THERE WERE simple folk in Strasbourg in 1903 when a local paper contained the following report:
An agent had sold a to an old couple living in a village near Strasbourg, and a few days after happened to remember that he had forgotten to give them any oil with it. He went to their house, and as he found no one in he placed the bottle on the coping under the window. In the evening when the couple returned from the fields, where they had been gathering grapes, they noticed the bottle, but could not understand where it had come from.
At last the wife declared that she felt sure that it had been put there by a witch, as she had noticed that during the last few days her cows had given less milk than usual. Invoking the help of all the saints whose names she could remember, she carried the bottle to an old man in the village who had the reputation of being able to drive away witches.
The wise man instantly declared that the couple had incurred the ill-will of an evil spirit. That their cows gave less milk was only the beginning of their misfortunes, he declared; much worse was to come. Of course, the couple asked him to help, no matter how much it would cost, and the wise man declared himself to do so for the modest price of 10 marks ($2.50). A mighty bonfire was built, and the content of the bottle was poured into the flames, which suddenly became brighter, a sure sign that the stuff must have come from a witch.
The bottle was then stoned and buried in a corner of the churchyard, and the old women went home to milk her cows, which she declared gave the usual quantity of milk, and the whole village sung the praises of the man who had frustrated the plans of the witch; and all attempts of the village parson to convince them of their foolishness were in vain, even when the agent came back and declared that he had left the bottle at the house.
No one denied that he might have left the bottle, but if so it had been changed by the witch, whom many of the villagers declared to have seen writhing in the flames.