Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review Volumes 32 and 33.djvu/538

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The evidence though voluminous is untrustworthy. The interrogators had fixed prepossessions of a definite kind. The character, age and sex of many of the witnesses and accused inspires little confidence. The conduct and circumstances of the trials too frequently illustrate the low standards of procedure which often disgraced the courts of the period. It is further difficult to believe that had anything like an organised secret society existed it would not have played an important part in the political struggles of the period. At least the menace of its possible manipulation would have been known and denounced openly, which it was not, even by King James.[1] The alleged business part of the Sabbath rites, the adjudication by the Devil upon reports of wickednesses committed, shows a close affinity with popular ideas. It is the sort of thing that devils do, as the familiar folktale of True and Untrue illustrates.

To discuss the detail of the various chapters is not possible in the space at my disposal, but I am bound to point out that a good deal of the so-called evidence consists, in fact, of an interpretation of the documents, the plausibility of which depends upon the previous acceptance of the main thesis of the book. Further, Miss Murray rationalises arbitrarily; sometimes the evidence is taken at its face value, at others it is "interpreted." She too often assumes that when a witness was reported to have met the Devil in an animal form, what was really meant was a man dressed up in an animal disguise, which those of us, who visit pantomimes, know to be something quite distinguishable. Similarly, both accusers and accused would be likely to repudiate

  1. I cannot agree with Miss Murray's account of the Bothwell episode. I find no evidence of his having been the Devil except her desire to believe it. That he consulted witches he confessed; that quite probably he was implicated in the attempt upon the king's life by magical means may be true, though he denied it. But his final collapse in the long struggle with Maitland was due not to the breaking of a witch organisation of which he was head, but to the hostile action of the Kirk upon the publication of his correspondence with Huntly and the Catholic earls. It would be, in fact, a strong reason for denying any effectiveness to the witch organisation, if Bothwell were its head, since he would infallibly have turned its machinery to account. But the alleged plot upon the king's life employed solely magical means, nor is there any evidence of any secular use of a secret organisation.