Certain Remedies prescribed against those Dark and Horrid Harms with which Devils may Afflict Men.
Yet again we reserve our judgement in discussing the remedies against certain injuries to the fruits of the earth, which are caused by canker-worms, or by huge flights of locusts and other insects which cover vast areas of land, and seem to hide the surface of the ground, eating up everything to the very roots in the vineyards and devouring fields of ripe crops. In the same light too we consider the remedies against the stealing of children by the work of devils.
But with regard to the former kind of injury we may quote S. Thomas, the Second of the Second, Question 90, where he asks whether it is lawful to adjure an irrational creature. He answers that it is; but only in the way of compulsion, by which it is sent back to the devil, who uses irrational creatures to harm us. And such is the method of adjuration in the exorcisms of the Church by which the power of the devil is kept away from irrational creatures. But if the adjuration is addressed to the irrational creature itself, which understands nothing, then it would be nugatory and vain. From this it can be understood that they can be driven off by lawful exorcisms and adjurations, the help of the Divine mercy being granted; but first the people should be bidden to fast and to go in procession and practice other devotions. For this sort of evil is sent on account of adulteries and the multiplication of crimes; wherefore men must be urged to confess their sins.
In some provinces even solemn excommunications are pronounced; but then they obtain power of adjuration over devils.
Another terrible thing which God permits to happen to men is when their own children are taken away from women, and strange children are put in their place by devils. And these children, which are commonly called changelings, or in the German tongue Wechselkinder, are of three kinds. For some are always ailing and crying, and yet the milk of four women is not enough to satisfy them. Some are generated by the operation of Incubus devils, of whom, however, they are not the sons, but of that man from whom the devil has received the semen as a Succubus, or whose semen he has collected from some nocturnal pollution in sleep. For these children are sometimes, by Divine permission, substituted for the real children.
And there is a third kind, when the devils at times appear in the form of young children and attach themselves to the nurses. But all three kinds have this in common, that though they are very heavy, they are always ailing and do not grow, and cannot receive enough milk to satisfy them, and are often reported to have vanished away.
And it can be said that the Divine pity permits such things for two reasons. First, when the parents dote upon their children too much, and this a punishment for their own good. Secondly, it is to be presumed that the women to whom such things happen are very superstitious, and are in many other ways seduced by devils. But God is truly jealous in the right sense of the word, which means a strong love for a man’s own wife, which not only does not allow another man to approach her, but like a jealous husband will not suffer the hint or suspicion of adultery. In the same way is God jealous of the soul which He bought with His Precious Blood and espoused in the Faith; and cannot suffer it to be touched by, to converse with, or in any way to approach or have dealings with the devil, the enemy and adversary of salvation. And if a jealous husband cannot suffer even a hint of adultery, how much more will he be disturbed when adultery is actually committed! Therefore it is no wonder if their own children are taken away and adulterous children substituted.
And indeed that it may be more strongly impressed how God is jealous of the soul, and will not suffer anything which might cause a suspicion, it is shown in the Old Law where, that He might drive His people farther from idolatry, He not only forbade idolatry, but also many other things which might give occasion to idolatry, and seemed to have no use in themselves, although in some marvellous way they retain some use in a mystical sense. For He not only says in Exodus xxii: Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live on this earth; but He adds this: She shall not dwell in thy land, lest perchance she cause thee to sin. Similarly common bawds and bulkers are put to death, and not allowed to company with men.
Note the jealousy of God, Who says as follows in Deuteronomy xxii: If thou find a bird’s nest, and the dam sitting upon the eggs or upon the young ones, thou shalt not take the dam with the young, but thou shalt let the dam fly away; because the Gentiles used these to procure sterility. The jealous God would not suffer in His people this sign of adultery. In like manner in our days when old women find a penny, they think it a sign of great fortune; and conversely, when they dream of money it is an unlucky sign. Also God taught that all vessels should be covered, and that when a vessel had no cover it should be considered unclean.
There was an erroneous belief that when devils came in the night (or the Good People as old women call them, though they are witches, or devils in their forms) they must eat up everything, that afterwards they may bring greater abundance of stores. Some people give colour to the story, and call them Screech Owls; but this is against the opinion of the Doctors, who say that there are no rational creatures except men and Angels; therefore they can only be devils.
Again, in Leviticus xix: Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard; because they did this idolatrously in veneration of idols.
Again in Deuteronomy xxii: God says that men shall not put on the garments of women, or conversely; because they did this in honour of the goddess Venus, and others in honour of Mars or Priapus.
And for the same reason He commanded the altars of idols to be destroyed; and Hezechias destroyed the Brazen Serpent when the people wanted to sacrifice to it, saying: It is brass. For the same reason He forbade the observance of visions and auguries, and commanded that the man or woman in whom there was a familiar spirit should be put to death. Such are now called soothsayers. All these things, because they give rise to suspicion of spiritual adultery, therefore, as has been said, from the jealousy which God has for the souls He has espoused, as a husband espouses a wife, they were all forbidden by Him.
And so we preachers also ought to bear in mind that no sacrifice is more acceptable to God than a jealousy of souls, as S. Jerome says in his commentaries upon Ezekiel.
Therefore in the Third Part of this work we shall treat the extermination of witches, which is the ultimate remedy. For this is the last recourse of the Church, to which she is bound by Divine commandment. For it has been said: Ye shall not suffer witches to live upon the earth. And with this will be included the remedies against archer-wizards; since this kind can only be exterminated by secular law.
A remedy. When certain persons for the sake of temporal gain have devoted themselves entirely to the devil, it has often been found that, though they may be freed from the devil’s power by true confession, yet they have been long and grievously tormented, especially in the night. And God allows this for their punishment. But a sign that they have been delivered is that, after confession, all the money in their purses or coffers vanishes. Many examples of this could be adduced, but for the sake of brevity they are passed over and omitted.