various spells, and with "frithsplots",[15] and with elders, and also with various other trees, and with stones, and with many various delusions, with which men do much of what they should not.—And we enjoin, that every Christian man zealously accustom his children to Christianity, and teach them the Paternoster and the Creed. And we enjoin, that on feast days heathen songs and devil's games be abstained from.'

Laws of King Ethelred,[16] 978-1016.

'Let every Christian man do as is needful to him; let him strictly keep his Christianity.... Let us zealously venerate right Christianity, and totally despise every heathenism.'

11th cent. Laws of King Cnut,[17] 1017-1035.

'We earnestly forbid every heathenism: heathenism is, that men worship idols; that is, that they worship heathen gods, and the sun or the moon, fire or rivers, water-wells or stones, or forest trees of any kind; or love witchcraft, or promote morth-work in any wise.'

13th cent. Witchcraft made into a sect and heresy by the Church. The priest of Inverkeithing presented before the bishop in 1282 for leading a fertility dance at Easter round the phallic figure of a god; he was allowed to retain his benefice.[18]

14th cent. In 1303 the Bishop of Coventry was accused before the Pope for doing homage to the Devil.[19]

Trial of Dame Alice Kyteler, 1324.

Tried for both operative and ritual witchcraft, and found guilty.

Nider's Formicarius, 1337.

A detailed account of witches and their proceedings in Berne, which had been infested by them for more than sixty years.

15th cent. Joan of Arc burnt as a witch, 1431. Gilles de Rais executed as a witch, 1440.

Bernardo di Bosco, 1457.

Sent by Pope Calixtus III to suppress the witches in Brescia and its neighbourhood.

Bull of Pope Innocent VIII, 1484.

'It has come to our ears that numbers of both sexes do not avoid to have intercourse with demons, Incubi and Succubi; and that by their sorceries, and by their incantations, charms, and conjurations, they suffocate, extinguish, and cause to perish the births of women, the increase of animals, the corn of the ground, the grapes of the vineyard and the fruit of the trees, as well as men, women, flocks, herds, and other various kinds of animals, vines and apple trees, grass, corn and other fruits of the earth; making and procuring that men and women, flocks and herds and other animals shall suffer and be tormented both from within and without, so that men beget not, nor women conceive; and they impede the conjugal action of men and women.'

It will be seen by the foregoing that so far from the Bull of Pope Innocent VIII being the beginning of the 'outbreak of witchcraft', as so many modern writers consider, it is only one of many ordinances against the practices of an earlier cult. It takes no account of the effect of these practices on the morals of the people who believed in them, but lays stress only on their power over fertility; the fertility of human beings, animals, and crops. In short it is exactly the pronouncement which one would expect from a Christian against a heathen form of religion in which the worship of a god of fertility was the central idea. It shows therefore that the witches were considered to deal with fertility only.

Looked upon in the light of a fertility cult, the ritual of the witches becomes comprehensible. Originally for the promotion of fertility, it became gradually degraded into a method for blasting fertility, and thus the witches who had been once the means of bringing prosperity to the people and the land by driving out all evil influences, in process of time were looked upon as being themselves the evil influences, and were held in horror accordingly.

The actual feelings of the witches towards their religion have been recorded in very few cases, but they can be inferred from the few records which remain. The earliest example is from Lorraine in 1408, 'lequel mefait les susdites dames disoient et confessoient avoir endure a leur contentement et saoulement de plaisir que n'avoient eu onc de leur vie en tel pourchas'.[20] De Lancre took a certain amount of trouble to obtain the opinions of the witches, whereby he was obviously scandalized.

'Vne sorciere entre autres fort insigne nous dict qu'elle auoit tousiours creu, que la sorcelerie estoit la meilleure religion.—Ieanne Dibasson aagee de vingt neuf ans nous dict que le sabbat estoit le vray Paradis, ou il y a beaucoup plus de plaisir qu'on ne peut exprimer. Que ceux qui y vont trouuent le temps si court a force de plaisir & de contentemẽt, qu'ils n'en peuuent sortir sans vn merveilleux regret, de maniere qu'il leur tarde infiniment qu'ils n'y reuiennent.—Marie de la Ralde, aagee de vingt huict ans, tres belle femme, depose qu'elle auoit vn singulier plaisir d'aller au sabbat, si bien que quand on la venoit semondre d'y aller elle y alloit comme a nopces: non pas tant pour la liberte & licence qu'on a de s'accointer ensemble (ce que par modestie elle dict n'auoir iamais faict ny veu faire) mais parce que le Diable tenoit tellement lies leurs coeurs & leurs volontez qu'a peine y laissoit il entrer nul autre desir.... Au reste elle dict qu'elle ne croyoit faire aucun mal d'aller au sabbat, & qu'elle y auoit beaucoup plus de plaisir & contentement que d'aller a la Messe, parce que le Diable leur faisoit a croire qu'il estoit le vray Dieu, & que la ioye que les sorciers prenoyent au sabbat n'estoit qu'vn commencement d'vne beaucoup plus grande gloire.—Elles disoyent franchement, qu'elles y alloyent & voyoient toutes ces execrations auec vne volupte admirable, & vn desir enrager d'y aller & d'y estre, trouuat les iours trop reculez de la nuict pour faire le voyage si desire, & le poinct ou les heures pour y aller trop lentes, & y estant, trop courtes pour vn si agreable seiour & delicieux amusement.—En fin il a le faux martyre: & se trouue des Sorciers si acharnez a son seruice endiable, qu'il n'y a torture ny supplice qui les estonne, & diriez qu'ils vont au vray martyre & a la mort pour l'amour de luy, aussi gayement que s'ils alloient a vn festin de plaisir & reioueyssance publique.—Quand elles sont preuenues de la Iustice, elles ne pleurent & ne iettent vne seule larme, voire leur faux martyre soit de la torture, soit du gibet leur est si plaisant, qu'il tarde a plusieurs qu'elles ne soiẽt executees a mort, & souffrẽt fort ioyeusement qu'on leur face le procez, tant il leur tarde qu'elles ne soient auec le Diable. Et ne s'impatientent de rien tant en leur prison, que de ce qu'elles ne lui peuuent tesmoigner cōbiẽ elles souffrent & desirent souffrir pour luy.'[21]

Bodin says, 'Il y en a d'autres, ausquelles Satan promet qu'elles seront bien heureuses apres cette vie, qui empesche qu'elles ne se repentent, & meurent obstinees en leur mechancete'.[22]

Madame de Bourignon's girls at Lille (1661) 'had not the least design of changing, to quit these abominable Pleasures, as one of them of Twenty-two Years old one day told me. No, said she, I will not be other than I am; I find too much content in my Condition.'[23] Though the English and Scotch witches' opinions are not reported, it is clear from the evidence that they were the same as those of the Basses-Pyrenees, for not only did they join of their own free will but in many cases there seems to have been no need of persuasion. In a great number of trials, when the witches acknowledged that they had been asked to become members of the society, there follows an expression of this sort, 'ye freely and willingly accepted and granted thereto'. And that they held to their god as firmly as those de Lancre put to death is equally evident in view of the North Berwick witches, of Rebecca West and Rose Hallybread, who 'dyed very Stuburn, and Refractory without any Remorss, or seeming Terror of Conscience for their abominable Witch-craft';[24] Major Weir, who perished as a witch, renouncing all hope of heaven;[25] and the Northampton witches, Agnes Browne and her daughter, who 'were never heard to pray, or to call vppon God, never asking pardon for their offences either of God or the world in this their dangerous, and desperate Resolution, dyed'; Elinor Shaw and Mary Phillips, at their execution 'being desired to say their Prayers, they both set up a very loud Laughter, calling for the Devil to come and help them in such a Blasphemous manner, as is not fit to Mention; so that the Sherif seeing their presumptious Impenitence, caused them to be Executed with all the Expedition possible; even while they were Cursing and raving, and as they liv'd the Devils true Factors, so they resolutely Dyed in his Service': the rest of the Coven also died 'without any confession or contrition'.[26]


[Footnote 3: Hunt, vol. i]

[Footnote 4: Bede, Bk. II, ch. xv.]

[Footnote 5: Strabo, Geography, Bk. IV, c. iv, 6.]

[Footnote 6: Dionysius, Periegetes, ll. 1120-5.]

[Footnote 7: Thorpe, ii, pp. 32-4.]

[Footnote 8: Thorpe, i, p. 41.]

[Footnote 9: Id., ii, p. 157 seq.]

[Footnote 10: Id., ii, pp. 299, 303.]

[Footnote 11: Scot, p. 66.—Lea, iii, p. 493.]

[Footnote 12: Thorpe, i, p. 169.]

[Footnote 13: Id., i, p. 203.]

[Footnote 14: Id., ii, p. 249.]

[Footnote 15: Frith = brushwood, splot = plot of ground; sometimes used for 'splotch, splash'.]

[Footnote 16: Thorpe, i, pp. 311, 323, 351.]

[Footnote 17: Id., i, p. 379.]

[Footnote 18: Chronicles of Lanercost, p. 109, ed. Stevenson.]

[Footnote 19: Rymer, ii, 934.]

[Footnote 20: Bournon, p. 23.]

[Footnote 21: De Lancre, Tableau, pp. 124, 125, 126, 135, 208, 458.]

[Footnote 22: Bodin, Fleau, p. 373.]

[Footnote 23: Bourignon, Parole, p. 87.—Hale, p. 27.]

[Footnote 24: Full Tryals of Notorious Witches, p. 8.]

[Footnote 25: Records of the Justiciary Court of Edinburgh, ii, p. 14.—Arnot, p. 359.]

[Footnote 26: Witches of Northamptonshire, p. 8.]


1. As God

It is impossible to understand the witch-cult without first understanding the position of the chief personage of that cult. He was known to the contemporary Christian judges and recorders as the Devil, and was called by them Satan, Lucifer, Beelzebub, the Foul Fiend, the Enemy of Salvation, and similar names appropriate to the Principle of Evil, the Devil of the Scriptures, with whom they identified him.

This was far from the view of the witches themselves. To them this so-called Devil was God, manifest and incarnate; they adored him on their knees, they addressed their prayers to him, they offered thanks to him as the giver of food and the necessities of life, they dedicated their children to him, and there are indications that, like many another god, he was sacrificed for the good of his people.

The contemporary writers state in so many words that the witches believed in the divinity of their Master. Danaeus, writing in 1575, says, 'The Diuell comaundeth them that they shall acknowledge him for their god, cal vpõ him, pray to him, and trust in him.—Then doe they all repeate the othe which they haue geuen vnto him; in acknowledging him to be their God.'[27] Gaule, in 1646, nearly a century later, says that the witches vow 'to take him [the Devil] for their God, worship, invoke, obey him'.[28]

The witches are even more explicit, and their evidence proves the belief that their Master was to them their God. The accusation against Elisabeth Vlamyncx of Alost, 1595, was that 'vous n'avez pas eu honte de vous agenouiller devant votre Belzebuth, que vous avez adore'.[29] The same accusation was made against Marion Grant of Aberdeen, 1596, that 'the Deuill quhome thow callis thy god ... causit the worship him on thy kneis as thy lord'.[30] De Lancre (1609) records, as did all the Inquisitors, the actual words of the witches; when they presented a young child, they fell on their knees and said, 'Grand Seigneur, lequel i'adore', and when the child was old enough to join the society she made her vow in these words: 'Ie me remets de tout poinct en ton pouuoir & entre tes mains, ne recognois autre Dieu: si bien que tu es mon Dieu'.[31] Silvain Nevillon, tried at Orleans in 1614, said, 'On dit au Diable nous vous recognoissons pour nostre maistre, nostre Dieu, nostre Createur'.[32] The Lancashire witch, Margaret Johnson, 1633, said: 'There appeared vnto her a spirit or divell in the similitude and proportion of a man. And the said divell or spirit bidd her call him by the name of Mamillion. And saith, that in all her talke and conferense shee calleth her said Divell Mamillion, my god.'[33] According to Madame Bourignon, 1661, 'Persons who were thus engaged to the Devil by a precise Contract, will allow no other God but him'.[34] Isobel Gowdie confessed that 'he maid vs beliew that ther wes no God besyd him.—We get all this power from the Divell, and when ve seik it from him, ve call him "owr Lord".—At each tyme, quhan ve wold meitt with him, we behoowit to ryse and mak our curtesie; and we wold say, "Ye ar welcom, owr Lord," and "How doe ye, my Lord."'[35] The Yorkshire witch, Alice Huson, 1664, stated that the Devil 'appeared like a Black Man upon a Black Horse, with Cloven Feet; and then I fell down, and did Worship him upon my Knees'.[36] Ann Armstrong in Northumberland, 1673, gave a good deal of information about her fellow witches: 'The said Ann Baites hath severall times danced with the divell att the places aforesaid, calling him, sometimes, her protector, and, other sometimes, her blessed saviour.—She saw Forster, Dryden, and Thompson, and the rest, and theire protector, which they call'd their god, sitting at the head of the table.—When this informer used meanes to avoyd theire company, they threatned her, if she would not turne to theire god, the last shift should be the worst.'[37] At Crighton, 1678, the Devil himself preached to the witches, 'and most blasphemously mocked them, if they offered to trust in God who left them miserable in the world, and neither he nor his Son Jesus Christ ever appeared to them when they called on them, as he had, who would not cheat them'.[38] Even in America, 1692, Mary Osgood, the wife of Capt. Osgood, declared that 'the devil told her he was her God, and that she should serve and worship him'.[39]

Prayers were addressed to the Master by his followers, and in some instances the prayer was taught by him. Alice Gooderidge of Stapenhill in Derbyshire, 1597, herself a witch and the daughter of a witch, was charged by Sir Humphrey Ferrers 'with witchcraft about one Michael's Cow: which Cow when shee brake all thinges that they tied her in, ranne to this Alice Gooderige her house, scraping at the walls and windowes to haue come in: her olde mother Elizabeth Wright, tooke vpon her to help; vpon condition that she might haue a peny to bestow vpon her god, and so she came to the mans house kneeled downe before the Cow, crossed her with a sticke in the forehead, and prayed to her god, since which time the Cow continued wel'.[40] Antide Colas, 1598, confessed that 'Satan luy commada de le prier soir & matin, auant qu'elle s'addonnat a faire autre oeuure'.[41] Elizabeth Sawyer, the witch of Edmonton, 1621, was taught by the Devil; 'He asked of me to whom I prayed, and I answered him to Iesus Christ, and he charged me then to pray no more to Iesus Christ, but to him the Diuell, and he the Diuell taught me this prayer, Sanctibecetur nomen tuum, Amen'.[42] Part of the dittay against Jonet Rendall, an Orkney witch, 1629, was that 'the devill appeirit to you, Quhom ye called Walliman.—Indyttit and accusit for y^t of your awne confessioune efter ye met your Walliman upoun the hill ye cam to Williame Rendalls hous quha haid ane seik hors and promeised to haill him if he could geve yow tua penneys for everie foot, And haveing gottin the silver ye hailled the hors be praying to your Walliman, Lykeas ye have confest that thair is nather man nor beast sick that is not tane away be the hand of God bot for almis ye ar able to cur it be praying to your Walliman, and yt thair is nane yt geves yow almis bot they will thryve ather be sea or land it ye pray to yor Walliman'.[43] The witches of East Anglia, 1645, also prayed; 'Ellen the wife of Nicholas Greenleife of Barton in Suffolke, confessed, that when she prayed she prayed to the Devill and not to God.—Rebecca West confessed that her mother prayed constantly (and, as the world thought, very seriously), but she said it was to the devil, using these words, Oh my God, my God, meaning him and not the LORD.'[44]

A good example of the change of the word 'God', when used by the witch, into the word 'devil' when recorded by the Christian writer, is found at Bute in 1662: 'Jonet Stewart declares that quhen Alester McNivan was lying sick that Jonet Morisone and NcWilliam being in her house the said Jonet desyred NcWilliam to goe see the said Allester the said NcWilliam lifting up her curcheffe said "devill let him never be seene till I see him and devill let him never ryse" ... [NcWilliam was asked] if she lifted up her curcheffe quhen Jonet Morisone desyred her to goe see Alester McNivan, saying "god let him never ryse till I goe see him."'[45]

2. As a Human Being. (a) Man

The evidence of the witches makes it abundantly clear that the so-called Devil was a human being, generally a man, occasionally a woman. At the great Sabbaths, where he appeared in his grand array, he was disguised out of recognition; at the small meetings, in visiting his votaries, or when inducing a possible convert to join the ranks of the witch-society, he came in his own person, usually dressed plainly in the costume of the period. When in ordinary clothes he was indistinguishable from any other man of his own rank or age, but the evidence suggests that he made himself known by some manual gesture, by a password, or by some token carried on his person. The token seems to have been carried on the foot, and was perhaps a specially formed boot or shoe, or a foot-covering worn under the shoe.[46]

Besides the Grand Master himself there was often a second 'Devil', younger than the Chief. There is no indication whatsoever as to the method of appointing the head of the witch-community, but it seems probable that on the death of the principal 'Devil' the junior succeeded, and that the junior was appointed from among the officers (see chap. vii). This suggestion, however, does not appear to hold good where a woman was the Chief, for her second in command was always a man and often one well advanced in years. The elderly men always seem to have had grey beards.

Danaeus in 1575 summarizes the evidence and says of the Devil, 'he appeareth vnto them in likenesse of a man, insomuch that it hapneth many tymes, that among a great company of men, the Sorcerer only knoweth Satan, that is present, when other doo not know him, although they see another man, but who or what he is they know not'.[47] De Lancre says, 'On a obserue de tout temps que lors qu'il veut receuoir quelcun a faire pacte auec luy, il se presente tousiours en homme'.[48] Cooper states that 'the Wizards and Witches being met in a place and time appointed, the devil appears to them in humane shape'.[49] Even a modern writer, after studying the evidence, acknowledges that the witches 'seem to have been undoubtedly the victims of unscrupulous and designing knaves, who personated Satan'.[50]

The witches not only described the personal appearance of the Devil, but often gave careful details as to his clothes; such details are naturally fuller when given by the women than by the men.

England.—John Walsh of Dorsetshire, 1566, described the Devil, whom he called his Familiar, as 'sometymes like a man in all proportions, sauing that he had clouen feete'.[51] The Lancashire witch, Anne Chattox, 1613, said, 'A thing like a Christian man did sundry times come to this Examinate, and requested this Examinate to giue him her Soule: And in the end, this Examinate was contented to giue him her sayd Soule, shee being then in her owne house, in the Forrest of Pendle; wherevpon the Deuill then in the shape of a Man, sayd to this Examinate: Thou shalt want nothing.' Elizabeth Southerns of the same Coven said that 'there met her this Examinate a Spirit or Deuill, in the shape of a Boy, the one halfe of his Coate blacke, and the other browne'.[52] To Margaret Johnson, one of the later Lancashire witches, 1633, there appeared 'a spirit or divell in the similitude and proportion of a man, apparelled in a suite of black, tyed about w^th silke pointes'.[53] The Yarmouth witch, 1644, 'when she was in Bed, heard one knock at her Door, and rising to her Window, she saw, it being Moonlight, a tall black Man there'.[54] The Essex witches, 1645, agreed very fairly in their description of the man who came amongst them: according to Elizabeth Clarke he appeared 'in the shape of a proper gentleman, with a laced band, having the whole proportion of a man.... He had oftentimes knocked at her dore in the night time; and shee did arise open the dore and let him in'; Rebecca Weste gave evidence that 'the Devil appeared in the likeness of a proper young man'; and Rebecca Jones said that the Devil as 'a very handsome young man came to the door, who asked how she did'; on another occasion she met the Devil, 'as shee was going to St. Osyth to sell butter', in the form of a 'man in a ragged sute'.[55] There are two accounts of the evidence given by the Huntingdonshire witch, Joan Wallis of Keiston, 1646: Stearne says that she 'confessed the Devill came to her in the likenesse of a man in blackish cloathing, but had cloven feet'. Davenport's record is slightly different: 'Blackman came first to her, about a twelve-moneth since, like a man something ancient, in blackish cloathes, but he had ugly feet uncovered.'[56] The evidence of the Suffolk witches, 1645-6, is to the same effect; Thomazine Ratcliffe of Shellie confessed that 'there came one in the likeness of a man.—One Richmond, a woman which lived at Brampford, confessed the Devill appeared to her in the likenesse of a man, called Daniel the Prophet.—One Bush of Barton, widdow, confessed that the Devill appeared to her in the shape of a young black man'.[57] All the Covens of Somerset, 1664, were evidently under one Chief; he came to Elizabeth Style as 'a handsome man'; to Elizabeth Style, Anne Bishop, Alice Duke, and Mary Penny as 'a Man in black Clothes, with a little Band'; to Christian Green 'in the shape of a Man in blackish Clothes'; and to Mary and Catherine Green as 'a little Man in black Clothes with a little Band'.[58] To the Yorkshire witch, Alice Huson, 1664, he appeared 'like a Black Man on a Horse upon the Moor', and again 'like a Black Man upon a Black Horse, with Cloven Feet'.[59] Abre Grinset of Dunwich, in Suffolk, 1665, said 'he did appear in the form of a Pretty handsom Young Man'.[60] In Northumberland, 1673, Ann Armstrong said that 'she see the said Ann Forster [with twelve others and] a long black man rideing on a bay galloway, as she thought, which they call'd there protector'.[61] The Devonshire witch Susanna Edwards, 1682, enters into some detail: 'She did meet with a gentleman in a field called the Parsonage Close in the town of Biddiford. And saith that his apparel was all of black. Upon which she did hope to have a piece of money of him. Whereupon the gentleman drawing near unto this examinant, she did make a curchy or courtesy unto him, as she did use to do to gentlemen. Being demanded what and who the gentleman she spake of was, the said examinant answered and said, That it was the Devil.'[62] In Northamptonshire, 1705, he came to Mary Phillips and Elinor Shaw as 'a tall black Man'.[63]

Scotland.—The earliest description is in the trial of Bessie Dunlop of Lyne in Ayrshire in 1576, and is one of the most detailed. Bessie never spoke of the person, who appeared to her, as the 'Devil', she invariably called him Thom Reid; but he stood to her in the same relation that the Devil stood to the witches, and like the Devil he demanded that she should believe on him. She described him as 'ane honest wele elderlie man, gray bairdit, and had ane gray coitt with Lumbart slevis of the auld fassoun; ane pair of gray brekis, and quhyte schankis, gartanit aboue the kne; ane blak bonet on his heid, cloise behind and plane befoir, with silkin laissis drawin throw the lippis thairof; and ane quhyte wand in his hand'.[64] Alison Peirson, 1588, must have recognized the man who appeared to her, for she 'wes conuict of the vsing of Sorcerie and Wichcraft, with the Inuocatioun of the spreitis of the Dewill; speciallie, in the visioune and forme of ane Mr. William Sympsoune, hir cousing and moder-brotheris-sone, quha sche affermit wes ane grit scoller and doctor of medicin'.[65] Though the Devil of North Berwick, 1590, appeared in disguise, it is not only certain that he was a man but his identity can be determined. Barbara Napier deposed that 'the devil wess with them in likeness of ane black man ... the devil start up in the pulpit, like a mickle blak man, with ane black beard sticking out like ane goat's beard, clad in ane blak tatie [tattered] gown and ane ewill favoured scull bonnet on his heid; hauing ane black book in his hand'. Agnes Sampson's description in the official record was very brief: 'he had on him ane gown, and ane hat, which were both black';[66] but Melville, who probably heard her evidence, puts it more dramatically: 'The deuell wes cled in ane blak gown with ane blak hat vpon his head.... His faice was terrible, his noise lyk the bek of ane egle, gret bournyng eyn; his handis and leggis wer herry, with clawes vpon his handis, and feit lyk the griffon.'[67] John Fian merely mentions that the first time the Devil came he was clothed in white raiment.[68] The evidence from Aberdeen, 1596-7, points to there being two Chiefs, one old and one young. Ellen Gray confessed that 'the Devill, thy maister, apperit to thee in the scheap of ane agit man, beirdit, with a quhyt gown and a thrummit [shaggy] hatt'. Andro Man 'confessis that Crystsunday cum to hym in liknes of ane fair angell, and clad in quhyt claythis'. Christen Mitchell stated that 'Sathan apperit to the in the lyknes of a littill crippill man'; and Marion Grant gave evidence that 'the Deuill, quhom thow callis thy god, apperit to thee in ane gryte man his licknes, in silkin abuilzeament [habiliment], withe ane quhyt candill in his hand'.[69] Isobell Haldane of Perth, 1607, was carried away into a fairy hill, 'thair scho stayit thrie dayis, viz. fra Thurisday till Sonday at xii houris. Scho mett a man with ane gray beird, quha brocht hir furth agane.' This man stood to her in the same relation as Thom Reid to Bessie Dunlop, or as the Devil to the witches.[70] Jonet Rendall of Orkney, 1629, saw him 'claid in quhyt cloathis, with ane quhyt head and ane gray beard'.[71] In East Lothian, 1630, Alexander Hamilton met the Devil in the likeness of a black man.[72] At Eymouth, 1634, Bessie Bathgate was seen by two young men 'at 12 hours of even (when all people are in their beds) standing bare-legged and in her sark valicot, at the back of hir yard, conferring with the devil who was in green cloaths'.[73] Manie Haliburton of Dirlton, 1649, confessed that, when her daughter was ill, 'came the Devill, in licknes of a man, to hir hous, calling himselff a phisition'.[74] He came also as 'a Mediciner' to Sandie Hunter in East Lothian in 1649.[75] In the same year he appeared as a black man to Robert Grieve, 'an eminent Warlock' at Lauder.[76] In the same year also 'Janet Brown was charged with having held a meeting with the Devil appearing as a man, at the back of Broomhills'.[77] Among the Alloa witches, tried in 1658, Margret Duchall 'did freelie confes hir paction with the diwell, how he appeared first to hir in the liknes of a man in broun cloathis, and ane blak hat'; while Kathren Renny said 'that he first appeared to hir in the bodis medow in the liknes of a man with gray cloathis and ane blew cap'.[78] The years 1661 and 1662 are notable in the annals of Scotch witchcraft for the number of trials and the consequent mass of evidence, including many descriptions of the Grand-master. At Forfar, in 1661, Helen Guthrie said that at several meetings the devil was present 'in the shape of a black iron-hued man'; Katherine Porter 'saw the divill and he had ane blacke plaid about him'; when Issobell Smyth was alone gathering heather, 'hee appeared to hir alone lik ane braw gentleman'; and on another occasion 'like a light gentleman'.[79] Jonet Watson of Dalkeith, also in 1661, said 'that the Deivill apeired vnto her in the liknes of ane prettie boy, in grein clothes.... Shoe was at a Meitting in Newtoun-dein with the Deavill, who had grein clothes vpone him, and ane blak hatt vpone his head'.[80] In the same year an Edinburgh Coven was tried: Jonet Ker was accused that 'as you wer comeing from Edr to the park you mett with the devill at the bough in the liknes of a greavous black man'; Helene Casso 'met with the devill in liknes of a man with greine cloaths in the links of Dudingstone qr he wes gathering sticks amongst the whines'; Isobel Ramsay 'mett with the devill in the Liknes of a pleasant young man who said qr live you goodwyf and how does the minister And as you wes goeing away he gave you a sexpence saying God bud him give you that qch you wared and bought meall therwith As also you had ane uther meiting wt the devill in yor awne house in the liknes of yor awne husband as you wes lying in yor bed at qch tyme you engadged to be his servant'; Jonet Millar 'did meit wt the devill in liknes of ane young man in the hous besyd the standing stane'.[81] The trials of the Auldearne witches in 1662 are fully reported as regards matters which interested the recorder; unfortunately the appearance of the Devil was not one of these, therefore Isobel Gowdie's description is abbreviated to the following: 'He was a meikle black roch man. Sometimes he had boots and sometimes shoes on his foot; but still [always] his foot are forked and cloven.'[82] At Crook of Devon in Kinross-shire, in the same year, nine of the witches describe the men they saw, for evidently there were two 'Devils' in this district; Isobel Rutherford said that 'Sathan was in the likness of a man with gray cloathes and ane blue bannet, having ane beard'; Bessie Henderson, 'the Devil appeared to you in the likeness of ane bonnie young lad, with ane blue bonnet'; Robert Wilson, 'the Devil was riding on ane horse with fulyairt clothes and ane Spanish cape'; Bessie Neil, 'Sathan appeared to you with dun-coloured clothes'; Margaret Litster, 'Sathan having grey clothes'; Agnes Brugh, 'the Devil appeared in the twilight like unto a half long fellow with an dusti coloured coat'; Margaret Huggon, 'he was an uncouth man with black cloathes with ane hood on his head'; Janet Paton, 'Sathan had black coloured clothes and ane blue bonnet being an unkie like man'; Christian Grieve, 'Sathan did first appear to yow like ane little man with ane blue bonnet on his head with rough gray cloaths on him'.[83] Marie Lamont of Innerkip, also in 1662, said that 'the devil was in the likeness of a meikle black man, and sung to them, and they dancit'; he appeared again 'in the likeness of a black man with cloven featt'.[84] At Paisley, in 1678, the girl-witch Annabil Stuart said that 'the Devil in the shape of a Black man came to her Mother's House'; her brother John was more detailed in his description, he observed 'one of the black man's feet to be cloven: and that the black man's Apparel was black; and that he had a bluish Band and Handcuffs; and that he had Hogers[85] on his Legs without Shoes'; Margaret Jackson of the same Coven confirmed the description, 'the black man's Clothes were black, and he had white Handcuffs'.[86] The clearest evidence is from an unpublished trial of 1678 among the records in the Justiciary Court in Edinburgh:

'Margaret Lowis declaires that about Elevin years ago a man whom she thought to be ane Englishman that cured diseases in the countrey called [blank] Webb appeared to her in her own house and gave her a drink and told her that she would have children after the taking of that drink And declares that that man made her renunce her baptisme ... and declares that she thought that the man who made her doe these things wes the divill and that she has hade severall meitings with that man after she knew him to be the divill.... Margaret Smaill prisoner being examined anent the Cryme of witchcraft depones that having come into the house of Jannet Borthvick in Crightoun she saw a gentleman sitting with her, and they desyred her to sitt down and having sitten down the gentleman drank to her and she drank to him and therefter the said Jannet Borthvick told her that that gentleman was the divill and declares that at her desyre she renunced her baptisme and gave herself to the divill.'

At Borrowstowness in 1679 Annaple Thomson 'had a metting with the devill in your cwming betwixt Linlithgow and Borrowstownes, where the devil, in the lyknes of ane black man, told yow, that yow wis ane poore puddled bodie.... And yow the said Annaple had ane other metting, and he inveitted yow to go alongst, and drink with him'. The same devil met Margaret Hamilton 'and conversed with yow at the town-well of Borrowstownes, and several tymes in yowr awin howss, and drank severall choppens of ale with you'.[87] The Renfrewshire trials of 1696 show that all Mrs. Fulton's grandchildren saw the same personage; Elizabeth Anderson, at the age of seven, 'saw a black grim Man go in to her Grandmothers House'; James Lindsay, aged fourteen, 'met his Grandmother with a black grim Man'; and little Thomas Lindsay was awaked by his grandmother 'one Night out of his Bed, and caused him take a Black Grimm Gentleman (as she called him) by the Hand'.[88] At Pittenweem, in 1704, 'this young Woman Isobel Adams [acknowledged] her compact with the Devil, which she says was made up after this manner, viz. That being in the House of the said Beatie Laing, and a Man at the end of the Table, Beatie proposes to Isobel, that since she would not Fee and Hire with her, that she would do it, with the Man at the end of the Table; And accordingly Isobel agreed to it, and spoke with the Man at that time in General terms. Eight days after, the same Person in Appearance comes to her, and owns that he was the Devil.'[89] The latest instance is at Thurso in 1719, where the Devil met Margaret Nin-Gilbert 'in the way in the likeness of a man, and engaged her to take on with him, which she consented to; and she said she knew him to be the devil or he parted with her'.[90]

In Ireland one of the earliest known trials for ritual witchcraft occurred in 1324, the accused being the Lady Alice Kyteler. She was said to have met the Devil, who was called Robin son of Artis, 'in specie cuiusdam aethiopis cum duobus sociis ipso maioribus et longioribus'.[91]

In France also there is a considerable amount of evidence. The earliest example is in 1430, when Pierronne, a follower of Joan of Arc, was put to death by fire as a witch. She persisted to the end in her statement, which she made on oath, that God appeared to her in human form and spoke to her as friend to friend, and that the last time she had seen him he was clothed in a scarlet cap and a long white robe.[92] Estebene de Cambrue of the parish of Amou in 1567 said that the witches danced round a great stone, 'sur laquelle est assis un grand homme noir, qu'elles appellent Monsieur'.[93] Jeanne Hervillier of Verberie near Compiegne, in 1578, daughter of a witch who had been condemned and burnt, 'confessa qu'a l'aage de douze ans sa mere la presenta au diable, en forme d'vn grand homme noir, & vestu de noir, botte, esperonne, auec vne espee au coste, & vn cheual noir a la porte'.[94] Francoise Secretain of Saint Claud in 1598 stated 'qu'elle s'estoit donnee au Diable, lequel auoit lors la semblance d'vn grand homme noir'; Thievenne Paget, from the same district, 'racontoit que le Diable s'apparut a elle la premiere fois en plein midy, en forme d'vn grand homme noir'; and Antide Colas 'disoit, que Satan s'apparut a elle en forme d'vn homme, de grande stature, ayant sa barbe & ses habillemens noirs'.[95] Jeanne d'Abadie, in the Basses-Pyrenees, 1609, 'dit qu'elle y vid le Diable en forme d'homme noir & hideux, auec six cornes en la teste, parfois huict'.[96] Silvain Nevillon, tried at Orleans in 1614, 'dit que le Sabbat se tenoit dans vne maison, ou il vit a la cheminee come ledit Sabbat se faisoit, vn homme noir, duquel on ne voyoit point la teste. Vit aussi vn grand homme noir a l'opposite de celuy de la cheminee. Dit que les deux Diables qui estoient au Sabbat, l'vn s'appelloit l'Orthon, & l'autre Traisnesac.'[97] Two sisters were tried in 1652: one 'dict avoir trouve ung diable en ghuise d'ung home a pied'; the other said that 'il entra dans sa chambre en forme d'ung chat par une fenestre et se changea en la posture d'un home vestu de rouge'.[98]

In Belgium, Digna Robert, 1565, met 'un beau jeune homme vetu d'une casaque noire, qui etait le diable, et se nommait Barrebon.... A la Noel passee, un autre diable, nomme Crebas, est venu pres d'elle.' Elisabeth Vlamynx of Ninove in the Pays d'Alost, 1595, was accused 'que vous avez, avant comme apres le repas, vous septieme ou huitieme, danse sous les arbres en compagnie de votre Belzebuth et d'un autre demon, tous deux en pourpoint blanc a la mode francaise'. Josine Labyns in 1664, aged about forty: 'passe dix-neuf ans le diable s'est offert a vos yeux, derriere votre habitation, sous la figure d'un grand seigneur, vetu en noir et portant des plumes sur son chapeau.'[99]

In the copper mines of Sweden, 1670, the Devil appeared as a minister.[100] In the province of Elfdale in the same year his dress was not the usual black of that period: 'He used to appear, but in different Habits; but for the most part we saw him in a gray Coat, and red and blue Stockings; he had a red Beard, a high-crown'd Hat, with Linnen of divers colours wrapt about it, and long Garters upon his Stockings.'[101] This is not unlike the costume of Thom Reid as described, more than a century before, by Bessie Dunlop.

In America the same evidence is found. At Hartford, 1662, 'Robert Sterne testifieth as followeth: I saw this woman goodwife Seager in ye woods with three more women and with them I saw two black creatures like two Indians but taller'; and Hugh Crosia 'sayd ye deuell opned ye dore of eben booths hous made it fly open and ye gate fly open being asked how he could tell he sayd ye deuell apeered to him like a boye and told him hee ded make them fly open and then ye boye went out of his sight.'[102] Elizabeth Knap at Groton, 1671, 'was with another maid yt boarded in ye house, where both of them saw ye appearance of a mans head and shoulders, w^th a great white neckcloath, looking in at ye window, which shee hath since confessed, was ye Devill coming to her.—One day as shee was alone in a lower roome she looked out of ye window, and saw ye devill in ye habit of an old man, coming over a great meadow.'[103] At Salem, 1692, Mary Osgood saw him as a black man who presented a book; and Mary Lacey described him as a black man in a high-crowned hat.[104]

The evidence suggests that an important part of the Devil's costume was the head-covering, which he appears to have worn both in and out of doors. Though the fact is not of special interest in itself, it may throw light on one of the possible origins of the cult.

In 1576 Bessie Dunlop met Thom Reid, who was clearly the Devil; he was 'ane honest wele elderlie man, gray bairdit, and had ane gray coitt with Lumbart slevis of the auld fassoun; ane pair of gray brekis and quhyte schankis, gartanit aboue the kne; ane blak bonet on his heid, cloise behind and plane befoir, with silkin laissis drawin throw the lippis thairof.'[105] At North Berwick in 1590, 'the deuell, cled in a blak gown with a blak hat vpon his head, preachit vnto a gret nomber of them.'[106] Another description of the same event shows that 'the Devil start up in the pulpit, like a mickle black man clad in a black tatie gown; and an evil-favoured scull-bonnet on his head'.[107] At Aberdeen in 1597 Ellen Gray described the Devil as 'ane agit man, beirdit, with a quhyt gown and a thrummit hat'.[108] In 1609, in the Basses-Pyrenees, when the Devil appeared as a goat, 'on luy voit aussi quelque espece de bonet ou chapeau au dessus de ses cornes.'[109] The Alloa Coven in 1658 spoke of 'a man in broun clathis and ane blak hat'; and on two occasions of 'a young man with gray cloathis and ane blew cap'.[110] In 1661 Janet Watson of Dalkeith 'was at a Meitting in Newtoun-dein with the Deavill, who had grein cloathes vpone him, and ane blak hatt vpone his head'.[111] Five members of the Coven at Crook of Devon in 1662 spoke of the Devil's head-gear: 'Sathan was in the likeness of a man with gray cloathes and ane blue bannet, having ane beard. Ane bonnie young lad with ane blue bonnet. Ane uncouth man with black clothes with ane hood on his head. Sathan had all the said times black coloured cloathes and ane blue bonnet being an unkie like man. Ane little man with ane blue bonnet on his head with rough gray cloathes on him.'[112] In 1662 in Connecticut Robert Sterne saw 'two black creatures like two Indians, but taller';[113] as he was at a little distance it is probable that he took a plumed or horned head-dress to be the same as the Indian head-gear. In Belgium in 1664 Josine Labyns saw the Devil wearing a plumed hat.[114] In Somerset in 1665 Mary Green said that when he met the witches 'the little Man put his hand to his Hat, saying How do ye, speaking low but big'.[115] At Torryburn Lilias Adie said that the light was sufficient to 'shew the devil, who wore a cap covering his ears and neck'.[116] In Sweden in 1670 the Devil came 'in a gray Coat, and red and blue Stockings, he had a red Beard, a high-crown'd Hat, with Linnen of divers colours wrapt about, and long Garters upon his Stockings'.[117] At Pittenweem in 1670 the young lass Isobel Adams saw the Devil as 'a man in black cloaths with a hat on his head, sitting at the table' in Beatty Laing's house.[118]

(b) Woman

The Queen of Elphin, or Elfhame, is sometimes called the Devil, and it is often impossible to distinguish between her and the Devil when the latter appears as a woman. Whether she was the same as the French Reine du Sabbat is equally difficult to determine. The greater part of the evidence regarding the woman-devil is from Scotland.

In 1576 Bessie Dunlop's evidence shows that Thom Reid, who was to her what the Devil was to witches, was under the orders of the Queen of Elfhame:

'Interrogat, Gif sche neuir askit the questioun at him, Quhairfoir he com to hir mair [than] ane vthir bodye? Ansuerit, Remembring hir, quhen sche was lyand in child-bed-lair, with ane of her laiddis, that ane stout woman com in to hir, and sat doun on the forme besyde hir, and askit ane drink at her, and sche gaif hir; quha alsua tauld hir, that that barne wald de, and that hir husband suld mend of his seiknes. The said Bessie ansuerit, that sche remembrit wele thairof; and Thom said, That was the Quene of Elfame his maistres, quha had commandit him to wait vpoun hir, and to do hir gude. Confessit and fylit.'[119]

In 1588 Alison Peirson 'was conuict for hanting and repairing with the gude nychtbouris and Quene of Elfame, thir diuers [3]eiris bypast, as scho had confest be hir depositiounis, declaring that scho could nocht say reddelie how lang scho wes with thame; and that scho had freindis in that court quhilk wes of hir awin blude, quha had gude acquentence of the Quene of Elphane. And that scho saw nocht the Quene thir seuin [3]eir.'[120] In 1597 at Aberdeen Andro Man was accused that

'thriescoir yeris sensyne or thairby, the Devill, thy maister, come to thy motheris hous, in the liknes and scheap of a woman, quhom thow callis the Quene of Elphen, and was delyverit of a barne, as apperit to the their, thow confessis that be the space of threttie two yeris sensyn or thairby, thow begud to have carnall deall with that devilische spreit, the Quene of Elphen, on quhom thow begat dyveris bairnis, quhom thow hes sene sensyn.... Thow confessis that the Devill, thy maister, quhom thow termes Christsonday, and supponis to be ane engell, and Goddis godsone, albeit he hes a thraw by God, and swyis [sways] to the Quene of Elphen, is rasit be the speaking of the word Benedicite.... Siclyk, thow affermis that the Quene of Elphen hes a grip of all the craft, bot Christsonday is the gudeman, and hes all power vnder God.... Vpon the Ruidday in harvest, in this present yeir, quhilk fell on a Wedinsday, thow confessis and affermis, thow saw Christsonday cum out of the snaw in liknes of a staig, and that the Quene of Elphen was their, and vtheris with hir, rydand on quhyt haikneyes, and that thay com to the Binhill and the Binlocht, quhair thay vse commonlie to convene, and that thay quha convenis with thame kissis Christsonday and the Quene of Elphenis airss. Thow affermis that the quene is verray plesand, and wilbe auld and young quhen scho pleissis; scho mackis any kyng quhom scho pleisis, and lyis with any scho lykis'.[121]

Another Aberdeen witch, Marion Grant, was accused in the same year and confessed, 'that the Devill, thy maister, quhome thow termes Christsonday, causit the dans sindrie tymes with him and with Our Ladye, quha, as thow sayes, was a fine woman, cled in a quhyt walicot'.[122] In Ayrshire in 1605 Patrick Lowrie and Jonet Hunter were accused that they 'att Hallowevin assemblit thame selffis vpon Lowdon-hill, quhair thair appeirit to thame are devillische Spreit, in liknes of ane woman, and callit hir selff Helen Mcbrune'.[123] In the Basses-Pyrenees in 1609, one could 'en chasque village trouuer vne Royne du Sabbat, que Sathan tenoit en delices come vne espouse priuilegiee'.[124] At the witch-mass the worshippers 'luy baisent la main gauche, tremblans auec mille angoisses, & luy offrent du pain, des [oe]ufs, & de l'argent: & la Royne du Sabbat les recoit, laquelle est assise a son coste gauche, & en sa main gauche elle tient vne paix ou platine, dans laquelle est grauee l'effigie de Lucifer, laquelle on ne baise qu'apres l'auoir premierement baisee a elle'.[125] In 1613 the Lancashire witch, Anne Chattox, made a confused statement as to the sex of the so-called spirits; it is however quite possible that the confusion is due to the recorder, who was accustomed to consider all demons as male: 'After their eating, the Deuill called Fancie, and the other Spirit calling himselfe Tibbe, carried the remnant away: And she sayeth that at their said Banquet, the said Spirits gaue them light to see what they did, and that they were both shee Spirites and Diuels.'[126] In 1618 at Leicester Joan Willimott 'saith, that shee hath a Spirit which shee calleth Pretty, which was giuen vnto her by William Berry of Langholme in Rutlandshire, whom she serued three yeares; and that her Master when he gaue it vnto her, willed her to open her mouth, and hee would blow into her a Fairy which should doe her good; and that shee opened her mouth, and he did blow into her mouth; and that presently after his blowing, there came out of her mouth a Spirit, which stood vpon the ground in the shape and forme of a Woman, which Spirit did aske of her her Soule, which she then promised vnto it, being willed thereunto by her Master.'[127] William Barton was tried in Edinburgh about 1655:

'One day, says he, going from my own house in Kirkliston, to the Queens Ferry, I overtook in Dalmeny Muire, a young Gentlewoman, as to appearance beautiful and comely. I drew near to her, but she shunned my company, and when I insisted, she became angry and very nyce. Said I, we are both going one way, be pleased to accept of a convoy. At last after much entreaty she grew better natured, and at length came to that Familiarity, that she suffered me to embrace her, and to do that which Christian ears ought not to hear of. At this time I parted with her very joyful. The next night, she appeared to him in that same very place, and after that which should not be named, he became sensible, that it was the Devil. Here he renounced his Baptism, and gave up himself to her service, and she called him her beloved, and gave him this new name of Iohn Baptist, and received the Mark.'[128]

At Forfar in 1662 Marjorie Ritchie 'willingly and friely declared that the divill appeired to her thrie severall tymes in the similitud of a womane, the first tyme in on Jonet Barrie's house, the second tyme whyle she was putting vp lint in the companie of the said Jonet, and that the divill did take her by the hand at that tyme, and promised that she should never want money; and therafter that the divill appeired to her in the moiss of Neutoune of Airly, wher and when she did renunce her baptism'.[129] In 1670 Jean Weir, sister of the notorious Major Weir, gave an account of how she entered the service of the Devil; the ceremony began as follows: 'When she keeped a school at Dalkeith, and teached childering, ane tall woman came to the declarants hous when the childering were there; and that she had, as appeared to her, ane chyld upon her back, and on or two at her foot; and that the said woman desyred that the declarant should imploy her to spick for her to the Queen of Farie, and strik and battle in her behalf with the said Queen (which was her own words).'[130] Among the Salem witches in 1692, 'this Rampant Hag, Martha Carrier, was the person, of whom the Confessions of the Witches, and of her own Children among the rest, agreed, That the Devil had promised her, she should be Queen of Hell.[131]

3. Identification

As it is certain that the so-called 'Devil' was a human being, sometimes disguised and sometimes not, the instances in which these persons can be identified are worth investigating. In most cases these are usually men, and the names are often given, but it is only in the case of the Devil of North Berwick that the man in question is of any historic importance; the others are simply private individuals of little or no note.

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