Графични страници
PDF файл




1 SHALL not be lengthy on this subject. The belief in witchcraft was prevalent amongst the early settlers of the western country. To the witch was ascribed the tremendous power of inflicting strange and incurable diseases, particularly on children-of destroying eattle by shooting them with hair balls, and a great variety of other means of destruction --of inflicting spells and curses on guns and other things-and lastly, of changing men into horses, and after bridling and saddling them, riding them in full speed over hill and dale to their frolics and other places of rendezvous. More ample powers of mischief than these cannot be imagined.

Wizards were men supposed to be possessed of the same mischievous power as the witches; but it was seldom exercised for bad purposes.— The power of the wizards was exercised almost exclusively for the purpose of counteracting the malevolent influence of the witches of the other sex. I have known several of those witch-masters, as they were called, who made a public profession of curing the diseases inflicted by the influence of witches; and I have known respectable physicians, who had no greater portion of business in the line of their profession, than many of those witch-masters had in theirs.

The means by which the witch was supposed to inflict diseases, curses, and spells, I never could learn. They were occult sciences, which no one was supposed to understand excepting the witch herself, and no wonder, as no such arts ever existed in any country.

The diseases of children, supposed to be inflicted by witchcraft, were those of the internal dropsy of the brain, and the rickts. The symptoms and cure of these destructive diseases were utterly unknown in former times in this country. Diseases which could neither be accounted for nor cured, were usually ascribed to some supernatural agency of a malignant kind.

For the cure of diseases inflicted by witchcraft, the picture of the supposed witch was drawn on a stump or piece of board, and shot at with a bullet containing a little bit of silver. This bullet transferred a painful and sometimes a mortal spell on that part of the witch corresponding with the part of the portrait struck by the bullet. Another method of

Cure was that of getting some of the child's water, which was closely corked up in a vial and hung up in a chimney. This complimented the witch with a stranguary, which lasted as long as the vial remained in the

chimney. The witch had but one way of relieving herself from any spellinflicted on her in any way, which was that of borrowing something, no matter what, of the family to which the subject of the exercise of her witchcraft belonged.

I have known several poor old women much surprised at being refused requests which had usually been granted without hesitation, and almost heart broken when informed of the cause of the refusal.

When cattle or dogs were supposed to be under the influence of witchcraft, they were burnt in the forehead by a branding iron, or when dead, burned wholly to ashes. This inflicted a spell upon the witch which could only be removed by borrowing, as above stated..

Witches were often said to milk the cows of their neighbors. This they did by fixing a new pin in a new towel for each cow intended to be milked. This towel was hung over her own door, and by means of certain incantations, the milk was extracted from the fringes of the towel after the manner of milking a cow. This happened when the cows were too poor to give much milk.

The first German glass-blowers in this country drove the witches out of their furnaces by throwing living puppies into them.

The greater or less amount of belief in witchcraft, necromancy and astrology, serves to show the relative amount of philosophical science in any country. Ignorance is always associated with superstition, which, presenting an endless variety of sources of hope and fear, with regard to the good or bad fortunes of life, keep the benighted mind continually harassed with groundless and delusive, but strong and often deeply distressing impressions of a false faith. For this disease of the mind there is no cure but that of philosophy. This science shows to the enlightened reason of man, that no effect whatever can be produced in the physical world without a corresponding cause. This science announces that the death bell is but a momentary morbid motion of the nerves of the ear, and the death watch the noise of a bug in the wall, and that the howling of the dog, and the croaking of the raven, are but the natural languages of the beast and fowl, and no way prophetic of the death of the sick.— The comet, which used to shake pestilence and war from its fiery train, is now viewed with as little emotion as the movements of Jupiter and Saturn in their respective orbits.

An eclipse of the sun, and an unusual freshet of the Tiber, shortly after the assassination of Julius Cæsar by Cassius and Brutus, threw the whole of the Roman empire into consternation. It was supposed that all the gods of heaven and earth were enraged, and about to take revenge for the murder of the emperor; but since the science of astronomy foretells in the calendar the time and the extent of the eclipse, the phenomenon is not viewed as a miraculous and portentous, but as a common and natural event.

That the pythoness and wizard of the Hebrews, the monthly soothsayers, astrologers and prognosticators of the Chaldeans, and the sybils of the Greeks and Romans, were mercenary impostors, there can be no doubt.

To say that the pythoness, and all others of her class, were aided in

their operations by the entervention of familiar spirits, does not mend the matter; for spirits, whether good or bad, possess not the power of life and death, health and disease, with regard to man and beast. Prescience is an incommunicable attribute of God, and therefore spirits cannot foretell future events.

The afflictions of Job, through the intervention of Satan, were miraculous. The possessions mentioned in the New Testament, in all human probabilty, were maniacal diseases, and if, at their cures, the supposed evil spirit spoke with an audible voice, these events were also miraculous, and effected for a special purpose. But from miracles, no general conclusion can be drawn with regard to the divine government of the world. The conclusion is, that the powers professed to be exercised by the occult science of necromancy and other arts of divination, were neither more nor less than impostures.

Amongst the Hebrews, the profession of arts of divination was thought deserving of capital punishment, because the profession was of Pagan origin, and of course incompatible with the profession of theism, and a theocratic form of government. These jugglers perpetrated a debasing superstition among the people. They were also swindlers, who divested their neighbors of large sums of money and valuable presents without an equivalent.

On the ground then of fraud alone, according to the genius of the criminal codes of the ancient governments, the offense deserved capital punishment.

But is the present time better than the past with regard to a superstitious belief in occult influences? Do no traces of the polytheism of our forefathers remain among their christian descendants? This inquiry must be answered in the affirmative. Should an almanac-maker venture to give out the christian calendar without the column containing the signs of the zodiac, the calendar would be condemned as totally deficient, and the whole impression would remain on his hands.

But what are those signs? They are the constellations of the zodiac, that is, clusters of stars, twelve in number, within and including the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. These constellations resemble the animals after which they are named. But what influence do these clusters of stars exert on the animal and the plant? Certainly none at all; and yet we have been taught that the northern constellations govern the divisions of living bodies alternately from the head to the reins, and in like manner the southern from the reins to the feet. The sign then makes a skip from the feet to Aries, who again assumes the government of the head, and so on.

About half these constellations are friendly divinities, and exert a salutary influence on the animal and the plant. The others are malignant in their temper, and govern only for evil purposes. They blast during their reign the seed sown in the earth, and render medicine and the operations of surgery unsuccessful.

We have read of the Hebrews worshipping the hosts of heaven whenever they relapsed into idolatry; and these same constellations were the hosts of heaven which they worshipped. We, it is true, make no offering

to these hosts of heaven, but we give them our faith and confidence.We hope for physical benefits from those of them whose dominion is friendly to our interests, while the reign of the malignant ones is an object of dread and painful apprehension.

Let us not boast very much of our science, civilization, or even christianity, while this column of the relics of paganism still disgraces the christian calendar.

I have made these observations with a view to discredit the remnants of superstition still existing among us. While dreams, the howling of the dog, and the croaking of the raven, are prophetic of future events, we are not good christians, While we are dismayed at the signs of heaven, we are for the time being pagans. Life has real evils enough to contend with, without imaginary ones.



In the section of the country where my father lived, there was, for many years after the settlement of the country, "neither law nor gospel." Our want of legal government was owing to the uncertainty whether we belonged to the state of Virginia or Pennsylvania. The line which at present divides the two states, was not run until some time after the conclusion of the revolutionary war. Thus it happened, that during a long period of time we knew nothing of courts, lawyers, magistrates, sheriffs or constables. Every one was therefore at liberty "to do whatsoever was right in his own eyes.'

[ocr errors]

As this is a state of society which few of my readers have ever witnessed, I shall describe it as minutely as I can, and give in detail those moral maxims which in a great degree answered the important purposes of municipal jurisprudence.

In the first place, let it be observed that in a sparse population, where all the members of the community are well known to each other, and especially in a time of war, where every man capable of bearing arms is considered highly valuable as a defender of his country, public opinion has its full effect, and answers the purposes of legal government better than it would in a dense population in time of peace.

Such was the situation of our people along the frontiers of our settlements. They had no civil, military or ecclesiastical laws, at least none that were enforced; and yet "they were a law unto themselves," as

# G

to all the leading obligations of our nature in all the relations in which they stood to each other. The turpitude of vice and the majesty of moral virtue were then as apparent as they are now, and they were then regarded with the same sentiments of aversion or respect which they inspire at the present time. Industry in working and hunting, bravery in war, candor, honesty, hospitality, and steadiness of deportment, received their full reward of public honor and public confidence among our rude forefathers, as well as among their better instructed and more polished descendants. The punishments which they inflicted upon offenders by the imperial court of public opinion, were well adapted for the reformation of the culprit, or his expulsion from the community..

The punishment for idleness, lying, dishonesty, and ill fame generally, was that of "hating the offender out," as they expressed it. This mode of chastisement was like the atimea of the Greeks. It was a public expression, in various ways, of a general sentiment of indignation against such as transgressed the moral maxims of the community to which they belonged, and commonly resulted either in the reformation or banishment of the person against whom it was directed.

At house-raisings, log-rollings, and harvest-parties, every one was expected to do his duty faithfully. A person who did not perform his share of labor on these cecasions, was designated by the epithet of "Lawrence,” or some other title still more opprobrious; and when it came to his turn to require the like aid from his neighbors, the idler felt his punishment in their refusal to attend to his calls.

Although there was no legal compulsion to the performance of military duty; yet every man of full age and size was expected to do his full share of public service. If he did not do so, he was "hated out as a coward." Even the want of any article of war equipments, such as ammunition, a sharp flint, a priming wire, a scalping knife, or tomahawk, was thought highly disgraceful. A man, who without a reasonable excuse failed to go on a scout or campaign when it came to his turn, met with an expression of indignation in the countenances of all his neighbors, and epithets of hishonor were fastened upon him without mercy.

Debts, which make such an uproar in civilised life, were but little known among our forefathers at an early settlement of this country.After the depreciation of the continental paper, they had no money of any kind; every thing purchased was paid for in produce or labor. good cow and calf was often the price of a bushel of alum salt. If a contract was not faithfully fulfilled, the credit of the delinquent was at an end.

Any petty theft was punished with all the infamy that could be heaped on the offender. A man on a campaign stole from his comrade a cake out of the ashes in which it was baking. He was immediately named 'the Bread rounds.' This epithet of reproach was bandied about in this way. When he came in sight of a group of men, one of them would call, 'Who comes there? Another would answer, "The Bread-rounds." If any one meant to be more serious about the matter, he would call out, 'Who stole a cake out of the ashes?' Another replied by giving the name of the man in full. To this a third would give confirmation by exclaiming,

« ПредишнаНапред »