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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Of Beelzebub and His Plot

By Cotton Mather (1663–1728)

[Born in Boston, Mass., 1663. Died there, 1728. From The Wonders of the Invisible World. 1693.]

THE NEW-ENGLANDERS are a people of God settled in those, which were once the devil’s territories; and it may easily be supposed that the devil was exceedingly disturbed when he perceived such a people here accomplishing the promise of old made unto our blessed Jesus, that he should have the utmost parts of the earth for his possession. There was not a greater uproar among the Ephesians, when the gospel was first brought among them, than there was among the powers of the air (after whom those Ephesians walked) when first the silver trumpets of the gospel here made the joyful sound. The devil thus irritated, immediately try’d all sorts of methods to overturn this poor plantation; and so much of the church, as was fled into this wilderness, immediately found the serpent cast out of his mouth a flood for the carrying of it away. I believe, that never were more satanical devices used for the unsetling of any people under the sun, than what have been employ’d for the extirpation of the vine which God has here planted, casting out the heathen, and preparing a room for it, and causing it to take deep root and fill the land, so that it sent its boughs unto the Atlantic sea eastward, and its branches unto the Connecticut river westward, and the hills were covered with the shadow thereof. But all those attempts of hell have hitherto been abortive, many an Ebenezer has been erected unto the praise of God, by his poor people here; and, having obtained help from God, we continue to this day. Wherefore the devil is now making one attempt more upon us; an attempt more difficult, more surprizing, more snarl’d with unintelligible circumstances than any that we have hitherto encountered; an attempt so critical, that if we get well through, we shall soon enjoy halcyon days with all the vultures of hell trodden under our feet. He has wanted his incarnate legions to persecute us as the people of God have in the other hemisphere been persecuted. He has therefore drawn forth his more spiritual ones to make an attacque upon us.

We have been advised by some credible Christians yet alive, that a malefactor, accused of witchcraft as well as murder, and executed in this place more than forty years ago, did then give notice of an horrible plot against the country by witchcraft, and a foundation of witchcraft then laid, which if it were not seasonably discovered would probably blow up and pull down all the churches in the country. And we have now with horror seen the discovery of such a witchcraft! An army of devils is horribly broke in upon the place which is the centre, and, after a sort, the first-born of our English settlements; and the houses of the good people there are fill’d with the doleful shrieks of their children and servants, tormented by invisible hands, with tortures altogether preternatural. After the mischiefs there endeavoured, and since in part conquered, the terrible plague, of evil angels, hath made its progress into some other places, where other persons have been in like manner diabolically handled. These our poor afflicted neighbours, quickly after they become infected and infested with these dæmons, arrive to a capacity of discerning those which they conceive the shapes of their troublers; and notwithstanding the great and just suspicion, that the dæmons might impose the shapes of innocent persons in their spectral exhibitions upon the sufferers (which may perhaps prove no small part of the witch-plot in the issue), yet many of the persons thus represented being examined, several of them have been convicted of a very damnable witchcraft. Yea, more than one twenty have confessed that they have signed unto a book which the devil show’d them, and engaged in his hellish design of bewitching and ruining our land. We know not, at least I know not, how far the delusions of Satan may be interwoven into some circumstances of the confessions; but one would think all the rules of understanding human affairs are at an end, if after so many most voluntary harmonious confessions, made by intelligent persons of all ages, in sundry towns, at several times, we must not believe the main strokes wherein those confessions all agree; especially when we have a thousand preternatural things every day before our eyes, wherein the confessors do acknowledge their concernment, and give demonstration of their being so concerned. If the devils now can strike the minds of men with any poisons of so fine a composition and operation, that scores of innocent people shall unite in confessions of a crime which we see actually committed, it is a thing prodigious, beyond the wonders of the former ages, and it threatens no less than a sort of dissolution upon the world. Now, by these confessions ’tis agreed that the devil has made a dreadful knot of witches in the country, and by the help of witches has dreadfully increased that knot; that these witches have driven a trade of commissioning their confederate spirits, to do all sorts of mischiefs to the neighbours, whereupon there have ensued such mischievous consequences upon the bodies and estates of the neighbourhood, as could not otherwise be accounted for. Yea, that at prodigious witch-meetings, the wretches have proceeded so far as to concert and consult the methods of rooting out the Christian religion from this country, and setting up instead of it, perhaps a more gross diabolesm than ever the world saw before. And yet it will be a thing little short of miracle, if in so spread a business as this, the devil should not get in some of his juggles to confound the discovery of all the rest….

I have now published a most awful and solemn warning for ourselves at this day; which has four propositions comprehended in it.

Proposition I. That there is a devil, is a thing doubted by none but such as are under the influences of the devil. For any to deny the being of a devil must be from an ignorance or profaneness, worse than diabolical. A devil. What is that? We have a definition of the monster, in Eph. vi. 12. A spiritual wickedness, that is, a wicked spirit. A devil is a fallen angel, an angel fallen from the fear and love of God, and from all celestial glories; but fallen to all manner of wretchedness and cursedness. He was once in that order of heavenly creatures which God in the beginning made ministering spirits, for his own peculiar service and honour, in the management of the universe; but we may now write that epitaph upon him, “How art thou fallen from heaven! thou hast said in thine heart, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; but thou art brought down to hell!” A devil is a spiritual and rational substance, by his apostacy from God inclined unto all that is vicious, and for that apostacy confined unto the atmosphere of this earth, in chains unto darkness, unto the judgment of the great day. This is a devil; and the experience of mankind, as well as the testimony of Scripture, does abundantly prove the existence of such a devil.

About this devil, there are many things whereof we may reasonably and profitably be inquisitive; such things, I mean, as are in our Bibles reveal’d unto us; according to which if we do not speak, on so dark a subject, but according to our own uncertain and perhaps humoursome conjectures, there is no light in us. I will carry you with me but unto one paragraph of the Bible, to be informed of three things relating to the devil; ’tis the story of the Gadaren Energumen, in the fifth chapter of Mark.

First, then, ’tis to be granted; the devils are so many, that some thousands can sometimes at once apply themselves to vex one child of man. It is said, in Mark v. 15, he that was possessed with the devil had the legion. Dreadful to be spoken! A legion consisted of twelve thousand five hundred people; and we see that in one man or two, so many devils can be spared for a garrison. As the prophet cryed out, “Multitudes, multitudes, in the Valley of Decision!” So I say, there are multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of destruction, where the devils are! When we speak of the devil, ’tis a name of multitude; it means not one individual devil, so potent and scient, as perhaps a Manichee would imagine; but it means a kind which a multitude belongs unto. Alas, the devils they swarm about us, like the frogs of Egypt, in the most retired of our chambers. Are we at our boards? There will be devils to tempt us unto sensuality. Are we in our beds? There will be devils to tempt us unto carnality. Are we in our shops? There will be devils to tempt us unto dishonesty. Yea, though we get into the church of God, there will be devils to haunt us in the very temple itself, and there tempt us to manifold misbehaviours. I am verily perswaded that there are very few human affairs whereinto some devils are not insinuated. There is not so much as a journey intended, but Satan will have an hand in hindering or furthering of it.

Secondly, ’Tis to be supposed, that there is a sort of arbitrary, even military government, among the devils. This is intimated, when in Mar. v. 9, the unclean spirit said, “My name is Legion.” They are such a discipline as legions use to be. Hence we read about the prince of the power of the air. Our air has a power? or an army of devils in the high places of it; and these devils have a prince over them, who is king over the children of pride. ’Tis probable that the devil, who was the ringleader of that mutinous and rebellious crew which first shook off the authority of God, is now the general of those hellish armies; our Lord that conquered him has told us the name of him; ’tis Belzebub; ’tis he that is the devil and the rest are his angels, or his souldiers. Think on vast regiments of cruel and bloody French dragoons, with an intendant over them, overrunning a pillaged neighborhood, and you will think a little what the constitution among the devils is.

Thirdly, ’tis to be supposed that some devils are more peculiarly commission’d. and perhaps qualify’d, for some countries, while others are for others. This is intimated when in Mar. v. 10 the devils besought our Lord much, that he would not send them away out of the country. Why was that? But in all probability, because these devils were more able to do the works of the devil, in such a country, than in another. It is not likely that every devil does know every language; or that every devil can do every mischief. ’Tis possible that the experience, or, if I may call it so, the education of all devils is not alike, and that there may be some difference in their abilities. If one might make an inference from what the devils do, to what they are, one cannot forbear dreaming that there are degrees of devils. Who can allow that such trifling dæmons, as that of Mascon, or those that once infested our Newberry, are of so much grandeur, as those dæmons, whose games are mighty kingdoms? Yea, ’tis certain, that all devils do not make a like figure in the invisible world. Nor does it look agreeably that the dæmons, which were the familiars of such a man as the old Apollonius, differ not from those baser goblins that choose to nest in the filthy and loathsome rags of a beastly sorceress. Accordingly, why may not some devils be more accomplished for what is to be done in such and such places, when others must be detach’d for other territories? Each devil, as he sees his advantage, cries out, “Let me be in this country, rather than another.” But enough, if not too much, of these things….

Indeed, as the devil does begrutch us all manner of good, so he does annoy us with all manner of woe, as often as he finds himself capable of doing it. But shall we mention some of the special woes with which the devil does usually infest the world! Briefly then: plagues are some of those woes with which the devil troubles us. It is said of the Israelites, in I. Cor. x. 10, “They were destroyed of the destroyer.” That is, they had the plague among them. ’Tis the destroyer, or the devil, that scatters plagues about the world. Pestilential and contagious diseases, ’tis the devil who does oftentimes invade us with them. ’Tis no uneasy thing for the devil to impregnate the air about us with such malignant salts, as meeting with the salt of our microcosm shall immediately cast us into that fermentation and putrefaction, which will utterly dissolve all the vital tyes within us; ev’n as an aqua-fortis, made with a conjunction of nitre and vitriol, corrodes what it seizes upon. And when the devil has raised those arsenical fumes, which become venomous quivers full of terrible arrows, how easily can he shoot the deleterious miasms into those juices or bowels of men’s bodies, which will soon enflame them with a mortal fire! Hence come such plagues as that beesom of destruction, which within our memory swept away such a throng of people from one English city in one visitation. And hence those infectious fevers, which are but so many disguised plagues among us, causing epidemical desolations. Again, wars are also some of those woes, with which the devil causes our trouble. It is said in Rev. xii. 17, “The dragon was wrath, and he went to make war”: and there is in truth scarce any war, but what is of the dragon’s kindling. The devil is that Vulcan, out of whose forge comes the instruments of our wars, and it is he that finds us employments for those instruments. We read concerning dæmoniacks, or people in whom the devil was, that they would cut and wound themselves; and so, when the devil is in men, he puts ’em upon dealing in that barbarous fashion with one another. Wars do often furnish him with some thousands of souls in one morning from one acre of ground; and for the sake of such Thyestæan banquets, he will push us upon as many wars as he can.

Once more, why may not storms be reckoned among those woes, with which the devil does disturb us? It is not improbable that natural storms on the world are often of the devils raising. We are told in Job i. 11, 12, 19, that the devil made a storm, which hurricano’d the house of Job upon the heads of them that were feasting in it. Paracelsus could have have informed the devil, if he had not been informed, as be sure he was before, that if much aluminious matter, with salt petre not throughly prepared, be mixed, they will send up a cloud of smoke, which will come down in rain. But undoubtedly the devil understands as well the way to make a tempest as to turn the winds at the solicitation of a Laplander: whence perhaps it is, that thunders are observed oftner to break upon churches than upon any other buildings; and besides many a man, yea, many a ship, yea, many a town has miscarried, when the devil has been permitted from above to make an horrible tempest. However, that the devil has raised many metaphorical storms upon the church, is a thing than which there is nothing more notorious. It was said unto believers in Rev. ii. 10, “The devil shall cast some of you into prison.” The devil was he that at first set Cain upon Abel to butcher him, as the apostle seems to suggest, for his faith in God, as a rewarder. And in how many persecutions, as well as heresies, has the devil been ever since engaging all the children of Cain! That serpent the devil has acted his cursed seed in unwearied endeavours to have them, of whom the world is not worthy, treated as those who are not worthy to live in the world. By the impulse of the devil ’tis that first the old heathens, and then the mad Arians were pricking briars to the true servants of God; and that the Papists that came after them have out done them all for slaughters upon those that have been accounted as the sheep for the slaughterers. The late French persecution is perhaps the horriblest that ever was in the world. And as the devil of Mascon seems before to have meant it in his out-cries upon the miseries preparing for the poor Hugonots! Thus it has been all acted by a singular fury of the old dragon inspiring of his emissaries.