Fourthly, and on the other hand, abstaining with reverence from accounting ourselves judges of the actions of Omnipotence, we may safely conclude, that it was not his pleasure to employ in the execution of his judgments, the consequences of any such species of league or compact betwixt devils and deluded mortals, as that denounced in the laws of our own ancestors under the name of witchcraft. What has been translated by that word, seems little more than the art of a medicator of poisons, combined with that of a Pythoness or false prophetess ; a crime, however, of a capital nature, by the Levitical law, since, in the first capacity, it implied great enmity to mankind, and in the second, direct treason to the divine Legislator. The book of Tobit contains, indeed, a passage resembling more an incident in an Arabian tale, or Gothic romance, than a part of inspired writing. In this, the fumes produced by broiling the liver of a certain fish, are described as having power to drive away an evil genius who guards the nuptial chamber of an Assyrian princess, and who has strangled seven bridegrooms in succession, as they approached the nuptial couch. But the romantic and fabulous strain of this legend has induced the fathers of all Protestant churches to deny it a place amongst the writings sanctioned by divine origin, and we may, therefore, be excused from entering into discussion on such imperfect evidence.
Lastly, In considering the incalculable change which took place upon the Advent of our Saviour and the announcement of his law, we may observe, that, according to many wise and learned men, his mere appearance upon earth, without awaiting the fulfilment of his mission, operated as an act of banishment of such heathen deities as had hitherto been suffered to deliver oracles, and ape in some degree the attributes of the Deity. Milton has, in the Paradise Lost, it may be upon conviction of its truth, embraced the theory which identifies the followers of Satan with the gods of the heathen; and, in a tone of poetry almost unequalled, even in his own splendid writings, he thus describes, in one of his earlier pieces, the departure of these pretended deities on the eve of the blessed Nativity.
" The oracles are dumb, No voice or hideous hum Runs through the arch'd roof in words deceiving; Apollo from his shrine Can no more divine, With hollow shriek the steep of Delphos leaving; No nightly trance or breathed spell Inspires the pale-eyed priests from the prophetic cell,
" The lonely mountains o'er, And the resounding shore, A voice of weeping heard and loud lament ; From haunted spring and dale, Edged with poplar pale, The parting genius is with sighing sent; With flower-inwoven tresses torn, The nymphs in twilight shade of tangled thickets mourn.
" In consecrated earth, And on the holy hearth; The Lars and Lemures moan with midnight plaint j In urns and altars round, A drear and dying sound Affrights the Flamens at their service quaint; And the chill marble seems to sweat, While each peculiar Power foregoes his wonted seat.
" Peor and Baalim Forsake their temples dim, With that twice batter'd god of Palestine; And mooned Ashtaroth, Heaven's queen and mother both, Now sits not girt with tapers' holy shine ; The Lybic Hammon shrinks his horn ; In vain the Tyrian maids their wounded Thammuz mourn.
"And sullen Moloch fled, Hath left in shadows dread His burning idol all of darkest hue;
In vain with cymbals' ring They call the grisly king, In dismal dance about the furnace blue; The brutish gods of Nile as fast, Isis and Orus, and the Dog Anubis, haste."
The quotation is a long one, but it is scarcely possible to shorten what is so beautiful and interesting a description of the heathen deities, whether in the classic personifications of Greece, the horrible shapes worshipped by mere barbarians, or the hieroglyphical enormities of the Egyptian Mythology. The idea of identifying the pagan deities, especially the most distinguished of them, with the manifestation of demoniac power, and concluding that the descent of our Saviour struck them with silence, so nobly expressed in the poetry of Milton, is not certainly to be lightly rejected.
It has been asserted, in simple prose, by authorities of no mean weight; nor does there appear any thing inconsistent in the faith of those who, believing that, in the elder time, fiends and demons were permitted an enlarged degree of power in uttering predictions, may also give credit to the proposition, that at the Divine Advent, that power was restrained, the oracles silenced, and those demons who had aped the Divinity of the place, were driven from their abode on earth, honoured as it was by a guest so awful.
It must be noticed, however, that this great event had not the same effect on that peculiar class of fiends who were permitted to vex mortals by the alienation of their minds, and the abuse of their persons, in the cases of what is called Demoniacal possession. In what exact sense we should understand this word possession, we do not pretend to discover; but we feel it impossible to doubt, (notwithstanding learned authorities to the contrary,) that it was a dreadful disorder, of a kind not merely natural; and may be pretty well assured that it was suffered to continue after the incarnation, because the miracles effected by our Saviour and his apostles, in curing those tormented in this way, afforded the most direct proofs of his divine mission, even out of the very mouths of those ejected fiends, the most malignant enemies of a power to which they dared not refuse homage and obedience. And here is an additional proof, that witchcraft, in its ordinary and popular sense, was unknown at that period; although cases of possession are repeatedly mentioned in the Gospels, and Acts of the Apostles, yet in no one instance do the devils ejected mention a witch or sorcerer, or plead the commands of such a person as the cause of occupying or tormenting the victim; whereas, in a great proportion of those melancholy cases of witchcraft with which the records of latter times abound, the stress of the evidence is rested on the declaration of the possessed, or the demon within him, that some old man or woman in the neighbourhood had compelled the fiend to be the instrument of evil.