I could not have asked you as I now do to excuse me from waiting upon you, with the utmost of my little skill and care to assist the noble service whereto you are called of God this week, the service of encountering the wicked spirits in the high places of our air, and of detecting and confounding of their confederates, were it not that I am languishing under such an overthrow of my health as makes it very dubious that my company may prove more troublesome than serviceable; the least excess of travel, or diet, or anything that may discompose me, would at this time threaten perhaps my life itself, as my friends advise me; and yet I hope before you can get far into that mysterious affair which is now before you, I may with God�s blessing recover so far as to attend your desires, which to me always are commands. In the meantime, least I should be guilty of any sinful omission in declining what no good man amongst us can decline, even to do the best I can for the strengthening of your honorable hands in that work of God, whereto (I thank Him) He hath so well fitted you, as well as called you, I thought it my duty briefly to offer you my poor thoughts on this astonishing occasion.
I. I am not without very lively hopes that our good God will prosper you in that undertaking which He hath put you now upon. His people have been fasting and praying before Him for your direction; and yourselves are persons whose exemplary devotion disposeth you to such a dependance on the wonderful Counselor, for His counsel in an affair thus full of wonder, as He doth usually answer with the most favorable assistances. You will easily pardon me that I do not back my thoughts with confirming histories; it is not a sudden letter that will admit them, and it would be too like ostentation to produce them; nevertheless, I cannot for once forbear minding of the famous accidents at Mohra in Swedeland, where a fast was kept among the people of God because of a stupendous witchcraft, much like ours, making havoc of the kingdom, was immediately [followed] with a remarkable smile of God upon the endeavors of the judges to discover and extirpate the authors of that execrable witchcraft. Wherefore be encouraged.
II. And yet I must humbly beg you that in the management of the affair in your most worthy hands, you do not lay more stress upon pure specter testimony than it will bear. When you are satisfied or have good, plain, legal evidence that the demons which molest our poor neighbors do indeed represent such and such people to the sufferers, tho� this be a presumption, yet I suppose you will not reckon it a conviction that the people so represented are witches to be immediately exterminated. It is very certain that the devils have sometimes represented the shapes of persons not only innocent, but also very virtuous, tho� I believe that the just God then ordinarily provides a way for the speedy vindication of the persons thus abused. Moreover, I do suspect that persons who have too much indulged themselves in malignant, envious, malicious ebullitions of their souls, may unhappily expose themselves to the judgment of being represented by devils, of whom they never had any vision, and with whom they have much less written any covenant. I would say this: if upon the bare supposal of a poor creature�s being represented by a specter, too great a progress be made by the authority in ruining a poor neighbor so represented, it may be that a door may be thereby opened for the devils to obtain from the courts in the invisible world a license to proceed unto most hideous desolations upon the repute and repose of such as have yet been kept from the great transgression. If mankind have thus far once consented unto the credit of diabolical representations, the door is opened! Perhaps there are wise and good men that may be ready to style him that shall advance this caution, a witch advocate; but in the winding up, this caution will certainly be wished for.
III. Tho� �tis probable that the devils may (tho� not often, yet sometimes) make most bloody invasions upon our exterior concerns, without any witchcrafts of our fellow creatures to empower them, and I do expect that as when our Lord was coming in His human nature among us, there was a more sensible annoyance of the destroyer upon our human nature than at other times, thus it will be just before our Lord�s coming again in His human nature, when He will also dispossess the devils of their aerial region to make a New Heaven for His raised there. Nevertheless there is cause enough to think that it is a horrible witchcraft which hath given rise to the troubles wherewith Salem Village is at this day harassed; and the indefatigable pains that are used for the tracing this witchcraft are to be thankfully accepted, and applauded among all this people of God.
IV. Albeit the business of this witchcraft be very much transacted upon the stage of imagination, yet we know that, as in treason there is an imagining which is a capital crime, and here also the business thus managed in imagination yet may not be called imaginary. The effects are dreadfully real. Our dear neighbors are most really tormented, really murdered, and really acquainted with hidden things. Which are afterwards proved plainly to have been realities. I say, then, as that man is justly executed for an assassinate, who in the sight of men shall with a sword in his hand stab his neighbor into the heart, so suppose a long train laid unto a barrel of gunpowder under the floor where a neighbor is, and suppose a man with a match perhaps in his mouth, out of sight, set fire unto the further end of the train, tho� never so far off. This man also is to be treated as equally a malefactor. Our neighbors at Salem Village are blown up, after a sort, with an infernal gunpowder; the train is laid in the laws of the kingdom of darkness limited by God himself. Now the question is, who gives fire to this train? and by what acts is the match applied? Find out the persons that have done this thing, and be their acts in doing it either mental, or oral, or manual, or what the devil will, I say abeant quo digni sunt.
V. To determine a matter so much in the dark as to know the guilty employers of the devils in this work of darkness, this is a work, this is a labor. Now first a credible confession of the guilty wretches is one of the most hopeful ways of coming at them, and I say a credible confession because even confession itself sometimes is not credible. But a person of a sagacity many times thirty furlongs less than yours, will easily perceive what confession may be credible, and what may be the result of only a delirious brain, or a discontented heart. All the difficulty is how to obtain this confession. For this I am far from urging the un-English method of torture, but instead thereof I propound these three things: first, who can tell but when the witches come upon their trials, they may be so forsaken, as to confess all. The Almighty God having heard the appeals of our cries to Heaven, may so thunder-strike their souls, as to make them show their deeds. Moreover, the devils themselves who aim at the entrapping of their own miserable clients, may treacherously depart from them in their examinations, which throws them into such toiling vexations that they�ll discover all. Besides, when you come solemnly in God�s name to exhibit yourselves as His viceregents, and when you come to form a most awful type of the Last Judgment, whereat the devils of all things tremble most, even they also may be smitten with such terrors as may contribute a little to their departure from the miscreants whom they have entangled. An unexpected confession, is that whereunto witches are very often driven. Secondly, I am ready to think that there is usually some expression or behavior whereto the devils do constantly oblige the witches, as a kind of sacrament, upon their least failure wherein the witches presently lose the thus forfeited assistances of the devils, and all comes out. Please then to observe, if you can find any one constant scheme of discourse or action, whereto the suspected seem religiously devoted, and (which may easily be done by the common policies of conversation) cause them to transgress that, a confession will probably then come on apace. Thirdly, whatever hath a tendency to put the witches into confusion is likely to bring them unto confession too. Here cross and swift questions have their use, but besides them for my part, I should not be unwilling that an experiment be made whether accused parties can repeat the Lord�s Prayer, or those other systems of Christianity which, it seems, the devils often make the witches unable to repeat without ridiculous depravations or amputations. The danger of this experiment will be taken away if you make no evidence of it, but only put it to the use I mention, which is that of confounding the lisping witches to give a reason why they cannot, even with prompting, repeat those heavenly composures. The like I would say of some other experiments, only we may venture too far before we are aware.
VI. But what if no confession can be obtained; I say yet the case is far from desperate. For if there have been those words uttered by the witches, either by way of threatening, or of asking, or of bragging, which rationally demonstrate such a knowledge of the woeful circumstances attending the afflicted people, as could not be had without some diabolical communion, the proof of such is enough to fix the guilt. Moreover, I look upon wounds that have been given unto specters, and received by witches as intimations broad enough, in concurrence with other things, to bring out the guilty. Tho� I am not fond of assaying to give such wounds, yet the proof such when given carries with it what is very palpable.
Once more, can there be no puppets found out? and here I would say thus much, I am thinking that some witches make their own bodies to be their puppets. If therefore you can find that when the witches do anything easy, that is not needful (and it is needful that I put in that clause �not needful� because it is possible that a prestigious demon may imitate what we do, tho� we are none of his) I say if you find the same thing, presently, and hurtfully, and more violently done by any unseen hand unto the bodies of the sufferers, hold them, for you have catched a witch. I add, why should not witch-marks be searched for? The properties, the qualities of those marks are described by diverse weighty writers. I never saw any of those marks, but it is doubtless not impossible for a chirurgeon, when he sees them, to say what are magical, and if these become once apparent, it is apparent that these witches have gone so far in their wickedness as to admit most cursed succages, whereby the devils have not only fetched out of them, it may be the spirits of which they make vehicles, wherein they visit the afflicted, but also they have infused a venom into them which exalts the malignity of their spirits as well as of their bodies; and it is likely that by means of this ferment they would be found buoyant (if the water-ordeal were made upon them).
VII. I begin to fear that the devils do more easily proselyte poor mortals into witchcraft than is commonly conceived. When a sinful child of man distempers himself with some exorbitant motions in his mind (and it is to be feared the murmuring phrensies of late prevailing in the country have this way exposed many to sore temptations) a devil then soon presents himself unto him, and he demands, Are you willing that I should go do this or that for you? If the man once comply, the devil hath him now in a most horrid snare, and by a permission from the just vengeance of God he visits the man with buffetings as well as allurements, till the forlorn man at first only for the sake of quietness, but at length out of improved wickedness, will commission the devil to do mischief as often as he requires it. And for this cause �tis worth considering, whether there be a necessity always by extirpations by halter or fagot every wretched creature that shall be hooked into some degrees of witchcraft. What if some of the lesser criminals be only scourged with lesser punishments, and also put upon some solemn, open, public, and explicit renunciation of the devil? I am apt to think that the devils would then cease afflicting the neighborhood whom these wretches have stood them upon, and perhaps they themselves would now suffer some impressions from the devils, which if they do, they must be willing to bear till the God that hears prayer deliver them. Or what if the death of some of the offenders were either diverted or inflicted, according to the success of such their renunciation.
But I find my free thoughts thus freely laid before Your Honor, begin to have too much freedom in them. I shall now therefore add no more but my humble and most fervent prayers to the God who gives wisdom liberally, that you and your honorable brethren may be furnished from on high, with all that wisdom, as well as justice, which is requisite in the thorny affair before you. God will be with you. I am persuaded He will; and with that persuasion I subscribe myself,
Sir, Your very devoted servant,