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Chapter 16

Of the Devil’s Management in the Pagan Hierarchy by Omens, Entrails, Augurs, Oracles, and such like Pageantry of Hell; and how they went off the Stage at last by the Introduction of true Religion.

I have adjourn’d, not finished, my Account of the Devil’s secret Management by Possession, and shall reassume it, in its Place; but I must take leave to mention some other Parts of his retir’d Scheme, by which he has hitherto manag’d Mankind, and the first of these is by that Fraud of all Frauds call’d Oracle.

Here his Trumpet yielded an uncertain Sound for some Ages, and like what he was, and according to what he practised from the Beginning, he deliver’d out Falshood and Delusion by Retale: The Priests of Apollo acted this Farce for him to a great Nicety at Delphos; there were divers others at the same Time, and some, which to give the Devil his due, he had very little Hand in, as we shall see presently.

There were also some smaller, some greater, some more, some less famous Places where those Oracles were seated, and Audience given to the Enquirers, in all which the Devil, or some Body for him, Permissu Superiorum, for either vindictive or other hidden Ends and Purposes, was allow’d to make at least a Pretension to the Knowledge of Things to come; but, as publick Cheats generally do, they acted in Masquerade, and gave such uncertain and inconsistent Responses, that they were oblig’d to use the utmost Art to reconcile Events to the Prediction, even after things were come to pass.

Here the Devil was a lying Spirit, in a particular and extraordinary manner, in the Mouths of all the Prophets; and yet he had the Cunning to express himself so, that whatever happen’d, the Oracle was suppos’d to have meant as it fell out; and so all their Augurs, Omens and Voices, by which the Devil amus’d the World, not at that Time only, but since, have been likewise interpreted.

Julian the Apostate dealt mightily in these Amusements, but the Devil, who neither wish’d his Fall, or presag’d it to him, evidenc’d that he knew nothing of Julian’s Fate; for that, as he sent almost to all the Oracles of the East, and summon’d all the Priests together to inform him of the Success of his Persian Expedition, they all, like Ahab’s Prophets, having a lying Spirit in them, encourag’d him and promis’d him Success.

Nay, all the ill Omens which disturb’d him, they presag’d good from; for Example, he was at a prodigious Expence when he was at Antioch to buy up white Beasts, and white Fowls, for Sacrifices, and for predicting from the Entrails; from whence the Antiochians, in contempt, call’d him Victimarius; but whenever the Entrails foreboded Evil, the cunning Devil made the Priests put a different Construction upon them, and promise him Good: When he entred into the Temple of the Genij to offer Sacrifice, one of the Priests dropt down dead; this, had it had any Signification more than a Man falling dead of an Apoplectic, would have signified something fatal to Julian, who made himself a Brother Sacrist or Priest; whereas the Priests turn’d it presently to signify the Death of his Colleague, the Consul Sallust which happen’d just at the same Time, tho’ eight hundred Miles off; so in another Case, Julian thought it ominous that he, who was Augustus should be nam’d with two other Names of Persons, both already dead; the Case was thus, the Stile of the Emperor was Julianus Fœlix Augustus, and two of his principal Officers were Julianus and Fœlix; now both Julianus and Fœlix died within a few Days of one another, which disturb’d Him much, who was the third of the three Names; but his flattering Devil told him it all imported Good to him (viz.) that tho’ Julianus and Fœlix should die, Augustus should be immortal.

Thus whatever happen’d, and whatever was foretold, and how much soever they differ’d from one another, the lying Spirit was sure to reconcile the Prediction and the Event, and make them at least seem to correspond in Favour of the Person enquiring.

Now we are told Oracles are ceased, and the Devil is farther limited for the Good of Mankind, not being allow’d to vent his Delusions by the Mouths of the Priests and Augurs, as formerly: I will not take upon me to say how far they are really ceas’d, more than they were before; I think ’tis much more reasonable to believe there was never any Reality in them at all, or that any Oracle ever gave out any Answers but what were the Invention of the Priests and the Delusions of the Devil; I have a great many antient Authors on my Side in this Opinion, as Eusebius, Tertullian, Aristotle, and others, who as they liv’d so near the Pagan Times, and when even some of those Rites were yet in Use, they had much more Reason to know, and could probably pass a better Judgment upon them; nay Cicero himself ridicules them in the openest manner; again, other Authors descend to Particular and shew how the Cheat was manag’d by the Heathen Sacrists and Priests, and in what enthusiastic manner they spoke; namely, by going into the hollow Images, such as the brazen Bull and the Image of Apollo, and how subtilly they gave out dubious and ambiguous Answers; that when the People did not find their Expectations answer’d by the Event, they might be imposed upon by the Priests, and confidently told they did not rightly understand the Oracle’s Meaning: However, I cannot say but that indeed there are some Authors of good Credit too, who will have it that there was a real prophetic Spirit in the Voice or Answers given by the Oracles, and that oftentimes they were miraculously exact in those Answers; and they give that of the Delphic Oracle answering the Question which was given about Crœsus for an Example, viz. what Crœsus was doing at that time? to wit, that he was boiling a Lamb and the Flesh of a Tortoise together, in a brass Vessel, or Boiler, with a Cover of the same Metal; that is to say, in a Kettle with a brass Cover.

To affirm therefore, that they were all Cheats, a Man must encounter with Antiquity, and set his private Judgment up against an establish’d Opinion; but ’tis no matter for that; if I do not see any thing in that receiv’d Opinion capable of Evidence, much less of Demonstration, I must be allow’d still to think as I do; others may believe as they list; I see nothing hard or difficult in the Thing; the Priests, who were always historically inform’d of the Circumstances of the Enquirer, or at least something about them, might easily find some ambiguous Speech to make, and put some double Entendre upon them, which upon the Event solv’d the Credit of the Oracle, were it one way or other; and this they certainly did, or we have room to think the Devil knows less of Things now than he did in former Days.

It is true that by these Delusions the Priests got infinite Sums of Money, and this makes it still probable that they would labour hard, and use the utmost of their Skill to uphold the Credit of their Oracles; and ’tis a full Discovery, as well of the Subtlety of the Sacrists, as of the Ignorance and Stupidity of the People, in those early Days of Satan’s Witchcraft; to see what merry Work the Devil made with the World, and what gross Things he put upon Mankind: Such was the Story of the Dordonian Oracle in Epirus, viz. That two Pigeons flew out of Thebes (N. B. it was the Egyptian Thebes) from the Temple of Belus, erected there by the antient Sacrists, and that one of these fled Eastward into Lybia, and the Desarts of Africk, and the other into Greece, namely, to Dordona, and these communicated the divine Mysteries to one another, and afterwards gave mystical Solutions to the devout Enquirers; first the Dordonian Pigeon perching upon an Oak spoke audibly to the People there, that the Gods commanded them to build an Oracle, or Temple, to Jupiter, in that Place; which was accordingly done: The other Pigeon did the like on the Hill in Africa, where it commanded them to build another to Jupiter Ammon, or Hammon.

Wise Cicero contemned all this, and, as Authors tell us, ridiculed the Answer, which, as I have hinted above, the Oracle gave to Crœsus proving that the Oracle it self was a Liar, that it could not come from Apollo, for that Apollo never spoke Latin: In a Word, Cicero rejected them all, and Demosthenes also mentions the Cheats of the Oracles; when speaking of the Oracle of Apollo, he said, Pithia Philippiz’d; that is, that when the Priests were brib’d with Money, they always gave their Answers in favour of Philip of Macedon.

But that which is most strange to me is, that in this Dispute about the Reality of Oracles, the Heathen who made use of them are the People who expose them, and who insist most positively upon their being Cheats and Impostors, as in particular those mentioned above; while the Christians who reject them, yet believe they did really foretel Things, answer Questions, &c. only with this Difference, that the Heathen Authors who oppose them, insist that ’tis all Delusion and Cheat, and charge it upon the Priests; and the Christian Opposers insist that it was real, but that the Devil, not the Gods, gave the Answers; and that he was permitted to do it by a superior Power, to magnify that Power in the total silencing them at last.

But, as I said before, I am with the Heathen here, against the Christian Writers, for I take it all to be a Cheat and Delusion: I must give my Reason for it, or I do nothing; my Reason is this, I insist Satan is as blind in Matters of Futurity, as we are, and can tell nothing of what is to come; these Oracles often pretending to predict, could be nothing else therefore but a Cheat form’d by the Money-getting Priests to amuse the World, and bring Grist to their Mill: If I meet with any thing in my Way to open my Eyes to a better Opinion of them, I shall tell it you as I go on.

On the other hand, whether the Devil really spake in those Oracles, or set the cunning Priests to speak for him; whether they predicted, or only made the People believe they predicted; whether they gave Answers which came to pass, or prevail’d upon the People to believe that what was said did come to pass, it was much at one, and fully answer’d the Devil’s End; namely, to amuse and delude the World; and as to do, or to cause to be done, is the same Part of Speech, so whoever did it, the Devil’s Interest was carried on by it, his Government preserv’d, and all the Mischief he could desire was effectually brought to pass, so that every way they were the Devil’s Oracles, that’s out of the Question.

Indeed I have wonder’d sometimes why, since by this Sorcery the Devil perform’d such Wonders, that is, play’d so many Tricks in the World, and had such universal Success, he should set up no more of them; but there might be a great many Reasons given for that, too long to tire you with at present: ’Tis true, there were not many of them, and yet considering what a great deal of Business they dispatch’d, it was enough, for six or eight Oracles were more than sufficient to amuse all the World: The chief Oracles we meet with in History are among the Greeks and the Romans, viz.

That of Jupiter Ammon, in Lybia, as above.

The Dordonian, in Epirus.

Apollo Delphicus, in the Country of Phocis in Greece.

Apollo Clavius, in Asia Minor.

Serapis, in Alexandria in Egypt.

Trophomis, in Bæotia.

Sybilla Cumæa, in Italy.

Diana, at Ephesus.

Apollo Daphneus, at Antioch.

Besides many of lesser Note, in several other Places, as I have hinted before.

I have nothing to do here with the Story mentioned by Plutarch, of a Voice being heard at Sea, from some of the Islands call’d the Echinades, and calling upon one Thamuz, an Egyptian, who was on board a Ship, bidding him, when he came to the Palodes, other Islands in the Ionian Seas, tell them there that the great God Pan was dead; and when Thamuz perform’d it, great Groanings, and Howlings, and Lamentation were heard from the Shore.

This Tale tells but indifferently, tho’ indeed it looks more like a Christian Fable, than a Pagan; because it seems as if made to honour the Christian Worship, and blast all the Pagan Idolatry; and for that Reason I reject it, the Christian Profession needing no such fabulous Stuff to confirm it.

Nor is it true in fact, that the Oracles did cease immediately upon the Death of Christ; but, as I noted before, the Sum of the Matter is this; the Christian Religion spreading it self universally, as well as miraculously, and that too by the Foolishness of Preaching, into all Parts of the World, the Oracles ceas’d; that is to say, their Trade ceas’d, their Rogueries were daily detected, the deluded People being better taught, came no more after them, and being asham’d, as well as discourag’d, they sneak’d out of the World as well as they could; in short the Customers fell off, and the Priests, who were the Shopkeepers, having no Business to do, shut up their Shops, broke, and went away; the Trade and the Tradesmen were hiss’d off the Stage together; so that the Devil, who, it must be confess’d, got infinitely by the Cheat, became bankrupt, and was oblig’d to set other Engines at work, as other Cheats and Deceivers do, who when one Trick grows stale, and will serve no longer, are forc’d to try another.

Nor was the Devil to seek in new Measures; for tho’ he could not give out his delusive Trash as he did before, in Pomp and State, with the Solemnity of a Temple and a Set of Enthusiasts call’d Priests, who plaid a thousand Tricks to amuse the World, he then had Recourse to his old Egyptian Method, which indeed was more antient than that of Oracles; and that was by Magic, Sorcery, Familiars, Witchcraft, and the like.

Of this we find the people of the South, that is, of Arabia and Chaldea were the first, from whence we are told of the Wise Men, that is to say, Magicians, were call’d Chaldeans and Southsayers. Hence also we find Ahaziah the King of Israel sent to Baalzebub the God of Ekron, to enquire whether he should live or die? This some think was a kind of an Oracle, tho’ others think it was only some over-grown Magician, who counterfeited himself to be a Devil, and obtain’d upon that Idol-hunting Age to make a Cunning Man of him; and for that Purpose he got himself made a Priest of Baalzebub, the God of Ekron, and gave out Answers in his Name. Thus those merry Fellows in Egypt, Jannes and Jambres, are said to mimick Moses and Aaron, when they work’d the miraculous Plagues upon the Egyptians; and we have some Instances in Scripture that support this, such as the Witch of Endor, the King Manasses, who dealt with the Devil openly, and had a Familiar; the Woman mentioned Acts xvi. who had a Spirit of Divination, and who got Money by playing the Oracle; that is, answering doubtful Questions, &c. which Spirit, or Devil, the Apostles cast out.

Now tho’ it is true that the old Women in the World have fill’d us with Tales, some improbable, others impossible; some weak, some ridiculous, and that this puts a general Discredit upon all the graver Matrons, who entertain us with Stories better put together, yet ’tis certain, and I must be allow’d to affirm, that the Devil does not disdain to take into his Service many Troops of good Old Women, and Old Women-Men too, who he finds ’tis for his Service to keep in constant Pay; to these he is found frequently to communicate his Mind, and oftentimes we find them such Proficients, that they know much more than the Devil can teach them.

How far our antient Friend Merlin, or the grave Matron his (Satan’s) most trusty and well-beloved Cousin and Counsellor, Mother Shipton, were commissioned by him to give out their prophetic Oracles, and what degree of Possession he may have arrived to in them upon their Midnight Excursions, I will not undertake to prove; but that he might be acquainted with them both, as well as with several of our modern Gentlemen, I will not deny neither.

I confess it is not very incongruous with the Devil’s Temper, or with the Nature of his Business, to shift hands; possibly he found that he had tried the World with Oracular Cheats; that Men began to be forfeited with them, and grew sick of the Frauds which were so frequently detected; that it was time to take new Measures, and contrive some new Trick to Bite the World, that he might not be expos’d to Contempt; or perhaps he saw the Approach of new Light, which the Christian Doctrine bringing with it began to spread in the Minds of Men; that it would out-shine the dim burning ignis fatuus, with which he had so long cheated Mankind, and was afraid to stand it, lest he should be mobb’d off the Stage by his own People, when their Eyes should begin to open: That upon this foot he might in Policy withdraw from those old Retreats the Oracles, and restrain those Responses before they lost all their Credit; for we find the People seem’d to be at a mighty Loss for some time, for want of them, so that it made them run up and down to Conjurers, and Man-Gossips, to brazen Heads, speaking Calves, and innumerable simple Things, so gross that they are scarce fit to be named, to satisfy the Itch of having their Fortunes told them, as we call it.

Now as the Devil is very seldom blind to his own Interest, and therefore thought fit to quit his old way of imposing upon the World by his Oracles, only because he found the World began to be too wise to be imposed upon that way; so on the other hand, finding there was still a Possibility to delude the World, tho’ by other Instruments, he no sooner laid down his Oracles, and the solemn Pageantry, magnificent Appearances, and other Frauds of his Priests and Votaries, in their Temples and Shrines; but he set up a new Trade, and having, as I have said, Agents and Instruments sufficient for any Business that he could have to employ them in, he begins in Corners, as the learned and merry Dr. Brown says, and exercises his minor Trumperies by way of his own contriving, lifting a great Number of new-found Operators, such as Witches, Magicians, Diviners, Figure-casters, Astrologers, and such inferior Seducers.

Now it is true, as that Doctor says, this was running into Corners, as if he had been expell’d his more triumphant way of giving Audience in Form, which for so many Ages had been allow’d him; yet I must add, that as it seem’d to be the Devil’s own doing, from a right Judgment of his Affairs, which had taken a new Turn in the World, upon the shining of new Lights from the Christian Doctrine, so it must be acknowledged the Devil made himself amends upon Mankind, by the various Methods he took, and the Multitude of Instruments he employ’d, and perhaps deluded Mankind in a more fatal and sensible manner than he did before, tho’ not so universally.

He had indeed before more Pomp and Figure put upon it, and he cheated Mankind then in a Way of Magnificence and Splendor; but this was not in above eight or ten principal Places, and not fifty Places in all, public or private; whereas now fifty thousand of his Angels and Instruments, visible and invisible, hardly may be said to suffice for one Town or City; but in short, as his invisible Agents fill the Air, and are at hand for Mischief on every Emergence, so his visible Fools swarm in every Village, and you have scarce a Hamlet or a Town but his Emissaries are at Hand for Business; and which is still worse, in all Places he finds Business; nay even where Religion is planted and seems to flourish; yet he keeps his Ground and pushes his Interest according to what has been said elsewhere upon the same Subject, that wherever Religion plants, the Devil plants close by it.

Nor, as I say, does he fail of Success, Delusion spreads like a Plague, and the Devil is sure of Votaries; like a true Mountebank, he can always bring a Croud about his Stage, and that some Times faster than other People.

What I observe upon this Subject is this, that the World is at a strange Loss for want of the Devil; if it was not so, what’s the Reason, that upon the silencing the Oracles, and Religion telling them that Miracles are ceas’d, and that God has done speaking by Prophets, they never enquire whether Heaven has established any other or new Way of Revelation, but away they ran with their Doubts and Difficulties to these Dreamers of Dreams, Tellers of Fortunes, and personal Oracles to be resolv’d; as if when they acknowledge the Devil is dumb, these could speak; and as if the wicked Spirit could do more than the Good, the Diabolical more than the Divine, or that Heaven having taken away the Devil’s Voice, had furnish’d him with an Equivalent, by allowing Scolds, Termagants, and old weak and superannuated Wretches to speak for him; for these are the People we go to now in our Doubts and Emergencies.

While this Blindness continues among us, ’tis Nonsense to say that Oracles are silenced, or the Devil is dumb, for the Devil gives Audience still by his Deputies; only as Jeroboam made Priests of the meanest of the People, so he is grown a little humble, and makes use of meaner Instruments than he did before; for whereas the Priests of Apollo, and of Jupiter, were splendid in their Appearance, of grave and venerable Aspect, and sometimes of no mean Quality; now he makes use of Scoundrels and Rabble, Beggars and Vagabonds, old Hags, superannuated miserable Hermits, Gypsies and Strollers, the Pictures of Envy and ill Luck.

Either the Devil is grown an ill Master, and gives but mean Wages, that he can get no better Servants; or else Common Sense is grown very low priz’d and contemptible; that such as these are fit Tools to continue the Succession of Fraud, and carry on the Devil’s Interest in the World; for were not the Passions and Temper of Mankind deeply pre-engaged in favour of this dark Prince, we could never suffer our selves to accept of his Favours by the Hands of such contemptible Agents as these! How do we receive his Oracles from an old Witch of particular Eminence, and who we believe to be more than ordinarily inspir’d from Hell; I say, we receive the Oracle with Reverence; that is to say, with a kind of Horror, with regard to the Black Prince it comes from, and at the same time turn our Faces away from the Wretch that mumbles out the Answers, lest she should cast an Evil Eye, as we call it, upon us, and put a Devil into us when she plays the Devil before us? How do we listen to the Cant of those worst of Vagabonds the Gypsies, when at the same time we watch our Hedges and Hen-roosts for fear of their thieving?

Either the Devil uses us more like Fools than he did our Ancestors, or we really are worse Fools than those Ages produced, for they were never deluded by such low-priz’d Devils as we are; by such despicable Bridewell Devils, that are fitter for a Whipping-post than an Altar, and instead of being receiv’d as the Voice of an Oracle, should be sent to the House of Correction for Pick-pockets.

Nor is this accidental, and here and there one of these Wretches to be seen, but in short, if it has been in other Nations as it is with us, I do not see that the Devil was able to get any better People into his Pay, or at least very rarely: Where have we seen any thing above a Tinker turn Wizard? and where have we had a Witch of Quality among us, Mother Je———gs excepted? and if she had not been more of something else than a Witch, ’twas thought she had never got so much Money by her Profession.

Magicians, Southsayers, Devil-raisers, and such People, we have heard much of, but seldom above the Degree of the meanest of the mean People, the lowest of the lowest Rank: Indeed the Word Wise Men, which the Devil wou’d fain have had his Agents honour’d with, was used a while in Egypt, and in Persia, among the Chaldeans, but it continued but a little while, and never reach’d so far Northward as our Country; nor, however the Devil has managed it, have many of our great Men, who have been most acquainted with him, ever been able to acquire the Title of Wise Men.

I have heard that in older Times, I suppose in good Queen Bess’s Days, or beyond, (for little is to be said here for any thing on this Side of her time) there were some Counsellors and Statesmen who merited the Character of wise, in the best Sense; that is to say, good, and wise, as they stand in Conjunction; but as to what has happen’d since that, or, as we may call it, from that Queen’s Funeral to the late Revolution, I have little to say; but I’ll tell you what honest Andrew Marvel said of those Times, and by that you may, if you please, make your Calculation or let it alone, ’tis all one.

“To see a white Staff-maker, a Beggar, a Lord,
“And scarce a wise Man at a long Council-Board.

 

But I may be told this relates to wise Men in another Constitution, or wise Men as they are opposed to Fools; whereas we are talking of them now under another Class, namely, as Wisemen or Magicians, South-sayers, &c. such as were in former Times call’d by that Name.

But to this I answer, that take them in which Sense you please, it may be the same; for if I were to ask the Devil the Character of the best States-man he had employ’d among us for many Years past, I am apt to think that tho’ Oracles are ceased, he would honestly, according to the old ambiguous Way, when I ask’d if they were Christians, answer they were (his) Privy-Counsellors.

It is but a little while ago, that I happen’d (in Conversation) to meet with a long List of the Magistrates of that Age, in a neighbouring Country, that is to say, the Men of Fame among them; and it was a very diverting Thing to see the Judgment which was pass’d upon them among a great deal of good Company; it is not for me to tell you how many white Staves, Golden Keys, Mareshals Batoons, Cordons Blue, Gordon Rouge and Gordon Blanc, there were among them, or by what Titles, as Dukes, Counts, Marquis, Abbot, Bishop, or Justice they were to be distinguish’d; but the marginal Notes I found upon most of them were (being mark’d with an Asterism) as follows.

Such a Duke, such eminent Offices added to his Titles (* in the Margin) ——— No Saint.

Such an Arch—— with the Title of Noble added, ——— No Archangel.

Such an eminent Statesman and prime Minister, ——— No Witch.

Such a Ribbon with a Set of great Letters added, ——— No Conjurer.

It presently occurr’d to me that tho’ Oracles were ceased, and we had now no more double Entendre in such a Degree as before, yet that ambiguous Answers were not at an End; and that whether those Negatives were meant so by the Writers, or not, ’twas certain Custom led the Readers to conclude them to be Satyrs, that they were to be rung backwards like the Bells when the Town’s on fire; tho’ in short, I durst not read them backward any where, but as speaking of foreign People, for fear of raising the Devil I am talking of.

But to return to the Subject; to such mean Things is the Devil now reduc’d in his ordinary Way of carrying on his Business in the World, that his Oracles are deliver’d now by the Bellmen and the Chimney-Sweepers, by the meanest of those that speak in the Dark, and if he operates by them, you may expect it accordingly; his Agents seem to me as if the Devil had singl’d them out by their Deformity, or that there was something particular requir’d in their Aspect to qualify them for their Employment; whence it is become proverbial, when our Looks are very dismal and frightful, to say, I look like a Witch, or in other Cases to say, as ugly as a Witch; in another Case to look as envious as a Witch; now whether there is any Thing particularly requir’d in the Looks of the Devil’s modern Agents, which is assisting in the Discharge of their Offices, and which make their Answers appear more solemn, this the Devil has not yet reveal’d, at least not to me; and therefore why it is that he singles out such Creatures as are fit only to fright the People that come to them with their Enquiries, I do not take upon me to determine.

Perhaps it is necessary they should be thus extraordinary in their Aspect, that they might strike an Awe into the Minds of their Votaries, as if they were Satan’s true and real Representatives; and that the said Votaries may think when they speak to the Witches they are really talking to the Devil; or perhaps ’tis necessary to the Witches themselves, that they should be so exquisitely ugly, that they might not be surpriz’d at whatever Figure the Devil makes when he first appears to them, being certain they can see nothing uglier than themselves.

Some are of the Opinion that the Communication with the Devil, or between the Devil and those Creatures his Agents, has something assimulating in it, and that if they were tolerable before, they are, ipso facto, turn’d into Devils by talking with him; I will not say but that a Tremor in the Limbs, a Horror in the Aspect, and a surprizing Stare in the Eyes may seize upon some of them when they really see the Devil, and that the frequent Repetition may make those Distortions, which we so constantly see in their Faces becomes natural to them; by which if it does not continue always upon the Countenance, they can at least, like the Posture-Masters, cast themselves into such Figures and frightful Dislocations of the Lines and Features in their Faces, and so assume a Devil’s Face suitable to the Occasion, or as may serve the turn for which they take it up, and as often as they have any use for it.

But be it which of these the Enquirer pleases, ’tis all one to the Case in Hand; this is certain, that such deform’d Devil-like Creatures, most of those we call Hags and Witches, are in their Shapes and Aspects, and that they give out their Sentences and frightful Messages with an Air of Revenge for some Injury receiv’d; for Witches are fam’d chiefly for doing Mischief.

It seems the Devil has always pick’d out the most ugly and frightful old Women to do his Business; Mother Shipton, our famous English Witch or Prophetess, is very much wrong’d in her Picture, if she was not of the most terrible Aspect imaginable; and if it be true that Merlin, the famous Welch Fortune-Teller, was a frightful Figure, it will seem the more rational to believe, if we credit another Story, (viz.) that he was begotten by the Devil himself, of which I shall speak by it self: But to go back to the Devil’s Instruments being so ugly; it may be observed, I say, that the Devil has always dealt in such sort of Cattle; the Sybils, of whom so many strange prophetic Things are recorded, whether true or no is not to the Question, are (if the Italian Painters may have any Credit given them) all represented as very old Women; and as if Ugliness were a Beauty to old Age, they seem to paint them out as ugly and frightful as (not they, the Painters) but even as the Devil himself could make them; not that I believe there are any original Pictures of them really extant; but it is not unlikely that the Italians might have some traditional Knowledge of them, or some remaining Notions of them, or particularly that antient Sybil named Anus, who sold the fatal Book to Tarquin; ’tis said of her that Tarquin supposed she doated with Age.

I had Thoughts indeed here to have entred into a learned Disquisition of the Excellency of old Women in all diabolical Operations, and particularly of the Necessity of having recourse to them for Satan’s more exquisite Administration, which also may serve to solve the great Difficulty in the natural Philosophy of Hell; namely, why it comes to pass that the Devil is oblig’d for want of old Women, properly so call’d, to turn so many antient Fathers, grave Counsellors both of Law and State, and especially Civilians or Doctors of the Law into old Women, and how the extraordinary Operation is perform’d; but this, as a Thing of great Consequence in Satan’s Management of humane Affairs, and particularly as it may lead us into the necessary History, as well as Characters of some of the most eminent of these Sects among us, I have purposely reserv’d for a Work by it self, to be published, if Satan hinders not, in fifteen Volumes in Folio, wherein I shall in the first Place define in the most exact Manner possible, what is to be understood by a Male old Woman, of what heterogeneous Kind they are produced, give you the monstrous Anatomy of the Parts, and especially those of the Head, which being fill’d with innumerable Globules of a sublime Nature, and which being of a fine Contexture without, but particularly hollow in the Cavity, defines most philosophically that antient paradoxical Saying, (viz.) being full of Emptiness, and makes it very consistent with Nature and common Sense.

I shall likewise spend some Time, and it must be Labour too, I assure you, when ’tis done, in determining whether this new Species of Wonderfuls are not deriv’d from that famous old Woman Merlin, which I prove to be very reasonable for us to suppose, because of the many several judicious Authors, who affirm the said Merlin, as I hinted before, to have been begotten by the Devil.

As to the deriving his Gift of Prophesy from the Devil, by that pretended Generation, I shall omit that Part, because, as I have all along insisted upon it, that Satan himself has no prophetic or predicting Powers of his own, it is not very clear to me that he could convey it to his Posterity, nil dat quod not habet.

However, in deriving this so much magnified Prophet in a right Line from the Devil, much may be said in favour of his ugly Face, in which it was said he was very remarkable, for it is no new Thing for a Child to be like the Father; but all these weighty Things I adjourn for the present, and proceed to the Affair in Hand, namely, the several Branches of the Devil’s Management since his quitting his Temples and Oracles.




Daniel Defoe

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