Talismanic Jewelry by Aidan Wachter (Photo from http://www.aidanwachter.com)
If you haven’t seen Aidan Wachter Talismanic Jeweler‘s magnificent Pagan- and magical-themed creations in silver (http://www.aidanwachter.com/), you should absolutely look at what he’s got to offer. The jewelry is hand-made in his workshop, and he’s constantly working on new designs from a variety of magical sources, including angelic work, grimoires, folk magic, and runestaves. He also does work to empower and enchant his creations, which is right up our alley.
He’s even offered a special sale (his first ever!!!) to our supporters and listeners. Simply use the code “Witchery” (without the quotation marks) when you check out at his site and get 10% off of your order. Do be aware that since this is work of a highly personalized nature he is currently turning orders around to ship in about 8 weeks.
A big Thank You to Aidan for making this available to our listeners!
For February 2015, we bring Atticus Hob on as our guest co-host to discuss magical book traditions, especially grimoires old and new.
Download: New World Witchery – Episode 74
Please keep Laine in your thoughts and prayers, as she is dealing with a serious (but thankfully not life-threatening) medical issue.
Some of the old grimoires we mention in this episode include The Black Pullet, The 6th & 7th Book of Moses, The Petit Albert, The Key of Solomon and the Goetia, the Romanus Buchlein, Secrets of Albertus Magnus, the Enchiridion of Pope Leo, and of course, the Bible.
You can find Cory’s article on magical books, including Joshua Gordon’s Commonplace Book, in Witches & Pagans magazine. He also mentions Rob Chapman’s Pow-wow Grimoire, and both discuss Grimoires by Owen Davies. We also both recommended the recend Llewellyn edition of Hohman’s Long-lost Friend, edited by Daniel Harms. Hob highly recommends Jim Baker’s Cunning Man’s Handbook.
Please stop by Hob’s current website, the Orphan’s Almanac, which is a wonderful fusion of the esoteric, the poetic, and the curious.
If you have feedback you’d like to share, email us or leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you!
Promos & Music
A number of modern spells are designed to bring “prosperity” into an individual’s life. In some cases, Wiccan and Wiccan-influenced spellbooks contain workings that either target specific needs and cash amounts, or which seek to generally enhance the financial stability of the magician or his/her designated target (most Wiccan spellbooks also require that the magician have permission from the target even in beneficial magical workings like this). Certainly, magical practices designed to bring a sense of bounty and abundance into one’s life go back quite far—the cults of Fortuna and Tyche in the ancient world appeal to good luck, and the Roman cult of Pomona pursued the ideal of a fruitful life. Folk magic, however, has generally focused less on meeting a generalized prosperity and has drilled down to specific financial problems and advantages. The Wiccan spells which seek a specific sum of money to cope with a specific issue—a medical bill, a broken radiator, etc.—very much mirror the sorts of spells done by people across multiple times and places as they tried to cope with uncertain finances.
Another brand of folk magic, however, did not work towards a specific sum, nor did it seek to bring a vaguely defined sense of wealth into someone’s life. Instead, many spells targeted getting rich—quick! In some cases, the spell’s target would be a gambler who worked to gain the advantage in games of chance (more on that another day, hopefully). A few stories talk of acts of magical extortion, wherein a magician would either try to low-ball the purchase of land/livestock with the threat that failure to accept a paltry offer would result in the destruction of the commodity in question OR a witch might place a curse on a neighbor and only remove the curse for a fee (you can find several examples of such stories in The Silver Bullet, and Other American Witch Stories by Hubert J. Davis).
If someone wanted to get rich really quickly, however, he or she would turn to magical treasure hunting. Plenty of European grimoires had methods for finding lost treasures, usually with the help of spirits. Some grimoire texts which influenced American practices, such as The Black Pullet, spelled out in detail how to summon treasure-seeking daemons to work on one’s behalf:
“This talisman and this ring are not less valuable. They will enable you to discover all the treasures which exist and to ensure you the possession of them. Place the ring on the second finger of your right hand, enclose the talisman with the thumb and little finger of your left hand, and say, Onaim, Perantes, Rasonastos.” I repeated these three words, and seven spirits of a bronze colour appeared, each carrying a large hide bag which they emptied at my feet. They contained gold coins which rolled in the middle of the hail where we were. I had not noticed that one of the spirits had on his shoulder a black bird, its head covered with a kind of hood. “It is this bird,” the old man said to me, “who has made them find all this treasure. Do not think that these are some of what you have seen here. You can assure yourself of this.” I replied, “You are for me the truth itself. My father! Do you believe that I would insult you by doubting?”
He made a sign, and the spirits replaced the gold in the bags and disappeared. “You see, my son, what the virtues of these talismans and rings are. When you know them all, you will be able, without my aid, to perform such miracles as you judge proper” (The Black Pullet, 20-21).
Seals and incantations like these made it into later magical practices, especially in places where grimoire languages like German, Spanish, or French were spoken (to be clear, many grimoires were written in languages like Latin with commentaries in European languages, and these three tongues were hardly the only ones in which grimoires appeared).
Of course, being able to find treasure only helps if treasure is already buried in the earth waiting to be found. In the maritime culture of early New England (as well as the maritimes of other parts of the New World), a widespread belief in hidden golden caches secreted beneath the soil became the basis for a number of magical spells. A Maine man named Daniel Lambert, suddenly flush with money, faced suspicion, for:
Lacking any other apparent explanation, his neighbors attributed Daniel Lambert’s sudden wealth to the discovery of buried pirate treasure. Despite Canaan’s location dozens of miles from navigation, the inhabitants readily believed that Lambert had found a treasure chest because, as Kendall explained, “The settlers of Maine, like all the other settlers in New England indulge an unconquerable expectation of finding money buried in the earth.” Indeed, backcountry folk insisted that troves of pirate treasure guarded by evil spirits pockmarked the New England countryside even in locales far from the coast (Taylor 7).
Since the New World was vast and dangerous, people turned to magic to help find these copious buried (and frequently ‘cursed’) treasures, and to remove any dangers that might arise during the expedition to unearth them. A number of ‘rules’ for enchanted bounty-seeking developed, including:
- Treasure hunting teams needed at least three members, as that number ensured magical success
- Magical circles should be inscribed around the digging site to prevent any malevolent spirits from attacking the diggers
- Implements of silver, such as silver spoons or spades, should be used to dig at least part of the earth to ensure luck in the hunt and to protect the diggers from harm
- Blood offerings (animals usually) had to be made to quell the guardian spirits protecting the treasure—a belief related to the idea that a guardian spirit was usually a person who was killed and his blood spilled over the burial ground
In addition to maritime treasures, the idea of “Indian” gold became very popular. Some European colonists and conquerors were sure that entire cities of gold were just waiting to be found in the dense, mysterious interiors of North and South America. Gonzalo Pizzaro and Sir Walter Raleigh both mounted expeditions to find such legendary places, frequently referred to as “El Dorado,” or “the golden one.” In almost every case, however, the site was protected by evil spirits, a curse, ghosts, or some other malevolent force. In some situations, however, the spirit might actually help a seeker find his or her treasure: “There are many tales about ghosts who speak to people, telling them to dig at such-and-such a place to find a buried treasure. The ghost is usually that of some fellow who died without being able to tell anybody where his treasure was concealed, and who cannot rest quietly until someone gets the money and enjoys it” (Randolph 219). How one ensures that the ghost is not simply walking the magician into a trap is anyone’s guess.
One of the best examples of magical treasure hunting led to an entire religious movement in the New World. While the time has not yet come to explore the full magical heritage of the Latter Day Saints, I would be remiss to omit them here. Joseph Smith, prophet and founder of the Mormon faith, used to hunt for treasure using methods derived from alchemy and hermetic science/magic. He followed the rules laid out above, frequently offering “sacrificed either pure white or jet black sheep or dogs to lay out magic circles of blood” prior to discovering his golden plates and having his angelic vision (Taylor 12). Smith’s methods were not deviant or unusual. He used seer or peep stones to help find his hidden treasures, and his activity in the highly spiritually active area of New York known as the Burned-Over District was imitative of earlier seekers and followed by those who did the same. In fact, Smith was following very much in his own father’s footsteps, as Joseph Smith, Sr. was an active treasure seeker in Palmyra, New York. He is recorded to have once described his methods to a neighbor, saying “the best time for digging money was in the heat of the summer, when the heat of the sun caused the chests of money to rise to the top of the ground” (Brooke 31). The tradition the Smiths followed required—like many grimoire traditions do—that the seeker be spiritually pure or else he will fail in his pursuits, a concept brought in from hermetics and alchemy. The fervent spirituality and insistence on saintly behavior left a strong mark on the junior Smith, and helped him feel prepared for his prophetic role in revealing the Book of Mormon (which was inscribed on golden plates).
In some cases, treasures of golden pieces and precious gems are not the target of the magic. I have written previously on the phenomenon of dowsing, which allows a person to magically search for substances like water and oil beneath the earth. In some cases, the dowser might also search for veins of gold or silver or other valuable ores like iron. The method for making such a dowsing tool appears in Hohman’s early nineteenth century text, The Long-Lost Friend:
TO MAKE A WAND FOR SEARCHING FOR IRON, ORE OR WATER.
On the first night of Christmas, between 11 and 12 o’clock, break off from any tree a young twig of one year’s growth, in the three highest names (Father, Son and Holy Ghost), at the same time facing toward sunrise. Whenever you apply this wand in searching for anything, apply it three times. The twig must be forked, and each end of the fork must be held in one hand, so that the third and thickest part of it stands up, but do not hold it too tight. Strike the ground with the thickest end, and that which you desire will appear immediately, if there is any in the ground where you strike. The words to be spoken when the wand is thus applied are as follows: Archangel Gabriel, I conjure thee in the name of God, the Almighty, to tell me, is there any water here or not? do tell me! + + +
If you are searching for Iron or Ore, you have to say the same, only mention the name of what you are searching for.
This version of magical dowsing incorporates high magical elements (such as the invocation of Gabriel) and strong folk magical ones (the clipping of the tree twig at sunrise and the simple dowsing methodology). On the simpler end of the spectrum, one could simply put a bit of whatever was being sought into the tip of the dowsing rod, as in this example from the Ozarks: “Many hillfolk are interested in the search for lost mines and buried treasure, and some of these people have tried to use the witch stick in their quests. If a man is looking for buried gold, he fastens a gold ring to the end of his stick ; if it is silver that he expects to find, he splits the end of the wand and inserts a silver coin. Rayburn says that to locate mixed ores one uses two different metals usually a dime and a penny” (Randolph 88).
The practice of hunting for buried wealth and riches spanned cultural and geographic boundaries. In many cases, very strict rules were followed, regarding purification and protection as well as actual seeking magic. Spirits would guide a magician to the site of a treasure, and in some cases might even be employed to raise it from the earth. In other cases, the spirits associated with the treasure were deeply malevolent and most of the magic employed was to placate or dis-empower any evil that might be lingering about the dig site. The payoff for an effective treasure hunter could be a sack of coins, a buried chest, or even a new branch of a religion, but the work required up front was heavy and intense. While gambling charms might take longer, the success rate was better overall. In the end, getting rich quick via magical means, it seems, has always been a labor-intensive and time-consuming effort, just like any other job.
Thanks for reading!
- Anonymous. The Black Pullet (Red Wheel/Weiser, 2007).
- Brooke, John L. The Refiner’s Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844 (Cambridge UP, 1996).
- Davies, Owen. Grimoires: A History of Magic Books (Oxford UP, 2010).
- Davis, Hubert J. The Silver Bullet, and Other American Witch Stories (Jonathan David Pub., 1975).
- “El Dorado,” Wikipedia (2013).
- Gainer, Patrick W. Witches, Ghosts, & Signs: Folklore of the Southern Appalachians (Vandalia Press, 2008).
- Hohman, John George. The Long-Lost Friend: A 19th Century American Grimoire, ed. Daniel Harms (Llewellyn, 2012).
- Horowitz, Mitch. Occult America: White House Seances, Ouija Circles, Masons, & the Secret Mystic History of Our Nation (Bantam, 2010 reprint).
- Hutcheson, Cory. “Blog Post 146 – Dowsing,” New World Witchery, 2011.
- Milnes, Gerald C. Signs, Cures, & Witchery (Univ. of Tenn. Press, 2009).
- Randolph, Vance. Ozark Magic & Folklore (Dover, 1964).
Taylor, Alan. “The Early Republic’s Supernatural Economy: Treasure Seeking in the American Northeast, 1780-1830.” American Quarterly (Spring, 1986).
This is just a friendly reminder that the deadline to enter our Speak-a-Spell Contest is midnight tonight! If you’ve been thinking about submitting but haven’t done so yet, there’s no time like the present. We’ll be compiling all the recordings into a sort of ‘audio spellbook’ when we’re done, so keep that in mind when submitting.
A quick summary of the rules:
- Share a favorite spell that you’ve used and which works for you
- Files <5 minutes in length, in .mp3, .m4a, AAC, or .wav format
- Tell us who you are and where you’re from, generally
- Please tell us all spell components and describe actions carefully
- Send us your file at email@example.com , subject line: “Audio Spell Contest”
- Deadline November 18th, 2011 (THAT’S TONIGHT!)
If there’s absolutely no way for you to record your spell in your own voice, you can submit it as a written spell, and Laine and/or I will read it for the show in your stead.
The prizes up for grabs are three books by New World Witchery guests:
- American Shamans by Jack Montgomery
- The Encyclopedia of Mystics, Saints, & Sages by Judika Illes
- The Voodoo Hoodoo Spellbook by Denise Alvarado
Prizes and winners will be picked at random, but any of these books would be a great addition to a magical library.
If you’ve already submitted and want to do another entry, feel free! Every submission gets you an entry into the contest.
Thanks to all those who’ve sent in spells and to those who have been spreading the word! This should be a pretty neat project when it’s all done.
This is the second part of the series on magical texts in America that I started way back in Blog Post 105. In that article, we looked at the different criteria for “Devil’s Books” that were often cited as a key component of witchcraft during the Colonial era. Today, we’ll be looking at a few of the tomes that were used by witchhunters in that era to determine just who was a witch, and what to do with one.
In general, witches were viewed as a very real phenomenon during the Colonial period. In New England, the belief in witches was prevalent enough that “witchfinding” was a legitimate career, just as it was in England (Matthew Hopkins, the “Witchfinder General” being a prime example of this profession). Other colonies, such as Virginia and Pennsylvania, took a more publically liberal stance towards witchcraft, and regarded it as “bad behavior” rather than any indication of diabolic allegiance. William Penn once ordered a woman accused of witchcraft to simply “practice good behavior” and insisted to her accuser that there was no law against “riding a broom” (SC&W). The Calvinist influence on the upper Appalachian colonies may have made them more willing to regard witchcraft as superstition, at least publically. However, the prevalence of anti-witchcraft charms, talismans, and amulets in all the colonies demonstrates that in private, many folks believed much as the Puritans did—witches existed, and they were dangerous. Naturally, those who feared malefic magic wanted to know how to figure out just who might be bewitching their cattle, stealing their milk, and spoiling their butter (an awful lot of witchcraft seemed to revolve around dairy products), and so they turned to the manuals available at the time.
Some of the key texts used to seek out, identify, and punish witches were:
The Malleus Maleficarum (Witch Hammer) – This is probably the most famous of the witch-hunter’s manuals, a heavy tome which set out to prove witches exist, that the were dangerous, that they were (usually) women, and that they could be stopped. Published first around 1486 in Germany by Swiss-German priest Jacob Sprenger, the Malleus was a central tool of the Inquisition as it pursued those it considered heretics. The book may also have been co-authored (or potentially solely authored) by Heinrich Kramer, but Kramer was later denounced by the Inquisition, and so authorial attribution has generally gone to Sprenger. The Malleus is divided into three basic sections: the first section tries to prove that witches must exist, the second describes how witches are made or how one becomes a witch, and the third section examines methods for detecting and punishing witches.
To give you some idea of what the Malleus contained, here is a section on how one forms a “Devil’s Pact” (I like that subject, if you haven’t noticed):
“Now the method of profession is twofold. One is a solemn ceremony, like a solemn vow. The other is private, and can be made to the devil at any hour alone. The first method is when witches meet together in the conclave on a set day, and the devil appears to them in the assumed body of a man, and urges them to keep faith with him, promising them worldly prosperity and length of life; and they recommend a novice to his acceptance. And the devil asks whether she will abjure the Faith, and forsake the holy Christian religion and the worship of the Anomalous Woman (for so they call the Most Blessed Virgin MARY), and never venerate the Sacraments; and if he finds the novice or disciple willing, then the devil stretches out his hand, and so does the novice, and she swears with upraised hand to keep that covenant. And when this is done, the devil at once adds that this is not enough; and when the disciple asks what more must be done, the devil demands the following oath of homage to himself: that she give herself to him, body and soul, for ever, and do her utmost to bring others of both sexes into his power. He adds, finally, that she is to make certain unguents from the bones and limbs of children, especially those who have been baptized; by all which means she will be able to fulfil all her wishes with his help” (from the Montague Summers translation).
If any of that sounds familiar, well, that’s probably because the Malleus basically served as a repository for folklore about witches and their powers. Based on stories and legends, an entire system of witchcraft was extrapolated, and then used to seek out and punish those who fit certain molds set by the Malleus. Punishments for witchcraft could be relatively light, requiring the accused to produce character witnesses: “assigning to you such a day of such a month at such hour of the day, upon which you shall appear in person before us with so many persons of equal station with you to purge you of your defamation.” Or they could be rather severe, including torture with red-hot irons and eventual execution by fire. Folklore is serious business when it’s taken too literally, it seems.
The Discoverie of Witchcraft – Reginald Scot’s 1584 treatise on superstition and attack on the Catholic Church became central to witchcraft persecutions not because it advised how to detect and destroy witches, but rather because it set out to completely disprove them. Scot, who considered the persecution of the poor or elderly which so often occurred during witch-hunts to be abominable, penned this small work in order to prove that any “witchcraft” being performed was pure charlatanism and that only the most foolish of magistrates and judges would subscribe to such ideas. His method for doing this, however, was to basically lay out in detail a grimoire’s worth of magic. As scholar Owen Davies puts it:
“Scot, a rather unusual demonological writer in that he was not a clergyman, lawyer, or physician, propounded a rationalist view of religion that went beyond [fellow demonologist] Weyer’s own more cautious view on diabolic intervention. Yet Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft was a treasure trove of magical information, providing spells, Catholic prayers, exorcisms, charms, talismans, and rituals on how to communicate with angels, demons, and the spirits of the dead. There were detailed instructions on conjuring up treasure and how to enclose a spirit in a crystal…So Scot produced what amounted to the first grimoire produced in the English language, and while he did so to prove the worthlessness of its contents he unwittingly ended up democratizing ritual magic rather than undermining it” ( Grimoires p. 70).
The Malleus Maleficarum had spelled out a number of magical rituals and spells, too, and so it seems that many of these guides to witch-hunting became, instead, roundabout guides to witchcraft. Scot’s work, however, ran afoul of King James I of England upon his ascension to power in 1603. James, who was a fervent believer in witches and demons (and authorized the translation of the Bible which contained the phrase “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” in Exodus 22:18 rather than a more accurate “sorceress” or “person who does evil magic,” although that is neither here nor there), ordered all copies of Scot’s Discoverie burned.
Wonders of the Invisible World – What sounds like a rollicking travel guide is, in fact, a defense of one of the most notorious witch-hunters in early American history. Cotton Mather (1663-1728) is best known for his role as a goad and “expert” during the Salem witch trials of the late 17th Century. When his part in that particularly tragic series of events (which I hope to explore more in a future article or show) came under criticism, he wrote his work as a means of proving that honest-to-goodness witchcraft was happening in Salem and everyone was darn lucky he was there to help stop it. After all, witches were blasphemous and diabolical creatures who not only used wicked spells—and okay, occasionally healed the sick, sure, sure—but did so as an intentional affront to Christian dignity and belief. For example, in a section entitled “The First Curiositie,” Mather says:
“The Devil which then thus imitated what was in the Church of the Old Testament, now among Us would Imitate the Affayrs of the Church in the New. The Witches do say, that they form themselves much after the manner of Congregational Churches; and that they have a Baptism and a Supper, and Officers among them, abominably Resembling those of our Lord.
But there are many more of these Bloody Imitations, if the Confessions of the Witches are to be Received; which I confess, ought to be but with very much of Caution.
What is their striking down with a fierce Look? What is their making of the Afflicted Rise, with a touch of their Hand? What is their Transportation thro’ the Air? What is their Travelling in Spirit, while their Body is cast into a Trance? What is their causing of Cattle to run mad and perish? What is their Entring their Names in a Book? What is their coming together from all parts, at the Sound of a Trumpet? What is their Appearing sometimes Cloathed with Light or Fire upon them? What is their Covering of themselves and their Instruments with Invisibility? But a Blasphemous Imitation of certain Things recorded about our Saviour, or His Prophets, or the Saints in the Kingdom of God” (p. 246)
Mather’s book did not have quite the same effect that Scot’s book or the Malleus did. Instead, it merely capped the end of some of the most ferocious witch-hunting in New England. Nor did Mather’s work become a grimoire unto itself as the other texts mentioned here did. While it certainly offered some ideas of how one might become a witch and what powers might then be gained, there was little in the way of magic actually in its pages. All in all, that is probably for the best, as Mather seems a bit stodgy and reading a grimoire by him would probably prove a bit dull.
There are other witch-hunting manuals and texts on just how to pursue and prosecute suspected witches, of course. James I had his own (likely ghost-written) catalogue of the supernatural, Daemonologie. The Malleus was likely influenced by other manuals of its kind like Formicarius, by Swabian priest Johannes Nider. Modern witch-hunts in places like Africa and India tend not to rely on weighty guidebooks to the world of the unseen and diabolical, though the influence of these texts certainly lingers in the identification and punishment of supposed witches. I have even heard well-educated American Christian missionaries returning from Tanzania describe entire villages of witches. While they were cautious not to present witchcraft as the Harry Potter-esque phenomenon that those in the attending congregation might have mentally pictured, they absolutely believed that people with dark, uncanny powers lived in that particular enclave, and that the area was best avoided if at all possible. Somehow, such admonitions made me want to visit that particular village. But maybe that’s just me.
While witch-hunting manuals are, mostly, a thing of the past, it is worth noting that websites abound with information on finding and purging witches from one’s community. I’ll not list them here, as I really don’t want to entangle this site with links to those sites, but a quick Google of terms like “how to get rid of a witch” and “neighborhood witch” will yield some results, including one site which actually says: “I just read the first booke [sic] of Daemonolgie by King James and I found it highly instructive.” So, in all fairness, witch-hunting manuals aren’t gone—they’ve just upgraded to digital.
At any rate, I count my blessings that for the most part I live in a place where my magical practice is an asset (albeit a fairly secretive one) rather than a genuine liability. Hopefully books like the Malleus will one day be historical relics, rather than active references. Until then, a few extra protection spells can’t hurt.
Thanks for reading!
In an effort to blend the subjects of recent blog posts, I thought today I’d start to look at a few of the key magical texts which would have had an influence on the American Colonies. Much of this entry will be directed by a reading of Owen Davies’ Grimoires: A History of Magic Books and Witchcraft, Magic, & Religion in 17th-Century Massachusetts by Richard Weisman, both of which I highly recommend reading. I am also pulling from The Silver Bullet by Hubert J. Davis and Witches, Ghosts, & Signs by Patrick Gainer. I’ll mostly be looking at the English colonies, but the French and Spanish colonies will also enter into the discussion a bit during later articles.
In general, the magical books of the early colonies came in three flavors: devil’s books, witch-hunting manuals, and grimoires. The Devil’s Book was frequently thought by Puritan settlers to be the ultimate embodiment of human sin—a willful signing away of one’s soul to infernal powers. By simply signing one’s name to such a book, a witch gained all her power and lost all her salvation (I use “her” because the popular conception of a witch tended towards the feminine, though male witches were not uncommon either). Some of the key features of a Devil’s Book and its accompanying rituals were:
The Profaning of the Bible – The witch would have to stamp upon a Bible or otherwise deface it before being allowed to sign. In some cases, a Bible itself was used to sign the witch into the Devil’s service. Several Appalachian tales record instances of witches simply making an “X” in a marred Bible to indicate their pact. In The Silver Bullet, witch Rindy Sue Gose performs this sort of ritual to seal her contract with the Devil:
“Fust, Rinday Sue cut her finger with a knife, and when hit started to bleed, she opened a little Bible and ‘peared to write sumpthin’ in hit with the blood from her finger. The Devil then nipped her on the left shoulder to give her a witchmark so’s she could suckle her familiar. Rindy Sue swore to give her soul to the Devil and to work for him the rest of her born days. Then, the Devil danced with her, and then went into the woods behindst thet tree” (Davis 17).
This action echoes the profaning of the Lord’s name or the recitation of a reversed “Our Father” as a way of breaking the bonds of Christianity for a witch. Not that you should read much into that, of course.
The Use of Blood as Ink – When witches made their mark, they often didn’t actually sign their name. In a time when general literacy was still low (though it should be noted that literacy among Puritan men was quite high for the era), not everyone would be expected to have a “signature.” Instead, they would have a “mark,” often an “X” which they used as an indication of their agreement to a contract. To personalize this mark in the rituals of witchcraft, a witch wouldn’t simply take an inked quill and make a fancy “X,” though. Instead, her blood was an indication that the pact bound her body and soul to the Devil. Puritan minister William Perkins described the process (most business-like) as follows:
“The express and manifest compact is so termed, because it is made by solemn words on both parties. For the satisfying hereof, he [the future witch] gives to the devil for the present, either his own handwriting, or some part of his blood as a pledge and earnest penny to bind the bargain” (Weisman 36).
The Devil sometimes used a great iron pen to draw the blood from the witch before having him sign his name, and in cases where the book was not a defaced Bible, the great book contained hundreds of other blood signatures from other witches.
Owen Davies observes in his book that the drawing up of a pact between a witch or sorcerer and an infernal representative was nothing new—look at the legend of Faust for example. What made these New World magical compacts unique was that the witch did not draw up the document herself, but rather was lured into signing a book which she would not take possession of, but rather which remained in the custody of her magical Master. All her magic, then, would be learned without the aid of books, at least in this model of New England Colonial witchcraft. Indeed, the Devil presented himself or his imps to the witch as her means for accomplishing malefic magic rather than gifting her the use of dusty tomes of magical lore and spells. In short, the Devil’s Book was merely a roster of the souls won to his service, and possessed little magical power in and of itself, at least superficially. However, many witches might claim that a deeper reading of the Devil’s Book phenomenon reveals that the act of writing in blood on a sacred object in fact demonstrates a type of very old and powerful magic. Thus, such a book, if it could be wrested from the Devil, would be very powerful, indeed, perhaps containing the magic of all those who had signed before.
Next time we pick up this thread, we’ll be looking at the witch-hunting books, and why they may have actually helped more witches in their spellcrafting than they actually hurt by “revealing” them.
Thanks for reading!