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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/221

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SUPERSTITION AND CRIME.

calling in question the existence of the devil or the actuality of diabolical agencies in human affairs without undermining the foundations of the ecclesiastical system, of which he was an acknowledged supporter. Such a declaration would "take away our hope," as the Scotchman said of the denial of a literal hell-fire and the doctrine of eternal punishment. It was for the same reason that the great body of the Catholic clergy, from Pope Leo XIII and the highest dignitaries of the church down to the humblest country vicar, so easily fell into the snares laid by Leo Taxil and accepted the signature of the devil Bitru as genuine, and his revelations concerning the pact of the freemasons with Satan as authentic. It is certainly somewhat startling to meet with such a case of gross superstition as the above-mentioned in one of the seats of modern science and centers of European civilization. In rural districts, remote from the influences of intellectual culture, however, instances of this kind are of quite frequent occurrence, and often result in the commission of crime. Human sacrifices to Satan are still by no means uncommon in many parts of Russia, and are supposed to be effective in warding off famine and in staying the ravages of pestilence. Even in Germany and other countries of western Europe the belief in their prophylactic virtue is remarkably prevalent, and would be often put into practice were it not for the stricter administration of justice and the greater terror of the law.

In October, 1889, the criminal court in the governmental province of Archangelsk, in northern Russia, sentenced a Samoyede, Jefrern Pyrerka, to fifteen years' imprisonment with hard labor for the murder of a maiden named Ssavaney. His sole defense was that an unusually severe winter with a heavy fall of snow had produced a famine followed by scurvy, of which all his children had died. He therefore made an image of the devil out of wood, smeared its lips with fat, and set it up on a hillock. He then attempted to lasso one of his companions, Andrey Tabarey, and had already thrown the noose round his neck, when the energetic wife of the intended victim intervened and rescued her husband. Shortly afterward he succeeded in strangling the girl and offering her as a sacrifice to his idol. In the province of Novgorod, known as "the darkest Russia," it is a general custom among the country people to sacrifice some animal, usually a black cat, a black cock, or a black dog, by burying it alive, in order to check the spread of cholera. In the village of Kamenka, a peasant, whose son had died of this disease, interred with the body eight live tomcats. The immolation of dumb animals, however, is deemed less efficacious than that of human beings. On one occasion, when the cholera was raging severely, a deputation of peasants waited upon their parson, stating that they had