The tenth Relation.
An Account of two Spirits which ap∣peared to two Servant Maids, in the House of Mrs. Aysh of South Petherton, Anno 1680.
AT South Petherton, in the County of Somerset, lives a Gentlewo∣man (very well known to all the Neighbouring Gentry, not only for her Ancient Descent, but for her extraor∣dinary Piety, and Charity more Il∣lustrious,) whom I cannot mention without an Honourable Respect, ha∣ving often had the happiness to have been entertained with most obliging respect, both by the virtuous Mother, and her Congenerous Issue.
It was on Midsummer day, in the year 1680. I happened to pay a visit to that worthy Family; and finding the Lady and her Daughters at home, after pas∣sing common Civilities, the eldest of the Daughters, (who is a very Ingeni∣ous, and Accomplisht Lady) informed me that there had been the strangest Page 212 thing done in their Family the preceed∣ing night, that ever was heard on, for their Servant Maids had raised the De∣vil, &c. and so went on to give a thorow relation of what you will hear by and by: only I think it best to let the Maids themselves tell the Story, which after the old Lady had called them into the Room, they did after this manner. One of them, I take it, the tallest, speaking in the name of both.
We had been told divers times, that if we fasted on Midsummer Eve, and then at 12 a Clock at night laid a cloath on the Table; with Bread, and Cheese, and a cup of the best Beer, setting our selves down, as if we were going to eat, & leaving the door of the Room open; we should see the Persons whom we should afterwards Marry, come into the Room, and drink to us: Accor∣dingly we kept a true Fast all the day yesterday, unknown to any of the Fami∣ly; and at night having disposed of my Mistresses to Bed, we fastened the stair door of their Rooms, which came down into the Hall, and locked all the doors of the Yard, and whatever way be∣sides led into the House, except the door of the Kitchen, which was left open to the Yard for the Sweet∣heartsPage 213 to enter; it being then near twelve a Clock, we laid a clean cloath on the Kitchen Table, setting thereon a Loaf and Cheese, and a Stone Jug of beer, with a drinking glass, seating our selves together in the inside of the Ta∣ble, with our faces towards the door: We had been in this posture but a lit∣tle while, before we heard a mighty ratling at the great Gate of the Yard, as if it would have shook the House down, there was a jingling of Chains, and something seemed to prance about the Yard like a Horse, which put us in∣to great terrour, and affrightment, so that we wisht we had never gone so far in it; but now we knew not how to go back, and therefore kept the place where we were: my Masters Spaniel (for the young Captain was then alive) got against the door of the stair foot, and there made so great a noise with houling, and ratling the door, that we feared they might have taken notice of the disturbance; but presently came a young man into the Kitchen, (here one of the young Ladies interrupted her, saying, Housewife, it was the Devil) to which the Maid replied, Madam I do not believe that, but perhaps it might be the Spirit of a Man,) and Page 214 making a bow to me, he took up the Glass, which was full of Beer, on the Table, and drank to me, filling the Glass again, and setting it on the Ta∣ble as before, then making another bow, went out of the Room. Imme∣diately after which, another came in the same manner, and did the same to the other Maid (whom she named, but I have forgot) and then all was quiet, and after we had eaten some Bread and Cheese, we went to Bed. So the Maid ended what she had to say, and left the Room; but I must not forget that all this while▪ the other Maid stood by her, and acknowledged all she had said to be true.
Then I desired to know of the old Lady, how they came to understand this of the Maids, for I thought they did not care to have it divulged; upon which she replied, we saw in their faces the next morning something of an alteration, as if they had been frighted, and my eldest Daughter go∣ing into a Room, where we use to set aside cold Meat, saw part of an Apple-Pye, which was appointed for their Dinners the day before, to be there un∣toucht, and marking some other little Circumstances, began to be Inquisitive, Page 215 until she had sifted out the business. The Ladies were very much troubled at what the Maids had done, and threatned to put them away upon it: but upon the intercession of Neigh∣bours, and their being penitent for what they had done, it was passed by. It was not long after, before the tallest of the Maids was Married to him, which she said had appeared unto her, and as I remember, he was a Drum∣mer in Sir Edward Philips's Regiment: but I fear that Weddings sought in∣to by such unwarrantable means, can hardly expect a Blessing; I wish it may prove otherwise for both their sakes. The young Ladies after that, would (to mind the Maids of their indiscretion) call them the Spirits of Men.
1. I Have often been told of some that have fasted on Midsummer Eve, and then gone into the Church Porch, to see who should die in that Parish the subsequent year, and that the Spirits of such would (in the same order they were to die in) come one after another, and knock at the Church door, I remember I was once told of one of these Watchers that fell fast asleep, so that none of the company could awaken her, during the time of which profound sleep, the likeness of that party appeared, and knocked at the Church door: and that afterwards, when she awaked, she could give no account of any thing that had happened, only that she had been asleep; until the rest of the company acquainted her of it.
2. Whether the Appearances here were the Spirits of the two young Men, who taking them Napping at that time of night, might make a visit to their Sweet-hearts; or whe∣ther they were not some Spirits of another nature, that assumed their likeness, I must Page 217 leave to the Learned to judge; I must confess I am apt to believe the latter. It seems to me by the ratling of the Gate, the noise of the Chains, the prancing of the Horse, and the affrighting of the Spaniel, (which I knew, and he was a stout Dog;) I say upon all these Circumstances I should imagine that these Spirits were not of so gentiel, and smooth a Temper as they shew∣ed themselves unto the Maids.
3. What Charm there can be ascribed to fasting on Midsummer Eve, and the after-Ceremonies, more then to the like abstinence at another time, is that which many doubt of: But why may there not be Magical Days and Seasons, as well as Planetary Hours? The Devil is called the Prince of Darkness, because he most fa∣miliarly shews himself in the depth of the night, Conjurers, and Magicians call upon him most in that Season; he hath an aver∣sion to the light, as all evil Workers have.
Much discourse hath been about gathe∣ring of Fern-seed (which is looked upon as a Magical Herb) on the night of Mid∣summer Eve, and I remember I was told of one that went to gather it, and the Spirits whiskt by his Ears like Bullets, and sometimes struck his Hat, and other parts of his Body: in fine, though he apprehen∣ded Page 218 that he had gotten a quantity of it, and secured it in Papers, and a Box be∣sides, when he came home, he found all empty. But most probable this appointing of times, and hours, is of the Devils own Institution, as well as the Fast, that ha∣ving once ensnared people to an Obedience to his Rules, he may with more facility ob∣lige them to a stricter Vassallage.