Percy's Reliques - The Witches' Song.

The Witches' Song.

            From Ben Jonson's Masque of Queens, presented at Whitehall, Feb. 2, 1609.

            The Editor thought it incumbent on him to insert some old pieces on the popular superstition concerning witches, hobgoblins, fairies, and ghosts. The last of these make their appearance in most of the tragical ballads; and in the following songs will be found some description of the former.

            It is true, this song of the Witches, falling from the learned pen of Ben Jonson, is rather an extract from the various incantations of classical antiquity, than a display of the opinions of our own vulgar. But let it be observed, that a parcel of learned wiseacres had just before busied themselves on this subject, in compliment to King James I., whose weakness on this head is well known; and these had so ransacked all writers, ancient and modern, and so blended and kneaded together the several superstitions of different times and nations, that those of genuine English growth could no longer be traced out and distinguished.

            By good luck the whimsical belief of fairies and goblins could furnish no pretences for torturing our fellow-creatures, and therefore we have this handed down to us pure and unsophisticated.


"I HAVE been all day looking after
A raven feeding upon a quarter:
And, soone as she turn'd her beak to the south,
I snatch'd this morsell out of her mouth."


"I have beene gathering wolves haires,
The madd dogges foames, and adders eares;
The spurging of a dead man's eyes:
And all since the evening starre did rise."


"I last night lay all alone
O' the ground, to heare the mandrake grone;
And pluckt him up, though he grew full low:
And, as I had done, the cocke did crow."


"And I ha' beene chusing out this scull
From charnell houses that were full;
From private grots, and publike pits:
And frighted a sexton out of his wits."


"Under a cradle I did crepe
By day; and, when the childe was a-sleepe
At night, I suck'd the breath; and rose,
And pluck'd the nodding nurse by the nose.


"I had a dagger: what did I with that?
Killed an infant to have his fat.
A piper it got at a church-ale.
I bade him again blow wind i' the taile."


"A murderer yonder was hung in chaines;
The sunne and the wind had shrunke his veins:
I bit off a sinew; I clipp'd his haire;
I brought off his ragges, that danc'd i' the ayre."


"The scrich-owles egges and the feathers blacke,
The bloud of the frogge, and the bone in his backe
I have been getting; and made of his skin
A purset, to keepe Sir Cranion in."


"And I ha' beene plucking (plants among)
Hemlock, henbane, adders-tongue,
Night-shade, moone-wort, libbards-bane;
And twise by the dogges was like to be tane."


"I from the jaw's of a gardiner's bitch
Did snatch these bones, and then leap'd the ditch:
Yet went I back to the house againe,
Kill'd the blacke cat, and here is the braine."


"I went to the toad, breedes under the wall,
I charmed him out, and he came at my call;
I scratch'd out the eyes of the owle before;
I tore the batts wing: what would you have more?"


"Yes: I have brought, to helpe your vows,
Horned poppie, cypresse boughes,
The fig-tree wild, that grows on tombes,
And juice, that from the larch-tree comes,
The basiliskes bloud, and the vipers skin:--
And now our orgies let's begin."


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