The Witch-Cult in Western Europe, by Margaret Alice Murray, , at sacred-texts.com
THE cult was organized in as careful a manner as any other religious community; each district however was independent, and therefore Mather is justified in saying that the witches 'form themselves after the manner of Congregational Churches'.
The Chief or supreme Head of each district was known to the recorders as the 'Devil'. Below him in each district, one or more officers-according to the size of the district-were appointed by the chief. The officers might be either men or women; their duties were to arrange for meetings, to send out notices, to keep the record of work done, to transact the business of the community, and to present new members. Evidently these persons also noted any likely convert, and either themselves entered into negotiations or reported to the Chief, who then took action as opportunity served. At the Esbats the officer appears to have taken command in the absence of the Grand Master; at the Sabbaths the officers were merely heads of their own Covens, and were known as Devils or Spirits, though recognized as greatly inferior to the Chief. The principal officer acted as clerk at the Sabbath and entered the witches' reports in his book; if he were a priest or ordained minister, he often performed part of the religious service; but the Devil himself always celebrated the mass or sacrament. In the absence of all direct information on the subject, it seems likely that the man who acted as principal officer became Grand Master on the death of the previous Chief Occasionally the Devil appointed a personal attendant for himself, who waited upon him on all solemn occasions, but does not appear to have held any official position in the community.
[1. Cotton Mather, p. 160.]
Estebene de Cambrue (1567) said that 'elle a veu au Sabbat vn Notaire qu'elle nomme, lequel a accoustumé de leuer les defauts de celles qui ont manqué de se trouuer au Sabbat.' At the North Berwick meetings (1590), there were several officers, of whom Fian was the chief
'Robert Griersoun being namit, they all ran hirdie-girdie and wer angrie: for it wes promisit he sould be callit "Rot the Comptroller, alias Rob the Rowar," for expreming of his name.--Johnne Fiene wes ewer nerrest to the Devill, att his left elbok; Gray Meill kepit the dur.--The accusation of the saide Geillis Duncane aforesaide, who confessed he [Fian] was their Regester, and that there was not one man suffered to come to the Divels readinges but onelie hee.--[Fian's confession] That at the generall meetinges of those witches, he was always present; that he was clarke to all those that were in subiection to the Divels service, bearing the name of witches; that alway hee did take their oathes for their true service to the Divell; and that he wrote for them such matters as the Divell still pleased to commaund him.'
Elizabeth Southerns, otherwise known as old Mother Demdike (1613), 'was generall agent for the Deuill in all these partes'. The 'eminent warlok' Robert Grieve of Lauder (1649) 'was brought to a Confession of his being the Devils Officer in that Countrey for warning all Satans Vassals to come to the Meetings, where, and whensoever the Devil required. . . . The Devil gave him that charge, to be his Officer to warn all to the meetings; (as was said before,) in which charge he continued for the space of eighteen years and more.' The evidence concerning Isobel Shyrie at Forfar (1661) is too long to quote, but it is clear that she acted as the officer. Isobel Gowdie (1662) says definitely, 'Johne Young, in Mebestowne, is Officer to owr Coeven', and remarks in another part of her confession that 'Johne Yownge in Mebestowne, owr Officer, did drywe the plewghe'. The only indication of a change of personnel, is given by Janet Breadheid, of the same Coven as Isobel Gowdie.
[1. De Lancre, Tableau, p. 123.
2. Pitcairn, i, pt. ii, pp. 219, 220, 239, 240.
3. Potts, B 2.
4. Sinclair, pp. 46, 47.
5. Kinloch, pp. 124, 129.
6. Pitcairn, iii, pp. 603, 605.]
'Johne Taylor, my husband, was then Officer, bot Johne Young in Mebestoune, is now Officer to my Coeven. Quhan I cam first ther, the Divell called tham all be thair names, on the book; and my husband, than called thame at the door. . . . Whan we haid Great Meittingis, Walter Ledy, in Penick, my husband, and Alexander Elder, nixt to the Divell, wer Ruleris; and quhan ther wold be but fewar, I my self, the deceassit Jean Suthirland, Bessie Hay, Bessie Wilsone, and Janet Burnet wold rule thaim.'
In Somerset (1664) Anne Bishop appears to have been the chief personage under the Devil, in other words the Officer. At Paisley (1678) Bessie Weir 'was Officer to their several meetings.--Bessie Weir did intimate to him [John Stewart], that there was a meeting to be at his house the next day: And that the Devil under the shape of a black man, Margaret Jackson, Margery Craige, and the said Bessie Weir, were to be present. And that the said Bessie Weir required the Declarant to be there, which he promised.' In New England (1692) it appears that both Bridget Bishop and Martha Carrier held high rank, and were probably Officers.
One duty seems to have been delegated to a particular individual, who might perhaps hold no other office, or who might, on the other hand, be the chief official; this was the manager, often the leader, of the dance. As pace seems to have been an essential in the dance, the leader was necessarily active and generally young. At North Berwick (1590) 'John Fein mussiled led the ring'. In Aberdeen (1596) Thomas Leyis was the chief person in the dance; 'thow the said Thomas was formest and led the ring, and dang the said Kathren Mitchell, becaus scho spillet your dans, and ran nocht so fast about as the rest.' Isobel Cockie of the same Coven was next in importance; 'in the quhilk danse, thow was the ringleader nixt Thomas Leyis.' Mr. Gideon Penman (1678), who had once been minister at Crighton, went to the Sabbaths, where the Devil spoke of him as 'Mr. Gideon, my chaplain'. The witches said that 'ordinarily Mr. Gideon was
[1. Pitcairn, iii, p. 617.
2. Glanvil, pt. ii, pp. 139, 147, 148.
3. Id., pt. ii, pp. 291, 293.
4. Pitcairn, i, pt. iii, p. 246.
5. Spalding Club Misc., pp. 97, 98.
6. Ib., p. 115.
7. Fountainhall, i, p. 14.]
in the rear in all their dances, and beat up those that were slow'. This Mr. Gideon seems to be the same person as the 'warlock who formerly had been admitted to the ministrie in the Presbyterian times, and now he turnes a preacher under the devill.--This villan was assisting to Satan in this action' [giving the sacrament]' and in preaching."
The personal attendant of the Devil is rare. At Aberdeen (1596) Issobell Richie was accused that 'at that tyme thow ressauit thy honours fra the Dewyll, thy maister, and wer appoynted be him in all tymes thairefter, his speciall domestick servand and furriour'. John McWilliarn Sclater (1656) was appointed cloak-bearer to the Devil.
The Devil's piper was also an official appointment in Scotland, but does not occur elsewhere. John Douglas of Tranent (1659) was the Devil's piper and so also was a man mentioned by Sinclair: 'A reverend Minister told me, that one who was the Devils Piper, a wizzard confest to him, that at a Ball of dancing, the Foul Spirit taught him a Baudy song to sing and play.'
The Queen of the Sabbath may perhaps be considered as an official during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, though in early times she was probably the chief personage in the cult, as Pearson has pointed out. It is not unlikely that she was originally the same as the Queen of Elf hame; in Scotland, however, in the seventeenth century, there is a Maiden of the Coven, which was an important position in the Esbat but entirely distinct from the Queen of Faery, while in other places a woman, not the Queen, is often the officer and holds the highest place after the Grand Master.
Elizabeth Stile of Windsor (1579) said that 'mother Seidre dwelling in the Almeshouse, was the maistres Witche of all the reste'. Marion Grant of Aberdeen (1597) confessed that 'the Devill thy maister causit the dans sindrie tymes with him and with Our Ladye, quha, as thow sayes, was a fine woman, cled in a quhyte walicot'. In France (1609) the
[1. Law p. 145.
2. Spalding Club. Misc., i, p. 142.
3. Spottiswoode Misc., ii, p. 67.
4. Ib., ii, p. 68.
5. Sinclair, p. 219.
6. Pearson, ii, p. 26.
7. Rehearsall, par. 26.
8. Spalding Club Misc., i, p. 171.]
custom seems to have been universal, 'en chasque village trouuer vne Royne du Sabbat', who sat at the Devil's left hand during the celebration of the mass and received the offerings of the faithful. The witches called her both the Grande Maîtresse and the Reine du Sabbat. Isobel Gowdie's confession (1662) shows that the Queen of Elthame was not the same as the chief woman of the Coven, for she saw the Queen only on going into the fairy-howe, while the Maiden of the Coven was at each meeting. 'We doe no great mater without owr Maiden.--Quhan we ar at meat, or in any vther place quhateuir, the Maiden of each Coven sittis abow the rest, nixt the Divell.' In New England (1692) Deliverance Hobbs confessed that 'the said G.B. preached to them, and such a woman was their Deacon'.
The word coven is a derivative of 'convene', and is variously spelt coven, coeven, covine, cuwing, and even covey. The special meaning of the word among the witches is a 'band' or 'company', who were set apart for the practice of the rites of the religion and for the performance of magical ceremonies; in short, a kind of priesthood.
The Coven was composed of men and women, belonging to one district, though not necessarily all from one village, and was ruled by an officer under the command of the Grand Master. The members of the Coven were apparently bound to attend the weekly Esbat; and it was they who were instructed in and practised magical arts, and who performed all the rites and ceremonies of the cult. The rest of the villagers attended the Esbats when they could or when they felt so inclined, but did not necessarily work magic, and they attended the Sabbaths as a matter of course. This view of the organization of the religion is borne out by the common belief in modern France:
'Il est de croyance générale qu'il faut un nombre fixe de sorciers et de sorcières dans chaque canton. Le nouvel initié reprend les vieux papiers de l'ancien.--Les mauvaises
[1. De Lancre, L'Incredulité, p. 36.
2. Id., Tableau, p. 401.
3. Pitcairn, iii, pp. 610, 613.
4 Burr, p. 417.]
gens forment une confrérie qui est dirigée par une sorcière. Celle-ci a la jarretière comme marque de sa dignité. Elles se la transmettent successivement par rang d'ancienneté. Il n'existe que cette différence de rang entre les sorciers et les sorcières. Ceux-là se recrutent aussi bien parmi les gens mariés que chez les célibataires.'
The 'fixed number' among the witches of Great Britain seems to have been thirteen: twelve witches and their officer. The actual numbers can be obtained, as a rule, only when the full record of the trial is available; for when several witches in one district are brought to trial at the same time they will always be found to be members of a Coven, and usually the other members of the Coven are implicated or at least mentioned.
The earliest account of a Coven is in the trial of Bessie Dunlop (1567); when Thom Reid was trying to induce her to join the society, he took her 'to the kill-end, quhair he forbaid her to speik or feir for onye thing sche hard or saw; and quhene thai had gane ane lyfle pece fordwerd, sche saw twelf persounes, aucht wemene and four men: The men wer cled in gentilmennis clething, and the wemene had all plaiddis round about thame and wer verrie semelie lyke to se; and Thom was with thame.' Clearly this was a Coven with Thom as the Officer, and he had brought Bessie to see and be seen. The witches tried at St. Osyth in Essex in 1582 were thirteen in number. At the meeting of the North Berwick witches (1590) to consult on the means to compass the king's death, nine witches stood 'in ane cumpany', and the rest 'to the nowmer of threttie persons in ane vthir cumpany'; in other words, there were thirty-nine persons, or three Covens, present. At Aberdeen (1596-7) sixty-four names of witches occur in the trials; of these, seven were merely mentioned as being known to the accused, though not as taking part in the ceremonies, and five were acquitted; thus leaving fifty-two persons, or four Covens. Out of these fifty-two, one was
[1. Lemoine, La Tradition, 1892, vi, pp. 108, 109. The italics are in the original.
2. Pitcairn, i, pt. ii, p. 52.
3. Witches taken at St. Oses.
4. Pitcairn, i, pt. ii, p. 245.]
condemned and executed at the assize in 1596 and twelve in 1597, making in all thirteen persons, or one Coven, who were put to death. The great trial of the Lancashire witches in 1613 gives a grand total of fifty-two witches, or four Covens, whose names occur in the record. This includes the three Salmesbury witches mentioned by Grace Sowerbuts, whose evidence was discredited as being the outcome of a 'Popish plot' to destroy the three women as converts to the Reformed Church; but as the record shows that the other accused witches were tried on similar charges and condemned, it may be concluded that other causes occasioned the acquittal. Taking together, however, only those witches who are mentioned, in these trials, as having actually taken part in the ceremonies and practices of witchcraft in the neighbourhood of Pendle, it will be found that there were thirty-nine persons, or three Covens. In Guernsey in 1617 Isabel Becquet confessed that--
'at the Sabbath the Devil used to summon the Wizards and Witches in regular order (she remembered very well having heard him call the old woman Collette the first, in these terms: Madame the Old Woman Becquette): then the woman Fallaise; and afterwards the woman Hardie. Item, he also called Marie, wife of Massy, and daughter of the said Collette. Said that after them she herself was called by the Devil: in these terms: The Little Becquette: she also heard him call there Collas Becquet, son of the said old woman (who [Collas] held her by the hand in dancing, and some one [a woman] whom she did not know, held her by the other hand): there were about six others there she did not know.'
At Queensferry in 1644 thirteen women were tried and seven executed for witchcraft.
At Alloa (1658), though thirteen persons, or one Coven, were brought to trial, the word is used to indicate a smaller number: 'Margret Duchall lykewayis declared that ther was sex women mair besyd hir self that was in thair cuwing' [then follow the names of the six].--'Jonet Blak confessed severall meetings with the abowenamed cuwing.--Kathren Renny being asked quhat meetingis scho
[1. Spalding Club Misc., i, pp. 87 seq.
3. Goldsmid, p. 13. Translated from the French record.
4. Fyfe, p. 87.]
had with the diwell, and the rest of hir cuwing, scho ansuered scho had severall meitingis with all tham abowenamed.' Little Jonet Howat of Forfar (1661) said, 'Ther was thair present with the divell besyd hirselfe, quhom he callit the prettie dauncer, the said Issobell Syrie, Mairie Rynd, Hellen Alexander, Issobell Dorward, and utheris whoise names shoe did not know, to the number of 13 of all.' The trial of Jonet Kerr and Issobell Ramsay at Edinburgh (1661) gives the names of thirteen persons, or one Coven. At Crook of Devon (1662) there 'were tried twelve women and one man, i.e. one Coven. Isobel Gowdie of Auldearne (1662) gives the most detail concerning the Covens: 'Jean Mairten is Maiden of owr Coeven. Johne Younge is Officer to owr Coeven.--Ther ar threttein persons in ilk Coeven.' Her evidence shows that there were several Covens in the district:, The last tyme that owr Coven met, we, and an vther Coven, wer dauncing at the Hill of Earlseat, and befor that we ves beyond the Meikle-burne; and the vther Coven being at the Downie-hillis, we went besyd them.--[She and four others] with the Divell, wer onlie at the making of it [a charm], bot all the multitude of all owr Coevens got notice of it, at the next meitting . . . all my owin Coeven gott notice of it werie schortlie.' She also notes that each member of her Coven 'has an Sprit to wait wpon ws, quhan ve pleas to call wpon him'. Janet Breadheid, of the same Coven as Isobel Gowdie, gives the names of thirty-nine persons, or three Covens, who were present in the Kirk of Nairn when she was admitted into the Society. In Somerset (1664) the number of accused was twenty-six persons, or two Covens. At Newcastle-on-Tyne (1673) Ann Armstrong stated that at the meeting at the 'rideing house in the close on the common' she saw ten men and women whom she knew and 'thre more, whose names she knowes not'. At another meeting 'at Rideing Millne bridg-end she see the said Anne Forster, Anne Dryden, and
[1. Scottish Antiquary, ix, pp. 50-2.
2. Kinloch, p. 114.
3. From the record of the trial in the Edinburgh Justiciary Court.
4. Burns Begg, pp. 219 seq.
5. Pitcairn, iii, pp. 603-17.
6. Glanvil. pt. ii; pp. 140 seq.]
Luce Thompson, and tenne more, unknowne to her.--Att the house of John Newton off the Riding, the said Lucy wished that a boyl'd capon with silver scrues might come down to her and the rest, which were five coveys consisting of thirteen person in every covey. At a large meeting at Allensford, where a great many witches were present, 'every thirteen of them had a divell with them in sundry shapes.' It is also noticeable that Ann Armstrong mentions twenty-six persons by name as having been at various meetings to her knowledge. At Paisley (1692) thirteen persons of high position brought an action for libel against six others for saving that they, the thirteen, had drunk the Devil's health in the house of one of them; the libellers were punished, but the number of persons libelled suggests that the accusation' might have been true."'
An important part of the organization was the system of reporting to the Grand Master everything which had happened since the previous Great Assembly. The chief work of the Covens was the performance of magical rites, either publicly at the Esbats or privately in the houses of the witches and their neighbours. As these rites, especially when performed privately, were more or less in the nature of experiments, the results were reported and when successful were recorded in writing for future use. The book in which the records were made remained in the hands of the Devil, who in this way had always a store of well-tried magical spells and recipes to kill or cure, from which he could instruct his followers as occasion demanded.
The position of the Devil as the instructor of the witches is to be found in most of the trials in Great Britain. Cooper states this plainly: 'He deliuers unto his Proselite, and so to the rest, the Rules of his Art, instructing them in the manner of hurting and helping, and acquainting them with such medicines and poysons as are vsuall herevnto.'. Bessie Dunlop (1567) never attempted to cure any disease without
[1. Surtees Soc., xl, pp. 191, 192; Denham Tracts, ii, pp. 300-2, 304.
2. Hector, i, pp. 51-6.
3. Cooper, Mystery, pp. 90-2.]
first consulting Thom Reid, 'quhen sundrie persounes cam to hir to seik help for thair beist, thair kow or yow, or for ane barne that was tane away with ane evill blast of wind, or elf-grippit, sche gait and sperit at Thom, Quhat mycht help thame?--Sche culd do nathing, quhill sche had first spokin with Thom.' Alison Peirson (1588) learnt her craft from Mr. William Simpson, her mother's brother's son, who lived among the fairy folk; 'the saide Mr Williame tauld hir of ewerie seiknes and quhat herbis scho sould tak to haill thame, and how scho sould vse thame; and gewis hir his directioune att all tymes." Agnes Sampson, the Wise Wife of Keith (1590), always asked the Devil's advice in serious cases; ' she had a familiar spirit, who upon her call, did appear in a visible form, and resolve her of any doubtful matter, especially concerning the life or death of persons lying sick.' Grissel Gairdner of Newburgh (1610) was executed for consulting with the [Devil], and seiking of responssis fra him, at all tymes this fourtene or fyftene 3eir bygane, for effectuating of hir devillisch intentiones'. Elspeth Reoch in Orkney (1616) confessed that the fairy man, whom she met, told her 'he wald lerne her to ken and sie ony thing she wald desyre'. Isobel Haldane of Perth (1623) also obtained all her information as to life and death from the man with the 'grey beird' whom she met among the fairy folk. Jonet Rendall, another Orkney witch (1629), stated that 'the devill apperit to you, Quhom ye called Walliman, claid in quhyt cloathis with ane quhyt head and ane gray beard, And said to you He sould learne yow to win almiss be healling of folk'. Sandie Hunter was only moderately successful in curing cattle till he covenanted with the Devil, who 'came to him in the form of a Mediciner, and said, Sandie, you have too long followed my trade, and never acknowledged me for your Master. You must now take on with me, and be my servant, and I will make you more perfect in your Calling. Whereupon the man gave up himself to the Devil. After this, he grew
[1. Pitcairn, ii, pp. 53, 54.
2. Id., ii, p. 164.
3. Id., ii, p. 230.
4. Id., iii, p. 96.
5. County Folklore, iii, p. 112; Mait. Cl. Misc., ii, p. 188.
6. Pitcairn, ii, p. 537.
7. County Folklore, iii, p. 103.]
very famous throw the Countrey, for his Charming and cureing of diseases in Men and Beasts.' ''Reginald Scot says that the witches were taught by the Devil to make magical ointments, and that he 'supplied their want of powders and roots to intoxicate withal'. It was the Devil who pointed out which graves were to be opened in order to obtain the material for working magic; and when the bodies had been exhumed and dismembered, he told the witches how to use the fragments. It was the Devil who made or baptized the wax and clay images, and who stuck the first thorn or pin into them. It was the Devil who held the mock plough at Auldearne, and taught the witches of that place all the charms they knew. 'We get all this power from the Divell', says Isobell Gowdie. It was the Devil who instigated and superintended the wrecking of the bridge at Cortaquhie, concerning which Helen Guthrie said, 'shee her selfe, Jonnet Stout, and others of them did thrust ther shoulderis againest the bridge', and Isobel Smyth confessed, 'Wee all rewed that meitting, for wee hurt our selves lifting.'
The book in which the magical recipes were recorded must have been of great value to its owner, and one which he would not willingly allow to pass out of his hands. A volume of this kind was known to be extant till the beginning of the last century; it was called the Red Book of Appin. There are two stories as to how it was taken from the Devil, but both stories agree that it was obtained by a trick. It was in manuscript and contained charms for the cure of cattle, and was consulted when cows were bewitched and refused to give milk. It was also supposed to confer magical powers on the owner, who was said to know what the inquiry would be before the inquirer opened his lips; and it was in itself so magical that the owner had to wear a hoop of iron on his head when turning its leaves. Another Devil's-book was carried away, apparently as a joke, by Mr. Williamson of
[1. Sinclair, p. 122.
2. Scot, Bk. III, p. 43.
3. Pitcairn, i, pt. ii, pp. 211, 2-39, 245-6.
4. Glanvil, pt. ii, pp. 293-5.
5. Id., pt. ii, pp. 137-8.
6. Id., pt. ii, pp. 293-5.
7. Pitcairn, iii, pp. 603, 605 seq.
8. Kinloch, pp. 122, 133.
9. Campbell, pp. 293-4.]
Cardrona, who took it from the witches as they danced on Minchmoor, but they followed him and he returned it.'
The system of reporting everything to the Chief of the community makes it certain that he was supplied with such current information as made his knowledge of public and private affairs appear miraculous to the uninitiated. Even those who supplied that information had firm faith in his supernatural power to kill or cure, and believed with equal ardour in the charms which he taught them to make and use.
In reviewing the evidence it seems clear that the witches of the Covens were bound to exercise their powers in the intervals between the meetings; they were bound to attend those meetings, unless absolutely prevented, in order to learn new methods as well as to make their reports; and they were bound to obey the Grand Master's orders and to treat him with the deference and respect due to his exalted position.
Discipline was maintained by a system of rewards and punishments, enforced or relaxed according to the personal character of the Chief. As a rule only the severer punishments are recorded, but occasionally there are indications of minor chastisements.
The contemporary writers make the system of rewards and punishments very clear:
'Satan calleth them togither into a Diuelish Sinagoge, and that he may also vnderstand of them howe well and diligently they haue fulfilled their office of intoxicating committed vnto them, and whõ they haue slaine.' 'Such as are absent, and have no care to be assoygned, are amerced to this paenalty, so to be beaten on the palms of their feete, to be whipt with iron rods, to be pincht and suckt by their Familiars till their heart blood come, till they repent them of their sloath, and promise more attendance and diligence for the future.' 'Taking account also of the proceedings of his other Schollers, and so approuing or condemning accordingly.' Sometimes at their
[1. Berwickshire Naturalists Club, xi, p. 265. Unfortunately the author of the article gives neither her authority for the statement, nor any indication of the date of the occurrence.
2. Danaeus, ch. iv.
3. Gaule, p, 65.
4. Cooper, p. 91.]
solemn assemblies, the Devil commands, that each tell what wickedness he hath committed, and according to the hainousness and detestableness of it, he is honoured and respected with a general applause. Those on the contrary, that have done no evil, are beaten and punished.'
The usual punishment was beating, which was inflicted for various offences, 'chiefly disrespect or neglect of duty. At Arras in 1460 Jean Tacquet, a rich eschevin, 'had endeavoured to withdraw his allegiance from Satan who had forced him to continue it by beating him cruelly with a bull's pizzle.' In Lorraine (1589) the Grand Master seems to have been peculiarly brutal:
'Jana Gerardina, Catharina Russa, und Francisca Fellaea bezeugten, dass sie mehr als einmal schwerlich mit harten Streichen hätten büssen müssen, wenn sie keinen Schaden oder Unglück angestifft hätten. Und wie Nicolaea Morelia sagt, hat er sie dermassen zerschlagen, dass ihr der Athem davon ausgeblieben, und sie bey nahe gestorben wäre; Uber welches sich dann nicht zu verwundern sey, sintemahl er eiserne Hände habe, mit denen er ihnen so unbarmhertzig die Köpffe zerschlagen, dass sie deren nicht mehr empfinden.'
In the Lyons district (1598) 'les; Sorciers rendent conte à Satan de ce qu'ils ont fait dés la derniere assemblée, estans ceux là les mieux venus qui ont commis le plus de meschancetez. Les autres sont sifflez & mocquez de tous; l'on les fait mettre à l'escart, & sont encor le plus soutient battus & maltraitez de leur Maistre'. According to Bodin, 'chacun Sorcier doit rendre compte du mal qu'il a faict sur peine d'estre bien battu.' De Lancre says, 'Les Sorciers le vont adorer trois nuicts durant. Ceux qui par nonchalance, ou autre petit empeschement ne s'y trouuent, sont foüettez & battus à l'outrance.' Alexander Hamilton (1630) stated that 'thair was ane new tryst appointed be him to be keipit wt thame altogidder within xiii days thereftir upon the cauldbit mure Quhilk meitting was nocht keipit be the said Alexr for the quhilk caus and breking of that tryst the said Alexr was
[1. Pleasant Treatise, pp. 6-7.
2. Lea, iii, p. 525.
3. Remigius, pt. i, cap. xiii. p. 59.
4. Boguet, p. 139.
5. Bodin, p. 189.
6. De Lancre, Tableau, p. 398.]
maist rigorouslie strukin be the devill wt ane battoun at ane meitting keipit betuix thame schortlie thereftir upone gairnetoune hillis'. In France (1652) two sisters were tried for witchcraft: 'Icelle confesse n'avoir faict mourir qu'un vaulx et d'avoir été battu par le diable, deux fois, parce qu'elle ne vouloit faire mourir aultres personnes et bestiault.' The other sister was 'interrogée sy le diable ne luy avoit conseillé de cracher la Sainte Hostie hors de sa bouche, ou bien ne la point recepvoir, dist que non, mais bien que le diable l'at une fois battue fort parce qu'elle l'avoit receu'. The girls at Lille (1661) informed Madame Bourignon that the witches 'are constrained to offer him their Children, or else the Devil would Beat them'. Isobel Gowdie's account is, as usual, very full:
'Som tymis, among owr felwis, we wold be calling him "Blak Johne", or the lyk, and he wold ken it, and heir ws weill aneughe; and he ewin then com to ws, and say, "I ken weill aneughe what 3e wer sayeing of me!" And then he vold beat and buffet ws werie sor. We wold be beattin if ve wer absent any tyme, or neglect any thing that wold be appointit to be done. Allexr Elder, in Earlseat, vold be werie often beattin. He is bot soft, and cowld never defend him self in the leist, bot greitt and cry, quhan he vold be scourging him. Bot Margret Wilson, in Auldearne, wold defend hir selfe fynelie, and cast wp hir handis to keip the stroakis off from hir; and Bessie Wilson would speak crustie with hir townge, and wold be belling again to him stowtlie. He wold be beatting and scurgeing ws all wp and downe with cardis [cords] and vther sharp scurges, like naked gwhastis; and we wold still be cryeing, "Pittie! pittie! Mercie! mercie, owr Lord!" Bot he vold haue neither pittie nor mercie. When he vold be angrie at ws, he wold girne at ws lyk a dowge, as iff he wold swallow ws wp.'
The Swedish witches (1669) also had reason to complain of their Grand-Master's cruelty: 'heretofore it was sufficient to carry but one of their Children [to the meeting] or a strangers Child with them, but now he did plague them and
[1. From the record of the trial in the Edinburgh Justiciary Court.
2 Van Elven, La Tradition, v (1891), p. 215. The names of the witches; and the place are not given.
3. Bourignon, Vie, p. 222 Hale, p. 37.
4. Pitcairn, iii, p. 613.]
whip them if they did not procure him Children.' Among the Northumberland witches (1673):
'All of them who had donne harme gave an accoant thereof to their protector, who made most of them that did most harme, and beate those who had donne no harme.--At the said meeting their particular divell tooke them that did most evill, and danced with them first, and called every of them to an account, and those that did most evill he maid most of.--The devill, in the forme of a little black man and black cloaths, calld of one Isabell Thompson, of Slealy, widdow, by name, and required of her what service she had done him. She replyd she had gott power of the body of one Margarett Teasdale. And after he had danced with her he dismissed her and call'd of one Thomasine, wife of Edward Watson, of Slealy.'
Punishments for minor offences are rarely recorded. At North Berwick (1590), when the witches returned after sinking a ship, 'seeing that they tarried over long, hee at their comming enjoyned them all to a pennance, which was, that they should kisse his buttockes, in sign of duety to him.' At Aberdeen (1597) Christen Mitchell confessed that when the Devil asked her to join, 'thow ansuerit, I will enter in thy band, bot I will nocht byd thairin; and thairefter that the Devill gawe the a wisk, and thow fell on thy face one the dyk of that yaird.' Beigis Tod, who belonged to one of the North Berwick Covens but was not tried till 1608, was late in arriving at a meeting, 'quhair the Deuill appeirit to thame, and reprovet the said Beigis Tod verrie scherplie, for hir long tayreing; to quhome scho maid this ansuer, "Sir, I could wyn na soner."' At Lille if any witch desired to leave the religion, 'the Devil reproves them then more severely, and obligeth them to new Promises.' Occasionally the witches kept discipline among themselves; this seems to have been the case only when the culprit prevented the proper execution of magical performances. At Aberdeen Thomas Leyis 'led the ring, and dang the said Kathren Mitchell, becaus scho spillit your dans, and ran nocht sa fast about as the rest.' At
[1. Horneck, pt. ii, p. 318.
2. Surtees Soc., xl, pp. 191, 195, 197.
3. Pitcairn, i, pt. ii, p. 217.
4. Spalding Club Misc., i, p. 165.
5. Pitcairn, ii, p. 542.
6. Bourignon, Vie, p. 223 Hale, p. 38.
7. Spalding Club Misc., i, p. 97.]
Auldearne Isobel Gowdie described how the witches used flint arrow-heads: 'I shot at the Laird of Park, as he ves crossing the Burn of Boath; bot, thankis to God now, that he preserwit him. Bessie Hay gaw me a great cuffe, becaus I missed him.' The former minister of Crighton, Mr. Gideon Penman, acted as the Devil's chaplain; 'ordinarily Mr. Gideon was in the rear in all their dances, and beat up all those that were slow.' But a reasonable excuse for trifling misdemeanours could be accepted: 'The devill asked at Kathrine Moore quhair hir Husband was that he came not she answered there was a young bairne at home and that they could not both come.'
Capital punishment was reserved for traitors, actual and potential. It must have been brought into use only after the cult had fallen upon evil days, and then only when the Chief himself was in danger. Beating to death, hanging, and poison were the usual means of execution.
The earliest instance occurred in 1450, when the Church had begun to use its power systematically against the witches. 'The Inquisitor of Como, Bartolomeo de Homate, the podestà Lorenzo da Carorezzo, and the notary Giovanni da Fossato, either out of curiosity or because they doubted the witches whom they were trying, went to a place of assembly at Mendrisio and witnessed the scene from a hiding-place. The presiding demon pretended not to know their presence, and in due course dismissed the assembly, but suddenly recalled his followers and set them on the officials, who were so beaten that they died within fifteen days.' Alesoun Peirson (1588) was burnt as a witch, having gained her knowledge from the fairies, who threatened that 'gif scho wald speik and tell of thame and thair doingis, thay sould martir hir'. The Lorraine witches (1589) took an oath of silence, 'welchen Eyd sie so hoch und heilig halten, dass wenn sie Eydbrüchig werden, so darffir halten, also ob sie ewig darumb musten verdampt und gestrafft seyn.' Alice Gooderidge, the Derbyshire witch (1597), was tried for witchcraft,
[1. Pitcairn, iii, p, 615.
2. Fountainhall, i, p. 14.
3. Highland Papers, iii, p. 26.
4. Lea, iii, p. 501.
5. Pitcairn, i, pt. ii, p. 163.
6. Remigius, ch. xviii, p. 83.]
'she should haue bin executed, but that her spirit killed her in the prison.' Jeannette d'Abadie (1609) was more fortunate than most in that she was not killed, 'elle a esté battue au sabbat reellement & corporelleme[n]t par deux sorcieres qu'elle nomme, par ce qu'elle auoit reuelé les mysteres du sabbat.' John Stewart, the 'juglour' of Irvine (1618)--
'for his better preferring to the day of the assys, was put in ane lockfast buith, quhair no maner of persoun might haif access to him quhil the dounsitting of the justice court, and for avoyding of putting violent handis on himself, was verie strictly gairdit and flitherit be the airms, as us is, and upon that same day of the assys, about half ane hour befoir the doun sitting of the justice court, Mr. David Dickson, minister at Irving; and Mr. George Dunbar, minister of Air, having went to him to exhort him to call on his God for mercie for his bygane wicked and evil lyf and that God wold of his infinite mercie, lowis him out of the handis of the devil quhom he had servit thir mony years by gane. He acquiescit to their prayer and godlie exhortation, and utterit thir wordis--I am so straithe gairdit that it lyis not in my hand to tak off my bonnett, nor to gett bread to my mouth. And immediately after the departing of the two ministers from him, the Juglour being sent for at the desyr of my Lord of Eglintoune, to be confrontit with ane woman of the burgh of Air, callit Janet Bous, quha was apprehendit by the Magistrates of the burghe of Air, for witchcraft, to the burghe of Irvine, purposlie for that effer. He was fund be the burrow officers, quha went about him stranglit and hangit be the cruik of the dur, with ane tait of hemp (or a string maid of hemp, supposed to haif been his garten, or string of his bonnet) not above the length of twa span long, his kneyis not being from the grund half ane span, and was brocht out of the hous, his lyf not being so layt expellit: but notwithstanding of quhatsomever meines usit to the contrair for remeid of his lyf, he revievit not, but so endit his lyf miserable by the help of the devill his maister.'
Rebecca West, a young Essex witch (1645), confessed to Matthew Hopkins that 'if shee should discover any thing, they all told the said Rebecca, shee should endure more torments on earth, then could be in hell: and the said Rebecca
[1. Alse Gooderidge, p. 43.
2. De Lancre, Tableau, p. 91.
3. Trial of Isobel Inch, p. 11.]
told this informant that shee promised to keepe all their secrets; and moreover they all told her, that shee must never confesse any thing, although the rope were about her necke, and shee ready to be hanged'.' In Fifeshire (1640) 'ane Mistres Hendersone (sister to Fordell Hendersone, in the presbytrey of Dumfermling), sometymes lady of Pittahro, being delated by many to be a witch, was apprehended and caried to Edenbroughe, wher she was keiped fast; and after her remaining in prison for a tyme, being in health att night, vpon the morne was founde dead. It was thought, and spoken by many, that she wronged her selfe, either by strangling or by poyson.' The Swedish children (1670) were not spared: 'if the Children did at any time name the Names of those that had carried them away, they were again carried by force either to Blockula, or to the Cross way, and there miserably beaten, insomuch that some of them died of it.' Whether Deliverance Hobbs (1692) was actually beaten, or whether her statement was made from the knowledge of what might happen to her, cannot be certain without reference to the records of the trial itself, as Mather's bias is apt to distort the evidence: 'She now testifi'd, that this Bishop tempted her to Sign the Book again, and to deny what she had confess'd. She affirm'd, that it was the Shape of this Prisoner, which whipped her with Iron Rods, to compel her thereunto.' Elizabeth Anderson in Renfrewshire (1696) went with her father to a witch-meeting, 'severals of them being affraid that the Declarant would Confess, and tell of them as she done formerly on her Grand-mother, they threatened to tear her all in pieces if she did so.' John Reid of the same Coven--
'after his Confession had called out of his prison Window, desiring Baily Scott to keep that old body Angus Forrester, who had been his fellow prisoner, closs and secure; whereupon the company asked John when they were leaving him on Friday night the 21th of May, whether he desired company or
[1. Howell, iv, 842.
2. Lamont, p. 12. For further particulars of this lady, see Ross, Aberdour and Inchcolme, p. 339.
3. Horneck, pt. ii, p. 319.
4. Cotton Mather, p. 131.
5. Narr. Of the Sufferings of a Yong Girle, p. xl.]
would be afraid alone, he said he had no fear of anything: So being left till Saturday in the Forenoon, he was found in this posture, viz. sitting upon a stool which was on the Hearth of the Chimney, with his feet on the floor and his Body straight upward, his shoulders touching the lintel of the Chimney, but his Neck tyed with his own neck-cloath (whereof the knot was behind) to a small stick thrust into a hole above the lintel of the Chimney, upon which the Company, especially John Campbel a Chyrurgeon who was called, thought at first in respect of his being in an ordinary posture of sitting, and the neck-cloath not having any drawn knot (or run loup) but an ordinary one which was not very strait, and the sticke not having the strength to bear the weight of his Body or the struggle, that he had not been quite dead; but finding it otherways, and that he was in such a Situation that he could not have been the Actor thereof himself, concluded that some extraordinary Agent had done it, especially considering that the Door of the Room was secured, and that there was a board set over the Window which was not there the night before when they left him.'
A similar fate befell the warlock Playfair in 1597. He was found strangled in his prison at Dalkeith with the 'point' of his breeches tied round his neck.
[1. Narr. Of the Sufferings of a Yong Girle, p. xliv; Sadducismus Debellatus, pp. 43-4.
2. Sharpe, P 46.]