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SIDONIA THE SORCERESS
THE SUPPOSED DESTROYER OF THE WHOLE REIGNING DUCAL HOUSE OF POMERANIA
TRANSLATED BY LADY WILDE
THE AMBER WITCH
WILLIAM MEINHOLD DOCTOR OF THEOLOGY
IN TWO VOLUMES VOL. I.
DEDICATION OF THE GERMAN EDITION.
TO THE ILLUSTRIOUS
_LADY LUCY DUFF GORDON,_
YOUNG AND GIFTED TRANSLATOR
_"THE AMBER WITCH,"_
THIS WORK IS RESPECTFULLY INSCRIBED.
Amongst all the trials for witchcraft with which we are acquainted, few have attained so great a celebrity as that of the Lady Canoness of Pomerania, Sidonia von Bork. She was accused of having by her sorceries caused sterility in many families, particularly in that of the ancient reigning house of Pomerania, and also of having destroyed the noblest scions of that house by an early and premature death. Notwithstanding the intercessions and entreaties of the Prince of Brandenburg and Saxony, and of the resident Pomeranian nobility, she was publicly executed for these crimes on the 19th of August 1620, on the public scaffold, at Stettin; the only favour granted being, that she was allowed to be beheaded first and then burned.
This terrible example caused such a panic of horror, that contemporary authors scarcely dare to mention her name, and, even then, merely by giving the initials. This forbearance arose partly from respect towards the ancient family of the Von Borks, who then, as now, were amongst the most illustrious and wealthy in the land, and also from the fear of offending the reigning ducal family, as the Sorceress, in her youth, had stood in a very near and tender relation to the young Duke Ernest Louis von Pommern-Wolgast.
These reasons will be sufficiently comprehensible to all who are familiar with the disgust and aversion in which the paramours of the evil one were held in that age, so that even upon the rack these subjects were scarcely touched upon.
The first public, judicial, yet disconnected account of Sidonia's trial, we find in the Pomeranian Library of Dähnert, fourth volume, article 7, July number of the year 1755.
Dähnert here acknowledges, page 241, that the numbers from 302 to 1080, containing the depositions of the witnesses, were not forthcoming up to his time, but that a priest in Pansin, near Stargard, by name Justus Sagebaum, pretended to have them in his hands, and accordingly, in the fifth volume of the above-named journal (article 4, of April 1756), some very important extracts appear from them.
The records, however, again disappeared for nearly a century, until Barthold announced, some short time since, [Footnote: "History of Rugen and Pomerania," vol. iv. p. 486.] that he had at length discovered them in the Berlin Library; but he does not say which, for, according to Schwalenberg, who quotes Dähnert, there existed two or three different copies, namely, the _Protocollum Jodoci Neumarks,_ the so-called _Acta Lothmanni,_ and that of _Adami Moesters,_ contradicting each other in the most important matters. Whether I have drawn the history of my Sidonia from one or other of the above-named sources, or from some entirely new, or, finally, from that alone which is longest known, I shall leave undecided.
Every one who has heard of the animadversions which "The Amber Witch" excited, many asserting that it was only dressed-up history, though I repeatedly assured them it was simple fiction, will pardon me if I do not here distinctly declare whether Sidonia be history or fiction.
The truth of the material, as well as of the formal contents, can be tested by any one by referring to the authorities I have named; and in connection with these, I must just remark, that in order to spare the reader any difficulties which might present themselves to eye and ear, in consequence of the old-fashioned mode of writing, I have modernised the orthography, and amended the grammar and structure of the phrases. And lastly, I trust that all just thinkers of every party will pardon me for having here and there introduced my supernatural views of Christianity. A man's principles, as put forward in his philosophical writings, are in general only read by his own party, and not by that of his adversaries. A Rationalist will fly from a book by a Supernaturalist as rapidly as this latter from one by a Friend of Light. But by introducing my views in the manner I have adopted, in place of publishing them in a distinct volume, I trust that all parties will be induced to peruse them, and that many will find, not only what is worthy their particular attention, but matter for deep and serious reflection.
I must now give an account of those portraits of Sidonia which are extant.
As far as I know, three of these (besides innumerable sketches) exist, one in Stettin, the other in the lower Pomeranian town Plathe, and a third at Stargard, near Regenwalde, in the castle of the Count von Bork. I am acquainted only with the last-named picture, and agree with many in thinking that it is the only original.
Sidonia is here represented in the prime of mature beauty--a gold net is drawn over her almost golden yellow hair, and her neck, arms, and hands are profusely covered with jewels. Her bodice of bright purple is trimmed with costly fur, and the robe is of azure velvet. In her hand she carries a sort of pompadour of brown leather, of the most elegant form and finish. Her eyes and mouth are not pleasing, notwithstanding their great beauty--in the mouth, particularly, one can discover an expression of cold malignity.
The painting is beautifully executed, and is evidently of the school of Louis Kranach.
Immediately behind this form there is another looking over the shoulder of Sidonia, like a terrible spectre (a highly poetical idea), for this spectre is Sidonia herself painted as a Sorceress. It must have been added, after a lapse of many years, to the youthful portrait, which belongs, as I have said, to the school of Kranach, whereas the second figure portrays unmistakably the school of Rubens. It is a fearfully characteristic painting, and no imagination could conceive a contrast more shudderingly awful. The Sorceress is arrayed in her death garments--white with black stripes; and round her thin white locks is bound a narrow band of black velvet spotted with gold. In her hand is a kind of a work-basket, but of the simplest workmanship and form.
Of the other portraits I cannot speak from my own personal inspection; but to judge by the drawings taken from them to which I have had access, they appear to differ completely, not only in costume, but in the character of the countenance, from the one I have described, which there is no doubt must be the original, not only because it bears all the characteristics of that school of painting which approached nearest to the age in which Sidonia lived--namely, from 1540 to 1620--but also by the fact that a sheet of paper bearing an inscription was found behind the painting, betraying evident marks of age in its blackened colour, the form of the letters, and the expressions employed. The inscription is as follows:--
"This Sidonia von Bork was in her youth the most beautiful and the richest of the maidens of Pomerania. She inherited many estates from her parents, and thus was in her own right a possessor almost of a county. So her pride increased, and many noble gentlemen who sought her in marriage were rejected with disdain, as she considered that a count or prince alone could be worthy of her hand. For these reasons she attended the Duke's court frequently, in the hopes of winning over one of the seven young princes to her love. At length she was successful; Duke Ernest Louis von Wolgast, aged about twenty, and the handsomest youth in Pomerania, became her lover, and even promised her his hand in marriage. This promise he would faithfully have kept if the Stettin princes, who were displeased at the prospect of this unequal alliance, had not induced him to abandon Sidonia, by means of the portrait of the Princess Hedwig of Brunswick, the most beautiful princess in all Germany. Sidonia thereupon fell into such despair, that she resolved to renounce marriage for ever, and bury the remainder of her life in the convent of Marienfliess, and thus she did. But the wrong done to her by the Stettin princes lay heavy upon her heart, and the desire for revenge increased with years; besides, in place of reading the Bible, her private hours were passed studying the _Amadis_, wherein she found many examples of how forsaken
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