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Human Animals Part 12

A witch trial took place at Lancaster on the 10th of February, 1633, in which a batch of witches was accused of such dealings.

Evidence was given by Edmund Robinson, son of Edmund Robinson, of Pendle forest, eleven years of age, at Padham, before Richard Shuttleworth and John Starkey, Justices of the Peace, "who upon oath informeth, being examined concerning the great meeting of the witches of Pendle, saith that upon All Saints-day last past, he, this informer being with one Henry Parker a near door-neighbour to him in Wheatley Cave, desired the said Parker to give him leave to gather some bulloes, which he did. In gathering whereof he saw two greyhounds, namely a black and a brown; one came running over the next field towards him, he verily thinking the one of them to be Mr. Nutter's and the other to be Mr. Robinson's, the said gentlemen then having suchlike. And saith the said greyhounds came to him, and fawned on him, they having about their necks either of them a collar, unto which was tied a string: which collars (as this informant affirmeth) did shine like gold. And he was thinking that some either of Mr. Nutter's or Mr. Robinson's family should have followed them, yet seeing nobody to follow them, he took the same greyhounds thinking to course with them. And presently a hare did rise very near before him. At the sight whereof he cried 'Loo, Loo, Loo,' but the dogs would not run.

Whereupon he being very angry took them and with the strings that were about their collars, tied them to a little bush at the next hedge, and, with a switch that he had in his hand, he beat them. And instead of the black greyhound Dickenson's wife stood up, a neighbour whom this informer knoweth. And instead of the brown one a little boy whom this informant knoweth not. At which sight this informer being afraid, endeavoured to run away; and being stayed by the woman, namely Dickenson's wife, she put her hand into her pocket, and pulled forth a piece of silver much like to a fair shilling, and offered to give it him to hold his tongue and not tell: which he refused saying, 'Nay, thou art a witch.' Whereupon she put her hand into her pocket again, and pulled out a thing like unto a bridle that jingled, which she put on the little boy's head; which said boy stood up in the likeness of a white horse, and in the brown greyhound's stead. Then immediately Dickenson's wife took the informer before her upon the said horse and carried him to a new house called Hearthstones, being about a quarter of a mile off."

Here the boy, Edmund Robinson, was witness to the extraordinary incidents of a feast of witches, all of which he recounted before the judges, and then his father, being called, gave evidence that he had sent his son to fetch home two kine, and as he did not return he went to seek him, finding him eventually "so affrighted and distracted that he neither knew his father, nor did he know where he was, and so continued very nearly a quarter of an hour before he came to himself, when he told the above curious happenings."[64]

The seventeen Pendle forest witches condemned in Lancashire obtained a reprieve and were sent to London, where they were examined by His Majesty himself and the Council.

A witch called Julian Cox, aged about seventy years, was indicted at Taunton, in Somerset, in 1663, for transforming herself into a hare and for other sorcery.

The evidence given to prove that she was a witch was embodied in a narrative deposed to by Mr. Pool, a servant and officer in the court to Judge Archer, then Judge of Assizes at Taunton.

"The first witness was a huntsman, who swore that he went out with a pack of hounds to hunt a hare, and not far from Julian Cox her house, he at last started a hare. The dogs hunted her very close, and the third ring hunted her in view, till at last the huntsman perceiving the hare almost spent, and making toward a great bush he ran on the other side of the bush to take her up, and preserve her from the dogs.

But as soon as he laid hands on her, it proved to be Julian Cox, who had her head grovelling on the ground and her globes (as he expressed it) upward. He knowing her, was so affrighted that his hair on his head stood on end, and yet spake to her and asked her what brought her there; but she was so far out of breath, that she could not make him any answer. His dogs also came up with full cry to recover the game and smelt at her, and so left off hunting any farther. And the huntsman went home presently, sadly affrighted."[65]

In a report dated in the latter half of the nineteenth century on the state of the county prison at Dingwall, a statement was made by a fisherman who was imprisoned for assaulting a woman of sixty, whom he accused of bewitching everything he had. She prevented him from catching fish and caused his boat to upset. The other fishermen then refused to work with him as a companion. "She is known in all the neighbourhood to be a witch," he deposed. "She has been seen a hundred times milking the cows in the shape of a hare, though I never saw her do it myself."

"People believe that if anyone gets blood from a witch she can do them no more harm, and that is the reason I cut her with a knife, so that it might go into her as short a way as possible. All I wanted was to get blood," was his quaint way of putting it.

The hare has always been closely associated with witches, and for this reason seems to be of evil augury, though in some parts of the country its foot, and sometimes its head, are used as a protection against sorcery, perhaps on the homeopathic principle.

The cat runs the hare very close in its association with witches, and is a handy animal for transformation purposes, being so frequently met with in this country.

One of the most celebrated Scottish witch-cat trials took place at Caithness when Margaret Nin-Gilbert was interrogated on February 8, 1719, by William Innes, minister of Thurso, and confessed that she was travelling one evening when she was met by the devil in the likeness of a man who "engaged her to take on with him," which she agreed to do. From that time she became familiar with him, and sometimes he appeared to her in the likeness of a huge black horse, sometimes riding a horse, sometimes like a black cloud, and again in the shape of a black hen. She apparently obtained the powers of a witch with the help of this apparition, and the use she made of them appears in the following story told by one William Montgomery, a mason, whose house was invaded by cats in such numbers that his wife and maidservant could not endure to remain in the place.

One night on Montgomery's return he found five cats by the fireside, and the servant told him they were "speaking among themselves."

The cat-witch on the preceding November 28 had climbed in at a hole in a chest, and Montgomery watched his opportunity, intending to cut off her head when she should put it out of the hole. "Having fastened my sword on her neck," he continues, "which cut her, nor could I hold her; having (at length) opened the chest, my servant, William Geddes, having fixed my durk in her hinder quarters by which stroke she was fastened to the chest; yet after all she escaped out of the chest with the durk in her hinder quarter, which continued there till I thought, by many strokes, I had killed her with my sword; and having cast her out dead, she could not be found next morning." Four or five nights after, the servant cried out that the cats had come again, and Montgomery "wrapped his plaid about the cat and thrust the durk through her body, and having fixed the durk in the ground, I drove at her head with the back of an axe until she was dead, and being cast out could not be found next morning."

He further declared that no drop of blood came from the cats, also that they did not belong to anyone in the neighbourhood, although one night he saw eight of them and took this to be witchcraft for certain.

On February 12, Margaret Nin-Gilbert, who lived about half a mile from Montgomery's house, was seen by some of her neighbours to drop one of her legs at her own door, and she being suspected of witchcraft the leg, black and putrefied, was taken before the deputy Sheriff who immediately had the maimed woman arrested and imprisoned. By her own confession she admitted that she was bodily present at Montgomery's house "in the likeness of a feltered cat" and that Montgomery had broken her leg either with his durk or axe, which leg since had fallen off from the other part of her body. Also that one Margaret Olsone was also there in the likeness of a cat, and several other women, and that they were invisible because "the devil did hide and conceal them by raising a dark mist or fog to screen them from being seen."[66]

Sometimes the apparition of a witch as a cat foretells death.

In 1607 a witch of the name of Isobel Grierson was burnt after being accused and convicted of entering the house of Adam Clark, in Prestonpans, in the likeness of his own cat and in the company of a mighty rabble of other cats, which by their noise frightened Adam, his wife, and their maid, the last-named being dragged up and down the stairs by the hair of her head, presumably by the devil in the shape of a black man. Isobel also visited the house of a certain Mr. Brown in the shape of a cat, but once being called upon by name she vanished, but Brown himself died of a disease she had laid upon him.

In 1629 another Isobel, wife of George Smith, was indicted as follows:--

"_Item_ she resett Cristian Grinton, a witch in her house, whom the pannel's husband saw one night to come out at one hole in the roof, in the likeness of a cat, and thereafter transform herself in her own likeness, whereupon the pannel told her husband that it should not fare well with him, which fell out accordingly, for next day he fell down dead at the plough."[67]

The witches of Vernon frequented an old castle in the shape of cats.

Three or four brave men determined to pass the night in the stronghold, where they were assailed by the cats and one of them was killed, several of the others being hurt, and many of the cats received wounds. Afterwards the women were found to have returned to human shape and suffered from corresponding gashes.

The witches of Vernon had their imitators in three witches of Strasburg who, in the disguise of huge cats, fell upon a workman. He defended himself courageously and chased away the cats, wounding them.

They were found instantaneously transformed into women, badly hurt and in their beds.

Another story describes how several cat-witches tormented a poor labourer, who, wearying of their persistence, drew his broadsword and sent the animals flying. One less nimble than the rest received a cut from the sword which severed one of its hind legs, when, to the labourer's amazement, he discovered on picking up the limb that it was human in shape, and next morning one of the old hags was discovered to have only one leg left. Similar stories of the "repercussion" variety will be found in Chapter XVIII, but they have never been satisfactorily explained.

M. Henri Gelin tells a good story of a witch who transformed herself into a dog.[68]

One winter evening dogs were barking all round a lonely house in Niort far more loudly than usual. The farmer rose from his bed and carefully opened the shutters. In the middle of the yard he saw a black and white greyhound, which apparently was enjoying itself molesting the other dogs, knocking them over with its paws without the least difficulty, and then picking them up in its jaws and throwing them to some distance as soon as they ventured within reach. The farmer drew on his trousers, into the seat of which his wife had sown a horse-chestnut as a talisman against witchcraft, loaded his gun and fired on the animal which fell dead. The next day he rose at an early hour to go and examine the corpse of his prey, and was greatly astonished to see the body of a beautiful woman dressed in gorgeous clothes lying in the very spot on which the dog was shot. Round her neck there hung a rich chain made of five strings of jewels bearing enamelled medallions beautifully chased, and on her fingers were a profusion of precious gems. In order to cover all traces of his involuntary murder, he quickly dug a hole in a corner of the yard and made a pile of faggots above the newly replaced earth. He had only just finished his task when a gentleman came into the yard, and asked whether he had seen a lady pass that way. From the particulars given, the farmer soon felt certain that the woman in question was the witch he had killed. Tremblingly he replied that he had not seen the lady.

But a little dog that followed the gentleman ran to the heap of faggots and began turning them over, howling piteously. "You have killed my poor wife," cried the gentleman. "I am certain she came here." But he did not insist on looking into the pile, and presently withdrew, followed by the still whimpering dog.

A sheep is sometimes, but not frequently, chosen as a medium for transformation.

A man who was returning late from the market at Verrieres in Poitou, met a lamb, which followed him bleating loudly, at the turn of a footpath crossing a lonely heath. "Poor thing," he said, "you might be devoured by a wolf," and, seizing the lamb by its four legs, he hoisted it on to his shoulders, so as to carry it conveniently. As he approached his house he found the animal began to weigh very heavily.

At last he arrived in a perspiration and put down his burden amongst the sheep which had already been penned in the fold. At dawn the next day, he went to look at his new lamb. But in the spot where he had placed it the evening before he found a huge demon, busy stitching straw soles into his shoes. The sorcerer had resumed human shape and, looking very foolish, begged that he would say nothing about his little adventure. But the man seized him by the shoulders, kicked him from behind and chucked him out of the pen, crying, "Get out of this, you evil being." "If only he had made the slightest scratch from which the blood flowed," added the old lady who was telling the story, "the sorcerer would have been cured, and would no longer have been able to transform himself into an animal."

Although witches are able to transform themselves into horses if they wish, they usually prefer to use their powers for transforming other people, and getting the benefit by riding their victims to death.

Margaret Grant, a Scottish witch of the nineteenth century, believed that she was able to transform herself into various animals, and "avers that she was, at times, actually changed by evil-disposed persons into a pony or a hare and ridden for great distances, or hunted by dogs as the case might be."

Joseph Glanvill in his "Sadducismus Triumphatus," tells the story of a "great army of witches" who were charged with performing a feat of horse-transformation on a large scale at Blocula in Sweden in 1669.

A man may be transformed by a woman throwing a magic halter over his head while he is in bed. Then she mounts the horse, and rides to the witches' tryst. If, however, the man-horse can manage to slip the magic bridle off and throw it over her, she becomes a mare, and her victim mounts her and rides till she is exhausted.

At Yarrowfoot a witch-mare, according to one story, was shod in the usual manner and afterwards sold to her own husband. To his surprise, when he removed the bridle, his wife stood before him in human form, wearing horseshoes on her hands and feet.

There are many variants of this story, another woman having been found in bed with horseshoe attachments, and it is difficult to trace the origin of this fantastic idea.

In the neighbourhood of Ostrel in Denmark a man served on a farm, the mistress of which, unknown to him, was a witch. Although she gave him good and wholesome food he never thrived, but became thinner every day.

At this, being much troubled, he went to a wise man, to whom he communicated his case. From this man he learnt that his mistress was a witch and that at night, while he slept, she transformed him into a horse, and rode upon him to Troms Church in Norway; so that it was not to be wondered at that his strength decreased. The wise man at the same time gave him an ointment with which to rub his head at night, and said when he fell asleep he would have a violent itching on his head, and then he would wake up and see that he was standing outside Troms Church.

The man did as he had been told, and on waking up the following night, he found that he was standing by the church, holding in his hand a bridle which he had torn off whilst scratching his head. Behind him he saw many horses bound together by each other's tails. Presently his mistress came out and cast a friendly look at him, but he nodded for her to come nearer, and when she stood by, he cast the bridle over her head and she became a handsome mare on the spot. He mounted and rode her home. On the way he called at a farrier's, and made him shoe the mare. When he reached home he told his master that he had been out to buy a fine mare, which would go handsomely in harness with one already in the stables. The master paid him a good round sum for the animal, but when he took off its bridle, there stood his wife with horseshoes on her hands and feet. He turned her straight out of doors, but she never managed to get rid of the horseshoes.

When St. Macarius encountered a poor old woman who had been changed into a horse, he restored her to human shape by sprinkling holy water over her. The same saint acted mercifully in another case of transformation.

A young girl refused to do the bidding of the man who asked her to be his wife. He was so infuriated by her refusal that he arranged with a wizard to turn her into a stoat. A wise man, endeavouring to explain this incident, says, "This was not a genuine transformation, but was an illusion of the devil, who so affected the imagination of the girl and the bystanders, that she appeared to them in the form of a stoat, although she was still a woman in reality."

The victim of the enchantment was then taken before the holy man of the name of Macarius, who, on account of his saintliness, could not suffer deception of the devil's wiles. He looked upon the maiden and saw that she was a human being and no stoat, and thus, uttering a prayer, freed her from the spell. This cure is of the hypnotic variety, in which several people are under the mental spell of one other.

Reginald Scott tells the story of a woman who sold an egg to a man who, when eating it, speedily turned into an ass. For three years she rode the animal to market. It was in the city of Salamin in Cyprus where a ship arrived laden with merchandise. Many of the sailors went ashore in the hope of procuring fresh provisions. A certain sturdy young Englishman went to a woman's shop some little way from the town, to see whether she could let him have some new-laid eggs. She promised to do so and went off to fetch them, but she was away so long that the young sailor called out that she must please make haste, as the tide was going out and he might be left behind when his ship set sail. At last she came out with the eggs and told him to come back to her house if the ship had gone. The sailor made the best of his way back to the vessel, but being hungry, ate an egg on the way. He was then struck dumb and his wits seemed to have left him. When he reached the side of the vessel and tried to go aboard, the mariners beat him back with cudgels crying, "What lacks the ass?" and "Whither the devil does the ass want to come?"

Then the sailor realised that he had been bewitched by the woman's eggs he had eaten, and had turned into a donkey. Finding it impossible to board the ship and remembering the witch's words, he went back to her house and there served her for the space of three years, carrying the burdens she laid on his back.[69] Here no doubt the egg is used merely as an instrument for inducing a certain frame of mind in the victim. It may be presumed that the witch's words of suggestion were equally necessary in bringing about the transformation.

The sorceress Meroc in "The Metamorphosis or Golden Ass of Apuleius,"

had the power to change, by one word only, her lover into a beaver. "She likewise changed into a frog an innkeeper who was her neighbour and of whom she was on that account envious, and now that old man, swimming in a tub of his own wine, and merged in the dregs of it, calls on his ancient guests with a hoarse and courteously croaking voice."

"She likewise changed one of the advocates of the court into a ram because he had declaimed against her, and now that ram pleads causes."[70]

M. Henri Gelin, whose researches on Poitevin legends and folklore are very valuable,[71] discusses the conditions under which metamorphosis takes place, saying it is entirely involuntary and is the result of an agreement entered into with infernal powers. The soul of the sorcerer is supposed to remain in a state of distinct entity. But the narrators of these stories have done little to make clear the actual process which takes place when the transformation occurs of a man into a wolf, a sheep, or a colt, or a woman (who seems to be credited with gentler characteristics) into a goat, a bitch, or a hind. Perhaps the human body remains temporarily deprived of its soul, which, entering a new shape, substitutes itself for the obscure and undeveloped soul of the animal, or perhaps the wizard's body enjoys the faculty of anatomically modifying its organs, and varying its aspects something in the manner of the caterpillar which turns into a moth. Who shall say?

A shepherdess in the district of Niort noticed when driving her flock home that it had become augmented by the presence of a black sheep, the origin of which she could not trace. She penned up the extra animal with her own in the shed, and bolted the door, rejoicing at the addition to her flock. But as soon as night had fallen, a woman's voice was heard singing in the sheep's shed. The tune was a plaintive one, interspersed now and again with strident and prolonged laughter.

Not one of the servants or neighbours dared to open the shed and face the flock to see who could be singing like that. In hushed voices they said "It's a witch!" The next day at the usual hour of departure, the shepherdess, in great dread of what she might see, partly opened the shed door. The black sheep rushed like a whirlwind into the open and was gone. Now and again, however, the apparition returned to the farm in the shape of a woman, clapping her hands and laughing loudly as though to mock at the people who had allowed her to escape so easily.

The following legend of a white hind comes from the same district, Souche, two miles from Niort. Its peculiar characteristic is that the young girl, who complains to her mother about the hounds chasing her, appears to be quite aware of what is happening to her in her dual personality of woman and hind at the same moment, an important detail when regarded in the light of scientific occultism.

The story is told by Gelin and is very popular in Poitou. The heroine is a girl by day and a white hind by night. The pack of hounds belonging to her brother Renaud chase her in the forest. She complains of this to her mother who begs Renaud to call back the pack. But it is too late. The white hind is captured and killed. Her palpitating flesh is stripped from the carcase and prepared as a dish of venison, and next day when the guests sit down to the feast, they are terrified to hear a woman's voice which they recognise as that of their absent sister, murmuring, "Alas! my breasts are lying on platters of gold."

Then, raising her tone, she announces that Renaud's soul is forfeit and that his name is written up on the gates of hell. At the sound of her words Renaud falls down dead and his mother goes off in a swoon.

Chapter end

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