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Elizabethan Demonology by Thomas Alfred Spalding

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An Essay in Illustration of the Belief in the Existence of Devils,
and the Powers Possessed By Them, as It Was Generally Held during the
Period of the Reformation, and the Times Immediately Succeeding;
with Special Reference to Shakspere and His Works



Barrister-at-Law, Honorary Treasurer of The New Shakspere Society









This Essay is an expansion, in accordance with a preconceived scheme, of
two papers, one on "The Witches in Macbeth," and the other on "The
Demonology of Shakspere," which were read before the New Shakspere
Society in the years 1877 and 1878. The Shakspere references in the text
are made to the Globe Edition.

The writer's best thanks are due to his friends Mr. F.J. Furnivall and
Mr. Lauriston E. Shaw, for their kindness in reading the proof sheets,
and suggesting emendations.

October 7, 1879.

"We are too hasty when we set down our ancestors in the gross for
fools for the monstrous inconsistencies (as they seem to us)
involved in their creed of witchcraft."--C. LAMB.

"But I will say, of Shakspere's works generally, that we have no
full impress of him there, even as full as we have of many men. His
works are so many windows, through which we see a glimpse of the
world that was in him."--T. CARLYLE.



1. Difficulty in understanding our elder writers without a knowledge of
their language and ideas. 2. Especially in the case of dramatic poets.
3. Examples. Hamlet's "assume a virtue." 4. Changes in ideas and law
relating to marriage. Massinger's "Maid of Honour" as an example. 5.
_Sponsalia de futuro_ and _Sponsalia de praesenti_. Shakspere's
marriage. 6. Student's duty is to get to know the opinions and feelings
of the folk amongst whom his author lived. 7. It will be hard work, but
a gain in the end. First, in preventing conceit. 8. Secondly, in
preventing rambling reading. 9. Author's present object to illustrate
the dead belief in Demonology, especially as far as it concerns
Shakspere. He thinks that this may perhaps bring us into closer contact
with Shakspere's soul. 10. Some one objects that Shakspere can speak
better for himself. Yes, but we must be sure that we understand the
media through which he speaks. 11. Division of subject.


12. Reasons why the empire of the supernatural is so extended amongst
savages. 13. All important affairs of life transacted under
superintendence of Supreme Powers. 14. What are these Powers? Three
principles regarding them. 15. (I.) Incapacity of mankind to accept
monotheism. The Jews. 16. Roman Catholicism really polytheistic,
although believers won't admit it. Virgin Mary. Saints. Angels.
Protestantism in the same condition in a less degree. 17. Francis of
Assisi. Gradually made into a god. 18. (II.) Manichaeism. Evil spirits
as inevitable as good. 19. (III.) Tendency to treat the gods of hostile
religions as devils. 20. In the Greek theology. [Greek: daimones].
Platonism. 21. Neo-Platonism. Makes the elder gods into daemons. 22.
Judaism. Recognizes foreign gods at first. _Elohim_, but they get
degraded in time. Beelzebub, Belial, etc. 23. Early Christians treat
gods of Greece in the same way. St. Paul's view. 24. The Church,
however, did not stick to its colours in this respect. Honesty not the
best policy. A policy of compromise. 25. The oracles. Sosthenion and St.
Michael. Delphi. St. Gregory's saintliness and magnanimity. Confusion of
pagan gods and Christian saints. 26. Church in North Europe. Thonar,
etc., are devils, but Balda gets identified with Christ. 27. Conversion
of Britons. Their gods get turned into fairies rather than devils.
Deuce. Old Nick. 28. Subsequent evolution of belief. Carlyle's Abbot
Sampson. Religious formulae of witchcraft. 29. The Reformers and
Catholics revive the old accusations. The Reformers only go half-way in
scepticism. Calfhill and Martiall. 30. Catholics. Siege of Alkmaar.
Unfortunate mistake of a Spanish prisoner. 31. Conditions that tended to
vivify the belief during Elizabethan era. 32. The new freedom. Want of
rules of evidence. Arthur Hacket and his madnesses. Sneezing.
Cock-crowing. Jackdaw in the House of Commons. Russell and Drake both
mistaken for devils. 33. Credulousness of people. "To make one danse
naked." A parson's proof of transubstantiation. 34. But the Elizabethans
had strong common sense nevertheless. People do wrong if they set them
down as fools. If we had not learned to be wiser than they, we should
have to be ashamed of ourselves. We shall learn nothing from them if we
don't try to understand them.


35. The three heads. 36. (I.) Classification of devils. Greater and
lesser devils. Good and bad angels. 37. Another classification, not
popular. 38. Names of greater devils. Horribly uncouth. The number of
them. Shakspere's devils. 39. (II.) Form of devils of the greater. 40.
Of the lesser. The horns, goggle eyes, and tail. Scot's
carnal-mindedness. He gets his book burnt, and written against by James
I. 41. Spenser's idol-devil. 42. Dramatists' satire of popular opinion.
43. Favourite form for appearing in when conjured. Devils in Macbeth.
44. Powers of devils. 45. Catholic belief in devil's power to create
bodies. 46. Reformers deny this, but admit that he deceives people into
believing that he can do so, either by getting hold of a dead body, and
restoring animation. 47. Or by means of illusion. 48. The common people
stuck to the Catholic doctrine. Devils appear in likeness of an ordinary
human being. 49. Even a living one, which was sometimes awkward. "The
Troublesome Raigne of King John." They like to appear as priests or
parsons. The devil quoting Scripture. 50. Other human shapes. 51.
Animals. Ariel. 52. Puck. 53. "The Witch of Edmonton." The devil on the
stage. Flies. Urban Grandier. Sir M. Hale. 54. Devils as angels. As
Christ. 55. As dead friend. Reformers denied the possibility of ghosts,
and said the appearances so called were devils. James I. and his
opinion. 56. The common people believed in the ghosts. Bishop
Pilkington's troubles. 57. The two theories. Illustrated in "Julius
Caesar," "Macbeth." 58. And "Hamlet." 59. This explains an apparent
inconsistency in "Hamlet." 60. Possession and obsession. Again the
Catholics and Protestants differ. 61. But the common people believe in
possession. 62. Ignorance on the subject of mental disease. The
exorcists. 63. John Cotta on possession. What the "learned physicion"
knew. 64. What was manifest to the vulgar view. Will Sommers. "The Devil
is an Ass." 65. Harsnet's "Declaration," and "King Lear." 66. The
Babington conspiracy. 67. Weston, alias Edmonds. His exorcisms. Mainy.
The basis of Harsnet's statements. 69. The devils in "Lear." 70. Edgar
and Mainy. Mainy's loose morals. 71. The devils tempt with knives and
halters. 72. Mainy's seven devils: Pride, Covetousness, Luxury, Envy,
Wrath, Gluttony, Sloth. The Nightingale business. 73. Treatment of the
possessed: confinement, flagellation. 74. Dr Pinch. Nicknames. 75. Other
methods. That of "Elias and Pawle". The holy chair, sack and oil,
brimstone. 76. Firing out. 77. Bodily diseases the work of the devil.
Bishop Hooper on hygiene. 78. But devils couldn't kill people unless
they renounced God. 79. Witchcraft. 80. People now-a-days can't
sympathize with the witch persecutors, because they don't believe in the
devil. Satan is a mere theory now. 81. But they believed in him once,
and therefore killed people that were suspected of having to do with
him. 82. And we don't sympathize with the persecuted witches, although
we make a great fuss about the sufferings of the Reformers. 83. The
witches in Macbeth. Some take them to be Norns. 84. Gervinus. His
opinion. 85. Mr. F.G. Fleay. His opinion. 86. Evidence. Simon Forman's
note. 87. Holinshed's account. 88. Criticism. 89. It is said that the
appearance and powers of the sisters are not those of witches. 90. It is
going to be shown that they are. 91. A third piece of criticism. 92.
Objections. 93. Contemporary descriptions of witches. Scot, Harsnet.
Witches' beards. 94. Have Norns chappy fingers, skinny lips, and beards?
95. Powers of witches "looking into the seeds of time." Bessie Roy, how
she looked into them. 96. Meaning of first scene of "Macbeth." 97.
Witches power to vanish. Ointments for the purpose. Scot's instance of
their efficacy. 98. "Weird sisters." 99. Other evidence. 100. Why
Shakspere chose witches. Command over elements. 101. Peculiar to Scotch
trials of 1590-91. 102. Earlier case of Bessie Dunlop--a poor, starved,
half daft creature. "Thom Reid," and how he tempted her. Her canny
Scotch prudence. Poor Bessie gets burnt for all that. 103. Reason for
peculiarity of trials of 1590. James II. comes from Denmark to Scotland.
The witches raise a storm at the instigation of the devil. How the
trials were conducted. 104. John Fian. Raising a mist. Toad-omen. Ship
sinking. 105. Sieve-sailing. Excitement south of the Border. The
"Daemonologie." Statute of James against witchcraft. 106. The origin of
the incubus and succubus. 107. Mooncalves. 108. Division of opinion
amongst Reformers regarding devils. Giordano Bruno. Bullinger's opinion
about Sadducees and Epicures. 109. Emancipation a gradual process.
Exorcism in Edward VI.'s Prayer-book. 110. The author hopes he has been
reverent in his treatment of the subject. Any sincere belief entitled to
respect. Our pet beliefs may some day appear as dead and ridiculous as


111. Fairies and devils differ in degree, not in origin. 112. Evidence.
113. Cause of difference. Folk, until disturbed by religious doubt,
don't believe in devils, but fairies. 114. Reformation shook people up,
and made them think of hell and devils. 115. The change came in the
towns before the country. Fairies held on a long time in the country.
116. Shakspere was early impressed with fairy lore. In middle life, came
in contact with town thought and devils, and at the end of it returned
to Stratford and fairydom. 117. This is reflected in his works. 118. But
there is progression of thought to be observed in these stages. 119.
Shakspere indirectly tells us his thoughts, if we will take the trouble
to learn them. 120. Three stages of thought that men go through on
religious matters. Hereditary belief. Scepticism. Reasoned belief. 121.
Shakspere went through all this. 122. Illustrations. Hereditary belief.
"A Midsummer Night's Dream." Fairies chiefly an adaptation of current
tradition. 123. The dawn of doubt. 124. Scepticism. Evil spirits
dominant. No guiding good. 125. Corresponding lapse of faith in other
matters. Woman's purity. 126. Man's honour. 127. Mr. Ruskin's view of
Shakspere's message. 128. Founded chiefly on plays of sceptical period.
Message of third period entirely different. 129. Reasoned belief. "The
Tempest." 130. Man can master evil of all forms if he go about it in the
right way--is not the toy of fate. 131. Prospero a type of Shakspere in
this final stage of thought. How pleasant to think this!


1. It is impossible to understand and appreciate thoroughly the
production of any great literary genius who lived and wrote in times far
removed from our own, without a certain amount of familiarity, not only
with the precise shades of meaning possessed by the vocabulary he made
use of, as distinguished from the sense conveyed by the same words in
the present day, but also with the customs and ideas, political,
religious and moral, that predominated during the period in which his
works were produced. Without such information, it will be found
impossible, in many matters of the first importance, to grasp the
writer's true intent, and much will appear vague and lifeless that was
full of point and vigour when it was first conceived; or, worse still,
modern opinion upon the subject will be set up as the standard of
interpretation, ideas will be forced into the writer's sentences that
could not by any manner of possibility have had place in his mind, and
utterly false conclusions as to his meaning will be the result. Even the
man who has had some experience in the study of an early literature,
occasionally finds some difficulty in preventing the current opinions of
his day from obtruding themselves upon his work and warping his
judgment; to the general reader this must indeed be a frequent and
serious stumbling-block.

2. This is a special source of danger in the study of the works of
dramatic poets, whose very art lies in the representation of the current
opinions, habits, and foibles of their times--in holding up the mirror
to their age. It is true that, if their works are to live, they must
deal with subjects of more than mere passing interest; but it is also
true that many, and the greatest of them, speak upon questions of
eternal interest in the particular light cast upon them in their times,
and it is quite possible that the truth may be entirely lost from want
of power to recognize it under the disguise in which it comes. A certain
motive, for instance, that is an overpowering one in a given period,
subsequently appears grotesque, weak, or even powerless; the consequent
action becomes incomprehensible, and the actor is contemned; and a
simile that appeared most appropriate in the ears of the author's
contemporaries, seems meaningless, or ridiculous, to later generations.

3. An example or two of this possibility of error, derived from works
produced during the period with which it is the object of these pages to
deal, will not be out of place here.

A very striking illustration of the manner in which a word may mislead
is afforded by the oft-quoted line:

"Assume a virtue, if you have it not."

By most readers the secondary, and, in the present day, almost
universal, meaning of the word assume--"pretend that to be, which in
reality has no existence;"--that is, in the particular case, "ape the
chastity you do not in reality possess"--is understood in this sentence;
and consequently Hamlet, and through him, Shakspere, stand committed to
the appalling doctrine that hypocrisy in morals is to be commended and
cultivated. Now, such a proposition never for an instant entered
Shakspere's head. He used the word "assume" in this case in its primary
and justest sense; _ad-sumo_, take to, acquire; and the context plainly
shows that Hamlet meant that his mother, by self-denial, would gradually
acquire that virtue in which she was so conspicuously wanting. Yet, for
lack of a little knowledge of the history of the word employed, the
other monstrous gloss has received almost universal and applauding

4. This is a fair example of the style of error which a reader
unacquainted with the history of the changes our language has undergone
may fall into. Ignorance of changes in customs and morals may cause
equal or greater error.

The difference between the older and more modern law, and popular
opinion, relating to promises of marriage and their fulfilment, affords
a striking illustration of the absurdities that attend upon the
interpretation of the ideas of one generation by the practice of
another. Perhaps no greater nonsense has been talked upon any subject
than this one, especially in relation to Shakspere's own marriage, by
critics who seem to have thought that a fervent expression of acute
moral feeling would replace and render unnecessary patient

In illustration of this difference, a play of Massinger's, "The Maid of
Honour," may be advantageously cited, as the catastrophe turns upon this
question of marriage contracts. Camiola, the heroine, having been
precontracted by oath[1] to Bertoldo, the king's natural brother, and
hearing of his subsequent engagement to the Duchess of Sienna,
determines to quit the world and take the veil. But before doing so, and
without informing any one, except her confessor, of her intention, she
contrives a somewhat dramatic scene for the purpose of exposing her
false lover. She comes into the presence of the king and all the court,
produces her contract, claims Bertoldo as her husband, and demands
justice of the king, adjuring him that he shall not--

"Swayed or by favour or affection,
By a false gloss or wrested comment, alter
The true intent and letter of the law."

[Footnote 1: Act v. sc. I.]

Now, the only remedy that would occur to the mind of the reader of the
present day under such circumstances, would be an action for breach of
promise of marriage, and he would probably be aware of the very recent
origin of that method of procedure. The only reply, therefore, that he
would expect from Roberto would be a mild and sympathetic assurance of
inability to interfere; and he must be somewhat taken aback to find this
claim of Camiola admitted as indisputable. The riddle becomes somewhat
further involved when, having established her contract, she immediately
intimates that she has not the slightest intention of observing it
herself, by declaring her desire to take the veil.

5. This can only be explained by the rules current at the time regarding
spousals. The betrothal, or handfasting, was, in Massinger's time, a
ceremony that entailed very serious obligations upon the parties to it.
There were two classes of spousals--_sponsalia de futuro_ and _sponsalia
de praesenti_: a promise of marriage in the future, and an actual
declaration of present marriage. This last form of betrothal was, in
fact, marriage, as far as the contracting parties were concerned.[1] It
could not, even though not consummated, be dissolved by mutual consent;
and a subsequent marriage, even though celebrated with religious rites,
was utterly invalid, and could be set aside at the suit of the injured

[Footnote 1: Swinburne, A Treatise of Spousals, 1686, p. 236. In England
the offspring were, nevertheless, illegitimate.]

The results entailed by _sponsalia de futuro_ were less serious.
Although no spousals of the same nature could be entered into with a
third person during the existence of the contract, yet it could be
dissolved by mutual consent, and was dissolved by subsequent _sponsalia
in praesenti_, or matrimony. But such spousals could be converted into
valid matrimony by the cohabitation of the parties; and this, instead of
being looked upon as reprehensible, seems to have been treated as a
laudable action, and to be by all means encouraged.[1] In addition to
this, completion of a contract for marriage _de futuro_ confirmed by
oath, if such a contract were not indeed indissoluble, as was thought by
some, could at any rate be enforced against an unwilling party. But
there were some reasons that justified the dissolution of _sponsalia_ of
either description. Affinity was one of these; and--what is to the
purpose here, in England before the Reformation, and in those parts of
the continent unaffected by it--the entrance into a religious order was
another. Here, then, we have a full explanation of Camiola's conduct.
She is in possession of evidence of a contract of marriage between
herself and Bertoldo, which, whether _in praesenti_ or _in futuro_,
being confirmed by oath, she can force upon him, and which will
invalidate his proposed marriage with the duchess. Having established
her right, she takes the only step that can with certainty free both
herself and Bertoldo from the bond they had created, by retiring into a

[Footnote 1: Swinburne, p. 227.]

This explanation renders the action of the play clear, and at the same
time shows that Shakspere in his conduct with regard to his marriage may
have been behaving in the most honourable and praiseworthy manner; as
the bond, with the date of which the date of the birth of his first
child is compared, is for the purpose of exonerating the ecclesiastics
from any liability for performing the ecclesiastical ceremony, which was
not at all a necessary preliminary to a valid marriage, so far as the
husband and wife were concerned, although it was essential to render
issue of the marriage legitimate.

6. These are instances of the deceptions that are likely to arise
from the two fertile sources that have been specified. There can
be no doubt that the existence of errors arising from the former
source--misapprehension of the meaning of words--is very generally
admitted, and effectual remedies have been supplied by modern scholars
for those who will make use of them. Errors arising from the latter
source are not so entirely recognized, or so securely guarded against.
But what has just been said surely shows that it is of no use reading a
writer of a past age with merely modern conceptions; and, therefore,
that if such a man's works are worth study at all, they must be read
with the help of the light thrown upon them by contemporary history,
literature, laws, and morals. The student must endeavour to divest
himself, as far as possible, of all ideas that are the result of a
development subsequent to the time in which his author lived, and to
place himself in harmony with the life and thoughts of the people of
that age: sit down with them in their homes, and learn the sources of
their loves, their hates, their fears, and see wherein domestic
happiness, or lack of it, made them strong or weak; follow them to the
market-place, and witness their dealings with their fellows--the honesty
or baseness of them, and trace the cause; look into their very hearts,
if it may be, as they kneel at the devotion they feel or simulate, and
become acquainted with the springs of their dearest aspirations and most
secret prayers.

7. A hard discipline, no doubt, but not more hard than salutary.
Salutary in two ways. First, as a test of the student's own earnestness
of purpose. For in these days of revival of interest in our elder
literature, it has become much the custom for flippant persons, who are
covetous of being thought "well-read" by their less-enterprising
companions, to skim over the surface of the pages of the wisest and
noblest of our great teachers, either not understanding, or
misunderstanding them. "I have read Chaucer, Shakspere, Milton," is the
sublimely satirical expression constantly heard from the mouths of those
who, having read words set down by the men they name, have no more
capacity for reading the hearts of the men themselves, through those
words, than a blind man has for discerning the colour of flowers. As a
consequence of this flippancy of reading, numberless writers, whose
works have long been consigned to a well-merited oblivion, have of late
years been disinterred and held up for public admiration, chiefly upon
the ground that they are ancient and unknown. The man who reads for the
sake of having done so, not for the sake of the knowledge gained by
doing so, finds as much charm in these petty writers as in the greater,
and hence their transient and undeserved popularity. It would be well,
then, for every earnest student, before beginning the study of any one
having pretensions to the position of a master, and who is not of our
own generation, to ask himself, "Am I prepared thoroughly to sift out
and ascertain the true import of every allusion contained in this
volume?" And if he cannot honestly answer "Yes," let him shut the book,
assured that he is not impelled to the study of it by a sincere thirst
for knowledge, but by impertinent curiosity, or a shallow desire to
obtain undeserved credit for learning.

8. The second way in which such a discipline will prove salutary is
this: it will prevent the student from straying too far afield in his
reading. The number of "classical" authors whose works will repay such
severe study is extremely limited. However much enthusiasm he may throw
into his studies, he will find that nine-tenths of our older literature
yields too small a harvest of instruction to attract any but the pedant
to expend so much labour upon them. The two great vices of modern
reading will be avoided--flippancy on the one hand, and pedantry on the

9. The object, therefore, which I have had in view in the compilation of
the following pages, is to attempt to throw some additional light upon a
condition of thought, utterly different from any belief that has firm
hold in the present generation, that was current and peculiarly
prominent during the lifetime of the man who bears overwhelmingly the
greatest name, either in our own or any other literature. It may be
said, and perhaps with much force, that enough, and more than enough,
has been written in the way of Shakspere criticism. But is it not better
that somewhat too much should be written upon such a subject than too
little? We cannot expect that every one shall see all the greatness of
Shakspere's vast and complex mind--by one a truth will be grasped that
has eluded the vigilance of others;--and it is better that those who can
by no possibility grasp anything at all should have patient hearing,
rather than that any additional light should be lost. The useless,
lifeless criticism vanishes quietly away into chaos; the good remains
quietly to be useful: and it is in reliance upon the justice and
certainty of this law that I aim at bringing before the mind, as clearly
as may be, a phase of belief that was continually and powerfully
influencing Shakspere during the whole of his life, but is now well-nigh
forgotten or entirely misunderstood. If the endeavour is a useless and
unprofitable one, let it be forgotten--I am content; but I hope to be
able to show that an investigation of the subject does furnish us with a
key which, in a manner, unlocks the secrets of Shakspere's heart, and
brings us closer to the real living man--to the very soul of him who,
with hardly any history in the accepted sense of the word, has left us
in his works a biography of far deeper and more precious meaning, if we
will but understand it.

10. But it may be said that Shakspere, of all men, is able to speak for
himself without aid or comment. His works appeal to all, young and old,
in every time, every nation. It is true; he can be understood. He is,
to use again Ben Jonson's oft-quoted words, "Not of an age, but for
all time." Yet he is so thoroughly imbued with the spirit and opinions
of his era, that without a certain comprehension of the men of
the Elizabethan period he cannot be understood fully. Indeed,
his greatness is to a large extent due to his sympathy with the men
around him, his power of clearly thinking out the answers to the
all-time questions, and giving a voice to them that his contemporaries
could understand;--answers that others could not for themselves
formulate--could, perhaps, only vaguely and dimly feel after. To
understand these answers fully, the language in which they were
delivered must be first thoroughly mastered.

11. I intend, therefore, to attempt to sketch out the leading features
of a phase of religious belief that acquired peculiar distinctness and
prominence during Shakspere's lifetime--more, perhaps, than it ever did
before, or has done since--the belief in the existence of evil spirits,
and their influence upon and dealings with mankind. The subject will be
treated in three sections. The first will contain a short statement of
the laws that seem to be of universal operation in the creation and
maintenance of the belief in a multitudinous band of spirits, good and
evil; and of a few of the conditions of the Elizabethan epoch that may
have had a formative and modifying influence upon that belief. The
second will be devoted to an outline of the chief features of that
belief, as it existed at the time in question--the organization,
appearance, and various functions and powers of the evil spirits, with
special reference to Shakspere's plays. The third and concluding
section, will embody an attempt to trace the growth of Shakspere's
thought upon religious matters through the medium of his allusions to
this subject.

* * * * *

12. The empire of the supernatural must obviously be most extended
where civilization is the least advanced. An educated man has to make a
conscious, and sometimes severe, effort to refrain from pronouncing a
dogmatic opinion as to the cause of a given result when sufficient
evidence to warrant a definite conclusion is wanting; to the savage,
the notion of any necessity for, or advantage to be derived from, such
self-restraint never once occurs. Neither the lightning that strikes
his hut, the blight that withers his crops, the disease that destroys
the life of those he loves; nor, on the other hand, the beneficent
sunshine or life-giving rain, is by him traceable to any known
physical cause. They are the results of influences utterly beyond his
understanding--supernatural,--matters upon which imagination is allowed
free scope to run riot, and from which spring up a legion of myths, or
attempts to represent in some manner these incomprehensible processes,
grotesque or poetic, according to the character of the people with which
they originate, which, if their growth be not disturbed by extraneous
influences, eventually develop into the national creed. The most
ordinary events of the savage's every-day life do not admit of a natural
solution; his whole existence is bound in, from birth to death, by a
network of miracles, and regulated, in its smallest details, by unseen
powers of whom he knows little or nothing.

13. Hence it is that, in primitive societies, the functions of
legislator, judge, priest, and medicine man are all combined in one
individual, the great medium of communication between man and the
unknown, whose person is pre-eminently sacred. The laws that are to
guide the community come in some mysterious manner through him from the
higher powers. If two members of the clan are involved in a quarrel, he
is appealed to to apply some test in order to ascertain which of the two
is in the wrong--an ordeal that can have no judicial operation, except
upon the assumption of the existence of omnipotent beings interested in
the discovery of evil-doers, who will prevent the test from operating
unjustly. Maladies and famines are unmistakeable signs of the
displeasure of the good, or spite of the bad spirits, and are to be
averted by some propitiatory act on the part of the sufferers, or the
mediation of the priest-doctor. The remedy that would put an end to a
long-continued drought will be equally effective in arresting an

14. But who, and of what nature, are these supernatural powers whose
influences are thus brought to bear upon every-day life, and who appear
to take such an interest in the affairs of mankind? It seems that there
are three great principles at work in the evolution and modification of
the ideas upon this subject, which must now be shortly stated.

15. (i.) The first of these is the apparent incapacity of the majority
of mankind to accept a purely monotheistic creed. It is a demonstrable
fact that the primitive religions now open to observation attribute
specific events and results to distinct supernatural beings; and there
can be little doubt that this is the initial step in every creed. It is
a bold and somewhat perilous revolution to attempt to overturn this
doctrine and to set up monotheism in its place, and, when successfully
accomplished, is rarely permanent. The more educated portions of the
community maintain allegiance to the new teaching, perhaps; but among
the lower classes it soon becomes degraded to, or amalgamated with, some
form of polytheism more or less pronounced, and either secret or
declared. Even the Jews, the nation the most conspicuous for its
supposed uncompromising adherence to a monotheistic creed, cannot claim
absolute freedom from taint in this respect; for in the country places,
far from the centre of worship, the people were constantly following
after strange gods; and even some of their most notable worthies were
liable to the same accusation.

16. It is not necessary, however, that the individuality and
specialization of function of the supreme beings recognized by any
religious system should be so conspicuous as they are in this case, or
in the Greek or Roman Pantheon, to mark it as in its essence
polytheistic or of polytheistic tendency. It is quite enough that the
immortals are deemed to be capable of hearing and answering the prayers
of their adorers, and of interfering actively in passing events, either
for good or for evil. This, at the root of it, constitutes the crucial
difference between polytheism and monotheism; and in this sense the
Roman Catholic form of Christianity, representing the oldest undisturbed
evolution of a strictly monotheistic doctrine, is undeniably
polytheistic. Apart from the Virgin Mary, there is a whole hierarchy of
inferior deities, saints, and angels, subordinate to the One Supreme
Being. This may possibly be denied by the authorized expounders of the
doctrine of the Church of Rome; but it is nevertheless certain that it
is the view taken by the uneducated classes, with whom the saints are
much more present and definite deities than even the Almighty Himself.
It is worth noting, that during the dancing mania of 1418, not God, or
Christ, or the Virgin Mary, but St. Vitus, was prayed to by the populace
to stop the epidemic that was afterwards known by his name.[1] There was
a temple to St. Michael on Mount St. Angelo, and Augustine thought it
necessary to declare that angel-worshippers were heretics.[2] Even
Protestantism, though a much younger growth than Catholicism, shows a
slight tendency towards polytheism. The saints are, of course, quite
out of the question, and angels are as far as possible relegated from
the citadel of asserted belief into the vaguer regions of poetical
sentimentality; but--although again unadmitted by the orthodox of the
sect--the popular conception of Christ is, and, until the masses are
more educated in theological niceties than they are at present,
necessarily must be, as of a Supreme Being totally distinct from God the
Father. This applies in a less degree to the third Person in the
Trinity; less, because His individuality is less clear. George Eliot
has, with her usual penetration, noted this fact in "Silas Marner,"
where, in Mrs. Winthrop's simple theological system, the Trinity is
always referred to as "Them."

[Footnote 1: Hecker, Epidemics of the Middle Ages, p. 85.]

[Footnote 2: Bullinger, p. 348. Parker Society.]

17. The posthumous history of Francis of Assisi affords a striking
illustration of this strange tendency towards polytheism. This
extraordinary man received no little reverence and adulation during his
lifetime; but it was not until after his death that the process of
deification commenced. It was then discovered that the stigmata were not
the only points of resemblance between the departed saint and the Divine
Master he professed to follow; that his birth had been foretold by the
prophets; that, like Christ, he underwent transfiguration; and that he
had worked miracles during his life. The climax of the apotheosis was
reached in 1486, when a monk, preaching at Paris, seriously maintained
that St. Francis was in very truth a second Christ, the second Son of
God; and that after his death he descended into purgatory, and
liberated all the spirits confined there who had the good fortune to be
arrayed in the Franciscan garb.[1]

[Footnote 1: Maury, Histoire de la Magie, p. 354.]

18. (ii.) The second principle is that of the Manichaeists: the division
of spirits into hostile camps, good and evil. This is a much more common
belief than the orthodox are willing to allow. There is hardly any
religious system that does not recognize a first source of evil, as well
as a first source of good. But the spirit of evil occupies a position of
varying importance: in some systems he maintains himself as co-equal of
the spirit of good; in others he sinks to a lower stage, remaining very
powerful to do harm, but nevertheless under the control, in matters of
the highest importance, of the more beneficent Being. In each of these
cases, the first principle is found operating, ever augmenting the
ranks; monodiabolism being as impossible as monotheism; and hence the
importance of fully establishing that proposition.

19. (iii.) The last and most important of these principles is the
tendency of all theological systems to absorb into themselves the
deities extraneous to themselves, not as gods, but as inferior, or even
evil, spirits. The actual existence of the foreign deity is not for a
moment disputed, the presumption in favour of innumerable spiritual
agencies being far too strong to allow the possibility of such a doubt;
but just as the alien is looked upon as an inferior being, created
chiefly for the use and benefit of the chosen people--and what nation is
not, if its opinion of itself may be relied upon, a chosen people?--so
the god the alien worships is a spirit of inferior power and capacity,
and can be recognized solely as occupying a position subordinate to that
of the gods of the land.

This principle has such an important influence in the elaboration of the
belief in demons, that it is worth while to illustrate the generality of
its application.

20. In the Greek system of theology we find in the first place a number
of deities of varying importance and power, whose special functions are
defined with some distinctness; and then, below these, an innumerable
band of spirits, the souls of the departed--probably the relics of an
earlier pure ancestor-worship--who still interest themselves in the
inhabitants of this world. These [Greek: daimones] were certainly
accredited with supernatural power, and were not of necessity either
good or evil in their influence or action. It was to this second class
that foreign deities were assimilated. They found it impossible,
however, to retain even this humble position. The ceremonies of their
worship, and the language in which those ceremonies were performed, were
strange to the inhabitants of the land in which the acclimatization was
attempted; and the incomprehensible is first suspected, then loathed. It
is not surprising, then, that the new-comers soon fell into the ranks of
purely evil spirits, and that those who persisted in exercising their
rites were stigmatized as devil-worshippers, or magicians.

But in process of time this polytheistic system became pre-eminently
unsatisfactory to the thoughtful men whom Greece produced in such
numbers. The tendency towards monotheism which is usually associated
with the name of Plato is hinted at in the writings of other
philosophers who were his predecessors. The effect of this revolution
was to recognize one Supreme Being, the First Cause, and to subordinate
to him all the other deities of the ancient and popular theology--to
co-ordinate them, in fact, with the older class of daemons; the first
step in the descent to the lowest category of all.

21. The history of the neo-Platonic belief is one of elaboration upon
these ideas. The conception of the Supreme Being was complicated in a
manner closely resembling the idea of the Christian Trinity, and all the
subordinate daemons were classified into good and evil geniuses. Thus, a
theoretically monotheistic system was established, with a tremendous
hierarchy of inferior spirits, who frequently bore the names of the
ancient gods and goddesses of Egypt, Greece, and Rome, strikingly
resembling that of Roman Catholicism. The subordinate daemons were not
at first recognized as entitled to any religious rites; but in the
course of time, by the inevitable operation of the first principle just
enunciated, a form of theurgy sprang up with the object of attracting
the kindly help and patronage of the good spirits, and was tolerated;
and attempts were made to hold intercourse with the evil spirits, which
were, as far as possible suppressed and discountenanced.

22. The history of the operation of this principle upon the Jewish
religion is very similar, and extremely interesting. Although they do
not seem to have ever had any system of ancestor-worship, as the Greeks
had, yet the Jews appear originally to have recognized the deities of
their neighbours as existing spirits, but inferior in power to the God
of Israel. "All the gods of the nations are idols" are words that
entirely fail to convey the idea of the Psalmist; for the word
translated "idols" is _Elohim_, the very term usually employed to
designate Jehovah; and the true sense of the passage therefore is: "All
the gods of the nations are gods, but Jehovah made the heavens."[1] In
another place we read that "The Lord is a great God, and a great King
above all gods."[2] As, however, the Jews gradually became acquainted
with the barbarous rites with which their neighbours did honour to their
gods, the foreigners seem to have fallen more and more in estimation,
until they came to be classed as evil spirits. To this process such
names as Beelzebub, Moloch, Ashtaroth, and Belial bear witness;
Beelzebub, "the prince of the devils" of later time, being one of the
gods of the hostile Philistines.

[Footnote 1: Psalm xcvi. 5 (xcv. Sept.).]

[Footnote 2: Psalm xcv. 3 (xciv. Sept.). Maury, p. 98.]

23. The introduction of Christianity made no difference in this respect.
Paul says to the believers at Corinth, "that the things which the
Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils ([Greek: daimonia]), and
not to God; and I would not that ye should have fellowship with
devils;"[1] and the Septuagint renders the word _Elohim_ in the
ninety-fifth Psalm by this [Greek: daimonia], which as the Christians
had already a distinct term for good spirits, came to be applied to evil
ones only.

[Footnote 1: I Cor. x. 20.]

Under the influence therefore, of the new religion, the gods of Greece
and Rome, who in the days of their supremacy had degraded so many
foreign deities to the position of daemons, were in their turn deposed
from their high estate, and became the nucleus around which the
Christian belief in demonology formed itself. The gods who under the old
theologies reigned paramount in the lower regions became pre-eminently
diabolic in character in the new system, and it was Hecate who to the
last retained her position of active patroness and encourager of
witchcraft; a practice which became almost indissolubly connected with
her name. Numerous instances of the completeness with which this process
of diabolization was effected, and the firmness with which it retained
its hold upon the popular belief, even to late times, might be given;
but the following must suffice. In one of the miracle plays, "The
Conversion of Saul," a council of devils is held, at which Mercury
appears as the messenger of Belial.[1]

[Footnote 1: Digby Mysteries, New Shakspere Society, 1880, p. 44.]

24. But this absolute rejection of every pagan belief and ceremony was
characteristic of the Christian Church in its infancy only. So long as
the band of believers was a small and persecuted one, no temptation to
violate the rule could exist. But as the Church grew, and acquired
influence and position, it discovered that good policy demanded that the
sternness and inflexibility of its youthful theories should undergo some
modification. It found that it was not the most successful method of
enticing stragglers into its fold to stigmatize the gods they ignorantly
worshipped as devils, and to persecute them as magicians. The more
impetuous and enthusiastic supporters did persecute, and persecute most
relentlessly, the adherents of the dying faith; but persecution, whether
of good or evil, always fails as a means of suppressing a hated
doctrine, unless it can be carried to the extent of extermination of its
supporters; and the more far-seeing leaders of the Catholic Church soon
recognized that a slight surrender of principle was a far surer road to
success than stubborn, uncompromising opposition.

25. It was in this spirit that the Catholics dealt with the oracles of
heathendom. Mr. Lecky is hardly correct when he says that nothing
analogous to the ancient oracles was incorporated with Christianity.[1]
There is the notable case of the god Sosthenion, whom Constantine
identified with the archangel Michael, and whose oracular functions were
continued in a precisely similar manner by the latter.[2] Oracles that
were not thus absorbed and supported were recognized as existent, but
under diabolic control, and to be tolerated, if not patronized, by the
representatives of the dominant religion. The oracle at Delphi gave
forth prophetic utterances for centuries after the commencement of the
Christian era; and was the less dangerous, as its operations could be
stopped at any moment by holding a saintly relic to the god or devil
Apollo's nose. There is a fable that St. Gregory, in the course of his
travels, passed near the oracle, and his extraordinary sanctity was such
as to prevent all subsequent utterances. This so disturbed the presiding
genius of the place, that he appealed to the saint to undo the baneful
effects his presence had produced; and Gregory benevolently wrote a
letter to the devil, which was in fact a license to continue the
business of prophesying unmolested.[3] This nonsensical fiction shows
clearly enough that the oracles were not generally looked upon as
extinguished by Christianity. As the result of a similar policy we find
the names and functions of the pagan gods and the earlier Christian
saints confused in the most extraordinary manner; the saints assuming
the duties of the moribund deities where those duties were of a harmless
or necessary character.[4]

[Footnote 1: Rise and Influence of Rationalism, i. p. 31.]

[Footnote 2: Maury, p. 244, et seq.]

[Footnote 3: Scot, book vii. ch. i.]

[Footnote 4: Middleton's Letter from Rome.]

26. The Church carried out exactly the same principles in her missionary
efforts amongst the heathen hordes of Northern Europe. "Do you renounce
the devils, and all their words and works; Thonar, Wodin, and Saxenote?"
was part of the form of recantation administered to the Scandinavian
converts;[1] and at the present day "Odin take you" is the Norse
equivalent of "the devil take you." On the other hand, an attempt was
made to identify Balda "the beautiful" with Christ--a confusion of
character that may go far towards accounting for a custom joyously
observed by our forefathers at Christmastide but which the false
modesty of modern society has nearly succeeded in banishing from amongst
us, for Balda was slain by Loke with a branch of mistletoe, and Christ
was betrayed by Judas with a kiss.

[Footnote 1: Milman, History of Latin Christianity, iii. 267; ix. 65.]

27. Upon the conversion of the inhabitants of Great Britain to
Christianity, the native deities underwent the same inevitable fate, and
sank into the rank of evil spirits. Perhaps the juster opinion is that
they became the progenitors of our fairy mythology rather than the
subsequent devil-lore, although the similarity between these two classes
of spirits is sufficient to warrant us in classing them as species of
the same genus; their characters and functions being perfectly
interchangeable, and even at times merging and becoming
indistinguishable. A certain lurking affection in the new converts for
the religion they had deserted, perhaps under compulsion, may have led
them to look upon their ancient objects of veneration as less detestable
in nature, and dangerous in act, than the devils imported as an integral
portion of their adopted faith; and so originated this class of spirits
less evil than the other. Sir Walter Scott may be correct in his
assertion that many of these fairy-myths owe their origin to the
existence of a diminutive autochthonic race that was conquered by the
invading Celts, and the remnants of which lurked about the mountains and
forests, and excited in their victors a superstitious reverence on
account of their great skill in metallurgy; but this will not explain
the retention of many of the old god-names; as that of the Dusii, the
Celtic nocturnal spirits, in our word "deuce," and that of the Nikr or
water-spirits in "nixie" and old "Nick."[1] These words undoubtedly
indicate the accomplishment of the "facilis descensus Averno" by the
native deities. Elves, brownies, gnomes, and trolds were all at one time
Scotch or Irish gods. The trolds obtained a character similar to that of
the more modern succubus, and have left their impression upon
Elizabethan English in the word "trull."

[Footnote 1: Maury, p. 189.]

28. The preceding very superficial outline of the growth of the belief
in evil spirits is enough for the purpose of this essay, as it shows
that the basis of English devil-lore was the annihilated mythologies of
the ancient heathen religions--Italic and Teutonic, as well as those
brought into direct conflict with the Jewish system; and also that the
more important of the Teutonic deities are not to be traced in the
subsequent hierarchy of fiends, on account probably of their temporary
or permanent absorption into the proselytizing system, or the refusal of
the new converts to believe them to be so black as their teachers
painted them. The gradual growth of the superstructure it would be
well-nigh impossible and quite unprofitable to trace. It is due chiefly
to the credulous ignorance and distorted imagination, monkish and
otherwise, of several centuries. Carlyle's graphic picture of Abbot
Sampson's vision of the devil in "Past and Present" will perhaps do more
to explain how the belief grew and flourished than pages of explanatory
statements. It is worthy of remark, however, that to the last,
communication with evil spirits was kept up by means of formulae and
rites that are undeniably the remnants of a form of religious worship.
Incomprehensible in their jargon as these formulae mostly are, and
strongly tinctured as they have become with burlesqued Christian
symbolism and expression--for those who used them could only supply the
fast-dying memory of the elder forms from the existing system--they
still, in all their grotesqueness, remain the battered relics of a dead

29. Such being the natural history of the conflict of religions, it will
not be a matter of surprise that the leaders of our English Reformation
should, in their turn, have attributed the miracles of the Roman
Catholic saints to the same infernal source as the early Christians
supposed to have been the origin of the prodigies and oracles of
paganism. The impulse given by the secession from the Church of Rome to
the study of the Bible by all classes added impetus to this tendency. In
Holy Writ the Reformers found full authority for believing in the
existence of evil spirits, possession by devils, witchcraft, and divine
and diabolic interference by way of miracle generally; and they
consequently acknowledged the possibility of the repetition of such
phenomena in the times in which they lived--a position more tenable,
perhaps, than that of modern orthodoxy, that accepts without murmur all
the supernatural events recorded in the Bible, and utterly rejects all
subsequent relations of a similar nature, however well authenticated.
The Reformers believed unswervingly in the truth of the Biblical
accounts of miracles, and that what God had once permitted to take place
might and would be repeated in case of serious necessity. But they found
it utterly impossible to accept the puerile and meaningless miracles
perpetrated under the auspices of the Roman Catholic Church as evidence
of divine interference; and they had not travelled far enough upon the
road towards rationalism to be able to reject them, one and all, as in
their very nature impossible. The consequence of this was one of those
compromises which we so often meet with in the history of the changes of
opinion effected by the Reformation. Only those particular miracles that
were indisputably demonstrated to be impostures--and there were plenty
of them, such as the Rood of Boxley[1]--were treated as such by them.
The unexposed remainder were treated as genuine supernatural phenomena,
but caused by diabolical, not divine, agency. The reforming divine
Calfhill, supporting this view of the Catholic miracles in his answer to
Martiall's "Treatise of the Cross," points out that the majority of
supernatural events that have taken place in this world have been, most
undoubtedly, the work of the devil; and puts his opponents into a rather
embarrassing dilemma by citing the miracles of paganism, which both
Catholic and Protestant concurred in attributing to the evil one. He
then clinches his argument by asserting that "it is the devil's cunning
that persuades those that will walk in a popish blindness" that they are
worshipping God when they are in reality serving him. "Therefore," he
continues, consciously following an argument of St. Cyprianus against
the pagan miracles, "these wicked spirits do lurk in shrines, in roods,
in crosses, in images: and first of all pervert the priests, which are
easiest to be caught with bait of a little gain. Then work they
miracles. They appear to men in divers shapes; disquiet them when they
are awake; trouble them in their sleeps; distort their members; take
away their health; afflict them with diseases; only to bring them to
some idolatry. Thus, when they have obtained their purpose that a lewd
affiance is reposed where it should not, they enter (as it were) into a
new league, and trouble them no more. What do the simple people then?
Verily suppose that the image, the cross, the thing that they have
kneeled and offered unto (the very devil indeed) hath restored them
health, whereas he did nothing but leave off to molest them. This is the
help and cure that the devils give when they leave off their wrong and

[Footnote 1: Froude, History of England, cabinet edition, iii. 102.]

[Footnote 2: Calfhill, pp. 317-8. Parker Society.]

30. Here we have a distinct charge of devil-worship--the old doctrine
cropping up again after centuries of repose: "all the gods of our
opponents are devils." Nor were the Catholics a whit behind the
Protestants in this matter. The priests zealously taught that the
Protestants were devil-worshippers and magicians;[1] and the common
people so implicitly believed in the truth of the statement, that we
find one poor prisoner, taken by the Dutch at the siege of Alkmaar in
1578, making a desperate attempt to save his life by promising to
worship his captors' devil precisely as they did[2]--a suggestion that
failed to pacify those to whom it was addressed.

[Footnote 1: Hutchinson's Essay, p. 218. Harsnet, Declaration, p. 30.]

[Footnote 2: Motley, Dutch Republic, ii. 400.]

31. Having thus stated, so far as necessary, the chief laws that are
constantly working the extension of the domain of the supernatural as
far as demonology is concerned, without a remembrance of which the
subject itself would remain somewhat difficult to comprehend fully, I
shall now attempt to indicate one or two conditions of thought and
circumstance that may have tended to increase and vivify the belief
during the period in which the Elizabethan literature flourished.

32. It was an era of change. The nation was emerging from the dim
twilight of mediaevalism into the full day of political and religious
freedom. But the morning mists, which the rising sun had not yet
dispelled, rendered the more distant and complex objects distorted and
portentous. The very fact that doubt, or rather, perhaps, independence
of thought, was at last, within certain limits, treated as non-criminal
in theology, gave an impetus to investigation and speculation in all
branches of politics and science; and with this change came, in the
main, improvement. But the great defect of the time was that this newly
liberated spirit of free inquiry was not kept in check by any sufficient
previous discipline in logical methods of reasoning. Hence the
possibility of the wild theories that then existed, followed out into
action or not, according as circumstances favoured or discouraged:
Arthur Hacket, with casting out of devils, and other madnesses,
vehemently declaring himself the Messiah and King of Europe in the year
of grace 1591, and getting himself believed by some, so long as he
remained unhanged; or, more pathetic still, many weary lives wasted day
by day in fruitless silent search after the impossible philosopher's
stone, or elixir of life. As in law, so in science, there were no
sufficient rules of evidence clearly and unmistakably laid down for the
guidance of the investigator; and consequently it was only necessary to
broach a novel theory in order to have it accepted, without any previous
serious testing. Men do not seem to have been able to distinguish
between an hypothesis and a proved conclusion; or, rather, the rule of
presumptions was reversed, and men accepted the hypothesis as conclusive
until it was disproved. It was a perfectly rational and sufficient
explanation in those days to refer some extraordinary event to some
given supernatural cause, even though there might be no ostensible link
between the two: now, such a suggestion would be treated by the vast
majority with derision or contempt. On the other hand, the most trivial
occurrences, such as sneezing, the appearance of birds of ill omen, the
crowing of a cock, and events of like unimportance happening at a
particular moment, might, by some unseen concatenation of causes and
effects, exercise an incomprehensible influence upon men, and
consequently had important bearings upon their conduct. It is solemnly
recorded in the Commons' Journals that during the discussion of the
statute against witchcraft passed in the reign of James I., a young
jackdaw flew into the House; which accident was generally regarded as
_malum omen_ to the Bill.[1] Extraordinary bravery on the part of an
adversary was sometimes accounted for by asserting that he was the devil
in the form of a man; as the Volscian soldier does with regard to
Coriolanus. This is no mere dramatist's fancy, but a fixed belief of the
times. Sir William Russell fought so desperately at Zutphen, that he got
mistaken for the Evil One;[2] and Drake also gave the Spaniards good
reason for believing that he was a devil, and no man.[3]

[Footnote 1: See also D'Ewes, p. 688.]

[Footnote 2: Froude, xii. 87.]

[Footnote 3: Ibid. 663.]

33. This intense credulousness, childish almost in itself, but yet at
the same time combined with the strong man's intellect, permeated all
classes of society. Perhaps a couple of instances, drawn from strangely
diverse sources, will bring this more vividly before the mind than any
amount of attempted theorizing. The first is one of the tricks of the
jugglers of the period.

"_To make one danse naked._

"Make a poore boie confederate with you, so as after charms, etc.,
spoken by you, he unclothe himself and stand naked, seeming (whilest he
undresseth himselfe) to shake, stamp, and crie, still hastening to be
unclothed, till he be starke naked; or if you can procure none to go so
far, let him onlie beginne to stampe and shake, etc., and unclothe him,
and then you may (for reverence of the companie) seeme to release

[Footnote 1: Scott, p. 339.]

The second illustration must have demanded, if possible, more credulity
on the part of the audience than this harmless entertainment. Cranmer
tells us that in the time of Queen Mary a monk preached a sermon at St.
Paul's, the object of which was to prove the truth of the doctrine of
transubstantiation; and, after the manner of his kind, told the
following little anecdote in support of it:--"A maid of Northgate parish
in Canterbury, in pretence to wipe her mouth, kept the host in her
handkerchief; and, when she came home, she put the same into a pot,
close covered, and she spitted in another pot, and after a few days, she
looking in the one pot, found a little young pretty babe, about a
shaftmond long; and the other pot was full of gore blood."[1]

[Footnote 1: Cranmer, A Confutation of Unwritten Verities, p. 66. Parker

34. That the audiences before which these absurdities were seriously
brought, for amusement or instruction, could be excited in either case
to any other feeling than good-natured contempt for a would-be impostor,
seems to us now-a-days to be impossible. It was not so in the times when
these things transpired: the actors of them were not knaves, nor were
their audiences fools, to any unusual extent. If any one is inclined to
form a low opinion of the Elizabethans intellectually, on account of the
divergence of their capacities of belief in this respect from his own,
he does them a great injustice. Let him take at once Charles Lamb's
warning, and try to understand, rather than to judge them. We, who have
had the benefit of three hundred more years of experience and liberty of
thought than they, should have to hide our faces for very shame had we
not arrived at juster and truer conclusions upon those difficult topics
that so bewildered our ancestors. But can we, with all our boasted
advantages of wealth, power, and knowledge, truly say that all our aims
are as high, all our desires as pure, our words as true, and our deeds
as noble, as those whose opinions we feel this tendency to contemn? If
not, or if indeed they have anything whatsoever to teach us in these
respects, let us remember that we shall never learn the lesson wholly,
perhaps not learn it at all, unless, casting aside this first impulse to
despise, we try to enter fully into and understand these strange dead
beliefs of the past.

* * * * *

35. It is in this spirit that I now enter upon the second division of
the subject in hand, in which I shall try to indicate the chief features
of the belief in demonology as it existed during the Elizabethan period.
These will be taken up in three main heads: the classification, physical
appearance, and powers of the evil spirits.

36. (i.) It is difficult to discover any classification of devils as
well authenticated and as universally received as that of the angels
introduced by Dionysius the Areopagite, which was subsequently imported
into the creed of the Western Church, and popularized in Elizabethan
times by Dekker's "Hierarchie." The subject was one which, from its
nature, could not be settled _ex cathedra_, and consequently the subject
had to grow up as best it might, each writer adopting the arrangement
that appeared to him most suitable. There was one rough but popular
classification into greater and lesser devils. The former branch was
subdivided into classes of various grades of power, the members of
which passed under the titles of kings, dukes, marquises, lords,
captains, and other dignities. Each of these was supposed to have a
certain number of legions of the latter class under his command. These
were the evil spirits who appeared most frequently on the earth as the
emissaries of the greater fiends, to carry out their evil designs. The
more important class kept for the most part in a mystical seclusion, and
only appeared upon earth in cases of the greatest emergency, or when
compelled to do so by conjuration. To the class of lesser devils
belonged the bad angel which, together with a good one, was supposed to
be assigned to every person at birth, to follow him through life--the
one to tempt, the other to guard from temptation;[1] so that a struggle
similar to that recorded between Michael and Satan for the body of Moses
was raging for the soul of every existing human being. This was not a
mere theory, but a vital active belief, as the beautiful well-known
lines at the commencement of the eighth canto of the second book of "The
Faerie Queene," and the use made of these opposing spirits in Marlowe's
"Dr. Faustus," and in "The Virgin Martyr," by Massinger and Dekker,
conclusively show.

[Footnote 1: Scot, p. 506.]

37. Another classification, which seems to retain a reminiscence of the
origin of devils from pagan deities, is effected by reference to the
localities supposed to be inhabited by the different classes of evil
spirits. According to this arrangement we get six classes:--

(1.) Devils of the fire, who wander in the region near the moon.

(2.) Devils of the air, who hover round the earth.

(3.) Devils of the earth; to whom the fairies are allied.

(4.) Devils of the water.

(5.) Submundane devils.[1]

(6.) Lucifugi.

These devils' power and desire to injure mankind appear to have
increased with the proximity of their location to the earth's centre;
but this classification had nothing like the hold upon the popular mind
that the former grouping had, and may consequently be dismissed with
this mention.

[Footnote 1: Cf. I Hen. VI. V. iii. 10; 2 Hen. VI. I. ii. 77;
Coriolanus, IV. v. 97.]

38. The greater devils, or the most important of them, had
distinguishing names--strange, uncouth names; some of them telling of a
heathenish origin; others inexplicable and almost unpronounceable--as
Ashtaroth, Bael, Belial, Zephar, Cerberus, Phoenix, Balam (why he?), and
Haagenti, Leraie, Marchosias, Gusoin, Glasya Labolas. Scot enumerates
seventy-nine, the above amongst them, and he does not by any means
exhaust the number. As each arch-devil had twenty, thirty, or forty
legions of inferior spirits under his command, and a legion was composed
of six hundred and sixty-six devils, it is not surprising that the
latter did not obtain distinguishing names until they made their
appearance upon earth, when they frequently obtained one from the form
they loved to assume; for example, the familiars of the witches in
"Macbeth"--Paddock (toad), Graymalkin (cat), and Harpier (harpy,
possibly). Is it surprising that, with resources of this nature at his
command, such an adept in the art of necromancy as Owen Glendower
should hold Harry Percy, much to his disgust, at the least nine hours

"In reckoning up the several devils' names
That were his lackeys"?

Of the twenty devils mentioned by Shakspere, four only belong to the
class of greater devils. Hecate, the principal patroness of witchcraft,
is referred to frequently, and appears once upon the scene.[1] The two
others are Amaimon and Barbazon, both of whom are mentioned twice.
Amaimon was a very important personage, being no other than one of the
four kings. Ziminar was King of the North, and is referred to in "Henry
VI. Part I.;"[2] Gorson of the South; Goap of the West; and Amaimon of
the East. He is mentioned in "Henry IV. Part I.,"[3] and "Merry
Wives."[4] Barbazon also occurs in the same passage in the latter play,
and again in "Henry V."[5]--a fact that does to a slight extent help to
bear out the otherwise ascertained chronological sequence of these
plays. The remainder of the devils belong to the second class. Nine of
these occur in "King Lear," and will be referred to again when the
subject of possession is touched upon.[6]

[Footnote 1: It is perhaps worthy of remark that in every case except
the allusion in the probably spurious Henry VI., "I speak not to that
railing Hecate," (I Hen. VI. III. ii. 64), the name is "Hecat," a

[Footnote 2: V. iii. 6.]

[Footnote 3: II. iv. 370.]

[Footnote 4: II. ii. 311.]

[Footnote 5: II. i. 57. Scot, p. 393.]

[Footnote 6: sec. 65.]

39. (ii.) It would appear that each of the greater devils, on the rare
occasion upon which he made his appearance upon earth, assumed a form
peculiar to himself; the lesser devils, on the other hand, had an
ordinary type, common to the whole species, with a capacity for almost
infinite variation and transmutation which they used, as will be seen,
to the extreme perplexity and annoyance of mortals. As an illustration
of the form in which a greater devil might appear, this is what Scot
says of the questionable Balam, above mentioned: "Balam cometh with
three heads, the first of a bull, the second of a man, and the third of
a ram. He hath a serpent's taile, and flaming eies; riding upon a
furious beare, and carrieng a hawke on his fist."[1] But it was the
lesser devils, not the greater, that came into close contact with
humanity, who therefore demand careful consideration.

[Footnote 1: p. 361.]

40. All the lesser devils seem to have possessed a normal form, which
was as hideous and distorted as fancy could render it. To the conception
of an angel imagination has given the only beautiful appendage the human
body does not possess--wings; to that of a devil it has added all those
organs of the brute creation that are most hideous or most harmful.
Advancing civilization has almost exterminated the belief in a being
with horns, cloven hoofs, goggle eyes, and scaly tail, that was held up
to many yet living as the avenger of childish disobedience in their
earlier days, together perhaps with some strength of conviction of the
moral hideousness of the evil he was intended, in a rough way, to
typify; but this hazily retained impression of the Author of Evil was
the universal and entirely credited conception of the ordinary
appearance of those bad spirits who were so real to our ancestors of
Elizabethan days. "Some are so carnallie minded," says Scot, "that a
spirit is no sooner spoken of, but they thinke of a blacke man with
cloven feet, a paire of hornes, a taile, and eies as big as a bason."[1]
Scot, however, was one of a very small minority in his opinion as to the
carnal-mindedness of such a belief. He in his day, like those in every
age and country who dare to hold convictions opposed to the creed of the
majority, was a dangerous sceptic; his book was publicly burnt by the
common hangman;[2] and not long afterwards a royal author wrote a
treatise "against the damnable doctrines of two principally in our age;
whereof the one, called Scot, an Englishman, is not ashamed in public
print to deny that there can be such a thing as witchcraft, and so
mainteines the old error of the Sadducees in denying of spirits."[3] The
abandoned impudence of the man!--and the logic of his royal opponent!

[Footnote 1: p. 507. See also Hutchinson, Essay on Witchcraft, p. 13;
and Harsnet, p. 71.]

[Footnote 2: Bayle, ix. 152.]

[Footnote 3: James I., Daemonologie. Edinburgh, 1597.]

41. Spenser has clothed with horror this conception of the appearance of
a fiend, just as he has enshrined in beauty the belief in the guardian
angel. It is worthy of remark that he describes the devil as dwelling
beneath the altar of an idol in a heathen temple. Prince Arthur strikes
the image thrice with his sword--

"And the third time, out of an hidden shade,
There forth issewed from under th' altar's smoake
A dreadfull feend with fowle deformed looke,
That stretched itselfe as it had long lyen still;
And her long taile and fethers strongly shooke,
That all the temple did with terrour fill;
Yet him nought terrifide that feared nothing ill.

"An huge great beast it was, when it in length
Was stretched forth, that nigh filled all the place,
And seemed to be of infinite great strength;
Horrible, hideous, and of hellish race,
Borne of the brooding of Echidna base,
Or other like infernall Furies kinde,
For of a maide she had the outward face
To hide the horrour which did lurke behinde
The better to beguile whom she so fond did finde.

"Thereto the body of a dog she had,
Full of fell ravin and fierce greedinesse;
A lion's clawes, with power and rigour clad
To rende and teare whatso she can oppresse;
A dragon's taile, whose sting without redresse
Full deadly wounds whereso it is empight,
And eagle's wings for scope and speedinesse
That nothing may escape her reaching might,
Whereto she ever list to make her hardy flight."

42. The dramatists of the period make frequent references to this
belief, but nearly always by way of ridicule. It is hardly to be
expected that they would share in the grosser opinions held by the
common people in those times--common, whether king or clown. In "The
Virgin Martyr," Harpax is made to say--

"I'll tell you what now of the devil;
He's no such horrid creature, cloven-footed,
Black, saucer-eyed, his nostrils breathing fire,
As these lying Christians make him."[1]

But his opinion was, perhaps, a prejudiced one. In Ben Jonson's "The
Devil is an Ass," when Fitzdottrell, doubting Pug's statement as to his
infernal character, says, "I looked on your feet afore; you cannot cozen
me; your shoes are not cloven, sir, you are whole hoofed;" Pug, with
great presence of mind, replies, "Sir, that's a popular error deceives
many." So too Othello, when he is questioning whether Iago is a devil or
not, says--

"I look down to his feet, but that's a fable."[2]

And when Edgar is trying to persuade the blind Gloucester that he has in
reality cast himself over the cliff, he describes the being from whom he
is supposed to have just parted, thus:--

"As I stood here below, methought his eyes
Were two full moons: he had a thousand noses;
Horns whelked and waved like the enridged sea:
It was some fiend."[3]

It can hardly be but that the "thousand noses" are intended as a
satirical hit at the enormity of the popular belief.

[Footnote 1: Act I. sc. 2.]

[Footnote 2: Act V. sc. ii. l. 285.]

[Footnote 3: Lear, IV. vi. 69.]

43. In addition to this normal type, common to all these devils, each
one seems to have had, like the greater devils, a favourite form in
which he made his appearance when conjured; generally that of some
animal, real or imagined. It was telling of

"the moldwarp and the ant,
Of the dreamer Merlin, and his prophecies;
And of a dragon and a finless fish,
A clipwinged griffin, and a moulten raven,
A couching lion, and a ramping cat,"[1]

that annoyed Harry Hotspur so terribly; and neither in this allusion,
which was suggested by a passage in Holinshed,[2] nor in "Macbeth,"
where he makes the three witches conjure up their familiars in the
shapes of an armed head, a bloody child, and a child crowned, has
Shakspere gone beyond the fantastic conceptions of the time.

[Footnote 1: I Hen. IV. III. i. 148.]

[Footnote 2: p. 521, c. 2.]

44. (iii.) But the third proposed section, which deals with the powers
and functions exercised by the evil spirits, is by far the most
interesting and important; and the first branch of the series is one
that suggests itself as a natural sequence upon what has just been said
as to the ordinary shapes in which devils appeared, namely, the capacity
to assume at will any form they chose.

45. In the early and middle ages it was universally believed that a
devil could, of his own inherent power, call into existence any manner
of body that it pleased his fancy to inhabit, or that would most conduce
to the success of any contemplated evil. In consequence of this belief
the devils became the rivals, indeed the successful rivals, of Jupiter
himself in the art of physical tergiversation. There was, indeed, a
tradition that a devil could not create any animal form of less size
than a barley-corn, and that it was in consequence of this incapacity
that the magicians of Egypt--those indubitable devil-worshippers--failed
to produce lice, as Moses did, although they had been so successful in
the matter of the serpents and the frogs; "a verie gross absurditie," as
Scot judiciously remarks.[1] This, however, would not be a serious
limitation upon the practical usefulness of the power.

[Footnote 1: p. 314.]

46. The great Reformation movement wrought a change in this respect. Men
began to accept argument and reason, though savouring of special
pleading of the schools, in preference to tradition, though never so
venerable and well authenticated; and the leaders of the revolution
could not but recognize the absurdity of laying down as infallible dogma
that God was the Creator of all things, and then insisting with equal
vehemence, by way of postulate, that the devil was the originator of
some. The thing was gross and palpable in its absurdity, and had to be
done away with as quickly as might be. But how? On the other hand, it
was clear as daylight that the devil _did_ appear in various forms to
tempt and annoy the people of God--was at that very time doing so in the
most open and unabashed manner. How were reasonable men to account for
this manifest conflict between rigorous logic and more rigorous fact?
There was a prolonged and violent controversy upon the point--the
Reformers not seeing their way to agree amongst themselves--and tedious
as violent. Sermons were preached; books were written; and, when
argument was exhausted, unpleasant epithets were bandied about, much as
in the present day, in similar cases. The result was that two theories
were evolved, both extremely interesting as illustrations of the
hair-splitting, chop-logic tendency which, amidst all their
straightforwardness, was so strongly characteristic of the Elizabethans.
The first suggestion was, that although the devil could not, of his own
inherent power, create a body, he might get hold of a dead carcase and
temporarily restore animation, and so serve his turn. This belief was
held, amongst others, by the erudite King James,[1] and is pleasantly
satirized by sturdy old Ben Jonson in "The Devil is an Ass," where Satan
(the greater devil, who only appears in the first scene just to set the
storm a-brewing) says to Pug (Puck, the lesser devil, who does all the
mischief; or would have done it, had not man, in those latter times, got
to be rather beyond the devils in evil than otherwise), not without a
touch of regret at the waning of his power--

"You must get a body ready-made, Pug,
I can create you none;"

and consequently Pug is advised to assume the body of a handsome
cutpurse that morning hung at Tyburn.

[Footnote 1: Daemonologie, p. 56.]

But the theory, though ingenious, was insufficient. The devil would
occasionally appear in the likeness of a living person; and how could
that be accounted for? Again, an evil spirit, with all his ingenuity,
would find it hard to discover the dead body of a griffin, or a harpy,
or of such eccentricity as was affected by the before-mentioned Balam;
and these and other similar forms were commonly favoured by the
inhabitants of the nether world.

47. The second theory, therefore, became the more popular amongst the
learned, because it left no one point unexplained. The divines held that
although the power of the Creator had in no wise been delegated to the
devil, yet he was, in the course of providence, permitted to exercise a
certain supernatural influence over the minds of men, whereby he could
persuade them that they really saw a form that had no material objective
existence.[1] Here was a position incontrovertible, not on account of
the arguments by which it could be supported, but because it was
impossible to reason against it; and it slowly, but surely, took hold
upon the popular mind. Indeed, the elimination of the diabolic factor
leaves the modern sceptical belief that such apparitions are nothing
more than the result of disease, physical or mental.

[Footnote 1: Dialogicall Discourses, by Deacon and Walker, 4th Dialogue.
Bullinger, p. 361. Parker Society.]

48. But the semi-sceptical state of thought was in Shakspere's time
making its way only amongst the more educated portion of the nation. The
masses still clung to the old and venerated, if not venerable, belief
that devils could at any moment assume what form soever they might
please--not troubling themselves further to inquire into the method of
the operation. They could appear in the likeness of an ordinary human
being, as Harpax[1] and Mephistopheles[2] do, creating thereby the most
embarrassing complications in questions of identity; and if this belief
is borne in mind, the charge of being a devil, so freely made, in the
times of which we write, and before alluded to, against persons who
performed extraordinary feats of valour, or behaved in a manner
discreditable and deserving of general reprobation, loses much of its
barbarous grotesqueness. There was no doubt as to Coriolanus,[3] as has
been said; nor Shylock.[4] Even "the outward sainted Angelo is yet a
devil;"[5] and Prince Hal confesses that "there is a devil haunts him in
the likeness of an old fat man ... an old white-bearded Satan."[6]

[Footnote 1: In The Virgin Martyr.]

[Footnote 2: In Dr. Faustus.]

[Footnote 3: Coriolanus, I. x. 16.]

[Footnote 4: Merchant of Venice, III. i. 22.]

[Footnote 5: Measure for Measure, III. i. 90.]

[Footnote 6: I Hen. IV., II. iv. 491-509.]

49. The devils had an inconvenient habit of appearing in the guise of an
ecclesiastic[1]--at least, so the churchmen were careful to insist,
especially when busying themselves about acts of temptation that would
least become the holy robe they had assumed. This was the ecclesiastical
method of accounting for certain stories, not very creditable to the
priesthood, that had too inconvenient a basis of evidence to be
dismissed as fabricatious. But the honest lay public seem to have
thought, with downright old Chaucer, that there was more in the matter
than the priests chose to admit. This feeling we, as usual, find
reflected in the dramatic literature of our period. In "The Troublesome
Raigne of King John," an old play upon the basis of which Shakspere
constructed his own "King John," we find this question dealt with in
some detail. In the elder play, the Bastard does "the shaking of bags of
hoarding abbots," _coram populo_, and thereby discloses a phase of
monastic life judiciously suppressed by Shakspere. Philip sets at
liberty much more than "imprisoned angels"--according to one account,
and that a monk's, imprisoned beings of quite another sort. "Faire
Alice, the nonne," having been discovered in the chest where the abbot's
wealth was supposed to be concealed, proposes to purchase pardon for the
offence by disclosing the secret hoard of a sister nun. Her offer being
accepted, a friar is ordered to force the box in which the treasure is
supposed to be secreted. On being questioned as to its contents, he

"Frier Laurence, my lord, now holy water help us!
Some witch or some divell is sent to delude us:
_Haud credo Laurentius_ that thou shouldst be pen'd thus
In the presse of a nun; we are all undone,
And brought to discredence, if thou be Frier Laurence."[2]

Unfortunately it proves indubitably to be that good man; and he is
ordered to execution, not, however, without some hope of redemption by
money payment; for times are hard, and cash in hand not to be despised.

[Footnote 1: See the story about Bishop Sylvanus.--Lecky, Rationalism in
Europe, i. 79.]

[Footnote 2: Hazlitt, Shakspere Library, part ii. vol. i. p. 264.]

It is amusing to notice, too, that when assuming the clerical garb, the
devil carefully considered the religious creed of the person to whom he
intended to make himself known. The Catholic accounts of him show him
generally assuming the form of a Protestant parson;[1] whilst to those
of the reformed creed he invariably appeared in the habit of a Catholic
priest. In the semblance of a friar the devil is reported (by a
Protestant) to have preached, upon a time, "a verie Catholic sermon;"[2]
so good, indeed, that a priest who was a listener could find no fault
with the doctrine--a stronger basis of fact than one would have imagined
for Shakspere's saying, "The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose."

[Footnote 1: Harsnet, p. 101.]

[Footnote 2: Scot, p. 481.]

50. It is not surprising that of human forms, that of a negro or Moor
should be considered a favourite one with evil spirits.[1] Iago makes
allusion to this when inciting Brabantio to search for his daughter.[2]
The power of coming in the likeness of humanity generally is referred to
somewhat cynically in "Timon of Athens,"[3] thus--

"_Varro's Servant._ What is a whoremaster, fool?

"_Fool._ A fool in good clothes, and something like thee. 'Tis a spirit:
sometime 't appears like a lord; sometime like a lawyer; sometime like a
philosopher with two stones more than 's artificial one: he is very
often like a knight; and, generally, in all shapes that man goes up and
down in, from fourscore to thirteen, this spirit walks in."

[Footnote 1: Scot, p. 89.]

[Footnote 2: Othello, I. i. 91.]

[Footnote 3: II. ii. 113.]

"All shapes that man goes up and down in" seem indeed to have been at
the devils' control. So entirely was this the case, that to Constance
even the fair Blanche was none other than the devil tempting Louis "in
likeness of a new uptrimmed bride;"[1] and perhaps not without a certain
prophetic feeling of the fitness of things, as it may possibly seem to
some of our more warlike politicians, evil spirits have been known to
appear as Russians.[2]

[Footnote 1: King John, III. i. 209.]

[Footnote 2: Harsnet, p. 139.]

51. But all the "shapes that man goes up and down in" did not suffice.
The forms of the whole of the animal kingdom seem to have been at the
devils' disposal; and, not content with these, they seem to have sought
further for unlikely shapes to assume.[1] Poor Caliban complains that
Prospero's spirits

"Lead me, like a firebrand, in the dark,"[2]

just as Ariel[3] and Puck[4] (Will-o'-th'-wisp) mislead their victims;
and that

"For every trifle are they set upon me:
Sometimes like apes, that mow and chatter at me,
And after bite me; then like hedgehogs, which
Lie tumbling in my barefoot way, and mount
Their pricks at my footfall. Sometime am I
All wound with adders, who, with cloven tongues,
Do hiss me into madness."

And doubtless the scene which follows this soliloquy, in which Caliban,
Trinculo, and Stephano mistake one another in turn for evil spirits,
fully flavoured with fun as it still remains, had far more point for the
audiences at the Globe--to whom a stray devil or two was quite in the
natural order of things under such circumstances--than it can possibly
possess for us. In this play, Ariel, Prospero's familiar, besides
appearing in his natural shape, and dividing into flames, and behaving
in such a manner as to cause young Ferdinand to leap into the sea,
crying, "Hell is empty, and all the devils are here!" assumes the forms
of a water-nymph,[5] a harpy,[6] and also the goddess Ceres;[7] while
the strange shapes, masquers, and even the hounds that hunt and worry
the would-be king and viceroys of the island, are Ariel's "meaner

[Footnote 1: For instance, an eye without a head.--Ibid.]

[Footnote 2: The Tempest, II. ii. 10.]

[Footnote 3: Ibid. I. ii. 198.]

[Footnote 4: A Midsummer Night's Dream, II. i. 39; III. i. 111.]

[Footnote 5: I. ii. 301-318.]

[Footnote 6: III. iii. 53.]

[Footnote 7: IV. i. 166.]

52. Puck's favourite forms seem to have been more outlandish than
Ariel's, as might have been expected of that malicious little spirit. He
beguiles "the fat and bean-fed horse" by

"Neighing in likeness of a filly foal:
And sometimes lurk I in a gossip's bowl,
In very likeness of a roasted crab;
And when she drinks, against her lips I bob,
And on her withered dewlap pour the ale.
The wisest aunt, telling the saddest tale,
Sometime for three-foot stool[1] mistaketh me;
Then slip I from her, and down topples she."

And again:

"Sometime a horse I'll be, sometime a hound,
A hog, a headless bear, sometime a fire;
And neigh, and bark, and grunt, and roar, and burn,
Like horse, hound, hog, bear, fire, at every turn."[2]

With regard to this last passage, it is worthy of note that in the year
1584, strange news came out of Somersetshire, entitled "A Dreadful
Discourse of the Dispossessing of one Margaret Cowper, at Ditchet, from
a Devil in the Likeness of a Headless Bear."[3]

[Footnote 1: A Scotch witch, when leaving her bed to go to a sabbath,
used to put a three-foot stool in the vacant place; which, after charms
duly mumbled, assumed the appearance of a woman until her
return.--Pitcairn, iii. 617.]

[Footnote 2: III. i. 111.]

[Footnote 3: Hutchinson, p. 40.]

53. In Heywood and Brome's "Witch of Edmonton," the devil appears in the
likeness of a black dog, and takes his part in the dialogue, as if his
presence were a matter of quite ordinary occurrence, not in any way
calling for special remark. However gross and absurd this may appear, it
must be remembered that this play is, in its minutest details, merely a
dramatization of the events duly proved in a court of law, to the
satisfaction of twelve Englishmen, in the year 1612.[1] The shape of a
fly, too, was a favourite one with the evil spirits; so much so that the
term "fly" became a common synonym for a familiar.[2] The word
"Beelzebub" was supposed to mean "the king of flies." At the execution
of Urban Grandier, the famous magician of London, in 1634, a large fly
was seen buzzing about the stake, and a priest promptly seizing the
opportunity of improving the occasion for the benefit of the onlookers,
declared that Beelzebub had come in his own proper person to carry off
Grandier's soul to hell. In 1664 occurred the celebrated witch-trials
which took place before Sir Matthew Hale. The accused were charged with
bewitching two children; and part of the evidence against them was that
flies and bees were seen to carry into the victims' mouths the nails and
pins which they afterwards vomited.[3] There is an allusion to this
belief in the fly-killing scene in "Titus Andronicus."[4]

[Footnote 1: Potts, Discoveries. Edit. Cheetham Society.]

[Footnote 2: Cf. B. Jonson's Alchemist.]

[Footnote 3: A Collection of Rare and Curious Tracts relating to
Witchcraft, 1838.]

[Footnote 4: III. ii. 51, et seq.]

54. But it was not invariably a repulsive or ridiculous form that was
assumed by these enemies of mankind. Their ingenuity would have been but
little worthy of commendation had they been content to appear as
ordinary human beings, or animals, or even in fancy costume. The Swiss
divine Bullinger, after a lengthy and elaborately learned argument as to
the particular day in the week of creation upon which it was most
probable that God called the angels into being, says, by way of
peroration, "Let us lead a holy and angel-like life in the sight of
God's holy angels. Let us watch, lest he that transfigureth and turneth
himself into an angel of light under a good show and likeness deceive
us."[1] They even went so far, according to Cranmer,[2] as to appear in
the likeness of Christ, in their desire to mislead mankind; for--

"When devils will the blackest sins put on,
They do suggest at first with heavenly shows."[3]

[Footnote 1: Bullinger, Fourth Decade, 9th Sermon. Parker Society.]

[Footnote 2: Cranmer, Confutation, p. 42. Parker Society.]

[Footnote 3: Othello, II. iii. 357. Cf. Love's Labour's Lost, IV. iii.
257; Comedy of Errors, IV. iii. 56.]

55. But one of the most ordinary forms supposed at this period to be
assumed by devils was that of a dead friend of the object of the
visitation. Before the Reformation, the belief that the spirits of the
departed had power at will to revisit the scenes and companions of their
earthly life was almost universal. The reforming divines distinctly
denied the possibility of such a revisitation, and accounted for the
undoubted phenomena, as usual, by attributing them to the devil.[1]
James I. says that the devil, when appearing to men, frequently assumed
the form of a person newly dead, "to make them believe that it was some
good spirit that appeared to them, either to forewarn them of the death
of their friend, or else to discover unto them the will of the defunct,
or what was the way of his slauchter.... For he dare not so illude anie
that knoweth that neither can the spirit of the defunct returne to his
friend, nor yet an angell use such formes."[2] He further explains that
such devils follow mortals to obtain two ends: "the one is the tinsell
(loss) of their life by inducing them to such perrilous places at such
times as he either follows or possesses them. The other thing that he
preases to obtain is the tinsell of their soule."[3]

[Footnote 1: See Hooper's Declaration of the Ten Commandments. Parker
Society. Hooper, 326.]

[Footnote 2: Daemonologie, p. 60.]

[Footnote 3: Cf. Hamlet, I. iv. 60-80; and post, sec. 58.]

56. But the belief in the appearance of ghosts was too deeply rooted in
the popular mind to be extirpated, or even greatly affected, by a
dogmatic declaration. The masses went on believing as they always had
believed, and as their fathers had believed before them, in spite of the
Reformers, and to their no little discontent. Pilkington, Bishop of
Durham, in a letter to Archbishop Parker, dated 1564, complains that,
"among other things that be amiss here in your great cares, ye shall
understand that in Blackburn there is a fantastical (and as some say,
lunatic) young man, which says that he has spoken with one of his
neighbours that died four year since, or more. Divers times he says he
has seen him, and talked with him, and took with him the curate, the
schoolmaster, and other neighbours, who all affirm that they see him.
_These things be so common here_ that none in authority will gainsay it,
but rather believe and confirm it, that everybody believes it. If I had
known how to examine with authority, I would have done it."[1] Here is a
little glimpse at the practical troubles of a well-intentioned bishop of
the sixteenth century that is surely worth preserving.

[Footnote 1: Parker Correspondence, 222. Parker Society.]

57. There were thus two opposite schools of belief in this matter of the
supposed spirits of the departed:--the conservative, which held to the
old doctrine of ghosts; and the reforming, which denied the possibility
of ghosts, and held to the theory of devils. In the midst of this
disagreement of doctors it was difficult for a plain man to come to a
definite conclusion upon the question; and, in consequence, all who were
not content with quiet dogmatism were in a state of utter uncertainty
upon a point not entirely without importance in practical life as well
as in theory. This was probably the position in which the majority of
thoughtful men found themselves; and it is accurately reflected in three
of Shakspere's plays, which, for other and weightier reasons, are
grouped together in the same chronological division--"Julius Caesar,"
"Macbeth," and "Hamlet." In the first-mentioned play, Brutus, who
afterwards confesses his belief that the apparition he saw at Sardis was
the ghost of Caesar,[1] when in the actual presence of the spirit,

"Art thou some god, some angel, or some devil?"[2]

The same doubt flashes across the mind of Macbeth on the second entrance
of Banquo's ghost--which is probably intended to be a devil appearing at
the instigation of the witches--when he says, with evident allusion to a
diabolic power before referred to--

"What man dare, I dare:
Approach thou like the rugged Russian bear,
The armed rhinoceros, or the Hyrcan tiger,
Take any shape but that."[3]

[Footnote 1: Julius Caesar, V. v. 17.]

[Footnote 2: Ibid. IV. iii. 279.]

[Footnote 3: Macbeth, III. iv. 100.]

58. But it is in "Hamlet" that the undecided state of opinion upon this
subject is most clearly reflected; and hardly enough influence has been
allowed to the doubts arising from this conflict of belief, as urgent or
deterrent motives in the play, because this temporary condition of
thought has been lost sight of. It is exceedingly interesting to note
how frequently the characters who have to do with the apparition of the
late King Hamlet alternate between the theories that it is a ghost and
that it is a devil which they have seen. The whole subject has such an
important bearing upon any attempt to estimate the character of Hamlet,
that no excuse need be offered for once again traversing such
well-trodden ground.

Horatio, it is true, is introduced to us in a state of determined
scepticism; but this lasts for a few seconds only, vanishing upon the
first entrance of the spectre, and never again appearing. His first
inclination seems to be to the belief that he is the victim of a
diabolical illusion; for he says--

"What art thou, that _usurp'st_ this time of night,
Together with that fair and warlike form
In which the majesty of buried Denmark
Did sometimes march?"[1]

And Marcellus seems to be of the same opinion, for immediately before,
he exclaims--

"Thou art a scholar, speak to it, Horatio;"

having apparently the same idea as had Coachman Toby, in "The
Night-Walker," when he exclaims--

"Let's call the butler up, for he speaks Latin,
And that will daunt the devil."[2]

On the second appearance of the illusion, however, Horatio leans to the
opinion that it is really the ghost of the late king that he sees,
probably in consequence of the conversation that has taken place since
the former visitation; and he now appeals to the ghost for information
that may enable him to procure rest for his wandering soul. Again,
during his interview with Hamlet, when he discloses the secret of the
spectre's appearance, though very guarded in his language, Horatio
clearly intimates his conviction that he has seen the spirit of the late

[Footnote 1: I. i. 46.]

[Footnote 2: II. i.]

The same variation of opinion is visible in Hamlet himself; but, as
might be expected, with much more frequent alternations. When first he
hears Horatio's story, he seems to incline to the belief that it must be
the work of some diabolic agency:

"If it assume my noble father's person,
I'll speak to it, though hell itself should gape,
And bid me hold my peace;"[1]

although, characteristically, in almost the next line he exclaims--

"My father's spirit in arms! All is not well," etc.

This, too, seems to be the dominant idea in his mind when he is first
brought face to face with the apparition and exclaims--

"Angels and ministers of grace defend us!--
Be thou a spirit of health, or goblin damned,
Bring with thee airs from heaven, or blasts from hell,
Be thine intents wicked or charitable,
Thou com'st in such a questionable shape,
That I will speak to thee."[2]

For it cannot be supposed that Hamlet imagined that a "goblin damned"
could actually be the spirit of his dead father; and, therefore, the
alternative in his mind must have been that he saw a devil assuming his
father's likeness--a form which the Evil One knew would most incite
Hamlet to intercourse. But even as he speaks, the other theory gradually
obtains ascendency in his mind, until it becomes strong enough to induce
him to follow the spirit.

[Footnote 1: I. ii. 244.]

[Footnote 2: I. iv. 39.]

But whilst the devil-theory is gradually relaxing its hold upon Hamlet's
mind, it is fastening itself with ever-increasing force upon the minds
of his companions; and Horatio expresses their fears in words that are
worth comparing with those just quoted from James's "Daemonologie."
Hamlet responds to their entreaties not to follow the spectre thus--

"Why, what should be the fear?
I do not set my life at a pin's fee;
And, for my soul, what can it do to that,
Being a thing immortal as itself?"

And Horatio answers--

"What if it tempt you toward the flood, my lord,
Or to the dreadful summit of the cliff,
That beetles o'er his base into the sea,
And there assume some other horrible form,
Which might deprive your sovereignty of reason,
And draw you into madness?"

The idea that the devil assumed the form of a dead friend in order to
procure the "tinsell" of both body and soul of his victim is here
vividly before the minds of the speakers of these passages.[1]

[Footnote 1: See ante, sec. 55.]

The subsequent scene with the ghost convinces Hamlet that he is not the
victim of malign influences--as far as he is capable of conviction, for
his very first words when alone restate the doubt:

"O all you host of heaven! O earth! _What else?_ And shall I couple

and the enthusiasm with which he is inspired in consequence of this
interview is sufficient to support his certainty of conviction until the
time for decisive action again arrives. It is not until the idea of the
play-test occurs to him that his doubts are once more aroused; and then
they return with redoubled force:--

"The spirit that I have seen
May be the devil: and the devil hath power
To assume a pleasing shape; yea, and, perhaps,
Out of my weakness and my melancholy,
(As he is very potent with such spirits,)
Abuses me to damn me."[2]

And he again alludes to this in his speech to Horatio, just before the
entry of the king and his train to witness the performance of the

[Footnote 1: I. v. 92.]

[Footnote 2: II. ii. 627.]

[Footnote 3: III. ii. 87.]

59. This question was, in Shakspere's time, quite a legitimate element
of uncertainty in the complicated problem that presented itself for
solution to Hamlet's ever-analyzing mind; and this being so, an apparent
inconsistency in detail which has usually been charged upon Shakspere
with regard to this play, can be satisfactorily explained. Some critics
are never weary of exclaiming that Shakspere's genius was so vast and
uncontrollable that it must not be tested, or expected to be found
conformable to the rules of art that limit ordinary mortals; that there
are many discrepancies and errors in his plays that are to be condoned
upon that account; in fact, that he was a very careless and slovenly
workman. A favourite instance of this is taken from "Hamlet," where
Shakspere actually makes the chief character of the play talk of death
as "the bourne from whence no traveller returns" not long after he has
been engaged in a prolonged conversation with such a returned traveller.

Now, no artist, however distinguished or however transcendent his
genius, is to be pardoned for insincere workmanship, and the greater the
man, the less his excuse. Errors arising from want of information (and
Shakspere commits these often) may be pardoned if the means for
correcting them be unattainable; but errors arising from mere
carelessness are not to be pardoned. Further, in many of these cases of
supposed contradiction there is an element of carelessness indeed; but
it lies at the door of the critic, not of the author; and this appears
to be true in the present instance. The dilemma, as it presented itself
to the contemporary mind, must be carefully kept in view. Either the
spirits of the departed could revisit this world, or they could not. If
they could not, then the apparitions mistaken for them must be devils
assuming their forms. Now, the tendency of Hamlet's mind, immediately
before the great soliloquy on suicide, is decidedly in favour of the
latter alternative. The last words that he has uttered, which are also
the last quoted here,[1] are those in which he declares most forcibly
that he believes the devil-theory possible, and consequently that the
dead do not return to this world; and his utterances in his soliloquy
are only an accentuate and outcome of this feeling of uncertainty. The
very root of his desire for death is that he cannot discard with any
feeling of certitude the Protestant doctrine that no traveller does
after death return from the invisible world, and that the so-called
ghosts are a diabolic deception.

[Footnote 1: sec. 58, p. 59.]

60. Another power possessed by the evil spirits, and one that excited
much attention and created an immense amount of strife during
Elizabethan times, was that of entering into the bodies of human beings,
or otherwise influencing them so as utterly to deprive them of all
self-control, and render them mere automata under the command of the
fiends. This was known as possession, or obsession. It was another of
the mediaeval beliefs against which the reformers steadily set their
faces; and all the resources of their casuistry were exhausted to expose
its absurdity. But their position in this respect was an extremely
delicate one. On one side of them zealous Catholics were exorcising
devils, who shrieked out their testimony to the eternal truth of the
Holy Catholic Church; whilst at the same time, on the other side, the
zealous Puritans of the extremer sort were casting out fiends, who bore
equally fervent testimony to the superior efficacy and purity of the
Protestant faith. The tendency of the more moderate members of the
party, therefore was towards a compromise similar to that arrived at
upon the question how the devils came by the forms in which they
appeared upon the earth. They could not admit that devils could actually
enter into and possess the body of a man in those latter days, although
during the earlier history of the Church such things had been permitted
by Divine Providence for some inscrutable but doubtless satisfactory
reason:--that was Catholicism. On the other hand, they could not for an
instant tolerate or even sanction the doctrine that devils had no power
whatever over humanity:--that was Atheism. But it was quite possible
that evil spirits, without actually entering into the body of a man,
might so infest, worry, and torment him, as to produce all the symptoms
indicative of possession. The doctrine of obsession replaced that of
possession; and, once adopted, was supported by a string of those
quaint, conceited arguments so peculiar to the time.[1]

[Footnote 1: Dialogicall Discourses, by Deacon and Walker, 3rd

61. But, as in all other cases, the refinements of the theologians had
little or no effect upon the world outside their controversies. To the
ordinary mind, if a man's eyes goggled, body swelled, and mouth foamed,
and it was admitted that these were the work of a devil, the question
whether the evil-doer were actually housed within the sufferer, or only
hovered in his immediate neighbourhood, seemed a question of such minor
importance as to be hardly worth discussing--a conclusion that the lay
mind is apt to come to upon other questions that appear portentous to
the divines--and the theory of possession, having the advantage in time
over that of obsession, was hard to dislodge.

62. One of the chief causes of the persistency with which the old belief
was maintained was the utter ignorance of the medical men of the period
on the subject of mental disease. The doctors of the time were mere
children in knowledge of the science they professed; and to attribute a
disease, the symptoms of which they could not comprehend, to a power
outside their control by ordinary methods, was a safe method of
screening a reputation which might otherwise have suffered. "Canst thou
not minister to a mind diseased?" cries Macbeth to the doctor, in one of
those moments of yearning after the better life he regrets, but cannot
return to, which come over him now and again. No; the disease is beyond
his practice; and, although this passage has in it a deeper meaning than
the one attributed to it here, it well illustrates the position of the
medical man in such cases. Most doctors of the time were mere empirics;
dabbled more or less in alchemy; and, in the treatment of mental
disease, were little better than children. They had for co-practitioners
all who, by their credit with the populace for superior wisdom, found
themselves in a position to engage in a profitable employment. Priests,
preachers, schoolmasters--Dr. Pinches and Sir Topazes--became so
commonly exorcists, that the Church found it necessary to forbid the
casting out of spirits without a special license for that purpose.[1]
But as the Reformers only combated the doctrine of possession upon
strictly theological grounds, and did not go on to suggest any
substitute for the time-honoured practice of exorcism as a means for
getting rid of the admittedly obnoxious result of diabolic interference,
it is not altogether surprising that the method of treatment did not
immediately change.

[Footnote 1: 72nd Canon.]

63. Upon this subject a book called "Tryal of Witchcraft," by John
Cotta, "Doctor in Physike," published in 1616, is extremely instructive.
The writer is evidently in advance of his time in his opinions upon the
principal subject with which he professes to deal, and weighs the
evidence for and against the reality of witchcraft with extreme
precision and fairness. In the course of his argument he has to

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