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Thus, the witches elect to meet in thunder, lightning, or rain.
They are represented as being able to loose and bind the
winds (v. 3), to cause vessels to be tempest-tossed at sea.
Hence Macbeth addresses them (iv. 1):

"Though you untie the winds, and let them fight
Against the churches; though the yesty waves
Confound and swallow navigation up;

Though bladed corn be lodged and trees blown down;
Though castles topple on their warders' heads;

Though palaces and pyramids do slope

Their heads to their foundations; though the treasure
Of nature's germins tumble all together,
Even till destruction sicken."

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Thus, by way of illustration, we may quote a curious confession made in Scotland, about the year 1591, by Agnes Sampson, a reputed witch. She vowed that "at the time his majesty [James VI.] was in Denmark, she took a cat and christened it, and afterwards bound to each part of that cat the chiefest parts of a dead man, and several joints of his body; and that in the night following, the said cat was conveyed into the midst of the sea, by herself and other witches, sailing in their riddles, or crieves, and so left the said cat right before the town of Leith, in Scotland. This done, there arose such a tempest in the sea, as a greater hath not been seen, which tempest was the cause of the perishing of a boat or vessel coming from the town of Brunt Island to the town of Leith, wherein were sundry jewels and rich gifts, which should have been presented to the new Queen of Scotland at his majesty's coming to Leith. Again, it is confessed that the said christened cat was the cause of the king's majesty's ship, at his coming forth of Denmark, having a contrary wind to the rest of the ships then being in his company, which thing was most strange and true, as the king's majesty acknowledged." It is to this circumstance that Shakespeare probably alludes in "Macbeth" (i. 3), where he makes the witch say:

"Though his bark cannot be lost,

Yet it shall be tempest-toss'd,"

Witches were also believed to be able to sell or give winds, a notion thus described in Drayton's "Moon-Calf” (865):

"She could sell winds to any one that would
Buy them for money, forcing them to hold
What time she listed, tie them in a thread,
Which ever as the seafarer undid

They rose or scantled, as his sails would drive
To the same port whereas he would arrive."

So, in "Macbeth" (i. 3):

"2 Witch. I'll give thee a wind.

I Witch. Thou'rt kind.

3 Witch. And I another."

Singer quotes from Sumner's "Last Will and Testament:"

"In Ireland, and in Denmark both,

Witches for gold will sell a man a wind,
Which, in the corner of a napkin wrapp'd,
Shall blow him safe unto what coast he will."

At one time the Finlanders and Laplanders drove a profitable trade by the sale of winds. After being paid they knitted three magical knots, and told the buyer that when he untied the first he would have a good gale; when the second, a strong wind; and when the third, a severe tempest.'

The sieve, as a symbol of the clouds, has been regarded among all nations of the Aryan stock as the mythical vehicle used by witches, nightmares, and other elfish beings in their excursions over land and sea. Thus, the first witch in "Macbeth" (i. 3), referring to the scoff which she had received from a sailor's wife, says:


'Her husband's to Aleppo gone, master o' the Tiger:

But in a sieve I'll thither sail." 3

1 Olaus Magnus's "History of the Goths," 1638, p. 47. See note to "The Pirate."


2 See Hardwick's "Traditions and Folk-Lore," pp. 108, 109; Kelly's Indo-European Folk-Lore," pp. 214, 215.

* In Greek, ¿πì ģɩñová πλčí, “to go to sea in a sieve," was a proverbial expression for an enterprise of extreme hazard or impossible of achievement. Clark and Wright's "Notes to Macbeth," 1877, p. 82.

Stories of voyages performed in this way are common enough in Germany. A man, for instance, going through a corn-field, finds a sieve on the path, which he takes with him. He does not go far before a young lady hurries after him, and hunts up and down as if looking for something, ejaculating all the time, "How my children are crying in England!" Thereupon the man lays down the sieve, and has hardly done so ere sieve and lady vanish. In the case of another damsel of the same species, mentioned by Mr. Kelly, the usual exclamation is thus varied: "My sieve rim! my sieve rim! how my mother is calling me in England!" At the sound of her mother's voice the daughter immediately thinks of her sieve. Steevens quotes from the "Life of Doctor Fian," "a notable sorcerer," burned at Edinburgh, January, 1591, how that he and a number of witches went to sea, "each one in a riddle or cive." In the "Discovery of Witchcraft," Reginald Scot says it was believed. that "witches could sail in an egg-shell, a cockle or muscleshell, through and under the tempestuous seas." Thus, in "Pericles" (iv. 4), Gower says:

"Thus time we waste, and longest leagues make short;
Sail seas in cockles, have, and wish but for't."

Their dance is thus noticed in "Macbeth" (iv. 1):
"I'll charm the air to give a sound

While you perform your antic round."

Witches also were supposed to have the power of vanishing at will, a notion referred to in "Macbeth" (i. 3), where, in reply to Banquo's inquiry as to whither the witches are vanished, Macbeth replies:

"Into the air; and what seem'd corporal melted

As breath into the wind."

In his letter to his wife he likewise observes: "They made themselves air, into which they vanished." Hecate, in the third act, fifth scene, after giving instructions to the weird. host, says:

"I am for the air; this night I'll spend

Unto a dismal and a fatal end."

To this purpose they prepared various ointments, concerning which Reginald Scot1 says: "The devil teacheth them to make ointment of the bowels and members of children, whereby they ride in the air and accomplish all their desires. After burial they steal them out of their graves and seethe them in a caldron till the flesh be made potable, of which they make an ointment by which they ride in the air." Lord Bacon also informs us that the "ointment the witches use is reported to be made of the fat of children digged out of their graves, of the juices of smallage, wolfbane, and cinquefoil, mingled with the meal of fine wheat; but I suppose the soporiferous medicines are likest to do it, which are henbane, hemlock, mandrake, moonshade- or rather nightshade-tobacco, opium, saffron," etc. These witch recipes, which are very numerous, are well illustrated in Shakespeare's grim caldron scene, in "Macbeth" (iv. 1), where the first witch speaks of


"grease that's sweaten From the murderer's gibbet."

We may compare a similar notion given by Apuleius, who, in describing the process used by the witch, Milo's wife, for transforming herself into a bird, says: "That she cut the lumps of flesh of such as were hanged."

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Another way by which witches exercise their power was by looking into futurity, as in "Macbeth" (i. 3), where Banquo says to them :

"If you can look into the seeds of time,

And say which grain will grow and which will not,
Speak then to me."

Charles Knight, in his biography of Shakespeare, quotes a witch trial, which aptly illustrates the passage above; the

1 66

Discovery of Witchcraft," 1584, book iii. chap. i. p. 40; see Spald

ing's "Elizabethan Demonology,” p. 103.

2 See Brand's "Pop. Antiq.," vol. iii. pp. 8-10.

3 Douce, "Illustrations of Shakespeare,” p. 245, says:

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See Adling

ton's Translation (1596, p. 49). a book certainly used by Shakespeare on other occasions."

case being that of Johnnet Wischert, who was "indicted for passing to the green-growing corn in May, twenty-two years since, or thereby, sitting thereupon tymous in the morning before the sun-rising; and being there found and demanded what she was doing, thus answered, I shall tell thee; I have been piling the blades of the corn. I find it will be a dear year; the blade of the corn grows withersones [contrary to the course of the sun], and when it grows sonegatis about [with the course of the sun], it will be a good, cheap year.”

According to a common notion firmly believed in days. gone by, witches were supposed to make waxen figures of those they intended to harm, which they stuck through with pins, or melted before a slow fire. Then, as the figure wasted, so the person it represented was said to waste away also. Thus, in "Macbeth" (i. 3), the first witch says:

"Weary sev'n-nights, nine times nine,

Shall he dwindle, peak, and pine."

Referring to the histories of the Duchess of Gloucester and of Jane Shore, who were accused of practising this mode of witchcraft, Shakespeare, in "2 Henry VI." (i. 2), makes the former address Hume thus:

"What say'st thou, man? hast thou as yet conferr'd
With Margery Jourdain, the cunning witch,
With Roger Bolingbroke, the conjurer?
And will they undertake to do me good?"


She was afterwards, however, accused of consulting witches concerning the mode of compassing the death of her husband's nephew, Henry VI. It was asserted that "there was found in the possession of herself and accomplices a waxen image of the king, which they melted in a magical manner before a slow fire, with the intention of making Henry's force and vigor waste away by like insensible degrees."

A similar charge was brought against Jane Shore, the mistress of Edward IV., by Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Thus, in "King Richard III." (iii. 4), Gloucester asks Hastings:

"I pray you all, tell me what they deserve

That do conspire my death with devilish plots

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