Johannes Janssen.

History of the German people at the close of the middle ages (Volume 16) online

. (page 19 of 45)
Online LibraryJohannes JanssenHistory of the German people at the close of the middle ages (Volume 16) → online text (page 19 of 45)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


belief in witchcraft, but rather condemned it as apostasy from the true
faith, and as the work of the devil, is shown by an exhortation to the
priests ' (also published by Weiland, I.e. xii. 333 if.), from a writer at tlie
close of the twelfth or the beginning of the thirteenth century, on fol. 126
of the Bamberg MS. P. i. 9. Hansen, at p. 119, denies the persecutions
which Weiland deduces from this incident. Rcizlor, 29 ff., remarks tliat
' this case of Weihenstephan was the oldest and, during the whole of the
Middle Ages, the only certain and credible case of witch persecution in
Bavaria,' though he allows that ' at that time there were also judicial
witch-persecutions.' 'The barbarous justice of the peoj>lc sprang from
a superstition, which with greater verisimilitude may be regarded as a
heathen survival.' ' In refreshing contrast stands tlie attitude in wliicli
the ministers of the Cluircli here apj)ear, to that of their more intluential
successors from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century.'

q2



228 Hisrouv of the cerman people

loiiislation ii\ (Jcrinanv ai!;ainst sorcerers and witches
sanctioned doatli l)y lire, tlic (liiirch only approved of
disciplinary punishments against these offences and
oxiiusion of the offenders from the communion of the
Church, and never called in the arm of secular justice
to the bloody chastisement of those accused of
sorcery.^

But things assumed a different shape after the belief
in demons and in witchcraft was strengthened by the
appearance of gnostic-Manichaean sects which taught
that there were two conflicting, equally powerful
principles co-existing from eternity, a good principle
and a bad principle, and that the bad principle was
lord and ruler of the material world. As allies of the
bad principle, heretics, Cathari, Albigenses, Waldenses,
Luciferanians, and other sects, also widely distributed in
Germany, were accused of terrible crimes ; the devil,
adjured with certain formulae of prayer, visited them
during their assemblies, and led them into every imagin-
able vice. 2 The ' black death,' which in the fourteenth
century carried off almost a quarter of the population of
Europe, was largely regarded as a work of diabolical
powers ; the general consternation rose in countless

' See Hansen, pp. 77 ff., 1 12, who, however, in a one-sided manner, makes
the Church responsible for the intensifying of secular legislation against
sorcery ; as in the old Roman empire, so, too, in the Germanic empires,
' as Christianity penetrated more strongly into the German spirit and
transformed the conception of criminal justice ' this very influence
sharpened the penal laws respecting sorcery and magic (p. 61 flf.)-

- See H. Haupt, ' Waldensertum und Inquisition im siidostHchen
Deutschland bis zur Mitte des 14"^" Jahrhunderts,' in Quiddes' Deutsche
ZeiUschrift fiir Geschichtsivissenschaft, Jahrg. 1889, pp. 285-330. ** Cf.
Hansen, p. 214 ff. ' It is undeniable,' he says at p. 240, ' how much
encouragement was given to the beliefs in demoniacal influences and the
intercourse possible between human beings and demons by Catharism
in consequence of its dualistic philosophy.'



WITCHCRAFT AND PERSECUTION OF WITCHES 229

cases to frenzy. The ' Flagellants ' flocked in thou-
sands through the land, and in the midst of their wild
dances proclaimed the rule and the victory of Satan.
'Magic potions for protection against the Black Death,'
writes a Rhenish clergyman in 1434, ' were brewed at
secret, nocturnal gatherings, dissolute banqueting was
carried on and the old heathen belief in manifold, occult,
magic arts and the flights of witches gained increased
strength, especially in the Rhine lands and in South
Germany. Church ordinances were to a great extent
powerless to stop the evil.' ^

Thus, for instance, a Treves Synod of 1310 had
renewed with increased severity the old Church decree :
' No woman shall give out that she rides about at night
with the goddess Diana, or with Herodias and an
innumerable company of other women : for it is dia-
bohcal imposture.' -

How deeply the belief in sorcery and witches, in the
transformation of human beings into wolves, in change-
lings bred of wicked women by the devil, was rooted
among the people, is seen from numbers of clerical
instructional books which combated these beliefs in
the most resolute manner.-^

' Quoted in De imposturis Daemonum (1562), pp. 24-25.

- V. Hefele, Konziliengesch. vi. (2nd ed.) 492. Fuller details con-
cerning these synod ordinances of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries
against sorcerers, soothsayers, and exorcists and so forth are given in
Fehr, Der Aberglaube, 148-163.

■' ** Hansen (p. 403, n. 1) declares that in Jansscn-Pastor, viii. 500 fT.
(German : earlier edition) tliis literature is spoken of in a thorougliiy
arbitrary and one-sided manner. The arl>itrariness and one-sidedncss,
methinks, are on the side of Hansen, when, without quoting at all from
the texts, he only says of these manuals of confession for sorcery (p. 403 ff.) '•
' They handle the cases dealt with in connexion witii tlie first of the ten
commandments, and, mon^over, in the old fashion. Their treatment of
witchcraft goes to show that the reality of magic influence was also



•2:^0 IllSTOm' OF THH GERMAN PEOPLE

Sti'pliaii Lanzkranna, provost at St. Dorothy's in
Vionna. in his ' lliiniiielstrasse ' of 1484, cUxssed among
the greatest sins : hehof in women who rode about at
night, night-mares, hobgobhns, were-wolves, and other
sucli heat lien, nonsensical impostures. * Oh how great
is the blindness, unwisdom, and deception of such
people ! Suchlike idiotic opinions and false inventions
and superstitions are so plentiful, even, alas, among
those who call themselves Christians and want to be
regarded as Christians, although in truth they are
more heathen than Christian.' ^

In a manual of confession of 1474 the penitent is
asked among other things with regard to super-
stition and beUef in magic : ' Have you practised magic
on any, or let yourself be practised upon, bewitched any-
one or let yourself be bewitched ? Have you believed
in the good fairies, and in the " httle-folks " ? Have

believed in by the Church, and the practice of those magic arts, which
the confession inquired into, were forbidden as sinful transactions ; on
the other hand, the belief in the night-faring women, for whom people still
decked the tahuhi fortiinae, is dealt with in the traditional way by the
priest as superstition and as such forbidden : they are said to be demons
in human form, not real women, who float about at night.' ' Moreover
Riezler (p. 31 ff.), who is here certainly above suspicion in his tendency,
points out, with reference to Stephan Lanzkranna and kindred cases,
how the old churcli opposition to the belief in the reality of witches, comes
out again clearly here.' ' Indeed in the official representatives of the
Bavarian Church,' says the same writer (p. 32), ' in the Bavarian metro-
poUtan and diocesan synods, this healthier tendency remained the preva-
lent one down to the threshold of the witch-trial epidemic, till far on in
the sixteenth century. If we pass in review the constitutions of these
assemblies, we get the impression that either the bishops fought shy
of a description of this ugly chapter of history, in which, within the church,
two discordant opinions existed side by side, or else that the witch-super-
stition only manifested itself slightly. Probably both these causes were
at work together, for sorcery is markedly seldom alluded to in the
synodal resolutions.'

' Geffcken, Beilagen, 112-113.



WITCHCRAFT AND PERSECUTION OF WITCHES 231

you superstitiously believed in the weather- witches ?
Or in the changing of children ? Have you ever bought
any wind from a sorceress ? ' ^

A Liibeck confession-book, ' Das Licht der Seele,'
of 1484 set the following questions to be asked of peni-
tents : ' Have you done harm to anyone with the
devilish art ? Have you practised magic or witchcraft
with the holy Sacraments ? Have you beheved that
people can become were- wolves ? Have you beheved
in the good fairies ? Have you beheved in the dwarfs
carrying away children ? Have you believed that
people fly at night with body and soul into distant
lands and there commit immorahty with each other ?
Have you believed that people come at night and
crush other people in their sleep ? Let each one
search his own conscience and make a clean breast to
his Father Confessor/ ~

Witch-rides on the Blocksberg were also already
to the fore.

Thus, in a Liibeck confession- and prayer-book of
1485 : ' Have you believed in the good fairies or that
the Nightmare (an old woman called Drude) has sat
on you, or that you have ridden on an oven-fork on
the Blocksberg ? Dear brother, these things are heavy,
mortal sins, and whoever dies in them, brings his soul
into everlasting damnation ; for the Holy Faith must
not be disgraced/ ^

In another confession-book, much circulated in the
fifteenth century, the penitent is asked if he has beheved

' GefFcken, Beilagen, 99-100, Concerning tlic superstition, coming
from heathen times, that sorceresses could sell wind, see P. Pietsch in the
Zeitschr. fiir deutsche Philologie, xvi. 189-190.

2 Ihid. Beilagen, 129. •' Ihi



Online LibraryJohannes JanssenHistory of the German people at the close of the middle ages (Volume 16) → online text (page 19 of 45)