Spain and Italy, particularly Italy, were the countries in which the science was most flourishing, and in which it was taught most efficiently, and thither all, who wished to become adepts in it, went. Its study was carried on in dark rooms under famous teachers; and, on leaving the class-rooms, the students had to pass through a long black passage at the end of which stood the prince of darkness watching to catch the last one. No sooner had the last word of the professor's lecture been spoken than out rushed the students, and made for the light pell-mell through the black passage shouting "Deel tack the hinmost!" The devil, on one occasion, clutched at a student; he met one who was more than a match for him. The student called out, "There is another behind me!" His sable majesty looked first to this side, and then to that. He saw what seemed a man; he rushed upon it and seized it. It was the student's shadow. Ever after the student was shadowless.
It was believed that many went further than the students of "Black Art," and actually made compacts with the devil. Such a compact was made at midnight in some lonely churchyard, or amid the ruins of some castle. Those who did so, were they men or women, became bound to give themselves up soul and body to Satan at the end of a certain number of years, on a fixed day, and at a fixed hour, or at the time of their death. For this they received power to do almost everything man could conceive--to control the elements, to send disease on man or beast, to make crops unfruitful, to destroy them by wind or rain, to amass as much wealth as they wished to spend upon their evil passions--in short, to do what wicked work they set their minds to. A wild wanton life did such lead, often with the appearance of unbounded wealth and happiness far beyond the reach of most men. Their whole time seemed one round of success and joy.
The time fixed by the contract might be prolonged, but, if the contract was not renewed, go they must at the hour appointed.
A man had made such a contract. He had, to all appearance, lived a life of comfort and success. The time for him to go drew very near. When he began to think of his doom, horror took hold of him. He told his terrible secret to some of his friends. They did what they could to cheer him, and make him forget it. On the last night they met with him, and kept him surrounded, persuading him and themselves that, if it should come to the worst, they would be able to defend him. Hour after hour passed, and they begin to think that the devil had forgotten. The appointed hour came. Next moment a knock was heard at the door. All eyes were turned to it. It opened, and in stalked the devil. There was no delay. He rushed upon his thrall, and both disappeared in fire, leaving behind them nothing but smoke and stench.
At times a few of like thought and manner of life joined together, and made a compact with the prince of darkness. They took the name of "The Hell-fire Club." They met at night among the ruins of some old castle, or in a vault of it, if such
was still entire. For hours they carried on their orgies, drinking, swearing, scoffing at the Bible, turning everything sacred into ridicule, and putting God Himself to defiance. To crown all, once a year in the darkness of the night, in their usual meeting-place, they partook of the Communion in the devil's name, and renewed their contract with him. Such men were noted for their drunken, debauched, reckless, defiant lives. It was said of them that most of them commonly came to ail untimely end. This one was drowned; the next one was thrown from a horse; this other one in a fit of remorse put an end to his days by hanging himself; and another, by drowning himself. Such of them as did die a natural death were seized with some terrible disease, and, after the greatest sufferings, passed away in agony of soul and body, cursing God and man with their last breath. Vengeance in some way or other overtook them all. 1
75:1 Cf. Henderson, p. 279.