The Damned Art of Witchcraft
Works IX, pp. 324-328, 370-374.
The ground of all the practices of witchcraft is a league or covenant made between the witch and the devil, wherein they do mutually bind themselves to each other. If any shall think it strange that man or woman should enter a league with Satan (their utter enemy), they are to know it for a most evident and certain truth that may not be called into question. And yet, to clear the judgment of anyone in this point, I will set down some reasons in way of proof.
Proof that Witches Covenant with the Devil.
First, the Holy Scripture does intimate so much unto us in Psalm 58:5, where (howsoever the common translation runs in other terms), the words are properly to be read thus: “which heareth not the voices of the murderer joining societies cunningly.” And in them the psalmist lays down two points. First, the effect or work of a charm, muttered by the enchanter: that it is able to stay the adder from stinging those who shall lay hold on him or touch him. Second, the main foundation of the charm: societies or confederacies cunningly made, not between man and man, but (as the words import) between the enchanter and the devil. The like we read in Deuteronomy 18:11, where the Lord charges His people when they come into the land of Canaan, that among other abominations of the heathen they should beware lest any were found among them who joined society (that is, entered into league and compact) with wicked spirits.
Second, it is the practice of the devil to offer to make a bargain and covenant with man. He dealt thus with our Savior Christ in the third temptation wherewith he assaulted Him, promising to give unto Him all the kingdoms of the earth and their glory (which he showed Him in a vision) if Christ for His part would fall down and worship him (Matt. 4:9). The offer was passed on the behalf of Satan, and now to make a perfect compact between them there was nothing wanting but the free consent of our Savior unto the condition propounded. Whereby it is manifest that the devil makes many covenants in the world, because he finds men and women, in the most places, fitted for his turn in this kind, who will not let to worship him for a far less matter than a kingdom. And it is not to be doubted that thousands in the world, had they been offered so fair a kingdom as Christ was, would have been as willing to have yielded upon such conditions as the devil to have offered.
Third, the common confession of all witches and sorcerers, both before and since the coming of Christ, does yet more fully confirm the same. For they have confessed with one consent that the very groundwork of all their practices in this wicked art is their league with the devil. And hence it appears how and whereupon it is that sorcerers and witches can bring to pass strange things by the help of Satan, which other men ordinarily cannot do; namely, because they have entered a league with him, whereby he has bound himself to them for the effecting of rare and extraordinary works, which others, not joined with him in the like confederacy, are not able either by his help or any power or policy of their own to bring to pass. Hereupon it was that the witch of Endor showed unto Saul the appearance of Samuel, which neither Saul himself nor any in all his court could do. There was no great virtue in the matter or frame of her words, for she was ignorant and had no learning. By power she could not effect it, being a weak woman. Neither was it likely that she had more cunning and policy than any of the learned Jews in those times had for such purposes. The main reason was her league made with Satan, by virtue whereof she commanded him to appear in the likeness of Samuel, which neither Saul nor any of his company could do by virtue of such covenant which they had not made.
Why Satan Covenants with Witches.
The end why the devil seeks to make a league with men may be this: it is a point of his policy not to be ready at every man’s command to do for him what he would except he is sure of his reward, and no other means will serve his turn for taking assurance hereof but this covenant. And why so? That hereby he may testify both his hatred of God and his malice against man. For since the time that he was cast down from heaven, he has hated God and His kingdom, and greatly maligned the happy estate of man, especially since the covenant of grace made with our first parents in Paradise. For he thought to have brought upon them by their fall eternal and final confusion, but perceiving the contrary by virtue of the covenant of grace then manifested, and seeing man by it to be in a better and surer estate than before, he much more maligned his estate, and bears the ranker hatred unto God for His mercy bestowed upon him.
Now that he might show forth this hatred and malice, he takes upon him to imitate God and to counterfeit His dealings with His church. As God, therefore, has made a covenant with His people, so Satan joins in league with the world, laboring to bind some men unto him, so that (if it were possible) he might draw them from the covenant of God and disgrace the same. Again, as God has His Word and sacraments, the seals of His covenant unto believers, so the devil has his words and certain outward signs to ratify the same to his instruments, as namely, his figures, characters, gestures, and other satanical ceremonies, for the confirmation of the truth of his league unto them. Yea, further, as God in His covenant requires faith from us to the believing of His promises, so the devil in his compact requires faith from his vassals to put their affiance in him and rely on him for the doing of whatsoever he binds himself to do. Lastly, as God hears them who call upon Him according to His will, so is Satan ready at hand upon the premises, endeavoring to the utmost of his power (when God permits him), to bring to pass whatsoever he has promised.
And so much of the league in general. More particularly, the league between the devil and a witch is (1) expressed and open, or (2) secret and close.
Open & Explicit Covenants with the Devil.
The express and manifest compact is so termed because it is made by solemn words on both parties. And it is not so expressly set down in Scriptures as in the writings of learned men, who have recorded the confessions of witches. And they express it in this manner: First, the witch for his part, as a slave of the devil, binds himself unto him by solemn vow and promise to renounce the true God, His holy Word, the covenant he made in baptism, and his redemption by Christ, and withal to believe in the devil, to expect and receive aid and help from him, and at the end of his life to give him either body or soul or both. And for the ratifying hereof, he gives to the devil for the present either his own handwriting or some part of his blood as a pledge and earnest penny to bind the bargain. The devil, on the other side, for his part promises to be ready at his vassal’s command, to appear at any time in the likeness of any creature, to consult with him, to aid and help him in anything he shall take in hand for the procuring of pleasures, honor, wealth, or preferment to go for him, to carry him whither he will; in a word, to do for him whatsoever he shall command. Many sufficient testimonies might be alleged for the proof hereof, but it is so manifest in daily experience that it cannot well be called into question.
But yet, if it seems strange unto any that there should be such persons in the world, who make such fearful covenants with the devil, let them consider but this one thing, and it will put them out of doubt. The nature of man is exceeding impatient in crosses, and outward afflictions are so tedious unto mortal minds, and press them with such a measure of grief, that some could be contented with all their hearts to be out of the world if thereby they might be released of such extremity. And hereupon they care not what means they use, what conditions they undertake, to ease and help themselves. The devil, finding men in these perplexities, is ready to take his advantage. And, therefore, perceiving them now fitted for his purpose to work upon, he insinuates and offers himself to procure them ease and deliverance if they will use such means as he shall prescribe for that purpose. And to a natural man there is no greater means than this to make him join society with the devil. He, therefore, without any further doubting or deliberation, condescends to Satan so as he may be eased and relieved in these miseries.
Again, we are to consider that in these cases the devil gets the greater hold of man, and moves him to yield unto his suggestions the rather, because that which he promises to do for him is present and at his command and, therefore, certain; whereas the thing to be performed on the behalf of the party himself, as the giving of body and soul, etc., is to come sundry years after, and, therefore, in regard of the particular time, uncertain. Now the natural man, not regarding his future and final estate, prefers the present commodity before the loss and punishment that is to come afar off, and thereby is persuaded to yield himself unto Satan. And by these and such like antecedents are many brought to make open league with the devil.
Secret & Implicit Covenants with the Devil.
The secret and close league between the witch and Satan is that wherein they mutually give consent each to other, but yet without a sworn covenant conceived in express words and conference. Of this there are two degrees.
First, when a man uses superstitious forms of prayer wherein he expressly requires the help of the devil without any mention of solemn word or covenant going before. It is plain that this is a kind of compact, because herein there is a mutual under-hand consent between the party and the devil, though it is not manifest. For when a man is content to use superstitious forms of invocation for help in time of need, by the very using of them his heart consents to Satan, and he would gladly have the thing effected. When, therefore, the devil has notice of them, and endeavors to effect the thing prayed for, therein also he gives consent, so as, though there are no express words of compact outwardly framed on both parts, yet the concurrence of a mutual consent for the bringing to pass of the same things makes the covenant authentic. For according to the received rules of equity and reason, mutual consent of party with party is sufficient to make a bargain, though there is no solemn course or form of words to manifest the same to others.
The second degree is when a man uses superstitious means to bring anything to pass, which in his own knowledge have no such virtue in themselves to effect it without the special operation of the devil.
Superstitious means I call all those which, neither by order of creation nor by the special appointment and blessing of God since, have any virtue in them to bring to pass that thing for which they are used. For example, a charm, consisting of set words and syllables (rude, barbarous, and unknown), used for the curing of some disease or pain, is a superstitious means, because it has no virtue in itself to cure, either by the gift of God in the creation or by any special appointment afterward in His Word, or otherwise. And, therefore, when this means is used by man, which he knows has no such virtue in it, for the effecting of that work for which it was used, there is a secret league made with the devil.
Covenants Cannot Be Made With Satan Purely By Accident.
Yet, here I add this clause, in his own knowledge, to put a difference between men who use superstitious means to bring some things to pass. For some there are who, when they use them, know they are merely superstitious, yea, weak and impotent, having no virtue in themselves for the purpose whereto they are used, as the repeating of a certain form of words, the using of signs, characters, and figures, which in effect are mere charms, no whit effectual in themselves, but so far forth as they serve for watchwords unto Satan without whose aid nothing is done by them, a plain argument that the user hereof has in his heart secretly indented with Satan for the accomplishment of his intended works.
A second sort there is who uses them for some special end, being persuaded that there is virtue in the means themselves to bring the thing to pass, and yet not knowing that either they are superstitious or have their efficacy by the power and work of the devil. Such persons have made as yet no league with Satan, but they are in the highway thereunto. And this course is a fit preparation to cause them to join with him in covenant.
I show it by an example. A man is fallen into some extremity and finds himself bewitched. His pain is great, and he desires with all his heart to be cured and delivered. Hereupon he sends for the suspected witch. Being come, he offers to scratch him or her, thinking by this means to be cured by the witchcraft. His reason is no other than a strong persuasion that there is simply virtue in his scratching to cure him, and discover the witch, not once suspecting that the help comes by the power of the devil but from the action itself. This doing, he may be healed. But the truth is he sins and breaks God’s commandment. For the using of these means is plain witchcraft, as afterward we shall see. And yet for all this, the party cannot be said in present to have made a league with Satan, because he thought that, though he yielded to the use of superstitious means for his curing, yet there had been in the said means a virtue of healing without any help or work of the devil.
Of Witches Themselves.
Having in the former part of this treatise opened the nature of witchcraft, and thereby made way for the better understanding of this judicial law of Moses, I come now to show who is the practitioner hereof, whom the text principally aims at, namely, the witch, whether man or woman.
A witch is a magician who either by open or secret league, wittingly and willingly, consents to use the aid and assistance of the devil in the working of wonders.
Witches are Magicians.
First, I call the witch a magician to show what kind of person this is; to wit, such a one as does profess and practice witchcraft. For a magician is a professor and practitioner of this art, as may appear in Acts 8:9 where Simon, a witch of Samaria, is called Magus, or Simon the magician.
Again, in this general term I comprehend both sexes (or kinds) of persons, men and women, excluding neither from being witches. A point the rather to be remembered because Moses in this place, setting down a judicial law against witches, uses a word of the feminine gender (mecashepha), which in English properly signifies a woman witch. Whereupon some might gather that only women were witches. Howbeit, Moses, in this word, exempts not the male, but only uses a notion referring to the female for good causes, principally for these two:
Women More Easily Seduced Unto Witchcraft.
First, to give us to understand that the woman, being the weaker sex, is sooner entangled by the devil’s illusions with this damnable art than the man. And in all ages it is found true by experience that the devil has more easily and more often prevailed with women than with men. Hence it was that the Hebrews of ancient times used it for a proverb, “The more women, the more witches.” His first temptation in the beginning was with Eve, a woman, and since then he pursues his practice accordingly, as making most for his advantage. For where he finds easiest entrance and best entertainment, thither will he most often resort.
Weaker Sex Not Exempt From the Just Punishment for Witchcraft.
Second, to take away all exception of punishment from any party that shall practice this trade, and to show that weakness cannot exempt the witch from death. For in all reason, if any might allege infirmity, and plead for favor, it would be the woman who is weaker than the man. But the Lord says that if any person of either sex among His people is found to have entered covenant with Satan, and become a practitioner of sorcery, though it is a woman and the weaker vessel, she shall not escape, she shall not be suffered to live, she must die the death. And though weakness in other cases may lessen both the crime and the punishment, yet in this it shall take no place.
Witches Consent to Use the Help of the Devil.
The second point in the description is: consenting to use the help of the devil, either by open or secret league, wittingly and willingly. Wherein stands the very thing that makes a witch to be a witch: the yielding of consent upon covenant. By which clause two sorts of people are expressly excluded from being witches. First, such as be tainted with frenzy or madness, or are through weakness of the brain deluded by the devil. For these, though they may be said after a sort to have society with Satan, or rather he with them, yet they cannot give their consent to use his aid truly, but only in imagination. It is far otherwise with the true witch. Second, all such superstitious persons, men or women, as use charms and enchantment for the effecting of anything upon a superstitious and erroneous persuasion, that the charms have virtue in them to do such things, not knowing that it is the action of the devil by those means, but thinking that God has put virtue into them, as He has done into herbs for physic.
Of such persons we have (no doubt) abundance in our land, who though they deal wickedly and sin grievously in using charms, yet because they intend not to join league with the devil, either secretly or formally, they are not to be counted witches. Nevertheless, they are to be advised in the meantime that their estate is fearful. For their present ungodly practices have prepared them already to this cursed trade and may bring them in time to be the rankest witches that can be. Wherefore, I advise all ignorant persons who know not God nor the Scriptures to take heed and beware of this dangerous evil, the use of charms. For if they are once convinced in their consciences, and know that God has given no power to such means, and yet shall use them, assuredly they do in effect consent to the devil to be helped by him, and thereupon are joined in confederacy with him in the confidence of their own hearts, and so are become witches.
Witches Work Wonders By the Power of Satan.
The third and last thing in the description is the end of witchcraft: the working of wonders. Wonders are wrought three ways (as has been shown): by divination, enchantment, or juggling. All feats and practices of witchcraft are to be referred to one of these three heads.
Now if any man doubt whether there are such witches indeed as have been described, let him remember that beside experience in all ages and countries, we have also sundry examples of them even in the Scriptures.
In the Old Testament we read of Balaam (Numbers 23) who, though he is called a prophet because he was so reputed of men, yet indeed he was a notorious witch, both by profession and practice, and would have showed his cunning in that kind upon the Israelites, if God had not hindered him against his will. Of the same kind were the enchanters of Egypt (Exodus 7), the witches of Persia (Daniel 2), and the pythoness of Endor, known as a renowned sorcerer over all Israel, and therefore Saul’s servants, being asked, could presently tell of her (1 Samuel 28).
In the New Testament, mention is made of Simon, whose name declared his profession. His name was Magus, and the text says that he used witchcraft and bewitched the people of Samaria, calling himself a great man (Acts 8:9). Whence it was that, after his death, there was a statue set up in Rome in honor of him, in the days of Claudius Caesar, with this inscription, Simoni Deo sancto. And it is not unlikely that Bar-jesus, the false prophet at Paphus, was a man addicted to the practices of witchcraft, and for that cause was called by a kind of excellency, “Elymas the magician” (Acts 13:6–8), that is, the great or famous sorcerer.4 Lastly, the Pythoness at Philippi, “that gat her master much advantage by divining” (Acts 16:16). And all these used the help of the devil for the working of wonders.
There are two sorts of witches: the bad witch and the good witch. For so they are commonly called.
The bad witch is he or she who has consented in a league with the devil to use his help for the doing of hurt only, as to strike and annoy the bodies of men, women, children, and cattle with diseases and with death itself, so likewise to raise tempests by sea and by land, etc. This is commonly called the binding witch.
The good witch is he or she who, by consent in a league with the devil, does use his help for the doing of good only. This cannot hurt, torment, curse, or kill, but only heal and cure the hurts inflicted upon men or cattle by bad witches. For as they can do no good but only hurt, so this can do no hurt but good only. And this is that order which the devil has set in his kingdom, appointing to several persons their several offices and charges. And the good witch is commonly termed the unbinding witch.
Good Witches are the Most Dangerous.
Now howsoever both these are evil, yet of the two the more horrible and detestable monster is the good witch. For look in whatsoever place there are any bad witches who only hurt, there also the devil has his good ones, who are better known than the bad, being commonly called wise men or wise women. This will appear by experience in most places in these countries. For let a man’s child, friend, or cattle be taken with some sore sickness, or strangely tormented with some rare and unknown disease, the first thing he does is to bethink himself and inquire after some wise man or wise woman, and thither he sends and goes for help. When he comes, he first tells him the state of the sick man. The witch then, being certified of the disease, prescribes either charms of words to be used over him, or other such counterfeit means, wherein there is no virtue, being nothing else but the devil’s sacraments to cause him to do the cure, if it comes by witchcraft. Well, the means are received, applied, and used, the sick party accordingly recovers, and the conclusion of all is the usual acclamation: “Oh happy is the day that ever I met with such a man or woman to help me!”
Here observe that both have a stroke in this action: the bad witch hurt him and the good healed him. But the truth is the latter has done him a thousand-fold more harm than the former. For the one did only hurt the body, but the devil by means of the other, though he has left the body in good plight, yet he has laid fast hold on the soul, and by curing the body has killed that. And the party thus cured cannot say with David, “the Lord is my helper,” but “the devil is my helper,” for by him he is cured. The present law of Moses must be understood of both these kinds of witches.
Practical Uses of this Doctrine.
This point well considered yields matter both of instruction and practice.
Of instruction, in that it shows the cunning and crafty dealing of Satan, who afflicts and torments the body for the gain of the soul. And for that purpose he has so ordered his instruments that the bad witch gives the occasion by annoying the body or goods, and the good witch immediately accomplishes his desire by entangling the soul in the bands of error, ignorance, and false faith. Again, this shows the blindness of natural corruption, especially in ignorant and superstitious people. It is their nature to abhor hurtful persons, such as bad witches are, and to count them execrable. But those who do them good, they honor and reverence as wise men and women, yea, seek and sue unto them in times of extremity, though of all persons in the world they are most odious. And in them Satan seems the greatest friend, when he is most like himself and intends greatest mischief. Let all ignorant persons be advised hereof in time, to take heed to themselves, and learn to know God and His Word, that by light from thence they may better discern of the subtle practices of Satan and his instruments.
For matter of practice, hence we learn our duty to abhor the wizard as the most pernicious enemy of our salvation, the most effectual instrument of destroying our souls and of building up the devil’s kingdom, yea, as the greatest enemy to God’s name, worship, and glory, that is in the world, next to Satan himself. Of this sort was Simon Magus, who by doing strange cures and works, made the people of Samaria to take him for some great man, who wrought by the mighty power of God, whereas he did all by the devil. He, therefore, being a good witch, did more hurt in seducing the people of God than Balaam (a bad one) could with all his curses. And we must remember that the Lord has set a law upon the witch’s head, “he must not live,” and if death is due to any, then a thousand deaths of right belong to the good witch.
Objection. “Witch” Simply Refers To A Poisoner (Pharmakeia).
But the patrons of witches endeavor to delude the true interpretation of that law. For by a witch (say they) we must understand a poisoner, and they allege for that purpose the seventy interpreters who translated the original word (mecashepha) by φαρμακευς, which signifies a poisoner.
I answer, first, the word used by the seventy interpreters signifies indeed so much, yet not that only but also a witch in general, as may appear in sundry places of Scripture. The apostle, reckoning up witchcraft among the works of the flesh Gal. 5:20, uses the Greek word φαρμακεια, not for poisoning, but for all magical arts, as Jerome testifies upon the place. And that it must necessarily be so translated is evident, because in the next verse “murder” is termed another work of the flesh, under which poisoning and all other kinds of killing are comprehended. And the same word is used in the like sense in Revelation 21:8 and 22:15.
Second, the word (mecashepha), which Moses uses, is ascribed to the enchanters of Egypt (Exodus 7-9) and to the wise men of Babel (Daniel 2), who are also called φαρμακευς in the translation of the seventy. And both sorts of them were witches and sorcerers. The kings of Egypt and Babylon used these mecashephim for sundry purposes and made them of their council. And if they had been, according to this allegation, poisoners, it is not likely they would have so fitted the humors of these two princes, Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar, much less that they would have so ordinarily required their presence and assistance in the business there mentioned.
Third, there is a peremptory law against the willful murderer, that he should be put to death, and that no recompense should be taken for his life (Num. 35:31). In which place all poisoners are condemned because they are willful murderers. Now, if here in Exodus, by mecashepha we should understand a poisoner, then there should be one and the same law twice propounded for the same thing, which is not likely. And, therefore, the word used by Moses in this text signifies not a poisoner properly, but a witch.