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No. 117 [Witches — from The Spectator]
by [?]

No. 117.
Saturday, July 14, 1711.

‘… Ipsi sibi somnia fingunt.’


There are some Opinions in which a Man should stand Neuter, without engaging his Assent to one side or the other. Such a hovering Faith as this, which refuses to settle upon any Determination, is absolutely necessary to a Mind that is careful to avoid Errors and Prepossessions. When the Arguments press equally on both sides in Matters that are indifferent to us, the safest Method is to give up our selves to neither.

It is with this Temper of Mind that I consider the Subject of Witchcraft. When I hear the Relations that are made from all Parts of the World, not only from Norway and Lapland, from the East and West Indies, but from every particular Nation in Europe, I cannot forbear thinking that there is such an Intercourse and Commerce with Evil Spirits, as that which we express by the Name of Witch-craft. But when I consider that the ignorant and credulous Parts of the World abound most in these Relations, and that the Persons among us, who are supposed to engage in such an Infernal Commerce, are People of a weak Understanding and a crazed Imagination, and at the same time reflect upon the many Impostures and Delusions of this Nature that have been detected in all Ages, I endeavour to suspend my Belief till I hear more certain Accounts than any which have yet come to my Knowledge. In short, when I consider the Question, whether there are such Persons in the World as those we call Witches? my Mind is divided between the two opposite Opinions; or rather (to speak my Thoughts freely) I believe in general that there is, and has been such a thing as Witch-craft; but at the same time can give no Credit to any particular Instance of it.

I am engaged in this Speculation, by some Occurrences that I met with Yesterday, which I shall give my Reader an Account of at large. As I was walking with my Friend Sir ROGER by the side of one of his Woods, an old Woman applied herself to me for my Charity. Her Dress and Figure put me in mind of the following Description in [Otway. [1]]

In a close Lane as I pursued my Journey,
I spy’d a wrinkled Hag, with Age grown double,
Picking dry Sticks, and mumbling to her self.
Her Eyes with scalding Rheum were gall’d and red,
Cold Palsy shook her Head; her Hands seem’d wither’d;
And on her crooked Shoulders had she wrap’d
The tatter’d Remnants of an old striped Hanging,
Which served to keep her Carcase from the Cold:
So there was nothing of a Piece about her.
Her lower Weeds were all o’er coarsly patch’d
With diff’rent-colour’d Rags, black, red, white, yellow,
And seem’d to speak Variety of Wretchedness. [2]

[As I was musing on this Description, and comparing it with the Object before me, the Knight told me, [3]] that this very old Woman had the Reputation of a Witch all over the Country, that her Lips were observed to be always in Motion, and that there was not a Switch about her House which her Neighbours did not believe had carried her several hundreds of Miles. If she chanced to stumble, they always found Sticks or Straws that lay in the Figure of a Cross before her. If she made any Mistake at Church, and cryed Amen in a wrong Place, they never failed to conclude that she was saying her Prayers backwards. There was not a Maid in the Parish that would take a Pin of her, though she would offer a Bag of Mony with it. She goes by the Name of Moll White, and has made the Country ring with several imaginary Exploits which are palmed upon her. If the Dairy Maid does not make her Butter come so soon as she should have it, Moll White is at the Bottom of the Churn. If a Horse sweats in the Stable, Moll White has been upon his Back. If a Hare makes an unexpected escape from the Hounds, the Huntsman curses Moll White. Nay, (says Sir ROGER) I have known the Master of the Pack, upon such an Occasion, send one of his Servants to see if Moll White had been out that Morning.