Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft by Walter Scott

Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft

subjects: Witchcraft

Description

The notion that witchcraft faded away with the onset of the scientific revolution is entirely mistaken. Sir Walter Scott wrote this volume for his son-in-law & biographer J. G. Lockhart. It stands in the grand tradition of writing on witchcraft & suggests that magic was alive & well in 19th-century Scotland, as contemporary newspaper reports confirm. Carefully researched, alive with stories drawn from his own & contemporaries’ experience, & ranging in subject matter from ghosts & fairies to witches & astrologers, the ÔLetters’ inform, enliven, & entertain as they try to wed 19th-century skepticism with evidence which contradicts it. Letters has been a major source of reference ever since it was published.

Excerpt

You have asked of me, my dear friend, that I should assist the “Family Library” with the history of a dark chapter in human nature, which the increasing civilization of all well-instructed countries has now almost blotted out, though the subject attracted no ordinary degree of consideration in the older times of their history.

Among much reading of my earlier days, it is no doubt true that I travelled a good deal in the twilight regions of superstitious disquisitions. Many hours have I lost–“I would their debt were less!”–in examining old as well as more recent narratives of this character, and even in looking into some of the criminal trials so frequent in early days, upon a subject which our fathers considered as a matter of the last importance. And, of late years, the very curious extracts published by Mr. Pitcairn, from the Criminal Records of Scotland, are, besides their historical value, of a nature so much calculated to illustrate the credulity of our ancestors on such subjects, that, by perusing them, I have been induced more recently to recall what I had read and thought upon the subject at a former period.

As, however, my information is only miscellaneous, and I make no pretensions, either to combat the systems of those by whom I am anticipated in consideration of the subject, or to erect any new one of my own, my purpose is, after a general account of Demonology and Witchcraft, to confine myself to narratives of remarkable cases, and to the observations which naturally and easily arise out of them;–in the confidence that such a plan is, at the present time of day, more likely to suit the pages of a popular miscellany, than an attempt to reduce the contents of many hundred tomes, from the largest to the smallest size, into an abridgement, which, however compressed, must remain greatly too large for the reader’s powers of patience.

A few general remarks on the nature of Demonology, and the original cause of the almost universal belief in communication betwixt mortals and beings of a power superior to themselves, and of a nature not to be comprehended by human organs, are a necessary introduction to the subject.