Chasing Witches a Religious Rite.--Witches can make themselves "at home" in many ways. According to a "ritual" of Jewish behavior, it appears witches can get into clothes and into man over night; lying-in women should be apprehensive of "evil spirits," hence magic words are prepared for such as lie-in. Christians use Bibles under their pillows, and Catholics use medals, beads, or prayer-books for a similar purpose.
Orthodox Jews believe that witches abound in heaps of rubbish, or in bunches of tops of vegetables, if thrown away together; egg shells must be broken; witches can harm a person, alone, in darkness, but not if there are two or three persons together; a burning light is proof against evil spirits.
Have we not heard of many of these same "notions" among people not of Jewish extraction?
What makes a man or woman superstitious? His religion, or lack of it?
Several particularly impressive evidences of a belief in witches, or witchcraft, may be cited.
The custom of the Orthodox Jews, Catholics and Protestant layman are compared, as excerpted from a book on the Jews:
The next Holy-day is call'd "Sookoth," i. e. Tabernacle or Booth, see Leviticus, Chap. xxiii. 34. This Holy-day they celebrate eight Days, tho' but seven are commanded in Levit. xxiii. because of the Uncertainty from which of the two Days of their New Year they are to begin their Reckoning; during which eight Days they eat and drink, and some even sleep, every Night in their Tabernacles, see Levit. xxiii. 42, and in their Synagogues they have a Citron in their left Hand, and a Branch of a Palm-tree in their right Hand; to which Branch they tye a Bunch of thick Boughs of Myrtle, see Levit. xxiii, 40, and with these Weapons in Hand, they hold both their Hands close together, and whilst the Reader sings the "Howdoo" in the "Hollel," and the "Hoseana," they exercise with the Palm-branch, shaking the Point of it first three times towards the East, then three times towards the South, then three times towards the West, then three times towards the North; then three times towards the Heavens, and last of all, three times towards the Earth; whereby they suppose to chace away all the evil Spirits hovering about the Synagogue to intercept their Prayers, and hinder them from going up to Heaven.
(Chasing evil spirits away has been the business of man since "witches" were invented in the Old Testament. In addition to the Jews, Catholic clergymen "shake" a ritualistic object to "bless" the individual, the automobile, the firemen and police force, or whatever is to be "blessed." The motion of the "magic wand" and use of magical words in Latin create a ring of angels about the object of blessing--a ring so great and strong that "evil spirits" cannot get close (so long as the angels are not caught unawares--which blessings last no longer than one year.) The result is that blessings, like oil, will float constantly "on top," while they last. We have seen exactly the same method of procedure caught by a news-reel movie man in a back-woods settlement in north central Pennsylvania a few years ago, when a man of little or no religious conviction "chased the witches" away from his home (with a wave of his hands and in unintelligable words just like the priest's)--without the benefit of clergy! From whence came his ideas, his methods, and his "power?" The menace which he sought to dissolve, has not returned to his ramshackle mountain hut; for if it had we would have seen it in the papers!--Editor. From "Little Known Facts About the Ritual of the Jews and the Esoteric Folklore of the Pennsylvania-Germans;" published by The Aurand Press, Harrisburg, Pa., 1939).
From these brief evidences of Jewish and Catholic service, whether to bless or chase away, we have every reason to suppose that the backwoodsman (who probably was a "poor Protestant"), had hope in his mind when be deliberately charged in four directions with a distinct "E-yah; E-yah," for each motion, and, to most readers of this account, his "ritual" would have had as much meaning as if they had attended services in a Catholic church or a synagogue.
Are we to suppose, and conclude, that the layman's "prayers" would go unanswered, while the ordained and official servants could actually obtain intercessions? What do you conclude? If this backwoodsman's prayers are of no likely success, what impels you to think that you, or any other person speaking for you, can gain a favorable ear, where prayers are "heard?"
Beliefs of Early Penna. Germans.--Julius Friedrich Sachse, in "The German Pietists of Provincial Pennsylvania," gives an interesting word picture of the early days. In part he says:
Another custom then in vogue among the Germans in Pennsylvania was the wearing of an "anhangsel," a kind of astrological amulet or talisman . . . In rare cases a thin stone or sheet of metal was used in place of parchment. These "anhangsel," or "zauber-zettel" as they were called, were prepared by the Mystics of the Community with certain occult ceremonies at such times as the culmination of a particular star or the conjunction of certain planets . . . (and) supposed to exercise an extraordinary influence over the destiny of the bearer, particularly in averting disease, checking the power of evil spirits, and defending the wearer from malice and all harm . . . hardly an adult or child was to be found without one . . . Frequently a charm of this kind would be placed upon an infant immediately upon its birth, as well as upon a corpse prior to interment . . .
Independent of the above described charms and talismans, there was another kind of superstition common to the general populace. This was known as "besprechen," a kind of conjuration for the cure of wounds or minor diseases in both man and beast. The ceremony was nearly always performed by an old man or woman, usually the latter . . . (and) that to maintain their efficiency they (the formulae) had to be handed down by an alternation of the sexes.
We may easily assume that the old man or woman who might thus be called on to "extend sympathy," were venerable, in a sense, and a fair substitute for the occasional itinerant minister, or preacher, or the physician still more difficult to have, when distance and impracticability had to be reckoned with. If these old "venerables" were satisfactory "in a pinch," as we say, would they be less so at any other time of need?