Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review Volumes 32 and 33.djvu/537

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reaction of the events of religious history upon superstition. For obvious reasons popular fear and hatred are easily aroused against the practice of Black Magic, and from the thirteenth century onwards the charge of witchcraft, so prejudicial to the accused and so insusceptible of disproof, was freely used as a political weapon against individuals and by the Church against heretical sects. The view that witches were organised in the same sort of way as heretical sects thus probably arose from the association of Black Magic with the ritual of such bodies as the Waldenses and Templars.

When Miss Murray says of the Black Mass that it may have been the earlier form and influenced the Christian, her hobby horse has surely taken the bit between its teeth. Hoc est corpus meum is not derived from hocus pocus, nor the Lord's Prayer from the use in magic of its words reversed. The coven similarly proves to be the parody of a Christian institution,[1] a fact which undermines Miss Murray's strongest position. In medieval Christianity "the holy covent" was used in a technical sense to denote Christ and the Twelve Apostles. Probably not much earlier than the fourteenth century (1290 is the earliest reference given in the Dictionary) companies of "religious" persons, whether constituting a separate community or sections of a larger one, were formed upon the model of this holy prototype, and consisted of twelve members and a superior. Thus Strype speaks of "all . . . houses of religion . . . whereof the number in any one house is or of late hath been less than a covent, that is to say under thirteen persons."

But even if, as I believe. Miss Murray's main thesis is completely mistaken, and the characteristic features of sixteenth century witchcraft derive from (a) the system of demonology created by the scholastics, and (b) from the association of witchcraft with persecuted heretical sects, there still remains an interesting question. How far did the sixteenth century witches actually form an organised sect or secret society? This is not an easy question to answer with certainty. I am myself inclined to be sceptical as to the extent and efficiency of the organisation.

  1. The evidence may be consulted in Murray's New English Dictionary, ii. pp. 935, 1100 svv. convent and coven.