On the Black Arts

by Esteban

“From Egypt, by way of Greece and Rome, the use of wax figures passed into Western Europe and England, and in the Middle Ages it found great favour with those who interested themselves in the working of the “black art,” or who wished to do their neighbour or enemy an injury.

Many stories are current of how in Italy and England ignorant or wicked minded people made models of their enemies in wax and hung them up in the chimney, not too close to the fire, so that they might melt away slowly, and of how the people that were represented by such figures gradually lost the power over their limbs, and could not sleep, and slowly sickened and died.

If pins and needles were stuck into the wax figures at stated times the sufferings of the living were made more agonizing, and their death much more painful.

Sharpe relates (see C. K. Sharpe, Witchcraft in Scotland, London, 1884, p. 21) that about the end of the VIIth century king Duffus was so unpopular that “a company of hags roasted his image made of wax upon a wooden spit, reciting certain words of enchantment, and basting the figure with a poisonous liquor.

These women when apprehended declared that as the wax melted, the body of the king should decay, and the words of enchantment prevented him from the refreshment of sleep.”

The two following extracts from Thomas Middleton’s The Witch (London, 1778) illustrate the views held about wax figures in England in the time of this writer. (Born about 1570, died about 1626).

I.
Heccat. Is the heart of wax
Stuck full of magique needles?”
Stadlin. ‘Tis done Heccat.

Heccat. And is the Farmer’s picture, and his wives, Lay’d downe to th’ fire yet?
Stadlin. They are a roasting both too.
Heccat. Good:
Then their marrowes are a melting subtelly
And three monethes sicknes sucks up life in ’em.”
(Act i., scene 2.)

II.
Heccat. What death is’t you desire for Almachildes?
Duchesse. A sodaine and a subtle.
Heccat. Then I have fitted you.
Here lye the guifts of both; sodaine and subtle:
His picture made in wax, and gently molten
By a blew fire kindled with dead mens’ eyes
Will waste him by degrees.”
(Act v., scene 2)

Mr. Elworthy in his very interesting book The Evil Eye (London, 1895, pp. 53, 56) relates some striking examples of the burning of hearts stuck full of pins for magical purposes in recent years.

Thus an old woman at Mendip had a pig that fell ill, and she at once made up her mind that the animal had been “overlooked”; in her trouble she consulted a “white witch,” i.e. a “wise” man, and by his orders she acted thus.

She obtained a sheep’s heart, and having stuck it full of pins (in the Worth Riding of Yorkshire evil influences were averted by means of a living black cock which “was pierced with pins and roasted alive at dead of night, with every door, window, and cranny and crevice stuffed up” (see Blakeborough, Wit, Character, Folk-lore and Customs of the North Riding of Yorkshire, London, 1898, p. 205)) set it to roast before a fire, whilst her friends and neighbours sang:–

“It is not this heart I mean to burn.
But the person’s heart I wish to turn,
Wishing them neither rest nor peace
Till they are dead and gone.”

At intervals her son George sprinkled salt on the fire which added greatly to the weirdness of the scene, and at length, when the roasting had been continued until far into the night, a black cat jumped out from somewhere and was, of course, instantly declared to be the demon which had been exorcised.

Again, in October, 1882, a heart stuck full of pins was found in a recess of a chimney in an old house in the village of Ashbrittle; and in 1890 another was found nailed up inside the “clavel” in the chimney of an old house at Staplegrove.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 97-100.