It has been an article of popular belief, from the earliest pe riod of the history of the nations of western Europe, that women were more easily brought into connection with the spiritual world than men: priestesses were the favorite agents of the deities of the ages of paganism, and the natural weakness and vengeful feelings of the sex made their power an object of fear. To them especially were known the herbs, or animals, or other articles which were noxious to mankind, and the ceremonies and charms whereby the in?uence of the gods might be obtained to preserve or to injure. After the introduction of Christianity, it was the de mons who weresupposed to listen to these incantations, and they are strictly forbidden in the early ecclesiastical laws, which alone appear at first to have taken cognizance of them. We learn from these laws that witches were believed to destroy people's cattle and goods, to strike people with diseases, and even to cause their death. It does not appear, however, that previous to the twelfth century, at least, their power was believed to arise from any di4 rect compact with the devil. In the adventures of Hereward, a witch is introduced to enchant a whole army, but she appears to derive her power fiom a spirit which presided over a fountain. The anglo-saxon women seem, from allusions met with here and there in old writers, to have been much addicted to these superstitious practices, but unfortunately we have very little in formation as to their particular form or description. The char acter of Hilda, in Bulwer's noble romance of King Harold, is a faithful picture of the Saxon sorceress of a higher class. Du ring the period subsequent to the Norman conquest, we are bet ter acquainted with the general character of witchcraft in Eng land, and amongour neighbors on the continent, because more of the historical monuments of that period have been preserved.
|Category||Magic and Witchcraft|