Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 43.djvu/381

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

a crime now is not looked upon as conclusive in law, and the accused is not obliged to confess. But in these trials for witchcraft the whole aim of the court seemed to be to extort a confession. For this object torture was resorted to, with the results that multitudes confessed that they were witches and persisted in their confessions until death relieved them. For the confession meant death, its object not being to spare the accused, but to justify the accuser. As a writer has said, "Madness is always particularly prevalent during great religious and political revolutions"—many therefore confessed through madness. Others, of a timid, doubting mind, made themselves believe that, unknown to themselves, they were witches. While "very often the terrors of the trial, the prospect of the most agonizing of deaths, and the frightful tortures that were applied to the weak frame of an old and feeble woman, overpowered her understanding; her brain reeled beneath the accumulated suffering, the consciousness of innocence disappeared, and the wretched victim went raging to the flames, convinced that she was about to sink forever into perdition."

Another yery interesting point discussed at great length in these old books was whether the same body could be in two places at once. That the body might be in one place and the mind in another—this was agreed upon; but whether the body might be in two places—that was a harder question. However, it was decided eventually that this was quite possible, and thereafter the fact that wives were at home with their husbands was not accepted as proof that they were not elsewhere in the same form as witches. Indeed, several early saints had this same gift. St. Ambrose celebrated mass in France and Italy at the same time, and St. Clement is well known to have consecrated a church at Pisa while performing mass at Rome. There is no doubt as to this latter point, for there is blood as a proof upon the altar at Pisa; and if this is not his blood, whose is it? Closely allied to this was what is called "lycanthropy"—i. e., the taking of the form of an animal by Satan or one of his angels. There are some most wonderful stories of transformation to be found in the old records, all of which are very ludicrous to us in this nineteenth century, but when, three hundred years ago, it was a question of the stake here and everlasting fire hereafter, they did not appear so full of humor. A French judge named Boguet devoted himself especially to this branch of witchcraft, wrote a book upon it, and burned multitudes of these lycanthropes, his rule being to strangle other witches first, but to burn these without strangling.

So it came to pass that in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the skies of continental Europe were lurid with the flames of burning women, and every market place had its fagot and its stake.