The Conjuror’s Magazine
Vol 1 Nos 2-10 (Sep 1791 - May 1792)
Although William Gilbert is
only the author of Nos IV-VI, printing the entire sequence shows his unique
contribution to the thread of the series, and especially how his insertion of
political (and, in VI, personal) polemics radically changes their tone. Nos IV
– VI are signed as ‘B.’ The biographical information given in VI conclusively
establishes B. as William Gilbert, author of The Hurricane. The given
dates of travel to and from the West Indies match his known movements, and his
brother (Nathaniel Gilbert) and cousin (Melville Horne) were at the time
serving as chaplains to the new colony of
‘The Augur’ Nos I - VII
The Augur No. I (Sep 1791, pp.45-6)
Augury is the art of inspection and
divination, by observing the entrails of birds and beasts, and was in great
esteem among the ancients. Lacedemonians had always an Augur to attend upon
their Kings; and among the Romans was a
The Augur No. II (Oct 1791, pp.92-94)
No man can make any thing, the original of which does not exist in his mind. If even he should accidentally (to make myself understood) figure out an eagle, without having seen one, or the representation of one, it is because there is a powerful aquiline principle in his mind; and this may be either sympathetical or antipathetical.
Hence, whoever depicts an eagle, or sees one so painted, has formed on his mind, (and his mind is himself) an eagle, either agreeably or disagreeably, either faint or strong, according to the mode of reception in the first case, and the power of reception in the second.
Form, we know, obeys spirit. The form of the dove is adapted to her spirit, the form of a pointer and a greyhound respectively to their’s. Therefore, WHENEVER YOU SEE A FORM, THERE EXISTS A PRINCIPLE: TO SUCH A BODY, THERE IS SUCH A SPIRIT.
But there are individual differences, though much fewer in birds and beasts than in men. Every tabby cat is not equally tame: every terrier does not hunt with equal assiduity.
Therefore, as ALL men are not affected by every action of an individual; so, in the instance I am just going to relate, there was no occasion for every black eagle and every golden eagle to demonstrate the same magnetical sympathy. The situation and circumstances of the two affected, must have been peculiarly analogical to the relation between Philip and the Imperial house.
Baker in his chronicle makes
mention of the great tempest which drove King Philip into
Burbury, in the relation of a
journey made by the lord Howard to
And here it may not be improper to note something of the practice and antiquity of several superstitious customs and sayings now in use.
The custom of pairing nails, and cutting off our hair at certain times, is a relic of ancient superstition; for the Romans feared to pair their nails upon the Nundinae, observed every 9th day, and other certain days in the week, according to that of Ausonius, Ungues, Mercurio, &c.
The conjecturing on future events by spots in our nails, is no modern practice; Cardan affirming to have discovered a property in himself of finding therein some signs of most events that ever happened unto him. The spots in the top of the nails signify things past; in the middle, things present, and at the bottom, events to come; white specks are supposed to presage our felicity; blue ones, our misfortunes, and the like.
To observe the falling of salt, proceeds from a particular omination among the ancients, who knowing salt was incorruptible, made it the symbol of friendship, and if it casually fell, they accounted their amity would be of no duration.
The custom of giving corals to children, and fastening it about their necks, thereby to rub their gums, and make an easier passage for their teeth, is a practice believed to be superstitiously founded, as presumed, an amulet or defence against fascination. For the same is delivered by Pliny, lib. xxxii.
The refraining to kill swallows (it being esteemed unlucky to destroy them) has no other reason for its origin, than that anciently those birds were sacred unto the Penates, or household gods of the ancients, and therefore were preserved, as also they were highly honoured for being the Nuncios of the spring; for which reasons the Rhodians had a solemn song to welcome in the swallows. See Ælian.
The opinion that it is good to have a wolf cross the way, and bad to have a hare cross it, although it be ancient, had no other reason for its original, than that it may be esteemed fortunate to escape the first, and a loss to let the second escape us.
The custom of decking houses with ivy at Christmas, is only because ivy was anciently dedicated to Bacchus the god of wine, a liquor which is plentifully drank [sic] at that time,
The custom of breaking the egg-shell after the meat is out, hath been an ancient practice, and the intent was to prevent witchcraft, lest witches should draw or prick names therein, and thereby do mischief to mankind, as Dalecampius has observed.
The making of a True Lover’s Knot, is still retained in presents of love, and might have originated from nodus Herculanus, or that which was called Hercules’s Knot, resembling the snaky complication in the Caduceus, or rod of Hermes; and in which form the zone, or woollen girdle of the bride, in ancient times, was fastened, as Turnebus observes in his Adversaria.
The saying, They are unbless’d until they have put on their girdle, may have, indeed, no ordinary consideration for its original, since by a girdle or cincture, are symbolically implied truth, resolution, and readiness unto action, which are parts and virtues required in the service of God. According whereto we find that the Israelites did eat the Pascal Lamb with their loins girded; and the Almighty challenging Job, bids him gird up his loins like a man.
The custom to say, Somebody is talking of us when our cheek burneth or gloweth, appears to be an ancient conceit, being ranked among superstitious opinions by Pliny; but the first rise of it is unknown, as the occasion of such a signifying genius.
The custom of nourishing hair upon the moles of the face, is the perpetuation of a very ancient practice, and though now innocently used, may have a superstitious original, according to that of Pliny.—Nævos in facie tondere religiosum habent nunc.
The practice we have to determine doubtful matters by the opening of a book, and letting fall a staff, are ancient fragments of Pagan divinations.
The custom of receiving the climacterical year of 63 as a very dangerous year, is a very ancient belief; Philo the Jew, having filled up several pages with things relating to this number; and Pythagoras and Plato have been great maintainers thereof in their Numerical Considerations. The opinion arises from that belief, that the days of men are usually cast up by septenaries, and every seventh year conceived to carry some altering character with it; as also the Moon, which governs man’s body, is supposed to be measured by sevens. And so the number seven and nine, which, multiplied into themselves, do make 63, is commonly esteemed the great climacterical of our lives.
[The language of the digression on superstitious customs: “that of Ausonius”, “original of”, “omination” suggests that these passages are extracts from a 17th century author; Augur VII, printed below (May 1792 pp. 405-6) is described in a headnote as a conclusion of this article.]
The Augur No. III (Nov 1791, pp127-8)
ANTIQUITY OF THE OFFICE
The Conveniency arising from this mode of writing, is principally, the ease resulting from the liberty the writer can take with his authorities, in chusing just such as suit his present turn; while, in the more elaborate way of system and form, he must find himself often confined to order and chronology; circumstances very inimical to the range of fancy.
Thus far we think necessary, by way of apology, for the occasional deviations we have, or may hereafter make, from the regular form of history.
The Augur, among the Romans, was an officer of very great respect, not only on account of his capacity for divination, but for the foreknowledge of future events, which was attributed to him. There was a college or community of them, consisting originally of only three members, but afterwards the number was increased to nine; for of whom were Patricians, and five Plebeians. Their insignia was an augural staff, or wand, denoting their authority; and their dignity according to Bishop Godwin, was so much respected, that they were never deposed, nor any substituted in their room, though they should be convicted of the most enormous crimes. Makind have, at all periods and conditions, been avidiously fond of penetrating into the secrets of futurity, and removing the veil which is placed between them and the time to come; therefore it is no wonder if the mysteries of Aruspicy were much encouraged and patronised in rude uncivilized nations.
Hesiod, a very ancient poet,
reports, that husbandry was in part regulated by the coming and retiring of
birds; and most probably it had been in use long before his time, as Astronomy
was then in its infancy. In the course of time, these animal motions seem to
have gained a very wonderful authority, till, at last, no affair of
consequence, either of private or public concern, was undertaken without
consulting them. They were looked upon as the interpreters of the gods; and
those who were qualified to understand their oracles, were held among the chief
men in the Greek and Roman states, and became the assessors of kings, and even
Jupiter himself. However absurd such an institution as a
When men considered the wonderful migration of birds, how they disappeared at once, and appeared again at stated times, and could give no guess where they went, it was almost natural to suppose, that they retired somewhere out of the sphere of this earth, and perhaps approached the ethereal regions, where they might be in the same atmosphere with the gods, and thence be able to predict future events.
Bishop Stillingfleet, in his Calendar of Hora, urges the natural propensity of an ignorant people to imagine this, at least to believe it, as soon as some adventurous genius had the impudent temerity to assert it. Add to this, that the disposition in some birds to imitate the human voice, must contribute much to the confirmation of such a doctrine.
This institution of Augury seems to have been much more ancient than that of Aruspicy; for we find many instances of the former in Homer, but not a single one of the latter, though frequent mention is made of sacrifices in that Poet.
From the whole of what has been observed, it seems probable, that natural Augury gave rise to religious Augury, and this to Aruspicy, as the mind of man makes a very easy transition from a little truth to a great deal of error.
A passage in Aristophanes gave the
hint for these observations. In the comedy of the Birds, he makes one of them
say this—“The greatest blessings which can happen to you mortals are derived
from us: first we shew you the seasons, viz. Spring, Summer, Winter,
Autumn. The Crane points out the time for sowing, when she flies with her
warning notes into
But, to return to Aristophanes, the first part of the chorus, from whence the forecited passage is taken, seems, with all its wildness, to contain the fabulous cant, which prevailed over the ignorant of those days, and to be borrowed from the cosmogony of the early heathen world.
H.L. [probably Henry Lemoine]
So far as a man is spiritual, so far he is an Augur. Everything he sees, does, speaks, is applied to knowledge: for he knows from experience and sound philosophy that everything visible has an invisible part or corelative; that is, governed by some principle: and he further knows, that this principle will manifest itself in a more extensive manner at a future time. Hence the apostolic caution, that “for every idle word a man shall speak, he must give an account;” because this word is not without its cause and its consequence—it is a link in the chain of life, of his life too, who speaks it—it is a seed sown; and the soil, which receives the seed must sustain the tree. “Every man shall bear his own burden. Be not deceived: God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” – Gal.vi.5,7. So also Solomon—“For God” (and if his philosophical character, the order of existence and subsistence, be considered, the position is a truism) “shall bring every work into judgment” (or regulation) “with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”—Eccles. last verse.
N. B. I have condescended to a philosophical idea, to meet the wisdom of the day; but scripture very properly concludes, that if the ordering principle of being had no more than physical life, it is not very likely that the animalcula ORDERED would have a higher class, and therefore is superstitious enough to speak of God as the ORDERER—as the Fountain even of moral life, and therefore in all probability, possessing as large a portion of it, and as much intellect, as he bestowed upon Mr. Gibbon.
But, to exemplify what I mean by looking through a circumstance to the principles, which lie concealed under it; this being the pure and genuine sense of Augury.
It is an old saying, or remark, that for a wolf to cross your path without attacking you, is a good omen; but for a hare to cross and go away is bad. An author justly observes, that the reason of these seems to be this—it is happy to escape a foe, but unfortunate to let a benefit escape: and these are prototypes, first received figurations or earliest manifestations , of this or that principle having root in your life, and gradually proceeding to repullulation, effloresence and fruit.
But circumstances, either of the object or person, or of circumjacent things, will materially affect the omen. To instance—if the person have more hares than he want, it may be a wise rejection of superfluities, or a merely indifferent diurnal occurrence. If he be on the other hand, an unqualified peasant, very fond of hares, his pregnant and beloved wife longing for one, his sick child demanding a delicacy, living under a tenacious landlord, watched by a brutal game-keeper, and the hare have been feeding for nights on his uncovered cabbages and scanty turnips, and he be witholden from killing it, having passed within his reach, simply by the fear of a gaol—the omen thus complicated speaks, as truly a thermometer shows the degree of heat—that the English peasant is the dispirited slave of a wretched, puny tyrant; the coward of rapacious wealth—the silent victim of unjust legislation contrary in equity to that which declared to poor multitudes, “that they were of more value than many sparrows,” and boldly challenging to proof that, which “went forth in a fiery law,” and said to Moses, “if the oppressed cry ever so little unto me, I will hear.”
But those who are foolish in their academies, do well to be wicked in their houses, tyrants in their legislation, and contemptible to the nations around. It is well to shine in arms without force, in learning without common sense, in charity without humanity, and in religion without christianity.
This is an example of Augury.
 A person habituated to mind, will probably have perceived the principle in a much earlier and finer form.
I shall employ this Number to controvert and discuss those wretched surmises which the Egyptian darkness of modern literature has made on the rise of Augury, and with all the impudence and carelessness of fly-like inanity, attributed to the wisdom of the antients.
If the ancients advanced, that the Birds did retire at certain periods to communication with the invisible GOD, they advanced sound theology and sound philosophy; not the hellish jargon of incorrigible idiots, such as have lately disgraced, or like harpies defiled, every branch of learning. And farther, the advanced common sense: when I speak of common sense, I speak of those who have some sense, and are a degree removed from idiocy, not of any modern collegians or academicians, I assure you.
First, then they advanced the common sense of men of sense, for they only said with Pope, that
—— Reason raise o’er instinct as you can,
In this ’tis GOD directs, in that ’tis Man.
They were not so sunk in reason as to quit GOD and prefer their own wisdom: or, scripturally speaking, they had not eaten so very gluttonously of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, as Christians have.
advanced, that “GOD feedeth the young ravens when they cry,”—that “the
eyes of all wait upon GOD; and he giveth
them their food in due season, “that the fowls of the air sow not, neither do
they reap, nor gather into barns, yet the same HEAVENLY FATHER feedeth
them—” that “known unto GOD are all his Works.” This they said—What says modern philosophy—that these poor ignorant
heathens were superstitious enough to think, that “Birds went out of the sphere
of the earth at certain times—” Ah! you abominable
fools!! You don’t know, that beings may be in communication with Heaven, and
yet on earth: But, if “the
I know of no
adventurous genius, that has asserted it with more freedom than David,
particularly in the 148th Psalm, and the son of David—I assert it
too—And does England, or the territories of any poor tottering German despot,
produce a fool hardy enough to deny it? I mention German despot, in allusion to
those rascals only who oppose
There is a farther theological iniquity in barring up the only external window, by which the heathen world received the light of GOD. Scripture says, and says it to and of these Gentiles in question too—that “GOD hath not left himself without a witness in any age.” Therefore, these fellows give GOD the lie directly.
In considering lastly the philosophy of an union between the architect and all his works, their subsistence will appear autopsical evidence. If the first cause of existence be removed, how can existence continue? Therefore GOD must enter into his creation every moment as necessarily as he did the first—HE is as necessary to subsistence as existence. Thus fools! Have you anything to say against the philosophy of the birds communicating with “their Heavenly Father”. Nothing; but this is not all: If any part of creation be lost, the creation of which it makes a part must be destroyed—
“From Nature’s chain whatever link you strike
Tenth or ten thousandth breaks the chain alike.”
Under the Levitical law, nothing maimed was to be offered in sacrifice; and of the great sacrifice it was provided, that, a limb of him should not be broken. Here, however, I must leave modern philosophy the merit of having left my ground clear, and I leave it gladly—they have exploded annihilation—whereas any removal of the FIRST CAUSE is annihilation ipso facto.
I have now
galloped with a loose rein, but firm seat, over the solid fields which yield
Augury. The nations that ride best use no curb.
To divine specifically, requires a knowledge of the specific properties and accidental qualities of the bird or birds, beasts, &c.
As I have
room, I will remark that
Masons are the only Corporation, whether under the name of a church, a nation
or a society, who have melted the knowledge of GOD the CREATOR possessed by
the Antients into the same fire with the knowledge of a REDEEMER given to the Christians. May they
shine with invigorated glories! They shall! And shall give
I have the happiness to reflect, that I have now little more to do in clearing ground; a sufficiency of combustible has already been applied, all the objects of burning have been thrown on the lighted fire, and will, as the fire catches them, perish. It is of no use therefore to particularize—there is no farther occasion to talk of the d****d Leopold and Gustaff and the gang of kings “whom Hell is now moved to meet at their coming.” The cinders of newspapers, of the emigrants of FRANCE, and the guests of other countries; of lawyers, of politicians, of ministers of GOD, of adulterers, of atheists, of mathematicians, of fools of all kinds, and knaves of all kinds, now fill the air and rise in the atmosphere of this Magazine.
To those surviving this slaughter, I shall under this head of AUGURY present a few instances of the sympathies of things.
It is well
known, that in the morning of Admiral Byng’s execution, the Ramillies, wherein
his flag had been hoisted, broke her mooring chain, and rode by her bridle. It
blew a heavy gale; and so it does at almost every martial death, as Oliver
Cromwell’s, for instance. But why did not the wind drive any other ship from
the moorings, or why did it not break the bridle? By these questions I do not
mean to deny natural causes, but I mean to give spiritual their DUE weight. The coincidencies and correspondencies,
I say, are spiritual. Besides the Ramillies, every ship that bore the name,
and, recurring to the first connection of
But there was
also a singular domestic omen. During his passage to
vessels fitted out from
ORIGIN OF CERTAIN CUSTOMS.
Concluded from page 94.
The custom of
saluting or blessing people when they sneeze, is generally believed to derive
its original from a disease wherein such as sneezed died; and this seemed to be
proved from Carolus Sigonius, who in his History of Italy, makes mention of a
pestilence in the time of Gregory the Great, that proved pernicious and deadly
to those that sneezed. Yet there is an elder aera for this practice, it being
mentioned by Apuleius, who lived three hundred years before Gregory’s time, and
Petronius Arbiter, proconsul of
The ground of this so ancient custom was probably the opinion the ancients held, that sneezing was a good sign or bad; and therefore used to congratulate the one and deprecate the other by this salutation; for out of Plutarch, Aristotle, and others, we find that sneezing at certain times was held lucky, at others unlucky; and St. Austin testifies, the ancients were wont to go to bed again if they sneezed while they put on their shoes.
In several places, particularly on Malverne’s Hills in Worcestershire, when people fan their corn, and want wind, they cry Youl, Youl, Youl, to invoke it; which word (no doubt) says Mr. Gadbury, is a corruption of Æolus, the God of Winds. And others think it is from Æolus that they call the Yule-batch, or Christmas-batch, the Yule-block or Youl-block, i.e. the Christmas-block; as also the Yule-gams, that is Christmas-games, so named because about Christmas time the Eastern winds, said to be governed by Æolus, are then most prevalent.
In Herefordshire, and some other counties, the vulgar people at the prime of the moon use to say it is a fine moon, God bless her; which may be a blind zeal retained from the ancient Irish, who adored that planet, or else might proceed from the custom in Scotland, particularly in the highlands, where women are used to make a curtsey to the new moon. And that some English women do retain a touch of this Gentilism is plain, when getting over, and sitting astride on a gate or stile, the first night of a full moon, they say:—
All hail to the moon! all hail to thee!
I prithee good moon, declare to me,
This night, who my husband must be.
Perhaps the original of nailing a horse-shoe on the threshold of some people’s doors, though now pretended to keep out witches, might be from the like custom practised in Rutlandshire, where stands Burgley House, the ancient seat of the Harringtons, near Oakham, a fair market town of that county, which Lordship the Lord Harrington enjoyed, with this priviledge, That if any of noble birth came within the precinct of that Lordship, they should forfeit as an homage, a shoe from the horse whereon they rode, or else redeem it with a sum of money. In witness whereof, there are many horse-shoes nailed upon the Shire Hall door, some being of large size; and ancient fashion, others new, and of our present nobility, whose names are stamped on them; but there are some without any names.
That such homage was due it appears, because there was a suit at law formerly commenced against the Earl of Lincoln, who refused to forfeit his penalty or pay the fine.
Of the customs at funerals in Herefordshire to hire poor people to take upon them the sins of the deceased, whom they termed sin-eaters: and the practice in some parts of Lancashire and Cheshire, on the second of November, to set on a table-board a high heap of soul-cakes (like to the shew-bread in the bible) where every visitant took one, and other the like usages, I forbear to speak at large, referring to others who have writ thereof, and now come to enumerate some few who have writ of Augury, of which there are these Authors: Amphiateus, Tyresias, Mopsus, Aphilotus, Chalcas, Romulus, and Cornelius Agrippa.