Witchcraft

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One of the most virulent books ever published was the Malleus Maleficarum, the witch hunting Bible penned by two German friars in the late 1480s. Misogyny seeps from its binding, even in the brightly-colored 1970s reprint I own. The book compiles anecdotes the friars gathered as they roamed the countryside searching for witches, under the protective cloak of a papal bull praising their efforts.

Here are some quotes from the Malleus.

The Malleus Maleficarum cover. A “ghosting” of this was used for the end papers for the hardcover version of The Witch’s Trinity.

  • Although the devil can work without a witch, he yet very much prefers to work with one.
  • If we inquire, we find that nearly all the kingdoms of the world have been overthrown by women.
  • However much they are penitent and return to the Faith, they must not be punished like other Heretics with lifelong imprisonment, but must suffer the extreme penalty.
  • For the divine law in many places commands that witches are not only be avoided, but also they are to be put to death, and it would not impose the extreme penalty of this kind if witches did not really and truly make a compact with devils in order to bring about real and true hurts and harms.
  • For witchcraft is high treason against God’s Majesty. And so they are to be put to the torture in order to make them confess… Any person, whatsoever his rank or position, upon such an accusation may be put to the torture, and he who is found guilty, even if he confesses his crime, let him be racked, let him suffer all other tortures prescribed by law in order that he may be punished in proportion to his offences. Note: In days of old such criminals suffered a double penalty and were often thrown to wild beast to be devoured by them. Nowadays they are burnt at the stake, and probably this is because the majority of them are women.
  • Moreover, it is useless to argue that any result of witchcraft may be a phantasy and unreal, because such a phantasy cannot be procured without resort to the power of the devil, and it is necessary that there should be made a contract with the devil, but which contract the witch truly and actually binds herself to be the servant of the devil and devotes herself to the devil, and this is not done in any dream or under any illusion, but she herself bodily and truly co-operates with, and conjoins herself to, the devil.

Witches bring children to the devil in this 1591 witchcraft pamphlet.

  • If anybody’s spirit be inflamed with malice or rage, as is often the case with old women, then their disturbed spirit looks through their eyes, for their countenances are most evil and harmful, and often terrify young children of tender years, who are extremely impressionable
  • Witches are so called from the enormity of their magic spells; for they disturb the elements and confound the minds of men, and without any venomous draught, but merely by virtue of incantations, destroy souls, etc.
  • As for the first question, why a greater number of witches is found in the fragile feminine sex than among men; it is indeed a fact that it were idle to contradict, since it is accredited by actual experience, apart from the verbal testimony of credible witnesses…
  • Since [women] are feebler both in mind and body, it is not surprising that they should come more under the spell of witchcraft… But the natural reason is that she is more carnal than a man, as is clear from her many carnal abominations. And it should be noted that there was a defect in the formation of the first woman, since she was formed from a bent rib, that is, a rib of the breast, which is bent as it were in a contrary direction to a man. And since through this defect she is an imperfect animal, she always deceives…
  • To conclude. All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which is in women insatiable.

Witches call down rain in the 1489 edition of De Lamiis, a witchhunting manual.

  • Now there are, as it is said in the Papal Bull, seven methods by which they infect with witchcraft the venereal act and the conception of the womb: First, by inclining the minds of men to inordinate passion; second, by obstructing their generative force; third, by removing the members accommodated to that act; fourth, by changing men into beasts by their magic art; fifth, by destroying the generative force in women; sixth, by procuring abortion; seventh, by offering children to devils, besides other animals and fruits of the earth with which they work much harm. And all these will be considered later; but for present let us give our minds to the injuries towards men.
  • They can make of no effect the generative desires, and even the power of copulation, cause abortion, kill infants in the mother’s womb by a mere exterior touch; they can at time bewitch men and animals with a mere look, without touching them, and cause death; they dedicate their own children to devils.

Shapeshifters ride a broom in this image from DeLamiis

  • The apparitions that come in dreams to sleepers proceed from the ideas retained in the repository of their mind, through a natural local motion caused by the flow of blood to the first and inmost seat of their faculties of perception; and we speak of an instrinsic local motion in the head and the cells of the brain. And this can also happen through a similar local motion created by devils. Also such things happen not only to the sleeping, but even to those who are awake.
  • In one way we may say that the forms of animals which are conserved in the treasury of the imagination pass by the operation of the devil into the organs of inner senses; and in this way it happens in dreams, as has been declared above. And so, when these forms are impressed on the organs of the outer senses, such as sight, they appear as if they were present as outer objects, and could actually be touched.
  • For when the body of a man is changed into the body of a beast, or a dead body is brought to life, such things only seem to happen, and are a glamour or illusion; or else the devil appears before men in an assumed body.
  • The devil delights in such things, and caused the illusion of the pagans who believed that men and old women were changed into beasts.

The moment of death from Ars Moriendi (1471). The dying man is surrounded by invisible demons and angels who battle for his spirit.

  • It is witchcraft, not only when anyone is unable to perform the carnal act, of which we have spoken above; but also when a woman is prevented from conceiving, or is made to miscarry after she has conceived. A third and fourth method of witchcraft is when they have failed to procure an abortion, and then either devour the child or offer it to a devil.
  • No one does more harm to the Catholic Faith than midwives.
  • So when it is argued that God either can or cannot prevent evil, the answer is that He can prevent it, but that for the reasons already shown it does not behoove Him to do so… He neither wishes nor does not wish it, but He permits it for the perfecting of the universe.
    Now it is declared that the sins of witches are more grievous than those of the bad angels and our first parents. Wherefore, just as the innocent are punished for the sins of their fathers, so are many blameless people damned and bewitched for the sins of witches.
  • Besides, sin which comes from definite malice is heavier than sin which comes from ignorance. But witches, out of great malice, despise the Faith and the sacraments of the Faith, as many of them have confessed

From De Lamiis, a witch embraces the devil with his frightening chicken feet.

  • The evils which are perpetrated by modern witches exceed all other sin which God has ever permitted to be done.
  • Accordingly, after the sin of Lucifer, the works of witches exceed all other sins, in hideousness since they deny Him crucified, in inclination since they commit nastiness of the flesh with devils, in blindness of mind since in a pure spirit of malignity they rage and bring every injury upon the souls and bodies of men and beasts, as has been shown from what has been said before.
  • An example was brought to our notice as Inquisitors. A town was once rendered almost destitute by the death of its citizens; and there was a rumour that a certain buried woman was gradually eating the shroud in which she had been buried, and that the plague could not cease until she had eaten the whole shroud and absorbed it into her stomach.
  • But violent death, whether a man deserves it or not, is always a correction, if it is borne patiently and in grace.
  • Necromancy is the summoning of and speech with the dead…And they accomplish this by working some spell over the blood of a man or some animal, knowing that the devil delights in such sin, and loves blood and the pouring out of blood.
  • No one doubts that all the damned will be tortured with grievous pains.
  • But these are slight matters in comparison with the unholy dreams of witches. For when they do not wish, as has been mentioned above, to be bodily transferred to a place, but desire to see what their fellow-witches are doing, it is their practice to lie down on their left side in the name of their own and of all devils; and these things are revealed to their vision in images. And if they seek to know some secret, either for themselves or for others, they learn it in dreams from the devil, by reason of an open, not a tacit, pact entered into with him. And this pact, again, is not a symbolical one, accomplished by the sacrifice of some animal, or some act of sacrilege, or by embracing the worship of some strange cult; but it is an actual offering of themselves, body and soul, to the devil, by a sacrilegiously uttered and inwardly purposed abnegation of the Faith. And not content with this, they even kill, or offer to devils, their own and others’ children.
  • So heinous are the crimes of witches that they even exceed the sins and the fall of the bad Angels; and if this is true as to their guilt, how should it not also be true of their punishments in hell?

From the 1610 Compendium Maleficarum, shapeshifters wander through the village. Lock your doors!

  • They are not content with their own sins and perdition, but ever draw countless others after them.
  • For if it is asked why some witches will not confess the truth under even the greatest tortures, while other readily confess their crimes when they are questioned (and some of them, after they have confessed, try to kill themselves by hanging), the reason is as follows. It may truly be said that, when it is not due to a Divine impulse conveyed through a holy Angel that a witch is made to confess the truth and abandon the spell of silence, then it is due to the devil whether she preserves silence or confesses her crimes.
  • We have often learned from the confessions of those who we have caused to be burned , that they have not been willing agents of witchcraft.
  • But with regard to any bystanders, the witches themselves have often been seen lying on their backs in the fields or the woods, naked up to the very navel, and it has been apparent from the disposition of those limbs and members which pertain to the venereal act and orgasm, as also from the agitation of their legs and thighs, that, all invisibly to the bystanders, they have been copulating with Incubus devils.
  • In a town which it is better not to name, for the sake of charity and expediency, when a certain witch received the Body of Our Lord, she suddenly lowered her head, as is the detestable habit of women, placed her garment near her mouth, and taking the Body of the Lord out of her mouth, wrapped it in a handkerchief; and afterwards, at the suggestion of the devil, placed it in a pot in which there was a toad, and hid it in the ground near her house by the storehouse, together with several other things, by means of which she had to work her witchcraft.
  • They receive the Lord’s Body under their tongue instead of on the top.
  • When she had sat down for a little, the witch came, and, as if for the purpose of saluting her, placed both her hands on her stomach; and suddenly she felt the child moving in pain. Frightened by this, she returned home and told the midwife what had happened. Then the midwife exclaimed: “Alas! You have already lost your child.” And so it proved when her time came; for she gave birth, not to an entire abortion, but little by little to separate fragments of its head and feet and hands.
  • And there are some who, in order to accomplish their evil charms and spells, beat and stab the Crucifix, and utter the filthiest words against the Purity of the Most Glorious Virgin MARY, casting the foulest aspersions on the Nativity of Our Saviour from Her inviolate womb.
  • They used the phantasm of a cat, an animal which is, in the Scriptures, an appropriate symbol of the perfidious, just as a dog is the symbol of preachers; for cats are always setting snares for each other. And the Order of Preaching Friars was represented in its first Founder by a dog barking against heresy.
  • For in the same way they entice young virgins and boys into their power; for though they might solicit such by means of evil and corrupt men, yet they rather deceive them by magic mirrors and reflections seen in witches’ finger-nails, and lure them on in the belief that they love chastity, whereas they hate it. For the devil hates above all the Blessed Virgin, because she bruised his head.

Yes, this horrible book is still in print.

  • Finally, we know from experience that the daughters of witches are always suspected of similar practises, as imitators of their mothers’ crimes; and that indeed the whole of a witch’s progeny is infected…For how else could it happen, as it has very often been found, that tender girls of eight or ten years have raised up tempests and hailstorms, unless they had been dedicated to the devil under such a pact by their mothers.
  • It is probable that the devil favours the number three more than any other, for it represents an effective denial of the Holy Trinity.
  • Every venereal act outside wedlock is a mortal sin, and is only committed by those who are not in a state of grace…God allows the devil more power over that act than any other human acts, because of its natural nastiness, and because by it the first sin was handed down to posterity.
  • There was an erroneous belief that when devils came in the night (or the Good People as old women call them, though they are witches, or devils in their forms) they must eat up everything, that afterwards they may bring greater abundance of stores. Some people give colour to the story, and call them Screech Owls; but this is against the opinion of the Doctors, who say that there are no rational creatures except men and Angels; therefore they can only be devils.
  • There must be no negligence in inquiring into such matters in a manner agreeable to God and justice; but such witches must be thrust into prison rather as a matter of punishment than custody, or be exposed to torture, or be sentenced to some punishment.
  • There are many who are not sufficiently careful and circumspect, and consider that the depositions of such quarrelsome women should be altogether rejected, saying that no faith can be placed in them, since they are nearly always actuated by motives of hatred. Such men are ignorant of the subtlety and precautions of magistrates, and speak and judge like men who are colour-blind.
  • In considering the method of proceeding with a trial of a witch in the cause of faith, it must first be noted that such cases must be conducted in the simplest and most summary manner, without the arguments and contentions of advocates.

The devil instructs witches (including men) to stomp on the cross.

  • Unless God, through a holy Angel, compels the devil to withhold this help from the witch, she will be so insensible to the pains of torture that she will sooner be torn limb from limb than confess any of the truth.
  • They shall indicate to her on the part of the Bishop or Judge that she cannot escape temporal death, and that she should therefore take care for the safety of her soul, and prepare herself to confess her sins and receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

and the final word from this wretched book:

Witches are always hated by everybody.

. . . .