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speare, it may be thought, designated the mistress of the weird sisters Hecate, by finding that goddess in the exercise of the same office in a play called The Witch, by Thomas Middleton. But in the description of “ Persey's daughter” in Golding's translation of Ovid, he met with 66 Heccatee, of whom the witches hold as of their goddess ;" and the same author also furnished him with the knowledge of the “ triple Hecat's holy rites,” which he displays in A Midsummer Night's Dream: “the triple Hecate's team.” Yet, in the present play, is this presiding deity of witchcraft inconsistently represented as anxious to catch the “vap'rous drop profound” that hung “ upon the corner of the moon.” Could the poet have overlooked that Hecate was herself the moon ?
It has been questioned whether ancient and modern superstition are not confounded by placing Hecate in ascendancy over the witches of Macbeth. But Shakspeare is guilty of no impropriety, for both the names and attributes of Diana were perfectly familiar to Gothic superstition. Proserpine, indeed, under the name of Creirwy, or Llywy, occupied a singularly conspicuous place in the religion of the British Druids : she was the daughter of Ked, or Ceridwen, the most important personage in Druid
worship. So completely similar were the attributes of parent and offspring that it has not been thought unreasonable to regard them as the same mystical personage. They presided over the most sacred mysteries of Druidism ; they were enchantresses, and possessed the power of transformation ; they were venerated in conjunction with, or under the symbol of the moon; and in their custody was the sacred cauldron of inspiration and science, the preparation of which was a necessary preliminary to the celebration of the deepest mysteries of their religion : it was fabled that he who merely tasted its contents immediately became skilled in science, and had the whole of futurity laid open to his view. The cauldron of Ceridwen is the prototype of the cauldron of the weird sisters.
The idea of exhibiting his witches in the act of celebrating their foul and prestigious rites appears to have been caught by Shakspeare from Middleton's Witch.* Hecat and a group of
* The witches of Middleton are low, vulgar, and disgusting, and their employment in the destruction of the bridegroom's virility, the wasting of Almachildes, whom the Duchess hated, and the inspiring of illicit love, by charms, for such only is their business in the scene, are acts corresponding to their ignoble demeanours. In Shakspeare, an air of mystery, solemnity, and grandeur, is cast around the celebration of the rites of witchcraft, and the witches
hags are there assembled round a cauldron, preparing their infernal beverage. They wind up their enchantments by a song, of which the words,
“ Black spirits and white ; red spirits and gray;
Mingle, mingle, mingle, you that mingle may,"
are found both in Middleton and Shakspeare. In The Witch the song is continued, and the last lines are,
“ Round, around, around, about, about ;
All ill come running in, all good keep out!"
and the vessel is then filled with the filthy ingredients of which the charms of witches were composed. In Macbeth we have
« Round about the cauldron go;
In the poison'd entrails throw, -" and the mixture of the hellish porridge proceeds.
In my endeavour to ascertain whence Shakspeare derived his extensive knowledge of the principles and practice of witchcraft, I have
themselves are elevated into dignity : they are the oracles of fate; they proclaim the destinies of kings and kingdoms; and, labouring in the cause of the demon whom they serve, their object is no less than the alienation from God of a soul, as yet, of pure and spotless innocence.
been utterly unable to trace his steps. It is not reasonable to doubt his knowledge of such books of his time as embodied the popular superstition, but I could never detect more than such casual coincidences as will necessarily occur between two authors who treat of the same subject. Of the ancients, he had undoubtedly read Ovid in Golding's translation; and as an illustrative instance, may be adduced the general, , but not particular, resemblance between the enchantments of the witches round the cauldron, and the preparation of the charm that renewed the youth of Æson. 66 The med'cine seething all the while a wallop in a pan Of brasse, to spirt and leape aloft and gather froth began. There boyled she the roots, seeds, flowres, leaves, stalks and
juice togither, Which from the fields of Thessalie she late had gathered
thither : She cast in also precious stones, fetcht from the furthest
East, And which the ebbing ocean washt fine gravell from the
West; She put thereto the deaw that fell upon a Monday night: And flesh and fethers of a witch, a cursed odious wight, Which in the likeness of an owle abroad a nights did Aie, And infants in their cradles change, or sucke them that they
dye. The fingles also of a wolfe, which when he list could take The shape of man, and when he list, the same again forsake; And from the river Cyniphis which is in Lybie land, She had the fine sheere scaled filmes of water-snayles at hand.
And of an endlesse lived hert the liver had she got;
The rites of witchcraft combined a large portion of the horrors with which the superstitious depravity of man had encumbered the awful name of religion. Their celebration in gloomy caverns, in the darkness and silence of the night; the evocation of the dead from the
peaceful grave; the awful fire; the iron and brazen vessels ; the charms; the bloody sacrifices and beastly offerings; the horrid dance and solemn invocation, are all to be met with in the systems of oriental, classic, and gothic superstition: the witchcraft of modern times presented a faint and distorted image of the worship paid to the great and terrible triplicated goddess of paganism, who, whether as Proserpine, Diana, or Luna, or as Ceridwen or Crierwy, was invariably deemed the presiding deity over magic, and perpetually evoked in its practice. Incantations charmed her from her sphere; her eclipses were ascribed to the power of enchantment, and the moon was the mirror in which her votaries read all things that were to happen for a thousand years. Hence the belief that demons invoked in low and murmuring voices would disclose the events of futurity by the reflection of images,