Melancholy effects of credulity in witchcraft

Gentleman’s Magazine 1731


From Burlington in Pennsylvania we have an account that the owners of several Cattle believing them to be bewitch’d caused some suspected men and women to be taken up, and trials to be made for detecting them. Above 300 people assembled near the govenor’s house and a pair of scales being erected, the suspected persons were each weigh’d against a large Bible; but all of them vastly outweighing it, the accused were then to be tied head and feet together, and put into a river, on supposition that if they swam they must be guilty. This trial they offer’d to undergo, in case as many of their accusers should be served in the like manner; which being done they all swam very buoyant, to the no small diversion of the spectators, and clearing of the accused. –  This has revives a like transaction in Somersetshire in Sept. last, and another in France.

The first is from Frenie publish’d in the Daily Journal, Jan. 15. relating that a child of one Wheeler being seized with strange inaccountable fits, the mother goes to a Gunning Man, who advis’d her to hang a bottle of the child’s water, mix’d with some of it’s hair, close stopt over the fire, that the witch would thereupon come and break it: does not mention the success, but a poor old woman, in the neighbourhood, was taken up, and the old trial by water Ordeal reviv’d. They dragged her, shivering with an ague, out of her house, set her astride on the pomel of a saddle, and carried her about two miles to a mill-pond, stripp’d off her upper cloaths, tied her legs, and with a rope about her middle threw her in, 200 spectators huzzaing and abetting the riot. They affirm she swam like a cork, tho’ forced several times under water, and no wonder, for when they strained the line, the ends whereof were held in each side of the pond, she must of necessity rise; but by haling her from one bank to t’other, and often plunging, she drank water enough, and when almost spent, they poured in brandy to revive her, they drew her to a stable, threw her on some litter in her wet cloaths, where in about an hour after she expired. The coroner upon his Inquest cou’d make no discovery of the ring-leaders, altho’ above 40 persons assisted in the Fact, yet none of them could be persuaded to accuse his Neighbour: so that they were able to charge only 3 of them with Man-slaughter.

The like Credulity in witchcraft occasion’d a tragical Accident in a Village near Mortagne in France, in December last. A Man of that Village had been long ill of a distemper which puzzled the Physicians; whereupon his Wife believ’d he was bewitch’d, and consulted a pretended Conjurer, who shew’d her the Wizard (her husband’s uncle) in a glass of Water, and told her, that to oblige him to withdraw the Charm, they must beat him and burn the Soles of his Feet. On her Return she sent for the Uncle, and notwithstanding his Protestations, with the Assistance of her Relations, beat him unmercifully, and burnt the Soles of his Feet and the Crown of his Head in such a manner, that in two Days after he died. The Woman and her Accomplices were seized; she own’d the Fact, and said, if it was to do again, she would do it.

Über Karin Koller

Biochemist, Writer, Painter, Mum of Three
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