“[W]here the Devill findes greatest ignorance and barbaritie, there assayles he grosseliest, as I gave you the reason wherefore there was moe Witches of women kinde nor men.” Daemonologie, Volume the Third, Chapter III
That’s what King James had to say about witchcraft in a three volume treatise he wrote a few years before he issued instructions for the translation of the Bible that bears his name. Last week I discussed the first volume of his Daemonologie, which covered sorcery, in my post “King James and the Zombies”. On Friday, I talked about the second volume, which deals with witches, in a guest blog “Witchcraft is Where You Find It.” Today, in honor of All Hallow’s Eve, we’ll see what James had to say about ghosts in Volume Three.
He divides spirits into four categories—those that haunt a place, those that follow a person, those that possess a person and “fayries.” Regarding the first type, he explains that devil sends ghosts to haunt solitary places because man is at his weakest there and because God will not permit him to “dishonour the societies and companies of Christians, as in publicke times and places to walke visiblie amongst them.” But what about hauntings that occur in a house full of supposedly Christian people? James says that’s a sign of either “grosse ignorance” (he doesn’t specify whose) or “grosse and slanderous sinnes among the inhabitantes” of the house. In other words, if your house is haunted, it’s your fault and your neighbor should be wondering whether you are sinful or just stupid.
James wrote Daemonologie specifically to refute the notion that there is no such thing as magic and witchcraft. Practitioners of the “devill’s arts” are all around, he argues, and they need to be recognized and punished. (Some rulers focus on conquering territory, others on stabilizing the economy. Clearly James had different priorities.)
So when people argue that ghosts do not exist because most people never see them, James answers that God only allows some people to know of their existence. So there. But he also says that just because ghosts and witches exist doesn’t mean that every supernatural tale should be taken as truth. For instance, he discounts the existence of “men-woolfes”, saying that it is just an overabundance of melancholy that makes men think they’re animals so they act that way. And he makes no mention at all of vampires. But though he doesn’t use the word, he spends a number of pages explaining the presence of zombies as the devil reanimating dead bodies, even the dead bodies of very “good” people. So if your body rises from the grave to terrorize people, it’s not necessarily your fault.
The same thing can be said for those who are haunted or even possessed. James explains that God allows the devil to torment people in this way either because they have sinned and need to be punished or because they’re really good and need to have their strength tested. So if your daughter is possessed, you can tell your neighbors that this is a status symbol of your extraordinary faith. Try to top that, if you dare!
While you may not know whether a possessed person is saintly or riddled with sin, you can be sure if you do see a spirit, it’s evil, even if it is disguised as an angel. James says all Christians should know “that since the comming of Christ in the flesh, and establishing of his Church by the Apostles, all miracles, visions, prophecies, & appearances of Angels or good spirites are ceased.” Though I’ve heard some theologians despair over the cultish fascination with angels, I’ve never heard one flat out say that they don’t ever appear to humans anymore. For his proof, James offers the parable of Lazarus and the rich man who begs Jesus to send a ghost to his brothers to warn them to change their ways. Jesus refuses, saying “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” It’s an interesting argument, but I’m not sure I buy it.
Besides, who wants to argue about “good spirites” on Halloween? We want the scary stuff.
So how about stories of the devil’s spawn—is that scary? James devotes several paragraphs to a scientific explanation of why sex with a spirit (or a dead body reanimated) could not result in pregnancy. So like “men-woolfes,” James says he also doesn’t believe in midwives’ tales of monstrous births and he doesn’t believe in “phairies” with their woodland courts and frolics.
I’m not quite clear on all his arguments, but somehow, I think he blames women for most of the evils of witchcraft. Remember, he said that there are more women witches than men because they are weaker and more subject to temptation from the devil than men. And he also said that witches (predominantly women) are motivated by greed to follow the devil whereas sorcerers (mostly men) are motivated by intellectual curiosity. I’m guessing James was bullied by his nurse—he seems to be afraid of women and belittles them to make himself feel better.
I must say, though, that while he seems almost ready to excuse the male sorcerers for the temptation to follow their art, he absolutely does not. They are “all alike guiltie” and must be put to death, regardless or age, sex or rank. While fire is “commonly used,” he leaves it up to the custom of the individual country as to what sort of death is needed.
He counsels that it is important not to condemn the innocent, but it would still be a little worrisome to me, especially since he believes that because witches have rejected the water of their baptism, God reveals witches with the sign that “water shal refuse to receive them in her bosom.” In other words, they float.
So I won’t be inviting James to my next pool party.