People Infected and Infested With Such Daemons

Cotton Mather, Magnalia Christi Americana (Vol. 1) (1702)

Reader, prepare to be entertained with as prodigious matters as can be put into any history! And let him that writes the next Thaumatographia Pneumatica allow to these prodigies the chief place among the wonders.

About the time of our blessed Lord's coming to reside on Earth, we read of so many "possessed with devils" that it is commonly thought the number of such miserable energumens was then increased above what has been usual in other ages; and the reason of that increase has been made a matter of some inquiry...

It is very certain there were hardly any people in the world grown more fond of soceries than [the Jewish] people: the Talmud tells us of the little parchments with words upon them which were their common amulets, and of the charms which they muttered over wounds, and of the various enchantments which they used against all sorts of disasters whatsoever. It is affirmed in the Talmud that no less than twenty-four scholars in one school were killed by witchcraft, and that no less than fourscore persons were hanged for witchcraft by one judge in one day. The gloss adds upon it "that the women of Israel had generally fallen to the practice of witchcrafts," therefore it was required that there should be still chosen into the council one skillful in the arts of the sorcerers and able thereby to discover who might be guilty of those black arts among such as were accused before them.

Now, the arrival of Sir William Phips to the government of New England was at a time when a governor would have occasion for all the skill in sorcery that was ever necessary to a Jewish counsellor; a time when scores of poor people had newly fallen under a prodigious possession of devils, which it was then generally thought had been by witchcraft induced. It is to be confessed and bewailed that many inhabitants of New England, and young people especially, had been led away with little sorceries, wherein they did "secretly those things that were not right against the Lord and their God." They would often cure hurts with spells and practice detestable conjurations with sieves and keys and pease and nails and horseshoes and other implements, to learn the things for which they had a forbidden and impious curiosity... Although this diabolical divinations are more ordinarly committed perhaps over the whole world than they are in the country of New England, yet, that being a country devoted unto the worship and service of the Lord Jesus Christ above the rest of the world, he signalized his vengence against these wickednesses with such extraordinary dispensations as have not been seen in other places.

The devils which had been so played withal, and, it may be, by some few criminals more explicitly engaged and employed, now broke in upon the country after as astonishing a manner as was ever heard of... The people that were infected and infested with such daemons, in a few days' time, arrived unto such a refined alteration upon their eyes that they could see their tormentors: they saw a devil of a little stature and of a tawny color, attended still with spectres that appeared in more humane circumstances.

These tormentors tendered unto the afflicted a book, requiring them to sign it at least, in token of their consenting to be listed in the service of the devil, which, they refusing to do, the spectres under the command of that blackness, as they called him, would apply themselves to torture them with prodigious molestations.

The afflicted wretches were horribly distorted and convulsed; they were pinched black and blue; pins would be run everywhere in their flesh; they would be scalded until they had blisters raised on them; and a thousand other things, before hundreds of witnesses, were done unto them, evidentally preternatural. For if it were preternatural to keep a rigid fast for nine -- yea, for fifteen -- days together; or if it were preternatural to have one's hands tied close together with a rope to be plainly seen, and then by unseen hands presently pulled up a great way from the earth before a crowd of people -- such preternatural things were endured by them.

But of all the preternatural things which befell these people, there were none more unaccountable than those wherein the prestigious daemons would ever now and then cover the most corporeal things in the world with a fascinating mist of invisibility... A person was haunted by a most abusive spectre which came to her, she said, with a sheet about her, though seen to none but herself...

Also, it is well known that these wicked spectres did proceed so far as to steal several quantities of money from divers people, part of which individual money was sometimes dropped out of the air... Yet more: the miserable have complained bitterly of burning rags run into their forceably distended mouths... Once more: the miserable exclaimed extremely of branding irons heating at the fire on the hearth to mark them...

Flashy people may burlesque these things, but when hundreds of the most sober people in a country where they have as much mother-wit certainly as the rest of mankind, know them to be true, nothing but the absurd and forward spirit of Sadducism can question them. I have not yet mentioned so much as one thing that will not be justified, if it be required, by the oaths of more considerate persons than any that can ridicule these odd phenomena.