Introduction to the 1928 Version by Montague Summers
It has been recognized even from the very earliest times, during the first gropings towards the essential conveniences of social decency and social order, that witchcraft is an evil thing, an enemy to light, an ally of the powers of darkness, disruption, and decay. Sometimes, no doubt, primitive communities were obliged to tolerate the witch and her works owing to fear; in other words, witchcraft was a kind of blackmail; but directly Cities were able to to co-ordinate, and it became possible for Society to protect itself, precautions were taken and safeguards were instituted against this curse, this bane whose object seemed to blight all that was fair, all that was just and good, and that was well-appointed and honourable, in a word, whose aim proved to be set up on high the red standard of revolution; to overwhelm religion, existing order, and the comeliness of life in an abyss of anarchy, nihilism, and despair. In his great treatise De Ciutate Dei S. Augustine set forth the theory, or rather the living fact, of the two Cities, the City of God, and the opposing stronghold of all that is not for God, that is to say, of all that is against Him.
This seems to be a natural truth which the inspired Doctor has so eloquently demonstrated in his mighty pages, and even before the era of Christianity men recognized the verity, and nations who had never heard the Divine command put into practice the obligation of the Mosaic maxim: Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. (Vulgate: Maleficos non patieris uiuere. Douay: Wizards thou shalt not suffer to live. Exodus, xxii, 18.)
It is true that both in the Greek and in the earlier Roman cults, worships often directly derived from secret and sombre sources, ancient gods, or rather demons, had their awful superstitions and their horrid rites, powers whom men dreaded but out of very terror placated; fanes men loathed but within whose shadowed portals they bent and bowed the knee perforce in trembling fear. Such deities were the Thracian Bendis, whose manifestation was heralded by the howling of her fierce black hounds, and Hecate the terrible “QUeen of the realm of ghosts,” as Euripides calls her, and the vampire Mormo and the dark Summanus who at midnight hurled loud thunderbolts and launched the deadly levin through the starless sky. Pliny tells us that the worship of this mysterious deity lasted long, and dogs with their puppies were sacrificed to him with atrocious cruelty, but S. Augustine says that in his day “one could scarce find one within a while, that had heard, nay more, that had read so much as the name of Summanus” (De Ciuitate Dei, iv, 23). Nevertheless there is only too much reason to believe that this devil-god had his votaries, although his liturgy was driven underground and his supplicants were obliged to assemble in remote and secret places. Towards the end of the fifth century, the Carthaginian Martianus Capella boldly declares that Summanus is none other than the lord of Hell, and he was writing, it may be remembered, only a few years before the birth of S. Benedict; some think that he was still alive when the Father of All Monks was born.
Although in Greek States the prosecution of witches was rare, in large measure owing to the dread they inspired, yet cases were not unknown, for Theoris, a woman of Lemnos, who is denounced by Demosthenes, was publicly tried at Athens and burned for her necromancy. It is perhaps not impertinent to observe that many strange legends attached to the island of Lemnos, which is situated in the Aegaean Sea, nearly midway between Mt. Athos and the Hellespoint. It is one of the largest of the group, having an area of some 147 square miles. Lemnos was sacred to Hephaestus, who is said to have fallen here when hurled by Zeus from Olympus. The workshops of the Smith-God in ancient legend were supposed to be on the island, although recent geologists deny that this area was ever volcanic, and the fires which are spoken of as issuing from it must be considered gaseous. Later the officinae of Hephaestus were placed in Sicily and the Lipari Islands, particularly Hiera.
The worship of Hephaestus in later days seems to have degenerated and to have been identified with some of the secret cults of the evil powers. This was probably due to his connexion with fire and also to his extreme ugliness, for he was frequently represented as a swarthy man of grim and forbidding aspect. It should further be noted that the old Italian deity Volcanus, with whom he was to be identified, is the god of destructive fire - fire considered in its rage and terror, as contrasted with fire which is a comfort to the human race, the kindly blaze on the hearth, domestic fire, presided over by the gracious lady Vesta. It is impossible not to think of the fall of Lucifer when one considers the legend of Hephaestus. Our Lord replied, when the disciples reported: Domine, etiam daemonia subiiciuntur nobis in nomine tuo (Lord, the devils also are subject to us in Thy Name), Uidebam Satanam sicut fulgur de coelo cadentem (I saw Satan like lightning falling from Heaven); and Isaias says: “Quomodo cecidisti de coelo, Lucifer, qui mane oriebaris? Corruisti in terram qui uulnerabas gentes?” (How art thou fallen from Heaven, O Lucifer, who didst rise in the morning? How art thou fallen to the earth, that didst wound the nations?) Milton also has the following poetic allusion:
Nor was his name unheard or unador'd
In Ancient Greece; and in Ausonian land
Men called him Mulciber; and how he fell
From Heav'n, they fabl'd, thrown by angry Jove
Sheer o'er the Chrystal Battlements: from Morn
To Noon he fell, from Noon to dewy Eve,
A Summers day; and with the setting Sun
Dropt from the Zenith like a falling Star,
On Lemnos th' Ægæan Ile: thus they relate,
Erring; for he with his rebellious rout
Fell long before; nor aught avail'd him now
To have built in Heav'n high Towrs; nor did he scape
By all his Engins, but was headlong sent
With his industrious crew to build in hell.
Accordingly, during the years 319-21 a number of laws were passed which penalized and punished the craft of magic with the utmost severity. A pagan diviner or haruspex could only follow his vocation under very definite restrictions. He was not allowed to be an intimate visitor at the house of any citizen, for friendship with men of this kind must be avoided. “The haruspex who frequents the houses of others shall die at the stake,” such is the tenor of the code. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that almost every year saw a more rigid application of the laws; although even as to-day, when fortune-telling and peering into the future are forbidden by the Statute-Book, diviners and mediums abound, so then in spite of every prohibition astrologers, clairvoyants, and palmists had an enormous clientèle of rich and poor alike. However, under Valens, owing to his discovery of the damning fact that certain prominent courtiers had endeavoured by means ot table-rapping to ascertain who should be his successor upon the throne, in the year 367 a regular crusade, which in its details recalls the heyday of Master Matthew Hopkins, was instituted against the whole race of magicians, soothsayers, mathematici, and theurgists, which perhaps was the first general prosecution during the Christian era. Large numbers of persons, including no doubt many innocent as well as guilty, were put to death, and a veritable panic swept through the Eastern world.
The early legal codes of most European nations contain laws directed against witchcraft. Thus, for example, the oldest document of Frankish legislation, the Salic Law (Lex salica), which was reduced to a written form and promulgated under Clovis, who died 27 November, 511, mulcts (sic) those who practise magic with various fines, especially when it could be proven that the accused launched a deadly curse, or had tied the Witch's Knot. This latter charm was usually a long cord tightly tied up in elaborate loops, among whose reticulations it was customary to insert the feathers of a black hen, a raven, or some other bird which had, or was presumed to have, no speck of white. This is one of the oldest instruments of witchcraft and is known in all countries and among all nations. It was put to various uses. The wizards of Finland, when they sold wind in the three knots of a rope. If the first knot were undone a gentle breeze sprang up; if the second, it blew a mackerel gale; if the third, a hurricane. But the Witch's Ladder, as it was often known, could be used with far more baleful effects. The knots were tied with certain horrid maledictions, and then the cord was hidden away in some secret place, and unless it were found and the strands released the person at whom the curse was directed would pine and die. This charm continually occurs during the trials. Thus in the celebrated Island-Magee case, March 1711, when a coven of witches was discovered, it was remarked that an apron belonging to Mary Dunbar, a visitor at the house of the afflicted persons, had been abstracted. Miss Dunbar was suddenly seized with fits and convulsions, and sickened almost to death. After most diligent search the missing garment was found carefully hidden away and covered over, and a curious string which had nine knots in it had been so tied up with the folds of the linen that it was beyond anything difficult to separate them and loosen the ligatures. In 1886 in the old belfry of a village church in England there were accidentally discovered, pushed away in a dark corner, several yards of incle braided with elaborate care and having a number of black feathers thrust through the strands. It is said that for a long while considerable wonder was caused as to what it might be, but when it was exhibited and became known, one of the local grandmothers recognized it was a Witch's Ladder, and, what is extremely significant, when it was engraved in the Folk Lore Journal an old Italian woman to whom the picture was shown immediately identified it as la ghirlanda delle streghe.
The laws of the Visigoths, which were to some extent founded upon the Roman law, punished witches who had killed any person by their spells with death; whilst long-continued and obstinate witchcraft, if fully proven, was visited with such severe sentences as slavery for life. In 578, when a son of Queen Fredegonde died, a number of witches who were accused of having contrived the destruction of the Prince were executed. It has been said in these matters that the ecclesiastical law was tolerant, since for the most part it contented itself with a sentence of excommunication. But those who consider this spiritual outlawry lenient certainly do not appreciate what such a doom entailed. Moreover, after a man had been condemned to death by the civil courts it would have been somewhat superfluous to have repeated the same sentence, and beyond the exercise of her spiritual weapons, what else was there left for the Church to do?
In 814, Louis le Pieux upon his accession to the throne began to take very active measures against all sorcerers and necromancers, and it was owing to his influence and authority that the Council of Paris in 829 appealed to the secular courts to carry out any such sentences as the Bishops might pronounce. The consequence was that from this time forward the penalty of witchcraft was death, and there is evidence that if the constituted authority, either ecclesiastical or civil, seemed to slacken in their efforts the populace took the law into their own hands with far more fearful results.
In England the early Penitentials are greatly concerned with the repression of pagan ceremonies, which under the cover of Christian festivities were very largely practised at Christmas and on New Year's Day. These rites were closely connected with witchcraft, and especially do S. Theodore, S. Aldhelm, Ecgberht of York, and other prelates prohibit the masquerade as a horned animal, a stag, or a bull, which S. Caesarius of Arles had denounced as a “foul tradition,” an “evil custom,” a “most heinous abomination.” These and even stronger expressions would not be used unless some very dark and guilty secrets had been concealed beneath this mumming, which, however foolish, might perhaps have been thought to be nothing worse, so that to be so roundly denounced as devilish and demoniacal they must certainly have had some very grim signification which did not appear upon the surface. The laws of King Athelstan (924-40), corresponsive with the early French laws, punished any person casting a spell which resulted in death by extracting the extreme penalty. During the eleventh and twelfth centuries there are few cases of witchcraft in England, and such accusations as were made appeared to have been brought before the ecclesiastical court. It may be remarked, however, that among the laws attributed to King Kenneth I of Scotland, who ruled from 844 to 860, and under whom the Scots of Dalriada and the Pictish peoples may be said to have been united in one kingdom, is an important statute which enacts that all sorcerers and witches, and such as invoke spirits, “and use to seek upon them for helpe, let them be burned to death.” Even then this was obviously no new penalty, but the statutory confirmation of a long-established punishment. So the witches of Forres who attempted the life of King Duffus in the year 968 by the old bane of slowly melting a wax image, when discovered, were according to the law burned at the stake.
The conversion of Germany to Christianity was late and very slow, for as late as the eighth century, in spite of the heroic efforts of S. Columbanus, S. Fridolin, S. Gall, S. Rupert, S. Willibrod, the great S. Boniface, and many others, in spite of the headway that had been made, various districts were always relapsing into a primitive and savage heathenism. For example, it is probably true to say that the Prussian tribles were not stable in their conversion until the beginning of the thirteenth century, when Bishop Albrecht reclaimed the people by a crusade. However, throughout the eleventh and the twelfth centuries there are continual instances of persons who had practised witchcraft being put to death, and the Emperor Frederick II, in spite of the fact that he was continually quarrelling with the Papacy and utterly indifferent to any religious obligation - indeed it has been said that he was “a Christian ruler only in name,” and “throughout his reign he remained virtually a Moslem free-thinker” - declared that a law which he had enacted for Lombardy should have force throughout the whole of his dominions. “Henceforth,” Vacandard remarks, “all uncertainty was at an end. The legal punishment for heresy throughout the empire was death at the stake.” It must be borne in mind that witchcraft and heresy were almost inextricably commingled. It is quite plain that such a man as Frederick, whose whole philosophy was entirely Oriental; who was always accompanied by a retinue of Arabian ministers, courtiers, and officers; who was perhaps not without reason suspected of being a complete agnostic, recked little whether heresy and witchcraft might be offences against the Church or not, but he was sufficiently shrewd to see that they gravely threatened the well-being of the State, imperilling the maintenance of civilization and the foundations of society.
This brief summary of early laws and ancient ordinances has been given in order to show that the punishment of witchcraft certainly did not originate in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and most assuredly was not primarily the concern of the Inquisition. In fact, curiously enough, Bernard Gui, the famous Inquisitor of Toulouse, laid down in his Practica Inquisitionis that sorcery itself did not fall within the cognizance of the Holy Office, and in every case, unless there were other circumstances of which his tribunal was bound to take notice when witches came before him, he simply passed them on to the episcopal courts.
It may be well here very briefly to consider the somewhat complicated history of the establishment of the Inquisition, which was, it must be remembered, the result of the tendencies and growth of many years, by no mens a judicial curia with cut-and-dried laws and a compete procedure suddenly called into being by one stroke of a Papal pen. In the first place, S. Dominic was in no sense the founder of the Inquisition. Certainly during the crusade in Languedoc he was present, reviving religion and reconciling the lapsed, but he was doing no more than S. Paul or any of the Apostles would have done. The work of S. Dominic was preaching and the organization of his new Order, which received Papal confirmation from Honorius III, and was approved in the Bull Religiosam uitam, 22 December, 1216. S. Dominic died 6 August, 1221, and even if we take the word in a very broad sense, the first Dominican Inquisitor seems to have been Alberic, who in November, 1232, was travelling through Lombardy with the official title of “Inquisitor hereticae prauitatis.” The whole question of the episcopal Inquisitors, who were really the local bishop, his archdeacons, and his diocesan court, and their exact relationship with the travelling Inquisitors, who were mainly drawn from the two Orders of friars, the Franciscan and the Dominican, is extremely nice and complicated; whilst the gradual effacement of the episcopal courts with regard to certain matters and the consequent prominence of the Holy Office were circumstances and conditions which realized themselves slowly enough in all countries, and almost imperceptibly in some districts, as necessity required, without any sudden break or sweeping changes. In fact we find that the Franciscan or Dominican Inquisitor simply sat as an assessor in the episcopal court so that he could be consulted upon certain technicalities and deliver sentence conjointly with the Bishop if these matters were involved. Thus at the trial of Gilles de Rais in October, 1440, at Nantes, the Bishop of Nantes presided over the court with the bishops of Le Mans, Saint-Brieuc, and Saint-Lo as his coadjutors, whilst Pierre de l’Hospital, Chencellor of Brittany, watched the case on behalf of the civil authorities, and Frère Jean Blouin was present as the delegate of the Holy Inquisition for the city and district of Nantes. Owing to the multiplicity of the crimes, which were proven and clearly confessed in accordance with legal requirements, it was necessary to pronounce two sentences. The first sentence was passed by the Bishop of Nantes conjointly with the Inquisitor. By them Gilles de Rais was declared guilty of Satanism, sorcery, and apostasy, and there and then handed over to the civil arm to receive the punishment due to such offences. The second sentence, pronounced by the Bishop alone, declared the prisoner convicted of sodomy, sacrilege, and violation of ecclesiastical rights. The ban of excommunication was lifted since the accused had made a clean breast of his crimes and desired to be reconciled, but he was handed over to the secular court, who sentenced him to death, on multiplied charges of murder as well as on account of the aforesaid offences.
It must be continually borne in mind also, and this is a fact which is very often slurred over and forgotten, that the heresies of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, to cope with which the tribunal of the Inquisition was primarily organized and regularized, were by no means mere theoretical speculations, which, however erroneous and dangerous in the fields of thought, practically and in action would have been arid and utterly unfruitful. To-day the word “heresy” seems to be as obsolete and as redolent of a Wardour-street vocabulary as if one were to talk of a game of cards at Crimp or Incertain, and to any save a dusty mediaevalist it would appear to be an antiquarian term. It was far other in the twelfth century; the wild fanatics who fostered the most subversive and abominable ideas aimed to put these into actual practice, to establish communities and to remodel whole territories according to the programme which they had so carefully considered in every detail with a view to obtaining and enforcing their own ends and their own interests. The heretics were just as resolute and just as practical, that is to say, just as determined to bring about the domination of their absolutism as is any revolutionary of to-day. The aim and objects of their leaders, Tanchelin, Everwacher, the Jew Manasses, Peter Waldo, Pierre Autier, Peter of Bruys, Arnold of Brescia, and the rest, were exactly those of Lenin, Trotsky, Zinoviev, and their fellows. There were, of course, minor differences and divergences in their tenets, that is to say, some had sufficient cunning to conceal and even to deny the extremer views which other were bold enough or mad enough more openly to proclaim. But just below the trappings, a little way beneath the surface, their motives, their methods, their intentions, the goal to which they pressed, were all the same. Their objects may be summed up as the abolition of monarchy, the abolition of private property and of inheritance, the abolition of marriage, the abolition of order, the total abolition of all religion. It was against this that the Inquisition had to fight, and who can be surprised if, when faced with so vast a conspiracy, the methods employed by the Holy Office may not seem - if the terrible conditions are conveniently forgotten - a little drastic, a little severe? There can be no doubt that had this most excellent tribunal continued to enjoy its full prerogative and the full exercise of its salutary powers, the world at large would be in a far happier and far more orderly position to-day. Historians may point out diversities and dissimilarities between the teaching of the Waldenses, the Albigenses, the Henricans, the Poor Men of Lyons, the Cathari, the Vaudois, the Bogomiles, and the Manichees, but they were in reality branches and variants of the same dark fraternity, just as the Third International, the Anarchists, the Nihilists, and the Bolsheviks are in every sense, save the mere label, entirely identical.
In fact heresy was one huge revolutionary body, exploiting its forces through a hundred different channels and having as its object chaos and corruption. The question may be asked - What was their ultimate aim in wishing to destroy civilization? What did they hope to gain by it? Precisely the same queries have been put and are put to-day with regard to these political parties. There is an apparent absence of motive in this seemingly aimless campaign of destruction to extermination carried on by the Bolsheviks in Russia, which has led many people to inquire what the objective can possibly be. So unbridled are the passions, so general the demolition, so terrible the havoc, that hard-headed individuals argue that so complete a chaos and such revolting outrages could only be affected by persons who were enthusiasts in their own cause and who had some very definite aims thus positively to pursue. The energizing forces of this fanaticism, this fervent zeal, do not seem to be any more apparent than the end, hence more than one person has hesitated to accept accounts so alarming of massacres and carnage, or wholesale imprisonments, tortures, and persecutions, and has begun to suspect that the situation may be grossly exaggerated in the overcharged reports of enemies and the highly-coloured gossip of scare-mongers. Nay, more, partisans have visited the country and returned with glowing tales of a new Utopia. It cannot be denied that all this is a very clever game. It is generally accepted that from very policy neither an individual nor a junto or confederacy will act even occasionally, much less continually and consistently, in a most bloody and tyrannical way, without some very well-arranged programme is being thus carried out and determinate aim ensued, conditions and object which in the present case it seems extremely difficult to guess at and divine unless we are to attribute the revolution to causes the modern mind is apt to dismiss with impatience and intolerance.
Nearly a century and a half ago Anacharsis Clootz, “the personal enemy of Jesus Christ” as he openly declared himself, was vociferating “God is Evil,” “To me then Lucifer, Satan! whoever you may be, the demon that the faith of my fathers opposed to God and the Church.” This is the credo of the witch.
Although it may not be generally recognized, upon a close investigation it seems plain that the witches were a vast political movement, an organized society which was anti-social and anarchichal, a world-wide plot against civilization. Naturally, although the Masters were often individuals of high rank and deep learning, that rank and file of the society, that is to say, those who for the most part fell into the hands of justice, were recruited from the least educated classes, the ignorant and the poor. As one might suppose, many of the branches or covens in remoter districts knew nothing and perhaps could have understood nothing of the enormous system. Nevertheless, as small cogs in a very small wheel, it might be, they were carrying on the work and actively helping to spread the infection. It is an extremely significant fact that the last regularly official trial and execution for witchcraft in Western Europe was that of Anna Goeldi, who was hanged at Glaris in Switzerland, 17 June, 1782. Seven years before, in 1775, the villian Adam Weishaupt, who has been truly described by Louis Blac as “the profoundest conspirator that has ever existed,” formed his “terrible and formidable sect,” the Illuminati. The code of this mysterious movement lays down: “it is also necessary to gain the common people (das gemeine Volk) to our Order. The great means to that end is influence in the schools.” This is exactly the method of the organizations of witches, and again and again do writers lament and bewail the endless activities of this sect amongst the young people and even the children of the district. So in the prosecutions at Würzburg we find that there were condemned boys of ten and eleven, two choir boys aged twelve, “a boy of twelve years old in one of the lower forms of the school,” “the two young sons of the Prince's cook, the eldest fourteen, the younger twelve years old,” several pages and seminarists, as well as a number of young girls, amongst whom “a child of nine or ten years old and her little sister” were involved.
The political operations of the witches in many lands were at their trials exposed time after time, and these activities are often discernible even when they did not so publicly and prominently come to light. A very few cases, to which we must make but brief and inadequate reference, will stand for many. In England in the year 1324 no less than twenty-seven defendants were tried at the King's Bench for plotting against and endeavouring to kill Edward II, together with many prominent courtiers and officials, by the practice of magical arts. A number of wealthy citizens of Coventry had hired a famous “nigromauncer,” John of Nottingham, to slay not only the King, but also the royal favourite, Hugh le Despenser, and his father; the Prior of Coventry; the monastic steward; the manciple; and a number of other important personages. A secluded old manor-house, some two or three miles out of Coventry, was put at the disposal of Master John, and there he and his servant, Robert Marshall, promptly commenced business. They went to work in the bad old-fashioned way of modelling wax dolls or mommets of those whom they wished to destroy. Long pins were thrust through the figures, and they were slowly melted before a fire. The first unfortunate upon whom this experiment was tried, Richard de Sowe, a prominent courtier and close friend of the King, was suddenly taken with agonizing pains, and when Marshall visited the house, as if casually, in order that he might report the results of this sympathetic sorcery to the wizard, he found their hapless victim in a high delirium. When this state of things was promptly conveyed to him, Master John struck a pin through the heart of the image, and in the morning the news reached them that de Sowe had breathed his last. Marshall, who was by now in an extremity of terror, betook himself to a justice and laid bare all that was happening and had happened, with the immediate result that Master John and the gang of conspirators were arrested. It must be remembered that in 1324 the final rebellion against King Edward II had openly broken forth on all sides. A truce of thirteen years had been arranged with Scotland, and though the English might refuse Bruce his royal title he was henceforward the warrior king of an independent country. It is true that in May, 1322, the York Parliament had not only reversed the exile of the Despensers, declaring the pardons which had been granted their opponents null and void, as well as voting for the repeal of the Ordinances of 1311, and the Despensers were working for, and fully alive to the necessity of, good and stable government, but none the less the situation was something more than perilous; the Exchequer was well-nigh drained; there was rioting and bloodshed in almost every large town; and worst of all, in 1323 the younger Roger Mortimer had escaped from the Tower and got away safely to the Continent. There were French troubles to boot; Charles IV, who in 1322 had succeeded to the throne, would accept no excuse from Edward for any postponement of homage, and in this very year, 1324, declaring the English possessions forfeited, he proceeded to occupy the territory with an army, when it soon became part of the French dominion. There can be not doubt that the citizens of Coventry were political intriguers, and since they were at the moment unable openly to rebel against their sovran lord, taking advantage of the fact that he was harassed and pressed at so critical a juncture, they proceeded against him by the dark and tortuous ways of black magic.
Very many similar conspiracies in which sorcery was mixed up with treasonable practices and attempts might be cited, but only a few of the most important must be mentioned. Rather more than a century later than the reign of Edward II, in 1441, one of the greatest and most influential ladies in all England, “the Duchesse of Gloucestre, was arrested and put to holt, for she was suspecte of treson.” This, of course, was purely a political case, and the wife of Duke Humphrey had unfortunately by her indiscretion and something worse given her husband's enemies an opportunity to attack him by her ruin. An astrologer, attached to the Duke's household, when taken and charged with “werchyrye of sorcery against the King,” confessed that he had often cast the horoscope of the Duchess to find out if her husband would ever wear the English crown, the way to which they had attempted to smooth by making a wax image of Henry VI and melting it before a magic fire to bring about the King's decease. A whole crowd of witches, male and female, were involved in the case, and among these was Margery Jourdemain, a known a notorious invoker of demons and an old trafficker in evil charms. Eleanor Cobham was incontinently brought before a court presided over by three Bishops, London, Lincoln, and Norwich. She was found guilty both of high treason and sorcery, and after having been compelled to do public penance in the streets of London, she was imprisoned for life, according to the more authoritative account at Peel Castle in the Isle of Man. Her accomplices were executed at London.
In the days of Edward IV it was commonly gossiped that the Duchess of Bedford was a witch, who by her spells had fascinated the King with the beauty of her daughter Elizabeth, whom he made his bride, in spite of the fact that he had plighted his troth to Eleanor Butler, the heiress of the Earl of Shrewsbury. So open did the scandal become that the Duchess of Bedford lodged an official complaint with the Privy Council, and an inquiry was ordered, but, as might have been suscepted, this completely cleared the lady. Nevertheless, five years later the charges were renewed by the Lord Protector, the Duke of Gloucester. Nor was this the first time in English history that some fair dame was said to have fascinated a monarch, not only by her beauty but also by unlawful means. When the so-called “Good Parliament” was convened in April, 1376, their first business seemed to be to attack the royal favourite, Alice Perrers, and amongst the multiplicity of charges which they brought against her, not the least deadly was the accusation of witchcraft. Her ascendancy over the King was attributed to the enchantments and experiments of a Dominican friar, learned in many a cantrip and cabala, whom she entertained in her house, and who had fashioned two pictures of Edward and Alive which, when suffumigated with the incense of mysterious herbs and gums, mandrakes, sweet calamus, caryophylleae, storax, benzoin, and other plants plucked beneath the full moon what time Venus was in ascendant, caused the old King to dote upon this lovely concubine. With great difficulty by a subtle ruse the friar was arrested, and he thought himself lucky to escape with relegation to a remote house under the strictest observance of his Order, whence, however, he was soon to be recalled with honour and reward, since the Good Parliament shortly came to an end, and Alice Perrers, who now stood higher in favour than ever, was not slow to heap lavish gifts upon her supporters, and to visit her enemies with condign punishment.
It is often forgotten that in the troublous days of Henry VIII the whole country swarmed with astrologers and sorcerers, to whom high and low alike made constant resort. The King himself, a prey to the idlest superstitions, ever lent a credulous ear to the most foolish prophecies and old wives' abracadabra. When, as so speedily happened, he wearied of Anne Boleyn, he openly gave it as his opinion that he had “made this marriage seduced by witchcraft; and that this was evident because God did not permit them to have any male issue.”
There was nobody more thoroughly scared of witchcraft than Henry's daughter, Elizabeth, and as John Jewel was preaching his famous sermon before her in February, 1560, he described at length how “this kind of people (I mean witches and sorcerers) within these few last years are marvellously increased within this Your Grace's realm;” he then related how owing to dark spells he had known many “pine away even to death.” “I pray God,” he unctuously cried, “they may never practise further than upon the subjects!” This was certainly enough to ensure that drastic laws should be passed particularly to protect the Queen, who was probably both thrilled and complimented to think that her life was in danger. It is exceedingly doubtful, whether there was any conspiracy at all which would have attempted Elizabeth's personal safety. There were, of course, during the imprisonment of the Queen of Scots, designs to liberate this unfortunate Princess, and Walsingham with his fellows used to tickle the vanity of Gloriana be regaling her with melodramatic accounts of dark schemes and secret machinations which they had, with a very shrewd knowledge of stagecraft, for the most part themselves arranged and contrived, so we may regard the Act of 1581, 23 Eliz., Cap. II, as mere finesse and chicane. That there were witches in England is very certain, but there seems no evidence at all that there were attempts upon the life of Elizabeth. None the less the point is important, since it shows that in men's minds sorcery was inexplicably mixed up with politics. The statute runs as follows: “That if any person . . . during the life of our said Sovereign Lady the Queen's Majesty that now is, either within her Highness' dominions or without, shall be setting or erecting any figure or by casting of nativities or by calculation or by any prophesying, witchcraft, conjurations, or other like unlawful means whatsoever, seek to know, and shall set forth by express words, deeds, or writings, how long her Majesty shall live, or who shall reign a king or queen of this realm of England after her Highness' decease . . . that then every such offence shall be felony, and every offender therein, and also all his aiders (etc.), shall be judged as felons and shall suffer pain of death and forfeit as in case of felony is used, without any benefit of clergy or sanctuary.”
The famous Scotch witch trial or 1590, when it was proved that upon 31 October in the preceding year, All Hallow E'en, a gang of more than two hundred persons had assembled for their rites at the old haunted church of North Berwick, where they consulted with their Master, “the Devil,” how they might most efficaciously kill King James, is too well known to require more than a passing mention, but it may be remembered that Agnes Sampson confessed that she had endeavoured to poison the King in various ways, and that she was also avowed that she had fashioned a wax mommet, saying with certain horrid maledictions as she wrought the work: “This is King James the sext, ordinit to be consumed at the instance of a noble man Francis Erle of Bodowell.” The contriver of this far-reaching conspiracy was indeed none other than Francis Stewart, Earl of Bothwell, who, as common knowledge bruited, almost overtly aspired to the throne and was perfectly reckless how he compassed his ends. It was he, no doubt, who figured as “the Devil” at the meeting in the deserted and ill-omened kirkyard. In fact this is almost conclusively shown by a statement of Barbara Napier when she was interrogated with regard to their objects in the attempted murder of the King. She gave as her reason “that another might have ruled in his Majesty's place, and the Government might have gone to the Devil.” That is to say, to Francis Bothwell. The birth of Prince Henry at Stirling, 19 February, 1594, and further of Prince Charles at Dunfermline, 19 November, 1600, must have dashed all Bothwell's hopes to the ground. Moreover, the vast organization of revolutionaries and witches had been completely broken up, and accordingly there was nothing left for him to do but to seek safety in some distant land. There is an extremely significant reference to him in Sandys, who, speaking of Calabria in the year 1610, writes: “Here a certaine Calabrian hearing that I was an English man, came to me, and would needs persuade me that I had insight in magi>1. Further Six Sermons on the Sacrament.
2. Advice and cautels for priests.
3. A little Treatise concerning the miraculous Host and the species of Blood which have been reserved for the space of 300 years at Augsburg, or a sharp confutation of the error which asserts that the miraculous Sacrament if the Eucharist, whilst there is the appearance in the Host of Blood or Human Flesh or the form of a Figure, is not truly the Blessed Sacrament, with the promulgation of the Ban of Excommunication against all and sundry who dare to entertain this opinion. A copy of this book may be found at Paris in the library of our monastery of S. Honorat.
3. Here beginneth a Tractate confuting the errors of Master Antonio degli Roselli of Padua, jurisconsult, concerning the plenary power of the Supreme Pontiff and the power of a temporal monarch. The conclusion is as follows: Here endeth the Reply of the Inquisitor-General of Germany, Fr. Henry Kramer, in answer to the erroneous and mistaken opinions of Antonio degli Roselli. Printed at Venice, at the Press of Giacomo de Lencho, at the charge of Peter Liechtenstein, 27 July, 1499.
4. The Shield of Defence of the Holy Roman Church against the Picards and Waldenses. This was published when Fr. Kramer was acting as Censor of the Faith under Alexander VI in Bohemia and Moldavia. This work is praised by the famous Dominican writer Noel Alexandre in his Selecta historiae ecclesiasticae capita et in loca eiusdem insignia dissertationes historicae, criticae, dogmaticae. In dealing with the fifteenth century he quotes passages from this work. The bibliographer Beugheim catalogues an edition of this work among those Incunabula the exact date of which cannot be traced. Georg Simpler, who was Rector of the University of Pforzheim, and afterwards Professor of Jurisprudence of Tubingen in the early decades of the sixteenth century, also mentions this work with commendation. Odorico Rinaldi quotes from this work in his Annalesunder the year 1500. The Sermons of 1496 are highly praised by Antony of Siena, O.P. Antonius Possevinus, S.J., speaks of a treatise Against the Errors of Witches. This I have never seen, but I feel very well assured that it is no other work than the Malleus Maleficarum, which was written in collaboration with Fr. James Sprenger, and which we have spoken above in some detail.
In what year Fr. Henry Kramer died and to what house of the Order he was then attached is not recorded, but it seems certain that he was living at least as late as 1500.
Thus Quétif-Echard, but we may not impertinently add a few, from several, formal references which occur in Dominican registers and archives. James Sprenger was born at Basel (he is called de Basilea in a MS. belonging to the Library of Basel), probably about 1436038, and he was admitted as a Dominican novice in 1452 at the convent of his native town. An extract “ex monumentis contuent. Coloniens.” says that Sprenger “beatus anno 1495 obiit Argentinae ad S. Nicolaum in Undis in conuentu sororum ordinis nostri.” Another account relates that he did not die at Strasburg on 6 December, 1495, but at Verona, 3 February, 1503, and certainly Jacobus Magdalius in his Stichologia has “In mortem magistri Iacobi Sprenger, sacri ordinis praedicatorii per Theutoniam prouincialis, Elegia,” which commences:
O utinam patrio recubassent ossa sepulchro
Quae modo Zenonis urbe sepulta iacent.
Henry Kramer, who appears in the Dominican registers as “Fr. Henricus Institoris de Sletstat,” was born about 1430. His later years were distinguished by the fervour of his apostolic missions in Bohemia, where he died in 1505.
Although, as we have seeb, Fr. Henry Kramer and Fr. James Sprenger were men of many activities, it is by the Malleus Maleficarum that they will chiefly be remembered. There can be no doubt that this work had in its day and for a full couple of centuries an enormous influence. There are few demonologists and writers upon witchcraft who do not refer to its pages as an ultimate authority. It was continually quoted and appealed to in the witch-trials of Germany, France, Italy, and England; whilst the methods and examples of the two Inquisitors gained an even more extensive credit and sanction owing to their reproduction (sometimes without direct acknowledgement) in the works of Bedin, De Lancre, Boguet, Remy, Tartarotti, Elich, Grilland, Pons, Godelmann, de Moura, Oberlal, Cigogna, Peperni, Martinus Aries, Anania, Binsfeld, Bernard Basin, Menghi, Stampa, Clodius, Schelhammer, Wolf, Stegmann, Neissner, Voigt, Cattani, Ricardus, and a hundred more. King James has drawn (probably indirectly) much of hisDaemonologie, in Forme of a Dialogue, Divided into three Bookes from the pages of the Malleus; and Thomas Shadwell, the Orance laureate, in his “Notes upon the Magick” of his famous play, The Lancashire Witches, continually quotes from the same source.
To some there may seem much in the Malleus Maleficarum that is crude, much that is difficult. For example, the etymology will provoke a smile. The derivation ofFemina from fe minus is notorious, and hardly less awkward is the statement that Diabolus comes “a Dia, quod est duo, et bolus, quod est morsellus; quia duo occidit, scilicet corpus et animam.” Yet I venture to say that these blemishes - such gross blunders, of you will - do not affect the real contexture and weight of this mighty treatise.
Possibly what will seem even more amazing to modern readers is the misogynic trend of various passages, and these not of the briefest nor least pointed. However, exaggerated as these may be, I am not altogether certain that they will not prove a wholesome and needful antidote in this feministic age, when the sexes seem confounded, and it appear to be the chief object of many females to ape the man, an indecorum by which they not only divest themselves of such charm as they might boast, but lay themselves open to the sternest reprobation in the name of sanity and common-sense. For the Apostle S. Peter says: “Let wives be subject to their husbands: that if any believe not the word, they may be won without the word, by the conversation of the wives, considering your chaste conversation with fear. Whose adorning let it not be the outward plaiting of the hair, or the wearing of god, or the putting on of apparel; but the hidden man of the heart is the incorruptibility of a quiet and meek spirit, which is rich in the sight of God. For after the manner heretofore the holy women also, who trusted God, adorned themselves, being in subjection to their own husbands: as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters you are, doing well, and not fearing any disturbance.”
With regard to the sentences pronounced upon witches and the course of their trials, we may say that these things must be considered in reference and in proportion to the legal code of the age. Modern justice knows sentences of the most ferocious savagery, punishments which can only be dealt out by brutal vindictiveness, and these are often meted out to offences concerning which we may sometimes ask ourselves whether they are offences at all; they certainly do no harm to society, and no harm to the person. Witches were the bane of all social order; they injured not only persons but property. They were, in fact, as has previously been emphasized, the active members of a vast revolutionary body, a conspiracy against civilization. Any other save the most thorough measures must have been unavailing; worse, they must have but fanned the flame.
And so in the years to come, when the Malleus Maleficarum was used as a standard text-book, supremely authoritative practice winnowed the little chaff, the etymologies, from the wheat of wisdom. Yet it is safe to say that the book is to-day scarcely known save by name. It has become a legend. Writer after writer, who had never turned the pages, felt himself at liberty to heap ridicule and abuse upon this venerable volume. He could quote - though he had never seen the text - an etymological absurdity or two, or if in more serious vein he could prate glibly enough of the publication of the Malleus Maleficarum as a “most disastrous episode.” He did not know very clearly what he meant, and the humbug trusted that nobody would stop to inquire. For the most part his confidence was respected; his word was taken.
We must approach this great work - admirable in spite of its triffling blemishes - with open minds and grave intent; if we duly consider the world of confusion, of Bolshevism, of anarchy and licentiousness all around to-day, it should be an easy task for us to picture the difficulties, the hideous dangers with which Henry Kramer and James Sprenger were called to combat and to cope; we must be prepared to discount certain plain faults, certain awkwardnesses, certain roughness and even severities; and then shall we be in a position dispassionately and calmy to pronounce opinion upon the value and the merit of this famouse treatise.
As for myself, I do not hesitate to record my judgement. Literary merits and graces, strictly speaking, were not the aim of the authors of the Malleus Maleficarum, although there are felicities not a few to be found in their admirable pages. Yet I dare not even hope that the flavour of Latinity is preserved in a translation which can hardly avoid being jejune and bare. The interest, then, lies in the subject-matter. And from this point of view the Malleus Maleficarum is one of the most pregnant and most interesting books I know in the library of its kind - a kind which, as it deals with eternal things, the eternal conflict of good and evil, must eternally capture the attention of all men who think, all who see, or are endeavouring to see, reality beyond the accidents of matter, time, and space.
In Festo Expectationis B.M.V.