Theoretical discussion of witches, includes other reports, a discovery of thirty-two witches in the cloister of Madam Anthoinette Bourignon at Lisle, told be herself, born deformed in the face, she was told by a man to start a school for poor children instead of a nunnery, had a vision of little black children with wings floating above her children at work, a girl shut up in the prison for punishment was released by a man suspected to be the Devil, many of the children were exercised and examined, they reported to having known the Devil carnally in the appearance of the opposite sex, one especially devious girl was expected in retrospect to be a witch, they all confessed to having given their souls to the devil, didn’t want to dismiss all of them to have them commit evil across the world, she began examining them after exorcisms failed, they continued to get through locked doors and feces was found in their beds, they were sick in the morning from feasting with the Devil at night; includes also: sixteen witches in Yarmouth convicted and executed for signing the Devil’s book and having Familiars in 1644, a single witch convicted and executed at Oxford, a single witch of Lancashire tried at Wrcester in 1649, another from Teuksburry tried at Gloucester, the story of Faith Corbet afflicted by an Alice Huson and Dol. Bilby of Burton in York 1660-4, they confessed.
The pamphlet written by Sir Matthew Hale begins with a reflection by the author on “the great mercy of god, in preserving us from the power and malice of evil angels”. He asserts that “evil spirits” have “likewise a great measure of power and a greater measure of malice” and goes onto explain why. He says that evil spirits are more powerful and humans or animals because they are unencumbered by bodies therefore they have more energy to put towards influencing man. Their malice, he says, is even more extensive than their power because they can move about invisibly in order to “insinuate” himself with the victim.
He later goes into an examination of several trials he attended. The first of which is a man (Dr. John Portage) who confessed to seeing visions; first of a man, second of a giant, and third, of a dragon spitting fire in his bedroom.
The second story her relates is that of Madam Antoinette Bourignon and the 32 young girls found to be witches in her cloister. Mme. Bourignon, with the advice of a “Stranger” decided to open a cloister for poor girls to “educate them for their childhood in religion and virtue”. She claimed at her trial to have always suspected that the children “without the Grace of God” and claimed to have seen “little black children with wings fly about their heads”. She then goes on to tell several stories of odd happenings within the cloister including girls claiming that “the devil” made them commit thievery and other mischievous acts.
She spent 8 months hearing confessions from the girls and trying to convince them to repent to no avail so she called in three pastors to examine the girls and demanded that they be taken from her house so as not to corrupt the other girls. The pastors told her that the girls were witches but that she should not turn them out of her house until she discovered where the misfortune had come from, insisting that there must have been a witch in the house indoctrinating the girls.
The pastors determined that there was no witch in the house but that each girl, individually, had brought this “wickedness” with her. Mme. Bourignon attempted to convert the girls back to god and away from the devil with prayer and exorcism but they told her that the devil “laughed at these performances”. After several more incidents including falling ill herself, Mme. Bourignon came to believe that the girls were trying to kill her. One day the devil in the form of an old women appeared to Mme. Bourignon offering her, her service in the house, which Mme. Bourignon refuses. She then disappears and the girls/witches tell Mme. Bourignon that she was an apparition of the devil. In the end, one of the girls tells Mme. Bourignon of a plot to kill her, and how she stopped the plot because of her love for “Madam B”. She told Madam B that she wished someone would “kill [her] out of charity” because the devil was always with her and she was in misery. Due to her repentance she was put in jail instead of being put to death but it was “never known what became of her since.”
The next trial Hale recounts is that of one of 16 “Yarmouth witches” convicted and executed based upon their own confessions. This particular witch went to a man, Mr. Moulton and his maid in search of work and both refused her. That night in bed she saw a tall black man rising through her window asking her what she would like done. He told her to write her name in blood and left her with some money that night. When he returned he told her he could not get revenge for her against the man because he went to church so she asked him to get revenge against the maid. He returned and told her that the maid was also out of his reach but that there was a sick child in the house whom they could take revenge on. So, he brought her a wax figure of the child, which they buried, in the churchyard. She later confessed to what she had done and the child rose up from the bed seemingly healthy.
The next several accounts follow the same general thread where a person or persons insult or otherwise wrong a woman thought to be a witch and then fall into some sort of illness or other misfortune.