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WITCHCRAFT IN SIAM IN EIGHTEEN HUNDRED AND SIXTY-SIX, COMPARED WITH WITCHCRAFT IN ENGLAND IN SEVENTEEN HUNDRED AND SIXTEEN.
IT might be difficult, at the present time, anywhere in any enlightened Christian community, to find persons of the most ordinary intelligence who entertain the smallest faith in witchcraft.
But yet there are thousands upon thousands who implicitly believe in spirit-rapping and in table-turning, in mesmerism and animal magnetism, and in Mr. Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, his successor, who exhibits such extraordinary powers in prophecy and sensualism at Utah; and in fact it would seem that the doctrine of "Credo quia impossibile" never had more earnest disciples than it now numbers.
Yet we all alike, with one accord, profess our utter disbelief in witchcraft.
This scepticism on our part, however, is of very modern date; for even in the early part of this century the belief was not quite eradicated in England, and we have only to step back a century more to find it acknowledged without shame by a civilized and highly enlightened people, and at a time, too, when the literary intellect of England shone as brightly as ever in her history; when the memory of Dryden was still fresh in the minds of many of his most cherished friends and admirers; when Pope had risen, and Addison was painting his genial portrait of Sir Roger de Coverly; when the bewitching "nightingale at Twickenham" poured forth his sweetest songs, and kind-hearted Steele and Swift, stern, incorrigible, and lonely, domineered over the proudest of English peers and statesmen. Nothing can ever be more touching than the sad record of those dark days when the fair Eleanor Cobham, the wife of a duke, and the aunt of a king of "Great Britain," did penance for her "witchcraft," and walked "hoodless save her 'kerchief" through all the crowded streets of London and Westminster, taunted and hooted at by a ragged crowd, to offer a "consecrated taper" at the high altar of St. Paul's, and thence to her cruel, life-long imprisonment at Kenilworth, while her wretched accomplice, Bolingbroke, expiated his crime on a gibbet at Tyburn. And there are those seemingly darker days when Archbishop Cranmer, a high-priest of the tender Jesus, directed his clergy at large to make "strict inquiry into all witchcraft and such like craft invented by the devil"; and when that very honorable personage, the Lord Chief Justice Coke, uttered these memorable words: "It would be a great defect in government if so great an abomination had passed with impunity." Then no one cast even the shadow of a doubt on the existence of witchcraft, or even questioned the extraordinary powers which were at the time imputed to a witch. And one becomes sensible of the dark superstitions that must have pervaded even the general atmosphere of the immortal poet Shakespeare, when he makes Ford lay his cudgel across the shoulders of Falstaff, supposing him to be the "wise woman of Brentford," and embodies the grander and more terrible idea of witchcraft as no man has ever done before or after him in the tragedy of "Macbeth."
AN AMAZON OF THE ROYAL BODY GUARD
Almost every page of ecclesiastical history of ancient times is full of monstrous relations of the powers of the devil, or of those who had entered into copartnership with him; and, emerging thence into the light of more recent times, we shall find the same superstition in such men as Matthew Hopkins, the "witch-finder"; in Matthew Hale, presiding at the trial of the Bury St. Edmunds witches; and in Sir Thomas Browne, author of the "Beligio Medici," and of the "Inquiry into Vulgar Errors," giving the evidence on which so many wretched old and young women were sent to the gallows. But, alas! what shall we say when we hear such holy men as Baxter and Wesley asserting that the belief in witchcraft was essentially connected with Christianity, and one of its most important points; and, down almost to our own day, find Johnson half doubting and half believing in the existence of witches and in their supernatural powers?
It was not until the close of 1763 that the statute which made witchcraft a felony punishable by death was repealed; and so lately as 1716 the curious reader will find in Gough's Brit, Vol. I., p. 439, an account of a substantial English farmer, named Hicks, who publicly accused his wife and child — a girl of only nine years of age — of witchcraft; and, what seems more incredible still, that they were actually tried at the assizes at Huntingdon before a learned judge, and visited by pious and God-fearing "divines" to whom the poor victims confessed the belief — which was forced into their own convictions by the strong current of public opinion, and still more by the unnatural conduct of a father and a husband — "that they were witches"; for which the unhappy wife and tender child were hanged at Huntingdon, on the 28th of July, 1716.
Can any page in the history of Siam be more appalling than this? Let the reader turn from England in her light and glory, her civilization, refinement, and power, from her altars raised to the true God, and centuries after her baptism in the matchless name of Christ, to benighted Siam still bound in the iron fetters of paganism, idolatry, and slavery, and he will find there in many respects just such a picture as England presented in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Nothing ran be more appalling than the incurable superstition of the Eastern mind, and even while their belief in the supernatural inspires them with perpetual honor, they cannot be brought to give it up. In fact, it seems a part of their nature to cherish in their secret hearts the belief that there are spirits, good. and. bad, who walk the earth unseen, and delight either to bless or to cheat and abase mankind; and that there are witches and wizards in the country who have the power of taming men into any shape they choose.
Rational and reasonable on all other points as the Siamese are, the moment you try to approach them through their religious senses they appear like a world coming suddenly under an eclipse of the sun; slowly and surely the disk of their mind is darkened, and the gloom and perplexity increase, till it becomes completely obscured.