Sacred Texts  Evil  Index  Previous  Next 

p. 262


Miracles and Magic.

A LATIN proverb says: "Si duo faciunt idem, non est idem" (if two do the same thing, it is not the

Click to view

(Reproduced from Brehm.)

same thing); and this is true not only of individuals, but also of nations and of religions. It is a habit common

p. 263

among all classes of people to condone the faults of their own kind but to be severe with those of others. The oracles of Delphi were divine to a Greek mind, but they were of diabolical origin according to the judgment of Christians. Jesus was a magician in the eyes of the pagans, while the Christians worshipped him as the son of God, and a man who performed miracles.

Click to view

(After Schnorr von Carolsfeld.)

The priests of Pharaoh and Moses perform the same tricks still performed by the snake charmers of Egypt and India, but the deeds of Moses alone are regarded as miracles, and the Israelites claim that he could accomplish more than the Egyptians. Father Juan Bautista (of about 1600) tells us that among the natives of Mexico

p. 264

there are magicians who "conjure the clouds, and can make a stick look like a serpent, a mat like a centipede, a stone like a scorpion, and similar deceptions." 1

Simon Magus and his disciples were believed by the early Christians to possess power over demons; 2 but Simon was a competitor of the Apostles, and therefore his deeds were not regarded as divine. Before an impartial tribunal the methods and aspirations of both parties would

Click to view

(Reproduced from Verworn after photographs.)

resemble one another more than the one-sided statements of Christian authors at first sight seem to warrant. The accusation made against Simon by Luke, of having offered money to the Apostles for communicating to him the Holy Ghost, does not prove a depravity of heart, as the later Christians thought; for Simon took the rebuke

p. 265

in the proper spirit and apparently remained on good terms with the Apostles. The reports of the church fathers which make Peter and Simon rivals in working miracles, develop the story in the spirit of the age; they characterise the superstitions of the time; yet, although they probably reflect historical facts, they are as unreliable as are the charges of pagan authors hurled against the Christians.

The early Christians practised healing the sick by the laying on of hands and by praying; so did the Therapeutæ and other Gnostics; yet faith-cure and Christian science are not countenanced by the churches to-day.

Minucius Felix 1 puts the common notions, which in his days prevailed in Greece and Italy concerning the practices of the Christians, into the mouth of Cæcilius who describes them as a desperate class of vulgar men and credulous women threatening the welfare of mankind. He states that they are atheists, for they cherish a contempt for temples, spit at the gods, and ridicule religious ceremonies; that their own cult is a mixture of superstition and depravity; that they possess secret symbols by which they recognise one another; they call themselves brothers and sisters, and degrade these sacred words by sensuality. Further, it is said that they adore a donkey's head, and that their worship is obscene. The libel culminates in the assertion that the reception of new members is celebrated by slaughtering and devouring a child covered all over with flour, which is an obvious perversion of the Communion, but Cæcilius declares that it

p. 266

is done because partnership in guilt is the best means of securing secrecy. Lastly, he adds, that on festival days they celebrate love feasts which after the extinction of the lights end with sexual excesses.

Similar accusations are found in various authors, and even the noble-hearted and high-minded Tacitus speaks of the Christians with contempt; while on the other hand the Christians do not shrink from ridiculing the holiest and noblest of paganism. For instance, Minucius Felix, a Christian of the highest type and best education, speaks of Socrates as "the Athenian buffoon." 1

Justinus Martyr in his Apologia makes the asseveration that the Christians are innocent, but leaves the question open whether the heretics, such as the Gnostics, might not be guilty of these abominations (App. II., p. 70), and Eusebius directly claims that the practices that prevailed among the heretics were the direct cause of the evil rumors concerning the life of the Christians.

While we must bear in mind that the moral rigidity of the Gnostics leaves upon the whole no doubt about the purity of their life, we may grant the probability of the presence of black sheep among them. But the same is true of the Christians, as we know for certain on the good authority of St. Paul who in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, after an enumeration of such sinners as will not inherit the kingdom (v. 8-11,--the passage had better remain unquoted) says, "and such were some of you." Accordingly, there can be no doubt that there were abuses in the Church of Corinth. St. Paul believes the rumor of a sin, "that is not so much as named among

p. 267

the Gentiles," and the Second Epistle is the best evidence that the Corinthians did not deny the facts. They repent, whereupon St. Paul recommends charity toward the main offender (2 Cor. ii. 6-11), saying: "To whom ye forgive anything, I forgive also."

The various aberrations among the Christians which

Click to view

(See pp. 268-269)
(Elijah and Baal priests. After Schnorr von Carolsfeld.)

were very apparent in many of their most prominent leaders, such as Constantine the Great, must not astonish us, because Christianity originated in an age of unrest, and the new movement was the centre of attraction for all kinds of eccentricity. In spite of various excrescences, we cannot but say that Christianity opened to the world

p. 268

new vistas of truth. Represented by such men as St. Paul, it tended toward purity of heart; but the same is true of the Gnostics and the Manichees. The accusations on both sides rest mainly upon partisan statements and cannot be trusted, or at least must be used with due reserve. But it is natural that here as always, the same things are no longer the same when reported of people of another faith. Thus the virtues of the pagans are to St. Augustine only "polished vices," and the heroism of Christian martyrs is mere obstinacy in the opinion of Roman prætors.


Click to view



We look with contempt upon the Indian prophet who poses as a rain-maker, but read the story of Elijah with great edification, and while we justify the holy zeal of the latter, we would make no allowance for the severity of Indian reformers who fail to spare the lives of their rivals. One instance will suffice: Tenskwatawa, the Shawano prophet, preached in the beginning of the nineteenth century a nobler religion and a purer morality to the tribes of the prairie, and was revered by his followers as an incarnation of Manabozho

p. 269

[paragraph continues] (i. e., first doer). Drunkenness, the besetting sin of the Indians since their acquaintance with the whites, and the traditional superstition practised by the medicine-men ceased. But reform was coupled with persecution. Tenskwatawa "inaugurated a crusade against all who were suspected of dealing in witchcraft or magic arts," and he took advantage of the faith of his followers "to effectually rid himself of all who opposed his sacred claims." All his rivals were successively marked by the prophet, and doomed to be burned alive. 1


Click to view



All these facts are so many instances which prove the truth of the proverb, that if two do the same thing it will not be regarded as the same thing: and thus the miracle of our own religion is mere magic and witchcraft in other religions.

*      *      *

One of the most characteristic features of the pre-scientific age is man's yearning for the realisation of that which is unattainable by natural means. The belief in

p. 270

magic will inevitably prevail so long as the dualistic world-conception dominates the minds of the people, and in that period of civilisation supernatural deeds are expected as the indispensable credentials of all religious prophets. It is the age of miracles and witchcraft.

Now we know that wherever contra-natural things are believed, there the strangest events will be experienced by those who are under the suggestion of the, belief; and then at once a competition will originate between those who represent the established religion and others who perform, or pretend to perform, similar deeds. The former are prophets and saints, and they work miracles; the latter are wizards and witches, and their art is called witchcraft.

Miracles and witchcraft possess this in common that both are supposed to supersede the laws of nature, but there is this difference that the miracle is believed to be the supernatural power of one's own religion, while witchcraft is the miracle of heretics. Miracle is anything contra-natural that is legitimate; and witchcraft is the same thing, but illegitimate; the former is supposed to be done with the help of God, the latter with the help of Satan; the former is boasted of as the highest glory of the Church, the latter is denounced as the greatest abomination possible.

It is natural that wizards and witches are always represented as obnoxious, and it is said that their art is practised to injure the welfare of mankind. Nevertheless, miracles, 1 while some very mean deeds are counted as

p. 271

Click to view


p. 272

good deeds if only performed by believers in other gods are branded as witchcraft. Moreover, all priests are unanimous in condemning the application of charms and spells, except those of their own religion, even though they be used for the best and purest ends. A faith-cure by heretics, and even a successful operation through the unusual skill of a surgeon, would be set down as deeds of darkness by those who believe in a religion of miracles, 1 but official processions with prayers and sprinkling of holy water are still employed, as could be observed during a late small-pox epidemic in French Canada.

The belief in magic is a natural phase in the evolution of mankind, producing the medicine-man who dispels diseases by charms, the prophet who by an appeal to his Deity (be it the sun-god of the American Indians, or the Baal of the Phœnicians, or El or Yahveh of the Israelites) undertakes to make rain, and the medium who vaticinates or foretells fortunes and calls the dead from Spirit-Land.

The rain-priests play a most important part in the life of all the American Indians. The snake-dance among the Pueblo Indians of Mexico is a prayer for rain. 2 Frequently the sun is invoked for rain. Dreams, visions, and ecstasies are regarded as the best means of divine revelation, and the medicine-bag possesses magic powers. The devotional spirit is not less intense among, the

p. 273

Click to view


p. 274

pagans of the prairie than it was among the ancient Israelites and the early Christians. 1

Click to view

(Reproduced from the original edition of his works.)

All attempt to practise magic, and a religion that promises success in life and proposes to accomplish the salvation of man by miracles, be it the miracles of their founders or the continued miracles of Church institutions, such as sacraments, pilgrimages, sprinkling of holy water, mass-reading, or other rites supposed to possess other than a purely symbolical significance, is a religion of magic. In brief, a religion of magic is based on a belief in the contra-natural, and as soon as a religion of magic becomes an established institution, it will develop the notion of witchcraft by a discrimination between its own miracles and those of other people who are unbelievers.

How similar the notions of legitimate and illegitimate miracles are, may be learned from the writings of

p. 275

[paragraph continues] Agrippa of Nettesheim (1486-1535), one of the greatest sages and philosophers of the age of the Reformation, who proclaimed that the perfection of philosophy could be attained by magic, which in distinction to black magic 1 he called "natural" or "celestial" magic, and which, he assumed, leads to a perfect union with God. His book, De Occulta Philosophia, written in 1510 but published only in 1531, exhibits his belief in the possibility of creating hatred and love by spells, of discovering thieves, confounding armies, making thunderstorms and rain, all of which he expects to accomplish by magic through a mystical union with God. It is difficult for us to understand how a man of his caliber could believe in the efficacy of spells and mystic keys; but grant the reality of magic, and such aberrations become legitimate experiments. Witches have been frequently accused of the very same feats, only they were said to have performed them through the assistance of the Devil. In spite of the resemblance which Agrippa unconsciously had discovered between witchcraft and miracles, he remained unmolested, for his views were at the time commonly accepted. Nor would he ever have excited the hostility of the Papal party had he not lectured with fervor, at the University of Dôle, Burgundy (1509), on Reuchlin's book, De Verbo Mirifico, and had he not, in 1519, when syndic at Metz, ventured to save the life of a witch that had fallen into the hands of the Inquisitor Nicolas Savini. 2

What a strange mixture of occultism with exact observation,

p. 276

based upon anatomical measurements, is contained in the chapter on "The Proportions of the Human Body." Mathematics, natural science, and mysticism are all combined in Agrippa's Occulta Philosophia, and the learned author is unable to discriminate between facts and fancy. 1

Click to view

Click to view

Click to view


Agrippa's celestial magic is not different from black magic; for both kinds of magic consist in the hope of contra-natural accomplishments. When after years of varied disappointments Agrippa discovered that there

p. 277

was no magic, be it black or white, he came to the conclusion that there was no science. As the agnostic who, after having wrongly formulated the problems of philosophy, and finding his mind hopelessly entangled in confusion, pronounces the dreary doctrine of the impossibility of knowledge, so Agrippa of Nettesheim began to despair

Click to view

Click to view

Click to view


not only of magic, but also of science; and he wrote, in 1526, his "Proposition about the Incertitude and Vanity of the Sciences and Arts; and about the excellence of the word of God." 1

p. 278

All in all, we find that a religion of magic involves a belief in witchcraft. Where sacraments are employed as exorcisms, every attempt at exercising extraordinary powers is regarded not as impossible but as a lack of loyalty. Hence heresy and witchcraft are always declared to be closely allied, for witchcraft is nothing but the performance of miracles without the licence of an established Church, which claims to have a monopoly in supernaturalism.

Click to view

(Bas-relief on a water vessel of the seventh century found near Pisama.)

The belief in and the prosecution of witchcraft are the necessary result of a firmly established religion of magic. All the religions of magic are naturally intolerant. As soon as one of them triumphs over its rivals, as soon as it is worked out into a systematic creed and organised in an institution such as the Church, it will,

p. 279

like all combinations or trusts, with all means at its command, insure and perpetuate its supremacy. Considering that the mediæval Church was practically a religion of magic, witch prosecution was the inevitable result of the Pope's ascendancy, and it continued in Protestant countries as an heirloom of the Dark Ages so long as the belief in magic was retained.


The belief in Satan as held by many Christians today is harmless and tame in comparison with the old conception, which was taken seriously. Satan, it is true, was regarded as the foe of mankind, but there was no doubt about his power, and the idea prevailed that his services could easily be procured by those ready to surrender to him their souls.

As soon as the Church became possessed of power, it was at once bent on the suppression of magic and witchcraft. Constantine began the policy of threatening the severest punishment on all kinds of black art, allowing its application only for curing diseases and preventing hail and rain storms during the harvest. And Constantine's successors did not fail to preserve the tradition.

A prohibition to fish implies that there is good fishing, which tempts many to try. In the same way, the policy of the Christian authorities was tantamount to an official recognition of witchcraft as a mighty and powerful weapon that could be wielded by the initiated both for good and for evil; and thus it could not fail to strengthen the Devil's credit, as well as to develop most

p. 280

exuberantly a peculiar mediaeval demonology. Belief in witchcraft rapidly became so common that almost all countries were in possession of laws against magicians, soothsayers, and witches. One remarkable exception only is found in the law-code of the Lombards, which contains the declaration that witches cannot perform any such feats as devouring people alive, and therefore the burning of a woman on the pretext of her being a witch is prohibited.

There is a remarkable Latin book of "Dialogues on the Life and Miracles of the Italian Fathers," 1 which characterises the superstitious spirit that prevailed among both the laity and the clergy. It is replete with all kinds of ridiculous tales which are taken in good earnest. We are told, for instance, that Gregory the Great, when consecrating an Arian church for Roman Catholic worship, successfully exorcised the Devil with the help of sacred relies; Satan flew before him in the shape of a huge pig and vacated the place completely the following night with great noise.

The Devil came more and more into prominence in the eighth and ninth centuries. Baptism was regarded as an expulsion of the evil spirit. The convert had, according to Dionysius, to exhale three times, and according to the Greek euchologion, also to spit at him upon the floor. The Synod of Leptinæ in the year 743 added to the confession of faith an "abrenunciation" of the Devil.

A Low-German formula which renounces the three

p. 281

foremost German deities with all their hosts 1 consists of questions and answers, which read as follows:

"Q. Forsakest thou the Devil?

"A. I forsake the Devil!

"Q. And all Devil guilds?

"A. And I forsake all Devil guilds.

"Q. And all Devil works?

"A. And I forsake all Devil works, and words, Thonar (Thor) and Wodan and Saxnot (Fro) and all the evil ones that are his companions." 2


Click to view

(Reproduced from O. Henne am Rhyn.)


The fact is that Christianity itself was regarded as a kind of magic which in distinction to the black magic or necromancy would have to be classed together with white

p. 282

magic. The sacraments were supposed to be miraculous methods of performing supernatural feats quite analogous to exorcisms, and the church itself was, in the minds of the people, an institution of sacred sorcery.

Belief m Witchcraft.

With the belief in witchcraft a new period begins in the evolution of mankind. The Devil becomes greater and more respected than ever; indeed, this is the classical period of his history and the prime of his life. Contracts were made with the Devil in which men surrendered their souls for all kinds of services on his part.

In the thirteenth century the Devil reached the acme of his influence, and it is only possible to give a meagre sketch of the Devil's activity during this period. Nothing extraordinary could happen without its being attributed to him, and to the people of the Middle Ages many things, ordinary to us, were very extraordinary.

Gervasius Tilberiensis composed a collection of stupid fables which he published in 1211 under the title Otia Imperialia, dedicating them to Emperor Otto IV. He repeats some spook stories of Apuleius as events that happened in France and England and invents new tales which surpass the old ones only in crudity. He accepts the medical explanation of nightmares as due to an overheated imagination, but proves even then the presence of demoniacal influence, on the authority of St. Augustine.

In the Dialogus Miraculorum, 1 by Cæsarius von

p. 283

[paragraph continues] Heisterbach (who died about 1245), we find that not only thunder-storms, hail-storms, inundations, diseases, but

Click to view

Illustrating the pious spirit of this most nefarious work. Reproduced from Joseph Strange's text edition, published by Heberle, Cologne, Bonn, and Brussels, 1861

also unexpected noises, the rustling of leaves, the howling of the wind, were attributed to Old Nick. He appears

p. 284

as a bear, a monkey, a toad, a raven, a vulture, as a gentleman, a soldier, a hunter, a peasant, a dragon, and a negro.

Cæsarius's book has become famous, and rightly so, not on account of any peculiar merit of its author but because it is a true picture of the average conception of the times. 1

The book is written mainly for the instruction of young monks. The initials of the original editions are emblazoned with pious pictures, and the tendency of all stories is that there is no surer salvation than in the brotherhood of the Cistercian monks, the order to which the author belongs. He declares that "there is no safer road than the order of the Cistercians; nor do fewer people go down to the lower regions than the members of that religion." 2 Cæsarius makes the Lord appear as a sovereign who regards it as his duty to protect his faithful servants and takes an interest in concealing their crimes. He works a special miracle, lest the slander of a clergyman become public (Book I., p. 23). The Devil having caused a man to sin against the sixth commandment, is unable to accuse and punish the sinner, or make his guilt known, because the latter escapes all evil effects through the confessional (Book III., p. 4). The Devil once went to a confessor and confessed. Having enumerated his sins, the confessor declared that a thousand years would not have sufficed to commit them all, and the Devil

p. 285

answered that indeed he was much older than a thousand years, for he was one of the demons who fell with Lucifer. The priest considered his sins unpardonable, and asked him whether he wanted to do penance. "Yes," he said, "if the penance is not too heavy for me." "Well," replied the confessor, "bow down thrice a day, saying: 'God, my Lord and Creator, I have sinned against thee;

Click to view

(After an old German print.)

Click to view



forgive me." "No, said the Devil," that would be too humiliating for me (III., 26, and IV., 5).

Arrogance and self-conceit are the main-springs of Satan's character. A curious parallel to Peregrinus is the story of a woman who, for the sake of clearing her soul of sin, burns herself to death (Book VI., p. 35). Imps are seen playing with cupids upon the train of a

p. 286

gentlewoman (Book. V., p. 7). A man games with the Devil and loses his soul (V., 34).

The theory of incubi and succubi is presented in all its indecency on the authority of St. Thomas Aquinas, who in his commentary on Job (Chap. 40) interprets Behemoth (a large animal, probably the elephant) as the Devil, and derives from the mention of the animal's sexual strength (verse 16) the theory that evil demons can have intercourse with human beings. Satan is supposed to serve first as a succubus (or female devil) to men, and then as an incubus (or male devil) to women; and St. Thomas declares that children begotten in this way ought to be regarded as the children of the men whom Satan served as succubus. They would, however, The more cunning than normal children on account of the demoniacal influence to which they were exposed in their pre-natal condition. Matthæus Paris mentions that within six months one such incubus-baby developed all its teeth and attained the size of a boy of seven years, while his mother became consumptive and died.

The superstitions of the belief in the personal interference of the Devil with human affairs passed away, but they left us an extensive and interesting literature which for all time to come will remain a rich mine for the anthropologist, the antiquarian, the historian, the psychologist, the poet, and the philosopher. There are innumerable miracles and tales of St. Mary, the mother of Jesus, but few of them are endurable, while the general tone of the narration is unworthy of any woman,--let alone the highest woman-ideal of Christianity. A dog has been baptised by rascals, and he turns mad (X., 145). In the

p. 287

hour of death, pious people see the heavens open, while infidels are tortured by black men, ravens and vultures (XL); and for the edification of the faithful the damned are thrown into the crater of a volcano (XII.).

The Abbot Richalmus, who wrote about 1270 a book of revelations about the intrigues and persecutions of demons, recognises the Devil's hand in every little inconvenience he might happen to experience. It is devils that make him feel qualmish when he has eaten too much; they make him fall asleep over his breviary. When he exposes his hand, they make it feel chilly; when he hides it under his cloak, they tickle and bite it like fleas. "Once, he says, "when we were gathering stones for building a wall, I heard a devil exclaim, 'What tiresome work!' He only did it to tempt us and make us rebellious." There is no noise but some devil speaks out of it. "While I pull my sleeve," he says, "a rustling is heard, and devils speak through this sound. When I scratch myself, the scratching is their voice. . . . Lowly people are mostly seduced by anger and sadness, but the rich and powerful by arrogance and pride." 1

Another favorite conception of Christianity originated in the Roman idea of looking upon religion as a legal affair. It must have been a lawyer who made that happy hit of presenting the case of Satan versus mankind or versus Christ juridically, in the form of a regular lawsuit, in which, of course, Satan in the end is worsted. The booklet, which bears the title Processus Sathanæ, became so popular that it was repeatedly edited by various authors and is still extant in various redactions, one

p. 288

of the best and oldest being by Bartolus, a lawyer who lived 1313-1355. 1

The Devil played the rôle of a joker in the Passion plays, and his part became more and more prominent. In France the idea prevailed that the great mysteries should always have not less than four devils, a usage which is mentioned in Rabelais. Hence the proverb, "Faire le diable à quatre." In Mediæval mysteries God the Father, God the Son, and Satan appear on the stage, and

Click to view


Click to view


Click to view




the last one is practically the main actor in the whole drama. He was the intriguer who, after his successful revolution against the Lord, set up an empire of his own in Hell; and without the Devil's intrigues the whole plot of man's fall and Christ's salvation would be impossible. 3 The works of Cæsarius, of Heisterbach, Richalmus,

p. 289

[paragraph continues] Bartolus, and others are by no means the only ones that treat on devil-lore; they are typical of a large class of similar literary productions.

While the Church in her struggles for supremacy, aspiring for worldly power, began to neglect her spiritual duties, people sought comfort in sects. The Manichees increased, Catharism spread rapidly and many new sects, such as the Albigenses, were founded. Almost all sectarians were morally earnest and sincere, yet the general character of these sects was similar to the Manichees, an openly avowed dualism. The tendencies of the time were dualistic, and the Church also was under the influence of dualistic views. Nevertheless, orthodox Christianity, at least in her noblest expositors, such as Thomas Aquinas and other Christian philosophers, never lost sight of the monistic ideal, in spite of all its demonological errors. The demonology of the Middle Ages was at bottom a mythical excrescence, for the Devil's power was all the time regarded as a mere sham, as Blendwerk. He still served the higher purposes of the omnipotent God, who used him for his wise and well-calculated ends. Thus it was a natural consequence that the Devil appeared in spite of his smartness as the dupe of God; his fate was always to be defeated and ridiculed. As such he figures in the mysteries, the Easter and Christmas plays, in which he acts one of the most important parts, that of intriguer, harlequin, and fool.

Kindred Superstitions.

Belief in witchcraft was only the main result of the established authority of a religion of magic, involving the

p. 290

belief in a personal Devil. There are other consequences which, though less important, are sometimes bad enough in themselves. We mention a few of them: (1) There were persons who actually tried to make contracts with the Devil. (2) People possessed of a lively imagination began to dream that they stood in all kinds of relations to the Evil One. There are cases in which imaginary witches surrendered themselves voluntarily to the Inquisition. (3) Soldiers entertained the hope of rendering themselves bullet-proof. (4) Many methods were devised

Click to view

WITCHES. (From Horndorff De magicis artibus.)

to predict the future. (5) There were plenty of fools who tried to become rich by magic; and (6) worst of all, men who knew better than the self-constituted guardians of the right faith, were relentlessly persecuted even unto death.

The Devil was believed to hold court and to celebrate witches' sabbaths, on which occasions homage was paid him and the Christian sacraments were travestied with diabolical malice.

The most remarkable case of bestial demonolatry with all its incidental crimes, is recorded in the annals of

p. 291


Click to view



p. 292

[paragraph continues] France where Giles De Rais (also spelled Raiz and Retz) one of the greatest dignitaries of the State, a descendant of the highest noble families of Brittany, and a marshal of France, was charged with kidnapping about one hundred and fifty women and children, who, after being subjected to all kinds of outrages, were solemnly sacrificed to Satan. 1 The facts seem impossible but the complete records of the case are still extant, according to which Rais was convicted and executed in 1440. The history of his life has apparently contributed to the formation of the legend of Bluebeard.

Among the persons who gave themselves up to the Inquisition we mention Katharine Jung of Amdorf, Hessia, who confessed to her own father that she was a witch. The poor man regarded it as his duty to denounce her, and after ten days, on May, 11, 1631, the girl was executed.

Another case of comparatively recent date happened in Alvebrode, Hanover. An old spinster, daughter of the widow Steingrob, had a brother who suffered from attacks of asthma. Her mother was blind and lame, and her sister had died of consumption. Some people in the village suggested that the attacks which came upon her brother were due to witchcraft, and at last the old spinster herself declared she was a witch and described her relations with the Devil in the minutest terms. She was convinced herself that she had bewitched her mother and sister and could injure people by a mere glance. Anxious about the welfare of the villagers, she warned them to avoid her, and tried to drown herself during an attack of melancholy,

p. 293

but she was rescued and imprisoned. The physician, a sensible and humane man, declared, judging from bodily symptoms, that she suffered from a disease which had confused her mind, but she could not be prevailed upon to submit to treatment. She insisted that she was as healthy as a fish and that the Devil could not be driven out by medicine. She said: "It is in vain to try to cure a witch. I deserve death and shall gladly die, but please do not burn me, have me dispatched with the sword. Everything will be well when I am dead." Thereupon the physician resorted to a stratagem. He persuaded her that her neck was sword-proof, and succeeded in inducing her to take medicine to make her neck soft again for decapitation. She was then treated according to the prescriptions of her physician, with bodily exercise and regular diet and sleep until her mind improved, and she forgot all about witchcraft and her sword-proof neck.

Christian Elsenreiter, a student of Passau, palmed off upon credulous soldiers for making them bullet-proof a slip of paper upon which he wrote, "Devil help me, body and soul I give to thee!" The paper had to be swallowed, and Elsenreiter claimed that he who would die of it within twenty-four hours would go to hell, but he who survived would be bullet-proof all his life.

A Saxon Colonel had been hit twice during his military career by a bullet, but in each case a Mansfeld-Thaler had protected him. This incident gave rise to the notion that Mansfeld-Thalers make one bullet-proof, and there was no officer in the imperial army during the Turkish wars who did not carry at least one of them about

p. 294

his person. The price of Mansfeld-Thalers at that time was fifteen times their face value.

Various kinds of magic wands and divining-rods which were supposed to indicate the place where treasures

Click to view

(According to the Pneumatologia occulta1 This divining rod must be made of copper or brass.)

lay hidden, were made in great quantities. There are innumerable magic formulas and exorcisms, most of them invoking God or the Trinity, or Jesus Christ, in

p. 295

[paragraph continues] Hebrew or Latin; especially the words Yahveh (יהוה) and Adonai (אדני) play an important part and were believed to be very effective. Among the magic symbols which are met with in old documents, the triangle, the cross, the pentagram, and the signs of the planets are preferred; but other figures, such as squares, hexagrams, circles, and fantastic combinations of irregular lines are also quite frequent. Conjurations were made according to various prescriptions; a circle was drawn at midnight where two roads cross; it was lit with wax candles made after specific

Click to view


Click to view



recipes. The conjurer had to prepare himself by fasts and prayers, sometimes by partaking of the holy communion at church, and when at last he failed to find the treasure or to accomplish his purpose, whatever it may have been, he had reason to believe that he made some trifling mistake in his preparations.

The most fashionable method of predicting the

p. 296

future was the casting of horoscopes, which still served astronomers in the seventeenth century as a means of making a living. Kepler, who enjoyed the confidence of the superstitious Emperor Rudolf IL, felt the deep humiliation of his position, but he bore it with good humor, as we know from himself. He writes:

"Astrology is indeed a foolish child, but, good gracious, where would her mother, the wise astronomy, be if she had not this foolish child is not the world more foolish still, so foolish, indeed, that the old sensible mother (i. e., astronomy) must be introduced

Click to view


Click to view



to the people . . . through her daughter's foolishness.... But when guesses are limited to yes and no, one has always about half the chances in one's favor. . . . Right guesses are remembered, failures forgotten, and so the astrologer remains in honor." 3

One reason why there were always so many fools who in spite of their fear of eternal damnation tried to make contracts with the Prince of Darkness was the prevalent idea illustrated in many old legends that it was

p. 297

quite possible to shirk one's obligations; indeed God and all the saints were supposed to be always ready to assist people in cheating the Devil out of his own. As an instance that characterises this belief, quite common in the

Click to view

KNIGHT AND DEVIL. (Old German Print.)

Middle Ages, we quote the legend of St. Gertrude, an Old-German poem of unknown authorship. 1

p. 298

"A knight was stricken by poverty great,
    His goods he all had wasted,
And gone from him was his whole estate;
    Such bitter want he'd tasted
        That to take his life he intended.

"He rode to the forest dark and dim,
    But there, the Devil awaited
The knight and said to him
    'Thou shalt be reinstated
        If thou wilt assist me in secret.'

"'I'll give thee chests full of glittering gold
    In exchange for thy loving maiden,
Then canst thou live well and free and bold,
    Until thou diest. Well laden
        With joys shalt thou be while living.'

"And happy was the maiden fair,
    The new wealth her heart delighted
'But say, my Lord,' she asked, from where
    Do the riches come?' Then affrighted
        Was the knight at her look and her query.

"'O, lady dear wilt thou ride with me
    Through a forest green and pleasant?
The birds of the forest there play in glee,
    And the songs are now heard incessant
        Which gaily the birds are singing.'

"Together a green forest they reached;
    And near the road was standing
A little chapel, where men beseeched
    Mary, whose arms were expanding
        To all: our worthy mother, our lady.

"To the knight the maiden said: Let me
    Here stop in pious feeling p. 299
In the chapel to pray an Ave Marie.'
    At the altar she was kneeling
        With her arms acrosswise folded.

"She there fell asleep, forgetting her care,
    And Mary stepped forth from the altar
And to the knight she came blooming fair,
    In her hand bearing rosary and psalter,
        And mounted, as if 'twere the maiden.

"They both reached soon, in the forest dense,
    The cross-road where the Devil was standing,
His rage on seeing them was intense.
    'Thou hast cheated me!' he was demanding,
        'Thou treacherous liar, thou trickster!

'Thou hast promised to bring here thy lady fair,
    And thou bringest the Queen of Heaven!
With her I cannot my conquests share,
    From her presence I must be driven
        Yea, driven from her forever.'

"Said Mary:

    Thou evil spirit, away with thee,
To thy fellows thou shalt be given,
The lady thou must leave with me!
    My Son's kingdom she shall live in,
        Now and forever! Amen.'"

What charms the idea of magic exercises upon a man's mind may be learned from the fact that even Goethe, one of the clearest-headed men of modern times, passed through a period of his life (as we know from his Wahrheit und Dichtung) in which he pondered upon the possibility of occultism. Reminiscences of this kind found classical expression in his ballad "The Treasure

p. 300

[paragraph continues] Digger," which on account of its practical beauty and sound moral lesson deserves to be translated and quoted. 1 The treasure-digger speaks:

"Sick at heart, poor in possession
Dragged my days unto the latest,
Poverty is of curses greatest,
Riches are the highest good!
And to end my sore depression
I went forth to dig for treasure,
'Thine my soul be at thy pleasure!'
I wrote down with my own blood.

"Circle within circle drawing,
Wondrous flames I then collected
Unto herbs and bones, selected,
And conjured a spell of might,
Then in manner overawing,
As I'd learned, I dug for treasure
On the spot I found by measure.
Black and stormy was the night.

"And I saw a light's formation
Brightening to a star's consistence,
Coming from the farthest distance
Just as struck the midnight hour.
Vain was further preparation,
And a beauteous youth, with glowing
Splendor from a cup o'erflowing
Spread a flash with searching power.

"Yet his eyes my soul delighted;
'Neath a wealth of flowers tender,
With that cup of heavenly splendor
Stepped he in the magic ring;

p. 301

Click to view


p. 302

Friendly me to drink invited,
And I thought: this youth so purely
Off'ring gifts of heaven, surely
Cannot be the evil king.

"'Courage drink, and life's pure pleasure,'
Quoth he. 'Learn from this occasion,
That by anxious conjuration
No boon can this place afford.
Dig no longer for vain treasure
Work by day, and guests at leisure,
Toilsome weeks and feastdays' pleasure,
Be thy future magic word!'" 1


Click to view


The height of folly that the belief in a religion of magic is capable of, was actually attained in the persecution of men of science whose doctrines came in conflict with tradition. Not only religious reformers, like Savonarola and Huss, were condemned to be burned alive and to die a heretic's death, but also thinkers like Giordano Bruno. Galileo at the age of seventy was imprisoned and surrendered to the Inquisition at the demand of Pope Urban. Threatened with torture, he was forced to recant publicly the heresy of the motion of the earth. 2

p. 303

The religion of miracles had in the natural course of evolution become the religion of magic. The religion of

Click to view


magic had proved to be a belief in witchcraft and the belief in witchcraft had brought forth the terrible fruit of

p. 304

Click to view

BURNING OF SAVONAROLA (After Don Ricardo Balaca.)

p. 305

witch-prosecution with all kindred superstitions, among which the hatred of science was not the least injurious to true religion and the highest interests of mankind.

The belief in witchcraft ceased naturally with the ascendancy of science. The more Christianity became imbued with the scientific spirit of the eighteenth century, the rarer became the fagot, and the fires were at last extinguished forever. So long as Christianity was interpreted as a religion of magic, nothing could stop the terrible mania for burning witches, neither the fear of future punishments for the tortures inflicted upon many innocent victims, nor the pangs of conscience that were now and then felt by the judges, nor Christian charity and love. There was only one remedy, viz., a clear insight into the nature of things revealing the impossibility of witchcraft; but that one remedy afforded an unfailing cure.


264:1 Cf. Fourteenth Annual Report of the B. of Eth., 1892-1893, p. 150.

264:2 Iren. adv. haer., I., 20-21; Justin Martyr., App. II., pp. 69-70; Epiphan. ad. haer., XXII., 1; Euseb., H. E., II., p. 13.

264:3 The snake resembles a stick; still it is not stiff but flaccid and pliant.

265:1 Octavius, ein Dialog des M. Minucius Felix. Edited by B. Dombart. Second edition. Erlangen, 1881. Ante Nicene Chr. Libr., Vol. XIII., p. 451 ff.

266:1 Octavius, Chap. 38. "Socrates scurra Atticus."

268:1 Reproduced from the Fourteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, p. 670.

269:1 For details see the Fourteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, Part 2, p. 673 ff., and Drake, Tecumseh, 2.

269:2 Reproduced from the Fourteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, p. 670.

270:1 There are miracles attributed in the Christian Apocrypha even to Jesus himself, which would be criminal.

272:1 In 1521, a surgeon of Hamburg was executed for witchcraft because he had saved the life of a babe which the midwife had given up as lost. (See Soldan, Hexenprocesse, p. 326.)

272:2 See, e. g., Fourteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, 1892-1893, p. 561.

274:1 Notice, for instance, the deeply religious spirit of the ghost dance taught the North American Indian by the prophet Wovoka. The devotion of Wovoka's followers is well illustrated in the accompanying illustrations of some characteristic attitudes in the ghost dance. Cf. Annual Report of the American Bureau of Ethnology, 1892-1893.

275:1 The idea and name of black magic originated from a corruption of the word necromancy into nigromancy.

275:2 De Vanitate Scientiarum, Chap. 96; Epist. libr., II., pp. 38-40, quoted by Soldan, Hexenprocesse, p. 325.

276:1 The accompanying illustrations are reproduced from the original edition of Occulta Philosophia, Chap. XXVII.

277:1 De Incertitudine et Vanitate Scientiarum et Artium, atque Excellentia Verbi Dei Declamatio. Published in 1530.

278:1 Paciandi De Cliristianorum balneis, pp. 136 ff. and 143 ff. The Rev. Samuel Cheetham says in Smith-Cheetham Dictionary of Christian Antiquities, p. 652: "The contortions of the person on the ground seem to show that it was an exorcism of one possessed. Now, if the vessel was a font for holding the baptismal water, it would seem more appropriate to represent upon it the ordinary pre-baptismal exorcism. It seems therefore more probable that it was intended for the Atrium of a church, where it might be used to contain holy water."

280:1 De vita et miraculis patr, Italic. libri, IV. See Roskoff, Geschichte des Teufels, p. 292.

281:1 Massmann, "Die deutschen Abschwörungs-, Glaubens-, Beicht- und Bet- formeln." Bibliographie der Geschichte der Nationalliteratur. Vol. VII. Roskoff, Geschichte des Teufels, p. 292; Otto Henne am Rhyn, Kulturgreschichte des deutschen Volkes.

281:2 The original, which is Old Low-German, reads as follows:

Q. "Forsachistu diabolæ?" A. "Ec forsacho diabolæ!"--Q. "End allum diabol gelde?" A. "End ec forsacho allum diabol gelde."--Q. "End allum diaboles uuercum?" A. "End ec forsacho allum diaboles uuercum, end uuordum, Thunaer, ende Uuoden, ende Saxnote, ende allem dem unholdum the hira genotas sint."

282:1 Illustrium miraculorum et historiarum memorabilium libri XII, ante annos fere CCCC a Cæsario Heisterbacensi, ordinis Cisterniensis, . . . . Colon. 1599. A new edition was made by Josephus Strange, published by J. M. Heberle.

283:1 The original is fol. 2a column 1 of Codex miso (D) in the Royal Library at Düsseldorf.

284:1 For a brief summary see Wolfgang Menzel, Deutsche Literaturgeschichte, pp. 310-312. See also Roskoff, Geschichte des Teufels, pp. 317--326.

284:2 "Non est via securior quam ordo Cisterniencis neque inter omne genus hominum, pauciones descendunt ad inferos quam personæ illius religionis." I., Chap. 33.

287:1 Roskoff, pp. 535-545.

288:1 Concerning the Processus Sathanæ, see Dr. R. Stintzing, Geschichte der populären Litteratur des röm. can. Rechts in Deutschland, Leipsic, 1867. Roskoff's book on the Devil contains on pages 349-355 extracts from Stintzing.

288:2 From Bilderatlas zur Geschichte der deutschen Nationallitteralur, by Dr. Gustav Könnecke, Marburg, 1895, p. 93.

288:3 Floegel's Geschichte des Grotesk-Komischen, bearbeitet von Fr. W. Ebeling, pp. 70-71, 119-120.

292:1 See Encyclo. Brit., Vol. XX., p. 258.

294:1 Published from an old MS. by Georg Conrad Horst in his Zauberbibliothek, I., pp. 92 ff. We abstain here from reproducing the incantations that must be used in order to be successful.

295:1 Agrippa ab Nettesheim, De occ. phil., p. 459.

295:2 After Gerhard's Geomantic Astronomy. See Agrippa ab Nettesheim de occulta Philosophia, liber III., chap. XI. "De divinis nominibus eorundemque potentia et virtute."

296:1 Devised by Petrus de Albano for the "exploration" of the week. Reproduced from "Elementa Magica" in De occ. phil. p. 465.

296:2 Agrippa ab Nettesheim de occulta philosophia. p. 560.

296:3 Translated from Carus Sterne, Die allgemeine Weltanschauung, p. 56.

297:1 Translated by E. F. L. Gauss from Deutscher Liederhort, (Erk & Böhme) Vol.. III. See also Das Kloster, Stuttgart, 1846, Vol. II., Part I., p. 176. The original MS. of the poem is preserved in the Heidelburg Library.

300:1 Translation by E. F. L. Gauss, of Chicago, Ill.

302:1 This is most likely the poem of which Schiller writes to Goethe in a letter dated May 23, 1797: "It is so exemplary, beautiful, and round and perfect, that I felt very forcibly, while reading it, how even a small whole, a simple idea, can give us the enjoyment of the highest, by perfect presentation."

302:2 The most thorough exposition of this sad chapter in the history of civilisation is found in President Andrew Dickson White's two volumed work A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom. New York. 1896.

Next: The Inquisition