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Popular Superstitions of the Highlands
Origin and History of Witchcraft


Of the Witch's Powers of Transformation

THOSE of our readers who are not very well acquainted with the theory of witchcraft will not be a little surprised at the unaccountable activity of its agents, who are capable of paying not only proper attention to their own private affairs, but likewise of carrying on almost all the business of the Evil One in this land. In order to obviate all surprise on this head, be it remembered, that they are endowed with as ample powers of transmigration (at their institution into the craft) as any other of Satan’s spiritual agents; consequently, there is no similitude from their own proper likenesses to that of a cat or a stone, but they can assume at pleasure. Hence the speed and privacy with which they attain their evil ends.

One of the most ordinary disguises of a "BanBuchichd" is the similitude of a hare. This transformation she finds exceedingly convenient while performing her cantrips in the field—bewitching farming implements destroying corn and grass — holding communion with the sisterhood, and similar pieces of business. It enables her to execute her undertakings with greater expedition, and flee more fleetly on any emergency, than she could do in any other character.

A second is the likeness of a cat - by personating which, she procures admission to the inmost recesses of a house, to deposit her infernal machinery, without exciting the least suspicions of her real character and intentions.

A third is her transformation into a stone, which is a common practice with the witch in the season of agricultural operations, by which she is afforded great opportunities of mischief to the farmer’s interest. The wily witch will penetrate into the ground, and place herself in the line of the plough, and, as it passes her, she will creep in betwixt the sock and the culter. The plough is consequently expelled from the ground for a considerable space, and a "bank" is the consequence. For these insidious and barefaced acts of iniquity, the witch, if discovered, seldom escapes with impunity. Stopping the cattle, the ploughman will take hold of the stone, bestowing upon it the most abusive and opprobrious epithets, and dashes her with all his might against the hardest substance he can as a mark of his hatred and contempt for her character.

A fourth is her transformation into the shape of a raven; which now, in a great measure, supersedes the use of her ancient and renowned hobby-horse, the Broom, on which she formerly walloped with such surprising velocity. This similitude is commonly assumed by her when on excursions to any distance, to attend the counsels of Satan—to hold communion with the sisterhood—or to attend some important enterprise.

The witch likewise assumes the character of a rnagpie on occasions of sudden emergency, which require immediate conference with a number of the members of the craft. The likeness of this bird, which is of a domestic character, and fond of hopping and picking about the doors, screens the witch from suspicion, as she visits another witch’s dwelling. Hence, when a number of magpies convene together side by side on a house top, it is no wonder that their appearance should occasionally excite suspicion. But we humbly think that mere suspicion by no means justifies that hostility of temper which in several districts the inhabitants are led to entertain against the whole race of magpies, merely because the witches sometimes assume their similitude. These suspicions are no doubt a good deal heightened by the circumstance of the poor magpie’s being a little endowed with the gift of prophecy. As a foreteller of minor events— such as the coming of visitors, the change of weather, and such like little occurrences the magpie has never been excelled; and notwith standing the illiberal conduct of its human neighbours, those little qualities are always exerted by the magpie for their comfort and convenience.

On the morning of that auspicious day on which the factor, the parson, or any other of the country gentry of equal importance, is to pay a visit to the lord of the manor on which the magpie may have pitched her residence, she will approach the house, and, by her incessant chattering, announce to the inhabitants the coming of the consequential stranger. The state apartment, perhaps rather deranged, is consequently arrayed in proper-order; and the necessary provisions to entertain the expected guests are timeously procured, which, but for the magpie’s generous and ill-rewarded premonition, could not perhaps be provided for the occasion.


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