Post by Graveyardbride on Oct 13, 2016 19:21:11 GMT -5
Identifying Witches and Counteracting Witchcraft
The Puritans who settled in New England during the 17th century brought with them a belief in witches they shared with religious leaders, kings and peasants in every part of Europe. They were convinced it was these evil beings that caused their friends and relatives to come down with ailments that baffled physicians and it was these same beings who destroyed their livestock and crops, caused grain to mildew and soured ale, beer, cider, wine and milk when there was no logical reason for them to do so. To safeguard themselves and their families to some extent, the settlers made witchcraft one of the 12 crimes punishable by the death penalty. When the Puritans adopted their first code of laws in 1641, Article 94, Section 2 of the code stated: “If any man or woman be a witch (that is hath or consulteth with a familiar spirit) they shall be put to death.”
Although this statute helped to legally rid the colony of those malefactors once their identities became known, it was also important for the colonists to learn how to protect themselves against those whose identities were unknown to them, and they soon found some of these beings could harm people only in the homes of their victims. Because this was the case, it was necessary to find out how to keep them out and by trial and error, the settlers eventually learned that witches either will not, or cannot, enter a house in which apples are stored, wherein one door is hung upside-down, or where a bag of salt is kept under the bed in the master bedroom, or where there is a dried apple, coffin nail, dried clove or garlic or horseshoe hung above each entrance. They also learned, by the same method, that witches cannot harm anyone – regardless of where the person might be – who carries with him a sprig of mistletoe, a dried clove of garlic, or a piece of dried sassafras root.
Almost as important, it was discovered there were several ways in which to counteract the effect of any spells cast by witches. One of the most effective was also one of the simplest. The victim – or someone acting on his behalf – merely put seven drops of the juices of any vegetable into a dish of cold water containing a small piece of iron, and the victim rubbed his finger along the edge of the dish in a clockwise direction 21 times. This weakened the force of the spell almost at once. If the person went through the same procedure seven times in one day at two-hour intervals, the spell would be completely broken and the evil being would never again be able to injure the victim in the same manner. It is almost impossible to determine where this counter-spell originated, although some believe it was likely brought to New England by people having knowledge of Mediterranean superstitions.
Regardless of whether these and other strange customs, beliefs and superstitions held by New Englanders – now or in the past – had their beginnings here or in some other part of the world, we now consider them a part of the lore of our six-state region and those that follow are among some of the better-known examples:
Discovering the Identity of a Witch. If any livestock sicken and die because of a witch’s spell, the identity of the witch who cast the spell can be discovered by cutting off the ears of one of the afflicted animals and tossing them into a fire. The heat produced by the fire will release the witch’s imp from the ears and its master will appear at the fire before anyone else arrives there.
If food will not cook property because a witch has cast a spell on it, the witch’s identity can be uncovered by putting some of the affected food into the fire. Again, the heat will chase the witch’s imp from the food and its master will appear at the house before any else arrives there.
Another Way to Unmask Witches. There are a number of other ways in which to discover the identity of a witch. This method was tried in the late winter of 1691/92 in Salem Village. When Elizabeth Parris and Abigail Williams of that village – two of the girls who helped set off Salem witch hysteria – began to act as though they were bewitched, Tituba, their West Indian slave woman, collected some of their urine and cooked it in a small loaf of rye bread. She then fed it to a dog, hoping this would unmask the person, or persons, responsible for bewitching the two young girls. It is possible this had the desired effect for Tituba and two other women were arrested a short time later, each of them charged with afflicting the girls by means of witchcraft. One of the three was so ill she died in jail two months later, the other was tried, found guilty and hanged. Tituba saved her life by confessing she was a witch. She remained in jail for a little more than a year and was released by order of the governor upon payment of her court and jail fees.
Black Cats and Witches. Because black cats have been the traditional companions of witches for hundred os years, it is only natural there are a number of beliefs concerning the. One of the best known of these is the one that says a person will have bad luck all day if a black cat crosses his path. Another, not quite as well known, asserts that anyone who owns a black cat will be blessed with good luck for as long as the cat remains alive and in his possession. There is also a superstition that a bride who hears a black cat sneeze on her wedding day will have a happy marriage, while another claims an inflamed eye can be cured by passing the tail of a black cat across it nine times. The one probably least known is that if a black cat is placed in a cradle before the baby sleeps in it, the baby will be protected from evil spirits until he outgrows the cradle.
Killing a Witch by Proxy. When a witch assumes the shape of a black cat, she will usually receive the same wounds on her body that the cat receives, regardless of whether the injuries are caused accidentally or purposely inflicted. In spite of this, the witch will not necessarily die if the cat is killed, for a witch can take the shape of nine different cats, each of which has to be killed while the witch is in the shape of a cat before she is affected. Even then, the witch will die only if the ninth cat is killed with an article that contains silver.
Poppets. Witches are able to torment people by sticking sharp objects, such as pins, into dolls they have made especially for this purpose. The victims suffer pain in the corresponding parts of their bodies into which the pins are stuck into the poppet.
Dried Hex Apples. If you shape an apple into the semblance of a human face, then hang it in the kitchen, witches and other evil beings will not be able to harm you or any member of your family who lives in the same house.
Seventh Daughter of a Seventh Son. The seventh daughter of a seventh son almost always possesses the gift of spectral sight, that is, the ability to see into the world of the supernatural, and she can usually communicate with a variety of spectral beings over vast distances. She should not be classified as a witch, even though these are some of the powers claimed by witches, for, unlike witches, she was born with these powers and did not make a deal with the devil to obtain them.
Counteracting a Spell with Dry Apple Seeds. You can lessen the effects of a spell cast on you by a witch by tossing a handful of dry apple seeds over your left shoulder with your right hand on a cloudless night when the moon is full.Flying Witches. Witches can travel through the air at amazingly high speeds. They are usually transported on broomsticks that have been given supernatural powers by the devil. When a large number of witches are bound for the same destination, they sometimes ride tandem on long poles that have the same powers as broomsticks. Witches have no problem flying over or around trees, tall buildings, mountains or other obstacles. The only thing an airborne witch fears is the sound of church bells rung in close proximity to where she is flying. The ringing of church bells causes the broom or pole to lose its powers and the witch crashes to the ground.
New England Witch Groups. Although witch covens in most parts of Europe were said to consist of 13 members, presumably representing 13 moons, there has never been a limit to the size of covens formed in New England. In 1692, the afflicted girls, who boasted spectral sight, claimed more than 100 witches met regularly at Salem Village where they conducted their profane services in honor of the devil.
Specters. Witches can impersonate almost anyone they wish. This is excellent camouflage because it allows them to torment people in the shape of someone who is someplace else, completely unaware of what is taking place. This gives the victim the impression the person whose shape is being impersonated is responsible for hurting him, thereby allowing the real witch’s identity to remain secret. But neither the devil nor any of his witches can assume the exact shape of another person. They always make at least one mistake that can be detected by someone who knows the person whose shape is being impersonated. Sometimes a part of the face is misshapen, but usually the mistake is that the assumed face is the mirror image of the face of the actual person.
Covenant Witches. Covenant witches are people who have made a pact with the devil and received supernatural powers that allow them to attain goals to which they could never aspire by any other means. More often than not, their goals are the acquisition of wealth and power. A number of people, however, have admitted they accepted the devil as master and even engaged in sexual relations with him on a number of occasions merely to satisfy a relatively minor desire. One woman claimed she did so because the devil allowed her to see the apparition of her two-year-old daughter who had died a short while before. Regardless of the reason, these people agree to accept the devil as their master for all time and bind the agreement by placing their marks or signatures in his book.
The Devil’s Children. Although there are several references to children sired by the devil in literature, many authorities are convinced the devil has never impregnated a human female and that he is incapable of doing so.
Witch Marks and Imps. The devil almost always assigns one of his imps to a witch. While the imp is serving its temporary master or mistress, it takes a shape familiar to humans. This may be the shape of a pig, cat, dog, rat, bird, or even a small person. Regardless of the shape it assumes, the imp can be nourished only by the witch. For this reason, a growth from which the imp suckles quickly appears on the witch’s body. Because this growth is of abnormal origin, it has no nerves and sharp objects can be stuck into it without producing pain or discomfort. A witch’s identity can usually be discovered by a thorough search of his or her body for evidence of a growth of this kind and testing it, if it is found, by sticking a pin or other sharp object into it.
Imps Issuing from a Witch’s Body. On at least two occasions during the witchcraft hysteria of 1692, there were those who claimed they saw small beings, very much like children, issuing from between the legs of women who were suspected of being witches. In each ease, the suspected witch was in jail when the incident occurred and although her jail cell was thoroughly searched, no sign of the imp was discovered.
Proselytizing for the Devil. During the Salem witch hysteria, several suspected witches testified they recruited new members for their groups in several ways. This was usually accomplished by tempting people with promises of beautiful items that they could not hope to attain without help of one kind or another. If they did not yield to the temptation of these and other promises, the witches reported taking another tactic. They tortured the person so much, using supernatural methods, that many “set their hands to the book” to relieve their suffering. These people now became the tormenters and they were as cruel toward those they wished to bring into the devil’s fold as their tormenters had been toward them.
The Witch’s Touch. If a witch touches a plant of any kind, it will not bear flowers, fruit or vegetables until the following growing season.
Exposing the Identity of a Witch. Although witches can make themselves invisible, it is difficult for them to maintain their invisibility during extremely cold weather. Sometimes only part of the witch’s body will become visible during these adverse weather conditions, but if someone grabs and hangs on to the visible part, the rest of the witch’s body will become visible, thereby exposing her identity.
Weightless Witches. Although some experts were convinced that witches were weightless, others argued if this were so, it would be impossible to hang them.
Source: Strange Beliefs, Customs and Superstitions of New England by Robert Ellis Cahill.