While reading the extract from Pere Labat in the article “Varieties of African Magic,” in the October publication of the Theosophist, I was reminded of certain passages in two other writers who describe feats of diablerie of the same nature as those said to have been performed by the African negress on board the French vessel, and thus show that these practices are by no means peculiar to Africans.
1) Pietro della Valle, the Italian traveler who visited Turkey, Egypt, Syria, Persia and India, in the course of his peregrinations in the 17th century, writes:
« An Arabian woman, by name Meluk, was thrown in prison of a charge of having bewitched, or as they call it, eaten the heart of a young native of Ormuz, who had lately from being a Christian, turned Mahomedan.
The cause of the offence was that the young man, after keeping company some time with one of her daughters, had forsaken her. He himself who was in a pitiable condition, and in danger of his life, was one of her accusers.
This sort of witchcraft, which the Indians call eating the heart, and which is what we call bewitching, as sorcerers do by their venomous and deadly looks, is not a new thing nor unheard of elsewhere; for many persons practised it formerly in Sclavonia, and the country of the Triballes, as we learn from Ortelius, who took the account from Pliny, who upon the report of lsigones testifies that this species of enchantment was much in use among these people, and many others whom he mentions, as it is at present here, especially among the Arabians who inhabit the western coast of the Persian Gulf, where this art is common.
The way in which they do it is only by the eyes and mouth, keeping the eyes fixed steadily upon the person whose heart they design to eat, and pronouncing between their teeth, I know not what diabolical words, by virtue of which and by the operation of the devil, the person, how hale and strong so ever, falls immediately into an unknown and inevitable disease, which makes him appear phthisical, consumes him little by little, and at last destroys him.
And this takes place faster or slower as the heart is eaten, as they say; for these sorcerers can either cut the whole or a part only; that is can consume it entirely and at once, or bit by bit, as they please.
The vulgar give it this name, because they believe that the devil, acting upon the imagination of the witch when she mutters her wicked words, represents invisibly to her the heart and entrails of the patient, taken out of his body and makes her devour them.
In which these wretches find so delightful a task, that very often to satisfy their appetite, without any impulse of resentment or enmity, they will destroy innocent persons, and even their nearest relatives, as there is a report that our prisoner killed one of her own daughters in this manner.
This was confirmed to me by a similar story, which I heard at Ispahan, from the mouth of P. Schostian de Jesus, a Portuguese Augustinian, a man to be believed, and of singular virtue, who was prior of their convent when I departed.
He assured me, that in one of the places dependent upon Portugal, on the confines of Arabia Felix (Yemen), I know not whether it was at Mascate or at Omuz, an Arab having been taken up for a similar crime, and convicted of it, for he confessed the fact, the Captain or Governor of the place, who was a Portuguese that he might better understand the truth of these black and devilish actions of which there is no doubt in this country, ordered the sorcerer to be brought before him before he was led to his punishment, and asked him, if he could cat the inside of a cucumber without opening it, as well as the heart of a man.
The sorcerer said “yes” and in order to prove it, a cucumber was brought: he looked at it, never touching it, steadily for sometime, with his usual enchantments, and then told the Captain he had eaten the whole inside; and accordingly when it was opened, nothing was found but the rind.
This is not impossible; for the devil of whom they make use in these operations, having in the order of nature, greater power than all inferior creatures, can with God s permission, produce these effects and others more marvelous. »
For the comfort, however, of his Christian readers, the pious and prolix Pietro adds:
« The same father told me, that one of these sorcerers, whether it was the same or not I do not know, having been taken for a similar offence, was asked if he could eat the heart of the Portuguese Captain, and he replied no; for the Franks had a certain thing upon the breast, which covered them like a cuirasse, and was so impenetrable, that it was proof against all his charms.
This can be nothing else than the virtue of baptism, the armour of the faith, and the privileges of the sons of the Church against which the gates of hell cannot prevail. »
To return, however, to my first subject:
« This witch made some difficulty at first to confess her guilt; but seeing herself pressed with threats of death and being led in fact to the public square, where I saw her with the sick young man, she said that though she had not been the cause of his complaint, perhaps she could cure it, if they would let her remain alone with him, in the house, without interruption; by which she tacitly confessed her witchcraft.
For it is held certain in these countries that these wicked women can remove the malady which they have caused, if it be not come to the last extremity.
And of many remedies which they use to restore health to the sufferers, there is one very extraordinary, which is that the witch casts something out of her mouth, like the grain of a pomegranate, which is believed to be a part of the heart that she has eaten.
The patient picks it up immediately, as part of his own intestines and greedily swallows it; and by this means, as if his heart was replaced in his body, he recovers by degrees his health.
I dare not assure you of these things as certainly true, not having myself seen them, surpassing as they do the course of nature.
If they are as is said, it can only be in appearance, by the illusions of the devil; and if the afflicted recover actually their health, it is because the same devil ceases to torment them without dwelling longer upon their curious speculations.
The witch having given hopes that she would cure the patient, the officer promised that she should receive no injury, and they were both sent home; but an archer was set over her as a guard that she might not escape. »
2) In the “Ayeeni-Akliari” of Abul Fazal, who writes about the same time as the Italian traveler, occurs the following passage:
« One of the wonders of this country is the “Jiggerkhar” (or liver-eater). One of this class can steal away the liver of another by looks and incantations. Other accounts say that by looking at a person, he deprives him of his senses, and then he steals from him something resembling the seed of a pomegranate, which he hides in the call; of his leg.
The Jiggerkhar throws on the fire the grain before described, which spreads to the size of a dish, and he distributes it amongst his fellows, to be eaten; which ceremony concludes the life of the fascinated person.
A Jiggerkhar is able to communicate his art to another, which he does by learning him the incantations, and by making him eat a bit of the liver cake. If any one cuts open the calf of the magician’s leg, extracts the grain, and gives it to the afflicted person to eat, he immediately recovers.
These Jiggerkhars are mostly women. It is said, moreover, that they can bring intelligence from a great distance in a short space of time; and if they are thrown into a river, with a stone tied to them, they nevertheless will not sink. »
The Torquemadas of that time dealt with them thus:
« In order to deprive any one of this wicked power, they brand his temples, and every joint in his body, cram his eyes with salt, suspend him for forty days in a subterraneous cavern, and repeat over him certain incantations.
In this state he is called “Detchereh.” Although, after having undergone this discipline, he is not able to destroy the liver of any one, yet he retains the power of being able to discover another Jiggerkhar, and is used for detecting those disturbers of mankind.
They can also cure many diseases, by administering a potion, or by repeating an incantation. Many other marvelous stories are told of these people. »
These feats, whether attributable to suggestion, glamour or the cult of the elementals, appear to have been performed quite as often by Asiatics as by Africans.
Thus “Kongo Brown’s” feat of making the plantain tree spring up in a few minutes has been witnessed by people, in India.
A contemporary of della Valle says he saw it done in a factory yard at Broach.
The sorcerer, he says, planted a peg of wood in the ground and offered to make it grow into a tree. He then improvised a sort of tent out of a shirt over the peg, and entering it, began his incantations.
From time to time he removed the shirt and showed the company that a young tree had been produced and was rapidly growing. This went on until the spectators saw before them a tree several feet high and laden with fruit.
During the operation one of the spectators, observing a rent in the shirt, looked in and saw the sorcerer cut his arm and moisten the peg with his blood.
Further phenomena were interdicted by the chaplain of the factory who strongly expressed his disapproval of Christians witnessing and encouraging such performances, and having threatened to refuse the communion to such as persisted in remaining, the proceedings came to a close.
The modus operandi in this instance appears to point to the help of elementals.
The existence of occult knowledge amongst tribus so little advanced as in Africa is difficult to account for, except on hypothesis that it arose out of remnants of the science of old Atlantis; and possibly the old Arabic legend of the destruction of the Domdaniel school of occultism near Tunis, said to have been founded by Halil Magliraby, on which Southey based his poem of “Thalaba,” may be a traditional version of the story of the Atlantean deluge.
P. J. G.
(The Theosophist, December, 1892, p.158-160, “Some further cases of black magic”)
Obviously these stories of witchcraft must be taken with great caution due to all the fantasy, imagination, superstition and ignorance that was had in those times, but when it is known that witchcraft does exist, there may be some truth in them.