"THERE'S WITCHCRAFT IN PENNSYLVANIA AND WHEREVER ELSE YOU WANT TO FIND IT--IN AMERICA!" "Preposterous;" "I don't believe it;" "Impossible;" "Nothing to it;" "Well, I know where;" "They say it's true;" "She's an old Witch," or, "He's a Devil"--sayings like these may be heard on all sides when a subject such as this is brought up.
"There may have been 'witchcraft' of a sort a few generations ago, but is this still practiced among the Pennsylvania Germans?" is not an uncommon query when strangers come into the Keystone State.
Quite often, yes, more frequently than not, you will get an affirmative reply from those who profess to know something about such matters. Furthermore, there is considerable basis in fact for the general belief that "witchcraft" still prevails in one of the most enlightened states and sections of the country.
But why does it "hang on?"
Why?--Persistency in any form of witchcraft as it prevails in the minds of men and women today, is that they haven't taken steps to inquire into the subject--as to whether there is really any such thing as a "witch," and, what it might be.
Let us carefully examine what we can learn about them, as defined in the "Century Dictionary:"
Witch, n. A man or woman. 1. A person (of either sex) given to the black art; a sorcerer; a conjuror; a wizard; later and more particularly, a woman supposed to have formed a compact with the devil or with evil spirits, and to be able by their aid to operate supernaturally; one who practises sorcery or enchantment; a sorceress.
2. An old, ugly, and crabbed or malignant woman; a hag; a crone: a term of abuse.
3. A fascinating woman; a woman, especially a young woman or a girl, possessed of peculiar attractions, whether of beauty or of manners; a bewitching or charming young woman or girl.
4. A charm or spell.
The reader will note, and it may be generally recognized that not only an ugly woman, but a young, attractive one, too, can bewitch, or be bewitching; i. e., "do things to you!" This is a radical departure from the general belief that only old women, or sometimes old men, can "bewitch."
These refer to witches in the flesh; then there are those which cannot be seen, but according to some people, can be felt; i. e., can do bodily harm, though they are only of the "spirit."
The "Century Dictionary" says still further, regarding an
Apparition, n. An appearance, epiphany, also attendants. 1. The act of appearing or coming into sight; appearance; the state of being visible; visibility. 2. That which appears or becomes visible; an appearance, especially of a remarkable or phenomenal kind. Specifically--3. A ghostly appearance; a specter or phantom: now the usual sense of the word.
It will serve to keep the record straight to review briefly the meaning of
Superstition, n. An ignorant or irrational fear of that which is unknown or mysterious; especially, such fear of some invisible existence or existences; specifically, religious belief or practice, or both, founded on irrational fear or credulity; excessive or unreasonable religious scruples produced by credulous fears.
"Where there is any religion, the devil will plant superstition," says Burton, in "Anatomy of Melancholy."
Lowell says, in "Among My Books," first series, (p. 92): "A superstition, as it's name imports, is something that has been left over, like unfinished business, from one session of the world's witenagemot to the next."
One cannot be sure at all as to how many sessions of the world's "witenagemot" we have already had, but, whatever the number, we still have the fears of men and women, scarcely alleviated in all the history of the world. After life, death--then what? We have assurances of all kinds, to be sure, but, as individuals we have yet to test these assurances!
The philosophy of many centuries that instilled both hope and fear into the heart of man, left him with the two well known spirits to swing and sway his thoughts, as we see the swaying of leaves on the trees.
Frankly, can there be any religion or philosophy which does not preach or teach that there is good and bad, both?--that if we have "angels" we must have "witches" or some other equivalent to offset the other force?
We have in Pennsylvania, and in America, many men and women who belong to the same church as their parents and grandparents, which brings out the thought we have in mind, viz: "What was good enough for them is good enough for me!"
Mosaic Influence Still Impelling.--Our social and religious backgrounds are primarily Mosaic--where-ever we find ourselves in the Western civilization. Yet Moses, whoever he was, had to rescue what he could in philosophy and truth from a past fraught with pagan ideas. Many of those old pagan ideas are today still our ideas.
It requires little knowledge to satisfy the average person that it is very difficult, if not impossible to put one's fingers on a "spirit" (or a "soul")--yet, isn't that what we do when we "dissect" such ideas as witches, angels, and souls, and tell our friends that we have been, or others have been "visited" by angels, or witches--or that a "certain soul" actually went to heaven, or to hell?
It is a certainty that men and women over-imagine too many ideas dealing with things and ideas, not actually of the solid earth; or that cannot be taken apart and analyzed.
As defined by the dictionary, we, too, are in hearty accord in the conclusion that witchcraft is derived from "suppositions," "suggestions," "imaginations," or "pipe-dreams" of simple folk.
Now "simple folk" are not always to be indicated as being persons who do not agree with the personal views of the reader, or the writer!
There are many professional men and women whose manners and conduct in life suggest to the layman that there can be "simpleness" among the learned, too!