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Title: Sabbath
Original Title: Sabbat
Volume and Page: Vol. 14 (1765), p. 455
Author: Unknown
Translator: Steve Harris [San Francisco State University,]
Subject terms:
Original Version (ARTFL): Link

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Citation (MLA): "Sabbath." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Steve Harris. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2010. Web. [fill in today's date in the form 18 Apr. 2009 and remove square brackets]. <>. Trans. of "Sabbat," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 14. Paris, 1765.
Citation (Chicago): "Sabbath." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Steve Harris. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2010. (accessed [fill in today's date in the form April 18, 2009 and remove square brackets]). Originally published as "Sabbat," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 14:455 (Paris, 1765).

Sabbath. A nocturnal meeting to which it is believed that witches flew through the air and where they paid homage to a demon.

Here is the gist of what Delrio says about the Sabbath . He says that at first the witches and wizards rubbed an unguent prepared by the Devil on certain parts of their bodies, particularly their groins and then they mounted a stick, bedpost, fork, or a horse, bull or dog, that is to say, on a demon who had taken the form of that animal. In this way, they flew rapidly, in the blink of an eye, from a great distance and to some remote place, such as a forest or desert. There, in a clearing, lit with a large fire was a demon, in the form of a goat or dog, sitting on an elevated throne who presided at the Sabbath . They kneeled before him or approached him backwards holding a flaming torch in their hands and finally paid him homage by kissing his backside.

To honor him, they committed various abominable defilements and disgusting acts. After these preliminary rites, they sat down and the witches spread out the meats and wines which the devil had provided them or that they had brought themselves. This meal was sometimes preceded and sometimes followed by dances in the round, where they sang or screamed frighteningly. Then they made their sacrifices, each speaking their evil spells. The devil would encourage or reprimand them, according to whether they had been well or poorly served. He passed out poisons and gave new directions for the destruction of men. Finally, the moment came where all the lights went out. The wizards and even the demons grabbed the witches and had carnal relations with them, but there was always someone who, particularly at new locations, the goat claimed as his pet and with whom he had sex. After that, the witches and wizards returned to their homes in the same way that they came or on foot if their home was nearby. Delrio, disquisit. magic., Book II, quaest. XVI, p. 172 ff.

The same author showed how it was actually possible that witches flew through the air. He recalled the ability of demons and of good angels, as well as how Habakkuk flew to Babylon on an angel, and St. Phillip, who had baptized Queen Candace’s eunuch, flew from the desert to suddenly find the city of Azoth. He was satisfied to conclude that this was possible and cited the arrow of Abaris as well as the flights of Simon the magician, Eric, king of Sweden (as reported by Johannes Magnus), the heretic Berenger who, in one night went to Rome and chanted a lesson in the church in Tours (of one can believe the chronicle from Nangis), and some witches’ stories. Its not important that he did not treat as heretics those who took the other side, as long as he attacked Wyer and Godelman for having claimed that all the witches’ claims about the Sabbath was nothing but the product of an overheated imagination, hypochondria, or an demonical illusion and that their flight on a broomstick, as well as all the rest, was nothing but a dream by which they were too strongly affected. Idem, ibid.

Delrio’s proofs show that he was erudite and well-read, but his argument lacks enough logical force to satisfy the reader. In addition, we think that everything stated above about the Sabbath that seems quite reasonable is also found in Malebranche who explains more neatly why so many people imagine or are thought to have participated in these nocturnal meetings.

“A shepherd in his sheepfold,” says this author, “after eating dinner with his wife and children, tells them about the adventures of the Sabbath . Since he is convinced himself that it was so and that his imagination is somewhat warmed by the wine, he does not hesitate to speak vividly about it. His natural eloquence was thus assisted by his family setting, who wanted to hear something of a new and scary topic. Naturally, with the gullibility of these women and children, nothing is so possible as to be able to persuade them. It is their husband, their father who says what he saw and what he did; he is loved and respected, why should he not be believed? The shepherd later repeats his story. The imagination of the mother and children gather—little by little—deep hints; they get used to it and finally they are curious. They scratch themselves, they go to bed, their imaginations still restless from this excitement and the hints that the shepherd left in their brains, open enough to make them decide in their sleep, with everything which they heard coming back to them. They get up, they ask each other and tell each other what they saw. They are strengthened by the remnants of their visions and those who have the strongest imagination, convincing the others, take the lead at night, re-telling the imaginary story of the Sabbath . This is how witches’ feats come from what the shepherd does; if, having a strong and vivid imagination, fear does not prevent them from repeating the same stories.”

“Several times,” he added, “they found good witches who generally told everyone that they went to the Sabbath and they were so convinced that although several people stayed up all night and assured them that they had never left their beds, they could not swear by their testimony.” Recherch. De la vérité, Vol. I, Book II, Ch. 6.

This last observation suffices only to upend all the reasons that Delrio amassed to show the truth of how the witches flew to the Sabbath , at least that cannot agree with Bodin that it was only their souls which participated; that, in order to do so, the demon had the ability to extract them from their bodies while they were asleep and send them back after the Sabbath ; a ridiculous idea, which Delrio himself felt to be completely absurd.

This factor makes it clear that participation in a Sabbath exists only in the imagination. The Parlement of Paris dismissed all the witches who were not convicted of having given poison, nor found culpable of anything but imagining going to a Sabbath . The jurist Duaren approved this practice, saying, “De aniculis, quae volitare per aera, & nocturno tempore saltitare & choreas agere dicuntur, quaeritur ? Et solent plaerique quaestores, in eas acerbius animadvertere quam jus & ratio postulet, cùm synodus ancyrana definiverit quaedam esse quae à cacodoemone multarum mulierum mentibus irrogantur : itaque curia parisiensis (si nihil aliud admiserint) eas absolvere ac dimittere merito consuevit. [1] Ayrault and Alciat agreed as well. The last believed that it was false that witches could go in person to a Sabbath . But this reason is weak, because it is a serious enough crime even to want to go there, or to prepare the unguents which are believed necessary to this horrible expedition. This also made Malebranche think that they were punishable. François Hotman, when asked about this, responded that they deserved death. Thomas Erastus also agreed and it is the most common position of jurists and moralists, whether Catholic or Protestant. Bayle, Répons. aux quest. d'un provincial , Ch. 39, p. 577 (folio ed. Of 1737).

1. “What should be said about old women who are supposed to fly about through the air and hold dances at night? Several magistrates are accustomed to observe rather gloomily that the kind of law and good sense required, according to the definition of the Ancyra synod, are those that apply to the case of those many women with minds controlled by an evil spirit. And thus the Parlement of Paris, if those women were guilty of nothing else, was used to absolve them and dismiss the case.”