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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

That There be Dæmons and Possessed Persons

By Increase Mather (1639–1723)

[From An Essay for the Recording of Illustrious Providences. 1684.]

THE SADDUCES of these days being like unto Avicenna, and Averroes, and other atheistical philosophers in former times, say that there are no spirits, and that all stories concerning them are either fabulous or to be ascribed unto natural causes. Amongst many others, the learned Voetius (in Disp. de operationibus Dæmonum) has sufficiently refuted them. And as the experience of other ages and places of the world, so the things which Divine Providence hath permitted and ordered to come to pass amongst ourselves, if the Scriptures were silent, make it manifest beyond all contradiction, that there are devils infesting this lower world. Most true it is, that Satan and all his wicked angels are limited by the providence of God, so as that they cannot hurt any man or creature, much less any servant of his, without a commission from him, whose kingdom is over all. It is a memorable passage, which Chytræus relateth concerning Luther, that when he was sought after by his popish and implacable enemies (being then hid by the Duke of Saxony), they consulted with magicians that so they might find where Luther absconded, but the wizards confessed they could not discover him. Undoubtedly the devils knew where Luther hid himself; only God would not suffer them to reveal it. Nevertheless the Lord doth, for wise and holy ends, sometimes lengthen the chain which the infernal lions are bound fast in. And as there are many tremendous instances confirming the truth hereof, so that of Satan’s taking bodily possession of men is none of the least. Sometimes indeed it is very hard to discern between natural diseases and satanical possessions; so as that persons really possessed have been thought to be only molested with some natural disease, without any special finger of the evil spirit therein. Fernelius (de Abditis Rerum Causis, lib. 2, cap. 16) speaketh of a certain young gentleman that was taken with strange convulsions, which did surprise him at least ten times in a day. In his fits he had the use of his speech and reason free; otherwise his disease would have been judged no other than an ordinary epilepsy. Much means was used by skilful physitians for his relief, but without success for three months together; when all on a sudden, a dæmon began to speak out of the miserable patient; and that with not only Latin but Greek sentences, which the afflicted party himself had no knowledge of: and the dæmon discovered many secrets both of the physitians and of other persons that attended, deriding them for their vain attempts to cure a man whom he had the possession of. There are sundry authors (in special Balduinus in his cases of conscience, and Darrel in his history of the “Seven Possessed Persons in Lancashire”) who have endeavoured to describe and characterise possessed persons. And such particulars as these following are by them mentioned as signs of possession:

1. If the party concerned shall reveal secret things, either past or future, which without supernatural assistance could not be known, it argueth possession.

2. If he does speak with strange languages, or discover skill in arts and sciences never learned by him.

3. If he can bear burthens, and do things which are beyond human strength.

4. Uttering words without making use of the organs of speech, when persons shall be heard speaking, and yet neither their lips nor tongues have any motion, ’tis a sign that an evil spirit speaketh in them.

5. When the body is become inflexible.

6. When the belly is on a sudden puft up, and instantly flat again.

These are thought to be certain arguments of an energumenical person. Some other signs are mentioned by Thyræus (De Obsessis, part 2, cap. 25, 26).

There are who conceive (and that as they suppose upon scripture grounds) that men may possibly be dæmoniacal, when none of those mentioned particulars can be affirmed of them. The excellently learned and judicious Mr. Mede is of opinion, that the dæmoniacks whom we read so frequently of in the New Testament, were the same with epilepticks, lunaticks, and mad men….

There are that acknowledge the existence of spirits, and that the bodies of men are sometimes really possessed thereby, who, nevertheless, will not believe there are any such woful creatures in rerum naturâ as witches, or persons confederate with the devil. I have read of a famous wizard, whose name was William de Lure, that after he had laboured much in opposing their opinion, who think that there are men on earth joyned in an explicit confederacy with the fiends of hell, was himself convicted and condemned for that crime which he designed to make the world believe that no man was or could be guilty of. I shall not suspect all those as guilty of witchcraft, nor yet of heresie, who call the received opinion about witches into question. There are four or five English writers, viz. Mr. Scot, Ady, and of late, Wagstaff and Webster, and another anonymous author, who do, with great vehemence, affirm, that never any did maintain that familiarity with the evil spirits which is commonly believed. Wierus (otherwise a judicious author) conceiveth that all those things supposed to be done by witches are done by the evil spirits themselves, without any confederates. But he is sufficiently refuted by Binsfieldius, Bodinus, Sennertus, and others….

Experience has too often made it manifest that there are such in the world as hold a correspondence with hell. There have bin known wizards; yea, such as have taught others what ceremonies they are to use in maintaining communion with devils. Trithemius his book de Septem Intelligentiis, and Cornelius Agrippa’s books of occult philosophy, wherein too much of these nefandous abominations is described, are frequently in the hands of men. Several other books there are extant which do professedly teach the way of familiarity with dæmons; the titles whereof, as also the names of the authors that have published them, I designedly forbear to mention, lest haply any one into whose hands this discourse may come, should out of wicked curiosity seek after them to the ruine of his soul. There are famous histories of several who had their paredri or familiar spirits, some in one likeness, some in another, constantly attending them: thus had Apollonius, Thyanæus of old; and of later times, Mich. Scot and Josephus Niger. Likewise Cardanus (de Subtilitate, lib. xix, p. 963) writeth, that his own father had such a familiar for thirty years together. So had Christopher Waganeer a familiar in the form of an ape for seven years attending him; so had Tolpardus, which two were at last carried away body and soul by the devil, unto whose service they had devoted their lives. There is also a true (as well as a romantick) story of Faustus. The excellent Camerarius, in his Horæ Subsecivæ, cent. i, cap. 70, relateth strange things of him, which he received from those who knew Faustus, and were eyewitnesses of his magical and diabolical impostures. He also had a familiar devil, in form of a monk, accompanying of him for the space of twenty-four years. Hausdorfius and Lonicer ad 2 præc. p. 167, speak of Faustus. Melancthon declares that he knew the man; so that Naudeus is to be convinced of vanity, in denying that ever there was such a person in the world. In a word, it is a thing known, that there have been men who would discourse in languages and reason notably about sciences which they never learned; who have revealed secrets, discovered hidden treasures, told whither stolen goods have been conveyed, and by whom; and that have caused bruit creatures, nay statues or images, to speak and give rational answers. The Jews’ teraphims oftentimes did so….

There have been many in the world who have, upon conviction, confessed themselves guilty of familiarity with the devil. A multitude of instances this way are mentioned by Bodinus, Codronchus, Delrio, Jacquerius, Remigius, and others. Some in this country have affirmed that they knew a man in another part of the world, above fifty years ago, who having an ambitious desire to be thought a wise man, whilest he was tormented with the itch of his wicked ambition, the devil came to him with promises that he should quickly be in great reputation for his wisdom, in case he would make a covenant with him; the conditions whereof were, that when men came to him for his counsel, he should labour to perswade them that there is no God, nor devil, nor heaven, nor hell; and that, such a term of years being expired, the devil should have his soul. The articles were consented to: the man continuing after this to be of a very civil conversation, doing hurt to none, but good to many; and by degrees began to have a name to be a person of extraordinary sagacity, and was sought unto far and near for counsel, his words being esteemed oracles by the vulgar. And he did according to his covenant upon all occasions secretly disseminate principles of atheism, not being suspected for a wizard. But a few weeks before the time indented with the devil was fulfilled, inexpressible horror of conscience surprized him, so that he revealed the secret transactions which had passed betwixt himself and the devil. He would sometimes, with hideous roarings, tell those that came to visit him, that now he knew there was a God, and a devil, and an heaven, and an hell. So did he die a miserable spectacle of the righteous and fearful judgment of God. And every age does produce new examples of those that have by their own confession made the like cursed covenants with the prince of darkness.

In the year 1664, several who were indicted at the assizes, held at Taunton in Somersetshire, confessed that they had made an explicit league with the devil; and that he did baptise pictures of wax with oyl, giving them the names of those persons they did intend mischief unto.

Anno 1678 one John Stuart, and his sister, Annibal Stuart, at the assizes held at Paysley in Scotland, confessed that they had been in confederacy with the devil; and that they had made an image of wax, calling it by the name of Sir George Maxwel, sticking pins in the sides and on the breast of it. Such an image, with pins in it, was really found in the witches’ houses; and upon the removal of it, the pins being taken out, Sir George had immediate ease, and recovered his health.

There is lately published (by Dr. Horneck) the “History of the Witches in Sweden;” by whose means that kingdom was fearfully plagued. Upon examination, they confessed their crime, and were executed in the year 1670.

And no longer since than the last year, viz. on Aug. 25, 1682, three women, who were executed at Exon in Devonshire, all of them confessed that they had had converses and familiarities with the devil.

But the instance of the witch executed in Hartford, here in New England (of which the preceding chapter giveth an account), considering the circumstances of that confession, is as convictive a proof as most single examples that I have met with. It is a vain thing for the patrons of witches to think that they can sham off this argument, by suggesting that these confessions did proceed from the deluded imaginations of mad and melancholly persons. Some of them were as free from distemperature in their brains as their neighbours. That divers executed for witches have acknowledged things against themselves which were never, so, I neither doubt or deny; and that a deluded phansie may cause persons verily to think they have seen and done these things which never had any existence except in their own imaginations, is indisputable. I fully concur with a passage which I find in worthy Dr. Owen’s late excellent discourse about the work of the Spirit in prayer (p. 202), where he has these words:—“We find by experience that some have had their imaginations so fixed on things evil and noxious by satanical delusions, that they have confessed against themselves things and crimes that have rendered them obnoxious to capital punishment, whereof they were never really and actually guilty.” This, notwithstanding that persons, whose judgment and reason have been free from disturbance by any disease, should not only voluntarily acknowledge their being in cursed familiarities with Satan, but mention the particular circumstances of those transactions, and give ocular demonstration of the truth of what they say, by discovering the stigmata made upon their bodies by the devil’s hand; and that, when more than one or two have been examined apart, they should agree in the circumstances of their relations; and yet that all this should be the mere effect of melancholly or phrensie, cannot, without offering violence to reason and common sense, be imagined. And as there are witches, so, many times, they are the causes of those strange disturbances which are in houses haunted by evil spirits, such as those mentioned in the former chapter. Instances concerning this may be seen in Mr. Glanvil’s “Collections,” together with the continuation thereof, published the last year by the learned Dr. Henry More. Sometimes Providence permits the devil himself (without the use of instruments) to molest the houses of some, as a punishment for sin committed, most commonly either for the sin of murder: Plutarch writes, that the house of Pausanias was taunted by an evil spirit after he had murdered his wife; many like instances have been reported and recorded by credible authors; or else for the sin of theft. As for Walton, the Quaker of Portsmouth, whose house has been so strangely troubled, he suspects that one of his neighbours has caused it by witchcraft; she (being a widow-woman) chargeth him with injustice in detaining some land from her. It is none of my work to reflect upon the man, nor will I do it; only, if there be any late or old guilt upon his conscience, it concerns him by confession and repentance to give glory to that God who is able in strange ways to discover the sins of men.