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§ 59. Witchcraft and its Punishment.
Perhaps no chapter in human history is more revolting than the chapter which records the wild belief in witchcraft and the merciless punishments meted out for it in Western Europe in the century just preceding the Protestant Reformation and the succeeding century.916916 Lempens pronounces the prosecution of witchcraft the greatest crime of all times, das grösste Verbrechen aller Zeiten. Witches were called fascinaret, strigimagae, lamiae, phytonissae, strigae, streges, maleficae, Gazarii, that is, Cathari, and Valdenses, etc. For the derivation of the German term, Hexe, see J. Francke’s discussion in Hansen, Quellen, pp. 615-670. In the second half of that century, the Church and society were thrown into a panic over witchcraft, and Christendom seemed to be suddenly infested with a great company of bewitched people, who yielded themselves to the irresistible discipline of Satan. The mania spread from Rome and Spain to Bremen and Scotland. Popes, lawyers, physicians and ecclesiastics of every grade yielded their assent, and the only voices lifted up in protest which have come down to us from the Middle Ages were the voices of victims who were subjected to torture and perished in the flames. No Reformer uttered a word against it. On the contrary, Luther was a stout believer in the reality of demonic agency, and pronounced its adepts deserving of the flames. Calvin allowed the laws of Geneva against it to stand. Bishop Jewel’s sermon before Queen Elizabeth in 1562 was perhaps the immediate occasion of a new law on the subject.917917 In Protestant Scotland the iron collar and gag were used. The last trial in England occurred in 1712. A woman was executed for witchcraft in Seville in 1781 and another in Glarus in 1782. Dr. Diefenbach, in his Aberglaube, etc., attempts to prove that the belief in witchcraft was more deepseated in Protestant circles than in the Catholic Church. Funk, Kirchengesch., p. 419, Hefele, Kirchengesch., p. 522, and other Catholic historians take care to represent the share Protestants had in the persecution of witches as equal to the share of the Catholics. Baxter proved the reality of witchcraft in his Certainty of the World of Spirits. On the shores of New England the delusion had its victims, at Salem, 1692, and a century later, 1768, John Wesley, referring to occurrences in his own time, declared that "giving up witchcraft was, in effect, giving up the Bible."
In the establishment of the Inquisition, 1215, Innocent III. made no mention of sorcery and witchcraft. The omission may be explained by two considerations. Provision was made for the prosecution of sorcerers by the state, and heretical depravity, a comparatively novel phenomenon for the Middle Ages, was in Innocent’s age regarded as the imminent danger to which the Church was exposed.
Witchcraft was one of the forms of maleficium, the general term adopted by the Middle Ages from Roman usage for demonology and the dark arts, but it had characteristic features of its own.918918 Alexander Hales distinguished eight sorts of maleficium. Martin V. and Eugenius IV. call the workers of the dark arts sortilegi, divinatores, demonum invocatores, carminatores, conjuratores, superstitiosi, augures, utentes artibus nefariis et prohibitis. See Hansen, Quellen, p. 16 sqq. Henry IV.’s council of bishops, met at Worms, 1076, in deposing Gregory VII., accused him of witchcraft and making covenant with the devil. These were the transport of the bewitched through the air, their meetings with devils at the so-called sabbats and indulgence in the lowest forms of carnal vice with them. Some of these features were mentioned in the canon episcopi,—the bishop’s canon,—which appeared first in the 10th century and was incorporated by Gratian in his collection of canon law, 1150. But this canon treated as a delusion the belief that wicked women were accustomed to ride together in troops through the air at night in the suite of the Pagan goddess, Diana, into whose service they completely yielded themselves, and this in spite of the fact that women confessed to this affinity.919919 Sceleratae mulieres ... credunt se et profitentur nocturnis horis cum Diana paganorum dea et innumera multitudine mulierum equitare super quasdam bestas, etc. Hansen, Quellen, p. 88 sq. The night-riding, John of Salisbury, d. 1182, treated as an illusion with which Satan vexed the minds of women; but another Englishman, Walter Map, in the same century, reports the wild orgies of demons with heretics, to whom the devil appeared as a tom-cat.920920 See Vol. V., I. 889-897, and Hansen, Zauberwahn, p. 144.
From the middle of the 13th century the distinctive features of witchcraft began to engage the serious attention of the Church authorities. During the reign of Gregory IX., 1227–1241, it became evident to them that the devil, not satisfied with inoculating Western Europe with doctrinal heresy, had determined to vex Christendom with a new exhibition of his malice in works of sorcery and witchcraft. Strange cases were occurring which the inquisitors of heresy were quick to detect. The Dominican Chantimpré tells of the daughter of a count of Schwanenburg, who was carried every night through the air, even eluding the strong hold of a Franciscan who one night tried to hold her back. In 1275 a woman of Toulouse, under torture, confessed she had indulged in sexual intercourse with a demon for many years and given birth to a monster, part wolf and part serpent, which for two years she fed on murdered children. She was burnt by the civil tribunal.
But it is not till the 15th century that the era of witchcraft properly begins. From about 1430 it was treated as a distinct cult, carefully defined and made the subject of many treatises. The punishments to be meted out for it were carefully laid down, as also the methods by which witches should be detected and tried. The cases were no longer sporadic and exceptional; they were regarded as being a gild or sect marshalled by Satan to destroy faith from the earth.
It is probable that the responsibility for the spread of the wild witch mania rests chiefly with the popes. Pope after pope countenanced and encouraged the belief. Not a single utterance emanated from a pope to discourage it.921921 Michelet, p. 9, says: "I unfalteringly declare that the witch appeared in the age of that deep despair which the gentry of the Church engendered. The witch is a crime of their own achieving." Döllinger, Papstthum, p. 123, says that witchcraft in its different manifestations, from the 13th to the 17th century, is "a product of the faith in the plenary authority of the pope. This may seem to be a paradox, but it is not hard to prove." Hoensbroech’s language, I., 381, is warm but true, when he says, "In all this period the pope was the patron and the prop of the belief in witchcraft, spreading it and confirming it." Pope after pope called upon the Inquisition to punish witches.
The list of papal deliverances opened in 1233, when Gregory IX., addressing the bishops of Mainz and Hildesheim, accepted the popular demonology in its crudest forms.922922 A translation of Gregory’s bull, Vox rama, is given by Hoensbroech, I. 215-218. See Döllinger: Papstthum, pp. 125, 144. The devil, so Gregory asserted, was appearing in the shapes of a toad, a pallid ghost and a black cat. In language too obscene to be repeated, he described at length the orgies which took place at the meetings of men and women with demons. Where medicines did not cure, iron and fire were to be used. The rotting flesh was to be cut out. Did not Elijah slay the four hundred priests of Baal and Moses put idolaters to death?
Before the close of the 13th century, popes themselves were accused of having familiar spirits and practising sorcery, as John XXI., 1276, and Boniface VIII. Boniface went so far, 1303, as to order the trial of an English bishop, Walter of Coventry and Lichfield, on the charge of having made a pact with the devil and habitually kissing the devil’s posterior parts. Under his successor, Clement, the gross charges of wantonness with the devil were circulated against the Knights of the Temple. In his work, De maleficiis, Boniface VIII.’s physician, Arnold of Villanova, stated with scientific precision the satanic devices for disturbing and thwarting the marital relation. Among the popes of the 14th century, John XXII. is distinguished for the credit he gave to all sorts of malefic arts and his instructions to the inquisitors to proceed against persons in league with the devil.923923 So, In 1326, John inveighed against those who cum morte foedus ineunt et pactum faciunt cum inferno. For the text of this and other papal documents, see Hansen, Quellen, pp. 1-37.
Side by side with the papal utterances went the authoritative statements of the Schoolmen. Leaning upon Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, d. 1274, accepted as real the cohabitation of human beings with demons, and declared that old women had the power by the glance of their eye of injecting into young people a certain evil essence. If the horrible beliefs of the Middle Ages on the subject of witchcraft are to be set aside, then the bulls of Leo XIII. and Pius X.924924 In his bull Pascendi gregis, 1907. pronouncing Thomas the authoritative guide of Catholic theology must be modified.
The definitions of the Schoolmen justified the demand which papal deliverances made, that the Church tribunal has at least equal jurisdiction with the tribunal of the state in ferreting out and prosecuting the adepts of the dark arts. Manuals of procedure in cases of sorcery used by the Inquisition date back at least to 1270.925925 Hansen: Zauberwahn, pp. 241, 263 sq., 271. The famous Interrogatory of Bernard Guy of 1320 contains formulas on the subject. The canonists, however, had difficulty in defining the point at which maleficium became a capital crime. Oldradus, professor of canon law in turn at Bologna, Padua and Avignon, sought, about 1325, to draw a precise distinction between the two, and gave the opinion that, only when sorcery savors strongly of heresy, should it be dealt with as heresy was dealt with, the position assumed before by Alexander IV., 1258–1260. The final step was taken when Eymericus, in his Inquisitorial Directory and special tracts, 1370–1380, affirmed the close affinity between maleficium and heresy, and threw the door wide open for the most rigorous measures against malefics.
To such threefold authorization was added the weight of the great influence of the University of Paris, which, in 1378, two years after the issue of Eymericus’ work, sent out 28 articles affirming the reality of maleficium.
Proceeding to the second period in the history of our subject, beginning with 1430, it is found to teem with tracts and papal deliverances on witchcraft.
Gerson, the leading theologian of his age, said it was heresy and impiety to question the practice of the malefic arts, and Eugenius IV., in several deliverances, beginning with 1434, spoke in detail of those who made pacts with demons and sacrificed to them.926926 Principis tenebrarum suasus et illusiones caecitate noxia sectantes demonibus immolant, eos adorant, etc. illis homagium faciunt, etc. Hansen, Quellen, p. 17. Witchcraft was about to take the place in men’s minds which heresy had occupied in the age of Innocent III. The frightful mania was impending which spread through Latin Christendom under the Renaissance popes, from Pius II. to Clement VII., and without a dissenting voice received their sanction. Of the Humanist, Pius II., better things might have been expected, but he also, in 1459, fulminated against the malefics of Brittany. To what length the Vatican could go in sanctioning the crassest superstition is seen from Sixtus IV.’s bull, 1471, in which that pontiff reserved to himself the right to manufacture and consecrate the little waxen figures of lambs, the touch of which was pronounced to be sufficient to protect against fire and shipwreck, storm and hail, lightning and thunder, and to preserve women in the hour of parturition.927927 Cereae formae innocentissimi agni, Hansen, etc.: Quellen, p. 21 sq.
Among the documents on witchcraft, emanating from papal or other sources, the place of pre-eminence is occupied by the bull, Summis desiderantes issued by Innocent VIII., 1484. This notorious proclamation, consisting of nearly 1000 words, was sent out in answer to questions proposed to the papal chair by German inquisitors, and recognizes in clearest language the current beliefs about demonic bewitchment as undeniable. It had come to his knowledge, so the pontiff wrote, that the dioceses of Mainz, Cologne, Treves, Salzburg and Bremen teemed with persons who, forsaking the Catholic faith, were consorting with demons. By incantations, conjurations and other iniquities they were thwarting the parturition of women and destroying the seed of animals, the fruits of the earth, the grapes of the vine and the fruit of the orchard. Men and women, flocks and herds, trees and all herbs were being afflicted with pains and torments. Men could no longer beget, women no longer conceive, and wives and husbands were prevented from performing the marital act. In view of these calamities, the pope authorized the Dominicans, Heinrich Institoris and Jacob Sprenger, professors of theology, to continue their activity against these malefics in bringing them to trial and punishment. He called upon the bishop of Salzburg to see to it that they were not impeded in their work and, a few months later, he admonished the archbishop of Mainz to give them active support. In other documents, Innocent commended Sigismund, archbishop of Austria, the count of the Tyrol and other persons for the aid they had rendered to these inquisitors in their effort to crush out witchcraft.
The burning of witches was thus declared the definite policy of the papal see and the inquisitors proceeded to carry out its instructions with untiring and merciless severity.928928 See Hansen, p. 27-29. Döllinger-Friedrich, p. 126, says, "Mit Inn. VIII. beginnt das regelmässige Verbrennen der Hexen."
Innocent’s communication, so abhorrent to the intelligent judgment of modern times, would seem of itself to sweep away the dogma of papal infallibility, even if there were no cases of Liberius, the Arian, or Honorius, the Monothelite. The argument is made by Pastor and Cardinal Hergenröther that Innocent did not officially pronounce on the reality of witchcraft when, proceeding upon the basis of reports, he condemned it and ordered its punishment.929929 Gesch. der Papste, III. 266 sqq., Hergenröther-Kirsch, II. 1040 sq. Vacandard, Inquisition, p. 200, takes the same view and says "Innocent assuredly had no intention of committing the Church to a belief in the phenomena he mentions in his bull; but his personal opinion did have an influence upon the canonists and Inquisitors of his day," etc. However, in case this explanation be not regarded as sufficient, these writers allege that the decision, being of a disciplinary nature, would have no more binding force than any other papal decision on non-dogmatic subjects. This distinction is based upon the well-known contention of Catholic canonists that the pope’s inerrancy extends to matters of faith and not to matters of discipline. Leaving these distinctions to the domain of theological casuistry, it remains a historic fact that Innocent’s bull deepened the hold of a vicious belief in the mind of Europe and brought thousands of innocent victims to the rack and to the flames. The statement made by Dr. White is certainly not far from the truth when he says that, of all the documents which have issued from Rome, imperial or papal, Innocent’s bull first and last cost the greatest suffering.930930 Warfare of Science and Theology, I. 351. Innocent might have exercised his pontifical infallibility in denying, or at least doubting, the credibility of the witnesses. A simple word from him would have prevented untold horrors. No one of his successors in the papal chair has expressed any regret for his deliverance, much less consigned to the Index of forbidden books the Malleus maleficarum, the inquisitors’ official text-book on witchcraft, most of the editions of which printed Innocent’s bull at length.
Innocent’s immediate successors followed his example and persons or states opposing repressive measures against witches were classed with malefactors and, as in the case of Venice, the state was threatened by Leo X. with the fulminations of the Church if it did not render active assistance. At the papal rebuke, Brescia changed its attitude and in a single year sentenced 70 to the flames.
Next to Innocent’s bull, the Witches Hammer,—Malleus maleficarum,—already referred to, is the most important and nefarious legacy the world has received on witchcraft. Dr. Lea pronounces it "the most portentous monument of superstition the world has produced."931931 Inquisition, III. 543. These two documents were the official literature which determined the progress and methods of the new crusade.
The Witches Hammer, published in 1486, proceeded from the hands of the Dominican Inquisitors, Heinrich Institoris, whose German name was Kraemer, and Jacob Sprenger. The plea cannot be made that they were uneducated men. They occupied high positions in their order and at the University of Cologne. Their book is divided into three parts: the first proves the existence of witchcraft; the second sets forth the forms in which it manifested itself; the third describes the rules for its detection and prosecution. In the last quarter of the 15th century the world, so it states, was more given over to the devil than in any preceding age. It was flooded with all kinds of wickedness. In affirming the antics of witches and other malefics, appeal is made to the Scriptures and to the teachings of the Church and especially to Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. Witches and sorcerers, whose father is the devil, are at last bound together in an organized body or sect. They meet at the weekly sabbats and do the devil homage by kissing his posterior parts. He appears among them as a tom-cat, goat, dog, bull or black man, as whim and convenience suggest. Demons of both sexes swarm at the meetings. Baptism and the eucharist are subjected to ridicule, the cross trampled upon. After an abundant repast the lights are extinguished and, at the devil’s command "Mix, mix," there follow scenes of unutterable lewdness. The devil, however, is a strict disciplinarian and applies the whip to refractory members.
The human members of the fraternity are instructed in all sorts of fell arts. They are transported through the air. They kill unbaptized children, keeping them in this way out of heaven. At the sabbats such children are eaten. Of the carnal intercourse, implied in the words succubus and incubus, the authors say, there can be no doubt. To quote them, "it is common to all sorcerers and witches to practise carnal lust with demons."932932 Hoc est commune omnium maleficarum spurcitias carnales cum daemonibus exercere, Malleus II. 4. The author goes into all the details of the demon’s procedure, the demon as he approaches men being known as the succubus, and women as the incubus. Many of the details are too vile to repeat. Such passages of Scripture are quoted as Gen. vi. 2 and 1 Cor. xi. 10, which is made to teach that the woman wears a covering on her head to guard herself against the looks of lustful angels. The demons, in becoming succubi and incubi, are not actuated by carnal lust, so the author asserts, but by a desire to make their victims susceptible to all sorts of vices. To this particular subject are devoted two full chapters, and it is taken up again and again.
In evidence of the reality of their charges, the authors draw upon their own extensive experience and declare that, in 48 cases of witches brought before them and burnt, all the victims confessed to having practised such abominable whoredoms for from 10 to 30 years.
Among the precautions which the book prescribed against being bewitched, are the Lord’s Prayer, the cross, holy water and salt and the Church formulas of exorcism. It also adds that inner grace is a preservative.933933 Many cases are given to show the efficacy of these preservatives. For example, a man in Ravensburg, who was tempted by the devil in the shape of a woman, became much concerned, and at last, recalling what a priest had said in the pulpit, sprinkled himself with salt and at once escaped the devil’s influence.
The directions for the prosecution of witches, given in the third part of the treatise, are set forth with great explicitness. Public rumor was a sufficient cause for an indictment. The accused were to be subjected to the indignity of having the hair shaved off from their bodies, especially the more secret parts, lest perchance some imp or charm might be hidden there. Careful rules were given to the inquisitors for preserving themselves against being bewitched, and Institoris and Sprenger took occasion to congratulate themselves that, in their long experience, they had been able to avoid this calamity. In case the defender of a witch seemed to show an excess of zeal, this was to be treated as presumptive evidence that he was himself under the same influence. One of the devices for exposing guilt was a sheet of paper of the length of Christ’s body, inscribed with the seven words of the cross. This was to be bound on the witch’s body at the time of the mass, and then the ordeal of torture was applied. This measure almost invariably brought forth a confession of guilt. The ordeal of the red-hot iron was also recommended, but it was to be used with caution, as it was the trick of demons to cover the hands of witches with a salve made from a vegetable essence which kept them from being burnt. Such a case happened in Constance, the woman being able to carry the glowing iron six paces and thus going free.
Of all parts of this manual, none is quite so infamous as the author’s vile estimate of woman. If there is any one who still imagines that celibacy is a sure highway to purity of thought, let him read the testimonies about woman and marriage given by mediaeval writers, priests and monks, themselves celibate and presumably chaste. Their impurities of expression suggest a foul atmosphere of thought and conversation. The very title of the Malleus maleficarum—the Hammer of the Female Malefics—is in the feminine because, as the authors inform their readers, the overwhelming majority of those who were behagged and had intercourse with demons were women.934934 Haeresis dicenda est non maleficorum sed maleficarum, ut fiat a potiori denominatio. See Hansen: Quellen, 416-444, and Zauberwahn, 481-490. In flat contrast to our modern experience of the religious fidelity of women, the authors of this book derive the word femina — woman—from fe and minus, that is, fides minus, less in faith. Weeping and spinning and deceiving they represent as the very essence of her nature. She deceives, because she was formed from Adam’s rib and that was crooked.
A long chapter, I. 6, is devoted to showing woman’s inferiority to man and the subject of her alliance with demons is dwelt upon, apparently with delight. The cohabitation with fiends was in earlier ages, the authors affirm, against the will of women, but in their own age it was with their full consent and by their ardent desire. They thank God for being men. Few of their sex, they say, consent to such obscene relations,—one man to ten women. This refusal was due to the male’s natural vigor of mind, vigor rationis. To show the depravity of woman and her fell agency in history, Institoris and Sprenger quote all the bad things they can heap up from authors, biblical and classic, patristic and scholastic, Cato, Terence, Seneca, Cicero, Jerome. Jesus Sirach’s words are frequently quoted, "Woman is more bitter than death." Helen, Jezebel and Cleopatra are held forth as examples of pernicious agency which wrought the destruction of kingdoms, such catastrophes being almost invariably due to woman’s machinations.
It was the common representation of the writers of the outgoing century of the Mediaeval Age that God permits the intervention of Satan’s malefic agency through the marriage bed more than through any other medium, and for the reason that the first sin was carried down through the marital act. On this point, Thomas Aquinas is quoted by one author after the other.935935 Com. ad Sent., IV. 34, qu. I. 3, quia corruptio peccati prima ... in nos per actum generantem devenit, ideo maleficii potestas permittitur diabolo adeo in hoc actu magis quam aliis. See Hansen: Quellen, pp. 88-99. In answering the question why more women were given to sorcery than men, Alexander Hales declared that it was because she had less intellectual vigor than man, minus habet discretionem spiritus. Preachers, as well as writers on witchcraft, took this disparaging view of woman. Geiler of Strassburg gave as the reason for ten women being burnt to one man on the charge of witchcraft, woman’s loquacity and frivolity. He quoted Ambrose that woman is the door to the devil and the way of iniquity—janua diaboli et via iniquitatis. Another noted preacher of the 15th century, John Nider, gave ten cases in which the cohabitation of man and woman is a mortal sin and, in a Latin treatise on moral leprosy, included the marriage state.936936 See Hansen: Quellen, p. 423 sqq. Wyclif does not seem to have had so low an opinion of woman as did the writers of the century after him. And yet he says, Lat. Serm. II. 161, Femina super in malicia multos viros ... veritas est quod natura feminea est virtute inferior, etc. A century earlier, in his De planctu ecclesiae, written from Avignon, Bishop Alvarez of Pelayo enumerated 102 faults common to women, one of these their cohabitation with the denizens of hell. From his own experience, the prelate states, he knew this to be true. It was practised, he says, in a convent of nuns and vain was his effort to put a stop to it.
Experts gave it as their opinion that "the new sect of witches" had its beginning about the year 1300.937937 Ista secta strigiarum. So Bernard of Como, who was followed by Nicolas Jacquier, Prierias, etc. Hansen: Quellen, pp. 282, 319. But the writers of the 15th and 16th centuries were careful to prove that their two characteristic performances, the flight through the air and demonic intercourse, were not illusions of the imagination, but palpable realities.938938 Turrecremata, the Spanish dogmatician and canonist, dissents from the opinion that the flying women were led by Diana and Herodias, on the rational grounds that Diana never existed and Herodias probably was never permitted to leave hell. To the testimonies of the witches themselves were added the ocular observations of church officials.939939 See the realistic language of Jacquier, Prierias, Bartholomew of Spina, etc. Quellen, p. 136, etc. Other devilish performances dwelt upon, were the murder of children before baptism, the eating of their flesh after it had been consecrated to the devil and the trampling upon the host.940940 Jacquier, Widman of Kemnat, Barthol. of Spina, etc., Quellen, pp. 141, 234, 327, sq. One woman, in 1457, confessed she had been guilty of the last practice 30 years.
The more popular places of the weekly sabbats were the Brocken, Benevento, Como and the regions beyond the Jordan. Here the witches and demons congregated by the thousands and committed their excesses. The witches went from congregation to congregation as they pleased941941 Valdenses ydolatrae, Quellen, pp. 157, 165. The poet Martin la Franc, secretary to Felix V., in his Champion des dames, about 1440, speaks of 10,000 witches celebrating a sabbat in the Valley of Wallis. Six hundred of them were brought to confess they had cohabited with demons. Quellen, 99-104. and, according to Prierias, children as young as eight and ten joined in the orgies.
Sometimes it went hard with the innocent, though prurient, onlookers of these scenes, as was the case with the inquisitor of Como, Bartholomew of Homate, and some of his companions. Determined to see for themselves, they looked on at a sabbat in Mendrisio from a place of concealment. As if unaware of their presence, the presiding devil dismissed the assembly, but immediately calling the revellers back, had them drag the intruders forth and the demons belabored them so lustily that they survived only 15 days.942942 The incident is told by that famous witch-inquisitor, Bernard of Como, in his De strigiis. Hansen: Quellen, pp. 279-284. The forms the devil usually assumed were those of a large tom-cat or a goat. If the meeting was in a building, he was wont to descend by a ladder, tail foremost. The witches kissed his posterior parts and, after indulging in a feast, the lights were put out and wild revels followed. As early as 1460, pictures were printed representing women riding through the air, straddling stocks and broomsticks, on goats or carried by demons. In Normandy, the obsessed were called broom-riders—scobaces.943943 From scoba, meaning broom. So in the tract Errores Gazariorum seu illorum qui scobam vel baculum equitare probantur, Quellen, pp. 118-123. Taught by demons, they made a salve of the ashes of a toad fed on the wafer, the blood of murdered children and other ingredients, which they applied to their riding sticks to facilitate their flights. According to the physician, John Hartlieb, who calls this salve the "unguent of Pharelis"—Herodias—it was made from seven different herbs, each gathered on a different day of the week and mixed with the fat of birds and animals.944944 Quellen, p. 131 sq. This medical expert declared that women and men were often turned into toads and cats. When such a cat’s paw was cut off, it was found that the foot of the suspected witch was gone. With his own eyes, this mediaeval practitioner says he saw such a woman burnt in Rome, and he states that many such cases occurred in the papal metropolis. Hartlieb was medical adviser to Duke Albert III. of Bavaria. His Buch aller verbotenen Kunst, Unglaubens u. d. Zauberei, was written 1456.
The popularity of the witch-delusion as a subject of literary treatment is shown by the extracts Hansen gives from 70 writings, without exhausting the list.945945 Hansen devotes 60 pages of his Quellen to the title, date and authors of the Malleus. An excellent German translation is by J. W. R. Schmidt: Der Hexenhammer, Berlin, 3 vols., 1906. Most of the writers were Dominicans. The Witches Hammer was printed in many editions, issued 13 times before 1520 and, from 1574–1669, 16 times. The most famous of these writers in the earlier half of the 15th century was John Nider, d. 1438, in his Formicarius or Ant-Industry. He was a member of the Dominican order, professor of theology in Vienna and attended the Council of Basel. Writers like Jacquier were not satisfied with sending forth a single treatise.946946 Flagellum haereticorum fascinariorum, The Heretics’ Flail. Extracts in Hansen, 133-144. Tract. de calcinatione daemonum seu malignorum spirituum, still in MS. in Brussels. Writers like Sylvester Prierias, d. 1523, known in the history of Luther, and Bartholomew Spina, d. 1546, occupied important positions at the papal court.947947 De strigmagarum daemonumque mirandis, Rome, 1521, and De strigibus et lamiis, Venice, 1535. Hansen, pp. 317-339. These two men expounded Innocent VIII.’s bull, and quote the Witches Hammer. Geiler of Strassburg repeated from the pulpit the vilest charges against witches. Pico della Mirandola, the biographer of Savonarola, filled a book with material of the same sort, and declared that one might as well call in question the discovery of America as the existence of witches.948948 Strix sive de ludificatione daemonum, 1523. See Burckhardt-Geiger: Renaissance, Excursus, II. 359-362. The official papal view at the close of the 16th century was set forth by the canonist, Francis Pegna, d. in Rome 1612. He held an appointment on the papal commission for the revision of Gratian’s Decretals, and asserts that the aerial flights and cohabitation of witches could be proved beyond all possible doubt. See extracts from his Com. on Eymericus Directorium. Hansen: Quellen, p. 358 sq.
The prosecution of witches assumed large proportions first in Switzerland and Northern Italy and then in France and Germany. In Rome, the first reported burning was in 1424.949949 Infessura, Tommasini’s ed., p. 25. For another burning in Rome, 1442, Burckhardt-Geiger, II. 359. For witchcraft in Italy, see this author, II. p. 255-264. Also the extensive lists of trials, 1245-1540, noted down in Hansen’s Quellen; the ecclesiastical trials, pp. 445-516; the civil, pp. 517-615. In 1623 Gregory XV. renewed the penalty of lifelong imprisonment for making pacts with the devil. In the diocese of Como, Northern Italy, 41 were burnt the year after the promulgation of Innocent VIII.’s bull. Between 1500–1525 the yearly number of women tried in that district was 1000 and the executions averaged 100. In 1521, Prierias declared that the Apennine regions were so full of witches that they were expected soon to outnumber the faithful.
In France, one of the chief victims, the Carmelite William Adeline, was professor in Paris and had taken part in the Council of Basel. Arraigned by the Inquisition, 1453, he confessed to being a Vaudois, and having habitually attended their synagogues and done homage to the devil. In spite of his abjurations, he was kept in prison till he died.950950 Hansen: Quellen, pp. 467-472. For the notorious case of Gilles de Rais, the reputed original Bluebeard, see Lea: Inq., III. 468-487. In Briançon, 1428–1447, 110 women and 57 men were executed for witchcraft in the flames or by drowning.
In Germany, Heidelberg, Pforzheim, Nürnberg, Würzburg, Bamberg, Vienna, Cologne, Metz and other cities were centres of the craze and witnessed many executions. It was during the five years preceding 1486 that Heinrich Institoris and Sprenger sent 48 to the stake. The Heidelberg court-preacher, Matthias Widman, of Kemnat, pronounced the "Cathari or heretical witches" the most damnable of the sects, one which should be subjected to "abundance of fire and without mercy." He reports that witches rode on broomsticks, spoons, cats, goats and other objects, and that he had seen many of them burnt in Heidelberg. In 1540, six years before Luther’s death, four witches and sorcerers were burnt in Protestant Wittenberg. And in 1545, 34 women were burnt or quartered in Geneva. In England the law for the burning of heretics, 1401, was applied to these unfortunate people, not a few of whom were committed to the flames. But the persecution in the mediaeval period never took on the proportions on English soil it reached on the Continent; and there, it was not the Church but the state that dealt with the crime of sorcery.
According to the estimate of Louis of Paramo, himself a distinguished inquisitor of Sicily who had condemned many to the flames, there had been during the 150 years before 1597, the date of his treatise on the Origin and Progress of the Inquisition, 30,000 executions for witchcraft.951951 For other figures, see Hansen: Zauberwahn, p. 532 sqq., Hoensbroech, I. 500 sqq., and Lecky, I. 29 sqq. Seven thousand are said to have been burnt at Treves. In 1670, 70 persons were arraigned in Sweden and a large number of them burnt.
The judgments passed upon witches were whipping, banishment and death by fire, or, as in Cologne, Strassburg and other places, by drowning. The most common forms of torture were the thumb-screw and the strappado. In the latter the prisoner’s hands were bound behind his back with a rope which was drawn through a pulley in the ceiling. The body was slowly lifted up, and at times left hanging or allowed to suddenly drop to the floor. In our modern sense, there was no protection of law for the accused. The suspicion of an ecclesiastical or civil court was sufficient to create an almost insurmountable presumption of guilt. Made frantic by the torture, the victims were willing to confess to anything, however untrue and repulsive it might be. Death at times must have seemed, even with the Church’s ban, preferable to protracted agonies, for the pains of death at best lasted a few hours and might be reduced to a few minutes. As Lecky has said, these unfortunate people did not have before them the prospect of a martyr’s crown and the glory of the heavenly estate. They were not buoyed up by the sympathies and prayers of the Church. Unpitied and unprayed for, they yielded to the cold scrutiny of the inquisitor and were consumed in the flames.
Persons who took the part of the supposed witch, or ventured to lift up their voices against the trials for witchcraft, did so at the risk of their lives. In 1598, the Dutch priest, Cornelius Loos Callidus, was imprisoned at Treves for declaring that women, making confession under torture to witch devices, confessed to what was not true. And four years before, 1589, Dr. Dietrich Flade, a councillor of Treves, was burnt for attacking the prosecution of witchcraft.952952 Döllinger-Friedrich, pp. 130, 447. For Loos’ recantation as given by Delrio, see Phil. Trsll. and Reprints, III. In a letter, written in 1629, the chancellor of the bishop of Würzburg states that the week before a beautiful maiden of 19 had been executed as a witch. Children of three and four years, he adds, to the number of 300, were reported to have had intercourse with the devil. He himself had seen children of seven and promising students of 12 and 16 put to death. Phil. Trsll., etc., III.
The belief in demonology and all manner of malefic arts was a legacy handed down to the Church from the old Roman world and, where the influence of the Northern mythologies was felt, the belief took still deeper roots. But it cannot be denied that cases and passages taken from the Scriptures, especially the Old Testament, were adduced to justify the wild dread of malign spirits in the Middle Ages. Saul’s experience with the witch of Endor, the plagues brought by the devil upon Job, the representations in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, incidents from the Apocrypha and the cases of demonic agency in the New Testament were dwelt upon and applied with literal and relentless rigor.
It is a long chapter which begins with the lonely contests the old hermits had with demons, recounts the personal encounters of mediaeval monks in chapel and cell and relates the horrors of the inquisitorial process for heresy. Our more rational processes of thought and our better understanding of the Christian law of love happily have brought this chapter to a close in enlightened countries. The treatment here given has been in order to show how greatly a Christian society may err, and to confirm in this generation the feeling of gratitude for the better sentiments which now prevail. It is perhaps also clue to those who suffered, that a general description of the injustice done them should be given. The chapter may not unfitly be brought to a close by allowing one of the victims to speak again from his prison-cell, the burgomaster of Bamberg, though he suffered a century after the Middle Ages had closed, 1628. After being confronted by false witnesses he confessed, under torture, to having indulged in the practices ascribed to the bewitched and he thus wrote to his daughter: —
Many hundred good nights, dearly beloved daughter, Veronica. Innocent have I come into prison, innocent must I die. For whoever comes into a witch-prison must become a witch or be tortured till he invents something out of his head and—God pity him—bethinks himself of something. I will tell you how it has gone with me .... Then came the executioner and put the thumbscrews on me, both hands bound together, so that the blood ran out at the nails and everywhere, so that for four weeks I could not use my hands, as you can see from the writing .... Then they stripped me, bound my hands behind my back and drew me up. I thought heaven and earth were at an end. Eight times did they do this and let me drop again so that I suffered terrible agony .... [Here follows a rehearsal of the confessions he was induced to make.] ... Now, dear child, you have all my confessions for which I must die. They are sheer lies made up. All this I was forced to say through fear of the rack, for they never leave off the torture till one confesses something .... Dear child, keep this letter secret so that people may not find it or else I shall be tortured most piteously and the jailers be beheaded .... I have taken several days to write this for my hands are both lame. Good night, for your father Johannes Junius will never see you more.953953 The transation taken from the Phila. Trsll. and Reprints, vol. III.
Innocent VIII’s Bull, Summit desiderantes. December 5, 1484: In Part:95954954 Reprinted from Hansen: Quellen, pp. 25-27. The Latin text is also found In Soldan, p. 215, and Mirbt, p. 171 sq. Germ. trsl in Schmidt, pp. xxxvi-xli, and Hoensbrooch, I, 384-386. Engl. trsl. in Phila. Trsll. and Reprints,. vol. III
Innocentius episcopus, servus servorum dei, ad perpetuam rei memoriam. Summis desiderantes affectibus, prout pastoralis sollicitudinis cura requirit, ut fides catholica nostris potissime temporibus ubique augeatur et floreat ac omnis haeretica pravitas de finibus fidelium procul pellatur, es libenter declaramus ac etiam de novo concedimus per quae hujusmodi pium desiderium nostrum votivum sortiatur effectum; cunctisque propterea, per nostrae operationis ministerium, quasi per providi operationis saeculum erroribus exstirpatis, eiusdem fidei zelus et observantia in ipsorum corda fidelium fortium imprimatur.
Sane nuper ad nostrum non sine ingenti molestia pervenit auditum, quod in nonnullis partibus Alemaniae superioris, necnon in Maguntinensi, Coloniensi, Treverensi, Saltzumburgensi, et Bremensi, provinciis, civitatibus, terris, locis et dioecesibus complures utriusque sexus personae, propriae salutis immemores et a fide catholica deviantes, cum daemonibus, incubis et succubis abuti, ac suis incantationibus, carminibus et coniurationibus aliisque nefandis superstitiosis, et sortilegis excessibus, criminibus et delictis, mulierum partus, animalium foestus, terra fruges, vinearum uvas, et arborum fructus; necnon homines, mulieres, pecora, pecudes et alia diversorum generam animalia; vineas quoque, pomeria, prata, pascua, blada, frumenta et alia terra legumina perirs, suffocari et extingui facere et procurare; ipsosque homines, mulieres, iumenta, pecora, pecudes et animalia diris tam intrinsecis quam extrinsecis doloribus et tormentis afficere et excruciare; ac eosdem homines ne gignere, et mulieres ne concipere, virosque, ne uxoribus, et mulieres, ne viris actus coniugales reddere valeant, impedire; fidem praeterea ipsam, quam in sacri susceptione baptismi susceperunt, ore sacrilego abnegare, aliaque quam plurima nefanda, excussus et crimina, instigante humani generis inimico, committere et perpetrare non verentur in animarum suarum periculum, divines maiestatis offensam ac perniciosum exemplum ac scandulum plurimorum. Quodque licet dilecti filii Henrici Institoris in praedictis partibus Alemaniae superioris ... necnon Iacobus Sprenger per certas partes lineae Rheni, ordinis Praedicatorum et theologiae professores, haeretics pravitatis inquisitores per literas apostolicas deputati fuerunt, prout adhuc existunt; tamen nonnulli clerici et laici illarum partium, quaerentes plura sapere quam oporteat, pro eo quod in literis deputationis huiusmodi provinciae, civitates dioeceses terrae et alia loca praedicta illarumque personae ac excessus huiusmodi nominatim et specifice expressa non fuerunt, illa sub eisdem partibus minime contineri, et propterea praefatis inquisitoribus in provinciis, civitatibus, dioecesibus, terris et locis praedictis huiusmodi inquisitionis officium exequi non licere; et ad personarum earundem super excessibus et criminibus antedictis punitionem, incarcerationem et correctionem admitti non debere, pertinaciter asserere non erubescunt ... Huiusmodi inquisitions officium exequi ipsasque personas, quas in praemissis culpabiles reperierint, iuxta earum demerita corrigere, incarcerare, punire et mulctare .... Quotiens opus fuerant, aggravare et reaggravare auctoritate nostra procuret, invocato ad hoc, si opus fuerit, auxilio brachii saecularis.
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