Perhaps no better statement of the theory of witch-persecution, as it came to be accepted in all lands and by all shades of faith throughout Christendom, can anywhere be found than that of the Rev. Cotton Mather in a sermon which did much to make that theory known and effective in New England. The sermon, preached in Boston in 1689, was speedily printed, under the title of A Discourse on Witchcraft, in Mather's Memorable Providences relating to Witchcraft and Possessions (Boston, 1689). This book, "recommended by the Ministers of Boston and Charleston," was in no small degree responsible for the great Salem persecution, which broke out in 1692.
Cotton Mather: Memorable Providences relating to Witchcrafts and Possessions (Boston, 1689), pp. 4-9 of "A Discourse on Witchcraft." English.
Such an Hellish thing there is as Witchcraft in the World. There are Two things which will be desired for the advantage of this Assertion. It should first be show'd,
WHAT Witchcraft is;
My Hearers will not expect from me an accurate Definition of the vile Thing; since the Grace of God has given me the Happiness to speak without Experience of it. But from Accounts both by Reading and Hearing I have learn'd to describe it so.
WITCHCRAFT is the Doing of Strange (and for the most part Ill) Things by the help of evil Spirits, Covenanting with (and usually Representing of ) the woful children of men.
This is the Diabolical Art that Witches are notorious for.
First. Witches are the Doers of Strange Things. They cannot indeed perform any proper Miracles; those are things to be done only by the Favourites and Embassadours of the LORD. But Wonders are often produced by them, though chiefly such Wonders as the Apostle calls in 2. Thes. 2. 9. Lying wonders. There are wonderful Storms in the great World, and wonderful Wounds in the little World, 1 often effected by these evil Causes. They do things which transcend the ordinary Course of Nature, and which puzzle the ordinary Sense of Mankind. Some strange things are done by them in a way of Real Production. They do really Torment, they do really Afflict those that their Spite shall extend unto. Other Strange Things are done by them in a way of Crafty Illusion. They do craftily make of the Air, the
Figures and Colours of things that never can be truly created by them. All men might see, but, I believe, no man could feel, some of the Things which the Magicians of Egypt exhibited of old.
Secondly. They are not only strange Things, but Ill Things, that Witches are the Doers of. In this regard also they are not the Authors of Miracles: those are things commonly done for the Good of Man, alwaies done for the Praise of God. But of these Hell-hounds it may in a special manner be said, as in Psal. 52, 3. Thou lovest evil more than good. For the most part they labour to robb Man of his Ease or his Wealth; they labour to wrong God of His Glory. There is Mention of Creatures that they call White Witches, which do only Good-Turns for their Neighbours. I suspect that there are none of that sort; but rather think, There is none that doeth good, no, not one. If they do good, it is only that they may do hurt.
Thirdly. It is by virtue of evil Spirits that Witches do what they do. We read in Ephes. 2, 2. about the Prince of the power of the air. There is confined unto the Atmosphere of our Air a vast Power, or Army of Evil Spirits, under the Government of a Prince who employes them in a continual Opposition to the Designs of GOD: The Name of that Leviathan, who is the Grand-Seigniour of Hell, we find in the Scripture to be Belzebub. Under the Command of that mighty Tyrant, there are vast Legions & Myriads of Devils, whose Businesses & Accomplishments are not all the same. Every one has his Post, and his Work; and they are all glad of an opportunity to be mischievous in the World. These are they by whom Witches do exert their Devillish and malignant Rage upon their Neighbours: And especially Two Acts concur hereunto. The First is, Their Covenanting with the Witches. There is a most hellish League made between them, with various Rites and Ceremonies. The Witches promise to serve the Devils, and the Devils promise to help the witches; How? It is not convenient 1 to be related. The Second is, their Representing of the Witches. And hereby indeed these are drawn into Snares and Cords of Death. The Devils, when they go upon the Errands of the Witches, do bear their Names; and hence do Harmes too come to be carried from the Devils to the Witches. We need not suppose such a wild thing as the Transforming of those Wretches into Bruits or Birds, as we too often do.
It should next be proved THAT Witchcraft is.
The Being of such a thing is denied by many that place a great part of their small wit in derideing the Stories that are told of it. Their chief Argument is, That they never saw any Witches, therefore there are none. Just as if you or I should say, We never met with any Robbers on the Road, therefore there never was any Padding there.
Indeed the Devils are loath to have true Notions of Witches entertained with us. I have beheld them to put out the eyes of an enchaunted Child, when a Book that proves, There is Witchcraft, was laid before her. But there are especially Two Demonstrations that evince the Being of that Infernal mysterious thing.
First. We have the Testimony of Scripture for it. We find Witchcrafts often mentioned, sometimes by way of Assertion, sometimes by. way of Allusion, in the Oracles of God. Besides that, We have there the History of diverse Witches in these infallible and inspired Writings. Particularly, the Instance of the Witch at Endor, in 1 Sam. 28, 7. is so plain and full that Witchcraft it self is not a more amazing thing, than any Dispute about the Being of it, after this. The Advocates of Witches must use more Tricks to make Nonsense of the Bible, than ever the Witch of Endor used in her Magical Incantations, if they would evade the Force of that famous History. They that will believe no Witches, do imagine that Jugglers only are meant by them whom the Sacred Writ calleth so. But what do they think of that law in Exod. 22. 18. Thou shalt not suffer a Witch to live? Methinks 'tis a little too hard to punish every silly Juggler with so great Severity.
Secondly. We have the Testimony of Experience for it. What will those Incredulous, who must be the only Ingenious men, say to This? Many Witches have like those in Act. 19. 18. Confessed and shewed their Deeds. We see those things done, that it is impossible any Disease or any Deceit should procure. We see some hideous Wretches in hideous Horrours confessing, That they did the Mischiefs. This Confession is often made by them that are owners of as much Reason as the people that laugh at all Conceit of Witchcraft: the exactest Scrutiny of skilful Physicians cannot find any Distraction in their minds. This Confession is often made by them that are apart One from another, and yet they agree in all the Circumstances of it. This Confession is often made by them that at the same time will produce the Engines and Ensignes of their Hellish Trade, and give the standers-by an Ocular Conviction
of what they do, and how. There can he no Judgment left of any Humane Affairs, if such Confessions must be Ridiculed: all the Murders, yea, and all the Bargains in the World must be meer Imaginations if such Confessions are of no Account.
Bodin, De la Démonomanie des Sorciers, Paris, 1580 liv. iv, chap. 5. French.
Jean Bodin, jurist and statesman, was not only one of the most eminent European publicists of the sixteenth century, but one of the most rational and tolerant thinkers of his time. Yet even such a man could thus write "Of the punishments deserved by witches":
There are two means by which states are maintained in their weal and greatness--reward and penalty: the one for the good, the other for the bad. And, if the distribution of these two be faulty, nothing else is to be expected than the inevitable ruin of the state. . . .
But those greatly err who think that penalties are established only to punish crime. I hold that this is the least of the fruits which accrue therefrom to the state. For the greatest and the chief is the appeasing of the wrath of God, especially if the crime is directly against the majesty of God, as is this one. . . . Now, if there is any means to appease the wrath of God, to gain his blessing, to strike awe into some by the punishment of others, to preserve some from being infected by others, to diminish the number of evil-doers, to make Secure the life of the well-disposed, and to punish the most detestable crimes of which the human mind can conceive, it is to punish with the utmost rigor the witches . . . . 1 Now, it is not within the power of princes to pardon a crime which the law of God punishes with the penalty of death--such as are the crimes of witches. Moreover, princes do gravely insult God in pardoning such horrible crimes committed directly against his majesty, seeing that the pettiest prince avenges with death insults against himself. Those too who let the witches escape, or who do not punish them with the utmost rigor, may rest assured that they will lie abandoned by God to the mercy of the witches. And the country which shall tolerate this will be scourged with pestilences, famines, and wars; and those which shall take vengeance on the witches will be blessed by him and will make his anger to cease. Therefore it is that one accused
of being a witch ought never to be folly acquitted and set free unless the calumny of the accuser is clearer than the sun, inasmuch as the proof of such crimes is so obscure and so difficult that not one witch in a million would be accused or punished if the procedure were governed by the ordinary rules. . . .
2:1 i. e., in Man--the microcosm. The "great world" is the universe.
3:1 i. e., not seemly: perhaps because the details are too vile, perhaps because the preacher will not tempt his hearers.
5:1 Bodin then proceeds to enumerate fifteen distinct crimes, all horrid, of which every witch is guilty, and argues that, in default of proof, violent presumption should suffice for the sentence of witches to death.