Yeats’ The Celtic Twilight

enchanting_woods_by_bongaloid-d70xi2xENCHANTED WOODS

I

   Last summer, whenever I had finished my day’s work, I used to go wandering in certain roomy woods, and there I would often meet an old countryman, and talk to him about his work and about the woods, and once or twice a friend came with me to whom he would open his heart more readily than to me, He had spent all his life lopping away the witch elm and the hazel and the privet and the hornbeam from the paths, and had thought much about the natural and supernatural creatures of the wood. He has heard the hedgehog–‘grainne oge,’ he calls him–‘grunting like a Christian,’ and is certain that he steals apples by rolling about under an apple tree until there is an apple sticking to every quill. He is certain too that the cats, of whom there are many in the woods, have a language of their own–some kind of old Irish. He says, ‘Cats were serpents, and they were made into cats at the time of some great change in the world. That is why they are hard to kill, and why it is dangerous to meddle with them. If you annoy a cat it might claw or bite you in a way that would put poison in you, and that would be the serpent’s tooth.’ Sometimes he thinks they change into wild cats, and then a nail grows on the end of their tails; but these wild cats are not the same as the marten cats, who have been always in the woods. The foxes were once tame, as the cats are now, but they ran away and became wild. He talks of all wild creatures except squirrels–whom he hates–with what seems an affectionate interest, though at times his eyes will twinkle with pleasure as he remembers how he made hedgehogs unroll themselves when he was a boy, by putting a wisp of burning straw under them.
I am not certain that he distinguishes between the natural and supernatural very clearly. He told me the other day that foxes and cats like, above all, to be in the ‘forths’ and lisses after nightfall; and he will certainly pass from some story about a fox to a story about a spirit with less change of voice than when he is going to speak about a marten cat–a rare beast now-a-days. Many years ago he used to work in the garden, and once they put him to sleep in a garden-house where there was a loft full of apples, and all night he could hear people rattling plates and knives and forks over his head in the loft. Once, at any rate, be has seen an unearthly sight in the woods. He says, ‘One time I was out cutting timber over in Inchy, and about eight o’clock one morning when I got there I saw a girl picking nuts, with her hair hanging down over her shoulders, brown hair, and she had a good, clean face, and she was tall and nothing on her head, and her dress no way gaudy but simple, and when she felt me coming she gathered herself up and was gone as if the earth had swallowed her up. And I followed her and looked for her, but I never could see her again from that day to this, never again.’ He used the word clean as we would use words like fresh or comely.
Others too have seen spirits in the Enchanted Woods. A labourer told us of what a friend of his had seen in a part of the woods that is called Shanwalla, from some old village that was before the weed. He said, ‘One evening I parted from Lawrence Mangan in the yard, and he went away through the path in Shanwalla, anâ bid me goodnight. And two hours after, there he was back again in the yard, an’ bid me light a candle that was in the stable. Anâ he told me that when he got into Shanwalla, a little fellow about as high as his knee, but having a head as big as a man’s body, came beside him and led him out of the path anâ round about, and at last it brought him to the lime-kiln, and then it vanished and left him.’
A woman told me of a sight that she and others had seen by a certain deep pool in the river. She said, ‘I came over the stile from the chapel, and others along with me; and a great blast of wind came and two trees were bent and broken and fell into the river, and the splash of water out of it went up to the skies. And those that were with me saw many figures, but myself I only saw one, sitting there by the bank where the trees fell. Dark clothes he had on, and he was headless.’
A man told me that one day, when he was a boy, he and another boy went to catch a horse in a certain field, full of boulders and bushes of hazel and creeping juniper and rock-roses, that is where the lake side is for a little clear of the woods. He said to the boy that was with him, ‘I bet a button that if I fling a pebble on to that bush it will stay on it,’ meaning that the bush was so matted the pebble would not be able to go through it. So he took up ‘a pebble of cow-dung, and as soon as it hit the bush there came out of it the most beautiful music that ever was heard.’ They ran away, and when they had gone about two hundred yards they looked back and saw a woman dressed in white, walking round and round the bush. ‘First it had the form of a woman, and then of a man, and it was going round the bush.’

II

   I often entangle myself in argument more complicated than even those paths of Inchy as to what is the true nature of apparitions, but at other times I say as Socrates said when they told him a learned opinion about a nymph of the Illissus, ‘The common opinion is enough for me.’ I believe when I am in the mood that all nature is full of people whom we cannot see, and that some of these are ugly or grotesque, and some wicked or foolish, but very many beautiful beyond any one we have ever seen, and that these are not far away when we are walking in pleasant and quiet places. Even when I was a boy I could never walk in a wood without feeling that at any moment I might find before me somebody or something I had long looked for without knowing what I looked for. And now I will at times explore every little nook of some poor coppice with almost anxious footsteps, so deep a hold has this imagination upon me. You too meet with a like imagination, doubtless, somewhere, wherever your ruling stars will have it, Saturn driving you to the woods, or the Moon, it may be, to the edges of the sea. I will not of a certainty believe that there is nothing in the sunset, where our forefathers imagined the dead following their shepherd the sun, or nothing but some vague presence as little moving as nothing. If beauty is not a gateway out of the net we were taken in at our birth, it will not long be beauty, and we will find it better to sit at home by the fire and fatten a lazy body or to run hither and thither in some foolish sport than to look at the finest show that light and shadow ever made among green leaves. I say to myself, when I am well out of that thicket of argument, that they are surely there, the divine people, for only we who have neither simplicity nor wisdom have denied them, and the simple of all times and the wise men of ancient times have seen them and even spoken to them. They live out their passionate lives not far off, as I think, and we shall be among them when we die if we but keep our natures simple and passionate. May it not even be that death shall unite us to all romance, and that some day we shall fight dragons among blue hills, or come to that whereof all romance is but

‘Foreshadowings mingled with the images
Of man’s misdeeds in greater days than these,’

as the old men thought in The Earthly Paradise when they were in good spirits.

1902

Yeats’ The Celtic Twilight

Yeats poemTHE FRIENDS OF THE PEOPLE OF FAERY

   Those that see the people of faery most often, and so have the most of their wisdom, are often very poor, but often, too, they are thought to have a strength beyond that of man, as though one came, when one has passed the threshold of trance, to those sweet waters where Maeldun saw the dishevelled eagles bathe and become young again.
There was an old Martin Roland, who lived near a bog a little out of Gort, who saw them often from his young days, and always towards the end of his life, though I would hardly call him their friend. He told me a few months before his death that ‘they’ would not let him sleep at night with crying things at him in Irish, and with playing their pipes. He had asked a friend of his what he should do, and the friend had told him to buy a flute, and play on it when they began to shout or to play on their pipes, and maybe they would give up annoying him; and he did, and they always went out into the field when he began to play. He showed me the pipe, and blew through it, and made a noise, but he did not know how to play; and then he showed me where he had pulled his chimney down, because one of them used to sit up on it and play on the pipes. A friend of his and mine went to see him a little time ago, for she heard that ‘three of them’ had told him he was to die. He said they had gone away after warning him, and that the children (children they had ‘taken,’ I suppose) who used to come with them, and play about the house with them, had ‘gone to some other place,’ because ‘they found the house too cold for them, maybe’; and he died a week after he had said these things.
His neighbours were not certain that he really saw anything in his old age, but they were all certain that he saw things when he was a young man. His brother said, ‘Old he is, and it’s all in his brain the things he sees. If he was a young man we might believe in him.’ But he was improvident, and never got on with his brothers. A neighbour said, ‘The poor man, they say they are mostly in his head now, but sure he was a fine fresh man twenty years ago the night he saw them linked in two lots, like young slips of girls walking together. It was the night they took away Fallon’s little girl.’ And she told how Fallon’s little girl had met a woman ‘with red hair that was as bright as silver,’ who took her away. Another neighbour, who was herself ‘clouted over the ear’ by one of them for going into a fort where they were, said, ‘I believe it’s mostly in his head they are; and when he stood in the door last night I said, “The wind does be always in my ears, and the sound of it never stops,” to make him think it was the same with him; but he says, “I hear them singing and making music all the time, and one of them is after bringing out a little flute, and it’s on it he’s playing to them.” And this I know, that when he pulled down the chimney where he said the piper used to be sitting and playing, he lifted up stones, and he an old man, that I could not have lifted when I was young and strong.’
A friend has sent me from Ulster an account of one who was on terms of true friendship with the people of faery. It has been taken down accurately, for my friend, who had heard the old woman’s story some time before I heard of it, got her to tell it over again, and wrote it out at once. She began by telling the old woman that she did not like being in the house alone because of the ghosts and fairies; and the old woman said, ‘There’s nothing to be frightened about in faeries, miss. Many’s the time I talked to a woman myself that was a faery, or something of the sort, and no less and more than mortal anyhow. She used to come about your grandfather’s house–your mother’s grandfather, that is–in my young days. But you’ll have heard all about her.’ My friend said that she had heard about her, but a long time before, and she wanted to hear about her again; and the old woman went on, ‘Well dear, the very first time ever I heard word of her coming about was when your uncle–that is, your mother’s uncle–Joseph married, and building a house for his wife, for he brought her first to his father’s, up at the house by the Lough. My father and us were living nigh hand to where the new house was to be built, to overlook the men at their work. My father was a weaver, and brought his looms and all there into a cottage that was close by. The foundations were marked out, and the building stones lying about, but the masons had not come yet; and one day I was standing with my mother foment the house, when we sees a smart wee woman coming up the field over the burn to us. I was a bit of a girl at the time, playing about and sporting myself, but I mind her as well as if I saw her there now!’ My friend asked how the woman was dressed, and the old woman said, ‘It was a gray cloak she had on, with a green cashmere skirt and a black silk handkercher tied round her head, like the country women did use to wear in them times.’ My friend asked, ‘How wee was she?’ And the old woman said, ‘Well now, she wasn’t wee at all when I think of it, for all we called her the Wee Woman. She was bigger than many a one, and yet not tall as you would say. She was like a woman about thirty, brown-haired and round in the face. She was like Miss Betty, your grandmother’s sister, and Betty was like none of the rest, not like your grandmother, nor any of them. She was round and fresh in the face, and she never was married, and she never would take any man; and we used to say that the Wee Woman–her being like Betty–was, maybe, one of their own people that had been took off before she grew to her full height, and for that she was always following us and warning and foretelling. This time she walks straight over to where my mother was standing. “Go over to the Lough this minute!”–ordering her like that–“Go over to the Lough, and tell Joseph that he must change the foundation of this house to where I’ll show you fornent the thornbush. That is where it is to be built, if he is to have luck and prosperity, so do what I’m telling ye this minute.” The house was being built on “the path” I suppose–the path used by the people of faery in their journeys, and my mother brings Joseph down and shows him, and he changes the foundations, the way he was bid, but didn’t bring it exactly to where was pointed, and the end of that was, when he come to the house, his own wife lost her life with an accident that come to a horse that hadn’t room to turn right with a harrow between the bush and the wall. The Wee Woman was queer and angry when next she come, and says to us, “He didn’t do as I bid him, but he’ll see what he’ll see.”‘ My friend asked where the woman came from this time, and if she was dressed as before, and the woman said, ‘Always the same way, up the field beyant the burn. It was a thin sort of shawl she had about her in summer, and a cloak about her in winter; and many and many a time she came, and always it was good advice she was giving to my mother, and warning her what not to do if she would have good luck. There was none of the other children of us ever seen her unless me; but I used to be glad when I seen her coming up the burn, and would run out and catch her by the hand and the cloak, and call to my mother, “Here’s the Wee Woman!” No man body ever seen her. My father used to be wanting to, and was angry with my mother and me, thinking we were telling lies and talking foolish like. And so one day when she had come, and was sitting by the fireside talking to my mother, I slips out to the field where he was digging. “Come up,” says I, “if ye want to see her. She’s sitting at the fireside now, talking to mother.” So in he comes with me and looks round angry like and sees nothing, and he up with a broom that was near hand and hits me a crig with it. “Take that now!” says he, “for making a fool of me!” and away with him as fast as he could, and queer and angry with me. The Wee Woman says to me then, “Ye got that now for bringing people to see me. No man body ever seen me, and none ever will.”
‘There was one day, though, she gave him a queer fright anyway, whether he had seen her or not. He was in among the cattle when it happened, and he comes up to the house all trembling like. “Don’t let me hear you say another word of your Wee Woman. I have got enough of her this time.” Another time, all the same, he was up Gortin to sell horses, and before he went off, in steps the Wee Woman and says she to my mother, holding out a sort of a weed, “Your man is gone up by Gortin, and there’s a bad fright waiting him coming home, but take this and sew it in his coat, and he’ll get no harm by it.” My mother takes the herb, but thinks to herself, “Sure there’s nothing in it,” and throws it on the floor, and lo and behold, and sure enough! coming home from Gortin, my father got as bad a fright as ever he got in his life. What it was I don’t right mind, but anyway he was badly damaged by it. My mother was in a queer way, frightened of the Wee Woman, after what she done, and sure enough the next time she was angry. “Ye didn’t believe me,” she said, “and ye threw the herb I gave ye in the fire, and I went far enough for it.” There was another time she came and told how William Hearne was dead in America. “Go over,” she says, “to the Lough, and say that William is dead, and he died happy, and this was the last Bible chapter ever he read,” and with that she gave the verse and chapter. “Go,” she says, “and tell them to read them at the next class meeting, and that I held his head while he died.” And sure enough word came after that how William had died on the day she named. And, doing as she did about the chapter and hymn, they never had such a prayer-meeting as that. One day she and me and my mother was standing talking, and she was warning her about something, when she says of a sudden, “Here comes Miss Letty in all her finery, and it’s time for me to be off.” And with that she gave a swirl round on her feet, and raises up in the air, and round and round she goes, and up and up, as if it was a winding stairs she went up, only far swifter. She went up and up, till she was no bigger than a bird up against the clouds, singing and singing the whole time the loveliest music I ever heard in my life from that day to this. It wasn’t a hymn she was singing, but poetry, lovely poetry, and me and my mother stands gaping up, and all of a tremble. “What is she at all, mother?” says I. “Is it an angel she is, or a faery woman, or what?” With that up come Miss Letty, that was your grandmother, dear, but Miss Letty she was then, and no word of her being anything else, and she wondered to see us gaping up that way, till me and my mother told her of it. She went on gay-dressed then, and was lovely looking. She was up the lane where none of us could see her coming forward when the Wee Woman rose up in that queer way, saying, “Here comes Miss Letty in all her finery.” Who knows to what far country she went, or to see whom dying?
‘It was never after dark she came, but daylight always, as far as I mind, but wanst, and that was on a Hallow Eve night. My mother was by the fire, making ready the supper; she had a duck down and some apples. In slips the Wee Woman, “I’m come to pass my Hallow Eve with you,” says she. “That’s right,” says my mother, and thinks to herself, “I can give her her supper nicely.” Down she sits by the fire a while. “Now I’ll tell you where you’ll bring my supper,” says she. “In the room beyond there beside the loom–set a chair in and a plate.” “When ye’re spending the night, mayn’t ye as well sit by the table and eat with the rest of us?” “Do what you’re bid, and set whatever you give me in the room beyant. I’ll eat there and nowhere else.” So my mother sets her a plate of duck and some apples, whatever was going, in where she bid, and we got to our supper and she to hers; and when we rose I went in, and there, lo and behold ye, was her supper-plate a bit ate of each portion, and she clean gone!’

1897.

Yeats’ The Celtic Twilight

Yeats bookA REMONSTRANCE WITH SCOTSMEN FOR HAVING SOURED THE DISPOSITION OF THEIR GHOSTS AND FAERIES

   Not only in Ireland is faery belief still extant. It was only the other day I heard of a Scottish farmer who believed that the lake in front of his house was haunted by a water-horse. He was afraid of it, and dragged the lake with nets, and then tried to pump it empty. It would have been a bad thing for the water-horse had he found him. An Irish peasant would have long since come to terms with the creature. For in Ireland there is something of timid affection between men and spirits. They only ill-treat each other in reason. Each admits the other side to have feelings. There are points beyond which neither will go. No Irish peasant would treat a captured faery as did the man Campbell tells of. He caught a kelpie, and tied her behind him on his horse. She was fierce, but he kept her quiet by driving an awl and a needle into her. They came to a river, and she grew very restless, fearing to cross the water. Again he drove the awl and needle into her. She cried out, ‘Pierce me with the awl, but keep that slender, hair-like slave (the needle) out of me.’ They came to an inn. He turned the light of a lantern on her; immediately she dropped down like a falling star, and changed into a lump of jelly. She was dead. Nor would they treat the faeries as one is treated in an old Highland poem. A faery loved a little child who used to cut turf at the side of a faery hill. Every day the faery put out his hand from the hill with an enchanted knife. The child used to cut the turf with the knife. It did not take long, the knife being charmed. Her brothers wondered why she was done so quickly. At last they resolved to watch, and find out who helped her. They saw the small hand come out of the earth, and the little child take from it the knife. When the turf was all cut, they saw her make three taps on the ground with the handle. The small hand came out of the hill. Snatching the knife from the child, they cut the hand off with a blow. The faery was never again seen. He drew his bleeding arm into the earth, thinking, as it is recorded, he had lost his hand through the treachery of the child.
In Scotland you are too theological, too gloomy. You have made even the Devil religious. ‘Where do you live, good-wyf, and how is the minister?’ he said to the witch when he met her on the high-road, as it came out in the trial. You have burnt all the witches. In Ireland we have left them alone. To be sure, the ‘loyal minority’ knocked out the eye of one with a cabbage-stump on the 31st of March, 1711, in the town of Carrickfergus. But then the ‘loyal minority’ is half Scottish. You have discovered the faeries to be pagan and wicked. You would like to have them all up before the magistrate. In Ireland warlike mortals have gone amongst them, and helped them in their battles, and they in turn have taught men great skill with herbs, and permitted some few to hear their tunes. Carolan slept upon a faery rath. Ever after their tunes ran in his head, and made him the great musician he was. In Scotland you have denounced them from the pulpit. In Ireland they have been permitted by the priests to consult them on the state of their souls. Unhappily the priests have decided that they have no souls, that they will dry up like so much bright vapour at the last day; but more in sadness than in anger they have said it. The Catholic religion likes to keep on good terms with its neighbours.
These two different ways of looking at things have influenced in each country the whole world of sprites and goblins. For their gay and graceful doings you must go to Ireland; for their deeds of terror to Scotland. Our Irish faery terrors have about them something of make-believe. When a peasant strays into an enchanted hovel, and is made to turn a corpse all night on a spit before the fire, we do not feel anxious; we know he will wake in the midst of a green field, the dew on his old coat. In Scotland it is altogether different. You have soured the naturally excellent disposition of ghosts and goblins. The piper M’Crimmon, of the Hebrides, shouldered his pipes, and marched into a sea cavern, playing loudly, and followed by his dog. For a long time the people could hear the pipes. He must have gone nearly a mile, when they heard the sound of a struggle. Then the piping ceased suddenly. Some time went by, and then his dog came out of the cavern completely flayed, too weak even to howl. Nothing else ever came out of the cavern. Then there is the tale of the man who dived into a lake where treasure was thought to be. He saw a great coffer of iron. Close to the coffer lay a monster, who warned him to return whence he came. He rose to the surface; but the bystanders, when they heard he had seen the treasure, persuaded him to dive again. He dived. In a little while his heart and liver floated up, reddening the water. No man ever saw the rest of his body.
These water-goblins and water-monsters are common in Scottish folk-lore. We have them too, but take them much less dreadfully. Our tales turn all their doings to favour and to prettiness, or hopelessly humorize the creatures. A hole in the Sligo river is haunted by one of these monsters. He is ardently believed in by many, but that does not prevent the peasantry playing with the subject, and surrounding it with conscious fantasies. When I was a small boy I fished one day for congers in the monster hole. Returning home, a great eel on my shoulder, his head flapping down in front, his tail sweeping the ground behind, I met a fisherman of my acquaintance. I began a tale of an immense conger, three times larger than the one I carried, that had broken my line and escaped. ‘That was him,’ said the fisherman. ‘Did you ever hear how he made my brother emigrate? My brother was a diver, you know, and grubbed stones for the Harbour Board. One day the beast comes up to him, and says, ‘What are you after?’ ‘Stones, sur,’ says he. ‘Don’t you think you had better be going?’ ‘Yes, sur,’ says he. And that’s why my brother emigrated. The people said it was because he got poor, but that’s not true.’
You–you will make no terms with the spirits of fire and earth and air and water. You have made the Darkness your enemy. We–we exchange civilities with the world beyond.

Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland.

lady-gregoryWitches and Wizards and Irish Folk-Lore (W.B. Yeats)

Ireland was not separated from general European speculation when much of that was concerned with the supernatural. Dr. Adam Clarke tells in his unfinished autobiography how) when he was at school in Antrim towards the end of the eighteenth century, a schoolfellow told him of Cornelius Agrippa’s book on Magic and that it had to be chained or it would fly away of itself. Presently he heard of a farmer who had a copy and after that made friends with a wandering tinker who had another. Lady Gregory and I spoke of a friend’s visions to an old countryman. He said “he must belong to a society”; and the people often attribute magical powers to Orangemen and to Freemasons, and I have heard a shepherd at Doneraile speak of a magic wand with Tetragramaton Agla written upon it. The visions and speculations of Ireland differ much from those of England and France, for in Ireland, as in Highland Scotland, we are never far from the old Celtic mythology; but there is more likeness than difference. Lady Gregory’s story of the witch who in semblance of a hare, leads the hounds such a dance, is the best remembered of all witch stories. It is told, I should imagine, in every countryside where there is even a fading memory of witchcraft. One finds it in a sworn testimony given at the trial of Julian Cox, an old woman indicted for witchcraft at Taunton in Somersetshire in 1663 and quoted by Joseph Glanvill. “The first witness was a huntsman, who swore that he went out with a pack of hounds to hunt a hare, and not far from Julian Cox her house he at last started a hare: the dogs hunted her very close, and the third ring hunted her in view, till at last the huntsman perceiving the hare almost spent and making towards a great bush, he ran on the other side of the bush to take her up and preserve her from the dogs; but as soon as he laid hands on her, it proved to be Julian Cox, who had her head grovelling on the ground, and her globes (as he expressed it) upward. He knowing her, was so affrighted that his hair on his head stood on end; and yet spake to her, and ask’d her what brought her there; but she was so far out of breath that she could not make him any answer; his dogs also came up full cry to recover the game, and smelled at her and so left off hunting any further. And the huntsman with his dogs went home presently sadly affrighted.” Dr. Henry More, the Platonist, who considers the story in a letter to Glanvill, explains that Julian Cox was not turned into a hare, but that “Ludicrous Daemons exhibited to the sight of this huntsman and his dogs, the shape of a hare, one of them turning himself into such a form, another hurrying on the body of Julian near the same place,” making her invisible till the right moment had come. “As I have heard of some painters that have drawn the sky in a huge landscape, so lively, that the birds have flown against it, thinking it free air, and so have fallen down. And if painters and jugglers, by the tricks of legerdemain can do such strange feats to the deceiving of the sight, it is no wonder that these aerie invisible spirits have far surpassed them in all such prestigious doings, as the air surpasses the earth for subtlety.” Glanvill has given his own explanation of such cases elsewhere. He thinks that the sidereal or airy body is the foundation of the marvel, and Albert de Rochas has found a like foundation for the marvels of spiritism. “The transformation of witches,” writes Glanvill, “into the shapes of other animals … is very conceivable; since then, ’tis easy enough to imagine that the power of imagination may form those passive and pliable vehicles into those shapes,” and then goes on to account for the stories where an injury, say to the witch hare. is found afterwards upon the witch’s body precisely as a French hypnotist would account for the stigmata of a saint. “When they feel the hurts in their gross bodies, that they receive in their airy vehicles, they must be supposed to have been really present, at least in these latter, and ’tis no more difficult to apprehend, how the hurts of those should be translated upon their other bodies, than how diseases should be inflicted by the imagination, or how the fancy of the mother should wound the foettis, as several credible relations do attest.”
All magical or Platonic writers of the times speak much of the transformation or projection of the sidereal body of witch or wizard. Once the soul escapes from the natural body, though but for a moment, it passes into the body of air and can transform itself as it please or even dream itself into some shape it has not willed.

“Chameleon-like thus they their colour change,
And size contract and then dilate again
.”

   One of their favourite stories is of some famous man, John Haydon says Socrates, falling asleep among his friends, who presently see a mouse running from his mouth and towards a little stream. Somebody lays a sword across the stream that it may pass, and after a little while it returns across the sword and to the sleeper’s mouth again. When he awakes he tells them that he has dreamed of himself crossing a wide river by a great iron bridge.
But the witch’s wandering and disguised double was not the worst shape one might meet in the fields or roads about a witch’s house. She was not a true witch unless there was a compact (or so it seems) between her and an evil spirit who called himself the devil, though Bodin believes that he was often, and Glanvill always, “some human soul forsaken of God,” for “the devil is a body politic.” The ghost or devil promised revenge on her enemies and that she would never want, and she upon her side let the devil suck her blood nightly or at need.
When Elizabeth Style made a confession of witchcraft before the Justice of Somerset in 1664, the Justice appointed three men, William Thick and William Read and Nicholas Lambert, to watch her, and Glanvill publishes an affidavit of the evidence of Nicholas Lambert. “About three of the clock in the morning there came from her head a glistering bright fly, about an inch in length which pitched at first in the chimney and then vanished.” Then two smaller flies came and vanished. “H; looking steadfastly then on Style, perceived her countenance to change, and to become very black and ghastly and the fire also at the same time changing its colour; whereupon the Examinant, Thick and Read, conceiving that her familiar was then about her, looked to her poll, and seeing her hair shake very strangely, took it up and then a fly like a great miller flew out from the place and pitched on the table board and then vanished away. Upon this the Examinant and the other two persons, looking again in Style’s poll found it very red and like raw beef. The Examinant ask’d her what it was that went out of her poll, she said it was a butterfly, and asked them why they had not caught it. Lambert said, they could not. I think so too, answered she. A little while after the informant and the others, looking again into her poll found the place to be of its former colour. The Examinant asked again what the fly was, she confessed it was her familiar and that she felt it tickle in her poll, and that was the usual time for her familiar to come to her.” These sucking devils alike when at their meal, or when they went here and there to do her will or about their own business, had the shapes of pole-cat or cat or greyhound or of some moth or bird. At the trials of certain witches in Essex in 1645 reported in the English state trials a principal witness was one “Matthew Hopkins, gent.” Bishop Hutchinson, writing in 1730, describes him as he appeared to those who laughed at witchcraft and had brought the witch trials to an end. “Hopkins went on searching and swimming poor creatures till some gentlemen, out of indignation of the barbarity, took him, and tied his own thumbs and toes as he used to tie others, and when he was put into the water he himself swam as they did. That cleared the country of him and it was a great pity that they did not think of the experiment sooner.” Floating when thrown into the water was taken for a sign of witchcraft. Matthew Hopkins’s testimony, however, is uncommonly like that of the countryman who told Lady Gregory that he had seen his dog and some shadow fighting. A certain Mrs. Edwards of Manintree in Essex had her hogs killed by witchcraft, and “going from the house of the said Mrs. Edwards to his own house, about nine or ten of the clock that night, with his greyhound with him, he saw the greyhound suddenly give a jump, and run as she had been in full course after a hare; and that when this informant made haste to see what his greyhound so eagerly pursued, he espied a white thing, about the bigness of a kitlyn, and the greyhound standing aloof from it; and that by and by the said white imp or kitlyn danced about the grey-hound, and by all likelihood bit off a piece of the flesh of the shoulder of the said greyhound; for the greyhound came shrieking and crying to the informant, with a piece of flesh torn from her shoulder. And the informant further saith, that coming into his own yard that night, he espied a black thing proportioned like a cat, only it was thrice as big, sitting on a strawberry bed, and fixing the eyes on this informant, and when he went to-wards it, it leaped over the pale towards this informant, as he thought, but ran through the yard, with his greyhound after it, to a great gate, which was underset with a pair of tumble strings, and did throw the said gate wide open, and then vanished; and ‘he said greyhound returned again to this informant, shaking and trembling exceedingly.” At the same trial Sir Thomas Bowes, Knight, affirmed “that a very honest man of Manintree, whom he knew would not speak an untruth affirmed unto him, ‘hat very early one morning, as he passed by the said Anne West’s door” (this is the witch on trial) “about four o’clock, it being a moonlight night, and perceiving her door to be open so early in the morning, looked into the house and presently there came three or four little things, in the shape of black rabbits, leaping and skipping about him, who, having a good stick in his hand, struck at them, thinking to kill them, but could not; but at last caught one of them in his hand, and holding it by the body of it, he beat the head of it against his stick, intending to beat out the brains of it; but when he could not kill it that way, he took the body of it in one hand and the head of it in another, and endeavoured to wring off the head; and as he wrung and stretched the neck of it, it came out between his hands like a lock of wool; yet he would not give over his intended purpose, but knowing of a spring not far off, he went to drown it; but still as he went he fell down and could not go, but down he fell again, so that he at last crept upon his hands and knees till he came at the water, and holding it fast in his hand, he put his hand down into the water up to the elbow, and held it under water a good space till he conceived it was drowned, and then letting go his hand, it sprung out of the water up into the air, and so vanished away.” However, the sucking imps were not always invulnerable for Glanvill tells how one John Monpesson, whose house was haunted by such a familiar, “seeing some wood move that was in the chimney of a room, where he was, as if of itself, discharged a pistol into it after which they found several drops of blood on the hearth and in divers places of the stairs.” I remember the old Aran man who heard fighting in the air and found blood in a fish-box and scattered through the room, and I remember the measure of blood Odysseus poured out for the shades.
The English witch trials are like the popular poetry of England, matter-of-fact and unimaginative. The witch desires to kill some one and when she takes the devil for her husband he as likely as not will seem dull and domestic. Rebecca West told Matthew Hopkins that the devil appeared to her as she was going to bed and told her he would marry her. He kissed her but was as cold as clay, and he promised to be “her loving husband till death,” although she had, as it seems, but one leg. But the Scotch trials are as wild and passionate as is the Scottish poetry, and we find ourselves in the presence of a mythology that differs little, if at all, from that of Ireland. There are orgies of lust and of hatred and there is a wild shamelessness that would be fine material for poets and romance writers if the world should come once more to half-believe the tale. They are divided into troops of thirteen, with the youngest witch for leader in every troop, and though they complain that the embraces of the devil are as cold as ice, the young witches prefer him to their husbands. He gives them money, but they must spend it quickly, for it will be but dry cow dung in two circles of the clock. They go often to Elfhame or Faeryland and the mountains open before them and as they go out and in they are terrified by the “rowtling and skoylling” of the great “elf bulls.” They sometimes confess to trooping in the shape of cats and to finding upon their terrestrial bodies when they awake in the morning the scratches they had made upon one another in the night’s wandering, or should they have wandered in the images of hares the bites of dogs. Isobell Godie who was tried at Loclilay in 1662 confessed that “We put besoms in our beds with our husbands till we return again to them… and then we would fly away where we would be, even as straws would fly upon a highway. We will fly like straws when we please; wild straws and corn straws will be horses to us, and we put them betwixt our feet and say horse and hillock in the devil’s name. And when any see these straws in a whirlwind and do not sanctify themselves, we may shoot them dead at our pleasure.” When they kill people, she goes on to say, the souls escape them “but their bodies remain with us and will fly as horses to us all as small as straws.” It is plain that it is the “airy body” they take possession of; those “animal spirits” perhaps which Henry More thought to be the link between soul and body and the seat of all vital function. The trials were more unjust than those of England, where there was a continual criticism from sceptics; torture was used again and again to distort confessions, and innocent people certainly suffered; some who had but believed too much in their own dreams and some who had but cured the sick at some vision’s prompting. Alison Pearson who was burnt in 1588 might have been Biddy Early or any other knowledge-able woman in Ireland today. She was convicted “for haunting and repairing with the Good Neighbours and queen of Elfhame, these divers years and bypast, as she had confessed in her depositions, declaring that she could not say readily how long She was with them; and that she had friends in that court who were of her own blood and who had great acquaintance of the queen of Elfhame. That when she went to bed she never knew where she would be carried before dawn.” When they worked cures they had the same doctrine of the penalty that one finds in Lady Gregory’s stories. One who made her confession before James I. was convicted for “taking the sick party’s pains and sicknesses upon herself for a time and then translating them to a third person.”

II

There are more women than men mediums today; and there have been or seem to have been more witches than wizards. The wizards of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries relied more upon their conjuring book than the witches whose visions and experiences seem but half voluntary, and when voluntary called up by some childish rhyme:

Hare, hare, God send thee care;
I am in a hare’s likeness now,
But I shall be a woman even now;
Hare, hare, God send thee care
.

   More often than not the wizards were learned men, alchemists or mystics, and if they dealt with the devil at times, or some spirit they called by that name, they had amongst them ascetics and heretical saints. Our chemistry, our metallurgy, and our medicine are often but accidents that befell in their pursuit or the philosopher’s stone, the elixir of life. They were bound together in secret societies and had, it may be, some forgotten practice for liberating the soul from the body and sending it to fetch and carry them divine knowledge. Cornelius Agrippa in a letter quoted by Beaumont, has hints of such a practice. Yet like the witches, they worked many wonders by the power of the imagination, perhaps one should say by their power of up vivid pictures in the mind’s eye. The Arabian philosophers have taught, writes Beaumont, “that the soul by the power the imagination can perform what it pleases; as penetrate heavens, force the elements, demolish mountains, raise valleys to mountains, and do with all material forms as it pleases.”

He shewed hym, er he wente to sopeer,
Pores tes, parkes ful of wilde deer;
Ther saugh he hertes with hir hornes hye,
The gretteste that evere were seyn with ye.

***
Tho saugh he knyghtes justing in a playn;
And after this, he dide hym swich plaisaunce,
That he hym shewed his lady on a daunce
On which hymself he daunced, as hym thoughte.
And whan this maister, that this magyk wroughte,
Saugh it was tyme, he clapte his handes two,
And, farewel! al our revel was ago
.

   One has not as careful a record as one has of the works of witches, for but few English wizards came before the court, the only society for psychical research in those days. The translation, however, of Cornelius Agrippa’s De Occulta Philosophia in the seventeenth century, with the addition of a spurious fourth book full of conjurations, seems to have filled England and Ireland with whole or half wizards. In 1703, the Reverend Arthur Bedford of Bristol, who is quoted by Sibley in his big book on astrology, wrote to the Bishop of Gloucester telling how a certain Thomas Perks had been to consult him. Thomas Perks lived with his father, a gunsmith, and devoted his leisure to mathematics, astronomy, and the discovery of perpetual motion. One day he asked the clergyman if it was wrong to commune with spirits, and said that he himself held that “there was an innocent society with them which a man might use, if he made no compacts with them, did no harm by their means, and were not curious in prying into hidden things, and he himself had discoursed with them and heard them sing to his great satisfaction.” He then told how it was his custom to go to a crossway with lantern and candle consecrated for the purpose, according to the directions in a book he had, and having also consecrated chalk for making a circle. The spirits appeared to him “in the likeness of little maidens about a foot and a half high … they spoke with a very shrill voice like an ancient woman” and when he begged them to sing, “they went to some distance behind a bush from whence he could hear a perfect concert of such exquisite music as he never before heard; and in the upper part he heard something very harsh and shrill like a reed but as it was managed did give a particular grace to the rest.” The Reverend Arthur Bedford refused an introduction to the spirits for himself and a friend and warned him very solemnly. Having some doubt of his sanity, he set him a difficult mathematical problem, but finding that he worked it easily, concluded him sane. A quarter of a year later the young man came again, but showed by his face and his eyes that he was very ill and lamented that he had not followed the clergyman’s advice for his conjurations would bring him to his death. He had decided to get a familiar and had read in his magical book what he should do. He was to make a book of virgin parchment, consecrate it, and bring it to the cross-road, and having called up his spirits, ask the first of them for its name and write that name on the first page of the book and then question another and write that name on the second page and so on till he had enough familiars. He had got the first name easily enough and it was in Hebrew, but after that they came in fearful shapes, lions and bears and the like, or hurled at him halls of fire. He had to stay there among those terrifying visions till the dawn broke and would not be the better of it till he died. I have read in some eighteenth century book whose name I cannot recall of two men who made a magic circle and who invoked the spirits of the moon and saw them trampling about the circle as great bulls, or rolling about it as flocks of wool. One of Lady Gregory’s story-tellers considered a flock of wool one of the worst shapes that a spirit could take.
There must have been many like experimenters in Ireland. An Irish alchemist called Butler was supposed to have made successful transmutations in London early in the eighteenth century, and in the Life of Dr. Adam Clarke, published in 1833, are several letters from a Dublin maker of stained glass describing a transmutation and a conjuration into a tumbler of water of large lizards. The alchemist was an unknown man who had called to see him and claimed to do all by the help of the devil “who was the friend of all ingenious gentlemen.”