Imatges de pàgina

ous enough, in favour of the highly beautiful and accomplished. Unlike the magician, the witch never asserted her pretensions to the possession of miraculous powers. Persecution and torture often obtained from her an acknowledgement of her character, -it was the confession of guilt to an imputed crime, not the claim to a proud distinction. The witch sometimes received tribute from fear; but never the homage of respect. So odious was she to her neighbours that communication was, as much as possible, avoided with her; and she was so much feared that few dared to offend her or deny her any thing they possessed.

A witch is defined, by an historian of witchcraft, as one “ who can do, or seems to do, strange things, beyond the power of art and ordinary nature, by virtue of a confederacy with the powers of hell.” The compact was sometimes privately agreed on; sometimes solemnly entered into at a public assembly of witches, who talked and conferred familiarly with the devil, receiving his instructions how to compass their wicked intents, and gave him an account of all their horrible proceedings. While the compact was forming, the devil was busily employed with his long nails scratching the forehead where the cross had been made at baptism, or where the chrism

was laid; and on that spot of his new disciple he impressed his own mark: the part he touched remained for some time painful, but for ever after was insensible, and the mark irremovable. The contract was finally sealed by a bestial act of homage paid to the devil by the witch, who, on her part, renounced the Christian faith, and swore allegiance to her infernal master, binding herself to observe all his commandments, and to seduce men, women, and children into his society : she yielded her body to his desires, her blood to his nutrition, and her soul to be tormented in everlasting fire. The contract was not invariably for the period of the witch’s life, but occasionally for a given term of years; nor did she always deny the whole Christian faith, but merely neglected particular injunctions of the church. The devil, in return, promised the witch long life and prosperity, and enabled her, by his agency, to exercise the miraculous powers of witchcraft; but in perfect consistency with the depravity of his nature, always deserted his dupe when she was detected, preferring the immediate possession of her soul to the chance of the evil she might effect by a longer earthly existence.

The witch perpetually manifested her depend

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ance on a superior being. Without the use of some mysterious form of words, mumblings, whisperings, and secret sounds, the sorceress was powerless. The hellish incantation, uttered with a steady faith in its efficacy, was capable of effecting the greatest wonders, the devil or his spirits rewarding the act of homage by assistance : charms were no less available. The hair, or any other part of a wolf; the brain of a cat, a newt, or lizard; the bone of a frog's leg; the garments of the dead ; candles that had been partly burnt before a corpse; and needles that had sewed a dead man in his shroud; were all efficacious in their enchantments. The crossing of sticks, digging pits, casting a stone over the left shoulder, or hogs' bristles boiled, were productive of storms. If a witch was desirous of a gambol in the air, the bowels and members of a child were first to be seethed in a brazen vessel, and an ointment made up from the fat, which, carefully rubbed into their bodies, enabled them to feast, sing, and dance beneath the moon. The thinner potion taken from the cauldron enabled the drinker, on the observance of certain ceremonies, immediately to practise witchcraft. Magical pictures, or waxen images, consumed or gradually melted before slow fires,

produced a corresponding waste, by sickness or mysterious pining, in those whose persons the effigies represented.

It is impossible to advance a step towards a belief in the power of uninspired persons to disclose the events of futurity and produce supernatural effects, without recognising an arbitrary predestination of mundane affairs, or the agency of powers that controlled the established laws of nature. Every system of pagan worship inculcates the doctrine of fate, or of presiding or subservient spirits; for each appealed to the miraculous powers of its ministers in support of its pretensions. It is not very easy to reconcile these doctrines together, but, in most cases, both were combined, and in the Gothic system of witchcraft, in particular, both are decidedly conspicuous.

According to the mythology of the Edda, in the beautiful city of Valhall, or the paradise of heroes, dwell three virgins named Urda, the past; Verdandi, the present; and Sskuld, the future. Their business is to attend on the gods and preside over the fate of mankind. Collectively, they are called Valkeries, or Nornies, that is, Fairies, or Destinies, and are the chief of many beings of a similar quality : every man had his own destiny, who assisted at the mo

ment of his birth, and marked beforehand the period of his days.

The Chronicle of Holinshed is precise, and repeated, in its denomination of the women who addressed Macbeth as Fairies, or Weird (that is, prophetic) Sisters; who, though by no means the representatives of, appear fully invested with the attributes ascribed to the three Eddic Valkeries, or the Fates and presiding genii of the North; and Shakspeare has abridged nothing of their power. His witches' address to Macbeth is in the decisive tone of absolute and directing powers: they discourse of the events of futurity as of matters absolutely certain ; they proclaim him “thane of Glamis and of Cawdor," things “ not within the prospect of belief,” and the truth of their predictions is attested in the moment of their utterance

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“ Two truths are told,
As happy prologues to the swelling act
Of the imperial theme.

• All hail,
Macbeth! that shall be king hereafter.'”

Here, overwhelmed with astonishment and awe, the victim of hell is left to pause, and he sinks into the firm belief that he had only to wait “ the coming on of time” to reap the fulfilment of his most ardent hopes : “ If chance

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