- Cas Gan Gythraul: Demonology, Witchcraft, and Popular Magic in Eighteenth-Century Wales ed. by Lisa Tallis
Richard Suggett, Lisa Tallis, T.P., Eighteenth-Century Wales, Welsh magic, early modern magic, witchcraft, demonology, Satan, Cas Can Gythraul, Welsh witcraft, early modern witchcraft
"For Wales, see England" runs the legendary entry in a reference book. But not for witchcraft studies. Wales has much to offer those interested in witchcraft and magic. There were few prosecutions for witchcraft (for interesting reasons), but after the abolition of the witchcraft statutes all kinds of magical specialists emerged from the shadows. This publication by the South Wales Record Society introduces the worldview of an eighteenth-century [End Page 412] Protestant divine rooted in south Wales who was concerned with the invisible world of spirits. Cas Gan Gythraul or "the Devil's hatred" was a tract addressed to the "amiable Welsh" in their own language as a warning to those who consulted wizards, soothsayers, and conjurers, the latter to be understood as invokers of spirits rather than stage magicians. The author, the otherwise anonymous T. P., explains that the book's title reflected the hatred that the Devil and his servants bore toward him and the book he had written to expose their stratagems. T. P. tells the reader that after finishing the manuscript, on the night of September 2, 1711, he went to bed feeling uneasy and the following morning found that "hideous pictures" had appeared on his windowpane as a warning not to publish. T. P. was undeterred and entrusted his book to the Welsh press in Shrewsbury. It was published in 1711 and reprinted in 1759. Both editions are rare, as most copies were reduced to tatters by readers fascinated with the horrid subject matter. Lisa Tallis's new edition of the original Welsh text with a translation, three hundred years after its first appearance, is to be very much welcomed. The book is enhanced by an informative introduction, scholarly endnotes, and ten pages of well-chosen illustrations.
T. P. reveals himself to be a well-read divine who cites many authorities who had written on the spirit world, notably William Perkins (frequently and respectfully) and Cotton Mather, and other seventeenth-century Puritans, as well as chroniclers of spirit encounters, including Bovet, Beaumont, Glanvill, and others. T. P. admonishes his weak countrymen, emphasizing that by consulting charmers and conjurers they renounced God and turned to the Devil. T. P. evidently antagonized some magical specialists who made a living from finding lost goods, counteracting witchcraft, and other professional services. In his preface, T. P. refers to the hatred shown toward him by those regarded as wizards (dewiniaid), but regrettably refrains from giving details "this time."
By far the most interesting part of the book is the account of "wicked" customs then practiced in Wales. These included prognostication with Bible and key or sieve and sheers, prayers to stop bleeding and other charms, widespread love divination, the use of rowan as a preservative, and various methods of counteracting witchcraft. The sick were regularly taken to certain wells and holy places. These were developing rather than decaying beliefs. One holy well in north Wales (Ffynnon Elian) acquired the sinister reputation of a cursing well in the later eighteenth century.
Encounters with the spirit world were frequently reported. T. P. gives interesting details of an acquaintance who was suspected by his own family of familiarity with the fairies. Another acquaintance, identified as "J. M." [End Page 413] from Brecon, after quarrelling with a cunning-woman found himself, between bouts of swooning, transported to various border towns. This is a narrative worthy of Richard Baxter or Edmund Jones, whose accounts of apparitions loaded with circumstantial detail were intended to demonstrate beyond doubt the existence of the spirit world. However, more narratives always seemed to be needed, and T. P. could not resist adding to the end of his tract several accounts of men harassed in a horrible manner by Satan.
Lisa Tallis is to be congratulated on this...