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loose among us, and as if he had taken up his abode
on earth? ' It was no isolated case that occurred when,
at Ortenberg, a w^oman was led to the stake who had
been accused as a witch by her own son, because of the
unchristian Hfe of blaspheming, swearing and fighting
which she led at home.^

' Because, in addition to the dreadful cursing and
swearing,' preached Bernhard Albrecht in Augsburg,
' anger also, quarrelUng and hatred, murder and blood-
shed are no longer considered wrong and punishable
among the children of the world, God is punishing it all
with this revengeful and murderous rabble of the devil,
who is a murderer from the beginning and only dehghts
in strangHng and killing, and who is incessantly inciting
his instruments, the sorcerers and witches, to commit
murder and slaughter among mankind/ -

Other contemporaries declared ' blasphemy of God '
to be a kind of initiation into the art of magic and witch-
craft. It was, as it were, ' a pestilence diabolically
poisoning the air, and it must be a source of horror and
alarm that already the whole of the youthful world
was practising such vices like a trade/ ' Young children
in the streets,' it says in a ' Prognosticum ' of the year
1595, ' swear and blaspheme nowadays in a way to make
the very stones cry out/ '^ People actually went so far
as to compete with each other as to who could invoke
the devil with the worst oaths and imprecations. In
Dresden, on one occasion, twenty people were punished
by imprisonment, banishment and the pillory for having
engaged in a competition of this sort.''

The preacher Caspar Goldwurm (1567), among others,

» Volk, 9. - -Albrcclit, Magia, 239-240.

•■' Prognost. theol. ii. 58. ' Week, 541.


also brought into conniwion with witchcraft tlie sins
of iininoraHtv which were carried on openly and shame-
losslv, aiul the altogrtlior abominable sodomy that
went on.'

In the witch-trials tluMnselvcs the accounts, too
revolting for description, of the orgies between the
devil and the witches, appear as the basis of witch-
craft and present an appalling picture of the times.
Frequently trials for immorality and adultery changed
under the judges' hands into wdtch- trials, and there can
be no doubt that very many of those who were charged
with witchcraft were people who had been guilty of the
worst offences against morality. ' Witch-gatherings,
i.e. nocturnal assembhes and orgies among the common
people, in which rakes and debauchees, travelhng
students, landsknechts, bawds and prostitutes, with
or without disguise, played the part of devils and she-
devils, did in reahty not seldom take place.^ As Httle

' Cf. Jacobs in the Zeitschr. des Harzvereins, iii. 796.

■ Cf. Jacobs in the Zeitschr. des Harzvereins, iv. 294 fl. ; Raubert, 9 ;
Reuss, La sorcelkrie, 130 n. ; Stober, 300; Holzinger, 37-38. Profligate
gathering.s of whole villages are mentioned, for instance, by Wagner, Gesch.
von Hadumar, ii. (2nd. ed.) 288. The Jesuit Adam Tanner [Theol.
scholast. iii. 4) tells of such gatherings and calls them ' diaboli gymnasia ct
strigum utriusque sexus seminaria.' Cf. B. Duhr in the Innsbrucker
Zeitschr. fiir Icathol. Theologie, xii. 135, Concerning she-devils, see Zeitschr.
des Harzvereins, iv. 291-293 ; Reuss, 30. ' That the females inquired into
led disreputable lives,' wrote Vilmar, 177, 'is in the majority of cases known
to me, declared by the witnesses : generally, too, proved and acknowledged.'
' Evidently the debauchees of the period made use of the glamour of occult
arts and enjoyments to work on the evil tendencies of the common people
and to gain for themselves greater security in the practice of their immorali-
ties.' Sometimes 'the evil one, with his black hat and three feathers, one
white, one green, and one black,' was no other than a landsknecht ; a case
belonging to the beginning of the seventeenth century makes it tolerably
ceitain that a ' witch-dance ' did*veritably occur, but the devils were only
wild adventurers of the period, cavaliers, landsknechts and students.


can it be doubted that among men and women, and that
not only of the lower classes, extensive use was made of
all sorts of intoxicants and narcotics, either as drinks
or as salves, as for instance hellebore, deadly nightshade,
white poppy, henbane, and so forth, which roused
" lustings and enticements,'' caused deep sleep accom-
panied by all sorts of phantasms, in which the witches
dreamt of dancing, eating, drinking, music and suchlike,
and also beheved that they were flying through space.' i

Shame and a bad conscience, so it appears, shut the mouths of the
females — even they knew quite weU who their paramours were, and they
preferred caUing them devils rather than men. In an ' Instruction ' which
Hemy Institoris gave a colleague in 1485, it says : ' Regula generalis est,
quod omnes maleficae a iuventute carnalitatibus et adulteriis servierunt
variis, prout experientia docuit.' In Ammann, Innsbrucker Hexenprozess
von 1485 (see above, p. 251, n. 1 ), p. 39. Wuttke {Der deutsche Volksabcrglauhe
der Gegenwart, 2nd. ed. pp. 144-145), rightly says : ' It may fairly be
assumed that a large number of the witches accused at that period were
also thorouglily depraved people, addicted to godless living, who greedily
adopted the blacker elements of heathen superstition and were willing to
tm'n sorcery to the worst possible usss.'

' See Holzingcr, 10-16. The author combats the view put forward by
L. Mejer in his pamphlet ' Die Periode der Hexenprozesse ' (Hanover, 1882),
' that the intoxicating draught was a concoction made from the thorn-apple,
wliich when taken produced visions and di-eams.' The result of Holzinger's
researches is that tlie thorn-apple was very rare in Europe till the close of
the sixteenth century, and not known at all in Germany till the first half
of the eighteenth century. According to Woyer's account of the witch-
salves {De praestigiis daemonum, lib. ii. cap. 31), the chief ingredients,
besides a variety of innocuous things, were always the saps of narcotic
herbs, which had a specially powerful effect on the sensorium (p. 14).
Concerning the ' witch and sorcerers' brews ' which the associated witches
prepared on the Walpurgis night, under invocation of the devil, see the
witches' confessions in the Zeilschr. des Harzvereinii, vi. 310 ff., also iv. 298.
Maury, La m'tgic, 423 ff. Concerning witch-salves, sec also Moehsen,
Gesch. der lFmeM«cA«//en, 439-441 ; Franck, 129; Schindlcr, 280-287;
Reuss, La sorcelkrie, 132-136. ** Geiger in Burckhardt, KiiUiir der
Renaissance, ii. (7th ed.) 356 ff. For Weyer's account of the sleep- and
dream-producing poisonous plants, amongst whicli he puts l)elladonna in
the forefront, see Binz, Joh. Weye.r, 2nd. ed. p. 36 ff. Binz further remarks,
p. 37 : 'I could also prove, from present-day medical experiences, tliat


\\'r\- friH|iu'nlly, acconl'mg to reports of the trials,
* oils, salves, injurious ])owders, pots and cauldrons
with vermin and men's bones, toads in potsherds or
jars,' were found in the dweUing-places of the accused.
According to the statements of the witches the salves,
for wliii'h tlie fat of nuirdered and unbaptised children
was used by preference, served both for ' the necessary
anointing for the performance of witch-dances and for
magic injury to human beings/ Of real poison-mixers,
male and female, there was no lack among the * sorcerers
and witches ' brought up for trial ; as with so many
of the trials for immorality, so too trials for nmrder,
robbery and deadly injuries, w^ere often conducted as
witch-trials, ' because the devil had certainly had the
largest, if not the sole share in the game, and because
he led all those who were befooled or subjugated by
him — even without an express compact — into all such
inhuman abominations.' Many people also entered into
actual league with the devil, and thought ' by the use of
fiendish means to make themselves masters of super-
human arts with a view to injuring their fellow-men/^

under such acute poisoning with narcotic drugs women will have dreams
having all the appearance of actuahty. If we transplant all this to the
brains of people of Joh. Weyer's time, we can easily beUeve that the latter,
in their search for natural explanations of witchcraft, also stumbled upon
dream-bringing poisons. Here and there such narcotics were perhaps the
cause' of self-deception and error in others. It shows, however, but slight
acquaintance witli the mechanism of these horrors to represent these herbs
as the ordinary cause of such things and to exculpate in consequence the

' There is much in the witch-trials wliich points to incidents such as
R. V. Kraflt-Ebing describes in his Psychopathia sexiialis (5th ed. Stuttgart,
1890) ; see especially p. 46 ff. on the psycho-sexual monsters, corpse-
violaters, and so forth. That in the witches' ' confessions ' as to poisoning,
murder, &c., it was often enough a question of real crimes, may be inferred
from the numerous instances of crimes of the most recent time, quoted by


Nevertheless the number of innocent victims was
out of all proportion to the guilty. In the first place

the author. In the witch- trials themselves, moreover, there are adequate
proofs of this ; see G. W. v. Raumer, Mdrkische Hexenprozesse, 239 fF. ;
Jacobs, in the Zeitsch. des Harzvereins, iv. 303-304; Rhamm, 104. As
an explanation of witch proceedings in general v. Raumer says {Nach-
richten, 236-237) : ' The witch- trials in which, in the preceding century,
were seen only self-deception, intentional fraud and sheer superstition,
have in recent times regained importance for the reason that the experi-
ences and data collected on the subject of magnetism, and the phenomena of
so-called somnambulism, show at least this much, that underlying the facta
which come down to us from the past there is — to judge from all the cir-
cumstances — an actual state of exaltation, of ecstasy, and that under
certain presupposed conditions one human being can work upon another
in a manner far svu-passing anything possible in a normal, healthy state,
and which may to a certain extent be characterised as bewitchment. With-
out therefore attributing any objective reality to the marvels of sorcerers,
the leagues of the witches with Satan, the rides on the Blocksberg, and so
forth, which we must always put down to superstition, it must neverthe-
less now be conceded that a certain element of reaUty may reasonably be
recognised in many of the accounts of the be\^^tchment of human beings
and cattle, and the injury done by poisons and incantations ; particu-
larly it has been shown that diseased states of exaltation may pass from ono
to another by a kind of infection. Thus, the accounts preserved to us on
this matter have at the present day a higher psychological interest, since
they bear witness to pecuUar subjective conditions on the dark side of
mental Ufe, which, though they must be regarded as mere abnormal con-
ditions, and by no means, as is sometimes done, as religious and normal
spiritual states, are at any rate worthy of the same attention which every
other enigmatical disease of the body deserves. The burning of witches
(although frequently other crimes worthy of death were mixed up with
witchcraft) must always be regarded as a most melancholy aberration,
but we must none the less grant nowadays that the superstition of our
ancestors, and their consequent misconception of justice, was essentially due
to the fact that they attributed an actual objective reality, a corpus delicti,
to speak juridically, to leagues with the devil, which, according to the ideas
then current of the proper penalties for sins committed against God, it was
right to punish with the severest mode of death.' See the ' Erkldrungsver-
suche' in matters of witchcraft, in Diefenbach, 1G9-17G. Further, let mo
also refer to C. Du Prel (himself indeed highly steeped in superstition)
and his Studien aiis dem Oehiete der Oeheimwissenschafkn (Leipzig, 1890),
Part i. chap. i. ; on witches and mediums, chap. ii. ; the witches'
trial by water, pp. 1-34, A. Biermer, ' Psychische Volkskrankheiten,'


in tlio witi'h-trials, in many cases, it is a question of
mentally afflicted persons, suftering from illusions of
si'^lit or hearing, and all that they say about the devil
anil his dominion over all mental and bodily hfe, about
devil's arts and devil's brides, sabbaths and orgies is
simply what they had heard from their youth up and
had come in consequence to think they had themselves
experienced. Of mental diseases, however, the people of
that age, speaking generally, had Uttle understanding ;
they regarded them as something contrary to nature,

in the Deutsche Revue (Novemberheft, 1890). ** Riezler says
(p. 155 ff.): 'Every explanation which is sought for in the actions,
conditioas, or capacities of the accused, and not in the notions of the
magistrates and the method of juridical procedure, is to be rejected. . . .
A>.suredly the people of that age often dreamt witchcraft : the opposite
would indeed be wonderful, seeing that there was so much talk about it
in daily life and the subject enormously excited the imagination. The
frequent *' confessions " of intercourse with the devil were chiefly to be
attributed to the dreams of the tortiired victims, who through suffering and
terror were often driven nearly mad. Even in the minds of those who were
free from accusation, every witch-trial called up images which could not
fail to haunt them waking and dreaming. But the use of narcotic means
was not necessary for this, and dreams of this sort have nothing to do with
the imprisonment and sentences of witches. Suggestion came about either
through witchcraft being in the air, and thus forcing itself on the fancy of
the victims, or through the judges suggesting the subject-matter of the
" confessions." ' P. 157 ff. : ' Janssen-Pastor sets too much store by these
attempts at an explanation, assuming that many of the persons accused
of witchcraft were depraved people guilty of the heaviest offences against
moraUty, that witch-gatherings in reality not seldom occurred, that all
sorts of intoxicants and narcotics were in vogue in the shape of drinks and
salves, that many also actually entered into leagues with the devil. Finally,
as regards the connexion between witchcraft and mental disease, a doctor
in his investigation of the matter (Snell, Hezenprozesse und Geistesstorung,
Munich, 1891) has come to the rightful conclusion that among the victims
of witch-trials, mentally deranged persons figured on exceedingly few
occasions. Snell's assumption (pp. 74-1 12 ff. ) that the first impulse to investi-
gation in many of the trials was given by the statements of sick, and above
all hysterical people, can be accepted only by substituting for the words
" a large number " " a comparatively small number." * _


as evidence of punishable magic or necromantic in-
fluences : not seldom also other diseases, epilepsy,
hysteric seizures, or somnambuhsm, were treated as
sorcery and witchcraft, and their victims burnt to

Most of the accused, however, fell a prey to the worst
of passions.

The behef in witchcraft and sorcery, by which all
brains were possessed, and the concomitant terror of
witches, that had become a regular popular craze, were
perpetually fed and strengthened on the one hand by
the growing demorahsation around, while on the other
hand they were an abundant source of vice and depravity,
of greed, calumny, faithlessness, envy, persecution,
bloodthirstiness and murder. In trials innumerable
the moral depravity of the torturers, the ofiicials,
judges and clerks play a disgraceful part, whilst in
case after case the whole judicial procedure against
the witches was conducted in such a manner that
many thousands of innocent victims were driven, mad
with torture, to the stake, and out of every funeral pile
rose a fresh crop of witches.





By the ' penal statute of Charles V/ — the so-called
Carolina^ — which was ratified at the Ratisbon Diet of
1532, it was ordained by imperial law that sorcery-
should be treated as a criminal ofience. ' If anybody/
so ran the decree (Article 109)/ inflicts injury on people
by sorcery, he shall be punished in life and body, and
the punishment shall be through fire. When, however,
sorcery has been used, without injury being done to
anybody, the penalty shall be according to the circum-
stances of the case, whereon the judges shall take
counsel/ ^

» ** See above, p. 176 £f.

* This decree was taken from the criminal ordinance drafted in 1507 by
the Baron John von Schwarzenberg for the prince-bishopric of Bamberg.
In the Bamberg laws previous to the time of Schwarzenberg of which we
have any record there is not the slightest trace of the crime of witchcraft.
See H. Zopfl, Das alte Bamberger Becht als Quelle der Karolina (Heidelberg,
1839), p. 121. ** Concerning John von Schwarzenberg, ' who later on
became one of Luther's most zealous adherents,' Riezler (p. 138) remarks :
* The mind of this man had a marked incUnation to dogmatism, and especi-
ally to belief in the devil's influence in the world. The devil enters into the
titles of the two publications in which he declared his Protestant conviction,


' If anybody confesses to sorcery/ says Article 52,
' the causes and circumstances must be inquired into,
wherewith, how and when the sorcery was exercised,
with what words or actions. The person must also be
asked from whom he learnt sorcery, whether he had
practised it on other people, and on whom, what injury
he had caused by it.'

As ' sufficient reasons for examination by torture '
Article 54 mentioned the following : ' If anybody sets
up to instruct others in sorcery, or threatens to bewitch
anyone, and the person in question is bewitched ; also
if anyone has special relations with sorcerers or
sorceresses, or deals in suspicious things, gestures, words
and spells of such sort as carry magic in them, and the
said person is also notorious in these matters.'

In Article 58, ' Von der Mass peinlicher Frage,' it
says : ' The statements which the accused makes under
torture shall not be accepted or written down, but he
shall make his statements when he is released from

To these decrees of the Imperial statute-book the
judges appealed when conducting witch- trials ; but
the regulations in these same statute-books for the
protection of the accused were seldom observed by them.

It was also enjoined by statute that the judges were
to be expressly debarred from all recourse to suggestive
questions. The accused were to be questioned ' as to all
the circumstances of the evil doing, in order to get to the
basis of truth ' ; but this object was defeated if these

Beschworung cler teuflischen Schlangen mit dem gdltlichen Wort (1524),
and the work directod in 152G against the Franciscan Schatzgor with tlie
rhymed title Biichkin, Kultenschlag genannt, da.'i Tcufels-Lehrer tnacht
bekannt.' For the Karolina and its jjcnal decroos agaiast witchcraft, soo
also Diefenbacli, Der Zauberglaube des IGlen Juhrh. [>. 102 IT.


Online LibraryJohannes JanssenHistory of the German people at the close of the middle ages (Volume 16) → online text (page 24 of 45)