“Of Superstition” — Francis Bacon

“Of Superstition” by Francis Bacon

IT WERE better to have no opinion of God at all, than such an opinion, as is unworthy of him. For the one is unbelief, the other is contumely; and certainly superstition is the reproach of the Deity. Plutarch saith well to that purpose: Surely (saith he) I had rather a great deal, men should say, there was no such man at all, as Plutarch, than that they should say, that there was one Plutarch, that would eat his children as soon as they were born; as the poets speak of Saturn. And as the contumely is greater towards God, so the danger is greater towards men. Atheism leaves a man to sense, to philosophy, to natural piety, to laws, to reputation; all which may be guides to an outward moral virtue, though religion were not; but superstition dismounts all these, and erecteth an absolute monarchy, in the minds of men. Therefore theism did never perturb states; for it makes men wary of themselves, as looking no further: and we see the times inclined to atheism (as the time of Augustus Caesar) were civil times. But superstition hath been the confusion of many states, and bringeth in a new primum mobile, that ravisheth all the spheres of government. The master of superstition, is the people; and in all superstition, wise men follow fools; and arguments are fitted to practice, in a reversed order. It was gravely said by some of the prelates in the Council of Trent, where the doctrine of the Schoolmen bare great sway, that the Schoolmen were like astronomers, which did feign eccentrics and epicycles, and such engines of orbs, to save the phenomena; though they knew there were no such things; and in like manner, that the Schoolmen had framed a number of subtle and intricate axioms, and theorems, to save the practice of the church. The causes of superstition are: pleasing and sensual rites and ceremonies; excess of outward and pharisaical holiness; overgreat reverence of traditions, which cannot but load the church; the stratagems of prelates, for their own ambition and lucre; the favoring too much of good intentions, which openeth the gate to conceits and novelties; the taking an aim at divine matters, by human, which cannot but breed mixture of imaginations: and, lastly, barbarous times, especially joined with calamities and disasters. Superstition, without a veil, is a deformed thing; for, as it addeth deformity to an ape, to be so like a man, so the similitude of superstition to religion, makes it the more deformed. And as wholesome meat corrupteth to little worms, so good forms and orders corrupt, into a number of petty observances. There is a superstition in avoiding superstition, when men think to do best, if they go furthest from the superstition, formerly received; therefore care would be had that (as it fareth in ill purgings) the good be not taken away with the bad; which commonly is done, when the people is the reformer.

 

“A Snake Is Afraid of a Man That Is Naked,” and Other Great Occult Tips on Animals (Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim)

From Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy or Magic, (1533)

The bird called bustard flies away at the sight of a horse, and a hart runs away at the sight of a ram, as also of a viper.

An elephant trembles at the hearing of the grunting of a hog, so doth a lion at the sight of a cock; and panthers will not touch them that are anointed all over with the broth of a hen, especially if garlic hath been boiled in it.

There is also enmity betwixt foxes and swans, bulls and jackdaws.

Amongst birds, also, some are at perpetual strife one with another, as also with other animals, as jackdaws and owls, the kite and crows, the turtle and ring-tail, egepis and eagles, harts and dragons.

Also amongst water animals there is enmity, as betwixt dolphins and whirlpools, mullets and pikes, lampreys and congers.

Also the fish called pourcontrel makes the lobster so much afraid that the lobster, seeing the other but near him, is struck dead.

The lobster and conger tear one the other.

The civet cat is said to stand so in awe of the panther that he hath no power to resist him or touch his skin; and they say that if the skins of both of them be hanged up one against the other, the hairs of the panther’s skin fall off.

And Orus Apollo saith in his hieroglyphics, if any one be girt about with the skin of the civet cat that he may pass safely through the middle of his enemies and not at all be afraid.

Also the lamb is very much afraid of the wolf and flies from him. And they say that if the tail or skin or head of a wolf be hanged upon the sheep-coate the sheep are much troubled and cannot eat their meat for fear.

And Pliny makes mention of a bird, called marlin, that breaks crows’ eggs, whose young are so annoyed by the fox that she also will pinch and pull the fox’s whelps, and the fox herself also; which when the crows see, they help the fox against her, as against a common enemy.

The little bird called a linnet, living in thistles, hates asses, because they eat the flowers of thistles.

Also there is such a bitter enmity betwixt the little bird called esalon and the ass that their blood will not mix together, and that at the braying of the ass both the eggs and young of the esalon perish.

There is also such a disagreement betwixt the olive-tree and a wanton, that if she plant it, it will either be always unfruitful or altogether wither.

A lion fears nothing so much as fired torches, and will be tamed by nothing so much as by these; and the wolf fears neither sword nor spear, but a stone—by the throwing of which, a wound being made, worms breed in the wolf.

A horse fears a camel so that he cannot endure to see so much as his picture.

An elephant, when he rageth, is quieted by seeing of a cock.

A snake is afraid of a man that is naked, but pursues a man that is clothed.

A mad bull is tamed by being tied to a fig-tree.

(NB: I took the editorial liberty of turning Agrippa’s marvelous paragraphs into a list, which I think reads a bit better, or at least more absurdly).