[This is taken from Augustine Calmet's Phantom World, originally published in 1850, revised and edited by D. J. McAdam, 2010. Copyright as such.]
LETTER OF M. THE MARQUIS MAFFEI
THE REVEREND FATHER INNOCENT ANSALDI,
OF THE ORDER OF ST. DOMINIC;
TRANSLATED FROM THE ITALIAN OF THE AUTHOR.
My Reverend Father,
It is to the goodness of your reverence, in regard to myself, that I must attribute the curiosity you appear to feel to know what I think concerning the book which the Sieur Jerome Tartarotti has just published on the Nocturnal Assemblies of the Sorcerers. I reply to you with the greatest pleasure; and I am going to tell my opinion fully and unreservedly, on condition that you will examine what I write to you with your usual acuteness, and that you will tell me frankly whatever you remark in it, whether good or bad, and that may appear to deserve either your approbation or your censure. I had already read this book, and passed an eulogium on it, both for the great erudition displayed therein by the author, as because he refutes, in a very sensible manner, some ridiculous opinions with which people are infatuated concerning sorcerers, and some other equally dangerous abuses. But, to tell the truth, with that exception, I am little disposed to approve it; if M. Muratori has done so in his letter, which has been seen by several persons, either he has not read the work through, or he and I on that point entertain very different sentiments. In regard to my opinion, your reverence will see, by what I shall say, that it is the same as your own on this subject, as you have done me the favor to show by your letter.
I. In this work there is laid down, in the first place, as a certain and indubitable principle, the existence and reality of magic, and the truth of the effects produced by it—superior, they say, to all natural powers; he gives it the name of "diabolical magic," and defines it, "The knowledge of certain superstitious practices, such as words, verses, characters, images, signs, etc., by means of which magicians succeed in their designs." For my part, I am much inclined to believe that all the science of the pretended magicians had no other design than to deceive others, and ended sometimes in deceiving themselves; and that this magic, now so much vaunted, is only a chimera. Perhaps even it would be giving one's self superfluous trouble to undertake to show that everything related of those nocturnal hypogryphes, of those pretended journeys through the air, of those assemblies and feasts of sorcerers, is only idle and imaginary; because those fables being done away with would not prevent that an infinite number of others would still remain, which have been repeated and spread on the same subject, and which, although more foolish and ridiculous than all the extravagances we read in romances, are so much the more dangerous, because they are more easily believed. It would, in the opinion of many, be doing these tales too much honor to attempt to refute them seriously, as there is no one at this day, in Italy, at least, even amongst the people, who has common sense, that does not laugh at all that is said of the witches' sabbath, and of those troops or bands of sorcerers who go through the air during the night to assemble in retired spots and dance. It is true, that notwithstanding, that if a man of any credit, whether amongst the learned or persons of high dignity, maintains an opinion, he will immediately find partisans; it will be useless to write or speak to the contrary, it will not be the less followed; and it is hardly possible that it can be otherwise, so many minds as there are, and so many different ways of thinking. But here the only question is, what is the common opinion, and what is most universally believed. It is not my intention to compose a work expressly on magic, nor to enter very lengthily on this matter; I shall only exhibit, in a few words, the reasons which oblige me to laugh at it, and which induce me to incline to the opinion of those who look upon it as a pure illusion, and a real chimera. I must, first of all, give notice that you must not be dazzled by the truth of the magical operations in the Old Testament, as if from thence we could derive a conclusive argument to prove the reality of the pretended magic of our own times. I shall demonstrate this clearly at the end of this discourse, in which I hope to show that my opinion on this subject is conformable to the Scripture, and founded on the tradition of the fathers. Now, then, let us speak of modern magicians.
II. If there is any reality in this art, to which so many wonders are ascribed, it must be the effect of a knowledge acquired by study, or of the impiety of some one who renounces what he owes to God to give himself up to the demon, and invokes him. It seems, in fact, that they would sometimes attribute it to acquired knowledge, since in the book I am combating the author often speaks "of the true mysteries of the magic art;" and he asserts that few "are perfectly instructed in the secret and difficult principles of this science;" which is not surprising, he says, since "the life of man would hardly suffice" to read all the works which have treated of it. He calls it sometimes the "magical science," or "magical philosophy;" he carries back the origin of it to the philosopher Pythagoras; he regards "ignorance of the magic art as one of the reasons why we see so few magicians in our days." He speaks only of the mysterious scale enclosed by Orpheus in unity, in the numbers of two and twelve; of the harmony of nature, composed of proportionable parts, which are the octave, or the double, and the fifth, or one and a half; of strange and barbarous names which mean nothing, and to which he attributes supernatural virtues; of the concert or the agreement of the inferior and superior parts of this universe, when understood; makes us, by means of certain words or certain stones, hold intercourse with invisible substances; of numbers and signs, which answer to the spirits which preside over different days, or different parts of the body; of circles, triangles, and pentagons, which have power to bind spirits; and of several other secrets of the same kind, very ridiculous, to tell the truth, but very fit to impose on those who admire everything which they do not understand.
III. But however thick may be the darkness with which nature is hidden from us, and although we may know but very imperfectly the essential principles and properties of things, who does not see, nevertheless, that there can be no proportion, no connection, between circles and triangles which we trace, or the long words which signify nothing, and immaterial spirits? Can people not conceive that it is a folly to believe that by means of a few herbs, certain stones, and certain signs or characters, we can make ourselves obeyed by invisible substances which are unknown to us? Let a man study as much as he will the pretended soul of the world, the harmony of nature, the agreement of the influence of all the parts it is composed of—is it not evident that all he will gain by his labor will be terms and words, and never any effects which are above the natural power of man? To be convinced of this truth, it suffices to observe that the pretended magicians are, and ever have been, anything but learned; on the contrary, they are very ignorant and illiterate men. Is it credible that so many celebrated persons, so many famous men, versed in all kinds of literature, should never have been able or willing to sound and penetrate the mysterious secrets of this art; and that of so many philosophers spoken of by Diogenes Laërtius, neither Plato, nor Aristotle, nor any other, should have left us some treatise? It would be useless to attack the opinions of the world at that time on this subject. Do we not know with how many errors it has been infatuated in all ages, and which, though shared in common, were not the less mistakes? Was it not generally believed in former times, that there were no antipodes? that according to whether the sacred fowls had eaten or not, it was permitted or forbidden to fight? that the statues of the gods had spoken or changed their place? Add to those things all the knavery and artifice which the charlatans put in practice to deceive and delude the people, and then can we be surprised that they succeeded in imposing on them and gaining their belief? But let it not be imagined, nevertheless, that everyone was their dupe, and that amongst so many blind and credulous people there were not always to be found some men sensible and clear-sighted enough to perceive the truth.
IV. To be convinced of this, let us only consider what was thought of it by one of the most learned amongst the ancients, and we may say, one of the most curious and attentive observers of the wonders of nature—I speak of Pliny, who thus expresses himself at the beginning of his Thirtieth Book; "Hitherto I have shown in this work, every time that it was necessary and the occasion presented itself, how very little reality there is in all that is said of magic; and I shall continue to do so as it goes on. But because during several centuries this art, the most deceptive of all, has enjoyed great credit among several nations, I think it is proper to speak of it more fully." "No men are more clever in hiding their knaveries than magicians;" and in seven or eight other places he endeavors to expose "their falsehoods, their deceptions, the uselessness of their art," and laughs at it. But one thing to which we should pay attention above all, is an invincible argument which he brings forward against this pretended art. For after having enumerated the diverse sorts of magic, which were employed with different kinds of instruments, and in several different ways, and from which they promised themselves effects that were "quite divine;" that is to say, superior to all the force of nature, even of "the power to converse with the shades and souls of the dead;" he adds, "But in our days the Emperor Nero has discovered that in all these things there is nothing but deceit and vanity." "Never prince," says he, a little lower down, "sought with more eagerness to render himself clever in any other art; and as he was the master of the world, it is certain that he wanted neither riches, nor power, nor wit, nor any other aid necessary to succeed therein. What stronger proof of the falsity of this art can we have than to see that Nero renounced it?" Suetonius informs us also, "That this prince uselessly employed magic sacrifices to evoke the shade of his mother, and speak to her." Again, Pliny says "that Tirdates the Mage (for it is thus it should be read, and not Tiridates the Great, as it is in the edition of P. Hardouin), having repaired to the court of Nero, and having brought several magi with him, initiated this prince in all the mysteries of magic. Nevertheless," he adds, "it was in vain for Nero to make him a present of a kingdom—he could not obtain from him the knowledge of this art; which ought to convince us that this detestable science is only vanity, or, if some shadow of truth is to be met within it, its real effects have less to do with the art of magic than the art of poisoning." Seneca, who also was very clever, after having repeated a law of the Twelve Tables, "which forbade the use of enchantments to destroy the fruits of the earth," makes this commentary upon it: "When our fathers were yet rude and ignorant, they imagined that by means of enchantments rain could be brought down upon the ground, or could be prevented from falling; but at this day it is so clear that both one and the other is impossible, that to be convinced of it it does not require to be a philosopher." It would be useless to collect in this place an infinity of passages from the ancients, which all prove the same thing; we can only look to the book written by Hippocrates on Caducity, which usually passed for the effect of the vengeance of the gods, and which for that reason was called the "sacred malady." We shall there see how he laughs "at magicians and charlatans," who boasted of being able to cure it by their enchantments and expiations. He shows there that by the profession which they made of being able to darken the sun, bring down the moon to the earth, give fine or bad weather, procure abundance or sterility, they seemed to wish to attribute to man more power than to the Divinity itself, showing therein much less religion than "impiety, and proving that they did not believe in the gods." I do not speak of the fables and tales invented by Philostrates on the subject of Apollonius of Thyana, they have been sufficiently refuted by the best pens: but I must not omit to warn you that the name of magic has been used in a good sense for any uncommon science, and a sublimer sort of philosophy. It is in this sense that it must be understood where Pliny says, although rather obscurely, "that Pythagoras, Empedocles, Democritus, and Plato, traveled a great deal to acquire instruction in it." For the rest, people are naturally led to attribute to sorcery everything that appears new and marvelous. Have not we ourselves, with M. Leguier, passed for magicians in the minds of some persons, because in our experiments on electricity they have seen us easily extinguish lights by putting them near cold water, which then appeared an unheard-of thing, and which many still firmly maintain even now cannot be done without a tacit compact? It is true that in the effects of electricity there is something so extraordinary and so wonderful, that we should be more disposed to excuse those persons who could not easily believe them to be natural than those who have fancied tacit compacts for things which it would be much more easy to explain naturally.
V. From what has just been said, it evidently results that it is folly to believe that by means of study and knowledge one can ever attain any of those marvelous effects attributed to magic; and it is profaning the name of science to give it an imposture so grossly imagined; it remains then that these effects might be produced by a diabolical power. In fact, we read in the work in question that all the effects of magic "must be attributed to the operation of the demon; that it is in virtue of the compact, express or tacit, that he has made with him that the magician works all these pretended prodigies; and that it is in regard to the different effects of this art, and the different ways in which they are produced, that authors have since divided it into several classes." But I beg, at first, that the reader will reflect seriously, if it is credible, that as soon as some miserable woman or unlucky knave have a fancy for it, God, whose wisdom and goodness are infinite, will ever permit the demon to appear to them, instruct them, obey them, and that they should make a compact with him. Is it credible that to please a scoundrel he would grant the demon power to raise storms, ravage all the country by hail, inflict the greatest pain on little innocent children, and even sometimes "to cause the death of a man by magic?" Does any one imagine that such things can be believed without offending God, and without showing a very injurious mistrust of his almighty power? It has several times happened to me, especially when I was in the army, to hear that some wretched creatures had given themselves to the devil, and had called upon him to appear to them with the most horrible blasphemies, without his appearing to them for all that, or their attempts being followed by any success. And, certainly, if to obtain what is promised by the art of magic it sufficed to renounce God and invoke the devil, how many people would soon perform the dreadful act? How many impious men do we see every day who for money, or to revenge themselves on some one, or to satisfy a criminal desire, rush without remorse into the greatest excesses! How many wretches who are suffering in prison, at the galleys, or otherwise, would have recourse to the demon to extricate them from their troubles! It would be very easy for me to relate here a great number of curious stories of persons generally believed to be bewitched, of haunted houses, or horses rubbed down by will-o'-the-wisp, which I have myself seen at different times and places, at last reduced to nothing. This I can affirm, that two monks, very sensible men, who had exercised the office of inquisitors, one for twenty-four years, and the other during twenty-eight, have assured me that of different accusations of sorcery which had been laid before them, and which appeared to be well proved, after having examined them carefully and maturely, they had not found one which was not mere knavery. How can any one imagine that the devil, who is the father of lies, should teach the magician the true secret of this art; and that this spirit, full of pride, of which he is the source, should teach an enchanter the means of forcing him to obey him? As soon as we rise above some old prejudices, which make us excuse those who in past ages gave credence to such follies, can we put faith in certain extravagant opinions, as what is related of demons, incubes, and seccubes, from a commerce with whom it is pretended children are born. Who will believe in our days that Ezzelin was the son of a will-o'-the-wisp? But can anything more strange be thought of than what is said of tacit compacts? They will have it, that when any one, of whatever country he may be, and however far he may be from wishing to make any compact with the devil, every time he shall say certain words, or make certain signs, a certain effect will follow; if I, who am perfectly ignorant of this convention, should happen to pronounce these same words, or make the same signs, the same effect ought to follow. They say that whoever makes a compact with the devil has a right to oblige him to produce a certain effect, not only when he shall make himself, for instance, certain figures, but also every time that they shall be made by any other person you please, at any time, or in any place whatever, and although the intention may be quite different. Certainly nothing is more proper to humble us than such ideas, and to show how very little man can count on the feeble light of his mind. Of all the extraordinary things said to have been performed by tacit compacts, many are absolutely false, and others have occurred quite differently than as they are related; some are true, and such as require no need of the demon's intervention to explain them.
VI. The evidence of these reasons seems to suffice to prove that all which is said of magic in our days is merely chimerical; but because, in reply to the substantial difficulties which were proposed to him by the Count Rinaldi Carli, the author of the book pretends that to deny is a heretical opinion condemned by the laws, it is proper to examine this article again. For the first proof of its reality, is advanced the general consent of all mankind; the tradition of all nations; stories and witnesses ad infinitum of theologians, philosophers, and jurisconsults; whence he concludes "that its existence cannot be denied, or even a doubt cast upon it, without sapping the foundations of what is called human belief." But the little I have said in No. IV. alone suffices to prove how false is this assertion concerning this pretended general consent. Horace, who passes for one of the wisest and most enlightened men amongst the ancients, reckons, on the contrary, among the virtues necessary to an honest man, the not putting faith in what is said concerning magic, and to laugh at it. His friend, believing himself very virtuous because he was not avaricious—"That is not sufficient," said he: "are you exempt from every other vice and every other fault; not ambitious, not passionate, fearless of death? Do you laugh at all that is told of dreams, magical operations, miracles, sorcerers, ghosts, and Thessalian wonders?"—that is to say, in one word, of all kinds of magic. What is the aim of Lucian, in his Dialogue entitled "Philopseudis," but to turn into ridicule the magic art? and also is it not what he proposed to himself in the other, entitled "The Ass," whence Apuleius derived his "Golden Ass?" It is easy to perceive that in all this work, wherein he speaks so often, the power ascribed to magic of making rivers return to their source, staying the course of the sun, darkening the stars, and constraining the gods themselves to obey it, he had no other intention than to laugh at it, which he certainly would not have done if he had believed it able to produce, as they pretend, effects beyond those of nature. It is, then, jokingly and ironically that he says they see wonders worked "by the invincible power of magic," and by the blind necessity which imposes upon the gods themselves to be obedient to it. The poor man thinking he was to be changed into a bird, had had the grief to see himself metamorphosed into an ass, through the mistake of a woman who in a hurry had mistaken the box, and giving him one ointment for another. The most usual terms made use of by the ancients, in speaking of magic, were "play" and "badinage," which plainly shows that they saw nothing real in it. St. Cyprian, speaking of the mysteries of the magicians, calls them "hurtful and juggling operations." "If by their delusions and their jugglery," says Tertullian, "the charlatans seem to perform many wonders." And in his treatise on the soul, he exclaims, "What shall we say of magic? what almost all the world says of it—that it is mere knavery." Arnobius calls it, "the sports of the magic art;" and on these words of Minutius Felix, "all the marvels which they seem to work by their jugglery," his commentator remarks that the word badinage is in this place the proper term. This manner of expressing himself shows what was then the common opinion of all wise persons. "Let the farmer," says Columella, "frequent with neither soothsayers nor witches, because by their foolish superstitions they all cause the ignorant to spend much money, and thence they lead them to be criminal." We learn from Suidas, "that those were called magicians who filled their heads with vain imaginations." Thus, when speaking of one of these imposters, Dante was right when he said "he knew all the trickery and knavery of the magic art." Thus, then, it is not true that a general belief in the art of magic has ever prevailed; and if, in our days, any one would gather the voice and opinion of men of letters, and the most celebrated academies, I am persuaded that hardly would one or two in ten be found who were convinced of its existence. It would not be, at least, one of the learned friends of the author of the book in question, who having been consulted by the latter on this matter, answers him in these terms—"Magic is a ridiculous art, which has no reality but in the head of a madman, who fancies that he is able to lead the devil to satisfy all his wishes." I have read in some catalogues which come from Germany, that they are preparing to give the public a "Magic Library:" oder grundliche nagrichen, &c. It is a vast collection of different writings, all tending to prove the uselessness and insufficiency of magic. I must remark that the poets have greatly contributed to set all these imaginations in vogue. Without this fruitful source, what becomes of the most ingenious fictions of Homer? We may say as much of Ariosto and of our modern poets. For the rest, what I have before remarked concerning Pliny must not be forgotten—that in the ancient authors, the word magic is often equivocal. For in certain countries, they gave the name of magi, or magicians, to those who applied as a particular profession to the study of astronomy, philosophy, or medicine; in others, philosophers of a certain sect were thus called: for this, the preface of Diogenes Laërtius can be consulted. Plato writes that in Persia, by the name of magic was understood "the worship of the gods." "According to a great number of authors," says Apuleius, in his Apology, "the Persians called those magi to whom we give the name of priests." St. Jerome, writing against Jovinian, thus expresses himself—"Eubulus, who wrote the history of Mithras, in several volumes, relates that among the Persians they distinguish three kinds of magi, of whom the first are most learned and the most eloquent," &c. Notwithstanding that, there are still people to be found, who confound the chimera of pretended diabolical magic with philosophical magic, as Corneillus Agrippa has done in his books on "Secret Philosophy."
VII. Another reason which is brought forward to prove the reality and the power of the magic art, is that the laws decree the penalty of death against enchanters. "What idea," says he, "could we have of the ancient legislators, if we believe them capable of having recourse to such rigorous penalties to repress a chimera, an art which produced no effect?" Upon which it is proper to observe that, supposing this error to be universally spread, it would not be impossible that even those who made the laws might suffer themselves to be prejudiced by them; in which case, we might make the same commentary on Seneca, applied, as we have seen, to the Twelve Tables. But I go further still. This is not the place to speak of the punishments decreed in the Scripture against the impiety of the Canaanites, who joined to idolatry the most extravagant magic. In regard to the Greek laws, of which authors have preserved for us so great a number, I do not remember that they anywhere make mention of this crime, or that they subject it to any penalty. I can say the same of the Roman laws, contained in the Digest. It is true that in the Code of Theodosius, and in that of Justinian, there is an entire title concerning malefactors, in which we find many laws which condemn to the most cruel death magicians of all kinds; but are we not forced to confess that this condemnation was very just? Those wretches boasted that they were able to occasion when they pleased public calamities and mortalities; with this aim, they kept their charms and dark plots as secret as it was possible, which led the Emperor Constans to say, "Let all the magicians, in whatever part of the empire they may be found, be looked upon as the public enemies of mankind." What does it matter, in fact, that they made false boastings, and that their attempts were useless? "In evil doings," says the law, "it is the will, and not the event, which makes the crime." Also, Constantine wills that those amongst them should be pardoned who professed to cure people by such means, and to preserve the products of the earth. But in general these kind of persons aimed only at doing harm; for which reason the laws ordain that they should be regarded as "public enemies." The least harm they could be accused of was deluding the people, misleading the simple, and causing by that means an infinity of trouble and disorder. Besides that, of how many crimes were they not guilty in the use of their spells? It was that which led the Emperor Valentinian to decree the pain of death "against whomsoever should work at night, by impious prayers and detestable sacrifices, at magic operations." Sometimes even they adroitly made use of some other way to procure the evil which they desired to cause; after which, they gave out that it must be attributed to the power of their art. But what is the use of so many arguments? Is it not certain that the first step taken by those who had recourse to magic was to renounce God and Jesus Christ, and to invoke the demon? Was not magic looked upon as a species of idolatry; and was not that sufficient to render this crime capital, should the punishment have depended on the result? Honorius commanded that these kind of people should be treated with all the rigor of the laws, "unless they would promise to conform for the future to what was required by the Catholic religion, after having themselves, in presence of the bishops, burned the pernicious writings which served to maintain their error."
VIII. What is remarkable is, that if ever any one laughed at magic, it must certainly be the author in question—since all his book only tends to prove that there are no witches, and that all that is said of them is merely foolish and chimerical. But what appears surprising is, that at the same time he maintains that while in truth there are no witches, but that there are enchantresses or female magicians; that witchcraft is only a chimera, but that diabolical magic is very real. Is not that, as it appears to some, denying and affirming at the same time the same thing under different names? Tibullus took care not to make nothing of these distinctions, when he said: "As I was promised by a witch, whose magical operations never fail." While treating in this book of witchcraft and magic, it is affirmed that the demon intervenes on both, and that both work wonders." But if that is true, it is impossible to find any difference between them. If both perform wonders, and that by the intervention of the demon, they are then essentially the same. After that, is it not a contradiction to say that the magician acts and the witch has no power—that the former commands the devil and the latter obeys him—that magic is founded on compacts, expressed or tacit, while in witchcraft there is nothing but what is imaginary and chimerical? What reason is given for this? If the demon is always ready to appear to any one who invokes him, and is ready to enter into compact with him, why does he not show himself as directly to her whom the author terms a witch as to her to whom he is pleased to give the more respectable title of enchantress? If he is disposed to appear and take to himself the worship and adoration which are due to God alone, what matters it to him whether they proceed from a vile or a distinguished person, from an ignoramus or a learned man? The principal difference which the author admits between witchcraft and magic, is, that the latter "belongs properly to priests, doctors, and other persons who cultivate learning;" whilst witchcraft is purely fanaticism, "which only suits the vulgar and poor wretched women;" "also, it does not," says he, "derive its origin from philosophy or any other science, and has no foundation but in popular stories." For my part, I think it is very wrong that so much honor should here be paid to magic. I have proved above in a few words, by the authority of several ancient authors, that the most sensible men have always made a jest of it; that they have regarded it only as a play and a game; and that after having spared neither application nor expense, a Roman emperor could never succeed in beholding any effect. I have even remarked the equivocation of the name, which has often caused these popular opinions with philosophy and the sublimest sciences. But I think I can find in the book itself of the author, enough to prove that one cannot in fact make this distinction, since he says therein "that superstitious practices, such as figures, characters, conjurations, and enchantments, passing from one to the other, and coming to the knowledge of these unhappy women, operate in virtue of the tacit consent which they give to the operation of the demon." There then all distinction is taken away. He says again that, according to some, "nails, pins, bones, coals, packets of hair, or rags, found by the head, of children's beds, are indications of a compact express or tacit, because of the resemblance to the symbols made use of by true magicians." Thus, then, witches and those who are here styled true magicians employ equally the same follies; they equally place confidence in imaginary compacts—and consequently they should both be classed in the same category.
IX. It is proper to notice here that it is not so great a novelty as is generally believed, to make a distinction between witches and magicians. Nearly two hundred years ago James Wier, a doctor by profession, had already said the same thing. Never did an author write more at length upon this matter; you may consult the sixth edition of his book, De Præstigiis Dæmonum et Incantationibus, published at Basle. He there proves that witches ought not to be condemned to death, because they are women whose brain is disturbed; because all the crimes that are imputed to them are imaginary, having no reality but in their ill will, and none at all in the execution; lastly, because, according to the rules of the soundest jurisprudence, the confession of having done impossible things is of no weight, and cannot serve as the foundation of condemnation. He shows how these foolish old women come to believe that they have held intercourse with some evil spirit, or been carried through the air; so far nothing can be better; but otherwise, being persuaded that there are really magic wonders, and thinking that he has himself experienced something of the kind, he will have magicians severely punished. He says, "that very often they are learned men, who, to acquire this diabolical art, have traveled a great deal; and who, learned in Goësy and Theurgy, whether through the demon or through study, make use of strange terms, characters, exorcisms, and imprecations;" employ "sacred words and divine names, and neglect nothing which can render them skillful in the black art;" which makes them deserving of the punishment of death. "But," according to him, "there is a great difference between magicians and witches, inasmuch as these latter make use neither of books, nor exorcisms, nor characters, but have only their mind and imagination corrupted by the demon." He calls witches "those women who pass for doing a great deal of harm, either by virtue of some imaginary compact, or by their own will, or some diabolical instinct;" and who, having their brain deranged, confess they have done many things, which they never have nor could have performed. "Magicians," he says, "are led of themselves, and by their own inclination, to learn this forbidden art, and seek masters who can instruct them in it; wizards, on the contrary, seek neither masters nor instructions; but the devil takes possession of those women," whom he thinks the most likely to be deceived, "on account of their old age, of their melancholy temperament, or their poverty and misery." Everybody must see, and I have sufficiently shown it already, to how many difficulties and contradictions all this doctrine is subject; what we must conclude from it is, that wizards as well as magicians have equally recourse to the demon, and place their hope in him, without either of them ever obtaining what they wish. The author sometimes believes he renders what he says of the power of magic, and in short reduces it to nothing, by saying, that all the wonderful effects attributed to it have no reality, and are but illusions and vain phantoms; but he does not remark that it is even miraculous to cause to appear that which is not. Whether the wands of Pharaoh's magicians were really metamorphosed into serpents, or that they appeared to be thus changed to the eyes of the beholders, would either of them equally surpass all the power and industry of men. I shall not amuse myself with discussing largely many inutilities which may be found in this work; for instance, he does not fail to relate the impertinent story of the pretended magic of Sylvester II., which, as Panvinius has shown, had no other foundation than this pope's being much given to the study of mathematics and philosophy.
X. It is owned in the new book, that it is very likely some woman may be found "who, with the help of the demon, may be capable of performing a great many things even hurtful to mankind," and that by virtue "of a compact, express or tacit;" and it is added, that it cannot be denied that it may be, without absolutely denying the reality of magic. But when, so far from denying it, every effort on the contrary is made to establish it; when it is loudly maintained that persons may be found who, with the assistance of the demon, are able to produce real effects, even of doing harm to people; how, after that, can it be denied that there are witches, since, according to the common opinion, witchcraft is nothing else? Let them, if they will, regard as a fable what is said of their journeys through the air to repair to their nocturnal meetings; what will he gain by that, if, notwithstanding that, he believes that they possess the power to kill children by their spells, to send the devil into the body of the first person who presents himself, and a hundred other things of the same kind? He says, that "to render the presents which he makes more precious and estimable, and the more to be desired, the demon sells them very dear, as if he could not be excited to act otherwise than by employing powerful means, and making use of a most mysterious and very hidden art," which, doubtless, he would have witches ignorant of, and known only to magicians. But then they pretend that this art can be learned only from the devil, and to obtain it from him they say that he must be invoked and worshiped. Now, as there is hardly an impious character, who, having taken it into his head to operate something important by his charms or spells, would not be disposed to go to that shocking extreme, we cannot see why one should succeed in what he wishes, whilst the other does not succeed; nor what distinction can be made between rascals and madmen, who are precisely of a kind. I hold even, that if the reality and power of magic are granted, we could not without great difficulty refuse to those who profess it the power of entering places shut up, and of going through the air to their nocturnal assemblies. It will, doubtless, be said that that is impossible, and surpasses the power of man; but who can affirm it, since we know not how far the power of the rebel angels extends?
I remember to have formerly heard some persons at Rome reason very sensibly on the difficulty there is sometimes of deciding upon the truth of a miracle, which difficulty is founded on our ignorance of the extent of the powers of nature.
[It is true that it would be dangerous to carry this principle too far; doubtless, we are not to deduce from it that nothing ever happens but what is natural, as if the Sovereign Author of all had in some measure bound his hands, and had not reserved unto himself the liberty to comply with the wishes and prayers of his servants—of sometimes according favors which manifestly surpass the powers he has granted to nature. It may often happen that we doubt whether an effect is natural or supernatural; but also how many effects do we see on which no sensible and rational person can form a doubt, good sense concurring with the soundest philosophy to teach us that certain wonders can only happen by a secret and divine virtue? One of the most certain proofs which can be had of this is the sudden and durable cure of certain long and cruel maladies. I know that simple and pious persons have sometimes attributed to a miracle cures which might very well be looked upon as purely natural; but what can be opposed to certain extraordinary facts which have sometimes happened to very wise and wide-awake persons, in the presence of sensible and judicious witnesses who have attested them, and confirmed by the report of the cleverest physicians, who have shown their astonishment at them? In this city of Verona, where I live, an event of this kind happened very recently, and it has excited the wonder of every one; but as the truth of it is not yet juridically attested I abstain from relating it. But such is not the case with a similar fact, verified, ten years ago, after the strictest examination. I speak of the miraculous cure of Dame Victoire Buri, of the monastery of St. Daniel, who after a chronic ague of nearly five years' duration, after having been tortured for several days with a stitch in her side, or acute pain, and with violent colics—having, in short, lost her voice, and fallen into a languid state, received the holy viaticum on the day of the fête of St. Louis de Gonzaga. In this condition, having fervently recommended herself to the intercession of the saint, she in one moment felt her strength return, her pains ceased, and she began to cry out that she was cured. At these cries the abbess and the nuns ran to her; she dressed herself, went up the stairs alone and without assistance, and repaired to the choir with the others to render thanks to God for her recovery. I had the curiosity to wish to inform myself personally of the fact and of these circumstances, and after having interrogated the lady herself, those who had witnessed her cure, and the physicians who had attended her, I remained fully convinced of the truth of the fact. I, I repeat, whose defect is not that of being too credulous, as it sufficiently appears by what I write here.
Again, I may say, that finding myself fourteen years ago at Florence, I was in that city acquainted with a young girl, named Sister Catherine Biondi, of the third order of St. Francis; through her prayers a lady was cured in a moment and for ever of a very painful dislocation. This circumstance was known by everybody, and I have no doubt that it will one day be juridically attested. For myself, I believe I obtained several singular favors of God through the intercession of this holy maiden, to whose intercession I have recommended myself several times since her death. The wise and learned father Pellicioni, abbot of the order of St. Benedict, her confessor, said that if we knew the life and family arrangements of this inferior sister, we should soon be delivered from all sorts of temptations against faith.
In effect, what things we are taught by these facts, which remain as if buried in oblivion! What subtle questions are cleared up by them in a very short time! Why do not the learned, who shine in other communions, give themselves the trouble to assure themselves of only one of these facts, as it would be very easy for them to do? One alone suffices to render evident the truth of the catholic dogmas. There is not one article of controversy for the defense of which it would not be necessary to compose a folio; whereas, only one of these facts decides them all instantly. We advance but little by disputation, because each one seeks only to show forth his own wit and erudition, and no one will give up a point; while by this method all becomes so evident that no reply remains in answer to it. And who could imagine that among so many miracles verified on the spot, in different places, and reported in the strictest examinations made for the canonization of saints, there would not be one which was true? To do so, we must refuse to believe anything at all, and to make use of one's reason. But when one of these facts becomes so notorious that there is no longer room to doubt it, if after that some difficulty presents itself to our feeble mind, which, so far from grasping the infinite, has only most confused knowledge of material bodies, will not any one who wishes to reason upon them be obliged to decide them suddenly by saying, "I do not understand it at all, but I believe the whole?" Those also, who, through the high opinion they have of their own knowledge, laugh at all which is above them; what can these men oppose to facts, in which Divine Providence shines forth in a manner so evident not only to the mind but to the eyes? In regard to those who, from the bad education which they have received, or from the idle and voluptuous life which they lead, stagnate in gross ignorance; with what facility would not one of these well-proved facts instruct them in what they most require to know, and enlighten them in a moment on every subject?]
To return to my subject. If it is sometimes difficult to decide on the truth of a miracle, how much more difficulty would there be in observing all the qualities which suit the superior and spiritual nature, and prescribing limits to it. In regard to the penalties which the author would have them inflict on magicians and witches, pretending that the former are to be treated with rigor, while, on the contrary, we must be indulgent to the latter, I do not see any foundation for it. Charity would certainly have us begin by instructing an old fool, who, having her fancy distorted, or her heart perverted, from having read, or heard related, certain things, will condemn herself, by avowing crimes which she has not committed. But if we are told, for instance, that, after having made a little image, an ignoramus has pierced it several times, muttering some ridiculous words, how can we distinguish whether this charm is to be attributed to sorcery or magic? and consequently, how can we know whether it ought to be punished leniently or rigorously? However it may be done, no effect will follow it, as has often been proved; and whether the spell is the work of a magician or a wizard, the person aimed at by it will not be in worse health. We must only remark, that although ineffectual, the attempt of such wizards is not less a crime, since to arrive at that point, "they must have renounced all their duty to God, and have made themselves the slaves of the demon:" also do they avow that to cast their spells they must "give up Jesus Christ, and renounce the baptismal rite." It is commonly held that "the demons appear to them, and cause themselves to be worshiped by them." This is certainly not the case; but if it were so, why should witches have less power than magicians? and on what foundation can it be asserted that they are less criminal?
XI. Now, then, let us come to the point, which has deceived many, and which still deludes some. Because in the Scripture, in the Old Testament, magic is often spoken of as it then was, they conclude that it still exists, and is on the same footing at this day. To that a reply is easy. Before the advent of the Savior, the demon had that power; but he no longer possesses it, since Jesus Christ by his death consummated the great work of our redemption. It is what St. John clearly teaches in the Apocalypse, when he says—"I saw an angel descend from heaven, holding in his hand the key of the well of the abyss, and a long chain with which he enchained the dragon, the old serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and he bound him for a thousand years." The Evangelist here makes use of the term "a thousand years" to designate a period both very long and indeterminate, since we read, a little lower down, that the demon shall be unbound at the coming of Antichrist. And "after a thousand years," says St. John, "Satan shall be unbound, and shall come out of his prison." Whence it happens, that in the time of Antichrist all the wonders of magic shall be renewed, as the apostle tells us, when he says that his arrival shall be marked with the greatest wonders that Satan is capable of working, and by all sorts of signs and lying prodigies. But till then, "the prince of this world," that is to say, the demon, "will be cast out." Which made St. Peter say, that in ascending to heaven, Jesus Christ has subjugated "the angels, the powers, and the virtues;" and St. Paul says, that "he has enriched himself with the spoils of principalities and powers;" and that "when he shall give up the kingdom to God even the Father, and destroyed all principalities, and powers, and rule." These various names indicate the different orders of reprobate spirits, as we learn from different parts of the New Testament. Now, to understand that the might and power which the demon has been deprived of by the Savior, is precisely that which he had enjoyed until then of deceiving the world by magical practices, it is proper to observe, that until the coming of Jesus Christ there were three ways or means by which the reprobate spirits exercised their power and malice upon men:—1. By tempting them and leading them to do evil. 2. By entering into their bodies and possessing them. 3. By seconding magical operations, and sometimes working wonders, to wrest the worship which was due to Him. At this day, of these three kinds of power, the demon has certainly not lost the first by the coming of the Savior, since we know with what determination he has continued since then, and daily does continue, to tempt us. Neither has he been deprived of the second, since we still find persons who are possessed; and it cannot be denied, that even since Jesus Christ, God has often permitted this kind of possession to chastise mankind, and serve as a warning. Thence it remains, that the demon has only been absolutely despoiled of the third; and that it is in this sense we must understand what St. Paul says, "that Satan has been enchained." Thence it comes, that since the death of our Savior all these diabolical beings having no longer the same success as before, those who until then had made a profession of them, brought their books to the apostles' feet, and burned them in their presence." For that these books treated principally of magic, we learn from St. Athanasius, who alludes to this part of the Scripture, when he says, that "those who had been celebrated for this art burned their books." It is not that, even in the most distant time, braggarts and impostors have been wanting who falsely boasted of what they could not perform. Thus we read in Ecclesiasticus—"Who will pity the enchanter that is bitten by the serpent?" In the time of St. Paul, some exorcists, who were Jews, ran about the country, vainly endeavoring to expel demons; this was the case with seven sons of one of the chief priests at Ephesus. It is this prejudice which made Josephus believe that in the presence of Vespasian and all his court attendants, a Jew had expelled demons from the bodies of the possessed by piercing their nose with a ring, in which had been encased a root pointed out by Solomon. In his narrative of this event, we may see, in truth, that the demons were obliged to give some sign of their exit; but who does not perceive that what he relates can proceed only from one who has suffered himself to be deceived, or who seeks to deceive others?
XII. From what I have said, it is obvious, that if in the Old Testament the magic power, and the prodigies worked by magic, are often spoken of, there is in return no mention made of it in the New. It is true, that as the world was never wanting in impostors, who sought to appropriate to themselves the name and reputation of magician, we find two of these seducers named in the Acts of the Apostles. The one is Elymas, who, in the isle of Cyprus, wished to turn the attention of the Roman proconsul from listening to the preaching of the apostles, and for that was punished with blindness. The other is Simon, who for a long time preaching in Samaria that he was something great, had misled all the people of that city, so that he was generally regarded there as a sort of divine man, because "through the effect of his magic he had for a long time turned the heads of all the inhabitants;" that is to say, he had seduced and dazzled them by his knaveries, as has often happened in many other places. For it is evidently shown that he could never succeed in working any wonder, not only by the silence of the Scripture on that point, but also on seeing the miracles of St. Philip he was so surprised at them, and so filled with admiration, that he directly asked to be baptized, and never after quitted this apostle. But having offered some money to St. Peter, in order to obtain from him the apostolical gift, he was severely reprimanded by him, and threatened with the most terrible punishments, to which he made no other reply than to entreat the apostles to intercede for him themselves with Jesus Christ, that nothing of the kind might happen to him. This is all we have that is certain and authentic on the subject of Simon the magician. But in times nearer to the apostles, the authors of apocryphal books and stories invented at pleasure, profited well by the profession of magic, which Simon had for a long time skillfully practiced; and because the magic art is fruitful in wonders, which certainly render a narrative agreeable and amusing, they attributed endless prodigies to him; amongst others they imagined that, in a sort of public discussion between him and St. Peter, he raised himself into the air, and was precipitated from thence to the ground at the prayers of that apostle. Sigebert mentions this, and, if I mistake not, it has appeared in print at Florence. The most ancient apocryphal works which remain to us, are the Recognitions of St. Clement, and the Apostolical Constitutions. In the first, they make Simon say that he can render himself invisible, traverse the most frightful precipices, fall from a great height without hurting himself, bind with his own bonds those who enchained him, open fastened doors, animate statues, pass through fire without burning himself, change his form, metamorphose himself into a goat or a sheep, fly in the air, &c. In the second they make St. Peter say, that Simon being at Rome, and gone to the theatre about noon, he ordered the people to go back and make room for him, promising them that he would rise up into the air. It is added, that he did in effect rise up into the air, carried by the demons, saying he was ascending to heaven, at which all the people applauded; but at that moment St. Peter's prayers were successful, and Simon was hurled down, after he had spoken beforehand to him, as if they had been close to each other. You can read the whole story, which is evidently false and ill-imagined. It is true that these old writings, and a few others of the same kind, have served to deceive some of the fathers and ecclesiastical authors, who, without examining into the truth, have permitted themselves to go with the stream, and have followed the public opinion, upon which many things might be said did time allow. How, for instance, can any one unhesitatingly believe that St. Jerome could ever have written that St. Peter went to Rome, not to plant the faith in that capital, and establish therein the first seat of Christianity, but to expel from thence Simon the magician? Is there not, on the contrary, reason to suspect that these few words have passed in ancient times, from a note inadvertently placed in the margin, into the text itself? But to confine myself within the limits of my subject, I say that it suffices to pay attention to the impure source of so many doubtful books, published under feigned names, by the diversity and contradiction which predominate amongst them relatively to the circumstance in question, by the silence, in short, of the sovereign pontiffs and other writers upon the same, even of the profane authors who ought principally to speak of it, to remain convinced that all that is said of it, as well as all the other prodigies ascribed to the magic power of Simon, is but a fable founded solely on public report. Is there not even an ancient inscription, which is thought to be still in existence, and which, according to the copy that I formerly took of it at Rome, bears: "Sanco Sancto Semoni Deo Filio," which upon the equivoque of the name, has been applied to Simon the magician by St. Justin, and upon his authority by some other writers, which occasioned P. Pagi to say on the year 42, "That St. Justin was deceived either by a resemblance of name, or by some unfaithful relation;" but that which must above all decide this matter is the testimony of Origen, who says that indeed Simon could deceive some persons in his time by magic, but that soon after he lost his credit so much, that there were not in all the world thirty persons of his sect to be found, and that only in Palestine, his name never having been known elsewhere; so far was it from true that he had been to Rome, worked miracles there, and had statues raised to him in that capital of the world! Origen concludes by saying, that where the name of Simon was known, it was so only by the Acts of the Apostles, and that the truth of the circumstances evidently shows that there was nothing divine in this man, that is to say, nothing miraculous or extraordinary. In a word, the Acts of the Apostles relate no wonder of him, because the Savior had destroyed all the power of magic.
XIII. To render this principle more solid still, after having based it upon the Scripture, I am going to establish again with my usual frankness, upon tradition, and show that it is truly in this sense the passages in the fathers, and ancient ecclesiastical writers, must be understood. I begin with St. Ignatius the Martyr, bishop, and successor of the apostles in the pulpit of Antioch. This father, in the first of the Epistles which are really his, speaking of the birth of the Savior, and of the star which then appeared, adds, "Because all the power of magic vanished, all the bonds of malice were broken, ignorance was abolished, and the old kingdom of Satan destroyed;" on which the learned Cotelerius makes this remark: "It was also at that time that all the illusions of magic ceased, as is attested by so many celebrated authors." Tertullian, in the book which he has written on Idolatry, says, "We know the strict union there is between magic and astrology. God permitted that science to reign on the earth till the time of the Gospel, in order that after the birth of Jesus Christ no one might be found who should undertake to read in the heavens the happiness or misfortunes of any person whomsoever." A little after, he adds: "It is thus that, till the time of the Gospel, God tolerated on the earth that other kind of magic which performs wonders, and dared even to enter into rivalry with Moses."
Origen, in his books against Celsus, speaking of the three magi, and the star which appeared to them, says that then the power of magic extended so far, that there was no art more powerful and more divine; but at the birth of the Savior hell was disconcerted, the demons lost their power, all their spells were destroyed, and their might passed away. The magi wishing them to perform their enchantments and their usual works, and not being able to succeed, sought the reason; and having seen that new star appear in the heavens, they conjectured that "He who was to command all spirits was born," which decided them to go and adore him.
St. Athanasius, in his treatise on the Incarnation, teaches that the Savior has delivered all creatures from the deceits and illusions of Satan, and that he has enriched himself, as St. Paul says, with the spoils of principalities and powers. "When is it," he says afterwards, "that the oracles have ceased to reply throughout all Greece, but since the advent of the Savior on earth? When did they begin to despise the magic art? Is it not since mankind began to enjoy the divine presence of the Word? Formerly," he continues, "the demons deluded men by divers phantoms, and attaching themselves to rivers and fountains, stones and wood, they drew by their allusions the admiration of weak mortals; but since the advent of the Divine Word, all their stratagems have passed away." A little while after, he adds, "But what shall we say of that magic they held in such admiration? Before the incarnation of the Word, it was in honor among the Egyptians, the Chaldeans, the Indians, and won the admiration of those nations by prodigies; but since the Truth has come down to earth, and the Word has shown himself amongst men, this power has been destroyed, and is itself fallen into oblivion." In another place, refuting the Gentiles, who ascribed the miracles of the Savior to magic, "They call him a magician," says he, "but can they say that a magician would destroy all sorts of magic, instead of working to establish it?"
In his Commentary on Isaiah, St. Jerome joins this interpretation to several passages in the prophet—"Since the advent of the Savior, all that must be understood in an allegorical sense; for all the error of the waters of Egypt, and all the pernicious arts which deluded the nations who suffered themselves to be infatuated by them, have been destroyed by the coming of Jesus Christ." A little after, he adds—"That Memphis was also strongly addicted to magic, the vestiges which subsist at this day of her ancient superstitions allow us not to doubt." Now this informs us in a few words, or in the approach of the desolation of Babylon, that all the projects of the magicians, and of those who promise to unveil the future, are a pure folly, and dissolve like smoke at the presence of Jesus Christ. Again, he says elsewhere, that "Jesus Christ being come into the world, all kinds of divination, and all the deceits of idolatry, lost their efficacy; so that the Eastern magi understanding that a Son of God was born who had destroyed all the power of their art, came to Bethlehem."
Theophilus of Alexandria, in his Paschal Letter addressed to the bishops of Egypt, and after him St. Jerome, who has given us a Latin translation of this letter, says that Jesus Christ by his coming has destroyed all the illusions of magic. They add, "Jesus Christ by his presence having destroyed idolatry, it follows that magic, which is its mother, has been destroyed likewise." They call magic the mother of idolatry, because it transfers to another the confidence and submission which are due to God alone. St. Ambrose says, "The magician perceives the inutility of his art, and you do not yet understand that the promised Redeemer is come." I could bring forward here many other passages from the fathers if I had the books at hand, or if time allowed me to select them.
XIV. But why amuse ourselves with fruitless researches? What I have said will suffice to show that this opinion has been that of not only one or two of the fathers, which would prove nothing, but of the greater number of those among them who have discoursed of this matter, which constitutes the greater number. After that it is of little import if in after and darker ages a thousand stories were spread on the subject of witchcraft and enchantments, and that those tales may have gained credit with the people in proportion to their rudeness and ignorance. You may read, if you have any curiosity on the subject, a hundred stories of that kind, related by Saxo Grammaticus and Olaus Magnus. You will find also in Lucian and in Apuleius, how, even in their time, those who wished to be carried through the air, or to be metamorphosed into beasts, began by stripping themselves, and then anointing themselves with certain oils from head to foot; there were then found impostors, who promised as of old to perform by means of magic all kinds of prodigies, and still continued the same extravagances as ever.
A great many persons feel a certain repugnance to refusing belief in all that is said of the prodigies of magic, as if it was denying the truth of miracles, and the existence of the devil; and on this subject they fail not to allege, that amongst the orders in the church is found that of exorcists, and that the rituals are full of prayers and blessings against the malice and the snares of Satan. But we must not here confound two very different things. So far from the miracles and wonders performed by Divine power leading us to believe the truth of those which are ascribed to the demon, they teach us on the contrary that God has reserved this power to himself alone. We experience but too often that there are truly evil spirits, who do not cease to tempt us. In respect to the order of Exorcists, we know that it was established in the church in the first ages of Christianity; the most ancient fathers make mention of them; but from none of them do we learn that their order was instituted against witchcraft and other knaveries of the same kind, but only as at this day, to deliver those possessed; "to expel demons from the bodies of the possessed;" says the Manual of the Ordination. It is not, then, denied, that for reasons which it belongs not to us to examine, God sometimes allows the demon to take hold of some one and to torment him; we only deny that the spirit of darkness can ever arrive at that to please a wretched woman of the dregs of the people. We do not deny that to punish the sins of mankind, the Almighty may not sometimes make use in different ways of the ministry of evil spirits; for, as St. Jerome says, "God makes men feel his anger and fury by the ministry of rebel angels;" but we do deny that it ever happens by virtue of certain figures, certain words, and certain signs, made by ignoramuses or scoundrels, or some wretched females, or old mad women, or by any authority they have over the demon. The sovereign pontiff who at this day governs the church with so much glory, discourses very fully in his excellent works on the wonders worked by the demon and related in the Old Testament, but he nowhere speaks of any effect produced by magic or by sorcery since the coming of Jesus Christ. In the Roman ritual we have prayers and orisons for all occasions; we find there conjurations and exorcisms against demons; but nowhere, if the text is not corrupted, is there mention made either of persons or things bewitched, and if they are mentioned therein, it is only in after additions made by private individuals. We know, on the contrary, that many books treating of this subject, and containing prayers newly composed by some individuals, have been prohibited. Thus they have forbidden the book entitled Circulus Aureus, in which are set down the conjurations necessary for "invoking demons of all kinds, of the sky, of hell, the earth, fire, air, and water," to destroy all sorts of "enchantments, charms, spells, and snares," in whatever place they may be hidden, and of whatever matter they may be composed, whether male or female, magician or witch, who may have made or given them, and notwithstanding "all compacts and all conventions made between them." Ought not the fact that the church forbids any one to read or to keep these kind of books, to be sufficient to convince us of the falsehood of what they imagine, and to teach us how contrary they are to true religion and sound devotion. Three years ago they printed in this town a little book, of which the author, however, was not of Verona, in which they promised to teach the way "to deliver the possessed, and to break all kinds of spells." We read in it that "those over whom a malignant spell has been cast, lead such a wretched life that it ought rather to be called a long death, like the corpse of a man who had just died," &c. That is not all, for "almost all die of it," and if they are children, "they hardly ever live." See now the power which simple people ascribe, not only to the devil, but to the vilest of men, whom they really believe to be connected with, and to hold commerce with him. They say afterwards in this same book that the signs which denote a malignant spell are parings, herbs, feathers, bones, nails, and hairs; but they give notice that the feathers prove that there is witchcraft "only when they are intermingled in the form of a circle or nearly so." And, again, you must take care that some woman has not given you something to eat, some flowers to smell, or if she has touched the shoulder of the person on whom the spell is cast. We have an excellent preservative against these simplicities in the vast selection of Dom Martenus, entitled De Antiquis Ecclesiæ Ritibus, in which we see that amidst an infinity of prayers, orisons and exorcisms used at all times throughout Christendom, there is not a passage in which mention is made of spells, sorcery, or magic, or magical operations. They therein command the demon in the name of Jesus Christ to come out and go away—they therein implore the divine protection, to be delivered from his power, to which we are all born subject by the stain of original sin; they therein teach that holy water, salt, and incense sanctified by the prayers of the church may drive away the enemy; that we may not fall into his toils, and that we may have nothing to dread from the attacks of evil spirits; but in no part does it say that spells have power over them, neither do they anywhere pray God to deliver us from them, or to heal us. It is so far from being true that we ought to believe the fables spread abroad on this subject, that I perfectly well remember having read a long time ago in the old casuists, that we ought to class in the number of grievous sins the believing that magic can really work the wonders related of it. I shall remark, on this occasion, that I know not how the author of the book in question can have committed the oversight of twice citing a certain manuscript as to be found in any other cabinet than mine, when it is a well known fact that I formerly purchased it very dear, not knowing that the most important and curious part was wanting. What I have said of it may be seen in the Opuscules which I have joined to the "History of Theology." For the present, it suffices to remember that in the famous canon Episcopi, related first by Réginon, we read these remarkable words—"An infinite number of people, deceived by this false prejudice, believe all that to be true, and in believing it stray from the true faith into the superstition of the heathen, imagining that they can find elsewhere than in God any divinity, or any supernatural power."
XV. From all I have hitherto said, it appears how far from truth is all that is commonly said of this pretended magic; how contrary to all the maxims of the church, and in opposition to the most venerated authority, and what harm might be done to sound doctrine and true piety by entertaining and favoring such extravagant opinions. We read, in the author I am combating, "What shall we say of the fairies, a prodigy so notorious and so common?" It is marvelous that it should be a prodigy and at the same time common. He adds, "There is not a town, not to say a village, which cannot furnish several instances concerning them." For my part, I have seen a great many places; I am seventy-four years of age, and I have perhaps been only too curious on this head; and I own that I have never happened to meet with any prodigy of that kind. I may even add that several inquisitors, very sensible men, after having exercised that duty a long time, have assured me that they also never knew such a thing. It is not often that fairies of all kinds of shapes and different faces have passed through my hands, but I have always discovered and shown that this was nothing but fancy and reverie. On one side, it is affirmed that there is a malicious species among them, who were amorous of beautiful girls; and on the other, they will have it, on the contrary, that all witches are old and ugly. How desirable it would be, if the people could be once undeceived in respect to all these follies, which accord so little with sound doctrine and true piety! Are they not still, in our days, infatuated with what is said of charms which render invulnerable rings in which fairies are enclosed, billets which cure the quartan ague, words which lead you to guess the number to which the lot will fall; of the pas key, which is made to turn to find out a thief; of the cabala, which by means of certain verses and certain answers, which are falsely supposed to contain a certain number of words, unveils the most secret things? Are there not still to be found people who are so simple, or who have so little religion, as to buy these trifles very dear? For the world at this day is not wanting in those prophets spoken of by Micah, whom money inspired and rendered learned. Have we not again calendars in which are marked the lucky and unlucky days, as has been done during a time, under the name of Egyptians? Do they not prevent people from inhabiting certain houses, under pretence of their being haunted? that is to say, that in the night specters are seen in them, and a great noise of chains is heard, some saying that it is devils who cause all this, and others the spirits of the dead who make all this clang; which is surprising enough that it should be spirits or devils, and that they should only have the power to make themselves perceived in the night. And how many times have we seen the most fatal quarrels occur, principally amongst the peasants, because one amongst them has accused others of sorcery? But what shall we say of spirits incube and succube, of which, notwithstanding the impossibility of the thing, the existence and reality is maintained? M. Muratori, in that part where he treats of imagination, places the tales on this subject in the same line with what is said of the witches' sabbath; and he says "that these extravagant opinions are at this day so discredited, that it is only the rudest and most ignorant who suffer themselves to be amused by them." One of my friends made me laugh the other day, when, speaking of the pretended incubuses, he said that those who believed in them were not wise to marry. Again, what shall we say of those tacit compacts so often mentioned by the author, and which he supposes to be real? Can we not see that such an opinion is making a god of the devil? For that any one, for example, living three or four hundred leagues off, may have made a compact with the devil, that every time a pendulum shall be suspended above a glass it shall mark the hour as regularly as the most exact clock. According to this idea, that same marvel will happen equally, and at the same moment, not only in this town where we are, but all over the earth, and will be repeated as often as they may wish to make the experiment. Now this is quite another thing from carrying a witch to the sabbath through the air, which the author asserts is beyond the power of the demon; it is attributing to this malicious spirit a kind of almightiness and immensity. But what would happen if some one, having made a compact with a demon for fine weather, another on his part shall have made a compact with the demon for bad weather? Good Father Le Brun wishes us to ascribe to tacit compacts all those effects which we cannot explain by natural causes. If it be so, what a number of tacit compacts there must be in the world! He believes in the stories about the divining rod, and the virtue ascribed to it of finding out robbers and murderers; although all France has since acknowledged that the first author of this fable was a knave, who having been summoned to Paris, could never show there any of those effects he had boasted of. Let any one have the least idea of the invisible atoms scattered abroad throughout the world, of their continually issuing from natural bodies, and the hidden and wonderful effects which they produce, one can never be astonished that at a moderate distance water and metals should operate on certain kinds of wood. The same author sincerely believes what was said, that the contagion and mortality spread amongst the cattle proceeded from a spell; like the man who affirmed that his father and mother remained impotent for seven years, and this ceased only when an old woman had broken the spell. On this subject, he cites a ritual of which Father Martenus does not speak at all, whence it follows that he did not recognize it for authentic. To give an idea of the credulity of this writer, it will suffice to read the story he relates of one Damis. But we find, above all, an incomparable abridgment of those extravagant wonders in a little book dedicated to the Cardinal Horace Maffei, entitled, "Compendium Melificarum," or the "Abridgment of Witches," printed at Milan in 1608.
XVI. In a word, it is of no little importance to destroy the popular errors which attack the unalterable attributes of the Supreme Being, as if he had laid it down as a law to himself that he would condescend to all the impious and fantastic wishes of malignant spirits, and of the madman who had recourse to them, by seconding them, and permitting the wonderful effects that they desire to produce. Do reason and good sense allow us to imagine that the Sovereign Master of all things, who for reasons which we are not permitted to examine, refuses so often to grant our most ardent prayers for what we need, whether it be public or private, can be so prompt to lend an ear to the requests of the vilest and most wicked, by allowing that which they desire to happen? So long as they believe in the reality of magic, that it is able to work wonders, and that by means of it man can force the demon to obey, it will be in vain to preach against the superstition, impiety, and folly of wizards. There will always be found too many people who will try to succeed in it, and will even fancy they have succeeded in it in fact. To uproot this pest we must begin by making men clearly understand that it is useless in them to be guilty of this horrible crime; that in this way they never obtain anything they wish for, and that all that is said on this subject is fabulous and chimerical. It will not be difficult to persuade any sensible person of this truth, by only leading him to pay attention, and mark if it be possible that all these pretended miracles can be true, whilst it is proved that magic has never possessed the power to enrich those who professed it, which would be much more easy. How could this wonderful art send maladies to those who were in good health, render a married couple impotent, or make any one invisible or invulnerable, whilst it has never been able to bring a hundred crowns, which another would keep locked up in his strong box? And why do we not make any use of so wonderful an art in armies? Why is it so little sought after by princes and their ministers? The most efficacious means for dissipating all these vain fancies would be never to speak of them, and to bury them in silence and oblivion. In any place where for time immemorial no one has ever been suspected of witchcraft, let them only hear that a monk is arrived to take cognizance of this crime and punish it, and directly you will see troops of green-sick girls, and hypochondriacal men; crowds of children will be brought to him ill with unknown maladies; and it will not fail to be affirmed that these things are caused by spells cast over them, and even when and how the thing happened. It is certainly a wrong way of proceeding, whether in sermons, or in the works published against witches, to amuse themselves with giving the history of all these mad-headed people boast of, of the circumstances in which they have taken a part, and the way in which they happened. It is in vain then to declaim against them, for you may be assured that people are not wanting who suffer themselves to be dazzled by these pretended miracles, who become smitten with these effects, so extraordinary and so wonderful, and try by every means to succeed in them by the very method which has just been taught them, and forget nothing which can place them in the number of this imaginary society. It is then with reason that the author says in his book, that punishment even sometimes serves to render crime more common, and "that there are never more witches than in those places where they are most persecuted." I am delighted to be able to finish with this eulogium, in order that it may be the more clearly seen that if I have herein attacked magic, it is only with upright intentions.
XVII. The eagerness with which I have written this letter has made me forget several things which might very well have a place in it. The greatest difficulty which can be opposed to my argument is that we sometimes find, even amongst people who possess a certain degree of knowledge and good sense, some persons who will say to you, "But I have seen this, or that; such and such things have happened to myself." Upon which it is proper, first of all, to pay attention to the wonderful tricks of certain jugglers, who, by practice and address, succeed in deceiving even the most clear-sighted and sensible persons. It must next be considered that the most natural effects may sometimes appear beyond the power of nature, when cleverly presented in the most favorable point of view. I formerly saw a charlatan who, having driven a nail or a large pin into the head of a chicken, with that nailed it to a table, so that it appeared dead, and was believed to be so by all present; after that, the charlatan having taken out the nail and played some apish tricks, the chicken came to life again and walked about the room. The secret of all this is that these birds have in the forepart of the head two bones, joined in such a way that if anything is driven through with address, though it causes them pain, yet they do not die of it. You may run large pins into a man's leg without wounding or hurting him, or but very slightly, just like a prick which is felt when the pin first enters; which has sometimes served as a pastime for jokers. In my garden, which, thanks to the care of M. Seguier, is become quite a botanic garden, I have a plant called the onagra, which rises to the height of a man, and bears very beautiful flowers; but they remain closed all day, and only open towards sunset, and that not by degrees, as with all other night plants, but in budding all at once, and showing themselves in a moment in all their beauty. A little before their chalice bursts open, it swells and becomes a little inflated. Now, if any one, profiting by the last-named peculiarity, which is but little known, wished to persuade any simple persons that by the help of some magical words he could, when he would, cause a beautiful flower to bloom, is it not certain that he would find plenty of people disposed to believe him? The common people in our days leave nothing undone to find out the secret of making themselves invulnerable; by which they show that they ascribe to magic more power than was granted to it by the ancients, who believed it very capable of doing harm, but not of doing good. So, when the greater number of the Jews attributed the miracles wrought by the Savior to the devil, some of the more sensible and reasonable among them asked, "Can the devil restore sight to the blind?" At this day, there are more ways than ever of making simple and ignorant persons believe in magic. For instance, would it be very difficult for a man to pass himself off as a magician, if he said to those who were present, "I can, at my will, either send the bullet in this pistol through this board, or make it simply touch it and fall down at our feet without piercing it?" Nevertheless, nothing is easier; it only requires when the pistol is loaded, that instead of pressing the wadding immediately upon the bullet as is customary, to put it, on the contrary, at the mouth of the barrel. That being done, when they fire, if the end of the pistol is raised, the ball, which is not displaced, will produce the usual effect; but if, on the contrary, the pistol is lowered, so that the ball runs into the barrel and joins the wadding, it will fall on the ground from the board without having penetrated it. It seems to me that something like this may be found in the "Natural Experiments" of Redi, which I have not at hand just now. But on this subject, you can consult Jean Baptista, Porta, and others. We must not, however, place amongst the effects of this kind of magic, what a friend jokingly observed to me in a very polite letter which he wrote to me two months ago:—A noisy exhalation having ignited in a house, and not having been perceived by him who was in the spot adjoining, nor in any other place, he writes me word that those who, according to the vulgar prejudice, persisted in believing that these kinds of fire came from the sky and the clouds, were necessarily forced to attribute this effect to real magic. I shall again add, on the subject of electrical phenomena, that those who think to explain them by means of two electrical fluids, the one hidden in bodies, and the other circulating around them, would perhaps say something less strange and surprising, if they ascribed them to magic. I have endeavored, in the last letter which is joined to that I wrote upon the subject of exhalations, to give some explanation of these wonders; and I have done so, at least, without being obliged to invent from my own head, and without any foundation, to universal electrical matters which circulate within bodies and without them. Certainly, the ancient philosophers, who reasoned so much on the magnet, would have spared themselves a great deal of trouble, if they had believed it possible to attribute its admirable properties to a magnetic spirit which proceeded from it. But the pleasure I should find in arguing with them, might perhaps engage me in other matters; for which reason I now end my letter.
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