Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Witches in Older Fiction by Edward Yardley 1880


Witches in Older Fiction by Edward Yardley 1880

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WHEN, in Ovid's 'Metamorphoses,' Circe, the poetical witch of the ancients, utters her incantation for the purpose of transforming the companions of Picus, the woods are moved, the earth groans, the trees turn pale, the grass is sprinkled with blood, the stones emit sounds, the ground is covered with serpents which issue from it, and ghosts flit all about the place. Doubtless this suggested the incantation scene in 'Der Freischutz.' Witches, both ancient and modern, made use of the cauldron. Medea, in order to restore AEson to youth, puts into her cauldron, besides magical herbs, a screech-owl, the entrails of a were-wolf and other things. Canidia and her associates, in order to make a philtre, starve a boy to death. In the long list of substances, which are to be found in the cauldron of the witches in 'Macbeth,' are

Root of hemlock digged in the dark:
Liver of blaspheming Jew:
Gall of goat, and slips of yew,
Shivered in the moon's eclipse;
Nose of Turk and Tartar's lips.

Hecate, in Middleton's 'Witch,' in order to compass the death of a person, puts into her cauldron marmaritin, cropped by moonlight, three ounces of the red-haired girl she killed at midnight, and other things. The ointment with which witches anoint themselves in order to travel to their sabbath is made out of the fat of a murdered child. The modern witches are generally women, who are supposed to have sold themselves to the devil, and, in return, to have the power of procuring pleasure for themselves, and of doing harm to others by supernatural means. They are thought to transform themselves to animals such as hares and moorfowl; and stories are told that these animals, after being shot and wounded, are seen to stop or drop, and assume the form of old women. These old women are traced to their habitation, and are there found in bed, suffering from a gun-shot wound. When a witch has a grudge against any person, she forms a waxen image in the likeness of that person, sticks pins into it, and sets it to melt before a fire. The original of the image, thereupon, falls into a consumption, and is afflicted with strange pains. In the 'Gesta Romanorum' there is a story of a married lady who practised witchcraft, in conjunction with her paramour, a necromancer. The guilty pair make a magical waxen image of the lady's absent husband, and shoot at it, in order to destroy him; but they are foiled by another wizard. This story is also in the 'Ingoldsby Legends.' Witches are generally attended by a familiar spirit in the shape of a cat, and, accompanied by this animal, and sitting astride on a broom-stick, they fly by night many thousands of miles. On Walpurgis Night they all assemble at the Brocken, under the presidency of Satan, who, on such occasions, generally takes the form of a black he-goat. One of the most innocent recreations at a witches' sabbath is the baptism of toads. Hecate, the ancient goddess of enchantments, has degraded into a witch herself, and figures as such in the plays of Shakespeare and Middleton. Perhaps she has fallen, with Venus and other deities, in consequence of the prevalence of Christianity. Lilith, who was the wife of Adam and mother by him, or, according to another account, by a Devil, her paramour, of a diabolical progeny, is the most distinguished of witches. She appears in the Walpurgis Night scene in Goethe's 'Faust.' The Scandinavian witches were in the habit of taking the form of wolves, and were then called were-wolves. We meet with werewolves in the works of Petronius Arbiter, Apuleius, and other classical writers.

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