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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 the Workings of Satan

By Increase Mather (1639–1723)

[From Cases of Conscience concerning Evil Spirits. 1693.]

THAT evil angels have sometimes appeared in the likeness of living absent persons, is a thing abundantly confirmed by history.

Austin tells us of one that went for resolution in some intricate questions to a philosopher, of whom he could get no answer; but in the night the philosopher comes to him, and resolves all his doubts. Not long after, he demanded the reason why he could not answer him in the day as well as in the night; the philosopher professed he was not with him in the night, only acknowledged that he dreamed of his having such conversation of his friend, but he was all the time at home and asleep. Paulus and Palladius did both of them profess to Austin, that one in his shape had divers times and in divers places appeared to them. Thyreus mentions several apparitions of absent living persons, which happened in his time, and which he had the certain knowledge of. A man that is in one place cannot (Autoprosopos) at the same time be in another. It remains then that such spectres are prodigious and supernatural, and not without diabolical operation. It has been controverted among learned men, whether innocent persons may not by the malice and deluding power of the devil be represented as present amongst witches at their dark assemblies. The mentioned Thyreus says, that the devil may and often does represent the forms of innocent persons out of those conventions, and that there is no question to be made of it, but as to his natural power and art he is able to make their shapes appear amongst his own servants, but he supposeth the providence of God will not suffer such an injury to be done to an innocent person. With him Delrio, and Spineus concur. But Cumanus in his Lucerna Inquisitorum (a book which I have not yet seen) defends the affirmative in this question. Bins Fieldius in his Treatise, concerning the Confession of Witches, inclines to the negative, only he acknowledges Dei extraordinaria permissione posse innocentes sic representari. And he that shall assert, that Great and Holy God never did nor ever will permit the devil thus far to abuse an innocent person, affirms more than he is able to prove. The story of Germanus his discovering a diabolical illusion of this nature, concerning a great number of persons that seemed to be at a feast when they were really at home and asleep, is mentioned by many authors. But the particulars insisted on do sufficiently evince the truth of what we assert, viz.: That the devil may by divine permission appear in the shape of innocent and pious persons. Nevertheless, it is evident from another Scripture, viz., that in II. Cor. xi. 14, “For Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.” He seems to be what he is not, and makes others seem to be what they are not. He represents evil men as good, and good men as evil. The angels of heaven (who are the angels of light) love truth and righteousness, the devil will seem to do so too; and does therefore sometimes lay before men excellent good principles and exhort them (as he did Theodore Maillit) to practise many things, which by the law of righteousness they are obliged unto, and hereby he does more effectually deceive. Is it not strange, that he has sometimes intimated to his most devoted servants, that if they would have familiar conversation with him, they must be careful to keep themselves from enormous sins, and pray constantly for divine protection? But so has he transformed himself into an angel of light, as Boissardus sheweth. He has frequently appeared to men pretending to be a good angel, so to Anatolius of old; and the late instances of Dr. Dee and Kellet are famously known. How many deluded enthusiasts both in former and latter times have been imposed on by Satan’s appearing visibly to them, pretending to be a good angel. And moreover, he may be said to transform himself into an angel of light, because of his appearing in the form of holy men, who are the children of light, yea in the shape and habit of eminent ministers of God. So did he appear to Mr. Earl of Colchester in the likeness of Mr. Liddal an holy man of God, and to the Turkish Chaous baptized at London, Anno 1658, pretending to be Mr. Dury, an excellent minister of Christ. And how often has he pretended to be the Apostle Paul or Peter or some other celebrated saint? Ecclesiastical histories abound with instances of this nature. Yea, sometimes he has transfigured himself into the form of Christ. It is reported that he appeared to St. Martin gloriously arrayed, as if he had been Christ. So likewise to Secundellus, and to another saint, who suspecting it was Satan transforming himself into an angel of light had this expression, “If I may see Christ in heaven it is enough, I desire not to see him in this world”; whereupon the spectre vanished. It has been related of Luther, that after he had been fasting and praying in his study, the devil come pretending to be Christ, but Luther saying, “Away thou confounded devil, I acknowledge no Christ but what is in my Bible,” nothing more was seen. Thus then the devil is able (by divine permission) to change himself into what form or figure he pleaseth.

  • Omnia transformat sese in miracula rerum.
  • A third Scripture to our purpose is that in Rev. xii. 10, where the devil is called the Accuser of the Brethren. Such is the malice and impudence of the devil, as that he does accuse good men, and that before God, and that not only of such faults as they really are guilty of (he accused Joshua with his filthy garments, when through his indulgence some of his family had transgressed by unlawful marriages), but also with such crimes as they are altogether free from. He represented the Primitive Christians as the vilest of men, and as if at their meetings they did commit the most nefandous villanies that ever were known; and that not only innocent, but eminently pious persons should through the malice of the devil be accused with the crime of witchcraft, is no new thing. Such an affliction did the Lord see meet to exercise the great Athanasius with, only the divine providence did wonderfully vindicate him from that as well as from some other foul aspersions. The Waldenses (although the Scriptures called them saints, Rev. xiii. 7), have been traduced by Satan and by the world as horrible witches; so have others in other places, only because they have done extraordinary things by their prayers. It is by many authors related that a city in France was molested with a diabolical spectre, which the people were wont to call Hugon; near that place a number of Protestants were wont to meet to serve God, whence the professors of the true reformed religion were nic-named Hugonots by the Papists, who designed to render them before the world, as the servants and worshippers of that dæmon, that went under the name of Hugon. And how often have I read in books written by Jesuits, that Luther was a wizard, and that he did himself confess that he had familiarity with Satan! Most impudent untruths! nor are these things to be wondered at, since the Holy Son of God himself was reputed a magician, and one that had familiarity with the greatest of devils. The blaspheming Pharisees said, “He casts out the devils through the prince of devils,” Matth. ix. 34. There is, then, not the best saint on earth (man or woman) that can assure themselves that the devil shall not cast such an imputation upon them. “It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his Lord: If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more them of his household,” Matth. x. 25. It is not for men to determine how far the Holy God may permit the wicked one to proceed in his accusations. The sacred story of Job giveth us to understand that the Lord, whose ways are past finding out, does for wise and holy ends suffer Satan by immediate operation (and consequently by witchcraft) greatly to afflict innocent persons, as in their bodies and estates, so in their reputations. I shall mention but one Scripture more to confirm the truth in hand. It is that in Eccles. ix. 2, 3, where it is said, “All things come alike to all: there is one event to the righteous and to the wicked: as is the good, so is the sinner: this is an evil amongst all things under the sun, that there is one event happeneth to all.” And in Eccles. vii. 15, ’tis said, “There is a just man that perisheth in his righteousness.”

    From hence we infer that there is no outward affliction whatsoever but may befall a good man; now to be represented by Satan as a tormentor of bewitched or possessed persons, is a sore affliction to a good man. To be tormented by Satan is a sore affliction, yet nothing but what befell Job, and a daughter of Abraham, whom we read of in the gospel. To be represented by Satan as tormenting others is an affliction like the former; the Lord may bring such extraordinary temptations on his own children, to afflict and humble them, for some sin they have been guilty of before him. A most wicked person in St. Ives got a knife, and went with it to a minister’s house, designing to stab him, but was disappointed; afterwards conscience being awakened, the devil appears to this person in the shape of that minister, with a knife in his hand exhorting to self-murder. Was not here a punishment suitable to the sin which that person had been guilty of? Perhaps some of those whom Satan has represented as committing witchcrafts, have been tampering with some foolish and wicked sorceries, though not to that degree which is criminal and capital by the laws both of God and men; for this Satan may be permitted so to scourge them; or, it may be, they have misrepresented and abused others, for which cause the Holy God may justly give Satan leave falsely to represent them.

    Have we not known some that have bitterly censured all that have been complained of by bewitched persons, saying it was impossible they should not be guilty; soon upon which themselves or some near relations of theirs have been to the lasting infamy of their families accused after the same manner, and personated by the devil! Such tremendous rebukes on a few should make all men to be careful how they joyn with Satan in condemning the innocent….

    If Satan may not represent one that is not a covenant servant of his, as afflicting those that are bewitched or possessed, then it is either because he wants will or power to do this, or because God will never permit him thus to do. No man but a Sadduce doubts of the ill will of devils; nothing is more pleasing to the malice of those wicked spirits than to see innocency wronged. And the power of the enemy is such, as that having once obtained a divine concession to use his art, he can do this and much more than this amounts unto. We know by Scripture-revelation, that the sorcerers of Egypt caused many untrue and delusive representations before Pharaoh and his servants. And we read of the working of Satan in all power and signs, and lying wonders. His heart is beyond what the wisest of men may pretend unto. He has perfect skill in opticks, and can therefore cause that to be visible to one, which is not so to another, and things also to appear far otherwise than they are. He has likewise the art of limning in the perfection of it, and knows what may be done by colors. It is an odd passage which I find in the Acta Eruditorum, printed by Lipsick, that about thirty-two years ago an indigent merchant in France was instructed by a dæmon that with water of borax he might color taffities, so as to cause them to glister and look very gay. He searcheth into the nature, causes, and reasons of things, whereby he is able to produce wonderful effects. So that if he does not form the shape of an innocent person as afflicting others, it is not from want of either will or power. They that affirm that God never did, nor ever will permit him thus to do, allege that it is inconsistent with the righteousness and providence of God, in governing human affairs thus to suffer men to be imposed on. It must be acknowledged that the divine providence has taken care that the greatest part of mankind shall not be left to unavoidable deception, so as to be always abused by the mischievous agents of hell, in the objects of plain sence. But yet it is not for sinful and silly mortals to prescribe rules to the Most High in his government of the world, or to direct him how far he may permit Satan to use his power. I am apt to think that there are some amongst us, who if they had lived in Job’s days, and seen the devil tormenting of him, and heard him complaining of being scared with dreams, and terrified with night-visions, they would have joined with his uncharitable friends in censuring him as a most guilty person. But we should consider, that the most high God doth sometimes deal with men in a way of absolute sovereignty, performing the thing which is appointed for them, and many such things are with him. If he does destroy the perfect with the wicked, and laugh at the tryal of the innocent (Job ix. 22, 23). Who shall enter into his councils! who has given him a charge over the earth! or who has disposed the whole world! Men are not able to give an account of his ordinary works, much less of his secret counsels and the dark dispensations of his providence. They do but darken counsel by words without knowledge when they undertake it. If we are not able to see how this or that can stand with the righteousness of him that governs the world, shall we say that the Almighty will pervert judgment? or that he that governs the earth hateth right? Shall we condemn him that is most just? But whereas ’tis objected, where is Providence? And how shall men live on the earth, if the devil may be permitted to use such power? I demand, where was Providence, when Satan had power to cause sons of Belial to lye and swear away the life of innocent Naboth, laying such crimes to his charge as he was never guilty of? And what an hour of darkness was it? How far was the power of hell permitted to prevail, when Christ the Son of God was accused, condemned, and hanged for a crime that he never was guilty of? That was the strangest providence that has happened since the world began, and yet in the issue the most glorious. We must therefore distinguish between what does ordinarily come to pass by the providence of God, and things which are extraordinary. It is not an usual thing for a Naboth to have his life taken from him by false accusations, or for an Athanasius or a Susanna to be charged, and perhaps brought before courts of judicature for crimes of which they were altogether innocent.

    But if we therefore conclude, that such a thing as this can never happen in the world, we shall offend against the generation of the just. It is not ordinary for devils to be permitted to reveal the secret sins of men; yet this has been done more than once or twice. Nor is it ordinary for dæmons to steal money out of men’s pockets, and purses, or wine and cyder out of their cellars. Yet some such instances have there been amongst ourselves. It is not usual for Providence to permit the devil to come from hell and to throw fire on the tops of houses, and to cause a whole town to be burnt to ashes thereby; there would (it must be confessed) be no living in the world, if evil angels should be permitted to do thus when they had a mind to it; nevertheless, authors worthy of credit tell us that this has sometimes happened. Both Erasmus and Cardanus write that the town of Schiltach in Germany was in the month of April, 1533, set on fire by a devil, and burnt to the ground in an hour’s space. ’Tis also reported by Sigibert, Aventinus and others, that some cottages and barns in a town called Bingus were fired by a wicked genius; that spiteful dæmon said it was for the impieties of such a man whom he named, that he was sent to molest them. The poor man to satisfie his neighbours, who were ready to stone him, carried an hot iron in his hand, but receiving no hurt thereby, he was judged to be innocent. It is not ordinary for a devil, upon the dying curse of a servant, to have a commission from heaven to tear and torment a bloody cruel master; yet such a thing may possibly come to pass. There is a fearful story to this purpose, in the account of the Bucuneers of America, wherein my author relates that a servant, who was spirited or kidnapt (as they call it) into America, falling into the hands of a tyrannical master, he ran away from him, but being taken and brought back, the hard-hearted tyrant lashed him on his naked back until his body ran in an entire stream of blood; to make the torment of this miserable creature intolerable, he anointed his wounds with juice of lemon mingled with salt and pepper, being ground small together, with which torture the miserable wretch gave up the ghost, with these dying words, “I beseech the Almighty God, Creator of heaven and earth, that he permit a wicked spirit to make thee feel as many torments before thy death, as thou hast caused me to feel before mine.” Scarce four days were past after this horrible fact, when the Almighty Judge gave permission to the father of wickedness to possess the body of that cruel master, and to make him lacerate his own flesh until he died, belike surrendering his ghost into the hands of the infernal spirit, who had tormented his body. But of this tragical story enough.

    To proceed, It is not usual for persons after their death to appear unto the living. But it does not therefore follow, that the great God will not suffer this to be. For both in former and latter ages examples thereof have not been wanting. No longer since than the last winter, there was much discourse in London concerning a gentlewoman, unto whom her dead son (and another whom she knew not) had appeared. Being then in London, I was willing to satisfie myself, by enquiring into the truth of what was reported; and on Febr. 23, 1691, my brother (who is now a pastor to a congregation in that city) and I discoursed the gentle woman spoken of; she told us, that a son of hers, who had been a very civil young man, but more airy in his temper than was pleasing to his serious mother, being dead, she was much concerned in her thoughts about his condition in the other world; but a fortnight after his death he appeared to her, saying, “Mother, you are solicitous about my spiritual welfare; trouble yourself no more, for I am happy,” and so vanished; should there be a continual intercourse between the visible and invisible world, it would breed confusion. But from thence to infer, that the great Ruler of the Universe will never permit anything of this nature to be, is an inconsequent conclusion. It is not usual for devils to be permitted to come and violently carry away persons through the air, several miles from their habitations; nevertheless, this was done in Sweedland about twenty years ago, by means of a cursed knot of witches there. And a learned physician now living giveth an account of several children, who by diabolical frauds were stolen from their parents, and others left in their room. And of two, that in the night-time a line was by invisible hands put about their necks, with which they had been strangled, but that some near them happily prevented it.

    Let me further add here: It has very seldom been known, that Satan has personated innocent men doing an ill thing, but Providence has found out some way for their vindication; either they have been able to prove that they were in another place when that fact was done, or the like. So that perhaps there never was an instance of any innocent person condemned in any court of judicature on earth, only through Satan’s deluding and imposing on the imaginations of men, when, nevertheless, the witnesses, juries, and judges, were all to be excused from blame.

    It is certain both from Scripture and history, that magicians by their inchantments and hellish conjurations may cause a false representation of persons and things. An inchanted eye shall see such things as others cannot discern; it is a thing too well known to be denied, that some by rubbing their eyes with a bewitched water have immediately thereupon seen that which others could not discern; and there are persons in the world, who have a strange spectral sight Mr. Glanvil speaks of a Dutchman that could see ghosts which others could perceive nothing of. There are in Spain a sort of men whom they call Zahurs, these can see into the bowels of the earth; they are able to discover minerals and hidden treasures; nevertheless, they have their extraordinary sight only on Tuesdays and Fridays, and not on the other days of the week. Delrio saith, that when he was at Madrid, Anno Dom. 1575, he saw some of these strange sighted creatures. Mr. George Sinclare, in his book entituled, “Satans Invisible World discovered,” has these words, “I am undoubtedly informed, that men and women in the High-lands can discern fatality approaching others, by seeing them in the waters or with winding sheets about them. And that others can lecture in a sheep’s shoulder-bone a death within the parish seven or eight days before it come. It is not improbable but that such preternatural knowledge comes first by a compact with the devil, and is derived downward by succession to their posterity. Many such I suppose are innocent, and have this sight against their will and inclination.” Thus Mr. Sinclare. I concur with his supposal, that such knowledge is originally from Satan, and perhaps the effect of some old inchantment. There are some at this day in the world, that if they come into a house where one of the family will die within a fortnight, the smell of a dead corpse offends them to such a degree, as that they cannot stay in that house. It is reported that near unto the Abby of Maurice in Burgundy there is a fishpond in which are fishes put according to the number of the monks of that place; if any one of them happened to be sick, there is a fish seen to float and swim above water half dead, and if the monk shall die, the fish a few days before dieth. In some parts in Wales death-lights or corpse candles (as they call them) are seen in the night time going from the house where some body will shortly die, and passing in to the churchyard. Of this, my honoured and never to be forgotten friend, Mr. Richard Baxter, has given an account in his book about witchcrafts lately published: what to make of such things, except they be the effect of some old inchantment, I know not; nor what natural reason to assign for that which I find amongst the Observations of the Imperial Academy for the year 1687, viz. that in an orchard where are choice Damascen plumbs, the master of the family being sick of a quartan ague, whilst he continued very ill, four of his plumb-trees instead of Damascens brought forth a vile sort of yellow plumbs: but recovering health, the next year the tree did (as formerly) bear Damascens again; but when after that he fell into a fatal dropsie, on those trees were seen not Damascens, but another sort of fruit. The same author gives instances of which he had the certain knowledge, concerning apple-trees and pear-trees, that the fruit of them would on a sudden wither as if they had been baked in an oven, when the owners of them were mortally sick. It is no less strange that in the illustrious Electoral House of Brandenburg before the death of some one of the family feminine spectres appeared. And often in the houses of great men, voices and visions from the invisible world have been the harbingers of death. When any heir in the worshipful family of the Breertons in Cheshire is near his death, there are seen in a pool adjoyning, bodies of trees swimming for certain days together, on which learned Cambden has this note, “These and such like things are done either by the holy tutelar angels of men, or else by the devils, who by God’s permission mightily show their power in this inferiour world.” As for Mr. Sinclare’s notion that some persons may have a second sight (as ’tis termed), and yet be themselves innocent, I am satisfied that he judgeth right; for this is common amongst the Laplanders, who are horribly addicted to magical incantations. They bequeath their dæmons to their children as a legacy, by whom they are often assisted (like bewitched persons as they are) to see and do things beyond the power of nature. An historian who deserves credit relates, that a certain Laplander gave him a true and particular account of what had happened to him in his journey to Lapland; and further complained to him with tears, that things at great distance were represented to him, and how much he desired to be delivered from that diabolical sight, but could not; this doubtless was caused by some inchantment. But to proceed to what I intend; the eyes of persons, by reason of inchanting charms, may not only see what others do not, but be under such power of fascination, as that things which are not shall appear to them as real. The apostle speaks of bewitched eyes, Gal. iii. 1, and we know from Scripture, that the imaginations of men have by inchantments been imposed upon; and histories abound with very strange instances of this nature. The old witch Circe by an inchanted cup caused Ulysses his companions to imagine themselves to be turned into swine; and how many witches have been themselves so bewitched by the devil, as really to believe that they were transformed into wolves, or dogs, or cats. It is reported of Simon Magus, that by his sorceries he would so impose on the imaginations of people, as that they thought he had really changed himself into another sort of creature. Opollonius of Tyana could outdo Simon with his magick. The great Bohemian conjurer Zyto by his inchantments caused certain persons whom he had a mind to try his art upon, to imagine that their hands were turned into the feet of an ox, or into the hoofs of a horse, so that they could not reach to the dishes before them to take any thing thence; he sold wisps of straw to a butcher who bought them for swine; that many such prestigious pranks were played by the unhappy Faustus, is attested by Camerarius, Wyerus, Voetius, Lavater, and Lonicer.

    There is newly published a book (mentioned in the Acta Eruditorum) wherein the author (Wiechard Valvassor) relates, that a Venetian Jew instructed him (only he would not attend his instructions) how to make a magical glass which should represent any person or thing according as he should desire. If a magician by an inchanted glass can do this, he may as well by the help of a dæmon cause false idæas of persons and things to be impressed on the imaginations of bewitched persons; the blood and spirits of a man, that is bitten with a mad-dog, are so envenomed, as that strange impressions are thereby made on his imagination. Let him be brought into a room where there is a looking-glass, and he will (if put upon it) not only say but swear that he sees a dog, though in truth there is no dog it may be within 20 miles of him; and is it not then possible for the dogs of hell to poyson the imaginations of miserable creatures, so as that they shall believe and swear that such persons hurt them as never did so?