Signing The Covenant with the Devil
The signing of a covenant does not occur in every case and was probably a late introduction. Forbes, as quoted above, gives the contract between the Devil and his follower, with the part which each engages to perform. In Somerset the witches signed whether they could write or not, those who could not write putting a cross or circle as their mark
The contract was said to be signed always in the blood of the witch, and here we come to a confusion between the mark made on the person and the mark made by the person. It seems clear that part of the ceremony of initiation was the cutting of the skin of the candidate to the effusion of blood. This is the early rite, and it seems probable that when the written contract came into vogue the blood was found to be a convenient writing-fluid, or was offered to the Devil in the form of a signature. This signing of a book plays a great part in the New England trials.
The contract was usually for the term of the witch's life, but sometimes it was for a term of years, the number of which varies considerably. As Scot says, 'Sometimes their homage with their oath and bargain is required for a certain term of years; sometimes for ever.' Popular belief assigns seven years as the length of time, at the end of which period the Devil was supposed to kill his votary. The tradition seems to be founded on fact, but there is also a certain amount of evidence that the witch was at liberty to discontinue or renew the contract at the end of the allotted term. Such a renewal seems also to have been made on the appointment of a new Chief. In France, England, and New England the term of years is mentioned; in Scotland it is mentioned by the legal authorities, but from the fact that it occurs seldom, if ever, in the trials it would seem that the contract of the Scotch witches was for life.