Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/491

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CURIOSITIES OF SUPERSTITION.

Lipari, Terra del Fuego (!), etc., because many shrieks and fearful cries are continually heard thereabouts, and familiar apparitions of dead men, ghosts, and goblins. . . . The devil being a slender and incomprehensible spirit, can easily insinuate himself into human bodies. A nun did eat lettuce without grace, or signing it with the sign of the cross, and was instantly possessed. . . . A young maid called Katherine Gaiter, a cooper's daughter, had such strange passions and convulsions that three men could sometimes not hold her; she purged a live eel, which suddenly vanished; she vomited some twenty-four pounds of strange stuff of all colors, twice a day for fourteen days, and after that she voided great balls of hair, pieces of wood, pigeon's dung, parchment, goose-dung, coals, and large stones. They could do no good on her with physic, and left her to the clergy. . . . The arts of witches are almost as infinite as the devil's, who is still ready to grant their desires, to oblige them the more unto him. They can cause tempests and storms, which is familiarly practiced by witches in Norway and Iceland, as I have proved (!). They can make friends enemies, and enemies friends by philters, turpes amores conciliare, enforce love, tell any man where his friends are, about what employed, though 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."—("Anatomy of Melancholy," Part I, section 2, subject i-iii.)

Neither learning nor logic afforded a safeguard against the monomania of the middle ages, and Northern Europe owed its final deliverance to the love of freedom rather than the love of science. The delusion of the fourteen hundred years' interregnum of reason was to all purposes a contagious mental disease; and who shall say if the prophylactics of our present civilization afford a guarantee against the recurrence of such epidemics? In the mind of a mental pathologist the progress of spiritualism, with its revived thirst for miracles, might awaken unpleasant recollections of the second century—the eve of the era when St. Gregory Thaumaturgus carried the day against the protests of the Roman Huxleys and Carpenters. The trouble is, that the creed of science has thus far been always agnostic, and its negative propaganda could not maintain the field against the enthusiasm of a positive superstition. Faith strikes deeper roots than skepticism, and the dogmas that could crush out the logic of Aristotle found their match in some of the silliest myths of paganism. Several myths of this sort proved so wholly ineradicable that the new creed could assert its supremacy only by a kind of grafting process, a mythical metastasis that enabled the new dogma to draw its nourishment from the root of an old superstition. The period of many Catholic festivals coincides with the season of ancient Roman and Druidical mysteries. Sacred fanes became miraculous shrines; Ceres, Bacchus, Venus, Pan, and Priapus still collect their old perquisites in the name of new saints.