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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/233

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SUPERSTITION AND CRIME.

1577 a man was put to the rack in Bamberg, North Bavaria, for murdering and disemboweling three pregnant women. In the seventeenth century a band of robbers, whose chief was known as "King Daniel," created intense consternation among the inhabitants of Ermeland in East Prussia. For a long time these freebooters roved and spoiled with impunity, but were finally arrested and executed. They confessed that they had killed fourteen women, but, as the unborn infants proved to be female, their hearts were devoid of talismanic virtue. Indeed, they attributed their capture to this unfortunate and unforseeable circumstance, and posed as persons worthy of commiseration on account of their ill luck. One of the strangest features of this cruel and incredible superstition is its persistency in an age of superior enlightenment. Dr. Gross records two cases of comparatively recent occurrence in the very centers of modern civilization: one in 1879, near Hamburg, where a woman, great with child, was killed and cut open by a Swede named Andersen, and another of like character ten years later in Simmering, near Vienna.

An ordeal very commonly practiced in the middle ages to determine the guilt or innocence of any one accused of theft was to give him a piece of consecrated cheese, which, if he were guilty, it would be impossible for him to swallow. Hence arose the popular phrase, "It sticks in his throat." Thus Macbeth says, after he had "done the deed":

"But wherefore could not I pronounce amen?
I had most need of blessing, and amen
Stuck in my throat."

Wuttke states that this custom still prevails in the Prussian province of Brandenburg, where a person suspected of larceny is made to swallow a piece of Dutch cheese on which certain magical letters and signs are scratched. His failure to do so is regarded as conclusive evidence of his guilt. Various other means of making inquest for the detection of crime are in vogue, some of them merely silly, and others mercilessly savage. Thus a mirror is laid for three successive nights in the grave of a dead man. It is placed there in the name of God, and taken out in the name of Satan. It is believed that by looking into such a mirror the person of the thief can be clearly seen. A bull belonging to a peasant not far from Perm, on the Kama, died suddenly. The owner declared that the death of the animal was due to witchcraft, and demanded that all the women of the village should be made to creep through a horse collar in order to discover the hag who had wrought the mischief. This plan was approved by his neighbors, and, although their wives protested against being subjected to the degrading and for corpulent women extremely