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THE DEVIL SUPPOSED TO BE A CAUSE OF GHOSTS.
Movet phantasiam et ita obfirmat vanis conceptibus.
AUSTIN. DE VIT. BEAT.
ALL metaphysical, all physiological, and all chemical opinions, having been, by various philosophers, considered as perfectly inadequate to the explanation of ghosts, it was asked, why the existence of them should not arise from the direct agency of the devil himself?
Some pneumatologists maintained that the devil was a slender and an incomprehensible spirit,, who reigned in a thousand shapes, and, consequently, might assumę, if such were his pleasure, the form of an angel. They taught that unclean spirits insinuating themselves in the body, and mingling in its humours, sported there with as much glee as if they had been inhaling the brightest region of the stars ;that they go in and out of the body as bees do in a hive ;-and hence that melancholy persons are most subject to diabolical temptations. To this doctrine, taught by the learned clerkes of the 16th and 17th century, Hamlet evidently alludes, when he conceives that it might have been “ a damned ghost" which he had seen, or the result of some diabolical art operating through the medium of his fantasie or imagination
“ The spirit that I have seen
Accordingly the regular plot of the drama turns upon the test to which the veracity of the apparition is submitted. The trial is satisfactory, and Hamlet declares that he will “ take the ghost's word for a thousand pound."
Such were the views which never failed at one time to excite the suspicion of persons labouring under spectral impressions; and it is painful to contemplate them as they arose in the minds of many eminent individuals, among whom was Martin Luther. This astonishing man was evidently affected by some organic disease, owing to which, as well as to the extraordinary intellectual exertions to which his mind was stimulated during the progress of his wonderful work of reform, the usual state of his thought appears to have been at intervals materially disturbed. In the true spirit of the times, he contemplated his zealous labours as opposed to the works of the devil, and was particularly inclined to attribute the illusions under which he laboured to the machinations of evil spirits. One anecdote to this effect I find thus stated :-“ Luther has related of himself, that being
at prayer, contemplating how Christ hung on the cross and suffered for his sins, there appeared suddenly on the wall a bright shining vision, and therein appeared also a glorious form of our Saviour Christ, with his five wounds, steadfastly looking upon him, as if it had been Christ himself corporally. Now at the first sight he thought it had been some good revelation, yet presently recollected himself, and apprehending some juggling of the devil, (for Christ, as Luther says, appeareth unto us in his word, and in a meaner and more humble form, even as he was humbled on the cross for us,) therefore, said he, I spake to the vision in this manner : Away, thou unfounded devil, I know no other Christ than he that was crucified, and who, in his word, is pictured and preached to me;' whereupon the image vanished, which was the very devil himself.”
The devil was also supposed to occasionally induce illusion by self-transformation, as the following curious story, to be found in Captain Bell's Table-talk of Luther, sufficiently shews :
“A gentleman had a fine young wife, who died, and was also buried. Not long after, the gentleman and his servant lying together in one chamber, his dead wife, in the night-time, approached into the chamber, and leaned herself upon the gentleman's bed, like as if she had been desirous to speak with him. The servant (seeing the same two or three nights, one after another), asked his master whether he knew, that every night a woman in white apparel came into his bed ? The gentleman said, “ No. I sleep soundly (said he), and see nothing. When
night approached, the gentleman, considering the same, laid waking in bed. Then the woman appeared unto him, and came hard to his bed-side. The gentleman demanded who she was? She answered, 'I am your wife.' He said, “My wife is dead and buried.' She said, “True, by reason of your swearing and sins I died; but if you would take me again, and would also abstain from swearing one particular oath, which commonly you use, then would I be your wife again.' He said, “I am content to perform what you desire.' Whereupon his dead wife remained with him, ruled his house, laid with him, ate and drank with him, and had children together. Now it fell out, that on a time the gentleman had guests, and his wife, after supper, was to fetch out of his chest some banquetingstuff; she staying somewhat long, her husband (forgetting himself), was moved thereby to swear his accustomed oath ; whereupon the woman vanished that instant. Now seeing she returned not again, they went up unto the chamber to see what was become of her. There they found the gown which she wore, half lying within the chest, and half without; but she was never seen afterwards. - This did the devil,' (said Luther): he can transform himself into the shape of a man or woman.””
King James conceived, that the wraiths or simulacra of the Scottish Highlands were attributable to the devil. The following dialogue appears in his Demonology :
Phi. And what meane these kind of spirits, when they appeare in the shadow of a person newly dead, or to die, to his friends ?
Epi. When they appeare upon that occasion, they are called wraithes in our language. Amongst the Gentiles the divell used that much, to make them believe that it was some good spirit that appeared to them then, either to forewarne them of the death of their friend, or else to discover unto them the will of the defunct, or what was the way of his slaughter; as it is written in the booke of the Histories prodigious.
But some metaphysicians were not content with maintaining that the phantasms of profane history were attributable to the devil ; it was, indeed, a very favourite notion entertained by theologians, that the ghost of Samuel was nothing but an illusion caused by Satan to disturb the mind of Saul. Cowley, the poet, in his censure of those who blindly use their reason in divine matters, himself affords the best il. lustration of the false arguments against which his Philippic was directed :
“ Sometimes their fancies they 'bove reason set,
Behold! the gods arise. This ridiculous explanation of the text of Holy Writ arose from the notion, that magicians, through the means of the devil, often induced spectral illusions. A curious illustration of the prevalence of this belief, which extended even to modern days, is given in the Memoirs of the Duke of Berwick.
A French army encamped before Saragossa, in 1707, under the command of the Duke of Orleans :