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youngest were condemned to the same discipline for three days only.
The process seems to have consisted in confronting the children with the witches, and hear-
ing the extraordinary story which the former insisted upon maintaining. The children, to the
number of three hundred, were found more or less perfect in a tale as full of impossible
absurdities as ever was told around a nursery fire. Their confession ran thus:
They were taught by the witches to go to a cross way, and with certain ceremonies to invoke
the devil by the name of Antecessor, begging him to carry them off to Blockula, meaning, per-
haps, the Brockenberg, in the Hartz forest, a mountain infamous for being the common scene
of witches meetings, and to which Goethe represents the spirit Mephistopheles as conducting
his pupil Faustus. The devil courteously appeared at the call of the children in various forms,
but chiefly as a mad Merry Andrew, with a grey coat, red and blue stockings, a red beard, a
high-crowned hat, with linen of various colours wrapt round it, and garters of peculiar length.
He set each child on some beast of his, providing and anointed them with a certain unguent
composed of the scrapings of altars and the filings of church clocks. There is here a discrep-
ancy of evidence which in another court would have cast the whole. Most of the children con-
sidered their journey to be corporeal and actual. Some supposed, however, that their strength
or spirit only travelled with the fiend, and that their body remained behind. Very few adopted
this last hypothesis, though the parents unanimously bore witness that the bodies of the chil-
dren remained in bed, and could not be awakened out of a deep sleep, though they shook
them for the purpose of awakening them. So strong was, nevertheless, the belief of nurses
and mothers in their actual transportation, that a sensible clergyman, mentioned in the pref-
ace, who had resolved he would watch his son the whole night and see what hag or fiend
would take him from his arms, had the utmost difficulty, notwithstanding, in convincing his
mother that the child had not been transported to Blockula during the very night he held him
in his embrace.
The learned translator candidly allows,  out of so great a multitude as were accused, con-
demned, and executed, there might be some who suffered unjustly, and owed their death
more to the malice of their enemies than to their skill in the black art, I will readily admit. Nor
will I deny, he continues,  but that when the news of these transactions and accounts, how
the children bewitched fell into fits and strange unusual postures, spread abroad in the king-
dom, some fearful and credulous people, if they saw their children any way disordered, might
Page 90
think they were bewitched or ready to be carried away by imps. The learned gentleman here
stops short in a train of reasoning, which, followed out, would have deprived the world of the
benefit of his translation. For if it was possible that some of these unfortunate persons fell a
sacrifice to the malice of their neighbours or the prejudices of witnesses, as he seems ready
to grant, is it not more reasonable to believe that the whole of the accused were convicted on
similar grounds, than to allow, as truth, the slightest part of the gross and vulgar impossibili-
ties upon which alone their execution can be justified?
The Blockula, which was the object of their journey, was a house having a fine gate painted
with divers colours, with a paddock, in which they turned the beasts to graze which had
brought them to such scenes of revelry. If human beings had been employed they were left
slumbering against the wall of the house. The plan of the devil s palace consisted of one large
banqueting apartment and several withdrawing-rooms. Their food was homely enough, being
broth made of coleworts and bacon, with bread and butter, and milk and cheese. The same
acts of wickedness and profligacy were committed at Blockula which are usually supposed to
take place upon the devil s Sabbath elsewhere; but there was this particular, that the witches
had sons and daughters by the fiends, who were married together, and produced an offspring
of toads and serpents.
These confessions being delivered before the accused witches, they at first stoutly denied
them. At last some of them burst into tears, and acquiesced in the horrors imputed to them.
They said the practice of carrying off children had been enlarged very lately (which shows the
whole rumours to have arisen recently); and the despairing wretches confirmed what the chil-
dren said, with many other extravagant circumstances, as the mode of elongating a goat s
back by means of a spit, on which we cafe not to be particular. It is worth mentioning that the
devil, desirous of enjoying his own reputation among his subjects, pretended at one time to
be dead, and was much lamented at Blockula but he soon revived again.
Some attempts these witches had made to harm individuals on middle earth, but with little
success. One old sorceress, indeed, attempted to strike a nail, given her by the devil for that
purpose, into the head of the minister of Elfland; but as the skull was of unusual solidity, the
reverend gentleman only felt a headache from her efforts. They could not be persuaded to
exhibit any of their tricks before the Commissioners, excusing themselves by alleging that
their witchcraft had left them, and that the devil had amused them with the vision of a burning
pit, having a hand thrust out of it.
The total number who lost their lives on this singular occasion was four-score and four per-
sons, including fifteen children; and at this expense of blood was extinguished a flame that
arose as suddenly, burned as fiercely, and decayed as rapidly, as any portent of the kind with-
in the annals of superstition. The Commissioners returned to Court with the high approbation
of all concerned; prayers were ordered through the churches weekly, that Heaven would be [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]