Some attempts these witches had made to harm individuals on middle earth, but with little success. One old sorceress, indeed, attempted to strike a nail, given her by the devil for that purpose, into the head of the minister of Elfland; but as the skull was of unusual solidity, the reverend gentleman only felt a headache from her efforts. They could not be persuaded to exhibit any of their tricks before the commissioners, excusing themselves by alleging that their witchcraft had left them, and that the devil had amused them with the vision of a burning pit, having a hand thrust out of it.
The total number who lost their lives on this singular occasion, was fourscore and four persons, including fifteen children ; and at this expense of blood was extinguished a flame that arose as suddenly, burnt as fiercely, and decayed as rapidly, as any portent of the kind within the annals of superstition. The commissioners returned to court with the high approbation of all concerned—prayers were ordered through the churches weekly, that Heaven would be pleased to restrain the powers of the devil, and deliver the poor creatures who hitherto had groaned under it, as well as the innocent children, who were carried off by hundreds at once.
If we could ever learn the true explanation of this story, we should probably find that the cry was led by some clever mischievous boy, who wished to apologize to his parents for lying an hour longer in the morning, by alleging he had been at Blockula on the preceding night; and that the desire to be as much distinguished as their comrade, had stimulated the bolder and more acute of his companions to the like falsehoods ; whilst those of weaker minds assented, either from fear of punishment, or the force of dreaming over at night the horrors which were dinned into their ears all day. Those who were ingenuous, as it was termed, in their confessions, received praise and encouragement -, and those who denied, or were silent, and, as it was considered, impenitent, were sure to bear the harder share of the punishment which was addressed to all. It is worth while also to observe, that the smarter children began to improve their evidence, and add touches to the general picture of Blockula. " Some of the children talked much of a white angel, which used to forbid them what the devil bid them do, and told them that these doings should not last long.—And, they added, this better being would place himself sometimes at the door betwixt the witches and the children, and when they came to Blockula he pulled the children back, but the witches went in."
This additional evidence speaks for itself, and shows the whole tale to be the fiction of the children's imagination, which some of them wished to improve upon. The reader may consult, An Account of what happened in the Kingdom of Sweden in the years 1669 and 1670, and afterwards translated out of High Dutch into English, by Dr Antony Horneck, attached to Glanville's Sadducismus Triumphatus. The translator refers to the evidence of Baron Sparr, ambassador from the court of Sweden to the court of England, in 1672 ; and that of Baron Lyonberg, envoy extraordinary of the same power, both of whom attest the confession and execution of the witches. The King of Sweden himself answered the express enquiries of the Duke of Holstein with marked reserve. " His judges and commissioners," he said, " had caused divers men, women, and children to be burnt and executed on such pregnant evidence as was brought before them. But whether the actions confessed and proved against them were real, or only the effects of strong imagination, he was not as yet able to determine ;"—a sufficient reason, perhaps, why punishment should have been at least deferred by the interposition of the royal authority.
We must now turn our eyes to Britain, in which our knowledge as to such events is necessarily more extensive, and where it is in a high degree more interesting to our present purpose.