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POPULAR SUPERSTITIONS. The feathers of a dove are supposed to possess a very particular power of resisting death; a person laying his head upon a pillow stuffed with them cannot die, but continues struggling with the agonies of death till it is removed. On this account the pillows of dying persons are frequently taken away lest they should contain pigeon's feathers.
Fern-seed is imbued with very important magical properties, and the spirits are so very tenacious of it, that they will not suffer any person to gather it in quiet. A woman, who was sent to gather some, reported that the spirits whisked by her ears, and sometimes struck her hat, and different parts of her body; and when, at length, she had collected a considerable quantity, and, as she thought, secured it, the box proved to be empty.
Many people destroy the egg-shells after they have eaten the meat: this custom originated from a desire of preventing witches from using them as boats. A Manuscript in the Cotton Library, marked Julius,
f. 6. has the following superstitions, practised in the · "Lordship of Gasborough, in Cleveland, Yorkshire.
Any one whistling after it is dark, or day-light is closed, must go thrice about the house by way of penance. How this whistling becomes criminal is not said.
“ When any one dieth, certain women sing a song to the dead body, reciting the journey the deceased
They esteem it necessary to give, once in their lives, a pair of new shoes to a poor person ; believing that, after their decease, they shall be obliged to pass barefoot over a great space of ground, or heath, overgrown with thorns and furzes, unless, by such a gift, they have redeemed this obligation; in which case, when they come to the edge of this heath, an old man will meet them, with the self-same pair of shoes they had given, by the help of which they will pass over
unhurt; that is, provided the shoes have no holes in them; a circumstance the fabricator of the tale forgot to stipulate.
“Between the towns of Aten and Newton, near the foot of Rosberrye Toppinge, there is a well, dedicated to St. Oswald. The neighbours have an opinion that a shirt, or shift, taken off a sick person, and thrown into that well, will show whether the person will recover or die ; for if it floated, it denoted the recovery of the party; if it sunk, there remained no hope of their life: and to reward the saint for his intelligence, they tear off a rag of the shirt, and leave it hanging on the briars thereabout." These wells, called rag-wells, were formerly not uncommon. Something like them is mentioned by Mr. Hanway, in his Travels in Persia, vol. i. p. 177; where he
says, “After ten days' journey we arrived at desolate caravansera, where we found nothing but water. I observed a tree covered with rags tied to the branches; these were so many charms, which passengers coming from Ghilan, a province remarkable for agues, had left there, in a fond expectation of leaving this disease also on the same spot."
A Witch is almost universally a poor, decrepit, superannuated, old woman; who being in great distress, is tempted by a man clothed in a black coat or gown ; sometimes, as in Scotland, wearing also a bluish band and hand-cuffs, that is, a kind of turn-up linen sleeve. This man promises her, if she will sign a contract to become his, both soul and body, she shall want for nothing, and that he will revenge her upon all her enemies. The agreement being concluded, he gives her some trifling sum of money, from half-a-crown to fourpence, to bind the bargain; then cutting or pricking her finger, causes her to sign her name, or make a cross as her mark, with her blood, on a piece of parchment: what is the form of these contracts is nowhere mentioned. In addition to this signature, in Scotland, the devil made the witches put one hand to the sole of
their foot, and the other to the crown of their head, thereby signifying they were entirely his. In making these bargains there is sometimes a great deal of haggling, as is instanced in the account of the negotiation between Oliver Cromwell and the devil, before the battle of Worcester, published in Echard's History of England. Before the devil quits his new recruit, he delivers to her an imp or familiar, and soinetimes two or three; they are of different shapes and forms, some resembling a cat or kitten, others a mole, a miller fly, or some other insect or animal; these are to come at her call, to do such mischief as she shall direct them : at stated times of the day they suck her blood, through teats on different parts of her body: these on inspection appear red and raw. Feeding, suckling, or rewarding these imps, was by law declared felony.
There are, it is held, three sorts of witches. The first can hurt, not help; these, from their diabolical qualities, are called Black Witches. The second sort can help, but not hurt; these are unhappy persons, who, for the power of curing diseases, finding stolen goods, and doing other acts of utility, for which they take money, become bond-slaves to the devil : they are at continual enmity with the Black Witches, insomuch that one or the other fall a sacrifice to their wicked arts; these are commonly styled White Witches. The third sort are those who can both help and hurt; and as they seem a sort of mixture between white and black, and wanting a name, may, without any great impropriety, be named Gray Witches.
But to return to the common witch, which seems of the black sort; we do not find, that, in consequence of her wicked compact, she enjoys much of the good things of this world, but still continues in abject penury. Sometimes, indeed, she, in company with others of her sisterhood, are carried through the air on brooms, spits, &c. to distant meetings, or sabbaths, of witches; but for this they must anoint themselves with a certain magical ointment, given them by the devil. .
At these meetings they have feastings, music, and
dancing; the devil himself sometimes condescending to play on the pipe or cittern: and some of them have carnal copulation with him, the produce of which is toads and serpents : sometimes the devil, to oblige a male witch or wizard, of which there are some few, puts on the shape of a woman. Mr. Sinclair tells us, in his book intituled “The Invisible World,” that one William Barton, who, with his wife, was burnt in Scotland for witchcraft, confessed that he lay with the devil in the shape of a gentlewoman, and had fifteen pounds of him in good money; but this he again denied before bis execution. His wife confessed that the devil went before them to a dancing, in the shape of a dog, playing upon a pair of pipes; and, coming down the hill back again, he carried the candle in his bottom, under his tail, which played ey wig wag, wig wag: that, she said, was almost all the pleasure she ever had. Generally, before the assembly breaks up, they all have the honour of saluting Satan's posteriors, who, for that ceremony, usually appears under the figure of a he-goat, though, in Scotland, it was performed when he appeared under the human form. In their way to and from these meetings, they sometimes sing or repeat certain barbarous words : in going, they use these words-tout, tout a tout, tout tought, throughout and about ; in returning, rentum tormentum. In Scotland it was confessed and deposed, that, at some of these meetings, the devil got up into the pulpit, and preached a sermon in a voice hough and gustie; and afterwards caused the witches to open several graves, out of which they took part of the body, the joints of the fingers and toes, with some of the winding sheet: this was to prepare a powder for magical uses.
It now and then happens that Satan, being out of humour, or for diversion, beats the witches black and blue, with the spits and brooms, the vehicles of their transportation, and plays them divers other unlucky tricks. Any one repeating the name of God, instantly puts the whole assembly to flight. Here likewise the devil distributes apples, dishes, spoons, or other trifles,
to thos: witches who desire to torment any particular person ; these they present to them, and thereby obtain a power over them.
When a witch wishes to destroy any one to whom she bears an ill-will, she and her sister witches make an image of wax, which, with many ceremonies, is baptized by the devil, and named after the person meant to be injured ; after which they stick thorns into it, and set it before a fire ; and, as the wax melts by the heat, so the body of the person represented decays by sickness, with great torture, having the sensation of thorns stuck into bis or her flesh.
On some occasions, witches content themselves with a less cruel revenge, and only oblige the objects of their anger to swallow pins, crooked nails, dirt, cinders, and trash of all sorts, which they invisibly convey to them, or send them by their imps. Frequently they show their spite by drying up cows, and killing oxen ; which last they have particular power to do, because, as the apostle says, “Doth God take care of my oxen?" I Cor. ix. 9. For any slight offence, they prevent butter from coming in the churn, or beer from working.
Witches, in vexing persons, sometimes send a number of evil spirits into them: these, as they (that is, the spirits) have informed several exorcists, are also of different ranks and degrees. In one Sarah Williams were these : Killico, Hob, and a third anonymous ; Coronell Portorichio, Frateretto, Fliberdiggibbet, Hoberdidance, Tocobatto, and Lusty Jolly Jenkin, Puffe and Purre,
Lustie Dickie Cornerd Cappe, Nurre, Molken, Wilken, Helemodion, and Kellicocum. Besides these, - there were in others, Captain Pippen, Captain Philpot, Captain Maho, and Captain Soforce: these were all leaders. There were also sometimes, with these Captains, divers private spirits ; as in a Mr. Trayford there were, Hilco, Smalkin, Hillio, Hiachto, and Lustie Huff Cap; all these may be found in book intituled, “Egregious Popish Impostures," &c. practised by Edmunds, alias Weston, a Jesuit, &c. published in 1603, p. 49, 50.