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Magicians And Witch Folk
by [?]

Some forty years ago, on the banks of the pleasant little creek separating Berwick, in Maine, from Somersworth, in New Hampshire, within sight of my mother’s home, dwelt a plain, sedate member of the society of Friends, named Bantum. He passed throughout a circle of several miles as a conjurer and skilful adept in the art of magic. To him resorted farmers who had lost their cattle, matrons whose household gear, silver spoons, and table-linen had been stolen, or young maidens whose lovers were absent; and the quiet, meek-spirited old man received them all kindly, put on his huge iron-rimmed spectacles, opened his “conjuring book,” which my mother describes as a large clasped volume in strange language and black-letter type, and after due reflection and consideration gave the required answers without money and without price. The curious old volume is still in the possession of the conjurer’s family. Apparently inconsistent as was this practice of the black art with the simplicity and truthfulness of his religious profession, I have not been able to learn that he was ever subjected to censure on account of it. It may be that our modern conjurer defended himself on grounds similar to those assumed by the celebrated knight of Nettesheim, in the preface to his first Book of Magic: “Some,” says he, “may crie oute that I teach forbidden arts, sow the seed of heresies, offend pious ears, and scandalize excellent wits; that I am a sorcerer, superstitious and devilish, who indeed am a magician. To whom I answer, that a magician doth not among learned men signifie a sorcerer or one that is superstitious or devilish, but a wise man, a priest, a prophet, and that the sibyls prophesied most clearly of Christ; that magicians, as wise men, by the wonderful secrets of the world, knew Christ to be born, and came to worship him, first of all; and that the name of magicke is received by philosophers, commended by divines, and not unacceptable to the Gospel.”

The study of astrology and occult philosophy, to which many of the finest minds of the Middle Ages devoted themselves without molestation from the Church, was never practised with impunity after the Reformation. The Puritans and Presbyterians, taking the Bible for their rule, “suffered not a witch to live;” and, not content with burning the books of those who “used curious arts” after the manner of the Ephesians, they sacrificed the students themselves on the same pile. Hence we hear little of learned and scientific wizards in New England. One remarkable character of this kind seems, however, to have escaped the vigilance of our modern Doctors of the Mosaic Law. Dr. Robert Child came to this country about the year 1644, and took up his residence in the Massachusetts colony. He was a man of wealth, and owned plantations at Nashaway, now Lancaster, and at Saco, in Maine. He was skilful in mineralogy and metallurgy, and seems to have spent a good deal of money in searching for mines. He is well known as the author of the first decided movement for liberty of conscience in Massachusetts, his name standing at the head of the famous petition of 1646 for a modification of the laws in respect to religious worship, and complaining in strong terms of the disfranchisement of persons not members of the Church. A tremendous excitement was produced by this remonstrance; clergy and magistrates joined in denouncing it; Dr. Child and his associates were arrested, tried for contempt of government, and heavily fined. The Court, in passing sentence, assured the Doctor that his crime was only equalled by that of Korah and his troop, who rebelled against Moses and Aaron. He resolved to appeal to the Parliament of England, and made arrangements for his departure, but was arrested, and ordered to be kept a prisoner in his own house until the vessel in which he was to sail had left Boston. He was afterwards imprisoned for a considerable length of time, and on his release found means to return to England. The Doctor’s trunks were searched by the Puritan authorities while he was in prison; but it does not appear that they detected the occult studies to which lie was addicted, to which lucky circumstance it is doubtless owing that the first champion of religious liberty in the New World was not hung for a wizard.