John Wagstaff, 'Strange Kind of Voices' (1671)

Compiled by Steven Connor as part of The Dumbstruck Archive, a continuing, online supplement to Dumbstruck: A Cultural History of Ventriloquism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).

Chapter 1 

That the Bible hath been falsly translated in those places which speak of Witchcraft.

The third errour of our Translatours is, their mistaking a consulter with Oracles or false Prophets, for a consulter with familiar spirits. The Hebrew words are baalat-ob, which word Ob signifies in Scripture, sometimes the gift of Oracling, and sometimes the person that hath such a gift. It signifies also a bottle, or hollow Vessel, and from this signification, I suppose the other came. For it is certain that Oraclers, when they pronounced their Oracles, did use to counterfeit strange kind of voices, that they might seem not to be humane. To this purpose, ‘tis not unlikely, that they made use of a bottle, or trunk, or some other hollow vessel, which they spake through, whereby their voices must needs be very much altered, especially if they were in a cave or room under ground, when they made answer to enquiries. These kind of cheating tricks are plainly alluded unto by the Prophet Isaiah, in these words; And thy voice shall be as of an Oracler out of the earth, and thy speech shall peep out of the dust. Here I suppose, the Prophet chiefly alludes unto the Necromantick Oracler, or one that pretended to consult with the dead: Who himself or his confederate, did therefore counterfeit a voyce, like the peiping of a Chicken, that it might the more plausibly seem to be the small voyce of a poor departed Ghost. This will appear more plainly, if we consider the nineteenth verse of the eight Chapter of Isaiah, according to the Translation of Junius and Tremelius, our own being, hardly sense: The words are these, For when they say unto you, ask counsel of Oracles and Soothsayers, who peep and mutter; should not a people ask counsel of their God? Should they ask counsel of the dead for the living? Now as the Oraclers, when they pretended to receive answers from the dead, would piep like Chickens; So when they delivered the mind of a God or a Daemon, they counterfeited other-guise tones. In which way of counterfeiting, some were such excellent Artists that they stood in need of no instrument to help them; in regard they could speak with their mouths shut, and their voice would seem to come out of their bellies, as if they had been really possest with a talking devil: hence they were called Engastrimuthians by the Greeks, as also they were called Eurycleans, from one Eurycles, a famous Impostour of this kind. As as Plutarch testifies, these Engastrimuthians or Eurycleans, were antiently called Pythons: Now python and pneuma pythone in Greek doth exactly render the Hebrew Ob. Thus if we take Ob for an Oracler, and the Spirit of Oracling, we may very commodiously with Junius and Tremelius translate that passage in the Chronicles, concerning Manasses, where it is said of him gnashah ob he made or set up an Oracle, that is, he ordained and appointed Oraclers. For the word gnashah signifies to make or finish. Wherefore because it would be ridiculous to say, that Manasses made familiar Spirits. Our Translatours have altered the true signification of gnashah, and translate it, though erroneously, as if it signified to deal with, affirming that Manasses dealt with familiar Spirits. But whosever seriously views and considers that place, he shall find it a meer description of Idolatry, where there is mention of high places and groves, and of Altars dedicated not only to Baal, but unto the whole host of Heaven, as also of the setting up of a carved Idol in the very house of God. Wherefore it was suitable to mention also that crew of men who were set apart by Manasses, to officiate in this Idolatrous worship; Such as were the various sorts of Oraclers, and Miracle-mongers. But how Witches should come in here, I cannot tell, no nor how Devils neither, unless you believe that devils made answer at the Heathen Oracles. Which if you do, for my part I must crave leave to dissent, judgeing them to be nothing but the impostures of men. And as Demosthenes did wisely observe in his dayes, that the Delphian Oracle did philippisein, so I am confident that the Hammonean did alexandreisein and that all the rest of the cheating pack did one way or other anthropisein.

John Wagstaffe, The Question of Witchcraft Debated: Or a Discourse against their Opinion that affirm Witches, Considered and enlarged. 2nd edn (London: for Edward Millington, 1671), pp. 16-20