The scene was the Swedish village of Mohra, in the province of Elfland, which district had probably its name from some remnant of ancient superstition. The delusion had come to a great height ere it reached the ears of government, when, as was the general procedure, royal commissioners were sent down, men well fitted for the duty intrusted to them ; that is, with ears open to receive the incredibilities with which they were to be crammed, and hearts hardened against every degree of compassion to the accused. The complaints of the common people, backed by some persons of better condition, were, that a number of persons, renowned as witches, had drawn several hundred children of all classes under the devil's authority. They demanded, therefore, the punishment of these agents of hell, reminding the judges that the province had been clear of witches since the burning of some on a former occasion. The accused were numerous, so many as threescore and ten witches and sorcerers being seized in the village of Mohra; three-and-twenty confessed their crimes, and were sent to Faluna, where most of them were executed. Fifteen of the children were also led to death. Six-and-thirty of those who were young were forced to run the gauntlet, as it is called, and were, besides, lashed weekly at the church-doors for a whole year. Twenty of the youngest were condemned to the same discipline for three days only.
The process seems to have consisted in confronting the children with the witches, and hearing the extraordinary story which the former insisted upon maintaining. The children, to the number of three hundred, were found more or less perfect in a tale as full of impossible absurdities as ever was told around a nursery fire. Their confession ran thus :—
They were taught by the witches to go to a cross way, and with certain ceremonies to invoke the devil by the name of Antecessor, begging him to carry them off to Blockula, meaning, perhaps, the Brockenberg, in the Hartz forest, a mountain infamous for being the common seat of witches' meetings, and to which Goethe represents the spirit Mephistopheles as conducting his pupil Faustus. The devil courteously appeared at the call of the children, in various forms, but chiefly as a mad Merry-Andrew, with a grey coat, red and blue stockings, a red beard, a high-crowned hat, with linen of various colours wrapt round it, and garters of peculiar length. He set each child on some beast of his providing, and anointed them with a certain unguent composed of the scrapings of altars and the filings of church-clocks. There is here a discrepancy of evidence which, in another court, would have cast the whole. Most of the children considered their journey to be corporeal and actual. Some supposed, however, that their strength or spirit only travelled with the fiend, and that their body remained behind. Very few adopted this last hypothesis, though the parents unanimously bore witness that the bodies of the children remained in bed, and could not be awakened out of a deep sleep, though they shook them for the purpose of arousing them. So strong was, nevertheless, the belief of nurses and mothers in their actual transportation, that a sensible clergyman, mentioned in the preface, who had resolved he would watch his son the whole night, and see what hag or fiend would take him from his arms, had the utmost difficulty, notwithstanding, in convincing his mother that the child had not been transported to Blockula during the very night he held him in his embrace.
The learned translator candidly allows, " out of so great a multitude as were accused, condemned, and executed, there might be some who suffered unjustly, and owed their death more to the malice of their enemies than to their skill in the black art, I will readily admit. Nor will I deny," he continues, " but that—when the news of these transactions, and accounts how the children bewitched fell into fits and strange unusual postures spread abroad in the kingdom—some fearful and credulous people, if they saw their children any way disordered, might think they were bewitched, or ready to be carried away by imps."* The learned gentleman here stops short in a train of reasoning, which, followed out, would have deprived the world of the benefit of his translation. For if it was possible that some of these unfortunate persons fell a sacrifice to the malice of their neighbours, or the prejudices of witnesses, as he seems ready to grant, is it not more reasonable to believe, that the whole of the accused were convicted on similar grounds, than to allow, as truth, the slightest part of the gross and vulgar impossibilities upon which alone their execution can be justified ?
The Blockula, which was the object of their journey, was a house having a fine gate painted with divers colours, with a paddock, in which they turned the beasts to graze which had brought them to such scenes of revelry. If human beings had been employed, they were left slumbering against the wall of the house. The plan of the devil's palace consisted of one large banqueting apartment, and several withdrawing-rooms. Their food was homely enough, being broth made of coleworts and bacon, with bread and butter, and milk and cheese. The same acts of wickedness and profligacy were committed at Blockula which are usually supposed to take place upon the devil's Sabbath elsewhere ; but there was this particular, that the witches had sons and daughters by the fiends, who were married together, and produced an offspring of toads and serpents.
* Translator's Preface to Horneck's Account of what happened in the Kingdom of Sweden. See Appendix to Glanville's work.
These confessions being delivered before the accused witches, they at first stoutly denied them ; at last some of them burst into tears, and acquiesced in the horrors imputed to them. They said, the practice of carrying off children had been enlarged very lately, (which shows the whole rumours to have arisen recently;) and the despairing wretches confirmed what the children said, with many other extravagant circumstances, as the mode of elongating a goat's back by means of a spit, on which we care not to be particular. It is worth mentioning, that the devil, desirous of enjoying his own reputation among his subjects, pretended at one time to be dead, and was much lamented at Blockula—but he soon revived again.