It is possible that the killing of children by poison was one method of sacrifice when the cult was decadent and victims difficult to obtain. Reginald Scot's words, written in 1584, suggest that this was the case: 'This must be an infallible rule, that euerie fortnight, or at the least euerie moneth, each witch must kill one child at the least for hir part.' Sinistrari d'Ameno, writing about a century later, says the same: 'They promise the Devil sacrifices and offerings at stated times: once a fortnight or at least each month, the murder of some child, or an homicidal act of sorcery.' It is impossible to believe in any great frequency of this sacrifice, but there is considerable foundation in fact for the statement that children were killed, and it accounts as nothing else can for the cold-blooded murders of children of which the witches were sometimes accused. The accusations seem to have been substantiated on several occasions, the method of sacrifice being by poison.
The sacrifice of a child was often performed as a means of procuring certain magical materials or powers, which were obtained by preparing the sacrificed bodies in several ways. Scot says that the flesh of the child was boiled and consumed by the witches for two purposes. Of the thicker part of the concoction 'they make ointments, whereby they ride in the aire; but the thinner potion they put into flaggons, whereof whosoeuer drinketh, obseruing certeine ceremonies, immediatelie becommeth a maister or rather a mistresse in that practise and facultie.' The Paris Coven confessed that they 'distilled' the entrails of the sacrificed child after Guibourg had celebrated the mass for Madame de Montespan, the method being probably the same as that described by Scot. A variant occurs in both France and Scotland, and is interesting as throwing light on the reasons for some of the savage rites of the witches: 'Pour ne confesser iamais le secret de l'escole, on faict au sabbat vne paste de millet noir, auec de la poudre du foye de quelque enfant non baptisé qu'on faict secher, puis
- Scot, Bk. III, p. 42.
- Sinistrari de Ameno, p. 27.
- See, amongst others, the account of Mary Johnson (Essex, 1645), who was accused of poisoning two children; the symptoms suggest belladonna. Howell, iv, 844, 846.
- Scot, Bk. III, p. 41.