God of the Witches 1

CHAPTER I – THE HORNED GOD

“The God of the old religion becomes the Devil of the new.”

THE earliest known representation of a deity is in the Caverne des Trois Frères in Ariège, and dates to the late Palaeolithic period (plate I). The figure is that of a man clothed in the skin of a stag and wearing on his head the antlers of a stag. The hide of the animal covers the whole of the man’s body, the hands and feet are drawn as though seen through a transparent material; thus conveying to the spectator the information that the figure is a disguised human being. The face is bearded, the eyes large and round, but there is some doubt whether the artist intended to represent the man-animal with a mask or with the face uncovered.

The horned man is drawn on the upper part of the wall of the cave, below and around him are representations of animals painted in the masterly manner characteristic of the Palaeolithic artist. It seems evident from the relative position of all the figures that the man is dominant and that he is in the act of performing some ceremony in which the animals are concerned. The ceremony appears to consist of a dance with movements of the hands as well as the feet. It is worth noting that though the pictures of the animals are placed where they can easily be seen by the spectator the horned man can only be viewed from that part of the cavern which is most difficult of access. This fact suggests that a great degree of sanctity was attached to this representation, and that it was purposely placed where it was screened from the gaze of the vulgar.

The period when the figure was painted is so remote that it is not possible to make any conjectures as to its meaning except by the analogy of historical and modern instances. Such instances are, however, sufficiently numerous to render it fairly certain that the man represents the incarnate god, who, by performing the sacred dance, causes the increase of the kind of animal in the disguise of which he appears.

Though the stag-man is the most important of the horned figures of the Palaeolithic period, there are many smaller drawings of masked and horned men on small objects of bone and horn. These figures are usually represented with the horns of a goat or chamois, and are dancing singly or in groups. The most interesting example is on plate II, where the horned man is not only dancing but also accompanies himself on a kind of musical bow. The only Palaeolithic representation of a human figure found in England is the well-known engraving on bone of a man masked with a horse’s head, which was discovered in the Pinhole Cave, Derbyshire.

The art of the Palaeolithic period came to a sudden and complete end before the Neolithic era; it was utterly wiped out in Europe, and seems to have had no influence on later periods. The Neolithic people have left few artistic remains; their human figures are almost invariably of women, and the masked man does not appear. But when the Bronze-age is reached the horned human-being is found again, and occurs first in the Near and Middle East, i.e., in Egypt, Mesopotamia and India. In the Near East the figures may be either male or female, and the horns are those of cattle, sheep or goats.[1] There are no stag antlers, possibly because the stag did not occur in those lands or was so uncommon as not to be of importance as a food animal.

Horned gods were common in Mesopotamia, both in Babylon and Assyria. The copper head found in one of the gold-tombs at Ur, is very early; possibly earlier than the first Egyptian dynasty. It is about half life-size, and the style and workmanship show an advanced stage of metal-working. The eyes were originally inlaid with limestone or shell for the white of the eye, and lapis lazuli for the iris. The head wears two horns, a number which at a slightly later period would indicate that the wearer was an inferior deity; for, during many centuries, the position of a deity in the Babylonian pantheon was shown by the number of horns worn. The great gods and goddesses had seven horns, which is the reason that the divine Lamb in the Book of Revelation was said to have seven horns. The two-horned deities of Babylonia are so numerous that it is likely that they were originally the deities of the primitive inhabitants, who had to take a lower place when the great gods were introduced; these latter were given more horns than the godlings to show their superior position. The horns were a sign of divinity. When the King or High-priest appeared as the god Asshur with the Queen or High-priestess as his consort Ishtar, the appropriate number of horns was worn on the royal headdresses, the royal pair being then regarded as the incarnate deities. When Alexander the Great raised himself above the kings of the earth and made himself a god, he wore horns in sign of his divinity, hence his name in the Koran, Dhu’l Karnain The Two-horned. In Egypt his horns were those of Amon, the supreme god.

A godling, who is found in all parts of Babylonia and at all periods of her history, is a two-horned male figure, known as Enkidu. He is represented as fighting with animals, or holding a staff, but his special duty is to guard the door. He has a man’s head with two horns, his body is human, and from the waist down he is a bull. Sometimes the legs appear to be human, but the hoofs are always clearly indicated, and the tail also is a marked feature. In short, he answers to the usual description of the Christian devil in having horns, hoofs and a tail. But in the eyes of the early Babylonians he was far from being a devil, and his image-sometimes the whole figure, sometimes the head only-was worn as a charm against all evil and ill-luck. He was credited with great prophylactic powers; so much so that such charms were in use throughout Babylonia. The evidence shows that the great seven-horned gods of the temples, who gave their special protection to the royal family, had little or no appeal for the people, and that the smaller deities, the little two-horned godlings, were regarded as the real protectors in matters of everyday life.

Throughout the Bronze and Iron ages horned deities are to be found in Egypt. The earliest example has a woman’s face and the horns of a buffalo; this is on the slate-palette of Narmer,[2] who is usually identified with the first historic king of Egypt. It is worth noting that, with the exception of the god Mentu, the horns of cattle are worn by goddesses only, while the gods have the horns of sheep. The chief of the horned gods of Egypt was Amon, originally the local deity of Thebes, later, the supreme god of the whole country. He is usually represented in human form wearing the curved horns of the Theban ram. Herodotus mentions that at the great annual festival at Thebes the figure of Amon was wrapped in a ram’s skin, evidently in the same way that the dancing god of Ariège was wrapped. There were two types of sheep whose horns were the insignia of divinity; the Theban breed had curved horns, but the ordinary breed of ancient Egyptian sheep had twisted horizontal horns. The horizontal horns are those most commonly worn by Egyptian gods. One of the most important of these deities is Khnum, the god of the district round the First Cataract; he was a creator god and was represented as a human being with a sheep’s head and horizontal horns. But the greatest of all the horned gods of Egypt was Osiris, who appears to have been the Pharaoh in his aspect as the incarnate god. The crown of Osiris, of which the horizontal horns were an important part, was also the crown of the monarch, indicating to all who understood the symbolism that the king as god was the giver of all fertility’

In the accounts of the divine birth of the Egyptian Kings, the future father of the divine child, the Pharaoh, visits the queen as the god Amon wearing all the insignia of divinity, including the horns. In this connection it should also be noted that down to the latest period of pharaonic history the divine father was always the horned Amon.

There are two other links between Egypt and the dancing god of Ariège. On a slate palette, which is dated to the period just before the beginning of Egyptian history, there is represented a man with the head and tail of a jackal;[3] as in the Ariège example the body, hands and feet are human; he plays on a flute, and like the Palaeolithic god he is in the midst of animals. The other link is in the ceremonial dress of the Pharaoh, who on great occasions wore a bull’s tail attached to his girdle. The sed-heb or Tail-festival, when the king was invested with the tail, was one of the most important of the royal ceremonies. A sacred dance, performed by the Pharaoh wearing the bull’s tail, is often represented as taking place in a temple before Min, the god of human generation. The worship of horned gods continued in Egypt until Christian times, especially in connection with the horned goddess Isis.

The Indian figures of the Horned God, found at Mohenjo-Daro, are of the earliest Bronze-age. There are many examples, and in every case it is clear that a human being is represented, either masked or horned. Sometimes the figure has a human body with a bull’s head, sometimes the head and body are covered with a hairy skin, probably indicating a bull’s hide. The most remarkable is that of a man with bull’s horns on his head, sitting cross-legged, and like the Ariège figure surrounded with animals (plate III. i). This representation was regarded in historic times as a form of Shiva and is called Pasupati, “Lord of animals”. When in relief sculpture Pasupati is three-faced, as here; but in figures in the round he has four faces. Such a representation is a naive attempt to show the all-seeing god, and is found in Europe in the four-faced Janus. It is still uncertain whether the four-faced form arose independently in India and Europe, or whether one is the prototype of the other; if the latter, the Indian appears to be the earlier.

Though it is not possible to give an exact date to the early legends of the Aegean, it is evident that there also the Horned God flourished throughout the Bronze and Iron ages.

The best known, on account of the dramatic legends attached to his cult, was the Minoan bull, the Minotaur, of Crete. He was in human form with a bull’s head and horns, and was worshipped with sacred dances and human sacrifices. He was said to be the offspring of a foreign “bull” and the Cretan queen, who at the marriage appeared in the guise of a cow, in other words, she was robed and masked as an animal like the dancing god of Ariège. The representations of the combat between Theseus and the Minotaur show the latter as entirely human, with a bull’s mask (plate iv. i). Theseus is sometimes represented with the flowing locks of the Cretan athlete; this suggests that the slaying may have been a Cretan custom, the man representing the Minotaur being killed in a battle in which, masked as he was, he could be no match for his antagonist. Frazer has pointed out that Minos went to Zeus every nine years, and has suggested that this was a euphemism for the sacrifice of each ruler at the end of that term of years. In the Theseus legend the interval of time was seven years, but the rest of the story so closely resembles other accounts of the sacrifice by. combat that it cannot be disregarded; Theseus did not put an end to the custom, he merely relieved Athens from sending the yearly victims, who, like the children stolen by the fairies, had to “pay the teind to hell” with their lives.

The sanctity of the ram in the Aegean in the early Bronze age is shown in the legend of Helle and Phrixos. They were the children of the family who were set apart as victims when human sacrifice was required. The sacrifice of Helle was consummated by drowning, but Phrixos escaped by means of the divine animal, which he afterwards sacrificed, possibly as a substitute for himself. The story of Jason’s expedition suggests that the fleece had a divine connotation, and that its value was greatly in excess of the intrinsic worth of the gold.

Of the horned gods of the mainland of Greece Pan is the best known to the modern world, yet he is put one among many, horned deities of the eastern Mediterranean (plate IV. 2). His universality is shown by his name, which points to a time when he was the only deity in his own locality. All representations of him are necessarily late, after the fifth century B.C.; but even in the earliest forms his characteristics are the same, the long narrow face, the pointed beard, the small horns, and the goat’s legs. Scenes of his worship show him followed by a dancing procession of satyrs and nymphs, while he plays on the pipes which bear his name. His appearance should be compared with the little dancing god of the Palaeolithic people (plate II), and also with the figure of Robin Goodfellow (plate X). As a godling beloved of the people he is like Enkidu, whom he also resembles in having hoofs. Though our knowledge of him dates only to the late Iron-age, his worship is obviously of high antiquity, and he appears to be indigenous in Greece.

Another horned god of Greece was Bull Dionysos, who, like the Minotaur of Crete, was slain. Dionysos was said to have been brought into Greece from the north; his cult would therefore be a foreign worship, which fact shows that outside Greece, in the countries which have no written record, the belief in a homed deity prevailed in the Iron-age and probably even earlier.

A few rock carvings in Scandinavia show that the horned god was known there also in the Bronze age. It was only when Rome started on her career of conquest that any written record was made of the gods of western Europe, and those records prove that a horned deity, whom the Romans called Cernunnos, was one of the greatest gods, perhaps even the supreme deity, of Gaul. The name given to him by the Romans means simply The Horned. In the north of Gaul his importance is shown on the altar found under the cathedral of Notre Dame at Paris. The date of the altar is well within the Christian era; on three sides are figures of minor gods represented as small beings, on the fourth side is the head of Cernunnos (Plate 4), which is of huge proportions compared with the other figures. He has a man’s head, and like the Ariège figure he wears stag’s antlers, which are further decorated with rings; these may be hoops of withy or bronze currency-rings. Like his Palaeolithic prototype he is bearded. This altar shows that, in accordance with Roman artistic ideas, the divine man was not masked, he wears the horns and their appendages fixed on his head. The altar appears to have been dedicated in a temple so sacred that the site was re-used for the principal temple of the new faith. Cernunnos is recorded in writing and in sculpture in the south of Gaul, in that very part where the Palaeolithic painting of him still survives. It is highly improbable that the cult of the Horned God should have died out in south-western Europe in Neolithic times and have remained unknown through the Bronze and Iron ages, only to be revived before the arrival of the Romans. It is more logical to suppose that the worship continued through the unrecorded centuries, and lasted on as one of the principal Gaulish cults till within the Christian era. Such a cult must have had a strong hold on the worshippers, and among the illiterate, and in the less accessible parts of the country it would linger for many centuries after a new religion had been accepted elsewhere.

In considering the evidence from Britain the proximity of Gaul to this country and the constant flux of peoples from one shore to the other, must be taken into account. What is true of Gaul is true of Britain, some allowance being made for the differences caused by the effect of another climate on temperament and on conditions of life.

Our chief knowledge of the horned god in the British Isles comes from ecclesiastical and judicial records. As these were made exclusively by Christians, generally priests, the religious bias is always very marked. The worshippers themselves were illiterate and have left no records of their beliefs except in a few survivals here and there. The earliest record of the masked and horned man in England is in the Liber Poenitentialis[4] of Theodore, who was Archbishop of Canterbury from 668 to 690, and ruled the Church in England with the assistance of Hadrian the negro. This was a time when–if we are to believe the ecclesiastical chroniclers–England was practically Christianised, yet Theodore fulminates against anyone who “goes about as a stag or a bull; that is, making himself into a wild animal and dressing in the skin of a herd animal, and putting on the heads of beasts; those who in such wise transform themselves into the appearance of a wild animal, penance for three years because this is devilish”. Three centuries later King Edgar[5] found that the Old Religion was more common than the official faith, and he urges that “every Christian should zealously accustom his children to Christianity.”

The great influx of heathen Norsemen, under Sweyn and Canute into England and under Rollo into France, must have been a terrible blow to Christianity in Western Europe, in spite of the so-called conversion of the rulers. Though the New Religion steadily gained ground, the Old Religion regained many “converts”, and more than one ruler held firmly to the faith of his fathers. This was markedly the case among the East Saxons, the most powerful kingdom in the seventh and eighth centuries. The East Saxon kings must have been peculiarly irritating to the Christian missionaries, for the rise and fall of the two religions alternately is instructive. In 616 Sebert, the Christian king, died and was succeeded by his three sons who maintained the Old Religion and drove out the Christians. The new religion apparently gained ground later, for in 654 their successor was “converted”. Ten years after, in 664, King Sighere and the greater number of his people threw off Christianity and returned to the ancient faith. Even when the king was not averse to Christianity he was apt to act in a disconcerting manner by trying to serve two masters. Thus, according to Bede, King Redwald had “in the same temple an altar to sacrifice to Christ, and another smaller one to offer victims to devils”. At the end o f the ninth century the whole of the powerful kingdom of Mercia was under the sway of the heathen Danes; and Penda, one of the greatest of the Mercian rulers, refused to change his religion and died, as he had lived, a devout Pagan.

The same difficulties occurred elsewhere. In Normandy Rollo, after his conversion, gave great gifts to Christian churches, but at the same time sacrificed his Christian captives to his old gods. Scandinavia, always in touch with Great Britain (Norway held the Hebrides till 1263), successfully resisted Christianity till the eleventh century. Sweyn, the son of Harold Bluetooth, was baptised in infancy, but when he became a man he reverted to the old faith and waged a religious war against his Christian father; and as late as the end of the thirteenth century a Norwegian king was known as “the Priest-hater”.

There is no doubt that the records are incomplete and that if all the instances of renunciation of Christianity had been as carefully recorded as the conversions it would be seen that the rulers of Western Europe were not Christian except in name for many centuries after the arrival of the missionaries. Until the Norman Conquest the Christianity of England was the very thinnest veneer over an underlying Paganism; the previous centuries of Christian archbishops and bishops had not succeeded in doing more than wrest an outward conformity from the rulers and chiefs, while the people and many of the so-called Christian priests remained in unabated heathenism.

That the worshippers regarded the so-called “Devil” as truly God is clearly seen in the evidence even when recorded by their fanatical enemies. In more than one case it is remarked that the witch “refused to call him the Devil”, and in many instances the accused explicitly called him god. The following instances are not exhaustive, they cover a century and are taken from the actual trials as well as from the generalisations of those writers who heard the evidence at first-hand and had themselves tried many cases. Danaeus[6] was such an author, he wrote in 1575 that the “witches acknowledge the Devil for their god, call upon him, pray to him, and trust in him”, and that when they go to the Sabbath “they repeat the oath which they have given unto him in acknowledging him to be their God”. Of the Aberdeen witches, tried in 1596[7] Agnes Wobster was accused of having dealings with “Satan whom thou callest thy God”; Marion Grant confessed that Christsonday was the name of the Divine Personage, “Christsonday bade thee call him Lord, and caused thee to worship him on thy knees as thy Lord”. Boguet,[8] the Inquisitor, who records with unction that he tried and executed many witches in France in 1608, states that “the witches, before taking their repast, bless the table, but with words full of blasphemy, making Beelzebub the author and protector of all things”. De Lancre,[9] the Inquisitor in the Pays de Labourd (Basses Pyrénées), wrote in 1613 that there was “a great Devil, who is the master of all, whom they all adore”; he also recorded the evidence of one of his victims,[10] “the Devil made them believe that he was the true God”, and he gives as a general statement[11] “our witches for the most part hold these Demons as Gods”. In Orleans in 1614[25] “they say to the Devil, we recognise you as our Master, our God, our Creator”. At Edmonton in 1621 Elizabeth Sawyer[12] confessed that “he charged me to pray no more to Jesus Christ, but to him the Devil.” In Lancashire in 1633 Margaret Johnson[13] “Met a spirit or devil in a suit of black tied about with silk points”, he instructed her to call him Mamilion, “and in all her talk and conference she called the said Mamilion her god”. Gaule, making a general statement about witch-beliefs and practices in 1646,[14] says that the witches “promise to take him for their God, worship, invoke, obey him”. Of the Essex and Suffolk witches, whose trials made such a stir in 1646,[15] Rebecca West “confessed that her mother prayed constantly (and as the world thought, very seriously) but she said it was to the Devil, using these words, Oh my God, my God, meaning him and not the Lord”. Ellen Greenleife also “confessed that when she prayed she prayed to the Devil and not to God”. Widow Coman[16] “did acknowledge that she had made an agreement with him and that he was her Master and sat at the right hand of God”. The author of the Pleasant Treatise of Witches, whose violent hatred towards those unhappy beings is only equalled in bitterness by that of the Inquisitors, states in 1673 that at the Sabbath “they make their accustomed homage, Adoring and Proclaiming him their Lord”. In the same year at Newcastle-on-Tyne[17] Ann Armstrong testified that she had heard Ann Baites “calling him sometimes her protector, and other sometimes her blessed saviour”; and that “he was their protector, which they called their God”. The Salem witch, Mary Osgood, in 1692, said[18] that “the Devil told her he was her God, and that she should serve and worship him”.

Such a mass of evidence shows that till the end of the seventeenth century the Old Religion still counted large numbers of members. The issue has been confused, perhaps purposely, by the use of the word Devil in its Christian connotation, for the name of the God, and by stigmatising the worshippers as witches. The consequence is that the pagan people are now regarded as having worshipped the Principle of Evil, though in reality they were merely following the cult of a non-Christian Deity.

The first recorded instance of the continuance of the worship of the Horned God in Britain is in 1303, when the Bishop of Coventry was accused before the Pope of doing homage to the Devil in the form of a sheep.[19] The fact that a man in so high a position as a bishop could be accused of practising the Old Religion shows that the cult of the Horned God was far from being dead, and that it was in all probability still the chief worship of the bulk of the people. It should be also noticed that this is one of the first British records in which the old God is called the Devil by the Christian writers of the Middle Ages.

It is possible that the bishop’s high position in the Christian hierarchy saved him from punishment, for in the case also of the Lady Alice Kyteler in 1324 her rank as a noble saved her when she was tried before the bishop of Ossory for her heathen practices.[20] The bishop, however, had sufficient evidence to prove his case and sufficient power to burn the lady’s poorer co-religionists, though not herself.

Herne the Hunter, with horns on his head, was seen in Windsor Forest by the Earl of Surrey in the reign of Henry VIII, and after that period it was a favourite accusation against all political enemies that they were in league with “the foul fiend” who appeared to them in human form horned like a bull or a stag. Thus John Knox was said to have held converse with the devil in the Cathedral churchyard at St. Andrews.[21] There is still extant a record that Cromwell made a pact for seven years with the Devil on the night before the battle of Worcester, and he not only won an overwhelming victory but died that very day seven years later in the middle of the worst thunderstorm within human memory; which was proof positive of the truth of the story in the minds of the Royalists.[22] On the other hand the Royalists in Scotland were believed to have sold themselves to the Evil One. The bishops were said to be cloven-footed and to cast no shadows, and those justices of the peace appointed to try the political prisoners were seen often talking in a friendly way with the Devil.[23]

This uninterrupted record of belief in a horned deity Shows that underlying the official religion of the rulers there still remained the ancient cult with all its rites almost untouched.

In the depositions of the witches at the trials the Horned God is very prominent at the great assemblies. The horns and animal disguise were his “grand array”, but in his ordinary intercourse with his flock the Incarnate God appeared in the dress of the period. Here again the congregation would see no difference between their own and the Christian priest, who also wore special vestments when performing religious ceremonies. This alteration of costume is specially noted by de Lancre,[24] “It is always observable that at any time when he is about to receive anyone to make a pact with him, he presents himself always as a man, in order not to scare or terrify them; for to make a compact openly with a goat smacks more of the beast than of a reasonable creature. But the compact being made, when he receives anyone for adoration he usually represents himself as a goat”.

The evidence that the Devil appeared as a man to a possible convert is found continually, and it is very obvious that he was actually a human being. Thus in 1678[25] the Devil appeared as a man to Mr. Williamson, a school-master at Coupar; he gave Mr. Williamson a dinner, and meeting him again in London treated him again. In 1682[26] Susanna Edwards, a Devonshire witch, stated that “about two years ago she did meet with a gentleman in a field called the Parsonage Close in the town of Biddiford. And saith that his apparel was all black. Upon which she did hope to have a piece of money of him. Whereupon the gentleman drawing near unto this examinant, she did make a curchy or courtesy unto him, as she did use to do to gentlemen. Being demanded what and who the gentleman she spoke of was, the said examinant answered and said, That it was the Devil.” These are only two instances out of very many.

The forms in which the disguised god appeared were bull, cat, dog, goat, horse, sheep, and stag. It is noteworthy that the goat and sheep do not occur in the British Isles except in the case of the Norman Bishop of Coventry; they belong almost entirely to France and Germany. In England, Scotland and the south of France the usual animal disguise was the bull or the stag; but nowhere is there a record of the head of the religion appearing as an ass, or a hare, though the hare was the most common transformation of the witches; in late times, in France and Germany he is occasionally a pig. In Guernsey there is a record of a peculiar disguise, when in 1617 Isabel Becquet[27] went to the Sabbath at Rocquaine Castle and there saw the Devil in the form of a dog with two great horns sticking up, and “with one of his paws (which seemed to her like hands) took her by the hand: and calling her by her name told her that she was welcome.”

In all cases of the Devil as an animal the evidence of the witches shows that it was undoubtedly a disguise. Besides the dog with horns and human hands mentioned above, there are numerous other instances. At Angers[28], in 1593 the “Black Man” transformed himself first into a goat and then into a young bull; in Guernsey[29] in 1563 he was a large black cat who led the dance; in 1616 at Brécy[30] he was a black dog who stood on his hind-legs and preached; at Poictiers in 15743, he was a goat who talked like a person; at Avignon[32] in 1581, when he mounted on an altar to be adored “he instantly turns himself into the form of a great black goat, although on all other occasions he useth to appear in the shape of a man.” In Auldearne[33] in 1662 “sometimes he would be like a stirk, a bull, a deer, a roe, or a dog.”

It is only necessary to look at the figure of the dancing god of Ariège (plate I) to see that in all the medieval cases we are dealing with a man in some kind of disguise. The description given by Agnes Sampson, one of the leaders of the North Berwick witches, of the so-called Devil of her coven would apply equally well to the Ariège figure. “His face was terrible, his nose like the beak of an eagle, great burning eyes, his hands and legs were hairy, with claws upon his hands, and feet like the griffin.”[34] Yet there is probably not less than eight thousand years between the painting and the recorded description. Again in a scene of worship on an Egyptian papyrus of the XXIInd dynasty, about the tenth century B.C., a woman is depicted in the act of praying to her god (plate vi). But the description given by Isobel Gowdie in 1662 of a ceremony performed by herself and her coven would apply to the scene on the papyrus, “When we had learned all these words from the Devil, we all fell down upon our knees, with our hair down over our shoulders and eyes, and our hands lifted up, and our eyes steadfastly fixed upon the Devil, and said the foresaid words thrice over to the Devil”.[35] The flowing hair and the uplifted hands and eyes, as well as the horned god, are alike in both Egypt and Scotland. No-one would hesitate to say that the Egyptian lady was engaged in the worship of her god, who was symbolised to her in the figure of a goat, yet most people of the present day are horrified to think that less than three centuries ago a similar worship of a “heathen” god was still practised in the British Isles.

The ritual masking of the Incarnate God or his priest is found in many places after the Palaeolithic period. Beside the dancing god there are the little masked and horned figures. I have already called attention to these in their geographical and chronological order, but it is important to note that figures of maskers and the masks themselves still survive. On the so-called Hunting Palette of predynastic Egypt[36] the figure of a man disguised as a jackal and playing on a flute suggests the black-dog disguise of the European Devil. A jackal mask belonging to the XXVIth dynasty, about the seventh century B.C., is made of pottery and is intended to be worn over the head (plate vii. 1). The method of wearing it is shown in the procession of priests at Denderah, where the masked priest has to be led by one of his fellows (plate III. 2). This jackal-mask should be compared with the “Dorset Ooser” (plate VII. 2), which was stolen from its Dorsetshire owners within the last thirty years. The Ooser was of painted wood, and, like the Egyptian example, was worn over the head, the wearer being at the same time wrapped in an oxskin. The combination of the horned mask and the animal’s skin show too close a resemblance to the Palaeolithic prototype to be accidental. In the Ooser we have the last remains of that most ancient of all recorded religions, the worship of the Horned God.

The name of the great Pagan deity varied according to the country in which the cult was followed. In the Near East the names were recorded from very early times; the name of the Indian deity cannot yet be read, but the traditional name still survives; in Greece and in Crete the record is later than in Egypt and Babylonia. In Western Europe, however, it was not till the Roman domination that any written records were made; therefore it is only by tradition and an occasional Roman inscription that the names of the homed god are known to us. The great Gaulish god was called by the Romans Cernunnos, which in English parlance was Herne, or more colloquially “Old Hornie”. In Northern Europe the ancient Neck or Nick, meaning a spirit, had such hold on the affections of the people that the Church was forced to accept him, and he was canonised as St. Nicholas, who in Cornwall still retains his horns. Our Puck is the Welsh Boucca, which derives either directly from the Slavic Bog “God” or from the same root. The word Bog is a good example of the fall of the High God to a lower estate, for it becomes our own Bogey and the Scotch Bogle, both being diminutives of the original word connoting a small and therefore evil god.

Many of the names of the Devils appear to be diminutives. Thus among the group of Alsatian witches tried between 1585 and 1630,[37] the names for the Devil (i.e. the God) were Hämmerlin, Peterlin, and Kochlöffel. The first of these may mean a yellowhammer, always regarded as the Devil’s bird, but as the name is also given as Hammer it is suggestive of a diminutive of an epithet of Thor; Peterlin may be the Christianised form of a local deity; for Kochlöffel (Cooking-spoon) I can offer no explanation except that it may be a mispronunciation of a traditional name. According to de Lancre the name of the Basque god was Jauna or Janicot.[38] The latter he regarded as a diminutive and says that it means “petit Jean”, and was applied by the witches of the Basses Pyrénées to Christ; a man-witch at Orleans also spoke of the host as “un beau Janicot.”[29] It may however not be a diminutive, but a form of Jauna with the ending Cot “God”, as in the Northern Irmincot. In modern times the god, who has now degenerated into a sprite, is known by the Basques as Basa-jaun, the equivalent of Homme de Bouc, Goat-man[40] which brings the whole of the early religion of the Basques into connection with the Horned God. De Lancre notes that the witches, when “in the hands of Justice” used the name Barrabon[41] to signify either their own or the Christian God, Barrabon[42] being also the name of a witch-god in Belgium.

A peculiar name, which occurs both in Great Britain and France is Simon; it was used for either the Grandmaster or for the familiars which were also called devils. It is possibly a diminutive like the Mamilion of Layamon’s Brut (ll. 16790-5), or the Amaimon and Barbason of which Falstaff says, “they are devil’s additions, the name of fiends.” But there is another possible explanation. The early Christian Fathers refer to a statue to Simon set up in Rome in the reign of Claudius by the Roman people. The base of this statue has been found, and on it is a dedication to the ancient Sabine god, Semo Sancus. This important deity was the god of fertility as his name, Semo, implies; and as such the name might well have spread to Gaul and Britain with the Roman conquerors. Later, when Christianity was brought to England by foreign missionaries, the tonsure of the British Christian priesthood was stigmatised by the Augustinians as “the tonsure of Simon Magus”. That the Biblical Simon Magus ever reached Britain is excessively unlikely, but the tonsure of priests was a heathen custom before it was adopted by Christianity, and the name given to the local tonsure in England is suggestive of the name of a heathen god.

The Aberdeen witches, tried in 1597,[43] called their Grandmaster “Christsonday”. Andro Man confessed “that Christsonday came to him in the likeness of a fair angel and clad in white clothes, and said that he was an angel, and that he should put his trust in him and call him Lord and King.” And again, “The Devil thy master, whom thou callest Christsonday and supposest to be an angel and God’s godson–albeit he has a thraw by God and sways to the Queen of Elfin–is raised by speaking the word Benedicite and is laid by speaking the word Maikpeblis. Suchlike thou affirmest that the Queen of Elfin has a grip of all the craft, but Christsonday is the goodman and has all power under God.” I suggest that the name Christsonday is a confusion of Christus Filius Dei, i.e. Son Dei, Dei being considered as a personal name by the ignorant worshippers. In the same way the Devil of Dame Alice Kyteler Was called in the Latin record sometimes Robin Artisson, sometimes Robinus Filius Artis. The magical word Maikpeblis is probably, like Kochlöffel, a confused rendering of a traditional name.

The name of the god in Guernsey was Hou. This is clearly indicated by the version of the witch song or hymn quoted by Bodin in 1616,[44] where his “diable” is the equivalent of the Guernsey Hou. Bodin’s version is, “Har, har, diable, diable, saute ici, saute là, joue ici, joue là“; the Guernsey version runs, “Har, har, Hou, Hou, danse ici, danse là, joue ici, joue là“. The names of many of the smaller islands of the Channel Island group are compounded with the name of this obscure half-forgotten deity; Li-hou, Jet-hou, Brecq-hou, are instances. It is possible that the Welsh god, Hu Gadarn, Hu the Mighty, may be connected with the Guernsey deity. The name does not occur till the fifteenth century when it appears in a hymn, in which he is plainly called god. In view of the fact that the name is that of a “devil” and that it is compounded with other elements in place-names, it seems not improbable that the god of the Old Religion survived in Wales where the Christian Church did not persecute. It is an interesting suggestion that the Har in the witch song is the same as the cry of Haro used in Guernsey as a cry for help against injustice.

The most interesting of all the names for the god is Robin, which when given to Puck is Robin Goodfellow. It is so common a term for the “Devil” as to be almost a generic name for him “Some Robin the Divell, or I wot not what spirit of the Ayre”.[45] Dame Alice Kyteler called her god, Robin Artisson, and the Somerset witches[46] cried out “Robin” when summoning their Grandmaster to a meeting, or even when about to make a private incantation; in the latter case they also added the words, “O Satan, give me my purpose”, and then proceeded to divine by the animal which appeared.

A fact, noted by many writers and still unexplained, is the connection between Robin Goodfellow and Robin Hood. Grimm remarks on it but gives no reason for his opinion, though the evidence shows that the connection is there. The cult of Robin Hood was widespread both geographically and in time, which suggests that he was more than a local hero in the places where his legend occurs, In Scotland as well as England Robin Hood was well known, and he belonged essentially to the people, not to the nobles. He was always accompanied by a band of twelve companions, very suggestive of a Grandmaster and his coven. One of those companions was Little John, a name which may be compared with the Basque Janicot. Robin Hood and his band were a constituent part of the May-day ceremonies, they had special dances and always wore the fairies’ colour, green. He was so intimately connected with the May-day rites that even as early as 1580 Edmund Assheton[41] wrote to William ffarington about suppressing “Robyn Hoode and the May games as being Lewde sportes, tending to no other end but to stir up our frail natures to wantonness.” In all the stories and traditions of Robin Hood his animosity to the Church is invariably emphasised, an abbot or prior was regarded as his legitimate prey. In one of the oldest Ballads of this popular hero, there is a description of how he went to be let blood by his cousin the prioress of a convent of nuns; she treacherously left the wound unbound and he bled to death. Part of the account shows, however, that his death was expected, for his route to the priory was lined with people, mourning and lamenting for his approaching death. The strong resemblance to the death-processions of Joan of Arc and Gilles de Rais cannot be overlooked, the weeping praying populace are alike in all three cases.

If then there were more than one Robin Hood at the same time in different parts of the country his ubiquity is explained; the name would then mean Robin with a Hood, and would be the generic appellation of the god. In Chapter II I have called attention to the great importance of the head-covering among the fairy folk, and in many of the witch-trials the “Devil” is described as wearing a hood. The most celebrated historical Robin Hood was the Earl of Huntingdon in the reign of Richard I, who being himself a Plantagenet belonged by race to the Old Religion. I have pointed out in my Witch Cult in Western Europe that more than one Devil can be identified, but in the earlier times the identification becomes increasingly difficult as the ecclesiastical writers do not record all the facts. It seems possible that the companions of Robin Hood as the Incarnate God also bore special names, for in the fifteenth century there is a pardon to a chaplain which is so worded as to suggest this possibility. “Pardon to Robert Stafford, late of Lyndefeld, co. Sussex, chaplain, alias Frere Tuk, for not appearing before the King to answer Richard Wakehurst touching a plea of trespass.”[48]

The continuity of the Pagan religion through the medieval period cannot be gainsaid when it is found surviving to the present day. I quote from an article by the Rev. John Raymond Crosby, D.D., D.C.L., Ph.D., in The Living Church for March 2, 1929, which states that the rites are still to be found in Pennsylvania and are practised by people who have been in America for five generations. The Witch “lives alone, with the traditional black cat, in a small house filled with herbs, charms and the implements of her profession. Her compatriots have a firm conviction that she, together with her ancestors for untold generations, entered into a definite compact with the Devil who in his proper person is the father of all the children of the family. Certain other members of the sect, the Elect Ones, are permeated with the Spirit of Good, and are regarded as incarnations of the Divine Essence. It is the general belief that the witches hold regular gatherings for the practice of magical rites and the worship of the Evil Principle. They are reported to assume the form of animals, generally black, and to be restored to their original shapes at the rising of the sun. These meetings are illuminated by candles made of human fat, which renders the celebration invisible to all except the initiated.”

NEW: Mesopotamia

Explore the ancient writings of Mesopotamia, with our newly hosted texts from Sumer and Babylon. Also added are comparative studies of Sumerian and Assyrian legend in comparison to the Old Testament - all at the new Mesopotamia section.

 

FORUM: Future of Islam?

Has 9/11 hardened attitudes into strict conservatism, or is there a future for a widespread liberalism of Islam? Discuss this and more in our forum discussion, What is the future of Islam?.