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is the reason of all our doing and suffering, namely an
immortal hfe, these people, I say, are not only allowed
to go unpunished, but they are actually set up over
others ; but the foolish deluded women must die for
such an offence, even the new-born children with the
mothers, which is gruesome even to hear about, to say
nothing of seeing it.' ^

Through these utterances Witekind had reached the
firm position of a strong and manly champion of these
* miserable women,' a warm and eloquent denouncer of
the tortures and death-sentences inflicted on them, and
a fearless enemy of the advocates and defenders of such
tortures and sentences, whom he very properly recom-
mended as fit subjects for the pillory.-

' P. 93 ff.

- We shall return later on to this subject when dealing with Bodin,
Remigius and Binsfald,


The * confession ' of five sorceresses who were
* recently burned at N/ was his inunediate incitement
to the writing of his pamphlet. ' My heart ached for
them/ he said, * when I heard the accounts of those who
had been present and had seen the horrible spectacle/
For these unhappy victims, indeed, his pamphlet came
too late : it was ' rede after the deed/ ' These women
are dead, as thousands have died before them, and
thousands are still dying. Nevertheless by recalhng and
contemplating past things we may direct and improve
future ones."*^ He examines the different points in the
' confessions ' extorted on the rack and shows what
nonsense and falsehood it all is. Two of these witches,
it is said amongst other things, ' went together to have
a bath, and on the way they saw a witch-dance going
on in a field. How came it that other people who were
passmg by or who were in the neighbourhood of the
field did not also see it ? It was an illusion and a
phantasy, as when a sick person, lying delirious, thinks
he sees a tall, black man by his bedside, and begs that he
may be driven away, but others in the room see that there
is no one standing there. Once I went towards evening
to H. and walked across the bridge. There I saw a
crowd of people staring at the mountain and making a
great outcry. I asked what was the matter. " Look,"
said one of them, ' ' how the witches are dancing up there. "
When I looked up I could see nothing more than that
the wind was blowing in the trees and agitating them.
This, for the people, was a witch-dance. Such is the
power of superstition and imagination.' ^

P. 139.

2 The writer was a Calvinist, but no blind dospi.ser of Catholic tcachera.
When he speaka of tlio ' Hupposcd witch-daaccs and love-makings,' lie \a.'\\h
his readers that they must above all remember that the evil spirit showed


* If certain good people who are so hard and cruel
towards these poor, miserable women, knew or re-
membered what sort of opportmiities most of them had
had, in what ignorance, want ot all necessaries, and
wretcliodness they lived, they would be more merciful
towards them. The rich and the well-to-do know not
and care not how things go with the poor ; hke that
duchess at N. who, when she heard that many of her
subjects were dying of hunger, said : " What senseless
people they nmst be ; I would rather eat wecke (a sort
of bread) and Bohemian cheese than die of hunger/'
The fat sow does not know how the hungry one

* If anyone thinks that the witches hold revelries,

thereby that ho highly esteemed dancing, and all the immorality, harlotry
and adultery which dancing produced, that he took special delight in these
things since he provided no other pleasure or amusement for his friends.
' This, in my opinion, is the reason that the preachers under the papacy were
wont to frighten the people from dancing with these words : Whenever two
people, a man and a woman, dance together, the devil, a third person,
dances between them ' (p. 150). In the third, and for the last time en-
larged, Frankfort edition of 1627 the author refers (pp. 137-140) for the
statement, ' Dancing in itself, and in the way in which it is now carried on,
is bad,' to a ' Uttle German CathoUc book printed a hundred years ago at
Heidelberg,' and to Geiler von Kaisersberg, and on this occasion also brings
forward his own reUgious standpoint. ' And so their honours can see from
this, if they did not know it before, that dancing was considered punishable
and vicious among decent, respectable, right-minded Christians before
Calvin, nay even before Luther was born. Whosoever reminds us of evil
customs and habits and warns us against them let him be or be called
what you will, him we should follow, in order to put down any evil, be it as
common and of as long standing as it may. How insolent and perverted
a judgment it shows in so many people nowadays to say : that teaching,
that admonition is Calvinistic, therefore it is erroneous and to be rejected.
Whether I agree in all points with Calvin or with Luther, need not be dis-
cussed here. This, however, I do say, that whatever I read in theii- books,
or in the books of others, that strikes me as good and true, that I accept
for instruction and improvement according to the dictum of the wise
scholar: " Look only at that which is spoken, not at him who speaks it." '


eat and drink and carouse on their dancing-grounds, let
him be answered in advance that they do not do so.
And even if they did, and sat down to loaded tables,
it would all the same be a delusion, and they would
go away just as hungry as they came. If the judges
had inspected the dancing-grounds of the witches the
day after their supposed dances they would have found
no footprints there nor a single blade of grass trodden
down. It is truly marvellous that there are people
found to beheve all this ; not to mention that even
distinguished persons, judges and rulers hold it to be
true and pass sentence accordingly.'

* As for their "confessions " about human beings and
cattle bewitched by them into sickness or death, such
cases ought to have been investigated to discover
whether the injury had been caused by poison, by
hacking, by stabbing or by knocking down ; without
some such action nothing could be done by the witches,
and it must have been the devil or else some natural
cause. For to mutter words or stretch the hand over
an animal would not hm-t it or kill it, miless poison
was used also. And even if they use herbs, salves and
powder, and pretend to work injury with these, the
judges should inquire of the doctor and others skilled
in physics, whether the things used have such power
or not, and they should take their time and not hasten
to have people killed.' ' I have lately had a powder
in my keeping and in my hand (to my thinking it was
soot from a chimney) which the devil had given to a
sorcerer in an egg-shell, so that he might work evil with
it, amongst others to his squire to make him ill, and lie
laid it on the bridge over which the squire passed. Had
the powder had this power it would have made



Others ill also who crossed this same bridge, and who,
moreover, kept it in their houses, as did I and my

'And even if such a woman did kill a horse, an ox, a
siieep or a dog, is it not enough that she should pay
compensation and be punished also for her offence,
but not with death ? A human being for an animal
is an unequal bargain/ '

Above all Witekind insisted that no weight must be
attached to the information given by witches concerning
their associates in the devil's dances. ' In that which,
witches tell and inform about against each other, there
is no thought as to what justice and law require in an
accuser and a witness, namely that they should be
known to be absolutely truthful persons. But the
devil, at w^hose instigation and in whose name the
sorceresses tell tales and give information about others
is an open undoubted liar, and through all the world
and in all times he has been denounced as a har, yea and
the father of hes, as the Son of God Himself said.
Secondly, a witness must not be hostile towards those
against whom he gives evidence. But the devil, who
rules the mind and speech of these women, is not only
hostile to this human being or the other, but is so
incensed against the whole of humanity, that if he
could " drown us in a spoon " as the saying is, and
destroy us all in a moment, he would do so. Thirdly,
a witness must be honourable and have a good name
and repute. These women, however, are held to be
disreputable. Fourthly, a witness must be in full
possession of his reason, and must not be childish,
foohsh and superstitious. These women are so crazed

' Pp. 132-137.


and distracted in their minds that they do not know
what they are saying either about themselves or others,
as any intelhgent person who hstens to them can tell
plainly from their talk and their gestm?es, and "from the
fact that they will often, without compulsion, of their
own free will, tell and boast of the injury that they can
do and have done by their acts. " Yes,'' says some one,
"they are so full of the evil spirit, so fiercely hostile to
God and His Word that they will even spit in the face
of the minister of the Church while he is instructing them ;
should not such people be burnt ? " Well then let other
people possessed of the devil, who behave in the same
way, also be burned. But the Lord Christ and His
disciples succoured such as these, and with us now, all
pious Christians should have pity on them, and pray
to God for their dehverance and healing.'

Although everything in the ' confessions ' was the
outcome of superstition and craziness, yet ' no one
had pity on these people, but one and all cried out.
Away with the enemies of God and man, to the fire with
them ! Whether, however, the magistrates did right
in following such a mad outcry and passing sentence
accordingly, I leave it to you, dear readers, to decide
from the above written statements and from your own
careful consideration, and to answer before the judgment
seat of God. I knew the wife of a prince, a kindly
matron, who used to intreat of her husband (who was
otherwise kind and merciful and finally aboHshed
witch-burning throughout his land) to have pity on
such women and to spare them. When the common
people found this out they settled that she too nmst
be a witch. Such an unreasoning beast is the stupid
populace. Therefore, all rulers who let themselves



bo giiidoil by its judgment are unfit to wield

Of the tribunal which burnt those five sorceresses
* it was universally said : as the witches would not
confess their evil deed under torture, to the extent that
the torturers required, a renowned magician was paid
highly to come from several miles off to the rescue.
He placed a herb in their laps and they at once con-
fessed to all and more than they had been asked.
What a gross and fearful sin it is before God that
sorcery should be punished by sorcery, that the devil
should be employed for the fulfilment of justice, and
his servants and slaves rewarded with money. And
it is an iniquitous and corru23t deed before the world
that the women, the poor, feeble, httle sorceresses,
should have been thrown into the fire, and the man,
the great, strong sorcerer, not only let go unpunished,
but handsomely paid ; the man in whom was a devil
so much stronger and more masterful than in them,
for their devils wilhngly surrendered and yielded
obedience to him. The villain of a man ought to have
been burnt first, for if the witches were burnt justly
and right was done in their case, great wrong was done
in the man's case, and the law of Moses, to which such
high respect was paid in these trials, together with
the imperial law, was quite overlooked.' -

* If anybody,' says Witekind in conclusion, ' thinks
my sympathy with the witches " silly simphcity " I
leave to him his superior wisdom. Let him see to it,
however, that he be not too wise in the matter, as I am
too foohsh. Better it is to be, and rather would I be
too merciful than too cruel, above all in this comphcated,

' Pp. 137-138. " P. 139,


perplexing and incomprehensible question. Let him
who can hit on the happy mean which, in this as in
all other things, is difficult to do.'

Like Weyer and Witekind (' Augustine Lerchheimer '),
from whose works he constantly quotes, the Lutheran
John George Godelmann, Doctor of Law and Professor
at the Rostock University, also advocated mild treat-
ment of \vitches. In 1584 he gave pubhc lectures at
Eostock on the Carolina and pubhshed part of them
in Latin ; ^ these lectures probably appeared first in
1590,- and ' with the author's knowledge ' were trans-
lated into German in 1592 by the Hessian Superintendent
George Nigrinus under the title * Von Zauberern,
Hexen und Unholden wahrhaftiger und wohlgegrlindeter
Bericht.' 3

' Tractatus de magis, veneficis et lamiis rede cognoscendis et pwiie^idis.
See Binz, Joh. Weyer, 87-90 (** 2nd ed. pp. 96-98). I make use of tho
Nuremberg edition of 1676.

- ** Binz, Joh. Weyer, 2nd ed. p. 98.

■^ Frankfort-on-the-Maine, 1592, The translation is dedicated to the
Frankfort Council. ' Some people,' says Nigrinus in the dedication, ' are
so incensed against sorcerers that thoy would like to have them all rooted
out : which would bo as easy for thom to do as it would be easy to destroy
all the works of the devil, or indeed his kingdom.' ' For even if many
thousands of his sorcerers were burnt out, he would soon have called up
others in their place, and he does all he can to get tho innocent mixed up
with them, as may be seen in this book (Godelmann's). Some people, on
the other hand, are so slow-witted and behind the times, that they will
not admit the existence of sorcery even when it is manifest, nor allow it to
be judged and receive its due. But as the others did too much, so these
do too little ; for every ruler is bound in his own district to check all sins
and vices and to punish them as they deserve : why then not also sorcery
where it is openly seen and proved ? ' Did Nigrinus perhaps wish by
these words to rouse to their duty tho Frankfort Council whiclv allowed
no witches to be burnt ? The translation was published by Nicholas Basse,
the same bookseller who, as we shall show later on, as early as ir)8() in tho
preface to the Thealrum de veneficis, complained seriously of (hose rulers
who were negligent in the punishment of witches.


As a \vlu)losaK» warning against ' the liorror of
the devil and the pnnishment of the godless,' Godelmann,
in the introduction to his book, relates as historical
facts various wonderful tales of bodily apparitions
of the de\il : lunv once at Spandau the devil appeared
in court to defend a mercenary soldier, and * to every-
one's terror and consternation ' carried his accuser
off through the window and across the market-place ;
how another time in Silesia a number of devils invaded
the castle of a nobleman, remained there several days,
looked out of the -windows in the forms of bears, wolves,
cats, and human beings; and so forth.' Godelmann
believed also in real magic arts, in supernatural diseases,
in an actual league between sorcerers and the devil,^
but not in a league between witches and the devil ;
the latter (witches) were only misled by all sorts of
influences from the devil. "^

The witches, he said, confess either things that
are possible — as that they have killed men and cattle
by their magic and sorcery, and if this is proved true
they ought to be burned, according to the 109th article
of the Carohna ; or else they confess to the impossible —
for instance, that they have flown up into the air through
a narrow chimney, have changed themselves into
animals, have sexually conversed with the devil, and
in such cases they ought not to be punished, but on
the contrary be better instructed in the Word of God ;
or, finally, they confess to a league with the devil, and
in this case they must be punished with an exceptionally
severe penalty, such as flogging, banishment, or, if
they are penitent, a money fine. These punishments

' TracUilm, lib. i. 4-10. - See especially lib. i. 18 sq.

■' Lib. ii. 8 sq.


are inflicted for their light-mindedness in not makmg
a firm stand against the devil's suggestions, but rather
giving way to them. What Godelmami thought about
the ' arts ' of the witches and their pmiishment is
most clearly seen from a memorandum which, at the
request of a ' distinguished and learned gentleman in
Westphaha ' (from a town not mentioned) he drew
up on March 8, 1587, and incorporated, in German,
in his work. He quotes therein the decrees of the
criminal ordinance of Charles V. and other legal utter-
ances, from which, he says, ' it may be seen how illegal,
criminal and tyrannical is the procedure of those
judges who oftentimes, solely on the false superstition
or calumny of a malicious beggar or some other wanton
fellow, and on the strength of ancient evil usage, throw
innocent women or other persons into scandalous, grue-
some dungeons, which verily cannot be called human
prisons, but rather devil's torture holes. There the
poor wretched women are left lying in the dark, for
the angel of darkness is stronger there than elsewhere
and makes them more submissive, more his own, than
they were before, &c., &c. After the devil, comes
the executioner with his brutal instruments of torture.
What woman is there who at the sight of such things
would not be so terrified that she would not only confess
what she really knew or thought she had done, but
anything else also that it had never entered her head
to do ? On these extorted, false, worthless statements
they are then sentenced and executed, and they would
rather die than agonise any longer in such imprison-
ment.' 'It is a dangerous and doubtful thing, this
trial under torture ; since some of the victims arc
of so hard and cunning a nature that they despise all

;U4 HisToin- of the ckrmax teople

tonnont, and will in uo way toll the truth, even though
thov slioiikl 1)0 torn to piocos, while others are by nature
so weak, tender and foolish, especially the women
whom Scripture calls weak instruments, that they are
diivcn hv lluMr i^reat agony of heart and martyrdom
to tell lies about themselves and others and to make
false confessions of deeds which all the days of their
lives they w^ould never even have thought of, mucli
less have j^erpetrated.' ' As regards the riding and
journeying of witches on goats, brooms, forks, sticks
to the Blocksberg or the Heuberg for dancing and
revelry, and of the carnal liaisons wdiich the evil spirits
enter into with such women, I think in my simplicity
that it is all devil's trickery and delusion/ 'It is also
mere illusion that witches and sorcerers can change
into cats, dogs, and wolves/ ' Finally, it is also said
of the witches that they can make bad weather and
storms, although weather-making is God's work, not
that of man, however clever and mighty he may be,
and still less could a helpless, crazy old woman have
such power. Therefore no judge has the right to torture
for such things, still less to put to death, for such a
proceeding is not even hinted at in any clause in the
criminal ordinance. And it is piteous that in Germany
every year we hear of so many hundreds of poor, silly
women, who often haven't a morsel at home to bite
or to break, and who are in great sorrow and tribula-
tion, and who are ensnared by the devil's fluent rhetoric
into being burnt to death for such idiotic and phantasmal
confessions.' * Such demented people ought rather to
be taken to a doctor than to the stake.' ^

Prior to Godelmann other lawyers had urged on the

1 Lib. iii. 5-39. >


rulers and judges to exercise circumspection in the
treatment of witches. Thus, for instance, ' several
ConsiUa and memoranda ' (belonging to the years 1564,
1565, 1567) contain ' remarks by learned jurists of
our owTi time about witches and evil spirits/ and many
calm and moderate utterances in favour of the witches
who are taken prisoners and their treatment.^ Doctor
Caspar Agricola, professor of Canon Law at Heidelberg,
' confesses,' wrote Hermann Witekind, ' that he does
not yet know what are the deeds and performances
of the women who are called witches and burnt, and so
he cannot give any verdict about them, or pronounce
judgment on such cases in court. For if it be said that
their evil deeds are kno^\'Tl from their own confessions, he
answers : these are erroneous, the outcome of craziness,
they have no substance, they must not be acted on, for
they affirm impossibihties.' ~

The faculty of law at Heidelberg made the following
statement : ' The old women of whom in these days it
is said that they ride in the air and hold dances at night,
should be taken to the pastors of souls rather than to
torture and to death.' ^

' Contributed to the Theatrum de veneficis, 366-392.

- Binz, A. Lerchheimer, 112.

■'* Binz, 116-117. ** Riezler (p. 233 ff.) speaks of a treatise written in
1549 at Freiburg-i.-Br. by Johann Zink, ' De potestate daemonum malefica-
rum et sagarum,' which his pupil Jolin Waltenberger coj)icd later on and
dedicated to the Cardinal Bishop Otto of Augsburg (Cod. lat. Monac.
3757). Zink dismisses as dreams the changing of the ^vitches into animals
and other shapes in order to devour children. . . . The rides through the
air, Zink also said, happened only in dreams. People who believed in
bodily journeys he considered stupid. Concerning the punishment of
witches he remarks : ' Numbers of sensible men are impelled l)y pious zeal to
desire witches to be burnt. But there are as large a number who out of
pity take the witches under their protection, because; these women have
been baptised and are members of Christ, and because it is not true that


* You are acting against the imperial ordinance,*
exclaims the Westphahan lawyer John Scultetus in
1598 to the jiulges in a pamphlet on sorcery and
sorcerers ; * the rack should only be furnished with
cords, without other appliances ; you use all sorts of
iron and steel screws with which you torture fingers,
arms, and shin-bones; you fasten iron hoops or bands
round your victims' heads, you tear and break their
bodies in pieces, you cut their sinews, you hold their
mouths open and pour water and oil down their throats ;
you burn them with pitch, with candles, with red-hot
iron, in short, you do anything that the brutal execu-
tioner suggests. This is contrary to all secular law
and imperial ordinance. You are liable to punishment
from the emperor.' ^

Much greater consideration than it has hitherto
met with is deserved by the ' GriindHcher Bericht von
Zauberey und Zauberern,' which was pubUshed in
1602 by the Westphahan Anton Praetorius, a Lutheran.
This pamphlet is among the few pubhcations on the
subject of witchcraft which do honour to the seventeenth
century. * Certainly,' Praetorius says, ' genuine sor-
cerers and witches can injure men and cattle and work
evil with poison, but in the present day anything and
everything that is repugnant to people is set down by
them to witchcraft.' ' It has actually come to this,
that directly one's eyes grow dim, one's stomach aches,

they can injure other people. Zink decides in favour of the sterner view ;
for the sole reason that witches are in league with the devil, justifies their
being burnt, and if they were so easily let off every corner of the world
would soon be filled with them.'

' Griindlicher Bericht von Zauberey und Zauberern etc. durch J. Sculteium
Westphalo-Camensem (Lich, 1598), pp. 260-264. The cruelty of imprison-
ment Ls depicted by the author at pp. 249-252.


one's fingers are stiff, one's heart is heavy, one's soul
escapes, or the cattle wither, sicken, become lame, drop
down and die, everybody cries out, " There's something
wrong here." First this person is suspected, then the
other, talk goes on in undertones, then comes a hue and
cry : He or she has done it. And so sorrow is salted
with sorrow, and misery piled up on misery, and so
forth.' 1

From what he has himself seen, Praetorius gives
a heartrending description of the prisons into which
the witches were thrown, as also of prisoners in general
and of the tortures of the rack.^

* AVho,' he asks, ' can describe all the horror of such

Online LibraryJohannes JanssenHistory of the German people at the close of the middle ages (Volume 16) → online text (page 28 of 45)