We have long wished that some English or foreign university would offer a prize for a history of Magic and Witchcraft. The records of human opinion would contain few chapters more instructive than one which should deal competently with the Black Art. For gross and painful as the details of superstition may be, yet superstition, by its very etymology, implies a dogma or a system of practice standing upon some basis of fact or truth : and however vain or noxious the superstructure may be, the foundation of it is in some way connected with those deep verities upon which rest also the roots of philosophy and religion.
For a grand error, and such alone can at any time essentially affect the opinions of mankind in general, is ever the imitation or caricature of some grand truth. From one soil spring originally the tree which yields good fruit and the plant which distils deadly poison. The very discernment of the causes of error is a step towards the discovery of its opposite. The bewilderments of the mind of man, when fully analysed, afford a clue to the course of its movements from the right track, or at least enable us to detect the point at which began the original separation between Truth and Error. Alchemy led, by no very circuitous route, to the science of chemistry; the adoption of false gods by the majority of the human race rendered necessaiy the dispensations of the Jewish and Christian schemes; and the corruption of true reverence for the Good, the Beautiful, and the Holy, was the parent of those arts, which, under the several appellations of Magic, Witchcraft, Sorcery, etc., drew their professors at first and the multitude afterwards to put faith in the evil, the deformed, and the impure. Magic and Witchcraft are little more than the religious instincts of mankind, first inverted, then polluted, and finally, like all corrupted matter, impregnated with the germs of a corrupt vitality.
So universal is the belief in spiritual influences, and more especially in their malignant influences, that no race of men, no period of time, no region of the globe, have been exempt from it. It meets us in the remote antiquity of Asiatic life, in the comparatively recent barbarism of the American aborigines, in the creeds of all the nations who branched off thousands of years ago eastward and westward from their Caucasian cradle, in the myths, the observances, and the dialects of nations who have no other affinity with one another than the mere form of man.
No nation, indeed, can reproach another nation with its addiction to magic without in an equal degree condemning itself. All the varieties of mankind have, in this respect, erred alike at different periods of their social existence, and all accordingly come under the same condemnation of making and loving a lie. The Chaldean erred when, dissatisfied with simple observation of the heavenly bodies through the luminous atmosphere of his plains, he perverted astronomy into astrology : the Egyptian erred when he represented the omnipresence of the Deity by the ubiquity of animal worship : the Hindoo erred when, having conceived the idea of an incarnation, he clothed with flesh and fleshly attributes the members of his monstrous pantheon : the Kelt and Teuton erred when, in their silent and solitary forests, they stained the serenity of nature with the deified attributes of war ; and the more settled and civilized races who built and inhabited the cities of the ancient world, erred in their conversion of the indivisible unity of the Deiniourgos or World-Creator into an anthropomorphic system of several gods. But the very universality of the error points to some common ground for it in the recesses of the human heart; and since Paganism under all its forms was the corruption of religion, and Witchcraft in its turn the corruption of Paganism, an inquiry into the seeds of this evil fruit cannot fail to be also in some measure an investigation of the very 'incunabula' of human error.
We have stated, or endeavoured to state, the real scope and dimensions of the subject of Magic and Witchcraft-not however with any purpose of expatiating upon it in so small a volume as the present one. In the pages which follow we offer only a few remarks upon theories or modes of belief which in remote or in nearer ages have affected the creeds and the conduct of mankind. The subject, in extenso, belongs to larger volumes, and to maturer learning and meditatjon.