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her bishops contributed much to the enactment of the laws against witchcraft, that the immense majority of the clergy firmly believed in the reality of the crime, and that they continued to assert and to defend it when the great bulk of educated laymen had abandoned it. It is also true that the scepticism on the subject of witches arose among those who were least governed by the Church, advanced with the decline of the influence of the clergy, and was commonly branded as a phase and manifestation of infidelity. Yet, on the other hand, it is impossible to deny that the general moderation of the higher clergy was beyond all praise, and that even those who were most credulous were singularly free from that thirst of blood which was elsewhere so common. On the Continent, every attempt to substitute a lighter punishment for death was fiercely denounced as a direct violation of the Divine law. Indeed, some persons went so far as to question the lawfulness of strangling the witch before she was burnt. Her crime, they said, was treason against the Almighty, and therefore to punish it by any but the most agonizing deaths was an act of disrespect to Him. Besides, the penalty in the Levitical code was stoning, and stoning had been pronounced by the Jewish theologians to be a still more painful death than the stake. Nothing of this kind was found in England. There is, as far as I am aware, not a single instance of the English clergy complaining of the leniency of the laws upon the subject, or attempting to introduce torture into the trials. Their zeal in stimulating the persecution by exorcisms and fanatical preaching, was also comparatively languid. As early as the reign of James I., the Convocation made a canon prohibiting any clergyman from exorcising a possessed person, without a license from his bishop, and such licenses were
Bodin, p. 217.
scarcely ever granted.' Dr. Morton, a bishop of Lichfield, in 1620, employed himself with great, and at last successful, zeal in detecting a case of imposture in a witch story which was believed by a Catholic priest,' and he succeeded in saving the life of the accused. At a still earlier period, Dr. Harsnet, who was afterwards Archbishop of York, in an attack upon ‘Popish impostures,' boldly enumerated among them most of the forms of witchcraft,' and appears to have been entirely incredulous on the subject. He was undoubtedly wrong in ascribing witchcraft to Catholicism, for it flourished at least as vigorously under the shadow of Puritanism; yet the expression of so bold an opinion is well worthy of notice, and was, I believe, at the time it was written, a unique phenomenon among the English clergy. Hutchinson himself wrote his history before the belief was entirely extinct.
But that which shows most strikingly the moderation of the Anglican clergy, is the comparatively small amount of delusion which the history of English witchcraft presents. On the Continent, there was undoubtedly much imposition ; but, for the most part, the subject presents rather the aspect of an epidemic or a mania. The religious terrorism acted on diseased imaginations, coloured every form of madness, and predisposed the minds of men to solve every difficulty by a supernatural hypothesis. In England, on the other hand, imposture appears the general characteristic. The books on
Ibid. 4 I, at least, have not been able to find any other case; but Sir Kenelm Digby, in his annotation to the passage from Sir Thomas Browne, which I have before quoted, says of the belief: There are divines of great note, and far from any suspicion of being irreligious, that do not oppose it.' The book of Dr. Harsnet is, I believe, rare. I only know it by the copious extracts in Hutchinson. There is a notice of its author in Neal's Hist. of the Puritans.
the subject are full of cases of jugglers’ tricks;' and, with the exception of the period when the Puritans were in the ascendant, it never seems to have assumed the appearance of a great and general panic. Indeed, in most of its worst manifestations, the fanaticism of Puritanism was manifested.”
In England, that fanaticism was bridled and repressed. There was one country, however, in which it obtained an absolute ascendancy. There was one country in which the Puritan ministers succeeded in moulding alike the character and the habits of the nation, and in disseminating their harsh and gloomy tenets through every section of society. While England was breaking loose from her most ancient superstitions, and advancing with gigantic strides along the paths of knowledge, Scotland still cowered in helpless subjection before her clergy. Never was a mental servitude more complete, and never was a tyranny maintained with more inexorable barbarity. Supported by public opinion, the Scottish ministers succeeded in overawing all opposition, in prohibiting the faintest expression of adverse opinions, in prying into and controlling the most private concerns of domestic life ; in compelling every one to conform absolutely to all the ecclesiastical regulations they enjoined; and in, at last, directing the whole scope and current of legislation. They maintained their ascendancy over the popular mind by a system of religious terrorism, which we can now barely conceive. The misery of man, the anger of the Almighty, the fearful power and continual presence of Satan, the agonies of hell, were the constant subjects of their preaching. All the most ghastly forms of human suffering were accumulated as faint images of the eternal doom of the immense majority of mankind. Countless miracles were represented as taking place within the land, but they were almost all of them miracles of terror. Disease, storm, famine, every awful calamity that fell upon mankind, or blasted the produce of the soil, was attributed to the direct intervention of spirits; and Satan himself was represented as constantly appearing in a visible form upon the earth.' Such teaching produced its natural effects. In a land where credulity was universal, in a land where the intellect was numbed and palsied by these awful contemplations, where almost every form of amusement was suppressed, and where the thoughts of men were concentrated with an undivided energy on theological conceptions, such teaching necessarily created the superstition of witchcraft. Witchcraft was but one form of the panic it produced ; it was but the reflection by a diseased imagination of the popular theology. We accordingly find that it assumed the most frightful proportions and the darkest character. In other lands, the superstition was at least mixed with much of imposture; in Scotland it appears to have been entirely undiluted. It was produced by the teaching of the clergy, and it was everywhere fostered by their persecution. Eagerly, passionately, with a thirst for blood that knew no mercy, with a zeal that never tired, did they accomplish their task.
1 See Scott's Discovery, passim.
? Sir W. Scott has well noticed this influence of Puritanism ou English witchcraft; and, in comparing the different sections of the Church, he says, "On the whole, the Calvinists, generally speaking, were, of all the contending sects, the most suspicious of sorcery, the most undoubting believers in its existence, and the most eager to follow it up with what they conceived to be the due punishment of the most fearful of crimes.' (Demonology and Witchcraft, Letter 8.)
? I need hardly refer to the noble description of the Scotch Kirk in Buckle's History--a description the substantial justice of which will be questioned by no one who is acquainted with the history of Scotch witchcraft. On the multitude of miracles and apparitions of Satan that were believed, see pp. 349–369.
? The very remarkable fact, that no cases of imposture have been detected in Scotch witch-trials, is noted by Buckle, vol. ii. pp. 189, 190.
Assembled in solemn synod, the college of Aberdeen, in 1603, enjoined every minister to take two of the elders of his parish to make 'a subtle and privy inquisition,' and to question all the parishioners upon oath as to their knowledge of witches.' Boxes were placed in the churches for the express purpose of receiving the accusations. When a woman had fallen under suspicion, the minister from the pulpit denounced her by name, exhorted his parishioners to give evidence against her, and prohibited any one from sheltering her. In the same spirit, he exerted the power which was given him by a parochial organisation, elaborated perhaps more skilfully than any other in Europe. Under these circumstances, the witchcases seem to have fallen almost entirely into the hands of the clergy. They were the leading commissioners. Before them the confessions were taken. They were the acquiescing witnesses or the directors of the tortures by which those confessions were elicited.*
And when we read the nature of these tortures, which were worthy of an oriental imagination; when we remember that they were inflicted, for the most part, on old and feeble and half-doting women, it is difficult to repress a feeling of the deepest abhorrence for those men who caused and who encouraged them. If the witch was obdurate, the first, and it was said the most effectual, method of obtaining confession was by what was termed “waking her.' An iron bridle or hoop was
+ Dalyell, Darker Superstitions of Scotland, p. 624. ? Ibid. p. 623.
3 Ibid. p. 624, &c. * See on this subject Pitcairn's Criminal Trials of Scotland, a vast repository of original documents on the subject. Pitcairn gives numbers of these confessions. He adds, "The confessions were commonly taken before presby. teries, or certain special commissioners, who usually ranked among their number the leading clergy of those districts where their hapless victims resided.' (Vol. iii. p. 598.)