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A history of the witches of Renfrewshire online

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natural manner of phaenomena are subject to cavil, yet the
existence of a thing which hath so certain positive evidence
cannot be denied in sound reasoning ; because angels arid
men not being made for civil converse together in this world,
and all communion with devils being interdicted us, the Scrip-
ture needed to unfold little of their way of acting ; and stiQ
the next age may discover what this could not reach, as this
has already unveiled what was thought inextricable in the last,
unless impossibility were presently demonstrated. Therefore
such a short hint, as may somewhat illustrate the events in
the subsequent discourse, may suffice in the present case;
especially since providence does, by eminent occurrences,
rather design our practical instruction, than a subject of
national speculation.

The devil can assume a corporeal shape and bespeak man
out of it : as he did to Eve, our Saviour, and in some heathen

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oracles : so that there is capacity for the entering into con-
tract Satan is willing thus to insure mortals of being enemies
to heaven, earth, and their own salvation, by his indefatigable
malice against all the three : as curiosity in wits, revenge, and
disclosure of secrets in the great, covetousness in the worldling,
or power and pleasure in all whom he thinks needful, (they
being impregnable other ways), and is permitted by God, to
attack in this manner, does sufficiently blind them, to be
susceptible of his proposals thereanent. We see daily how
criminal lusts inflamed by Satan, divert their horror, not only
of eternal, but also of temporal eminent torments : perverting
these instincts of nature which might fright them from sur-
render. But fiuther, he does commonly facilitate his
conquest on witches, by decopng them piecemeal to his lure,
through the mediation of others from among mankind that
are already embarked, till they be prepared, and he get an
opportunity of making with them an explicit transaction.

That accordingly Satan has de facto prevailed in making
sorcerers and witches, appears from the testimony of the wisest
and best m all states and times.

The heathens, by nature and practice, discovering this truth,
made laws against maieficos and mathematicos^^ (these last,
though they assumed the name of an art much encouraged
by the legislators, yet were known, under the doak thereof,
to consult the Devil anent the fates of men and states) which
the Roman senate and people did execute; and even the
Persians, in some good reigns did the same. Under the Old
Testament dispensation the magicians of Egypt and Babylon
were baffled by Moses and Daniel ; Balaam and the witch of
Endor were baffled, just judgments were inflicted on Jezebel,

* Witches and Mathematicians.

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Manasseh, and the ten tribes for their sorceries, and witch-
crafts amongst other crimes ; and the laws made agamst such,
as distinct from other guilt under the New Testament Simon
Magus, who bewitched the people of Samaria ; Elymas the
sorcerer, who was struck blind at PauFs rebuke : the
Pythonisse girl who seems to have been possest of consent,
because she was not tormented, but got profit thereby ; and
such as confessed shewed their deeds and burned their books
in Ephesus ; are undeniable instances of witchcraft Finally,
there are prophecies of false Christs with signs and wonders,
able to deceive, if possible, the very elect : general councils
have made canons against these wretches ; and the experi-
mental knowledge of injured mortals, with the public
sentences which did vindicate the same, in subsequent ages,
are delivered down to us by the writers thereof. Hence
Guilielmus Linensis, a popish doctor, was justly put to death,
even though he died penitent, he having confessed witchcraft,
(whereof the written covenant was found in his pocket,) and
that his share of the DeviPs service was to persuade and
preach that witches were only silly deluded melancholians,
whereby their confessibns were no proof. His success was
such in this work of darkness, that the people and judge's
did slack, and witches were vastly multiplied in few years,
vid. Pet. Mamorius de Lamiis, who gives an account of the
process from authentic records. Through these periods, it is
observed, that Satan has oft shifted the scene, and turned
himself to many. shapes, as he found it most accommodating to
his purposes : whereby the manner of apparition of devils has
been different, according to the state of the times. So of old
Satan appeared, and was worshipped as such, for deprecating
his mischief, which is said to be retained in some of the most
barbarous places of the Indies to this day.

In the darkness of Popery the Devil was transformed into

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a more innocent spirit,* in the brounies and fairies. These
were then very frequent, he having impudence thus to appear
openly, proportional to the knowledge of men, over whom his
reign was so universal, as it b related to continue in the more
northern regions at this day. But since light has broke out
in our horizon, he oftener works externally by magicians and
witches, and internally on the lusts of men, being now mostly
restrained to his own sphere or subjects. Yet still he
ensnares severals, partly by aping the ordinances of God ;
especially as they are corrupted in the Romish Church,
whence so many monks and nuns as already prepared, have
been found overcome So he keeps with them public
assemblies in the night of extraordinary merit They form-
ally worship him by many mimical gestures ; he imprints on
them a kind of sacrament ; he inflicts dreadful penances on
such as have not executed the commanded mischiefs; he
teaches them odd words and signs, upon repeating of which
exorcisms, he (it being his interest) effectuates the fore-
pactioned operations, &c

But though what he does of himself, or on the watch word
or ensign of sorcerers or witches, may, by collection, and
artful disposal of matter and form, appear surprising ; yet he
caimot work against nature, or so apply actives to passives, as
to overturn the course thereof; since that is only competent
to its author, who alone can do true miracles, or know immedi-
ately the thoughts of man. Yea, after the fall it is like, that
even Satan's natural powers are come down below those of
good angels ; and it is certain, that he is often befooled in his
designs by providence : notwithstanding whereof he retains

♦ That pretended to foretell deaths, reveal the defunct's will, discover
occult murder, do other friendly offices, &c., which were subtle means of
inducing to him and relying on him.

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SO much as (being permitted) is sufficient to bring about, by
unseen natural means, most of the extraordinary appearances,
that the generality of the learned have attributed to him ; and
particularly those in the subsequent narrative : many of which,
though they are beyond the efficiency of disease, deceit, or
any visible cause ; yet may be the effects of some such unper-
ceived means as follow.

There is no difficulty in Satan's transmitting in a short time
an account of things which are past ; since it is known he
goes to and fro in the earth : yea, he may have certainly
foretold some future events, as Alexander's success against
Persia, &c., seeing he understands and may steal the great
revolutions of the world, out of the prophets, wherein they
are so graphically circumscribed ; or he may discover his own
resolutions whenever he is commissioned or permitted to
execute a judgment ; which is the case of those, whom for
seeking their horoscopes, God gives over to him to whom they
do apply ; and of Saul, who got so exact an account of his
own end by the Philistines. But without some such aid,
Satan can only guess, like the physician by the urine, or
politician by the crises of states, which is the cause that most
of his oracles are ambiguous.

His transporting of witches is elsewhere explained. He
can raise hurricanes, as appears in Job, which are known to
carry over tracts of sea and land, very ponderous bodies ; as it
is easy for him to condense a part of the vehicle, which may
protect the breathing and yet cut the air, like the fence of
dyvers, and beak of a sloop ; in which also he affects the
magnifying of his natural powers to be no less than of good
angels, who transported Ezekiel and Elijah. His covering of the
witches from sight, at some times, is also cleared from the
difficulties which seem to attend it, in another place, where it
appears very possible that his skill in optics, reflection and


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refraction of light, &c, to which his power and agility as a
spirit subministrates materials, may effectuate all that can be
proven to be true fact in the case.

But Glanvil, More, and others, lay another hypothesis in
both, viz.. That the soul is separable from the body in some
cases without death : when by God^s permission, Satan, of the
parties' consent, gets power over soul and body ; whereby he
may carry away the one from the helm of the other, and set it
back again in its seat ; providing the vital spirits which make
the body a fit receptacle, be well preserved by ointments, that
constrict the pores till the retiun of its guest ; but death ensues
from a separation, when the organs of the body are rendered
altogether unapt to obey the souFs commands in its functions.
If such an opinion could be true, Satan might place this cap-
tivated spirit to actuate any shape he thinks fit. But there
needs not so much metaphysics to unriddle the appearances
of witches as beasts and the like, since their real persons may
be covered with a vehicle, which by disposal of the rays com-
ing therefrom, may fascinate the eyes by the same impressions
that come from the true sight of such. His power of repre-
senting another thing in lieu of that which is truly present, is
so certain that it is found he may make up the image of per-
sons who are not present at all. For it is undoubted that
spiritual devils' may sometimes be permitted to represent by
phantoms the most innocent and praise-worthy men, as devils
incarnate do traduce them. He that accuseth the brethem
and imitates an angel of light, may likewise personate the
children of light by his delusions : yet the antecedents, con-
comitants, and consequents of such providences, do readily
propale the falsehood, so as the just man, for the most part^
shall not perish in his righteousness, and God, in his ordinary
providence, will not laugh at the trial of the innocent, though
sometimes it faU out that the sons of Belial may swear away
the life of an innocent Naboth,

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There are several other things of less difficult explication.
Particularly, the devil or witches might have been heard in
converse by the maid, and not by others, the same way as a
sound directed through a speaking-trumpet does reach the
ears to which it is aimed, without dispersing towards the inter-
mediate that are not in a straight Hne betwixt The con-
federated devil, may, upon the witches' desire, infuse poisonous
humours, extracted from herbs of the same invisible operation
with the steam of mad dogs, or the pestilence, which being
joined to the rapidous course of the patient's own spuits,
humours, and blood, that Satan, by ingyring himself thereunto,
may, through the natural means of pulsion, set in career, can
very well produce these extraordinary motions which are
mentioned in the following account. They delight much in
the torture or destruction of young children, in envy of Christ,
who is tender of such little ones ; and because the crime is
the greater the less the patient has offended, or can resist.
They use, or make others to repeat scripture words for gaining
credit, or alleviating the terror, or to disgrace the Word, by
such a mock use, as they did in the time of our Saviour, and
therefore their testimony was rebuted. It is observable from
many passages, that he hastens sometimes, and effects their
discovery, by his malice against their present temporal enjoy-
ments, uncertainty of their continuance, and insatiable desire
for their full wreck. , Yet some of them, who are most
maliciously bent, he thinks fit to keep here, as useful instru-
ments; and providence permits others to live, that they,
wilfully filling up their measure, under means, may be finally

As to those whom, in secret judgment, the devil is permitted
to torment, but, in mercy, not to overcome, he may be
carried thereunto from his design of perverting them by terror,
whereof he is at last disappointed. And however the defacing

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of God's image, and especially in despight of Jesus Christ,
who honoured that nature by assuming it, is his chief delight ;
or he is constrained to make such stupendous appearances
against his will (because he is most successful when he is least
known) for a visible testimony superadded to the greater
gospel proofs, in gross times, that there are spirits and a devil
to torment them, as it is observable that this was denied by
Mr. Aikenhead (though he died in full conviction thereof) at
the time when these things fell out in the country. Or provi-
dence may tolerate such suflferings, that they, though intended
by the devil for an instance of malice, may, by their notoriety,
be a means of moving ' the discovery, and bringing to justice
these miscreants, whom he made use of as his instruments in
them, and who may have lived long in rebellion against
heaven, and destruction of mankind, by malefices of the same
sort which feU out in this case. Finally, the abundant and
efficacious grace of God is conspicuous in enabling a young
girl to resist to the utmost the best laid assaults of the evil
one, as it is certain that he shews the greatest malice in coun-
tries where he is hated and hateth most, and the nearer his
reign be to an end

There are many other profitable instructions which arise
from this wonderful providence, for such dispensations have
their own language, and the man of wisdom shall see God's

The usages of charms for men or beasts, certain characters,
words, verses, and spells; the observation of times and seasons
as lucky or unlucky ; the belief of having success by carrying
about some herbs, plants, or branches of trees, and many the
like superstitions, which can have no natural casualty on the
effects desired, are the very rudiments of witchcraft, and an
implicit application to the devil for virtues which God has
denied to things ; whence they are to be abhorred as sinful in

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themselves and introductory to explicit engagement. So gross
ignorance, profane looseness, stupid forgetfulness of God, and
neglect of his worship in closets and families ; malice, envy,
revenge, discontent, oppressive fear of want, and distrustful
anxiety of spirit ; finally, a libidinous temper, curses, impre-
cations, and sinful curiosity, are to be evited as paving the
way to the same mischief.

Let none inveigh against a profession of religion, because
some imder that specious covert have been found in league
with the deviL It is because of the glorious lustre and
excellency of our holy faith, that these miscreants paint them-
selves with it, whereby likewise they may be less suspected,
and more able subtily to gain on others, and do their master's
work. So it was no stain on the apostles that one of their
number had a devil, was a traitor and cheat ; nor that Satan
transforms himself into an angel of light, of design that the
good ways of the Lord may be evil spoken of. Neither let us
be under a slavish fear and terror of that hellish tribe, in
truckling to their humour, least they should do harm, which
savours of worshippmg and paying homage to the devil;
whereas we ought only to make the Lord of hosts our fear
and our dread.

There is no just ground to reflect on particular persons or
families, upon account of such troubles. For no man knoweth
either love or hatred by all that's before them. All things
come alike to alL And suppose ye that these were sinners
above all the Galileans, or above all that dwelt in Jerusalem ?
The infinite wise God may thus try faith, patience, and
Cliristian fortitude. Job and our Saviour were assaulted ; and
seven devils cast out of Mary Magdalene, a chosen vessel unto
the Lord. A daughter of Abraham's was bound by Satan
eighteen years ; and his messenger was sent to buffet the
great apostle of the Gentiles. The woman of Canaan, Matth.

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XV. 22. and the godly man, Mark ix. 24. had their nearest
relations vexed in this manner ; and blessed be the Lord that
has left such instances on record for prevention of stumbling.
Though it must be confessed that the same charity which
judges well of all things cannot but alter its remark, when its
proof is sufficiently clear from the way in which the person
affected did formerly walk, since presumptions do always cede
to truth, and lawyers have a maxim, that in re data non est
locus conjecturis,^

These things may meet -with a very different reception,
especially in this unhappy age and place of the world, where
Britain may be termed the unfortunate island, — Afric never
having been more fertile in the production of monsters, — since
'tis observed that through all the successions of men, there
was never before any society or collective body of atheists
till these dregs of time, though there might have been here
and there some misshapen births. But wisdom is justified of
her children, and 'tis the season of Samson to awake when
Delilah gives the alarm that the Philistines are upon him.
What, peace ! so long as the whoredoms of Jezebel and her
witchcrafts are so many? But good things are hoped of our
magistrates, who have already so happily begun.

The apostle said of Job's trials, ye have heard of the patience
of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord. So in this narra-
tive you have a deplorable scheme of this maid's formidable
fits, and of the powers of darkness that combined, not only for
ruining her body, but also for murdering her souL In the
meantime, the hearts of many were bleeding for her, and much
application was made to God in her behalf. Divers solemn
fasts were observed, both in her father's family, in the parish,
and throughout the bounds of the presbytery and elsewhere ;

* In this case it is evident the thing is not a conjecture.

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her case was expressly minded in public addresses to the
throne of grace ; till at length there was a general fast religiously
kept in most parts of the synod, that God might give an
effectual check to Satan's rage and dominion in the country.
Boasting of prayers is to be abhorred, yet it is our duty with
all gratitude, to acknowledge God the hearer, and to proclaim
to the world the excellency of them upon this very occasion :
For he hath not turned away his ear from us, it being the
comfortable result of this history, that the girl hath been per-
fectly well for many months : and is not this a brand plucked
out of the fire; and have not the splinters wherewith the
witches thought to have destroyed her, recoiled back upon
some of themselves, and we wait execution of justice on the

The devil could not enter the herd of swine, nor touch one
hair of Job's head, without permission from Him whose king-
dom ruleth over all : whence though our enemies be very
indefatigable and invisible, yet we are under the conduct of
the watchman who neither slumbers nor sleeps ; to whom
darkness and light are both alike ; and greater is he that is in
us, than he that is in the world. So that unless we wilfully
forfeit our privileges, there is no fear of counterpoising the
wicked ones, throwing down the gauntlet to all their projects or
machinations, since neither angels, principalities, nor powers,
shall be able to separate us from the love which is in Christ
Jesus our Lord; -and though no argument can be drawn from
any merit in us, yet we'll carry the day against all the militia
of hell under the captain of our salvation, since he will rest in
his own love. Is this the manner of man, O Lord God ? yet
a little while the devil and his accomplices will be cast into
the bottomless pit, and we transported into Immanuel's land.

It will not be a natural sturdiness of temper, nor a lifeless
mentioning of the name of God or Christ, that can shelter us

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from those devourers, as appears in the seven sons of Sceva,
Acts xix., but if the Lord be God, then follow Him ; for who
is he that will harm you if ye be followers of that which is
good ; He will give His angels charge of thee to keep thee in
all thy ways. Great peace have they that love Thy law, and
nothing shall offend them. And they wrestle most successfully
against principalities and powers who fight upon their knees,
as resisting of the devil is the way to make him flee from us.

Yet whom Satan cannot obtain to be tortured hereafter he
will (when permitted) torment in this side of time : hence, if
possessions of bodies be so great a plague, how much worse is
it to have him reign master of our souls ? Wherefore let us
watch and pray against every sin, the least of which is more
pleasing to him and worse to us than the being so corporally

If Satan, as a spirit, may insinuate himself into our humours,
no wonder that by having such advantage in the temper, he
can influence the phlegmatic to sloth, the choleric to anger,
the sanguine to lust and sinful pleasure, the melancholic to
despair, &a So they who think that they stand have need to
take heed lest they fall, and to pray that the Watchman of
Israel may make an hedge about them and their house, and
about all tliat they have on every side.

Let this not only rouse our diligence and stir up our grati-
tude for not being aflected alike ; but let it recall our admira-
tion and love of Jesus Christ, who hath freed our souls and
bodies from th^ power and slavery of Satan ; and finding our-
selves too weak for him, in awarding these deluding pleasures
which procure our being deserted by God, and are Satan's
baits to this fearful thraldom ; let us run to the Rock of Ages
for protection and support, our sufficiency being only of God.

Seeing there are witches and devils, there are also immortal
souls of the first, since the last do contract for them, and take

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such pains to retain them ; so that the Sadducees, though they
have a judicial blindness in their reason, are hereby rendered
inexcusable by very sense. Evil books which stir up and en-
snare curious fancies that are seldom accompanied with accu-
rate judgments, (the souFs looking outward diverting it from
diving into the depths of truth) are to be restrained ; and also
such ridiculous pamphlets, as no doubt, by the instigation of
Satan, have lately been sent abroad, of design to frustrate any
good use which might be made of such rare providences, as
are contained in the ensuing narrative, by forging others, or
disguising this.

This has been delayed so long to be published, partly that
there might be the more narrow scrutiny made into the matters
of fact ; and partly, by some accidents which did retard it In
it the reader is not to expect any accuracy of style, because
the designed shortness did occasion the wrapping up of much
matter in small bounds, and the punctual exactness of truth in
every circumstance was the chief aim, so that other defects
ought to be the less quarrelled

The first edition of this Preface, Narrative, &c, was printed at
Edinburgh, by James Watson in 1698, and entitled, "True
Narrative of the sufferings and relief of a Young Girl, who
was strangely molested by evil spirits and their instruments
in the west Collected from authentic testimonies, with a
preface and postscript

Containing reflections on what is most material or curious,

either in the history or trial of the Seven Witches who

were condemned and burnt in the Gallowgreen of


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Job ii. 6. And the Lord said unto Satan^ behold, he is in thine
hand ; hut save his life,

Matth. XV. 22. Have mercy upon me, Lord, thou son of David:

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Online LibraryJohn MillarA history of the witches of Renfrewshire → online text (page 7 of 19)