Popular Science Monthly/Volume 48/November 1895/Recent Recrudescence of Superstition II
|RECENT RECRUDESCENCE OF SUPERSTITION.|
AN article published in the Popular Science Monthly for December, 1892, and entitled Modern Instances of Demoniacal Possession, gives an account of the casting out of a devil from a boy named Michael Zilk, by Father Aurelian, a Capuchin monk, in Wemding, Bavaria. The exorcist accused a Protestant woman, Frau Herz, of having conjured the devil into the boy and denounced her as a witch, and was prosecuted by the woman's husband for defamation. The trial, which took place in November, 1892, resulted in the condemnation of the defendant, who was sentenced to pay a fine of fifty marks, with costs, and, in default of payment, to five days' imprisonment. The case derives its chief interest from the testimony of two ecclesiastical experts, whom Father Aurelian called in for the purpose of proving that he had acted strictly in accordance with the rules and regulations of the Catholic Church. These experts were Dr. J. E. Prunner, provost of the cathedral in Eichstadt, and the cathedral capitular. Dr. Schneidt, both of whom approved of Father Aurelian's method of proceeding. That men may enter into a league with Satan, says Dr. Prunner, is affirmed by Holy Writ and by canon law; both the truth of Scripture and the teachings of the Church establish the possibility and actuality of demoniacal possession beyond a peradventure, which must therefore be accepted as incontestable. As regards Michael Zilk, Father Aurelian was perfectly justified in assuming that he was possessed with a devil, since all the signs favored this presumption, such as sudden paroxysms, abnormal bodily strength, hagiophobia, or strange dread of holy things, and demoniac ecstasy. The demon becomes firmly established in the organism and uses it as a base of operations, causing the individual to curse and rage and foam, using his tongue to speak languages unknown to him, and endowing his muscles with preternatural force. When these manifestations convinced Father Aurelian that the devil was to pay, it was his duty to investigate the matter and to ascertain the causa possessionis, and whether it was produced by ars magica or witchcraft. "Maleficium always presupposes factum cum dæmone"; in other words, sorcery implies a compact with Satan. In the course which he pursued. Father Aurelian followed the instructions and obeyed the injunctions of the ritual, even to the assumption that the dried pears given by Frau Herz to the boy had been the means of conveying the demoniac infection, since the ritual expressly enjoins upon the exorcist to pay heed to what the energumen has eaten. He was also right in believing what the devil said on this point, for "if the devil is the father of lies, he can nevertheless be compelled by the Church to tell the truth; that he was forced in this case to bow to ecclesiastical authority, is proved by the result."
Dr. Schneidt indorsed the opinion of his colleague, adding a few remarks from a "philosophical-psychological" point of view and denouncing the scientific materialism of the day, which denies the existence of spirits and their influence on corporeal substances. He admitted that the symptoms of Saint Vitus's dance and hysteria are very similar to those of demoniacal possession, but can be readily distinguished by two tests, both of which were applied by Father Aurelian: the boy Zilk raged and fumed when sprinkled with holy water, but remained quiet if ordinary water was used; the utterance of a benediction in ecclesiastical Latin rendered him extremely^ violent, whereas he was wholly unaffected by the recitation of a passage from a Latin classic. Dr. Schneidt thought Father Aurelian was right in laying great stress upon these two criteria, and in regarding the manner of their "reaction" as conclusive proof of diabolic agency.
That learned doctors of theology and high Church dignitaries should be willing to appear before a court of justice at the present day with such expert testimony as this, is a curious psychological phenomenon and a remarkable instance of superstitious survival. It would also be a greater miracle than any wrought by the holy coat of Trier, if the inculcation and dissemination of these mediseval notions by the bishops and other clergy should not produce a benighting and degrading effect upon the masses intrusted to their instruction and guidance in spiritual things. A few examples may be cited to show to what extent the popular belief in witchcraft, demoniacal possession, and the efficacy of conjurations still prevails. In the spring of 1894 a Hungarian named Jordan started on a bicycle from Bucharest, with the intention of making a tour through the Balkan peninsula to Constantinople. Not far from Philipoppel, in Roumelia, he was overtaken by night and obliged to stop at a hovel which served as a public hoase, and after confiding his "wheel" to the care of the innkeeper, who took charge of it with considerable distrust, went to bed. Very soon the news spread abroad that a sorcerer had arrived riding on a magic car drawn by invisible spirits, and a crowd of excited peasants filled the inn under the direction of the pope, or village priest, who sprinkled the bicycle with holy water and adjured the demon to depart. The "magic car" of the itinerant sorcerer was then taken out of doors and demolished. On the next morning, when Mr. Jordan wished to continue his journey, he found his bicycle broken to pieces, and was under the necessity of walking a long distance to the nearest railway station. It was only the fear of his enchantments as a wandering magician that saved him from personal harm.
In October, 1894, a chromolithograph of St. Anna, in a church at Naples, showed suddenly on the breast of the saint a white spot, which in the eyes of her worshipers gradually grew into the form of a lily. The rumor of this wonder caused thousands of people to flock to the sacred shrine, and several miracles were already reported, when the police ordered the print to be taken down and examined. On investigation, the white lily proved to be mold. It is hardly credible that the Neapolitan clergy should not have known the nature of this phenomenon, and yet they did nothing to expose the delusion, but made capital out of it by holding solemn services at the altar in recognition of its supposed miraculous character.
The results of such superstitious notions are not always so harmless as in the cases just cited. Thus, a peasant living at Pontea Ema, about a mile from Florence, in Tuscany, had a daughter who was subject to severe hysterical convulsions; she had also "suffered many things of many physicians," and was thereby "nothing bettered, but rather grew worse"—a result which will not surprise any one who knows what a wretched quacksalver the country doctor is in Italy. The parish priest intimated that the girl was probably possessed with a devil, and one day in February, 1893, the peasant and his daughter, after hearing several masses suitable to the occasion, went to Florence to consult a wise woman famous for sorceries, who informed him that an ordinary conjuration would cost five lire, and might not be effective, whereas the invocation of Beelzebub, which would cost twenty-five lire, would be an infallible remedy. The peasant paid the twenty-five lire and the old witch began her conjurations, dragging herself over the floor on her knees and howling fearfully. Finally she ceased, and declared that the conjuration had been successful. "Now go home," she added, "and heat the oven. The first person who comes to your door will be the one who has caused your daughter's malady; thrust this person into the oven in the presence of your daughter, and there will be no recurrence of the disease." The peasant obeyed these instructions and kept the oven heated all night. Early the next morning there was a rap at the door. "Chi è?" (Who's there?) asked the peasant. "For heaven's sake, a piece of bread!" was the reply. The peasant rushed to the door, seized the beggar woman as she stood there pale with hunger and shivering with cold, and without a moment 's hesitation put her into the heated oven. Two milkmen passing by heard her cries, and, breaking open the bolted door of the house, rescued her, already half-suffocated, from a horrible death.
About a year ago an old woman named Theresia Kleitsch was crucified at Rekeseley, in Hungary, on suspicion of having bewitched the stalls of her neighbors and thus caused many cattle to die of murrain. Not long since, in a village near Moscow, a woman seventy-three years of age, named Darya, was clubbed and stoned to death by the inhabitants because she was supposed to have an "evil eye," which brought sickness and other misfortunes upon her neighbors. Seven of the chief culprits were sentenced to four years' hard labor in Siberia. When brought to trial they pleaded not guilty, declaring that the old hag was well known to be a witch, and that they were perfectly justified in not suffering her to live.
The measures recently devised to suppress a witch at Lupest, in Hungary, are the more noteworthy because they emanated from the civil authorities. The death of an old woman who had the reputation of being in solemn covenant with the devil was the occasion of public rejoicings. In the midst of the festivities it was announced that a villager's cow had died suddenly and under suspicious circumstances. The common council, after an official investigation, reported that the cow had been bewitched by the deceased beldame, and, in order to prevent her from doing further harm, commanded that a stallion should be brought and made to leap over her grave. The horse, however, showed signs of fright and refused to jump, and this circumstance greatly added to the public excitement. Finally, it was decreed by the common council that the body of the witch should be exhumed and stabbed with red-hot pitchforks. This proceeding proved effective, and the old hag ceased to trouble her former neighbors.
In the little town of Gif, about twelve miles from Paris, was a girl nineteen years of age, who had suffered for several months from an aggravated form of hysteria accompanied by catalepsy. One of the most distinguished Parisian physicians. Dr. Dumontpallier, made a diagnosis of the disease, declared it to be curable, and offered to treat it gratuitously if the parents would send the patient to one of the city hospitals. This generous offer was declined, owing to the intervention of the village priest, who had meanwhile informed the family that it was a clear case of demoniacal possession, with which the Church alone was competent to cope, and had applied to Monseigneur Goux, Bishop of Versailles, for permission to proceed with the exorcism. The right reverend ecclesiastic not only granted this request, but also sent the director of the theological seminary of Versailles to assist him in the conjuration. Both appeared at the bedside of the maiden in full canonicals, each with a crucifix in his hand and attended by their acolytes, and went through with the benedictions, adjurations, and aspersions prescribed by the ritual. No sooner did the girl perceive them than she cried out, "There come the parsons with their hocus-pocus!" and as they recited the litany, instead of responding with ora pro nobis, she used the word said to have been uttered by Cambroche at the battle of Waterloo when the Old Guard was summoned to surrender, repeating it three times in an angry tone. This conduct only confirmed the exorcists in their theory of diabolism. Indeed, one young priest recognized the different devils by their accent in speaking, and made a long list of their names: Satan, Lucifer, Beelzebub, Mammon, etc. Thus encouraged, the conjurers continued their efforts with unabated zeal, and finally succeeded, according to their own statement, in casting out all the large demons, and had only twenty-eight lesser demons to expel, when the bishop of Versailles, in view of the scandal which the discussion of the affair by the press threatened to bring on the Church, recalled the director of the seminary, and put an end to the ceremony which he had himself authorized. What became of the residue of devilkins that remained in possession of the maiden we are not informed.
About the same time, in the spring of 1893, in the French hamlet of Cras-Culot, the parents of a small boy who had fallen ill and was assumed to have been bewitched, enticed into their house a woman suspected of having caused the trouble and commanded her to exorcise the victim of her sorceries. On her protesting that she knew nothing of such arts, the parents of the child and their assembled friends began to beat the supposed witch and to stick hairpins into her neck and shoulders, and one of the fanatical crowd expressed his regret that it was no longer possible to burn her publicly at the stake. Perhaps a private auto da fé would have been held had she not succeeded finally in escaping and claiming the protection of the police court, which sentenced her principal persecutors each to fourteen days imprisonment and a fine of twenty-six francs.
In June, 1891, a Viennese waitress named Fanny Strobl brought a suit for slander against Maria Wirzar, a servant girl, who had sent the plaintiff several postal cards, addressing her as "cannibal, witch, night hag," and accusing her of coming down the chimney in the dark and sucking all the blood out of her (Maria Wirzar's) veins until she was reduced to skin and bone. The curiosity of the judge was excited, and he requested the defendant to state more clearly what she meant. "Well," she replied, "such a night hag comes over a person when asleep like a current of air, benumbing and stupefying him. If the sleeper is able to rouse himself and cry out 'Jesus! Mary! Joseph!' then the witch desists and departs. This woman (pointing to the plaintiff) is such a night hag. She drives me out of every place, so that I can never stay anywhere more than three weeks. At midnight she comes out from under my bed when I am asleep, sits on me, and sucks the blood out of my breast. I am so weak that I can not work. Formerly I was strong and healthy, now I am lank and lean, because she has drained me of all my blood." Thereupon a woman in the court room exclaimed: "That is true; the witch ought to let her alone. I myself have seen the red spot on her breast and the bites on her arm with the marks of real teeth." The case was then adjourned in order to obtain the opinion of a physician as to the mental condition of the defendant. But if the psychiater declares Maria Wirzar to be crazy, what should he say of the sanity of priests like Dr. Bischofberger, or of the Catholic bishops and other ecclesiastical dignitaries whose teachings are directly responsible for the spread of such gross popular delusions?
Still later, in the autumn of 1892, Victoria Self ritz was charged with having bewitched the stall of the burgomaster of Schapbach, in Baden, and thereby produced an epidemic of hoof disease. As the circulation of this report was injurious to her reputation, and she found it inconvenient to prosecute the burgomaster, with whom it appears to have originated, she published a notice in the local newspaper denying that she ever possessed or exercised any power as a witch. In December of the same year a maid-servant, Elizabeth Hörrath, of Obermichelbach, in Bavaria, was sentenced to ten days' imprisonment for having accused her aunt of being a house witch and her own mother of being a stall witch, asserting that she saw the latter riding on the back of a cow, which immediately afterward went dry. The remarkable thing was, not that an ignorant and malevolent girl should have started such a report, but that many of the neighbors should have believed it and broken off all intercourse with the two satellites of Satan.
In June, 1885, at Kempten, in Bavaria, Xaver Endtes, a professional wizard, was tried and condemned to jail for three weeks because he swindled a peasant named Ostheimer out of seventeen marks under the pretext of casting devils out of cattle. He kindled a fire in the stable and heated two iron bars red hot, then poured on them a quantity of milk, and persuaded Ostheimer that the film of scalded milk that remained was the skin of the witch, who had thus been burned and rendered harmless for the future.
In 1891 a witch conjurer (Hexenbanner), a mason by trade, was arrested by the police at Ulm, where he had established himself as an exorcist, charging twenty-five marks for his services and finding apparently plenty of customers. He was also sentenced to three weeks' imprisonment as a common swindler. The possibility of brazen-faced deceptions of this sort implies a general prevalence of gross superstition in the communities where they are practiced. The first and strongest impulse of the European peasant even in the most enlightened countries is to ascribe all extraordinary good or evil fortune to diabolical agencies. If a man's hens lay more eggs, or his cows give more milk, or his fields yield better crops than those of his neighbors, the latter are pretty sure to attribute his prosperity to witchcraft. Pliny records a case of this kind in which the freedman C. Furius Cresinus was summoned to appear before the ædile Spurius Albinus on the charge of sorcery, because he raised richer harvests on his small farm than others did on their large estates. In his defense he pointed to his well-fed slaves, his superior agricultural implements, and his fat oxen, and exclaimed: "These, O Quirites, are some of my magic arts; but my night-waking and continuous toil I can not show you here on the forum!" Curiously enough, in the early part of the last century precisely the same accusation was brought against a woman who cultivated her own land at Bischofswerder, in west Prussia; and again in November, 1893, at Dresden, a shoemaker named Liebscher instituted a suit against a miner and small innkeeper named Timmel to recover damages for defamation of a like character. Both parties lived in the village of Müdisdorf, not far from Freiberg. It seems that Liebscher's hens and cows supplied him abundantly with eggs and milk, whereas Timmel's were remarkably unproductive. Liebscher was then charged with practicing sorcery, and thereby transferring the eggs and milk from Timmel's poultry and kine to his own. As this report was diligently circulated by the defendant and believed by the great majority of the inhabitants of Müdisdorf and of the surrounding country, it naturally proved to be very injurious to the reputation and the business of the shoemaker, who appears to have been a man of intelligence far superior to that of his neighbors. The testimony taken at the trial revealed the startling fact that nine tenths of the population of this mining district, although good Protestants, hold firmly to the belief in witchcraft and the reality of satanic compacts.
In the summer of 1874 a woman named Frenzel, living at Trulben, in the Bavarian palatinate, consulted a famous wizard at Ixheim, near Zweibrücken, in order to ascertain who had bewitched her child that he should have fallen sick. The wizard placed a key in an open Bible and told Frau Frenzel to lay her finger on it and then to repeat the names of all the people in Trulben. No sooner had she mentioned Margaret Klein than the key turned over. "That is the witch," exclaimed the wizard, who also learned through the movements of the key that she had acquired her knowledge of the magic art from her grandmother, and had the power of transforming herself into a cat or dog at pleasure. When the mother returned home and was washing her child she heard the melancholy mewing of a cat near the house, and was now thoroughly convinced of the truth of the wizard's statements. Margaret Klein, an estimable maiden of twenty-two, was on this account decried and shunned by nearly every person in the village, and was finally compelled, for the sake of her good name, to prosecute Frau Frenzel, who was sent to jail for five days and condemned to pay the costs of the trial.
It is hardly necessary to multiply instances of this kind. They are of constant occurrence and endlessly repetitious, the tautological echo of old superstition, a striking illustration of the persistency of tradition and the poverty of the popular imagination. The question as to when the last witch was burned has been frequently discussed by historians, who differ as to the exact date, but generally agree that it was not later than the second half of the eighteenth century. As a matter of fact, a woman named Agrafena Ignatyeva was burned as a witch by her fellow-countrymen at Vratshevo, in the Russian province of Novgorod, in 1879, if not with the co-operation at least with the collusion of the local authorities, and we have no reason to suppose that she was or will be the last victim of this cruel delusion.
The unpleasant smell of garlic which so often offends the nostrils of travelers in Servia and other countries of eastern and southern Europe is due in a great measure to the notion that witches have a strong aversion to this plant. It is chiefly for this reason that the common people not only eat it, but also rub themselves and their children with it, especially on going to bed, so as not to be visited by any wandering night hag who might otherwise strike the sleeper on his breast with her magic wand, open his side, and devour his heart; the wound would then close up without leaving any scar to show the cause of his death.
In some districts of Dalmatia it is still customary to throw all the women into the water on a specified day to see whether they will sink or swim. A rope is attached to each one in order to save from drowning those who prove their innocence by sinking. The witches who float are also pulled out, and after being rather roughly handled are made to promise to renounce the devil on pain of being stoned. The Dalmatians are evidently of Heine's opinion, that
"Geuau bei Weibern
Weiss man nicht wo der Engel
Aufhört und der Teufel anfängt."
Hence they deem it necessary to apply their simple but decisive test occasionally, and the prevalence of an epidemic or epizooty is pretty sure to be followed by a general immersion of the fairer and frailer sex.
In August, 1893, at Montelepre, in Sicily, a girl of seventeen suffered from a painful malady which her family and kinsmen suspected of being the result of demoniacal possession. This opinion was confirmed by the village strega or witch, who gave them full information concerning the name, character, origin, and power of the indwelling demon, and recommended the fifteenth of the month, the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin, as the fittest time for casting out the evil spirit. On the appointed day the witch prepared a bath of boiling-hot water, into which she threw snail shells, lobsters' claws, nettles, and similar ingredients of a powerful hell-broth, recalling the contents of the caldron over which the three weird sisters in Macbeth muttered their potent charm. The patient was then put into the water and covered with a bed blanket, under which a pound and a half of burning incense was placed. The screams and struggles of the unfortunate girl were of no avail, and not until she fainted away was she taken out in a parboiled condition and laid on a bed, where she soon afterward expired. As she was at the last gasp the witch said, "Now the charm is beginning to work and the demon is about to go out of her."
It is not merely among ignorant and superstitious Sicilians that such things are possible. Not many years ago a young man at Urschütz, near Rosenberg, in Upper Silesia, was treated by a "wise woman" in precisely the same manner and with equally fatal results.
It was recently reported from Catania, in Sicily, that a fiddler named Carmolo had killed twenty-four children and saturated the earth with their blood as a means of finding hidden treasure. A little later the bodies of twenty children were discovered in the woods near the hamlets of Cibali and Santa Sofia; at the same time the parents received anonymous letters, in which the writer told them not to grieve for the dead, since their blood would enable him to unearth an immense amount of money, which he would share with them and thus amply compensate them for their loss.
In March, 1894, a farm laborer, Sier, was sentenced to fourteen months' imprisonment for having exhumed the body of a newly buried child in the graveyard at Moosbach, in Bavaria, and taken out one of its eyes, which, he believed, would render him invisible, like the tarn-helmet of the old German saga, and thus make it possible for him to thieve with impunity. The notion that a bridge will remain firm for all time if a living human being is immured in its foundations is quite prevalent in eastern Europe, and the gypsies are generally suspected of stealing children and selling them for this purpose. Not long since, when a bridge was to be built over the Save, near Breczka, in Bosnia, the whole population, Christian and Mohammedan, rose up in arms against a band of gypsies who were camping in the neighborhood, and would have put them to death had it not been for the energetic intervention of the authorities. The excitement was caused by a rumor that negotiations were going on between the bridge builders and this vagabond folk for the purchase of a child. There is a popular tradition that a bridal pair were walled up in the old Roman bridge over the Narenta at Mostar, and that the structure owes its strength to this sacrifice. A fresh human liver, especially that of a woman, is supposed to confer magical powers upon him who eats it; and it is highly probable that the desire to become a great magician may explain the many mysterious murders and horrible mutilations of women which have occurred within the past few years, such as the otherwise incomprehensible exploits of Jack the Ripper in London, and similar hideous deeds near Innsbrück, in the Tyrol, and elsewhere. A like exhibition of superstition was recently witnessed in Barcelona at the execution of six anarchists, when old women dipped their handkerchiefs in the blood that fl.owed from the coffins, making the sign of the cross three times and holding the dirty clouts to their noses. Such a blood-stained cloth is prized as a powerful talisman and carefully preserved.
In some districts on the Rhine the belief that mid wives may be in league with the devil and substitute an imp for the newborn infant is not uncommon. Such changelings are called Kielkröpfe, and this term would imply that their fiendish origin is indicated by a wen on the throat. It is well known that Luther was firmly convinced of the reality of these substitutions, and urged the Prince of Anhalt to have every hellish succubus or succuba drowned at once; but the sovereign, whose theological education on this point seems to have been neglected, could not be fully persuaded of the existence of such creatures and declined to act upon the reformer's advice.
During the reign of Frederick the Great the statue of a madonna in the Catholic church of a Prussian town was robbed of a costly ornament. A soldier, whose frequent and fervent devotions at this shrine had been remarked, was arrested, and the jewels were found in his possession. He was accordingly tried for church robbery and sacrilege and condemned to be shot. The sentence of the court-martial was submitted to the king for approval, together with the culprit's protest that he had not stolen the precious stones, but that while he was engaged in prayer and laying his necessities before the seat of mercy, the Virgin took the ornament from her neck and gave it to him. One can imagine the malicious pleasure with which the cynical and skeptical monarch referred the whole matter to the Catholic bishop. requesting him to give his official opinion, as to the possibility of such a miracle. The bishop was in a quandary. He knew that the soldier's statement was false and absurd, but he could not say so without contradicting the teachings and traditions of the Church and impeaching the testimony of the saints and all the records of hagiology. In his report he was therefore compelled to admit that the prayer may have been answered in the manner described. On the strength of this "expert evidence" Frederick annulled the sentence of the court-martial, but forbade the soldier on penalty of death to offer henceforth petitions of this kind to any image of the Virgin.
One of the most characteristic as well as anachronistic exhibitions of religious folly and frenzy in our day is the Springprocession, or procession of jumpers, which takes place yearly at Echternach, in Luxemburg, on the first Tuesday after Whitsunday, and is popularly regarded as a sure cure for epilepsy, St. Vitus's dance, syntexis, murrain, and other maladies of men and cattle. A full description of this performance was given in a book published more than twenty years ago and entitled Die Springprocession und die Wallfahrt zum Grabe des heiligen Willibrord in Echternach (Luxemburg, Brück, 1871), the author of which, J. B. Krier, a priest and religious instructor in the Echternach preparatory school, expresses his firm belief in its therapeutic efficacy and general wonder-working power. "We can not but envy these people," he says, "on account of their living faith, and in our inmost soul praise God, who in our cold and indifferent age has kept alive such a fire in the hearts of our fellowmen." A few Catholics of superior culture, like Prof. Froschammer, of Munich, vigorously protested against the glorification of such crass fanaticism, but it received the approval and encouragement of the episcopate, and, instead of disappearing in the light of the nineteenth century, as one would expect such a survival of mediævalism to do, has been growing stronger ever since. On May 15, 1894, 16,905 persons, including one bishop, 140 clergy, 267 musicians, 3,213 prayers, 2,448 singers, and 11,836 springers, took part in the strange ceremony. This number, which has been derived from official documents, is the largest on record, and furnishes a drastic illustration of the manner in which the patronage of the Church contributes to the promotion of superstition.
The "springprocession" is, in fact, one of the queerest sights that have been witnessed in Christendom since the Flagellants of the thirteenth century made the streets of Italian cities hideous with their scourgings and howlings. The men, women, and children who are to join in the choral dance—which an ancient Greek or Roman, if he should rise from the dead, might easily mistake for a Bacchanalian orgy—assemble on a meadow near the town, where tliey are arranged in rows or groups, the schoolboys and schoolgirls being in charge of their respective teachers, as if they were going on a picnic. At a given signal the musicians strike up the lively tune known as "Willibrord's Dance," and the saltatory movement begins, the whole mass moving three or four steps forward and one or two steps backward, or four steps to the right and the same number to the left in a diagonal direction, thus advancing, as it were, on the hypothenuse instead of on the perpendicular of a triangle. From a distance, the bobbing and swaying throng resembles the swell and fall of a restless sea, or the bubbling of boiling water in an immense caldron. In this manner the procession moves on for more than two hours through the streets of the town and up the sixty-two steps leading to the parish church, where the dance is kept up for some time around the tomb of St. Willibrord. The dancers join hands, or more frequently hold together by means of a handkerchief, for the sake of greater freedom of motion. Here and there an old man may be seen dragging along an infirm son, who makes desperate attempts to leap with the rest, or a stout woman gasping and sweating under the heavy burden of a paralytic daughter, whom she bears in her arms as she bounds to and fro.
Many legends are afloat concerning the origin of this custom. Thus it is said that in the latter half of the eighth century a sort of epizoötic chorea broke out in the region round about Echternach, and caused all the horses, cows, sheep, and goats to dance in their stalls and to refuse to eat. As no medicine gave relief, the people made a vow that they would dance round the grave of St. Willibrord, and no sooner was this vow fulfilled than the plague ceased, apparently in accordance with the homœopathic principle—saltus saltibus curantur. Another tradition connects it with the pestilence known as the black death, which prevailed about the middle of the fourteenth century. In all probability, however, it is a survival of the old pagan feast which was celebrated at the summer solstice in honor of the sun, and changed by Willibrord into a Christian festival. This policy of adopting heathen observances that could not be easily abolished was urged by Pope Gregory the Great as early as the sixth century, in his famous letter to the Benedictine Augustine, first Bishop of Canterbury, and followed by Boniface, Willibrord, and all the other Anglo-Saxon missionaries to the German tribes. It was due to this prudent spirit of compromise that the feast of Ostara, the German goddess of spring, was transformed into Easter, and the nativity of John the Baptist, the herald of the Sun of Righteousness, was placed on June 24th, so as to correspond with the pagan festivities of midsummer.
In Italy the belief in the baneful power of "the evil eye," or jettatura, is almost universal among the peasants and common people, and quite prevalent even among the higher and more cultivated classes. Pope Pius IX was generally supposed to be a jettatore, and many good Catholics, while kneeling before him for his benediction, were wont slyly to extend toward him their hands doubled into a fist, with the thumb thrust between the index and middle finger as a means of warding off the malign influence. Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti was born with this uncanny gift, and neither his consecration to the priesthood nor his elevation to the papacy sufficed to eradicate it or to suspend its operation. The benignity of aspect which distinguished this kind-hearted successor of St. Peter might conceal, but could not counteract, the fatal fascination that lurked in his "evil eye."
In Germany, it is only in the Tyrol that this superstition appears to prevail, although sporadic cases of it occur in Thuringia, where the witchcraft delusion still has a strong hold on the rural population. The village of Espenfeld, for example, numbers two hundred inhabitants, of whom one half are firmly convinced that the other half are skilled in sorcery; of the latter, several are supposed to have grown rich by paying out money and then conjuring it back into their own coffers. A peasant, who imagined that he had lost considerable money in this way, was advised by a "wise woman" to put the. coin thus received into a glass jar and then seal it up. He did so, and soon afterward the coins began to hop and skip as if they wished to get out, but, finding it impossible to escape, gradually grew quiet. By taking this precaution he circumvented the conjurer and saved his money.
In England, men or kine that are supposed to suffer from the witchery of the evil eye are said to be "overlooked." "If a murrain afflicts a farmer's cattle," says the author of a recently published work on this subject (The Evil Eye, by Frederick T. Elworthy; London, Murray, 1895), "he goes off secretly to the 'white witch'—that is, the old witch finder—to ascertain who has 'overlooked his things,' and to learn the best antidote. Only the other day a farmer in North Devon, whose cattle were dying of anthrax, applied, not to a first-class veterinary surgeon, but to a 'white witch,' for a remedy against the pestilence, and as a consequence lost almost his whole herd." The same writer states that a pig's or sheep's heart stuck full of pins is found in many chimneys in old farmhouses as a reprisal against witches. It was believed that the witch, who had "overlooked" the animal and caused its death, would have her own heart pricked and pierced by the pins thrust into the heart of her victim, which had been "ill wisht" by her. This sort of retribution, based upon the principle of sympathy, plays a prominent part in the annals of witchcraft. The Somerset peasant says: "Nif you do meet wi' anybody wi' a north eye, spat dree times." Pliny speaks of spitting in the hosom as a means of inducing the gods to grant any presumptuous desire (veniam quoque a deis spei alicujus audacioris petirmus, in sinum spuendo), and Juvenal refers to the custom of bespitting the upper folds of the toga (conspuere sinus) in order to avert divine wrath provoked by haughtiness of speech; and if we go back nearly four centuries earlier to the Greek poet Theocritus, we find that the remedy prescribed by the English boor for warding off the influence of the evil eye was employed by the rustics of that ancient time for precisely the same purpose. The sixth idyl of this pastoral poet consists of a dialogue between two herdsmen, Daphnis and Demoitas, of whom the latter, in the course of conversation, remarks: "Lest I should be enchanted by the evil eye, I spit three times into my breast" (ὥς μἡ βασκανθῶ δέ τρὶς ὲμὸν ἔπτνσα κόλπον), and adds that in doing so he had followed the advice of an old wizard.
An ornament in the shape of a crescent moon (σεληνίσκος or σεληνίσκος) was worn by the Greeks or placed on the walls of their houses as a προκάνιον or preservative against the evil eye, and the lulunæ, with which Roman women adorned their persons, were also regarded as safeguards against witchcraft. "We have a survival of this superstition in the half moons so often seen on harness and occasionally on buildings. Indeed, in Oriental countries all jewels are amulets, and are prized more for their occult virtue than for their superficial beauty. The Romans hung a fascinum in the form of a phallus round the necks of children as a preventive against witchcraft, and the pieces of red coral used by our teething infants to facilitate dentition are a reminiscence of this usage connected with the Priapian cult. The Drudenfuss, or pentagram (*), which the Tyrolese draws on the threshold of his stable to protect his cattle against enchantment, is a relic of Pythagorean mysticism and mediæval magic.
A dreadful tale of cruelty caused by the witchcraft delusion comes to us from the Emerald Isle. A few months ago, at Ballyvadlea, in the county of Tipperary, a woman named Bridget Cleary had an attack of influenza or grippe, which, as is usually the case with maladies of men and beasts, was ascribed to demoniac influences. Her husband, a cooper by trade, got the notion into his head that she had been "overlooked," and thereby spirited away by a wicked fairy, who had taken possession of her body. He called a family council, consisting of her father, an aunt, four cousins, a couple of neighbors, and the village simplist,who unanimously confirmed his suspicion, and went to work to exorcise and expel the evil spirit, so that the unfortunate woman might return to herself and her friends. The simplist prepared a disgusting decoction, which her husband poured down her throat. exclaiming, "There, take that, thou witch!" He then put this question to her twice: "Art thou Mary Boland, the wife of Michael Cleary? Speak by the Lord!" She replied: "I am Mary Boland, the daughter of Pat Boland, by the Holy Ghost!" It now occurred to one of the neighbors, named Dunin, that if they should put her on the fire, which fairies are notoriously much afraid of, the indwelling spirit would speak the truth, and probably be compelled also to depart. This clever suggestion was at once acted upon. The sick woman was taken out of her bed and held over the flames, while in the midst of her fearful screams her tormentors kept shouting, "Come home, Bridget Boland, come home!" She was again put to bed, and Cleary, who had become greatly excited, continued to cry out, "In the name of God, art thou Bridget Cleary, my wife?" declaring that, if she did not give a satisfactory answer three times, he would burn her up. As she was too exhausted to heed this threat, he threw the petroleum lamp at her and she was soon all ablaze, and, in the words of an eyewitness, "burned like a torch." No voice of compassion responded to her shrieks, which only provoked the harsh command of her husband: "Be still! Troth, I'm not burning Bridget; in a minute, begorra, you'll see the witch going up the chimney." The charred body was put into a sack and thrown out of the window. There it was found and borne to the graveyard by the constables of the village, but no member of the family of the deceased attended her funeral. They were all scattered about on the neighboring hills, each armed with a sharp knife and awaiting the appearance of Bridget Cleary mounted on a white horse which the fairies had given her. There they watched day and night, firmly believing that if they could only succeed in cutting the reins of the bridle the spell would be broken and the unfortunate woman disenchanted. Instead of the magic steed, they were met by a body of policemen and taken to Dublin, where they are to be tried for murder.
In Ireland the laws against witchcraft were not abolished until 1821; and as the Catholic Church still prescribes formulas and performs rites for the exorcism and expulsion of evil spirits, it is no wonder that the delusion lingers in the minds of the people, and sometimes gives rise to horrible cruelty like that ignorantly inflicted upon Bridget Cleary.
About thirty years ago printed prayers addressed to "the true stature of Jesus," which had been supernaturally revealed to some ecstatic soul, were extensively sold in Bavaria as talismans to prevent and destroy diseases. But superstition, too, is not wholly free from the whims of fashion, and these prayers have now been superseded by another panacea called "Lourdes waffle," a thin piece of pastry in the form of a madonna made of flour and the water of Lourdes by the Order of Redemptorists at Cortona, in Tuscany. Quantities of these new-baked fetiches are manufactured and exported every year with the approval of His Holiness Leo XIII, by whom they are especially commended as a specific for demoniacal infestations.
In 1887, when the phenomena of hypnotism began to excite general interest and to be discussed by the press, La Civittá Cattolica, the official organ of the Vatican, published an article ascribing these strange manifestations to diabolical agencies, and asserting them to be desperate attempts of Satan to recover the sovereignty of this world, which the Church is gradually wresting from his grasp.
Unfortunately for the progress of knowledge and the general diffusion of enlightenment, this explanation of hypnotism is a fair example and illustration of the attitude of the papacy toward every puzzling problem which presents itself to the human mind for investigation. There is only one solution: the devil is to pay. The same opinion is held and taught by the Greek Church, as well as by conservative Lutheranism and many other rigidly orthodox sects of Protestantism. Luther asserted that "if a man loses an eye or hand, falls into the fire and is burned to death, or into the water and is drowned, mounts a ladder and breaks his neck, tumbles down without knowing why or how, or incurs daily unforeseen accidents, all these things are mere tricks and onsets of the devil" (eitel Teufelswürf und Schläg'). If a big bluebottle buzzed about in his study and happened to light on his pen, he was sure that it was an emissary of Satan endeavoring to hinder him in his work. Even the refined and scholarly Melanchthon relates similar experiences: "When I was in Tübingen," he says, "I saw every night flames which burned a long time and then vanished in a dense cloud of smoke. Likewise in Heidelberg, forms like falling stars appeared to me every night. They were undoubtedly devils, which are constantly roving about among men." This belief in the omnipresence of satanic satellites, embodied in animate and inanimate objects, was easily confirmed by the citation and frequent perversion of scriptural texts. Thus the words of the Psalmist, "Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth: keep the doors of my lips," was interpreted, not as entreaty to be saved from the sin of evil-speaking, but as a prayer for protection against evil spirits, who might take advantage of the act of oscitation to enter into and get possession of the human body. It was formerly believed that the devil drowzed people and thus incited them to yawn for this express purpose; hence the custom, once generally prevalent and still practiced in Spain and Italy, of making the sign of the cross over the mouth in yawning, of which the habit of covering the mouth with the hand when yawning is said to be a survival.
Delusions growing out of the dread of demons die hard, especially when it is in the supposed interest of sacerdotalism to uphold them. Every invasion of the realm of supernaturalism through the progress of science is feared and resented by ecclesiastical organizations, lest it should prove to be an entering wedge destined to destroy the foundations upon which they rest. It is this apprehension that often leads men as a body to sustain and perpetuate beliefs which as individuals they know to be false, boldly asserting and often honestly believing that the overthrow of their own little system of faith would imperil the whole edifice of religion and society, although the existence of such solidarity is shown by all the teachings of history to be utterly illusive. Hierarchical and official Christianity to-day bears about the same relation to contemporary scientific and philosophic culture that paganism did to the best thoughts of the period when Lucretius wrote his didactic poem De Rerum Natura, or when Lucian, more than two centuries later, composed his satirical dialogues.
The Tyrolese Jesuit Tanner had brought himself into grave suspicion by advising inquisitors to proceed with caution in the prosecution and punishment of witches; and when he died, in 1632, he was denied Christian burial, because there was found in his possession a dangerous hairy devil, which, on closer examination, proved to be a flea under a magnifying glass. The Church, however, obstinately refused to recognize its error, and still holds to the legend of the "dangerous hairy devil." Recantation is fatal to the prestige of infallible authority, which is forced by its pretensions to cling to its decisions, however absurd, and to close its mind to all sources of enlightenment. It is in this necessity that the divergence of scientific from theological conceptions of the universe originates and gradually widens into an impassable gulf. A divinely inspired and therefore inerrable record can adapt itself to the progress of human thought only by forced interpretations and positive perversions of its original meaning. Hence the supreme importance which all systems of religion attach to hermeneutics, the science of sciences, as Origen called it, absolutely essential to the evolution of doctrinal theology. It was Samuel Werenfels who said of the Bible:
"Hic liber est, in quo quisque sua dogmata quærit,
Invenit et pariter dogmata quisque sua."
The same idea is expressed by Rückert in Die Weisheit des Brahmanen:
"Des Glaubens Bilder sind unendlich umzudeuten;
Das macht so brauchbar sie bei so verschiednen Leuten."
This sort of exegetical jugglery, with its allegorical, anagogical, and tropological methods of exposition, is not confined to the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, but extends to the sacred books of all nations. Veda, Avesta, Tripitaka, Taò-tĕ-King, Koziki, Kur'an, Adi Granth, Kurral, and Popol Vuh have all been put to the rack by hermeneutical inquisitors and made to confess whatever doctrines their tormentors wished them to teach. We have a striking illustration of this tendency in recent attempts to deprive the Hebrew cosmogony of its true character as the terse and highly poetical version of an ancient Assyrian creation myth, in order to bring it into harmony with the modern theory of evolution.
The same fatality compels the Church in the nineteenth century to observe the forms of propitiation, incantation, and conjuration which were the natural outgrowth and consistent expression of primitive demonolatry, but are utterly repugnant to all rational conceptions of the constitution of the universe and of the laws that govern it. Some years ago the writer was the guest of a Catholic priest in a remote region of the Tyrol. The house was a massive building of the tenth century, formerly used as a cloister, and still adorned with portraits of the old abbots and distinguished monks who were once its inmates. Attached to it was a spacious chapel which now served as the parish church. One day as a severe storm was gathering the church bells began to ring violently in order to affright and drive away the devils who were supposed to be riding on the tempest as satellites of the "prince of the power of the air," and hurling thunderbolts against the habitations of men. The priest admitted that the custom was a relic of pagan superstition and of no efficacy whatever, denied the demonic origin of meteorological phenomena, and added that the ringing of many large bells, like the firing of cannon, would rather tend to produce storms by agitating the air than to disperse them. "But if I should act according to my own judgment and neglect this time-honored practice," he continued, "I should be held morally responsible for all damage done by lightning within the precincts of my parish." He placed his own person and property under the protection of a lightning-rod, but was constrained by his ecclesiastical affiliations to pander to mediæeval tradition, and cause the mountain valley to resound with the devil-defeating clangor of consecrated bells.
In November, 1894, it was reported that a statue of the Virgin Mary at Reggio, in Calabria, had been seen opening her mouth and moving her lips, and this absurd rumor attracted thousands of persons, who came to present offerings and to prostrate themselves before the wonderful image, praying to be delivered from the perils of earthquake and similar calamities. It is not surprising that the ignorant and credulous peasantry of southern Italy should fall into gross fetichism of this sort; the astonishing thing is that the priests of a Church which sends missionaries to Africa should encourage such crass superstition at home, and, instead of seeking to enlighten the minds of the masses, should march in procession to the scene of the supposed miracle with banners and censers, singing hymns and chanting litanies, and displaying all the pomp and paraphernalia of an imposing religious ritual in confirmation of a vulgar delusion.
In August, 1894, the population of one of the suburbs of Vienna was thrown into intense excitement by the rumored apparition of the Virgin Mary, who was said to have been seen at sundry times sitting on the branch of a tree in an old cemetery and holding the child in her arms. The throng became so great as to require the intervention of a squadron of police in order to prevent a complete interruption of the city traffic. Not only was the reality of the supernatural appearance generally believed, but several persons turned it to practical account by noting the exact time of the occurrence, hour, day, month, and year, so as to secure lucky numbers for the lottery, and even attributed the presence of the police to the anxiety of the Austrian Minister of Finance lest, by a happy combination of these numbers, some one should win a tern and thus deplete the state treasury. A workman from a neighboring factory, who chanced to pass by, endeavored to demonstrate the impossibility of such phenomena, and urged the crowd not to give credence to idle tales of this sort; but this laborer was the only one who acted the part of Paul on Mar's Hill and reproved the multitude for being "too superstitious." Not a representative of the clergy, from the humblest ecclesiastic to the highest dignitary of the Church, has ever been known to improve occasions of this kind for the religious instruction and intellectual elevation of the people. Indeed, it would be difficult for them to do so, in view of the fact that the literature which the Catholic Church still publishes and disseminates for the promotion of piety consists chiefly of similar legends; and it would not surprise us if a full and authentic account of the Vienna apparition should appear in the columns of the Innsbrück periodical. Monthly Roses to the Honor of the Immaculate Mary, Mother of God, as an incentive to more ardent adoration of the Virgin.
Some years ago, in the month of May, I was walking up the Ludwigstrasse, in Munich, with a German friend well known as a genial poet and earnest Catholic. Just then a procession of maidens dressed in white, with wreaths of flowers on their heads and an image of the Virgin borne aloft, came out of the church and passed through the garden, in which are the stations with Fortner's frescoes representing the life and passion of Christ. "There is something that appeals to the imagination" remarked the German." And purely a creation of the imagination, too" was my reply. A conversation ensued, from which it appeared that my friend regarded all religious beliefs, institutions, rites, and ceremonies solely from an aesthetic and poetic point of view. He even declared that it made no difference to him whether such a person as Christ ever lived, and whether the popes were the successors of Peter or not; he should still be a Christian and a Catholic. He admitted that all sacred literatures are more or less mythical, and that our Holy Writ forms no exception to the rule, With the progress of the race the old myths are refined and transformed, both artistically and ethically, and thus adapted to every advance in civilization, but they never die out. "The masses," he added, "are mentally and morally mere children and will probably always remain so, and the most interesting and instructive books for children are märchen." Here was a scholarly and thoughtful man who stood wholly out of reach of "the higher criticism," since he was ready to assent to its most radical conclusions without the slightest change in his attitude to the current system of belief.
A mind thus constituted would regret the decay of superstition as a decline of ideality and a limitation of the undefined and unknown regions of the supernatural, in which that errant sprite, the imagination, is free to expatiate and quick to discover wonders more strange than any invented by the Moor of Venice to win the heart of Senator Brabantio's daughter. We fully appreciate the poetical side of popular mythology and the unfading fascination of folklore, and feel the charm that lingers in customs growing out of these survivals of primitive beliefs; but this is another phase of the subject which can not be discussed in the present paper. There are many tourists who remember Rome as it was under papal rule, with its countless beggars and chronic filth and perennial sources of malarial fever, and are fain to lament the disappearance of these picturesque features through the purification and regeneration of the ancient city. It is the same sort of false sentiment that mourns over what the poet calls
the loss of which has been more than made good by the marvelous discoveries of modern science, whose achievements rival the annals of credulity in their appeals to the imagination, and render the visible and invisible forces of Nature, once the terror of man, now tributary to his happiness.