These narratives of witchcraft are no fairy tales. Weird though they seem to us, they were to thousands of men and women in seventeenth-century America the intensest of realities. They were the bulletins of a war more actual, more cruel, more momentous, than any fray of flesh and blood. Nor were they bulletins alone, these messages of each latest skirmish in that age-long war of Heaven with Hell. To those enlisted in that war they were instruction, encouragement, appeal, as well; and as, in our day, to men once fascinated by world-politics, so in that to those awakened to these vaster interests of a universe, all pettier concerns seemed trivial and provincial. To count the matter a panic local to New England, or even a passing madness of the Christian world, is to take a narrow view of history.
But to the modern student there is danger of a graver error. For to count that witch-panic a something incident to human nature, and common to all lands and times, is to repudiate history altogether. Whatever in universal human experience anthropology or folk-lore may find akin to it, the witchcraft our fathers feared and fought was never universal, in place or time. It belonged alone to Christian thought and modern centuries; and clear as day to the historian of ideas is its rise, its progress, its decline.
It was not till the later thirteenth century that the theologians worked out their theory of human relations with Satan. Not till the fourteenth did the Holy Inquisition draw witchcraft fully into its own jurisdiction and, by confusing it with heresy, first make the witches a diabolic sect and give rise to the notion of the witch-sabbath. It was in the fifteenth that the theory and the procedure spread to the secular courts, and that in these, as in the ecclesiastical, the torture began to prove an inexhaustible source of fresh accusations, fresh delusions. In the sixteenth the Reformation for a little distracted attention to heresy; but soon Protestant was vying with Catholic in the quest of the minions of Satan, and it was in the later . . .