Mary Schweidler, by Wilhelm Meinhold


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Page 1

No sooner had I reached home than I fell to work upon my new acquisition,
and after reading a bit here and there with considerable trouble, my
interest was powerfully excited by the contents.

I soon felt the necessity of making myself better acquainted with the
nature and conduct of these witch trials, with the proceedings, nay,
even with the history of the whole period in which these events occur.
But the more I read of these extraordinary stories, the more was I
confounded; and neither the trivial Beeker (_die bezauberte Welt_, the
enchanted world), nor the more careful Horst (_Zauberbibliothek_, the
library of magic), to which, as well as to several other works on the
same subject, I had flown for information, could resolve my doubts, but
rather served to increase them.

Not alone is the demoniacal character, which pervades nearly all these
fearful stories, so deeply marked, as to fill the attentive reader with
feelings of alternate horror and dismay, but the eternal and unchangeable
laws of human feeling and action are often arrested in a manner so
violent and unforeseen, that the understanding is entirely baffled. For
instance, one of the original trials which a friend of mine, a lawyer,
discovered in our province, contains the account of a mother, who, after
she had suffered the torture, and received the holy Sacrament, and was
on the point of going to the stake, so utterly lost all maternal feeling,
that her conscience obliged her to accuse as a witch her only dearly-loved
daughter, a girl of fifteen, against whom no one had ever entertained a
suspicion, in order, as she said, to save her poor soul. The court, justly
amazed at an event which probably has never since been paralleled, caused
the state of the mother's mind to be examined both by clergymen and
physicians, whose original testimonies are still appended to the records,
and are all highly favourable to her soundness of mind. The unfortunate
daughter, whose name was Elizabeth Hegel, was actually executed on the
strength of her mother's accusation.[2]

The explanation commonly received at the present day, that these
phenomena were produced by means of animal magnetism, is utterly
insufficient. How, for instance, could this account for the deeply
demoniacal nature of old Lizzie Kolken as exhibited in the following
pages? It is utterly incomprehensible, and perfectly explains why the
old pastor, notwithstanding the horrible deceits practised on him in
the person of his daughter, retained as firm a faith in the truth of
witchcraft as in that of the Gospel.

During the earlier centuries of the middle ages little was known of
witchcraft. The crime of magic, when it did occur, was leniently
punished. For instance, the Council of Ancyra (314) ordained the whole
punishment of witches to consist in expulsion from the Christian
community. The Visigoths punished them with stripes, and Charlemagne,
by advice of his bishops, confined them in prison until such time as
they should sincerely repent.[3] It was not until very soon before
the Reformation, that Innocent VIII. lamented that the complaints of
universal Christendom against the evil practices of these women had
become so general and so loud, that the most vigorous measures must be
taken against them; and towards the end of the year 1489, he caused the
notorious Hammer for Witches (_Malleus Maleficarum_) to be published,
according to which proceedings were set on foot with the most fanatical
zeal, not only in Catholic, but, strange to say, even in Protestant
Christendom, which in other respects abhorred everything belonging
to Catholicism. Indeed, the Protestants far outdid the Catholics in
cruelty, until, among the latter, the noble-minded Jesuit, J. Spee, and
among the former, but not until seventy years later, the excellent
Thomasius, by degrees put a stop to these horrors.

After careful examination into the nature and characteristics of
witchcraft, I soon perceived that among all these strange and often
romantic stories, not one surpassed my 'amber witch' in lively interest;
and I determined to throw her adventures into the form of a romance.
Fortunately, however, I was soon convinced that her story was already in
itself the most interesting of all romances; and that I should do far
better to leave it in its original antiquated form, omitting whatever
would be uninteresting to modern readers, or so universally known as to
need no repetition. I have therefore attempted, not indeed to supply
what is missing at the beginning and end, but to restore those leaves
which have been torn out of the middle, imitating, as accurately as I
was able, the language and manner of the old biographer, in order that
the difference between the original narrative and my own interpolations
might not be too evident.

This I have done with much trouble, and after many ineffectual attempts;
but I refrain from pointing out the particular passages which I have
supplied, so as not to disturb the historical interest of the greater
part of my readers. For modern criticism, which has now attained to a
degree of acuteness never before equalled, such a confession would be
entirely superfluous, as critics will easily distinguish the passages
where Pastor Schweidler speaks from those written by Pastor Meinhold.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Thu 21st Feb 2019, 1:57