Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 43.djvu/384

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

Countless miracles were represented as taking place within the land, but they were almost always miracles of terror. Disease, storm, famine, every awful calamity that fell upon mankind or blasted the produce of the soil was attributed to the direct intervention of spirits; and Satan himself is represented as constantly appearing in a visible form upon the earth. . . . Such teachings necessarily created the superstition of witchcraft; it was the reflection by a diseased imagination of the popular theology. Moreover, it was produced by the teaching of the clergy, and was everywhere fostered by their persecution." Thus it is that the annals of Puritanism and Calvinism in Scotland are red with tales of the thumbscrew and the boot and the witches' bridle and the axe and the stake. While the clergy of the Established Church in England were comparatively free from any desire to persecute, while torture was only very rarely resorted to; while, in a word, persecution was carried on by the people in a very half-hearted way, in Scotland there were being enacted, at the express command of the clergy, scenes which rivaled those in Roman Catholic Europe. "And yet these Presbyterian clergymen of Scotland were men who had often shown, in the most trying circumstances, the highest and most heroic virtues. They were men whose courage had never flinched when persecution was raging; men who had never paltered with their conscience to attain the favors of a king; men whose self-devotion and zeal in their sacred calling had seldom been surpassed; men who in all the private relations of life were doubtless amiable and affectionate. They were but illustrations of the great truth that when men have come to regard a certain class of their fellow-creatures as doomed by the Almighty to eternal and excruciating agonies, and when their theology directs their minds with intense and realizing earnestness to the contemplation of such agonies, the result will be an indifference to the suffering of those whom they deem the enemies of their God, as absolute as it is perhaps possible for human nature to attain."

But Scotland also became sick of blood and fire. The last execution for witchcraft was held in 1722, although in 1773 the divines of the associated Presbytery passed a resolution declaring their belief in witchcraft and deploring the general skepticism.

It is not necessary to enter upon the history of witchcraft in America. Its details are known to all. Nothing so clearly brings to one's mind the reality of this delusion and the persecution it entailed as the court papers, preserved as they are in the archives of Essex County, Massachusetts. As one looks upon those faded records and reads of question and cross-question, of plea for mercy and stern refusal, he can again see those awful trials; he