Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Satan in the form of a flock of geese: Newbury, Berkshire, 1650’s

Resourceful sort of being, Satan, able to take on all kinds of shapes – but, a flock of geese? I mean, steady on…

“I have thought convenient for thy Information to touch of one passage more which hath some resemblance to this some few years since at Newbury, of some Women who fell off from the Faith they once professed, into new pretended Revelations, amongst whom one pretended to have a revelation, That on a certain day she should be carried to Heaven in a fiery Charriot: Hereupon she took leave of her friends, and it being rumoured abroad, The same day some hundred of Spectators came to see the event; and after long waiting, at last there flew over the place a flock of Wildegeese, (or as it is supposed the Devill in that shape) which they of the Sect seeing cryed out, Hee is come, he is come, expecting to see her carried away presently; but the Wilde geese were gone, and she left to see the folly of her new pretended Revelations…”

This anecdote is tacked on as a postscript to The Snare of the devill discovered (1658). Clearly, then as now, life in Newbury was not without its periodic excitements. They’d scarcely had chance to get over the surfing witch of 1643 (A most certain, strange, and true discovery of a witch) then they were gathering to watch one of their number either ascend to heaven in a fiery chariot or be punished for her impious pretensions (according to whichever line you took). As tends to happen in these cases, the wait for the rapture was long, but they held on in hope. Now, geese are a pretty common site alongside the River Kennet, but finally the long-awaited aerial action seemed about to begin. Quite who or when somebody decided that it might be Satan in an unusual guise, the narration leaves open. The whole pamphlet is written to deplore women who fall off from the true faith: the main subject, one Lydia Rogers ‘was formerly a great Professor of Religion, and was a Hearer of godly Ministers (though now a Member of an Anabaptisticall Church)’, and she fell into despair for lack of money and made a pact with the devil. Some maybe the pamphleteer endorses the idea that this female anabaptist has had, quite deservedly, Satan appear to her.

Was there no moment when everyone started laughing and went for a drink?

My picture is a couple of demonic goose-thingies from a Hieronymus Bosch sky-scape.


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DrRoy said...

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