Sunday, October 7, 2012

"in filthy Bawdery, it passeth all the tales that ever I heard"

I have spent a lot of time recently posting excerpts from the seventeenth century Treatise of Specters, in hopes of making available at least some parts of that work, which does not seem to be available online.
Whilst I was poking about at Innerpeffray Library yesterday I also browsed through an equally fascinating volume entitled The Discovery of Witchcraft by Reginald Scott, printed in 1665. I had more than enough other material for the Hallowe'en guest blog post I am writing, so I transcribed some excerpts from it for my own blog, as they amused me very much!  

First of all, here is a tale of witchcraft that supposedly took place in France (quite a few of the stories in the book are set there; evidently it was viewed as a hotbed of sin in those days):

Book III, chap. V

Of the private league, a notable tale of Bodins concerning a French Lady, with a confutation.

The manner of their private league is said to be so, when the Devil invisible, and sometimes visile, in the midst of the people talketh with them privately; promising, that if they will follow his counsel, he will supply all their necessities, and make all their endeavours prosperous; and so beginneth with small matters: whereunto they consent privily, and come not into the fairies assembly.
And in this case (me thinks) the Devil sometimes, in such external or corporal shape, should meet with some that would not consent to his motions, (except you will say he knoweth their cogitations) and so should be bewrayed. They also (except they were idiots) would spie him; and so forsake him for breach of covenants. But these bargains, and these assemblies do all the writers hereupon  maintain; and Bodin confirms them with a hundred and odd lies; among the number whereof I will (for divers causes) recite one.
There was (saith he) a noble Gentlewoman at Lions, that being in bed with a lover of hers, suddenly in the night arose up, and lighted a candle: and when she had done, she took a box of ointment, wherewith she annointed her body; and after a few words spoken, she was carried away. Her bed-fellow seeing the order hereof, leapt out of his bed, took the candle in his hand, and sought for the Lady round about the chamber, and in every corner thereof; But though he could not find her, yet did he find her box of ointment; and being desirous to know the vertue thereof, besmeered himself therewith, even as he perceived her to have done before: And although he was not so superstitious, as to use any words to help him forward in his business, yet by the vertue of that ointment (saith Bodin) he was immediately conveyed to Lorrein, into the assembly of Witches. Which when he saw, he was abashed, and said; In the name of God, what make I here? And upon those words the whole assembly vanished away, and left him alone there stark naked; and so was he fain to return to Lions: But he had so good a conscience, for you may perceive by the first half of the history, he was a very honest man, that he accused his true lover for a Witch, and caused her to be burned: And as for his adultery, neither, M.Mal. nor Bodin do once so much as speak in the dispraise thereof.

There are a great many very similar stories in the book, but I particularly like the tone of outraged morality in the last sentence! Dear me, Scott seems to be saying, trust the French to condone adultery. And speaking of outraged morality, elsewhere in the book you may find the following exhortation: 

"A request to such readers as are loath to hear or read filthy and bawdy matters, which of necessity are here to be inserted, to pass over eight Chapters."

I should say that this request pretty much guaranteed that the following eight chapters would be the most well-thumbed in the entire volume!!!

Scott continues, "But insomuch as I am driven (for the more manifest bewraying and displaying of this most filthy and horrible error) to stain my paper with writing thereon certain of their beastly and baudy assertions and examples, whereby they confirm their doctrine (being my self both ashamed, and loath once to think upon such filthiness, although it be to the condemnation thereof) I must intreat, you that are the readers thereof, whose chast ears cannot well endure to hear of such abominable Lecheries, as are gathered out of the books of those Witch-mongers, (although Doctors of Divinity, and otherwise of great authority and estimation) to turn over a few leaves, wherein (I say) I have, like a Groom, thrust their bawdy stuffe (even that which I my self loath) as into a stinking corner: howbeit, none otherwise, I hope, but that the other parts of my writing shall remain sweet, and this also covered as close as may be."

Having secured his readers' attention one hundred per cent, Scott now plunges into this pit of beastly and bawdy assertions. Sadly for the readers of this blog (or perhaps happily, for their consciences, depending on how you look at it), I did not have time to transcribe all eight chapters of filth and lechery. Here are some excerpts!

Let us start with the chapter headings of BOOK IV, which are all fairly promising:

"Ch I: Of Witchmongers opinions concerning evil Spirits, how they frame themselves in more excellent sort than God made us.

Ch II: Of bawdy Incubus and Succubus, and whether the action of Venery may be performed between Witches and Devils, and when Witches first yielded to Incubus.

Ch III: Of the Devils visible and invisible dealing with Witches in the way of Lechery.

Ch IV: That the power of Generation is both outwardly and inwardly impeached by Witches, and of divers that had their genitals taken from them by Witches, and by the same means again restored."

That last one is rather worrying! "Had their genitals taken from them by Witches"? That sounds very unpleasant, and not at all easy to remedy, witchcraft or not! A little further on we come across a chapter about what to do if you have not actually had your genitals taken from you, but merely had them bewitched:

"….Ch VIII: Certain Popish and Magical cures, for them that are bewitched in their Privities.

For direct cure to such as are Bewitched in the Privy members, the first and special, is Confession; then follow in a row, holy-water, and those ceremonial trumperies, Aves Maries, and all manner of crossings; which are all said to be wholesome, except the Witchcraft be perpetual, and in that case the wife may have a divorce of course."

That last throwaway comment surprised me a bit! "The wife may have a divorce of course." So much for, "Never mind, it happens to everyone sometimes..." Those first remedies are the orthodox ones no doubt: confess, cross yourself, etc etc. If none of those work, the following are also suggested:

"Item, The eating of a Haggister or pie helpeth one Bewitched in that member.
Item, The smoak of a tooth of a dead man.
Item, To anoint a mans body over with the gall of a Crow.
Item, To fill a quill with Quick-silver, and lay the same under the cushion, where such a one sitteth, or else put it under the threshold of the door of the house or chamber where he dwelleth.
Item, To spit into your own bosome, if you be so Bewitched, is very good."

I absolutely love the first one of those. That is the first time I have ever heard of the consumption of pies being a cure for impotence!
Scott is not finished yet. He offers some more remedies, although the details are now apparently so filthy that he cannot bring himself to explain them in English!!

"Item, To piss through a Wedding-ring. If you would know who is hurt in his privities by Witchcraft, and who otherwise is therein diseased: Hostiensis answereth, but so as I am ashamed to English it, and therefore have here set down his experiment in Latine, Quando virga nullatenus movetur, et numquam potuit cognoscere; hoc est signum frigiditatis: sed quando movetur et erigitur, perficere autem non potest, est signum maleficii.
But Sir Tho. Moore hath such a cure in this matter, as I am ashamed to write, either in Latin or English; for, in filthy Bawdery, it passeth all the tales that ever I heard: But that is rather a medicine to procure Generation, then the cure of Witchcraft, though it serves both turnes."

By this time, if the reader's mind isn't boggling they must be made of stone...! The Latin means (rendered politely) that if the member in question never moves at all, its owner is simply incapable, but if it moves but is unable to complete the act in question, that is a sign of its owner having been bewitched. I do not know what Sir Thomas Moore suggested; my mind is boggling too!

The chapter concludes:

"Item, When ones instrument of Venery is Bewitched, certain characters must be written in Virgin-parchment, celebrated and holyed by a Popish Priest; and thereon also must the 141 Psalm be written, and bound Ad viri fascinati coxam.
Item, One Katherine Loe (having a husband not so readily disposed that way as she wished him to be) made a waxen image of the likeness of her husbands Bewitched member, and offered it up at St. Anthonies altar: so as, through the holiness of the Mass, it might be sanctified, to be more courageous; and of better disposition and ability, &c."

A riveting final anecdote! I wonder what her husband thought about that, and I especially wonder what the parish priest thought about it if he found the item in question on the altar!


  1. Maybe the parish priest knew all about her husband's bewitched member...?

  2. Well certainly if she went about leaving effigies of it in public places it would not have been long before EVERYONE knew! I feel a bit sorry for the husband!