Instances of Sorcerers and Witches being, as they said, transported to the Sabbath
[This is taken from Augustine Calmet’s Phantom World, originally published in 1850, revised and edited by D. J. McAdam, 2010. Copyright as such.]
All that is said about witches going to the sabbath is treated as a fable, and we have several examples which prove that they do not stir from their bed or their chamber. It is true that some of them anoint themselves with a certain grease or unguent, which makes them sleepy, and renders them insensible; and during this swoon they fancy that they go to the sabbath, and there see and hear what every one says is there seen and heard.
We read, in the book entitled Malleus Maleficorum, or the Hammer of the Sorcerers, that a woman who was in the hands of the Inquisitors assured them that she repaired really and bodily whither she would, and that even were she shut up in prison and strictly guarded, and let the place be ever so far off.
The Inquisitors ordered her to go to a certain place, to speak to certain persons, and bring back news of them; she promised to obey, and was directly locked up in a chamber, where she lay down, extended as if dead; they went into the room, and moved her; but she remained motionless, and without the least sensation, so that when they put a lighted candle to her foot and burnt it she did not feel it. A little after, she came to herself, and gave an account of the commission they had given her, saying she had had a great deal of trouble to go that road. They asked her what was the matter with her foot; she said it hurt her very much since her return, and knew not whence it came.
Then the Inquisitors declared to her what had happened; that she had not stirred from her place, and that the pain in her foot was caused by the application of a lighted candle during her pretended absence. The thing having been verified, she acknowledged her folly, asked pardon, and promised never to fall into it again.
Other historians relate that, by means of certain drugs with which both wizards and witches anoint themselves, they are really and corporally transported to the sabbath. Torquemada relates, on the authority of Paul Grilland, that a husband suspecting his wife of being a witch, desired to know if she went to the sabbath, and how she managed to transport herself thither. He watched her so narrowly, that he saw her one day anoint herself with a certain unguent, and then take the form of a bird and fly away, and he saw her no more till the next morning, when he found her by his side. He questioned her very much, without making her own anything; at last he told her what he had himself seen, and by dint of beating her with a stick, he constrained her to tell him her secret, and to take him with her to the sabbath.
Arrived at this place, he sat down to table with the others; but as all the viands which were on the table were very insipid, he asked for some salt; they were some time before they brought any; at last, seeing a salt-cellar, he said—”God be praised, there is some salt at last!” At the same instant, he heard a very great noise, all the company disappeared, and he found himself alone and naked in a field among the mountains. He went forward and found some shepherds; he learned that he was more than three leagues from his dwelling. He returned thither as he could, and, having related the circumstance to the Inquisitors, they caused the woman and several others, her accomplices, to be taken up and chastised as they deserved.
The same author relates that a woman, returning from the sabbath and being carried through the air by the evil spirit, heard in the morning the bell for the Angelus. The devil let her go immediately, and she fell into a quickset hedge on the bank of a river; her hair fell disheveled over her neck and shoulders. She perceived a young lad who after much entreaty came and took her out and conducted her to the next village, where her house was situated; it required most pressing and repeated questions on the part of the lad, before she would tell him truly what had happened to her; she made him presents, and begged him to say nothing about it, nevertheless the circumstance got spread abroad.
If we could depend on the truth of these stories, and an infinite number of similar ones, which books are full of, we might believe that sometimes sorcerers are carried bodily to the sabbath; but on comparing these stories with others which prove that they go thither only in mind and imagination, we may say boldly, that what is related of wizards and witches who go or think they go to the sabbath, is usually only illusion on the part of the devil, and seduction on the part of those of both sexes who fancy they fly and travel, while they in reality do not stir from their places. The spirit of malice and falsehood being mixed up in this foolish prepossession, they confirm themselves in their follies and engage others in the same impiety; for Satan has a thousand ways of deceiving mankind and of retaining them in error. Magic, impiety, enchantments, are often the effects of a diseased imagination. It rarely happens that these kind of people do not fall into every excess of licentiousness, irreligion, and theft, and into the most outrageous consequences of hatred to their neighbors.
Some have believed that demons took the form of the sorcerers and sorceresses who were supposed to be at the sabbath, and that they maintained the simple creatures in their foolish belief, by appearing to them sometimes in the shape of those persons who were reputed witches, while they themselves were quietly asleep in their beds. But this belief contains difficulties as great, or perhaps greater, than the opinion we would combat. It is far from easy to understand that the demon takes the form of pretended sorcerers and witches, that he appears under this shape, that he eats, drinks, and travels, and does other actions to make simpletons believe that sorcerers go to the sabbath. What advantage does the devil derive from making idiots believe these things, or maintaining them in such an error? Nevertheless it is related that St. Germain, Bishop of Auxerre, traveling one day, and passing through a village in his diocese, after having taken some refreshment there, remarked that they were preparing a great supper, and laying out the table anew; he asked if they expected company, and they told him it was for those good women who go by night. St. Germain well understood what was meant, and resolved to watch to see the end of this adventure.
Some time after he beheld a multitude of demons who came in the form of men and women, and sat down to table in his presence. St. Germain forbade them to withdraw, and calling the people of the house, he asked them if they knew those persons: they replied, that they were such and such among their neighbors: “Go,” said he, “and see if they are in their houses:” they went, and found them asleep in their beds. The saint conjured the demons, and obliged them to declare that it is thus they mislead mortals, and make them believe that there are sorcerers and witches who go by night to the sabbath; they obeyed, and disappeared, greatly confused.
This history may be read in old manuscripts, and is to be found in Jacques de Varasse, Pierre de Noëls, in St. Antonine, and in old Breviaries of Auxerre, as well printed, as manuscript. I by no means guarantee the truth of this story; I think it is absolutely apocryphal; but it proves that those who wrote and copied it believed that these nocturnal journeys of sorcerers and witches to the sabbath, were mere illusions of the demon. In fact, it is hardly possible to explain all that is said of sorcerers and witches going to the sabbath, without having recourse to the ministry of the demon; to which we must add a disturbed imagination, with a mind misled, and foolishly prepossessed, and, if you will, a few drugs which affect the brain, excite the humors, and produce dreams relative to impressions already in their minds.
In John Baptist Porta Cardan, and elsewhere, may be found the composition of those ointments with which witches are said to anoint themselves, to be able to transport themselves to the sabbath; but the only real effect they produce is to send them to sleep, disturb their imagination, and make them believe they are going long journeys, while they remain profoundly sleeping in their beds.
The fathers of the council of Paris, of the year 829, confess that magicians, wizards, and people of that kind, are the ministers and instruments of the demon in the exercise of their diabolical art; that they trouble the minds of certain persons by beverages calculated to inspire impure love; that they are persuaded they can disturb the sky, excite tempests, send hail, predict the future, ruin and destroy the fruit, and take away the milk of cattle belonging to one person, in order to give it to cattle the property of another.
The bishops conclude that all the rigor of the laws enacted by princes against such persons ought to be put in force against them, and so much the more justly, that it is evident they yield themselves up to the service of the devil.
Spranger, in the Malleus Maleficorum, relates, that in Suabia, a peasant who was walking in his fields with his little girl, a child about eight years of age, complained of the drought, saying, “Alas! when will God give us some rain?” Immediately the little girl told him that she could bring him some down whenever he wished it. He answered,—”And who has taught you that secret?” “My mother,” said she, “who has strictly forbidden me to tell any body of it.”
“And what did she do to give you this power?”
“She took me to a master, who comes to me as many times as I call him.”
“And have you seen this master?”
“Yes,” said she, “I have often seen men come to my mother’s house; she has devoted me to one of them.”
After this dialogue, the father asked her how she could do to make it rain upon his field only. She asked but for a little water; he led her to a neighboring brook, and the girl having called the water in the name of him to whom she had been devoted by her mother, they beheld directly abundance of rain falling on the peasant’s field.
The father, convinced that his wife was a sorceress, accused her before the judges, who condemned her to be burnt. The daughter was baptized and vowed to God, but she then lost the power of making it rain at her will.