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“ Padua to tell him, that such a Latin Expression is “ used in a good Sense. My Friend told me seve“ ral other Things of that Nature, which I have
A LETTER concerning Witchcraft, ta
ken from the Secord Volume of the BisLIOTHEQUE CRITIQUE.
HE late Decree of the King's Council, in
Favour of several Persons condemned to Death by your Parliament t, appears to me very extraordinary. 'Tis no usual Thing to reverse a Sentence pronounced by a Supreme Court. M. Du Tot Ferrare Counsellor in this Parliament, being informed that those Persons had been condemned, desired the first President Pelot to put off their Execution for fome Days. That wise Magiftrate refused it at first; but having thought of it, he proposed the Thing, and his Request was granted. Immediately he acquainted my Lord Chancellor † with that Affair, which appeared to him very Important. The Chancellor writ a Letter to the Parliament of Normandy, whereby he desired them to send him an Account of their Procedings in a Trial about Witchcraft ;
which they did. An Advocate of that Parliament sent me their Account, being desirous to know what I thought of it. I could not forbear writing to him, that those Gentlemen are too hasty in point of Witchcraft; and that a certain Lieutenant Criminal of the Country of Caux, whom you know, hanged and burned People Twelve at a Time, tho' they were not convicted of Poisoning, or any impious Practice; which are the two chief Things to be examined by a Judge in those sorts of Trials. For what is commonly said of the Devil's Meeting, ought to be looked upon as an idle Story.
Thar pretended Meeting, about which those who believe they have been at it, relate so many extravagant Things, is only in their Imagination. 'I own that some Country People, especially Shepherds, do now, and then rub their Skin with some Narcotick Grease or Ointments, which cast them into a sound Sleep, and fill their Imaginarion with a Thousand Vifions. When they are thus asleep, they fancy they fee every Thing, that was told them concerning the Devil's Meering by their Fathers, who were also Shepherds or Wizards, if you will have me call them fo. - Whereupon I will inform you of what I have been told by a Country-Friend of mine, who pretended to have a mind to go to the Devil's Meeting with his own Shepherd, who had the Reputation of being a great Sorcerer. Having frequently urged that Shepherd to carry him thither, at last he obrained his Defire. He went to him in the Night at the appointed Time: The Shepherd immediately gave him something to grease himself withal. He took that Grease, as if he had a mind to rub his Skin with it. · But he desired that the Shepherd's Son, who was to go to the Devil's Meering with his Fa: ther, should anoint himself first. Which being done, that Gentleman told the Shepherd, that he should be glad to know what would become of that young Man. - Not long after the young Man fell fast 4. Neep; and when he waked, tho' he had not stirred fron that Place, he gave an Account of every P 3
thing he thought he had seen at the Devil's Meering, and even named several Persons whom he
pre tended to have seen there. My Friend perceived then, that what is commonly faid of the Devil's Meeting, was a mere Fancy. I have told you this Story, that you may impart it to your Brethren, who being prepoffest with popular Errors about Witchcraft, do frequently hang and burn poor Wretches, whose Crime does only confift in the Weakness of their Imagination.
In the Account which the Parliament of Normandy have sent to my Lord Chancellor, instead of thew, ing how they proceed against People accused of Witchcraft, they undertake to prove that wicked Spirits continually move Men to do evil ; Where: upon they mention the renouncing of the Devil at Baptism. In the next Place, They quote the Holy Scripture to prove that there are Wizards and Con jurers. Begides the Scripture, they alledge the Laws of several Nations, whereby such Persons are condemned to Death. This was altogether foreign to the Purpose ; for the only Thing that my Lord Chancellor desired to know, was this, viz. How they proceeded against Persons accused of Witchcraft : “But they are wholly filent about it.
The most plausible Argument alledged by them to condemn those Persons to Death, is this : Men, say they, who confess that they have given up them selves to the Devil, must needs have done a great deal of Mischief. Those Gentlemen suppose, that Sorcerers make a Pact with the Devil, and sometimes in Writing. But if the Judges did narrowly enquire into the Matter, they would frequently find that those Pacts are no less imaginary than the Devil's Meeting. They should examine, whether the impious Practices which attend those Pacts, deserve that a Man fhould be put to Death: Or whether they are such as belong to Confession. I have had the Curiosity to read some Trials about Witchcraft, and found a Thousand Contradictions
in inost of them. In a Word, the Indictments are full of Extravagancies. Which should be sufficient to open the Eyes of credulous Judges, and to prevent their being too hafty in condemning Men, who frequently confess through a weak Imagination, that they have done several Things, which they never did.
I remember, that when I was a Youth, I saw a Man of a great Age, who called himself the eldest Wizard of that part of the Country where he lived, He named a prodigious Number of People, whom he pretended to have seen at the Devil's Meeting : Nay, he mention'd the Days on which they met ; and told every Body how they danced with the Goar, and worshipped him. What is commonly faid of a Goat, that presides in the Devil's Meeting, is not new : Those Animals are mention'd in the moft Ancient Magical Books, as if the Dæmons loved to appear under that Form.
The Old Sorcerer, whom I have just now mentioned, fancied he had gone Twelve Hundred Leagues over the Sea in a Wooden Pail, to destroy with a certain Powder all the Tobacco that grows at St. Christophers. 'Tis certain there was then no Tobacco in that Inand, where it grows now fo plentifully. Immediately, there went a Report, that Tobacco had been bewitch'd : Which being noised about in some Sea-Port: Towns, where they drove a great Trade in Tobacco; that pretended Sorcerer came to believe that he had crossed the Sea in a Wooden Pail. Some Men, and among others the Lieutenant-Criminal abovementioned, gave Credit to that Foolery:
'Tis certain that Country-People, especially in those Parts which afford a far Soil and good Pastures, are very envious, and cannot bear the Prosperity of their Neighbours. Many of them are skilled in the Art of poisoning Cattle. Those who have the Re, putation of doing it, are commonly called Sorce,
There are many of thofe pretended Sorcerers in the Province of Brie, because that Country is full
of Pastures, and abounds with Cattle.' Nay, some Peasants are glad to be accounted Sorcerers, that they may be dreaded by their Neighbours, and less taxed than others. The great Credulity of many Judges in that Country, does rather increase than leffen the Number of Sorcerers. The Indictments drawn up by those Judges, are full of absurd and ridiculous things, wholly: inconsistent one with another. They call those Men Sorcerers, who are only Poisoners, and should be severely punished as such.
I am fully persuaded that the Sentence of the Parliament of Rouen, lately reversed by the Council, was grounded upon those popular Errors, with which a great many Judges are prepoffeffed, especially in the Country. Which is the Reason why the Council have more narrowly enquired into the Marrer : - And because they did not find the Prisoners guilty of poisoning or any impious Thing, they have wisely commuted the Punishment of Death into. Banishment. For, ir would have been a dangerous Thing to acquit and send them back into their Country, where their Life had not been safe, because the People are strangely prepossessed in Point of · Witchcraft. ; Whilft I am upon this Subject, which has been horribly confounded: by Bodin, Delrio, and other such Writers, I will freely tell you what I think of it, having had Occasion to enquire into the Matter, in order to undeceive some of my Friends, who were too fond of Magical and Cabbalistical Books. · Being skilled in the Hebrew Tongue, which is the Language in which the Books concerning practical Cabbala were written by some Jewish Impoitors, I have read as many of those Books as I could ger. I had some from M. Hardi, Counsellor of the Chatelet at Paris, a Gentleman who is very free from popular Errors; and found nothing in them but ridiculous Things and idle Stories. Mr. Th.... a Gentleman of your Town, whom you know, defired me to examine several French and Latin Books