Johannes Janssen.

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

. (page 27 of 45)
Online LibraryJohannes JanssenHistory of the German people at the close of the middle ages (Volume 16) → online text (page 27 of 45)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Bentheim-Tecklenburg, who in the preface is called : ' optime in puriori
doctrina Christi et vera religione inatitutua'; p. 167 ff.: He praises in tho
same words the mother of this Count Arnold in the dedication of hia
Arzneibuch ^{lo'ii), 1583, 1588). Contemporaiies (Loos, Delrio) also
regarded him as a Protestant.



with the words : * But I would not be thought to assert
anything hero wliicli I would not have altogether sub-
mitted to the un])ioju(li('0(l judgment of the Catholic
Church of Christ,' anil I am ready to withdraw anything
in which 1 may become convinced of error. But
should anyone begin to oppose my book before any
error has been proved in it by clear evidence, I shall
consider it a grave offence, and with full right I freely
and openly enter my protest against such a one/ ~

Weyer's work caused a tremendous sensation.
Within twenty years it was printed five times, each
time being revised and enlarged ; in 1565 there already
appeared at Basle a German translation of it by John
Fuglin, undertaken under the auspices of the superin-
tendent of the town, Simon Sultzer ; this translation
went through another edition in the following year,
and in 1586 was ' again revised, enlarged and improved,'
and pubhshed afresh ; in 1567 Weyer himself prepared
a German translation of his work, and dedicated it to
the burgomasters and the council of Bremen ; three
French translations were also brought out."^ In the

' This passage also proves nothing as to the Catholic conviction of
Weyer; for in all the theological testimonial letters drafted by Melanchthon
we also find the recurring statement that the person examined acknow-
ledged the doctrine of the Catholic Church. Even in the last years of his
life Melanchthon continued to use this expression ; see Pastor, Die kirch'
lichen Reunionsbestrebungen wdhrend der Regierung Karls V. (Freiburg,
1879), p. 13.

- Lib. vi., 0pp. 569-572 ; cf. Binz, 61-63 ; ** 2nd ed. 63-65.
Eschbach, 142-143.

^ ** Paris, 1567-1569. SinehcOylSTd. For the different editions and
translations cf. Grasse, Bihl. magica, 55 ; Binz, 25-26, 65-66, 165-166 ;
Binz, Augustin Lerchheimer, xxviii. n. 1, and Binz, Joh. Weyer, 2nd ed.
pp. 25, 30 ff., 65-68, 182-185. In 1577 Weyer published a new book about
witches {De Lamiis), in which he briefly summed up the chief points of his
great work. In the introduction he expressed his dehght that since the


very first year after the appearance of this book
Weyer received six letters of approval, one from an
abbot, one from a preacher, one from a lawyer, and three
from physicians.^

Amongst the latter was a near comitryman of the
author, John Ewich from the Cleves district, first of all
medical practitioner at Duisburg, later town physician
and professor at the Lyceum at Bremen. In a letter to
Weyer of June 1, 1563, he expressed his full agreement
with the latter's opinions, but it was not till 1584 that,
on an appeal from Weyer, he openly espoused the cause
of the witches in a Latin pamphlet (which appeared the
next year in German), 'Von der Hexen, die man gemein-
hch Zauberinnen nennt, Natur, Kunst, Macht und
Taten.'- The pamphlet contains a prologue in verse by
Werner Ewich :

Of the witches' nature and their might
And what punishment is right
For them, I've written all compact
In the pages of this little tract,

appearance of his work, in most places, the so-called witches had not only
been treated more mildly, but also had not been punished by death, and
that he had received letters of sympathy and agreement with his utter-
ances from the most able scholars of every class and creed. On the other
hand, in his dedication of this smaller work to Count Arnold von Bentheim-
Tecklenburg-Steinfurt, he said that he had been moved to publish it because
he found that in spite of his greater work very cruel treatment of the
witches, who did no one any harm, still went on. Opera omnia, 671, 673,
729-730. Cf. Binz, 125-127 ; 2nd ed. pp. 68-70 ; Eschbach, 151-152.
A German translation of this publication, prepared by Henry Peter Reben-
stock, pastor at Eschersheim, appeared at Frankfort-on-tlio-Maine in 1586.
The translator, like the author, followed the same praiseworthy aim of
trying to induce the 'Magistratus politicus to be careful, to deal wisely
and circumspectly with such people, and not to be overhasty in contiemniiig
them ' (Bl. 3'').

' Binz, Joh, Weyer, 66-67 ; 2nd ed. p. 72. Eschbach, 144-147.

■ See Binz, Joh. Weyer, 84-87 (** 2nd ed. 94-95). I make use of
the German translation reprinted in f he Thmfr. de veneficis, 325-355.



Aiul writU'ii, maybe, bettor far
Than in biu books where long Hues are.
To this book, then, let all those turn
Who in easy mode would learn,
All about the witches' trade —
Hero they '11 find it well portrayed.
To learn the cause of a misdeed
I3 good, but better still indeed.
To leave it far behind and shun,
And after righteousness quick run.

Joliaiui Ewicli was not an out-and-out opponent of
the punisliment of witches. ' Sometimes/ he said,
' serious punishment must be inflicted on witches, just
as on wicked heretics.' This, however, must not be
done in an arbitrary and undiscriminating manner, but
* according to the circumstances of the case, the age of
the dehnquent, length of time and other considerations.'
' Children, who do not understand what they are
about, and very old people who are in their second
childhood, on both of whom Satan is fond of practising
his tricks, may justly, as in the case of other sins, be
let off punishment, but as far as possible they should
be guided to and taught better things.' Those also vnih.
whom there is hope of repentance must not be punished
with the utmost rigour. The rack must only be apphed
when the principal offence has been confessed : ' For
legal experts know well that in criminal matters the
evidence is clearer than the sun at noonday, but,
^vrung out of the accused by torment and martyrdom
it cannot be. Prisons were only intended as a pre-
cautionary means, not for punishment ; but as a matter
of fact they were so constructed and organised that
they might well be called the devil's hostels, and many
would rather die than remain long in such places.'
In contradistinction to the Calvinist theologian Lambert


Danaeus, Ewich spoke in favour of allowing the accused
the right of appeal from the lower to the higher courts,
' so that the former might learn something from the
latter, or be corrected and improved by them in points
which they had perhaps not thought of or had over-
looked/ If they did not proceed with all possible care
and circumspection in this witch business, there would
ensue chaos and confusion among the ruhng authorities,
discontent and sedition among the common people.
' Examples are at hand in plenty, and cry out almost
everywhere with a loud voice. A few years ago in the
Commonwealth of Venice the punishment of witches
was pushed to such extremes that, if the supreme
authorities had not looked into the matter and modified
things, almost all the women would have been rooted
out of the land by fire. Not long before this time in
the Brunswick district, they began this work with
the common people and went on to the nobles, even to
the highest of them, not without great scandal.' * For
Moloch takes special dehght in such burnt-offerings,
which are partly organised and conducted by him
himself, but are partly also the result of the inexperience
and indifference of other people, of unjust trials, of the
action of the godless of whom the world is full.' ' It is
certain that through the fault of the judges punish-
ment not infrequently falls on the guiltless. Alas,
what an unspeakable wrong is this, which not only
makes out the poor, wretched victims to be scandalous
and opprobrious, but also defames and cahiiniiiates
the whole human race and ail friendship ! W'uiikl it
not be better to let some escape if there was not suiUcient
evidence, rather than put tlie innocent to death ? It
is a shame and a disgrace to think for wliat flimsy


tatters of evidence, for what insane confessions, numbers
of people are executed with cruel torture.'^ With
perfect truth Ewich connected the increase of ' devihsh
witchcraft, as of many other gross sins, closely and
intimately with the evil hves and example of those
spiritual and secular authorities who by gluttony and
drunkenness, love of display and pride, by keeping
large, useless, food-consuming staffs of servants, devoured
whole towns and lands, who did not attempt to abohsh
scandals, w^ho did not help their subjects in their
distress, but abandoned, or themselves oppressed the
needy — whose poverty, in the opinion of all intelhgent
people, w^as often the cause of witchcraft — who did not
try to heal the breach in rehgious matters, but, on the
contrary, widened it, thus causing grievous war, and
leading land and people into irremediable suffering and
loss, so that everything w^as going to ruin and all gates
and doors were thrown open to Satan/ ^

Incomparably more important than Ewich's work
is a pubhcation which, under the name of Lerchheimer
von Steinfelden,'^ appeared jSrst at Heidelberg in 1585,
and in a third enlarged edition at Spires in 1597, under
the title ' Christhch Bedenken und Erinnerimg von
Zauberei, woher, was und wde viel faltig sie sei, wem
sie schaden konne oder nicht, wie diesem Laster zu
wehren und die so damit behaftet, zu bekehren oder
auch zu strafen sein/ -^ The author, who for reasons

' Pp. 325, 339, 346, 349-350. 2 Pp. 347-348.

' See our statements, vol. xii. 346 fE.

'' I make use here of the reprmt prepared by C. Binz from the edition
of 1597 : Augustin Lerchheimer (Professor H. Witekind at Heidelberg)
und seine Schrift wider den Hezenwahn, &c., Strasburg, 1888. The
phrase ' against the witch-folly ' (wider deu Hexenwahn) is unhappily
chosen. Our contributions will show how greatly Witekind himself was
still entangled in this ' folly ' ; it was only against the cruel system of


which are not known, concealed his own name under
an assumed one, was the Calvinistically minded Hermann
Wilcken, styled Witekind, professor of mathematics at
Heidelberg. No more than Weyer and Ewich did
he altogether deny the universally prevalent belief
in witches and magic ; indeed, though here and there
his statements contradict each other, he went much
further even than Weyer in his opinions about the
devil and his magic arts. He not only beheved in
bodily apparitions of Satan, in the devils in crystals,
rings, musk-balls, in formal compacts with the devil,
but also ' that Satan in the assumed shape of a man
could hold intercourse carnally with witches ; he did
not beheve, however, that the devil could breed children
from witches.' ' It is undoubted and undeniable,' he
says further, ' that spirits, though they have no bodies
themselves, can all the same carry the bodies of others
and material things from one place to another ; never-
theless it happens only rarely that the devil carries
witches away to other places, although they are seen
there and think they are there, for it is all only spectres
and dreams.' What the witches think they do them-
selves is all done by the devil. ' It is very easy for the
devil to send up some water from a tub into the air,
and to make out of it a cloud which will come down
in rain.' Concerning the weather-arts of the devil,
and how he deceived the witches and made them think

witch-persecution that he entered the lists with such fervour and resolute-
ness. Binz has not brought this out properly cither in his introduction to
his first edition of the ' nicmoranduin ' or in the discussion of the jmljUca-
tion in his Johann Weyer, p. 91 ff. ; in the second edition also (pp. 100 108)
the extracts given by Binz arc quite one-sided, so that the reader docs not
learn from them at all how much Ix-rchheimer himself was under the spoil
of the ' witch-folly.'

328 nisroKv of thk (jkrman pkoplk

tboy luul j)ioduced bad weather, Witekind spoke exactly
in the same strain as Ulrich MoHtor and Weyer.^
Concerning the niilk-steahng of witches he says : * A
witch cannot take the milk from your cow, any more
than any other person, unless she is there with her pail
to milk it. If your milk disappears in any other way,
be sure that the devil has weakened the cow so that
she becomes dry, or stolen the milk himself and blamed
the poor witches or anybody he hkes. Then they
draw milk from their distaffs or from a post just as it
appears to them and other godless bystanders/ ~ With
her bare hand or wdth bare w^ords a witch cannot kill
cattle or make them ill. ' But when the devil,' he adds,
* carries her bodily aw^ay in the shape of a cat or dog,
a bear or a wolf, which, however, only seldom happens
to women, oftener to men, then they steal and rob
and injure human beings and cattle : it is in a way
their own doing (the men's) and must be punished ;
and in so far as the devil helps them they are stronger
than they would be otherwise, but Satan does not do
all the work.' ^

In all these views Witekind, as is clearly seen, is by
no means on a higher plane than the great majority of
his contemporaries. In his answer to the question why
w^omen are so much oftener duped by the devil than
are men, he is completely in accord wdth the 'Witches*
Hanomer.' ' The reason is,' he writes, ' that women are
much more gulhble than men, more easily persuaded and
more inquisitive. Besides this they are beyond measure
more revengeful than men ; therefore, when they cannot

' Ed. of Binz, 6-23, 45-49, 62, 68-69.

2 p. 51 ; see what we have quoted above from Geiler von Kaisersberg on
this subject, at p. 259.
•' P. 93.


revenge themselves by their own unaided power, they
attach themselves to the de^dl, who instructs and
helps them, so that they can do it by means of sorcery
or with poison ; it is more often poor women than rich
ones who act hke this, and old ones than young ones.
The devil also most frequently taught his arts to women
because they were chatterers and could not keep any-
thing they knew secret, but passed it on to others, and
so his school increased and his followers multiphed/^
As regards the pmiishment of mtches Witekind did

' p. 13 ; cf. p. 44. In order to depreciate the merits of the Jesuit Paul
LajTnann in his dealing with witches (we shall speak about this later on),
Binz says {Joh. Weyer, 114) : ' He (Laymann) asked in all seriousness the
question why more women than men alUed themselves \vith the devil :
" Because women, o\ving to want of power of judgment and of experience,
beheve him more readily and let themselves be deceived more easily . . .
and similar absm-dities." ' Binz has here overlooked the fact that Weyer and
Witekind, who are rightly praised by him, ' in all seriousness ' uttered ' similar
absurdities.' ** Binz in the second edition (p. 119 ff.) repeats, unaltered,
the words we have quoted, and adds the remark (p. 120) : ' In order to
punish me for tliis passage and for my objective criticism of Laymann,
J. Janssen (viii. 563 of the earlier edition) twits me with the fact that Weyer
and Witekind had " in all seriousness uttered the same absurdities." This
is simply incorrect. Weyer {0pp. omnia, 178) only asks the question, why
women are more easily bUnded by the devil in this respect, that they
imagine they have done all sorts of monslrosa rerum ludibria {0pp. omnia,
161), which they could not possibly have done, whereas with Laymann the
question chiefly is " why women more readily unite themselves with the
devil, learn from Mm his evil ways and give themselves up to his godless
help and counsel." This nonsense and the two words used by Laymann,
libido and laxus (lust and luxury), applied to the poor, wretched old women
I explained then and explain still to-day as an absurdity. In Weyer there is
nothing about it, and what Witekind says on the subject may bo seen on
p. 102, and especially p. 106.' I may point out that on p. 106 nothing
can be found of 'what Witekind says on the suljjcct.' At p. 102 IT. a
passage is quoted from Witekind on the inability of witches to make
weather ; at p. 106 the passage against the reality of witch-dances (in
Janssen, p. 567 ff. [in the earUer German edition]) ; all that appears
in Janssen, p. 562 ff. (of the earUer edition) is passed over in complete
silence by Binz. And, nevertheless, all this indignation against Janssen !


not agree with Weyer, but adopted the sterner stand-
point that ' witches, even if they had not effected any
real injury, were by no means innocent or undeserving of
punishment ' ; on the contrary, on account of their
apostasy from God and Christ and their alhance with
the devil, ' they were so sinfid and criminal that with
all the pains and penalties that all the magistrates on
earth could inllict on them they could not be punished
enough.' 1 ' But alas,' he goes on, ' it is not only sorcerers
and witches who are thus seceders from God and
vassals and courtiers of the devil, but the whole world
is full of such, and the greater number of them are
found among us pretended Christians and evangelicals.
In the burning of witches who had given themselves
up to the devil, appeal was made to the law of Moses,
but with others who were guilty of the same crime,
nobody troubled about the Mosaic injunctions. The
godless riff-raff, the soldiery, openly and shamelessly
outraged and blasphemed God, yea, verily, boasted that
if the devil would pay them they would serve him.
Is it not a common thing with shopkeepers and mer-
chants that for the sake of one batz or kreuzer they
will deny God and sell themselves to the devil ? "So
true as God is," they say, " it cost me so much.'' Now
it did not cost so much, therefore to them and for them
there is no God. It is as good as to say, "If it cost me
less, I am of the devil." They act hke this so often
that the " grocer's oath " has become a proverb ;
" An der Kramer Schweren soil sich niemand kehren."
If anyone uttered a false oath before the magistrates
and thus made God a har and denied Him, he was not
pimished with death, as Moses decreed, saying : "The

1 P. 93.


blasphemer of God shall be put to death." " Sorcerers"
and " necromancers " of high repute are not only not
punished but they are patronised, promoted, honoured ;
they hobnob with lords at court and at table, although
they ought to be punished more severely than are the
women, for the simple reason that they are men/

If in order to defend their sternness and severity
towards poor senseless women they appeal to Moses^
why do they not pay attention to the other laws of
Moses, for instance those respecting adulterers and
adulteresses, respecting Sabbath-breakers, and so forth ?
'Moses decreed that a thief should restore double, or
even quadruple, what he had stolen. Our magistrates
hang a thief on the gallows and take to themselves the
stolen goods. Item, God commanded His people through
Moses to observe that beautiful and useful institution,
the jubilee year, by which immovable property had to
be bought and sold under the condition that in the
jubilee year, which was the fiftieth year, it should
return to the owner or his heirs. This with us is a
strange and unknown thing.'

* Now if our rulers and magistrates are so eager and
conscientious in obeying the law of Moses in the matter
of punishing witches by burning, they ought also to
remember better, and to carry out faithfully in their
territories and among their subjects what Moses further
decreed and what was acted upon in the Jewish pohcy,
for preventing and checking sorcery. If they see and
do the one, let them also see and do the other which
stands side by side with it. Tlie .Jewish land was
everywhere at all times alive with the service of God,
with instruction and sacrifice, with discipline and
practice. The whole nation was obliged to appear


three times a year at Jerusalem, to hear and learn the
law of God, and to receive from the High Priests and the
Elders other rules and ordinances serviceable to godly
living and good morals. Throughout the whole land,
in every corner of it, there were synagogues or churches,
and every individual was obhged to attend in his own
every Sabbath Day to hear the Word of God, to pray, to
give ahns ; they were obhged also to observe the new
moons and many other ceremonies. And the syna-
gogues were well officered by Levites, of whom there
were many thousands in that small country.' ' When
the people were thus constrained and kept up to the
service of God it was not unjust that those who turned
from God to the devil should be severely punished.'
' But what happens in such a case mth us ? '
With serious exhortation to the rulers and those
in high authority Witekind proceeded to show that
nothing was done to check sorcery, and that therefore
it was no wonder that witches were multiplying.
There was everywhere a want of Christian teaching
and discipline. ' We find numbers of villages in which
there is no parson ; three or four villages have but one
pastor amongst them all. In what sort of way one
man could attend to so many cures can easily be
imagined, even if he were clever and dihgent, which few
of them are.' Divine service was less and less attended,
Sunday desecrated with impunity ; the men ' take com
or wine into the towns on Sundays or sit drinking and
gambling in the pubHc-houses ; the women wash, scrub,
clean their houses, iron out their clothes.' The pastors
' do not notice all the vice that is to be seen among
the people, and do not reprove them in their sermons.
Hence it follows that the majority of the parishioners


know notliing at all about God, about His will, about
fear of, obedience and prayer to Him. Only recently,
in a little country town where I was staying, there was
a burgher's wife sixty years old who was dying, and
when an intelhgent. God-fearing neighbour admonished
her that she should put away all worldly thoughts and
turn her mind to God and pray to Him, she answered
that she did not know how to pray, and so she passed
away hke a heathen. It is no wonder that the devil
settles himself down among such people to teach them
superstition and sorcery. And then the authorities
start up, and throw them into dungeons and then into
the fire, and think they have thus fulfilled their ofhce.
It 's just as if a schoolmaster flogged his pupils when
they did wrong, not having first taught them what was

* Rulers and judges will no doubt say : "What you
tell us of church teaching, discipHne and compulsion
that went on in Judaea, for the prevention of sorcery,
is difficult and indeed scarcely possible to carry out in our
districts and dominions." Answer : it is more difficult
certainly than simply to order the executioner to carry
ofi a pack of women and burn them.'

' There is still more to be said. Those who wish
to be thought administrators of both tables of the Ten
Commandments, often know as little of what is said in
the one as in the other. They hear perhaps from their
town-clerk that it stands written in the Bible : wlioever
blasphemes God's name Hke the witches, he shall die
the death ; this belongs to the first table. As if the
first table had been sufficiently observed and respected
when ignorant, superstitious, foolish people had been
put to death, and as if it were not better carried out by


teaching those people aiul helping them to reform.
What 's more, one often finds among these people in
authority, men who do not beUeve that there is a God
in heaven, or a hfe after this hfe ; why, I heard a parson
say that his baihe openly declared and boasted that he
could not beheve otherwise than that men died just hke
cattle, and he had never been any the worse for thinking
this. How could such a man have regard to the honour
of God in conducting a trial and passing sentence ? He
damns and burns the witches on account of his horse,
or his cow, which have died, and because a hail-storm,
which he thinks the witches made, has destroyed his
corn. But people who have made God and His Word
Hars, who have openly denied our religion's first and last
article, that on which they were baptised, that on the
strength of which we are pre-eminently Christians, which

Online LibraryJohannes JanssenHistory of the German people at the close of the middle ages (Volume 16) → online text (page 27 of 45)