Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire

GOAT— SORCERY.

The honors of every kind which antiquity paid to goats would be very astonishing, if anything could astonish those who have grown a little familiar with the world, ancient and modern. The Egyptians and the Jews often designated the kings and the chiefs of the people by the word “goat.” We find in Zachariah:

“Mine anger was kindled against the shepherds, and I punished the goats; for the Lord of Hosts hath visited his flock, the house of Judah, and hath made them as his goodly horse in the battle.”

“Remove out of the midst of Babylon,” says Jeremiah to the chiefs of the people; “go forth out of the land of the Chaldæans, and be as the he-goats before the flocks.”

Isaiah, in chapters x. and xiv., uses the term “goat,” which has been translated “prince.” The Egyptians went much farther than calling their kings goats; they consecrated a goat in Mendes, and it is even said that they adored him. The truth very likely was, that the people took an emblem for a divinity, as is but too often the case.

It is not likely that the Egyptian shoën or shotim, i. e., priests, immolated goats and worshipped them at the same time. We know that they had their goat Hazazel, which they adorned and crowned with flowers, and threw down headlong, as an expiation for the people; and that the Jews took from them, not only this ceremony, but even the very name of Hazazel, as they adopted many other rites from Egypt.

But goats received another, and yet more singular honor. It is beyond a doubt that in Egypt many women set the same example with goats, as Pasiphae did with her bull.

The Jews but too faithfully imitated these abominations. Jeroboam instituted priests for the service of his calves and his goats.

The worship of the goat was established in Egypt, and in the lands of a part of Palestine. Enchantments were believed to be operated by means of goats, and other monsters, which were always represented with a goat’s head.

Magic, sorcery, soon passed from the East into the West, and extended itself throughout the earth. The sort of sorcery that came from the Jews was called Sabbatum by the Romans, who thus confounded their sacred day with their secret abominations. Thence it was, that in the neighboring nations, to be a sorcerer and to go to the sabbath, meant the same thing.

Wretched village women, deceived by knaves, and still more by the weakness of their own imaginations, believed that after pronouncing the word “abraxa,” and rubbing themselves with an ointment mixed with cow-dung and goat’s hair, they went to the sabbath on a broom-stick in their sleep, that there they adored a goat, and that he enjoyed them.

This opinion was universal. All the doctors asserted that it was the devil, who metamorphosed himself into a goat. This may be seen in Del Rio’s “Disquisitions,” and in a hundred other authors. The theologian Grillandus, a great promoter of the Inquisition, quoted by Del Rio, says that sorcerers call the goat Martinet. He assures us that a woman who was attached to Martinet, mounted on his back, and was carried in an instant through the air to a place called the Nut of Benevento.

There were books in which the mysteries of the sorcerers were written. I have seen one of them, at the head of which was a figure of a goat very badly drawn, with a woman on her knees behind him. In France, these books were called “grimoires”; and in other countries “the devil’s alphabet.” That which I saw contained only four leaves, in almost illegible characters, much like those of the “Shepherd’s Almanac.”

Reasoning and better education would have sufficed in Europe for the extirpation of such an extravagance; but executions were employed instead of reasoning. The pretended sorcerers had their “grimoire,” and the judges had their sorcerer’s code. In 1599, the Jesuit Del Rio, a doctor of Louvain, published his “Magical Disquisitions.” He affirms that all heretics are magicians, and frequently recommends that they be put to the torture. He has no doubt that the devil transforms himself into a goat, and grants his favors to all women presented to him. He quotes various jurisconsults, called demonographers, who assert that Luther was the son of a woman and a goat. He assures us that at Brussels, in 1595, a woman was brought to bed of a child, of which the devil, disguised as a goat, was father, and that she was punished, but he does not inform us in what manner.

But the jurisprudence of witchcraft has been the most profoundly treated by one Boguet, “grand juge en dernier ressort” of an abbey of St. Claude in Franche-Comté. He gives an account of all the executions to which he condemned wizards and witches, and the number is very considerable. Nearly all the witches are supposed to have had commerce with the goat.

It has already been said that more than a hundred thousand sorcerers have been executed in Europe. Philosophy alone has at length cured men of this abominable delusion, and has taught judges that they should not burn the insane.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:25