DEATH BY ENCHANTMENT
During the past few years dozens of young people of both sexes have written to me asking for titles of books and other information upon black magic and witchcraft, as that is the subject on which they have chosen to write a thesis for their degree.
I have always recommended to them two large, lavishly illustrated books: Grillot de Givry’s Witchcraft, Magic and Alchemy and my own The Devil and All His Works, because both cover virtually the whole field of the supernatural; also the books of the Reverend Montague Summers, adding that in the bibliographies of his books they will find the titles of many others on various different aspects of the Occult.
But now, having just read Julian Franklyn’s examination of ancient and modern witchcraft, I would certainly add that to my recommendations.
From the eighth century the majority of the princes and nobility of Europe at least paid lip service to the Christian Church, but it was not until the thirteenth that the greater part of the population gave up the worship of the old gods. Until then the Sabbats had been no more evil than the gay Saturnalias of Roman times. With the triumph of the Church in converting the masses the Sabbats became gatherings of Satanists and evil-doers who, by the latter part of the fifteenth century, were causing so many outbreaks of lawlessness that Pope Innocent VIII opened war upon them in 1484 by issuing his Bull, ‘Summis desiderentes affectibus’, which created the Inquisition.
This resulted, from that time up to the middle of the seventeenth century, in the minds of the majority of the inhabitants of Europe becoming afflicted with a terrible obsession. Round every corner they saw a witch, who they feared might cast a spell upon them. If anyone died a sudden death, a child fell ill, cattle or horses succumbed to some disease, or crops failed for no apparent reason, such misfortunes were immediately attributed to the malice of some poor, ugly old crone who, probably from the painful infirmities natural to the elderly, had a reputation for ill temper. And it did not stop there; her female relations, and others who tried to protect her, were accused of being her accomplices, and many a young wife or pretty girl in her teens was also burnt or hung solely owing to the jealousy or blindly superstitious fears of her neighbours.
The Holy Office, as the Inquisition was officially called, condemned tens of thousands of people, particularly in Germany, to be burned at the stake; and the tortures inflicted upon them first, described in this book, were barbarous beyond belief. Many of the accused were undoubtedly guilty of witchcraft, but the vast majority were innocent and the victims of professional witch-finders, who made a mint of money from their truly devilish activities; for they received a high percentage of the money brought in by the automatic confiscation of everything the condemned possessed.
In Britain the great persecution did not begin until the end of the sixteenth century and was initiated by James VI of Scotland, afterwards James I of England, although in the preceding century there hid been a number of notorious witch trials and the black art was fairly widely practised.
For example, a puppet resembling Queen Elizabeth had been found stuffed with pins in Lincolns Inn Fields. The Queen was greatly perturbed and sent at once for Dr. John Dee to take measures to protect her. Mr. Franklyn refers to the doctor as ‘simple and trusting as a child’. Here I must take issue with the author, for it is an historically proven fact that as a mathematician and astrologer the Doctor made considerable contributions to the scientific knowledge of his time, and that he spent thirty years soundly advising navigators in that great age of discovery.
I am, too, inclined to doubt the author’s belief that witches did actually fly on broomsticks; but his account of the well authenticated levitation by the medium, Douglas Home, certainly renders it possible.
It is of interest that King Charles I did his best to put a check upon the abominable money-making activities of the witch-finders; but his efforts were defeated by the fanatical Puritans. It was in Cromwell’s time that this hideous traffic reached its zenith and was heartily encouraged by the government – although in Britain they at least hung witches instead of burning them. This terrible state of things continued until the Restoration, in 1660. Then Charles II firmly put a stop to it.
If there is any fault in Mr. Franklyn’s book it is only in the similarity of the enormous number of witch trials that he records. But it is a triumph of erudition and abounds with fascinating particulars about witchcraft.