7 Aug 2013

The Heroines of History

Submitted by Stephen Winters
TitleThe Heroines of History
Publication TypeBook
Year of Publication1852
AuthorsJenkins, JS
Number of PagesSection III, Joan of Arc, Pages 139 & 140
PublisherAuburn; Alden, Beardsley & Co
Keywordsghosts, superstition, witches

"In this age of intelligence and refinement, of the arts, of commerce, political science and Christianity, it is difficult to believe that so few years, comparatively, have elapsed, since superstition threw her dark pall over all that is now bright and attractive. The period is not very remote, when the most trivial events were presumed to be of an unearthly or supernatural character; when it was rare, indeed, that any man, however much in advance of his age in knowledge, had the boldness to attribute an unforeseen and extraordinary occurrence, though susceptible of the fullest explanation, to its proper and legitimate cause.

Among the polytheists of Greece and Rome, to doubt the interposition of these numerous divinities in the commonest concerns of life, was the worst grade of treason to the state. They believed, as they were taught by the religion in which they placed their trust, and by its priests whom they reverenced, that every water-fall had its nymph, every grove its dryad, — that there was a deity to smile upon every folly, to encourage every unholy passion, or to strengthen every virtuous hope and noble aspiration. In the *^dim, re* ligious light" of a later era, popular credulity clung with less tenacity to the forms and ceremonies, than to the substance of superstition. Astrology was mistaken for astronomy; philosophy and magic were synonymous terms ; palmistry and necromancy were ranked among the sciences ; the belief in ghosts and witches was general; ancient wood and castle were peopled with spirits and hobgoblins; bright-eyed elves beset the path of the lonely wayfarer; and light-footed fairies danced the livelong night upon the green.

The French historian, speaking of this period, says: "Henceforward, diablerie had little to learn, but was soon erected into a science. Demonology brought forth witohcraft. It was not sufficient to be able to distinguish and classify legions of devils, to know their names, professions and dispositions ; it was necessary to learn how to make them subservient to the uses of man. Hitherto, the object studied had been the means of driving them away; from this time, the means of making them appear, was the end desired. Witches, sorcerers, demonologists, started up beyond all number.

Each clan in Scotland, each great family in France and Oennany, almost each individual, had one of these tempters, who heard all the secret wishes one feared to address to God, and the thoughts which shunned the ear. They were everywhere. Their flight of bats almost darkened God's own light and day. They had been sent to carry off in open day a man who had just received the communion, and who was watched by a circle of friends with lighted tapers."

Such was the character of the age — made up of credality and superstition — prone to believe and trust in the strange and the marvellous — ready to grasp super-natural aid, when human efforts failed; — such was France when, at the death of her maniac king, Charles VI., a bloody struggle for the crown commenced between the various competitors and their adherents — a struggle prolonged from a want of skilful military leaders, and the superstitious belief of all parties, in omens preceding a conflict which depressed them with cowardly fear, or elated them with reckless courage, according to the import of the signs. Chance decided the victory."

Citation KeyctkeyAuburn; Alden, Beardsley & Co

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