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At the same time at which Fischart was advocating
the repression and persecution of witches in his trans-
lation of Bodin (which went through numerous editions),
he was engaged in another undertaking in the same

* See our statements, vol. xii. 385-389.


cause. ^ For sixty years not a single new edition of
the ' Witches' Hammer ' had appeared in Germany, and as
far as can be ascertained there was never any reference
to it in the witch-trials. Two later editions appeared
in Venice in 1574 and 1576. Then the terrible book
acquired once more respect and circulation by means
of editions prepared by Protestants. The first of these,
the Frankfort edition of 1582, is a mere reproduction
of the Venetian. With the second Frankfort edition of
1582, which was followed by still fresh ones in 1588,
1598 and 1600, begins Fischart's activity for the spread
of the ' Witches' Hammer.' -

The Strasburg bookseller, Lazarus Zetzner, who
had the edition of 1588 printed at Frankfort, says ex-
pressly that he had bestowed the responsible editorship
of the work ' on the renowned lawyer John Fischart.'
* Almost infinite is the number," says the preface,
' especially in these latter times, of witches and sorcer-
esses, who, as general experience proves, give themselves
up to the service of the devil.' ' Now there are actually
some famous and highly learned men' — Weyer is not
mentioned by name — ' who are of opinion that we must
have pity on these poor women deluded by the devil,
and that we should least of all burn them when they
have not been guilty of any special injury. Nevertheless
we must not be guided by this opinion, but rather by
that which, according to divine ordinance, condemns
them to the stake.'

Fischart in his German writings assailed with

' Since the Cologne edition of 1520.

^ ** See Hansen in the W esldealsche Zeilsrhr. fiir Oesch. 1898, p. 130; cf.
Hauffeninthe Euphorion, vi. (1897), 254 ff. See also our statements, vol. xi.
383 ff.



ferocious hatred the monastic system of the Catholics,
and could not say enough evil of the monks, especially
the Dominicans ; here, however, there does not occur
the slightest contradiction of anything which the
Dominicans Sprenger and Institoris had reported con-
cerning witches and witchcraft, leagues with the devil,
devil's courtships, and so forth. On the contrary,
all these things are accepted as credible and as veritably
belonging to the nature of witches. Not the witches
only — even when they had not been guilty of actual
mischief — and the soothsayers, jugglers and magicians
must be put to death, but also those ' who make use
of their advice, whether they do so from a good or a bad
motive, because the devil is at the back of it all.' To
such lengths, however, the 'Witch-Hammer' itself had
not gone. This work of Fischart, which in two extra
volumes beside the ' Witch-Hammer ' contained a number
of other writings on witchcraft, was to be of special
service to rulers and judges in the punishment of
witches ; ' it was only published for the general good and
would be welcome to all true friends of the Fatherland.' ^
The Frankfort printer, Nicholas Basse, by whom
the work was brought out, arranged wdth Abraham
Sawr, an attorney of the Marburg courts, for the pubh-
cation of a new volume, which appeared in 1586,
and contained seventeen different ' Traktatlein ' under
the title, * Theatrum de veneficis, das ist : Von Teufels-
gespenst, Zauberern und Giftbereitern, Schwarzkiinst-
lern, Hexen und Unholden vieler fiirnehmer Historien
und Exempel, &c., &c., very useful to know and by no
means to be despised.' Although sorcery, says Basse

' Preface dated from Strasburg, January' 1, 1588, to the Frankfort
edition of the same year.


in the preface, was one of tlie most widespread of vices,
and ' no amount of wood, coal, straw and fire should
be spared ' in its punishment, people were nevertheless
much too apathetic in the matter : many rulers and
judges disregarded it altogether, did not beheve that such
people existed, in spite of the divine testimony and that
of the courts, or if they beheved it at all, were frightened
about it, fearing the devil and his myrmidons far more
than God, and being wilhng to allow all kinds of out-
rages to be perpetrated against the Deity, and their
native land and people to be spoiled by sorcerers
rather than to think of pimishing them. Such rulers
he hoped by these collected works to spur to greater
zeal in hunting and persecuting the witches. On the
other hand, however, in a poem, '■ An den christhchen
Leser,' Basse warned his readers ' not to proceed too
hastily with poor and senseless women ' :

Therefore let each one see to it

In his own station, as is fit,

He go not to too great extremes

But punish only as beseems,

Nor haste with judgment until all

Has been confessed that did befall ;

Do not load your consciences

With ill-considered sentences,

For guiltless blood poured out still cries

Aloud for vengeance to the skies.'

On the Catholic side not a single writer against
Weyer's propositions appeared till 1589.- In the

' Frankfort-on-the-Maine, 1586.

- ** ThLs is all the more remarkable, as Weyer's book was put on the
Index. ThLs occurred first with the Liege Index of 1569, and then by com-
mand of tlie Duke of Alba it was put in the printed Appendix to the so-called
Tridentine Index printed at Antwerp in 1570, l)ut Woyer does not stand licre
as an ' Auctor primae classis,' but ' secundae classis ' ; equally so in the
Lisbon Index of 1581 and in the Spanish Index of 1583. The .Municli Index

c c 2


same year, liowever. the Treves Bishop-aiixiliary, Peter
BinsfeUlJ who hiteu on was in many points seriously
blameil by the Jesuit, Frederick von Spec, pubhshed a
work in Latin ' On the Confessions of Sorcerers and
Witches, and liow^ much Credence is to be attached

of 1582 put tlio work in the fii*st class; not so, however, the Index published
in loOO by Sixtus V. ; hero Weyer figures twice (once under a misprinted
name) in the second class with tlie proviso : ' until the book has been im-
proved according to the rules of this Index.' Later on he held a place in
the second class, minus the proviso, the book of his opponent Bodin (see
above, p. 382) being also at the same time unconditionally forbidden. Cf.
Reusch, Der Imlex der verbotenen Biicher, i. 417, 476, 537. In the new
Index of 1900 Weyer does not appear. In a publication of William von
Waldbriihl, which is frequently quoted from, Naturforschung und Hexen-
glauben (Heft 46 of the collection ' gemeinverstandlicher " wissenschaft-
licher " Vortrage,' published by R. Virchow and Fr. v. Holtzendorflf,
2nd ed. Berlin, 1870), Weyer, p. 28, is branded as a ' freethinking Pro-
testant' who had been already — i.e. before his work had appeared — excom-
municated by the Tridentine Council (p. 30). Moreover, at p. 29 we read :
' Scarcely had the work (Weyer's) appeared, than the Frenchman Nicolas
Jacqiiier wrote his book Flagellum haereticorum on behalf of the belief in
witches.' This same Flagellum, however, is known to have been already
written in 1458. Waldbriihl, be it remarked by the way, has other new
information to report, for instance : The Malleus maleficariwi appeared
'under Pope John XXIII. ' (13) ; 'the Bull of Innocent VIII.' was a
failure, as with Jakob Hochstraten the ecclesiastical witch-tribunal
(November 6, 1486) went over to the ci\ic judges (p. 14) ; ' the Gipsies were
nowhere mentioned as originators of the witch-gatherings, but the Jews
and those blockheads the Protestants ' (p. 24). Statements no less
astounding are found in Alfred ^Maury's La nuigie et Vastrologie dans
Vantiquite el au moyen-dge (4th ed. Paris, 1877). Weyer appears there
as a witch-persecutor : ' Wierus enregistrait toutes les reponses et les bille-
vesees des prevenus et donnait, d'apres eux, dans son livre De praestigits
daemonum, le catalogue complet et la figure des esprits infernaux. Pierre
de Lancre, non moins fanatique et non moins credide, se faisait une grande
reputation de demonographe ' (pp. 220-221). The Malleus maleficarum,
according to Maury (p. 220), was first printed in 1589 ; Henry Institoris
'wrote on the same subject'; from this ivork John Nider compiled his
Formicnrius — composed at the time of the Basle Council — and so forth.

' ** See Kraas in the Allgem. deutsche Biographie, ii. 651 S. ; Burr,
Flade, 13; and Steinhuber, Gesch. des Kollegium GennanicumA. 211 fT. See
also Duhr, Die Stellung der Jesuiten, p. 29 ff.


to them/ 1 which is in direct contradiction to Weyer.
It went through four editions up to 1605, and was
twice translated into German. The first translation
was executed by the publisher of the work, Henry
Bock, in 1590, ' for all lovers of truth and justice, in
the hope that the rulers would not desist from their
persecution of witches until the land had as far as
possible become free from them. ' The second translation
appeared at Munich in 1591, prepared by Bernhard
Vogel, assessor to the town bench of magistrates.-
A small woodcut on the title-page was intended to
illustrate the ways of the witches ; one of them is seen
escaping on a fork through the chiimiey, another
riding through the air on a goat, a third bringing down
deluging rain, a fourth boihng children, a fifth dancing
with the de^dl, a sixth on her knees before him.

' There are still,' says Binsfeld, in the introduction
to his book, ' different opinions in vogue concerning

^ Trartatus de confessionihus maleficorum et sagarum, an et quanta
fides Us adibenda sit. Augustae Trevirorum, 1589. In 1591 an enlarged
edition appeared at Treves (in Grasse, Bihl. magica, 33, this work is not
registered), and five years later came a still further enlarged edition, in the
dedication of which to an abbot the author says : ' Quia hoc vitiuni pluri-
mum, proh dolor, invaluit in diversis nostrae Germaniae provinciis et multi
indices nunc, expericntia malorum excitati, diligentius inquirunt, priores
tractatus nostri de maleficis editiones omnes divenditae et distractae sunt
et passim tarn in nundinis Francofmdiensibus, quam aliis officinis, ut mul-
torum relatione didicimus, plura exemplaria expetuntur.' Binsfeld used
also in this new edition all sorts of ' confessions ' made by the witches burnt
in the Treves district. To the question ' asked by many,' ' qui plus aequo
misericordia erga hoc ])essimum honiinum genus movcntur : Quando sit
tandem futurus finis incendii in maleficas et sagas ? ' he gives ' sine am-
bagibus ' the terrible answer : ' Tamdiu esse locum poenae, quamdiu
culpa non cessat . . . Ignis ad maleficos, ignis ad sagas, ignis ad magos.'
In 1605 a fourth edition had become necessary.

- ** See Riezler, 171 ff., who dwells on the special significance which
Binsfeld's book had for Bavaria.


the natmv of witches aiul witch-trials. Some people
regard all that which hiiiuan and divine law^s and the con-
fessions of sorcerers tell us as the illusions and dreams
of old women, and then insist that those accused of
this sin are certainly not to be punished. Others, when
they hear things told of sorcerers which they cannot
understand, declare that such things are impossible.
On the other hand, there are also some who ascribe
far too much to the influence of the devil : others again,
although convinced of the reaUty of sorcery, say never-
theless that we should only put faith in those confessions
which the sorcerers make about themselves, and not
beheve what they say of their associates. Finally,
there are also some who, from inexperience or under
the semblance of zeal for justice, instantly cause a
person accused by the statement of any old woman
to be seized, thrown into prison and afterwards actually
stretched on the rack.' Binsf eld's own principles
are in several respects more moderate than those of
many other witch-enemies of the century. Thus, for
instance, he rejects the assertion of Bodin that people
through the help of the devil could change themselves
or others into animals ; he further condemns Bodin's
opinion that judges are justified in extorting confessions
from witches by fraud, hes or false promises ; the
use of trial by water he considered a work of the
devil ; cruel and godless, too, he said it was to refuse
the Sacraments to those who were penitent ; only the
stubborn ones were to be burnt aUve, the rest were to
be executed before the burning ; confiscation of the
property of witches — that fruitful means of enriching
the judges — was altogether to be discountenanced.
For the rest, however, he fully shared in the


superstition of his time, especially as regards the opinions
about immoral intercourse with the devil. For the
actuahty of witch -rides he appeals not only to
theologians and lawyers, but also to ' most certain and
undoubted experience, confirmed by the general voice
of the people ; and we may well say here that the voice
of the people is the voice of God, since all truth is of
God.' 1 In his efforts to emphasise the iniquity of
witchcraft the Calvinist theologian, Lambert Danaeus,
served him also as guarantor. On account of the
enormity of this sin, it was justifiable in witch-trials, he
maintained, to overstep the regular laws and ordinances. -
The most distressing results also proceeded from his
doctrine that, on the ground of the statements of witches
concerning their accomphces, the authorities had a
right to subject the persons indicated to torture ; there
being no doubt, as a rule, of the truth of such statements. ^

' ' Accedit ad testimonium experimentia certissima, quam communis
vox populi confirmat ; atque hie certe dicere possumus : vox populi vox
Dei, cum omnis Veritas a Deo sit ' (cd. of 1591, p. 351, of 1596, p. 392).
Hermann Witekind embodied in the edition of 1597 of his Christliches
Bedenken (see above, p. 326 f.) a refutation of some erroneous opinions and
practices in the matter of witchcraft, in which, without mentioning names,
he entered the lists against Bodin and others, especially the ' master-
burner ' Binsfeld, and as in the original work so too here he vehemently
and resolutely condemned the tortures which were regarded as ' the only
way and means of arriving at the truth' (Binz, A ugustin Lerchheimer, 141-
159). If at p. 159 he speaks of those 'who put to death well-to-do women
not so much out of zeal for the honour of God and indignation at these
women's denial of God, as out of desire for their riches,' this reproach does
not apply to Binsfeld, who spoke out most emiihatically against the seizure
of goods. Against trial by water, which is not alluded to in the Witches'
Hammer, and was only introduced later, Binsfeld spoke even more strongly
than Witekind (p. 105).

- ' Regulare et iuridieum est, quod, propter enormitatem et immani-
tatem criminis, iura et statuta transgredi licet.'

•' ** Duhr (I.e. p. 30) points out that Binsfeld in this respect was at
variance with the practice of the inquisition.


Seven years after the first appearance of Bin sf eld's
work, in 1596, Franz Agricola, pastor at Sittard in the
duchy of JiUich, a decided opponent of Weyer and his
fellow-thinkers, thought it urgently necessary to
enhghten thoroughly the rulers and the people on
the sin of witchcraft, and to exhort them to the most
unrelenting punishment of all sorcerers and witches.
' I know not,' he said in the preface to a pamphlet,
* Von Zauberern, Zauberinnen und Hexen/ dedicated
to his territorial prince Duke John Wilham, ' I know
not whether any Cathohc writers have hitherto treated
this subject in German, but at any rate the rulers are
not yet sufficiently informed as to the horror and
monstrosity of this sin ; on the contrary, they have
been deluded and persuaded by certain " procurators,
tutors, and true and faithful advocates of sorcery/'
persons blinded by the devil, possibly also themselves
not guiltless of this vice, into thinking either that there
is no such thing as sorcery, and hence no sorcerers, or
else that sorcerers and witches do not deserve such
severe punishment as is decreed in God's Word and
in the laws of the land. Whereas, however, through
the negligence of the rulers, all manner of sins and vices,
especially since the last thirty years of rebelhous,
warlike, insolent, seditious behaviour, had come every-
where into vogue, so too that most scandalous, dangerous
and abominable sin of sorcery and witchcraft had
spread in all directions ; no country, town, village, or
district, no class of society was free from it.' Lambert
Danaeus had the same tale to tell : The number of
witches and sorceresses had grown to such proportions
that they now had the audacity to say that ' provided
they had as many men as women in their ranks they


would hold their conventicles and gatherings openly,
would practise their arts openly, and with outspread
banners would rise up against the ruhng authorities,
in spite of all who opposed them/ i

He made out that sorcerers, sorceresses, or witches
were more wicked than heathen and idolatrous people,
than Jews, Turks and Mamelukes, than blasphemers
and other perjured, faithless men, than heretics and
sectaries, than Sodomites, than parricides and matricides,
traitors, incestuous persons, adulterers and so forth.-
He advised that care should be taken not to punish
the innocent, rejected, hke Binsfeld, trial by water
as ' superstitious and a devil's device,' did not by
any means despair of the conversion and salvation
of witches, and spoke at length on the means which
should 'be used to bring them to penitence and reform,
but amongst these means, ' not the least one was
that people convicted of sorcery should be arrested
by the proper legal authorities,' put in prison and
punished according to the circumstances of the case.^

The most remarkable of the sections in which the
work is divided is the seventh, ' Von allerlei argumenten,
Gegenwiirf und Einreden,' against the reality of sorcery
and all the arts of the witches, their journeyings, their
intercourse with the devil, and the advantageousness
and necessity of their being punished. * In four sections
Agricola brings in no less than fifty-one sucli objec-
tions, not one of which he will, however, admit. Thus,

' Dedicated to the Duke from ' Sitart,' November 12, I-'jOG ; from the
Preface to the reader. I make use of the Dillingcn edition of 1(513. ** Dr.
Paulus has l>ocn so kind as to inform me tliat the first edition of Ajiricohi's
Griindllicher Berichl. oh Zuuberty die drrjfile und greuiirhslc sihid mifj Kiden
8ey appeared at Cologne in I. 597.

2 Pp. 1-68. •' Ibid. 09-98, 291. ' Ibid. 238-353.


for instance, to the argument : ' The witches do not
deny God and Christ, for many of them go to church,
hsten to sermons, take part in the worship of God,
confess and receive tlie holy Sacraments, pray to
God and Christ just Hke otlier people/ he answers :
* Tliat is all damnal)k\ lielhsh fraud, which they have
learnt from the devil, in order to conceal their wicked-
ness and to ward off suspicion, and also to draw others
over to them.' > To an objection of a different kind,
' That if all sorcerers were to be burnt, the richest
and most distinguished people would often fall victims,'
Agricola answered : ' The magistrates who had orders
not to let sorcerers and witches live ought least of all
to spare such persons, because they were more hkely
to lead others astray and because they had not the
excuse of poverty and want nor of simphcity and
lack of understanding, but gave themselves up to these
abominations out of sheer wickedness and deviHsh
wantonness/ Again, the objection : * It is hard to
have to burn one's own wife, brother, friend, &c.' should
have no weight with a pious magistracy, ' for they must
love God more than their own flesh and blood, and
execute God's orders even against father or mother/ -
If it was objected that the expense was too great, ' for
there were such endless swarms of the vermin, and
when once one began burning it more and more came
to light,' this had no weight whatever. 'When the
magistrates have to punish evil-doers and rioters in
shoals and masses they do not think about the expense,
and still less w^hen a war is started, often for the most
trifling cause : how much less, then, should expense
be considered when it is a question of punishing the

' Pp. 247-250. 2 m^^ 300-302.


enemies of God and of all Christendom ! When un-
necessary, far too costly buildings are to be erected,
when unnecessary, unsuitable pomp, display, banquet-
ing, amusements are to be indulged in, who thinks of
outlay and expense ? Why then are we to be so
squeamish about costs and extravagance when it is
a question of carrying out God's orders, of defending
God's honour, of upholding justice, of being true to
one's office and one's oath, of punishing the iniquitous,
yea, the arch-iniquitous, for the protection and safety
of God-fearing subjects ? ' Moreover the magistrates
had all the less ground for ' abstaining from proper
punishment and execution of sorcerers and witches on
account of expense,' because they had the right * to
defray the costs involved in these legitimate trials and
executions out of the possessions of those witches and
sorcerers who had any means of their own, and this
was often done in many places in the empire : and very
justly too.' It was also the law that compensation
should be made out of the possessions and heritages
of wealthy malefactors for the damage done by sorcery
and witchcraft to human beings and cattle by the raising
of storms, &c., by which whole towns and villages
were often injured. If, however, as was generally
the case, the witches and sorcerers were poor, the
parish in which they hved must defray the costs, and
the magistrates not only had the power, but were in
duty bound ' to tax the subjects according to necessity
and to insist on their paying up.' ' And if in other
cases the pious subjects are bound and are also wilhng
to contribute to the expenses, how can they justly
complain or refuse when they are solicitous for God's
honour, incUned to justice, enemies to iniquity, anxious


to safomiaiil tluMi- temporal and eternal welfare, and
not theniselvos addicted to sorcery ? ' '

Agricola actually urged on the subjects that if the
magistrates were remiss and neghgent in the punishment
of witches and sorcerers, or timid on account of expense,
they themselves should come forward of their own free
will to take on themselves the burden of the costs,
and that they should spare no pains and exertion,
no money nor property for rooting out all these accursed
confederates of the devil, and that they should earnestly
and undesistingly keep the magistrates up to their
duty in this respect, ' nevertheless without sedition or
violence.' -

Binsfeld and Agricola, and also the Worms pastor
Conrad Distel,'^ the Schlettstadt pastor Reinhard
Lutz ' and Michael Buchinger of Colmar,'' as far as we
are warranted in concluding from the witch-literature
that has become known, are the only ones among the
German Cathohc clergy during the sixteenth century,
who advocated and encouraged witch-persecution by
their writings. Sermons in favour of this persecution,
such as were frequently pubhshed among the Pro-
testants,^' only appeared singly and occasionally on
the Cathohc side in the age of the Reformation and
dowTi to the Thirty Years' War. This caused the
Bamberg Bishop-auxihary Frederick Forner to complain
in his witch-sermons, pubhshed in 1625, that * before

' Pp. 328-339. - Ibid. 201-202, 239-241.

•■' ** Concerning a Latin speech about witches, delivered by Distel at
an assembly of clergy, in which he insists that ' evil spirits should be piti-
lessly exterminated,' see Paulus in a review of the present work in the
Katholik, 1895, i. 80 if.

■» ** See below. » ** See Paulus in the Kaiholik, 1892, ii. 220.

« See above, p. 365 ff.


him no preacher of the divine word had treated this
subject in a book ; there was scarcely anyone known
to him who had protested in sermons to the people
against the terribly widespread evil of witchcraft/ i

Among the Catholic scholars who had treated the
subject of witchcraft with the greatest diligence and

Online LibraryJohannes JanssenHistory of the German people at the close of the middle ages (Volume 16) → online text (page 32 of 45)