Thaumatographia Pneumatica
(The Wonders of the Spirit World)

Cotton Mather (1663-1729)
from Magnalia Christi Americana (Vol. II; Chp. VII)


Relating the Wonders of the Invisible World in Preternatural Occurrences

Miranda cano, sed sunt credenda.
[The themes I sing are marvellous, yet true.]

When two goats were offered unto the Lord (and only unto the Lord) on the day of expiation, among the ancient Israelites, we read that one of them was to fall by lot to Azazel. Azazel cannot, without some hardship on the sense, be taken for the name of the scapegoat itself: But it is no other than the name of the Devil himself, as might easily be proved from the monuments of the greatest (both Jewish and Christian) antiquities.

In the signification of the word Azazel, there is indeed a notable declaration of those two properties that have signalized the devil; his being first a powerful (brave), and then an apostate (fleeing) spirit. The scapegoat, presented as a sacrifice unto the holy God, was ordered by him to be delivered up unto Azazel upon these two intentions. One design hereof might be to intimate unto the people what would be the miserable condition of them who did not by faith in the Messiah get the guilt of their own sins removed. They that have their sins lying upon them, and are "led forth with the workers of iniquity," must become a prey to Azazel, even to Satan, unto whose temptations they did, in their sinning, yield obedience. And indeed our Lord has expressly told us (perhaps not without some allusion to this levitical goat) that he will send the goats which have their sins upon them to be with the "Devil and his angels."

But another and a greater design of it might be to represent a main article in the dreadful sufferings which were to befall out Lord Messiah when he should come to suffer for our sins. When our Lord Jesus Christ underwent his humiliation for us, this point was very considerable in it; he was carried into the wilderness and there he was exposed to the buffetings and outrages of Azazel. The assaults that Satan then and afterwards made on our Lord Jesus Christ, producing a most horrible anguish in his mind, made such a figure in his conflicts for us, that they were well worthy of a most particular prefiguration. And one thing in the prefiguration must be that the goat for Azazel must be sent into the desert. In the days of Moses, it seems, deserts were very much considered an habitation of devils: Yea, they really were what they were counted, and for that cause the names of Shedim and Zijim were put upon them, and when the Scriptures foretell desolations to such and such places, they still make the devils to be their inhabitants.

Who can tell whether the envy of the devils, at the favor of God unto men, may not provoke them to affect retirement from the sight of populous and prosperous regions, except so far as they reckon their work of tempting mankind necessary to be carried on? Or perhaps it is not every country before which the devils prefer the desert. Regions in which the devils are much served by those usages, either in worship or in manners which are pleasing to them, are by those doleful creatures enough resorted unto. Yea, if sin so much abound anywhere, some devils entreat that they may "not be sent from thence into the wilderness." But regions like the land of Israel, where the true God is continually prayed unto, and where the word of God is continually sounding, are filled with such things as are very uneasy unto the devils: The devils often recede much from thence into the wilderness, as the devil of Mascon would say to Mr. Perreaud, the minister that lived in the haunted house, "While you fo to prayer, I'll take a turn in the street."

Thus to omit what Alexander Hales reports of one retiring to uninhabitable places, where the spirits taught him the things which he wrote in his book De Magicis (On Magic), we know that in Lucian the famous magician Mithrobarzanes, with his companions, betook themselves "into a desert, woody, shady region" for a conversation with spirits.

Whatever becomes of the observation which we have hitherto been making, there has been too much cause to observe that the Christians who were driven into the American desert, which is now called New England, have to their sorrow seen Azazel dwelling and raging there in very tragical instances. The devils have doubtless felt a more than ordinary vexation from the arrival of those Christians with their sacred exercises of Christianity in this wilderness, but the sovereignty of Heaven has permitted them still to remain in the wilderness for our vexation, as well as their own.

Molestations from evil spirits, in more sensible and surprising operations than those finer methods -- wherein they commonly work upon the minds of men, but especially ill men -- have so abounded in this country that I question whether any one town has been free from sad examples of them. The neighbors have not been careful enough to record and attest the prodigious occurrences of this importance which have been among us. Many true and strange occurrences from the invisible world, in these parts of the world, are faultily buried in oblivion. But some of these very stupendous things have had their memory preserved in the written memorials of honest, prudent,a nd faithful men whose veracity in the relations cannot, without great injury, be questioned.

Of these I will now offer the public some remarkable histories; for everyone of which we have had such a sufficient evidence that no reasonable man in this whole country ever did question them, and it will be unreasonable to do it in any other. For my own part, I would be as exceedingly afraid of writing a false thing as of doing an ill thing, but has my pen always moved in the fear of God.