Of Witches and Magicians;
How They Cause Melancholy

Robert Burton,The Anatomy of Melancholy (early 1600s)

You have heard what the Devil can do himself, now you shall hear what he can perform by his instruments, who are many times worse (if it be possible) than he himself, and to satisfy their revenge and lust cause more mischief. Much harm had never been done, as Erastus thinks, had he not been provoked by witches to do it. He would not have appeared in Samuel's shape if the witch Endor had let him alone; or represented those serpents in Pharoah's presence had not the magicians urged him unto it: men and cattle might go free (Erastus maintains) if the witches would let him alone.

Many deny witches at all or, if there be any, they can do no harm. Of this opinion is Wierus, Austin Lerchemer, a Dutch writer, Biarmannus, Ewichius, Euwaldus, our countryman Scot; with him in Horace:

Dreams, magic terrors, miracles, and witches,
And nightly spectres, and Thessalian portents,
All these they laugh at.

They laugh at all such stories, but on the contrary are most lawyers, diviners, physicians, philosophers; Austin, Hemingius, Danaeus, Chytraeus, Zanchius, Aretius, etc.; Delrio, Springer, Niderius, Cuiatius, Bartolus, Bodine, Godelman, Damhoderius, etc.; Paracelsus, Erastus, Scribanius, Camerarius, etc.

The parties by whom the Devil deals may be reduced to these two, such as command him in show at least: as conjurers and magicians, whose detestable and horrid mysteries are contained in their book called Arbatell. For the demons appear when invoked and suffer themselves to be, as it were, compelled by exorcisms and conjurations, that they may keep the wretched race of magi in their impiety; or such as are commanded, as witches, that deal on the one part intricately, on the other clearly, as King James I hath well defined [Daemonologie; 1599].

Many subdivisions there are and many several species of sorcerers, witches, enchanters, charmers, etc. They have been tolerated heretofore, some of them, and magick hath been publicly professed in former times, in Salamanca, Cracovia, and other places, though after censured by several universities and now generally contradicted, though practiced by some still, maintained and excused as a secret thing. So to say, imparted by heavenly favor for the special instruction of great men (I use Boissardus's words) and so far approved by some princes, that they attempt nothing in politics, religion, nor indeed in the making of any plan without [the witches'] counsel: they consult still with them and dare indeed do nothing without their advice.

Nero and Heliogabalus, Maxentius, and Julian the Apostate were never so much addicted to magick of old as some of our modern princes and popes themselves are nowadays. Erricus, king of Sweden, had an enchanted cap by virtue of which -- and some magical murmur of whispering terms -- he could command spirits, trouble the air, and make the wind stand which way he would, insomuch that when there was any great wind or storm, the common people were wont to say the king now had on his conjuring cap.

But such examples are infinite. That which they can do is as much almost as the Devil himself, who is still ready to satisfy their desires; to oblige them more unto him. They can cause tempests, which is familiarly practised by witches in Norway and Iceland, as I have proved. They can make friends into enemies, and enemies friends, by philters; enforce love; tell any man where his friends are and about what employed, though they be in the most remote places; and, if they will, bring their sweethearts to them by night, upon a goat's back, flying in the air (Sigismund Scheretzius reports confidently that he conferred with sundry such that had been so carried many miles, and that he heard witches themselves confess as much); hurt and infect men and beasts, vines, corn, cattle, plants; make women abortive, not to conceive, barren, men and women unapt and unable, married and unmarried, fifty several ways, saith Bodine; fly in the air; meet when and where they will, as Cicogna proves, and Lavater; steal young children out of their cradles, through the aid of demons, and put deformed in their rooms, which we call changelings, saith Scheretzius; make men victorious, fortunate, eloquent.

Therefore, in those ancient monomachies and combats they were searched of old; they had no magical charms. They can make stick-frees, [people] such as shall endure a rapier's point or musket shot and never be wounded, of which read more in Boissardus: the manner of the adjuration and by whom 'tis made, where and how to be used in warlike expeditions and wars, etc., with many peculiar instances and examples. [Stick-frees] can walk in fiery furnaces, feel no pain on the rack nor any other tortures, can stanch blood, represent dead men's shapes, and alter and turn themselves and others into several forms at their pleasures.

Agaberta, a famous witch in Lapland, would do as much publicly to all spectators: now young, now old, high, low, like a cow, like a bird, a snake, and whatnot. She could represent to other what forms they most desired to see, show them friends absent, reveal secrets to the greatest wonder of everybody, etc. And yet for all this subtilty of theirs -- as Lipsius well observes -- neither these magicians nor devils themselves can take away gold or letters out of mine or Crassus's chest and give them to their clients, for they are base, poor, contemptible fellows, most part. As Bodine notes, they can do nothing. They cannot give money to their clients, alter judges' decrees, or counsels of kings. These petty genii cannot do it -- the higher powers reserve these things to themselves.

Now and then peradventure there may be some more famous magicians -- like Simon Magus, Apollonius Tyanaeus, Pases [or Pasetes], Iamblicus, Eudo de Stellis -- that for a time can build castles in the air, represent armies, etc., as they are said to have done; command wealth and treasure, feed thousands with all varity of meats upon a sudden, protect themselves and their followers from all princes' persecutions by removing from place to place in an instant, reveal secrets, future events, tell what is done in far countries, make them appear that died long since, etc., and do many such miracles -- to the world's terror, admiration, and opinion of the Diety -- to themselves. Yet the Devil forsakes them at last. They come to wicked ends, and seldom or never such imposters are to be found.

The vulgar sort of them can work no such feats. But to my purpose, they can, last of all, cure and cause most diseases to such as they love or hate, and this of melancholy amongst the rest. Paracelsus in express words affirms many are bewitched into melancholy, out of his experience. The same saith Danaeus. I have seen those that have caused melancholy in the most grievous manner -- dried up women's paps, cured gout, palsy, this and apoplexy, falling sickness, which no physick could help -- by touch alone.

Ruland gives an instance of one David Helde, a young man who, by eating cakes which a witch gave him, began to dote on a sudden and was instantly mad. FHD in Hildesheim, consulted about a melancholy man, thought his disease was partly magical and partly natural because he vomited pieces of iron and lead and spake such languages as he had never heard taught. But such examples are common in Scribanius, Hercules de Saxonia, and others.

The means by which they work are usually charms, images (as that in Hector Boethius of King Duff), characters stamped of sundry metals and at such constellations, knots, amulets, words, philters, etc., which generally make the parties affected melancholy, as Monavius discourseth at large in an epistle of his to Scoltzius, giving instance in a Bohemian baron that was so troubled by a philter taken.

Not that there is any power at all in those spells, charms, characters, and barbarous words, but that the Devil doth use such means to delude them, so that he may so keep the faithful magi (saith Libanius) to their duty, and also call them to the aid of malefactors.