Instances of Dooming to Death among Christians
By Augustine Calmet
Hector Boethius, in his History of Scotland, relates that Duffus, king of that country, falling ill of a disorder unknown to the physicians, was consumed by a slow fever, passed his nights without sleep, and insensibly wasted away; his body melted in perspiration every night; he became weak, languid, and in a dying state, without, however, his pulse undergoing any alteration. Everything was done to relieve him, but uselessly. His life was despaired of, and those about him began to suspect some evil spell. In the mean time, the people of Moray, a county of Scotland, mutinied, supposing that the king must soon sink under his malady.
It was whispered abroad that the king had been bewitched by some witches who lived at Forres, a little town in the north of Scotland. People were sent there to arrest them, and they were surprised in their dwellings, where one of them was basting an image of King Duffus, made of wax, turning on a wooden spit before a large fire, before which she was reciting certain magical prayers; and she affirmed that as the figure melted the king would lose his strength, and at last he would die when the figure should be entirely melted. These women declared that they had been hired to perform these evil spells by the principal men of the county of Moray, who only awaited the king’s decease to burst into open revolt.
These witches were immediately arrested and burnt at the stake. The king was much better, and in a few days he perfectly recovered his health. This account is found also in the History of Scotland by Buchanan, who says he heard it from his elders.
He makes the King Duffus live in 960, and he who has added notes to the text of these historians, says that this custom of melting waxen images by magic art, to occasion the death of certain persons, was not unknown to the Romans, as appears from Virgil and Ovid; and of this we have related a sufficient number of instances. But it must be owned that all which is related concerning it is very doubtful; not that wizards and witches have not been found who have attempted to cause the death of persons of high rank by these means, and who attributed the effect to the demon, but there is little appearance that they ever succeeded in it. If magicians possessed the secret of thus occasioning the death of any one they pleased, where is the prince, prelate, or lord who would be safe? If they could thus roast them slowly to death, why not kill them at once, by throwing the waxen image in the fire? Who can have given such power to the devil? Is it the Almighty, to satisfy the revenge of an insignificant woman, or the jealousy of lovers of either sex?
M. de St. André, physician to the king, in his Letters on Witchcraft, would explain the effects of these devotings, supposing them to be true, by the evaporation of animal spirits, which, proceeding from the bodies of the wizards or witches, and uniting with the atoms which fall from the wax, and the atoms of the fire, which render them still more pungent, should fly towards the person they desire to bewitch, and cause in him or her sensations of heat or pain, more or less violent according to the action of the fire. But I do not think that this clever man finds many to approve of his idea. The shortest way, in my opinion, would be, to deny the effects of these charms; for if these effects are real, they are inexplicable by physics, and can only be attributed to the devil.
We read in the History of the Archbishops of Treves that Eberard, archbishop of that church, who died in 1067, having threatened to send away the Jews from his city, if they did not embrace Christianity, these unhappy people, being reduced to despair, suborned an ecclesiastic, who for money baptized for them, by the name of the bishop, a waxen image, to which they tied wicks or wax tapers, and lighted them on Holy Saturday (Easter Eve), as the prelate was going solemnly to administer the baptismal rite.
Whilst he was occupied in this holy function, the statue being half consumed, Eberard felt himself extremely ill; he was led into the vestry, where he soon after expired.
The Pope John XXII, in 1317, complained, in public letters, that some scoundrels had attempted his life by similar operations; and he appeared persuaded of their power, and that he had been preserved from death only by the particular protection of God. “We inform you,” says he, “that some traitors have conspired against us, and against some of our brothers the cardinals, and have prepared beverages and images to take away our life, which they have sought to do on every occasion; but God has always preserved us.” The letter is dated the 27th of July.
From the 27th of February, the pope had issued a commission to inform against these poisoners; his letter is addressed to Bartholomew, Bishop of Fréjus, who had succeeded the pope in that see, and to Peter Tessier, doctor en decret, afterwards cardinal. The pope says therein, in substance—We have heard that John de Limoges, Jacques de Crabançon, Jean d’Arrant, physician, and some others, have applied themselves, through a damnable curiosity, to necromancy and other magical arts, on which they have books; that they have often made use of mirrors, and images consecrated in their manner; that, placing themselves within circles, they have often invoked the evil spirits to occasion the death of men by the might of their enchantments, or by sending maladies which abridge their days. Sometimes they have enclosed demons in mirrors, or circles, or rings, to interrogate them, not only on the past, but on the future, and made predictions. They pretend to have made many experiments in these matters, and fearlessly assert, that they can not only by means of certain beverages, or certain meats, but by simple words, abridge or prolong life, and cure all sorts of diseases.
The pope gave a similar commission, April 22d, 1317, to the Bishop of Riés, to the same Pierre Tessier, to Pierre Després, and two others, to inquire into the conspiracy formed against him and against the cardinals; and in this commission he says:—”They have prepared beverages to poison us, and not having been able conveniently to make us take them, they have had waxen images, made with our names, to attack our lives, by pricking these images with magical enchantments, and innovations of demons; but God has preserved us, and caused three of these images to fall into our hands.”
We see a description of similar charms in a letter, written three years after, to the Inquisitor of Carcassone, by William de Godin, Cardinal-Bishop of Sabina, in which he says:—”The pope commands you to inquire and proceed against those who sacrifice to demons, worship them, or pay them homage, by giving them for a token a written paper, or something else, to bind the demon, or to work some charm by invoking him; who, abusing the sacrament of baptism, baptize images of wax, or of other matters with invocation of demons; who abuse the Eucharist, or consecrated wafer, or other sacraments, by exercising their evil spells. You will proceed against them with the prelates, as you do in matters of heresy; for the pope gives you the power to do so.” The letter is dated from Avignon, the 22d of August, 1320.
At the trial of Enguerrand de Marigni, they brought forward a wizard whom they had surprised making waxen images, representing King Louis le Hutin and Charles de Valois, and meaning to kill them by pricking or melting these images.
It is related also that Cosmo Rugieri, a Florentine, a great atheist and pretended magician, had a secret chamber, where he shut himself up alone, and pricked with a needle a wax image representing the king, after having loaded it with maledictions and devoted it to destruction by horrible enchantments, hoping thus to cause the prince to languish away and die.
Whether these conjurations, these waxen images, these magical words, may have produced their effects or not, it proves at any rate the opinion that was entertained on the subject—the ill will of the wizards, and the fear in which they were held. Although their enchantments and imprecations might not be followed by any effect, it is apparently thought that experience on that point made them dreaded, whether with reason or not.
The general ignorance of physics made people at that time take many things to be supernatural which were simply the effects of natural causes; and as it is certain, as our faith teaches us, that God has often permitted demons to deceive mankind by prodigies, and do them injury by extraordinary means, it was supposed without examining into the matter that there was an art of magic and sure rules for discovering certain secrets, or causing certain evils by means of demons; as if God had not always been the Supreme Master, to permit or to hinder them; or as if He would have ratified the compacts made with evil spirits.
But on examining closely this pretended magic, we have found nothing but poisonings, attended by superstition and imposture. All that we have just related of the effects of magic, enchantments, and witchcraft, which were pretended to cause such terrible effects on the bodies and the possessions of mankind, and all that is recounted of doomings, evocations, and magic figures, which, being consumed by fire, occasioned the death of those who were destined or enchanted, relate but very imperfectly to the affair of vampires, which we are treating of in this volume; unless it may be said that those ghosts are raised and evoked by magic art, and that the persons who fancy themselves strangled and finally stricken with death by vampires, only suffer these miseries through the malice of the demon, who makes their deceased parents or relations appear to them, and produces all these effects upon them; or simply strikes the imagination of the persons to whom it happens, and makes them believe that it is their deceased relations, who come to torment and kill them; although in all this it is only an imagination strongly affected which acts upon them.
We may also connect with the history of ghosts what is related of certain persons who have promised each other to return after their death, and to reveal what passes in the other world, and the state in which they find themselves.
This is taken from Phantom World, originally published in 1850.