raise up confederate spirits ’Bout windmills


In White Devil by John Webster, Act 2, Scene 2, a conjurer is explaining some forms of witchcraft and magic, I cant get what is this one:

Others that raise up their confederate spirits
’Bout windmills, and endanger their own necks
For making of a squib;

does it mean they make fire by the help of a windmill so that people might think this is ghost, or is it s.th totally different from my presumption?
  • PaulQ

    English - England
    Their confederate spirits = ghosts of the dead with whom they are in league.
    About windmills = with/using stupid schemes and fantasies
    making a squib = in order/ as an excuse to make an explosion
    Last edited:


    Senior Member
    USA - English
    The Conjurer (who apparently does have a genuine ability to perform real magic) is speaking dismissively of those who claim to be able to perform magic, but who instead merely cheat people through tricks and illusions.

    My own understanding of this passage is that the Conjurer is saying that some phony magicians claim to be calling and commanding ghosts (raise up their confederate spirits), but all they are really doing is standing by a windmill -- and so the white sheets flying through the air are not ghosts, but the whirling windmill sails. These phony magicians also put themselves at risk (endanger their own necks) by trying to concoct fireworks (For making of a squib) which apparently will also be used as illusions in their deceptions.


    English - England
    No sheets, but otherwise :thumbsup:. I should have looked at OED earlier:
    Windmill: 4. fig. and allusively.†a. A fanciful notion, a crotchet; a visionary scheme or project. Obs.
    1612 J. Webster White Divel ii. ii. 12 Others that raise up their confederate spirits, 'Bout wind-mils.
    Interestingly, this pre-dates Don Quixote.
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