Dr. Lamb, patronized by the Duke of Buckingham, who, like other overgrown favourites, was inclined to cherish astrology, was, in 1640, pulled to pieces in the City of London by the enraged populace, and his maidservant, thirteen years afterwards, hanged as a witch at Salisbury. In the villainous transaction of the poisoning of Sir Thomas Overbury, in King James's time, much mention was made of the art and skill of Dr. Forman, another professor of the same sort with Lamb, who was consulted by the Countess of Essex on the best mode of conducting her guilty intrigue with the Earl of Somerset. He was dead before the affair broke out, which might otherwise have cost him the gibbet, as it did all others concerned, with the exception only of the principal parties, the atrocious authors of the crime. When the cause was tried, some little puppets were produced in court, which were viewed by one party with horror as representing the most horrid spells. It was even said that the devil was about to pull down the court-house on their being discovered. Others of the audience only saw in them the baby figures on which dressmakers then, as now, were accustomed to expose new fashions.
The erection of the Royal Society, dedicated to far different purposes than the pursuits of astrology, had a natural operation in bringing the latter into discredit; and although the credulity of the ignorant and uninformed continued to support some pretenders to that science, the name of Philomath, assumed by these persons and their clients, began to sink under ridicule and contempt. When Sir Richard Steele set up the paper called the Guardian, he chose, under the title of Nestor Ironside, to assume the character of an astrologer, and issued predictions accordingly, one of which, announcing the death of a person named Partridge, once a shoemaker, but at the time the conductor of an Astrological Almanack, led to a controversy, which was supported with great humour by Swift and other wags. I believe you will find that this, with Swift's Elegy on the same person, is one of the last occasions in which astrology has afforded even a jest to the good people of England.
This dishonoured science has some right to be mentioned in a Treatise on Demonology because the earlier astrologers, although denying the use of all necromancy, that is, unlawful or black magic, pretended always to a correspondence with the various spirits of the elements, on the principles of the Rosicrucian philosophy. They affirmed that they could bind to their service, and imprison in a ring, a mirror, or a stone, some fairy, sylph, or salamander, and compel it to appear when called, and render answers to such questions as the viewer should propose. It is remarkable that the sage himself did not pretend to see the spirit; but the task of viewer, or reader, was intrusted to a third party, a boy or girl usually under the years of puberty. Dr. Dee, an excellent mathematician, had a stone of this kind, and is said to have been imposed upon concerning the spirits attached to it, their actions and answers, by the report of one Kelly, who acted as his viewer. The unfortunate Dee was ruined by his associates both in fortune and reputation. His show-stone, or mirror, is still preserved, among other curiosities, in the British Museum. Some superstition of the same kind was introduced by the celebrated Count Cagliostro, during the course of the intrigue respecting the diamond necklace in which the late Marie Antoinette was so unfortunately implicated.
Dismissing this general class of impostors, who are now seldom heard of, we come now briefly to mention some leading superstitions, once perhaps common to all the countries of Europe, but now restricted to those which continue to be inhabited by an undisturbed and native race. Of these, one of the most beautiful is the Irish fiction, which assigns to certain families of ancient descent and distinguished rank the privilege of a Ban-shie, as she is called, or household fairy, whose office it is to appear, seemingly mourning while she announces the approaching death of some one of the destined race. The subject has been so lately and beautifully investigated and illustrated by Mr. Crofton Croker and others, that I may dispense with being very particular regarding it. If I am rightly informed, the distinction of a banshie is only allowed to families of the pure Milesian stock, and is never ascribed to any descendant of the proudest Norman or boldest Saxon who followed the banner of Earl Strongbow, much less to adventurers of later date who have obtained settlements in the Green Isle.
Several families of the Highlands of Scotland anciently laid claim to the distinction of an attendant spirit, who performed the office of the Irish banshie. Amongst them, however, the functions of this attendant genius, whose form and appearance differed in different cases, were not limited to announcing the dissolution of those whose days were numbered. The Highlanders contrived to exact from them other points of service, sometimes as warding off dangers of battle ; at others, as guarding and protecting the infant heir through the dangers of childhood ; and sometimes as condescending to interfere even in the sports of the chieftain, and point out the fittest move to be made at chess, or the best card to be played at any other game. Among those spirits who have deigned to vouch their existence by appearance of late years, is that of an ancestor of the family of MacLean of Lochbuy. Before the death of any of his race, the phantom chief gallops along the sea-beach, near to the castle, announcing the event by cries and lamentations. The spectre is said to have rode his rounds and uttered his death-cries within these few years, in consequence of which the family and clan, though much shocked, were in no way surprised to hear, by next accounts, that their gallant chief was dead at Lisbon, where he served under Lord Wellington.