We are too hasty when we set down our ancestors in the gross for fools, for the monstrous inconsistencies (as they seem to us) involved in their creed of witchcraft. In the relations of this visible world we find them to have been as rational, and shrewd to detect an historic anomaly, as ourselves. But when once the invisible world was supposed to be opened, and the lawless agency of bad spirits assumed, what measures of probability, of decency, of fitness, or proportion -- of that which distinguishes the likely from the palpable absurd -- could they have to guide them in the rejection or admission of any particular testimony? -- That maidens pined away, wasting inwardly as their waxen images consumed before a fire -- that corn was lodged, and cattle lamed -- that whirlwinds uptore in diabolic revelry the oaks of the forest -- or that spits and kettles only danced a fearful-innocent vagary about some rustic's kitchen when no wind was stirring -- were all equally probable where no law of agency was understood. That the prince of the powers of darkness, passing by the flower and pomp of the earth, should lay preposterous siege to the weak fantasy of indigent eld -- has neither likelihood nor unlikelihood à priori to us, who have no measure to guess at his policy, or standard to estimate what rate those anile souls may fetch in the devil's market. Nor, when the wicked are expressly symbolised by a goat, was it to be wondered at so much, that he should come sometimes in that body, and assert his metaphor. -- That the intercourse was opened at all between both worlds was perhaps the mistake -- but that once assumed, I see no reason for disbelieving one attested story of this nature more than another on the score of absurdity. There is no law to judge of the lawless, or canon by which a dream may be criticised.
-- From "Witches, and Other Night-Fears."
In The Essays of Elia. J. M. Dent & Sons, Ltd, 1906.