Read an Excerpt
By Cotton Mather
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2005 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
IT was as long ago, as the Year 1637, that a Faithful Minister of the Church of England, whose Name was Mr.
Edward Symons, did in a Sermon afterwards Printed, thus express himself; "At New-England now the Sun of Comfort begins to appear, and the glorious Day-Star to show itself;—Sed Venient Annis Scul Seris, there will come Times in after Ages, when the Clouds will over-shadow and darken the Sky there. Many now promise to themselves nothing but successive Happiness there, which for a time through God's Mercy they may enjoy; and I pray God, they may a long time; but in this World there is no Happiness perpetual." An Observation, or I had almost said, an Inspiration, very dismally now verify'd upon us! It has been affirm'd by some who best knew New-England, That the World will do New-England a great piece of Injustice, if it acknowledge not a measure of Religion, Loyalty, Honesty, and Industry, in the People there, beyond what is to be found with any other People for the Number of them. When I did a few years ago, publish a Book, which mentioned a few memorable Witchcrafts, committed in this country; the excellent Baxter, graced the Second Edition, of that Book, with a kind Preface, wherein he sees cause to say, If any are Scandalized, that New-England, a place of as serious Piety, as any I can hear of, under Heaven, should be troubled so much with Witches; I think, 'tis no wonder: Where will the Devil show most Malice, but where he is hated, and hateth most: And I hope, the Country will still deserve and answer the Charity so expressed by that Reverend Man of God. Whosoever travels over this Wilderness, will see it richly bespangled with Evangelical Churches, whose Pastors are holy, able, and painful Overseers of their Flocks, lively Preachers, and vertuous Livers; and such as in their several Neighbourly Associations, have had their Meetings whereat Ecclesiastical Matters of common Concernment are considered: Churches, whose Communicants have been seriously examined about their Experiences of Regeneration, as well as about their Knowledge, and Belief, and blameless Conversation, before their admission to the Sacred Communion; although others of less but hopeful Attainments in Christianity are not ordinarily deny'd Baptism for themselves and theirs; Churches, which are shye of using any thing in the Worship of God, for which they cannot see a Warrant of God; but with whom yet the Names of Congregational, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, or Antipdobaptist, are swallowed up in that of Christians; Persons of all those Perswasions being taken into our Fellowship, when visible Goodliness has recommended them: Churches, which usually do within themselves manage their own Discipline, under the Conduct of their Elders; but yet call in the help of Synods upon Emergencies, or Aggrievances: Churches, Lastly, wherein Multitudes are growing ripe for Heaven every day; and as fast as these are taken off, others are daily rising up. And by the Presence and Power of the Divine Institutions thus maintained in the Country, we are still so happy, that I suppose there is no Land in the Universe more free from the debauching, and the debasing Vices of Ungodliness. The Body of the People are hitherto so disposed, that Swearing, Sabbath-breaking, Whoring, Drunkenness, and the like, do not make a Gentleman, but a Monster, or a Goblin, in the vulgar Estimation. All this notwithstanding, we must humbly confess to our God, that we are miserably degenerated from the first Love of our Predecessors; however we boast our selves a little, when Men would go to trample upon us, and we venture to say, Wherein soever any is bold (we speak foolishly) we are bold also. The first Planters of these Colonies were a chosen Generation of Men, who were first so pure, as to disrelish many things which they thought wanted Reformation elsewhere; and yet withal so peaceable, that they embraced a voluntary Exile in a squalid, horrid, American Desart, rather than to live in Contentions with their Brethren. Those good Men imagined that they should leave their Posterity in a place, where they should never see the Inroads of Profanity, or Superstition: And a famous Person returning hence, could in a Sermon before the Parliament, profess, I have now been seven Years in a Country, where I never saw one Man drunk, or heard one Oath sworn, or beheld one Beggar in the Streets all the while. Such great Persons as Budus, and others, who mistook Sir Thomas Moor's UTOPIA, for a Country really existent, and stirr'd up some Divines charitably to undertake a Voyage thither, might now have certainly found a Truth in their Mistake; New-England was a true Utopia. But, alas, the Children and Servants of those old Planters must needs afford many, degenerate Plants, and there is now risen up a Number of People, otherwise inclined than our Joshua's, and the Elders that out-liv'd them. Those two things our holy Progenitors and our happy Advantages make Omissions of Duty, and such Spiritual Disorders as the whole World abroad is overwhelmed with, to be as provoking in us, as the most flagitious Wickednesses committed in other places; and the Ministers of God are accordingly severe in their Testimonies: But in short, those Interests of the Gospel, which were the Errand of our Fathers into these Ends of the Earth, have been too much neglected and postponed, and the Attainments of an handsome Education, have been too much undervalued, by Multitudes that have not fallen into Exorbitances of Wickedness; and some, especially of our young Ones, when they have got abroad from under the Restraints here laid upon them, have become extravagantly and abominably Vicious. Hence 'tis, that the Happiness of New-England has been but for a time, as it was foretold, and not for a long time, as has been desir'd for us. A Variety of Calamity has long follow'd this Plantation; and we have all the Reason imaginable to ascribe it unto the Rebuke of Heaven upon us for our manifold Apostasies; we make no right use of our Disasters: If we do not, Remember whence we are fallen, and repent, and do the first works. But yet our Afflictions may come under a further Consideration with us: There is a further Cause of our Afflictions, whose due must be given him.
§ II. The New-Englanders are a People of God settled in those, which were once the Devil's Territories; and it may easily be supposed that the Devil was exceedingly disturbed, when he perceived such a People here accomplishing the Promise of old made unto our Blessed Jesus, That He should have the Utmost parts of the Earth for his Possession. There was not a greater Uproar among the Ephesians, when the Gospel was first brought among them, than there was among, The Powers of the Air (after whom those Ephesians walked) when first the Silver Trumpets of the Gospel here made the Joyful Sound. The Devil thus Irritated, immediately try'd all sorts of Methods to overturn this poor Plantation: and so much of the Church, as was Fled into this Wilderness, immediately found, The Serpent cast out of his Mouth a Flood for the carrying of it away. I believe, that never were more Satanical Devices used for the Unsetling of any People under the Sun, than what have been Employ'd for the Extirpation of the Vine which God has here Planted, Casting out the Heathen, and preparing a Room before it, and causing it to take deep Root, and fill the Land, so that it sent its Boughs unto the Atlantic Sea Eastward, and its Branches unto the Connecticut River Westward, and the Hills were covered with the shadows thereof. But, All those Attempts of Hell, have hitherto been Abortive, many an Ebenezer has been Erected unto the Praise of God, by his Poor People here; and, Having obtained Help from God, we continue to this Day. Wherefore the Devil is now making one Attempt more upon us; an Attempt more Difficult, more Surprizing, more snarl'd with unintelligible Circumstances than any that we have hitherto Encountred; an Attempt so Critical, that if we get well through, we shall soon enjoy Halcyon Days with all the Vultures of hell Trodden under our Feet. He has wanted his Incarnate Legions to Persecute us, as the People of God have in the other Hemisphere been Persecuted: he has therefore drawn forth his more Spiritual ones to make an Attacque upon us. We have been advised by some Credible Christians yet alive, that a Malefactor, accused of Witchcraft as well as Murder, and Executed in this place more than Forty Years ago, did then give Notice of, An Horrible PLOT against the Country by WITCHCRAFT, and a Foundation of WITCHCRAFT then laid, which if it were not seasonably discovered, would probably Blow up, and pull down all the Churches in the Country. And we have now with Horror seen the Discovery of such a Witchcraft! An Army of Devils is horribly broke in upon the place which is the Center, and after a sort, the First-born of our English Settlements: and the Houses of the Good People there are fill'd with the doleful Shrieks of their Children and Servants, Tormented by Invisible Hands, with Tortures altogether preternatural. After the Mischiefs there Endeavoured, and since in part Conquered, the terrible Plague, of Evil Angels, hath made its Progress into some other places, where other Persons have been in like manner Diabolically handled. These our poor Afflicted Neighbours, quickly after they become Infected and Infested with these Dmons, arrive to a Capacity of Discerning those which they conceive the Shapes of their Troublers; and notwithstanding the Great and Just Suspicion, that the Dmons might Impose the Shapes of Innocent Persons in their Spectral Exhibitions upon the Sufferers, (which may perhaps prove no small part of the Witch-Plot in the issue) yet many of the Persons thus Represented, being Examined, several of them have been Convicted of a very Damnable Witchcraft : yea, more than one Twenty have Confessed, that they have Signed unto a Book, which the Devil show'd them, and Engaged in his Hellish Design of Bewitching, and Ruining our Land. We know not, at least I know not, how far the Delusions of Satan may be Interwoven into some Circumstances of the Confessions; but one would think, all the Rules of Understanding Humane Affairs are at an end, if after so many most Voluntary Harmonious Confessions, made by Intelligent Persons of all Ages, in sundry Towns, at several Times, we must not Believe the main strokes wherein those Confessions all agree: especially when we have a thousand preternatural Things every day before our eyes, wherein the Confessors do acknowledge their Concernment, and give Demonstration of their being so Concerned. If the Devils now can strike the minds of men with any Poisons of so fine a Composition and Operation, that Scores of Innocent People shall Unite, in Confessions of a Crime, which we see actually committed, it is a thing prodigious, beyond the Wonders of the former Ages, and it threatens no less than a sort of a Dissolution upon the World. Now, by these Confessions 'tis Agreed, That the Devil has made a dreadful Knot of Witches in the Country, and by the help of Witches has dreadfully increased that Knot: That these Witches have driven a Trade of Commissioning their Confederate Spirits, to do all sorts of Mischiefs to the Neighbours, whereupon there have ensued such Mischievous consequences upon the Bodies and Estates of the Neighbourhood, as could not otherwise be accounted for: yea, That at prodigious Witch-Meetings, the Wretches have proceeded so far, as to Concert and Consult the Methods of Rooting out the Christian Religion from this Country, and setting up instead of it, perhaps a more gross Diabolism, than ever the World saw before. And yet it will be a thing little short of Miracle, if in so spread a Business as this, the Devil should not get in some of his Juggles, to confound the Discovery of all the rest. § III. Doubtless, the Thoughts of many will receive a great Scandal against New-England, from the Number of Persons that have been Accused, or Suspected, for Witchcraft, in this Country: But it were easie to offer many things, that may Answer and Abate the Scandal. If the Holy God should any where permit the Devils to hook two or three wicked Scholars into Witchcraft, and then by their Assistance to Range with their Poisonous Insinuations among Ignorant, Envious, Discontented People, till they have cunningly decoy'd them into some sudden Act, whereby the Toyls of Hell shall be perhaps inextricably cast over them: what Country in the World would not afford Witches, numerous to a Prodigy? Accordingly, The Kingdoms of Sweden, Denmark, Scotland, yea and England it self, as well as the Province of New-England, have had their Storms of Witchcrafts breaking upon them, which have made most Lamentable Devastations: which also I wish, may be The Last. And it is not uneasie to be imagined, That God has not brought out all the Witchcrafts in many other Lands with such a speedy, dreadful, destroying Jealousie, as burns forth upon such High Treasons, committed here in A Land of Uprightness: Transgressors may more quickly here than elsewhere become a Prey to the Vengeance of Him, Who has Eyes like a Flame of Fire, and, who walks in the midst of the Golden Candlesticks. Moreover, There are many parts of the World, who if they do upon this Occasion insult over this People of God, need only to be told the Story of what happen' d at Loim, in the Dutchy of Gulic, where a Popish Curate having ineffectually try'd many Charms to Eject the Devil out of a Damsel there possessed, he passionately bid the Devil come out of her into himself; but the Devil answered him, Quid mihi Opus, est eum tentare, quem Novissimo die, Jure Optimo, sum possessurus? That is, What need I meddle with one whom I am sure to have, and hold at the Last-day as my own for ever?
Excerpted from On Witchcraft by Cotton Mather. Copyright © 2005 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.