Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 43.djvu/377

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
363
EVIL SPIRITS.

Christian Church; so at the time of which I am now speaking—i. e., the sixth century after Christ—the Church adopted, under somewhat changed aspects, many of the beliefs and customs of paganism. The mantle of the ancient faith fell upon the shoulders of the new Church.

In the sixth century the dark ages began, and lasted, roughly speaking, until the beginning of the twelfth century. And dark indeed they were. The old light of classic learning and letters had died away; the new light had not yet dawned. The world was sunk in ignorance and superstition. Evil spirits and sorcery held unquestioned sway. As a writer says: "There had never been a time when the minds of men were more completely molded by supernatural conceptions, or when the sense of Satanic power and presence was more profound and universal. Many thousands of cases of possession, exorcism, miracles, and apparitions of the evil one were recorded which were accepted without the faintest doubt. There was scarcely a great saint who had not on some occasion encountered a visible manifestation of an evil spirit. Sometimes the devil appeared as a grotesque and hideous animal; sometimes as a black man; sometimes as a beautiful woman; sometimes as a priest haranguing in the pulpit; sometimes as an angel of light; sometimes actually in the form of Christ. But the sign of the cross or a few drops of holy water, or the name of Mary, could put him to an ignominious flight. The Gospel of St. John around the neck, a rosary, a relic of Christ or of a saint, any one of the thousand talismans distributed to the faithful, sufficed to baffle the utmost efforts of diabolical malice."

In the twelfth century, however, a new idea appeared, that of the witch proper. Up to this time the idea of a formal compact with the evil one had not taken definite form; but in the twelfth century the conception of a witch, as we now conceive it—that is to say, of a woman who had entered into a deliberate compact with Satan, and who was endowed with the power of working miracles whenever she pleased, and who was transported through the air to pay her homage to the evil one—this idea first appeared. The panic created by this belief advanced at first slowly, but after a time with fearfully accelerated rapidity. Thousands of victims were sometimes burned alive in a few years, and every country of Europe was stricken with the wildest panic. But this very twelfth century has been called the turning point of the European intellect. It began to awaken from its sleep of centuries; foreign lands were visited by travelers; Arabian learning began to permeate Europe; and gradually the people became just a little skeptical. Men learned to doubt, but there was as yet no science, as we understand that word; there was no independent inquiry; men began to doubt—but to doubt was still a crime. The Church