SIDONIA THE SORCERESS V1
SIDONIA THE SORCERESS V1
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SIDONIA THE SORCERESS
THE SUPPOSED DESTROYER OF THE WHOLE REIGNING DUCAL HOUSE OF
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
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 Daehnert fourth
volume article 7 July number of the year 1755.
Daehnert 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 Daehnert 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
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
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
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
maidens have avenged themselves upon their false lovers by means
of magic. So she at last yielded to the temptations of Satan and
after some years learned the secrets of witchcraft from an old
woman. By means of this unholy knowledge along with several other
evil deeds she so bewitched the whole princely race that the six
young princes who were each wedded to a young wife remained
childless; but no public notice was taken until Duke Francis
succeeded to the duchy in 1618. He was a ruthless enemy to
witches; all in the land were sought out with great diligence and
burned and as they unanimously named the Abbess of Marienfliess
[Footnote: Sidonia never attained this dignity though Micraelius
and others gave her the title.] upon the rack she was brought to
Stettin by command of the Duke where she freely confessed all the
evil wrought by her sorceries upon the princely race.
"The Duke promised her life and pardon if she would free the other
princes from the ban; but her answer was that she had enclosed the
spell in a padlock and flung it into the sea and having asked
the devil if he could restore the padlock again to her he
replied 'No; that was forbidden to him;' by which every one can
perceive that the destiny of God was in the matter.
"And so it was that notwithstanding the intercession of all the
neighbouring courts Sidonia was brought to the scaffold at
Stettin there beheaded and afterwards burned.
"Before her death the Prince ordered her portrait to be painted
in her old age and prison garb behind that which represented her
in the prime of youth. After his death Bogislaff XIV. the last
Duke gave this picture to my grandmother whose husband had also
been killed by the Sorceress. My father received it from her and
I from him along with the story which is here written down.
"HENRY GUSTAVUS SCHWALENBERG."
[Footnote: The style of this "Inscription" proves it to have been
written in the beginning of the preceding century but it is first
noticed by Daehnert. I have had his version compared with the
original in Stargord--through the kindness of a friend who
assures me that the transcription is perfectly correct and yet
can he be mistaken? for Horst (Magic Library vol. ii. p. 246)
gives the conclusion thus: "From whom my father received it and I
from him along with the story precisely as given here by H. G.
Schwalenberg." By this reading which must have escaped my friend
a different sense is given to the passage; by the last reading it
would appear that the "I" was a Bork who had taken the tale from
Schwalenberg's history of the Pomeranian Dukes a work which
exists only in manuscript and to which I have had no access; but
if we admit the first reading then the writer must be a
Schwalenberg. Even the "grandmother" will not clear up the matter
for Sidonia when put to the torture confessed at the seventh
question that she had caused the death of Doctor Schwalenberg (he
was counsellor in Stettin then) and at the eleventh question
that her brother's son Otto Bork had died also by her means. Who
then is this "I"? Even Sidonia's picture we see utters
In my opinion the writer was Schwalenberg and Horst seems to have
taken his version from Paulis's "General History of Pomerania"
vol. iv. p. 396 and not from the original of Daehnert.
For the picture at that early period was not in the possession of
a Bork but belonged to the Count von Mellin in Schillersdorf as
passages from many authors can testify. This is confirmed by
another paper found along with that containing the tradition but
of much more modern appearance which states that the picture was
removed by successive inheritors first from Schillersdorf to
Stargord from thence to Heinrichsberg (there are three towns in
Pomerania of this name) and finally from Heinrichsberg in the
year 1834 was a second time removed to Stargord by the last
This Schillersdorf lies between Gartz and Stettin on the Oder.
LETTER OF DR. THEODORE PLOeNNIES
TO BOGISLAFF THE FOURTEENTH THE LAST DUKE OF POMERANIA.
MOST EMINENT PRINCE AND GRACIOUS LORD--Serene Prince your
Highness gave me a commission in past years to travel through all
Pomerania and if I met with any persons who could give me certain
"information" respecting the notorious and accursed witch Sidonia
von Bork to set down carefully all they stated and bring it
afterwards into _connexum_ for your Highness. It is well
known that Duke Francis of blessed memory never would permit the
accursed deeds of this woman to be made public or her confession
upon the rack fearing to bring scandal upon the princely house.
But your Serene Highness viewed the subject differently and said
that it was good for every one but especially princes to look
into the clear mirror of history and behold there the faults and
follies of their race. For this reason may no truth be omitted
To such princely commands I have proved myself obedient
collecting all information whether good or evil and concealing
nothing. But the greater number who related these things to me
could scarcely speak for tears for wherever I travelled
throughout Pomerania as the faithful servant of your Highness
nothing was heard but lamentations from old and young rich and
poor that this execrable Sorceress out of Satanic wickedness
had destroyed this illustrious race who had held their lands from
no emperor in feudal tenure like other German princes but in
their own right as absolute lords since five hundred years and
though for twenty years it seemed to rest upon five goodly
princes yet by permission of the incomprehensible God it has now
melted away until your Highness stands the last of his race and
no prospect is before us that it will ever be restored but with
your Highness (God have mercy upon us!) will be utterly
extinguished and for ever. "Woe to us how have we sinned!"
(Lament v. 16). [Footnote: Marginal note of Duke Bogislaff
XIV.-"In tuas manus commendo spiritum meum quia tu me redemisti
I pray therefore the all-merciful God that He will remove me
before your Highness from this vale of tears that I may not
behold the last hour of your Highness or of my poor fatherland.
Rather than witness these things I would a thousand times sooner
lie quiet in my grave.
SIDONIA THE SORCERESS.
_FROM THE RECEPTION OF SIDONIA AT THE DUCAL COURT OF WOLGAST
UNTIL HER BANISHMENT THEREFROM._
Of the education of Sidonia.
Of the bear-hunt at Stramehl and the strange things that befell
How Otto von Bork received the homage of his son-in-law Vidante
von Meseritz--And how the bride and bridegroom proceeded
afterwards to the chapel--Item what strange things happened at
How Sidonia came to the court at Wolgast and of what further
happened to her there.
Sidonia knows nothing of God's Word but seeks to learn it from
the young Prince of Wolgast.
How the young Prince prepared a petition to his mother the
Duchess in favour of Sidonia--Item of the strange doings of the
Laplander with his magic drum.
How Ulrich von Schwerin buries his spouse and Doctor Gerschovius
comforts him out of God's Word.
How Sidonia rides upon the pet stag and what evil consequences
How Sidonia makes the young Prince break his word--Item how Clara
von Dewitz in vain tries to turn her from her evil ways.
How Sidonia wished to learn the mystery of love-potions but is
hindered by Clara and the young Prince.
How Sidonia repeated the catechism of Dr. Gerschovius and how she
whipped the young Casimir out of pure evil-mindedness.
Of Appelmann's knavery--Item how the birthday of her Highness was
celebrated and Sidonia managed to get to the dance with the
uproar caused thereby.
How Sidonia is sent away to Stettin--Item of the young lord's
dangerous illness and what happened in consequence.
How Duke Barnim of Stettin and Otto Bork accompany Sidonia back to
Of the grand battue and what the young Duke and Sidonia resolved
How the ghost continued to haunt the castle and of its daring
behaviour--Item how the young lord regained his strength and was
able to visit Crummyn with what happened to him there.
Of Ulrich's counsels--Item how Clara von Dewitz came upon the
track of the ghost.
How the horrible wickedness of Sidonia was made apparent; and how
in consequence thereof she was banished with ignominy from the
ducal court of Wolgast.
_FROM THE BANISHMENT OF SIDONIA FROM THE DUCAL COURT OF WOLGAST
UP TO HER RECEPTION IN THE CONVENT OF MARIENFLIESS._
Of the quarrel between Otto Bork and the Stargardians which
caused him to demand the dues upon the Jena.
How Otto von Bork demands the Jena dues from the Stargardians and
how the burgomaster Jacob Appelmann takes him prisoner and locks
him up in the Red Sea.
Of Otto Bork's dreadful suicide--Item how Sidonia and Johann
Appelmann were brought before the burgomaster.