TOWARDS the end of the Middle Ages, Pope Innocent VIII issued the Bull Summa desiderantes. This is almost invariably described as a Bull against witchcraft, but a glance at the text suggests that this is hardly an adequate description.
It has indeed lately come to Our ears . . . that in some parts of Northern Germany. . . many persons of both sexes . . . have abandoned themselves to devils, incubi and succubi, and by their incantations, spells and conjurations . . . have slain infants yet in their mother's womb, as also the off-spring of cattle, have blasted the produce of the earth, the grapes of the vine, the fruit of trees, nay, men and women, beasts of burden, herd beasts, as well as animals of all kinds.... These wretches further afflict and torment men and women, beasts of burthen . . . with terrible and piteous pains and sore diseases . . .; they hinder men from performing the sexual act and women from conceiving, whence husbands cannot know their wives, nor wives receive their husbands....
It is evident that Innocent is not here concerned with magical practices in general — he says nothing of the use of magic for travelling great distances, speaking foreign tongues or averting disasters — he is concerned solely with certain pathological sexual phenomena, of just the sort which we have been discussing; namely, fantasies of sexual congress, failures of fertility and, more particularly, psychic impotence and frigidity. He believes that this impotence has been caused by charms and conjurations; he is not attacking the attempt to use charms for this purpose as a crude superstition, although he is writing at the very close of the Middle Ages; on the contrary his objection is that these charms have been only too effective.
Nor need we dismiss his fears as unreal. Placing severe taboos on sexual activity, associating it as strongly as possibly with feelings of guilt, is a course well calculated to produce certain amount of psychic impotence. In view of the fact that psychoanalysts still have to deal with a great deal of this kind of impotence today, when the taboos are much weaker than they were in the Middle Ages, it is just possible that psychic impotence may have been growing so widespread as to become a real threat to human fertility. But Innocent also feels that there is a threat to the fertility of beasts and crops too, so that some further explanation is called for. We can see in it a projection of the unconscious hopes and fears of the principal actors: purely on theoretical grounds one would be inclined to diagnose the existence of unconscious fears of impotence on the part of those who drew up the Bull, but, still more, strong resentments of those who were able to have satisfactory intercourse. No doubt, on the sour grapes principle, they were determined to deny to others what they could not enjoy themselves: their conscious concern with a decline in fertility covers a real unconscious desire to destroy fertility. Only by some such analysis can one explain the apparent paradox of the Church, which had laboured so long to restrict the performance of the sexual act, becoming so agitated by a development which threatened to do its work for it.
But we are not, as a matter of fact, obliged to base our speculations solely on the Bull. Innocent drew up this document at the request of two German members of what we should nowadays call the Papal secret police (i.e. the Dominicans), named Sprenger and Kramer. These men, having been appointed Inquisitors, began to accuse and condemn persons for witchcraft in certain German cities with such ferocity and obvious injustice that not only was there a popular outcry but even the local bishops and clergy refused their support. As a result of this, Sprenger and Kramer now went to the Pope and induced him to draw up the Bull I have just quoted: it ends with a declaration that Sprenger and Kramer have been appointed to go into these matters, that they have plenary powers, and that they must be given every help. It therefore reflects Papal credulity rather than Papal policy.
Soon after, Sprenger and Kramer prepared the famous handbook, the "Malleus Malleficarum", and browbeat the Senate of the University of Cologne, to its shame, into endorsing it. The immense popularity of this work, which ran through ten editions in a few years, shows that it reflects the unconscious preoccupations not merely of its authors but of many people in northern Europe: it was followed during the next century by a spate of similar works from other Inquisitors, such as De Lancre, Delrio, Bodin, Torreblanca and others. It is, in many respects, a casebook of sexual psychopathy, and is concerned principally with three subjects: impotence, sexual fantasies and conversion hysterias. It also discusses the causing of storms, but, as these are treated simply as a method of destroying crops, the topic only represents a variation on the general theme of preoccupation with sex and fertility. It prescribes the questions which investigators of witchcraft are to ask, gives excellent clinical descriptions of the phenomena to be looked for, supported by case-histories; and it discusses the aetiology.
In fact, it is clear that by this date the activities which we normally call witch-hunting had ceased to be concerned with magical acts, as such, but revolved round certain sexual phenomena and represented a psychotic preoccupation with sex on the part of the instigators. To understand what was happening, it is essential to realize that the circumstance which at this date normally gave rise to a witch-trial was not the existence of a specific individual, supposedly a witch, but the existence of certain phenomena, usually sexual in character. From the occurrence of these phenomena, the existence of a witch was inferred as a necessary cause. It then remained to find the witch, and for this purpose the sufferer was invited to make a denunciation, or, failing this, the public at large might do so. Naturally, those with scores to pay off, and those with insane resentments, obliged. The victim was then arrested tortured for a confession, and burnt.
Naturally, persons of all ages, from eight to eighty, and of both sexes, were accused, though the biggest group consists of young girls from fourteen up. The idea that the persecutions were confined to a number of half-crazed old women is completely false, and the victims included many persons of prominence in public life. To take but a single instance, in the mass persecutions in Bamberg between 1609 and 1633, when 900 persons were burnt, one of those killed was Johannes Junius, a burgomaster of the city. Under torture, he confessed to witchcraft; asked to name accomplices, he denied having any, but, tortured again, named some. Afterwards, before his execution, he was allowed to write to his daughter. He told her not to believe what he had confessed —
"It is all falsehood and invention.... They never cease the torture until one says something." (249)
In short, every case of impotence or sexual fantasy which came to the attention of the Inquisitors was bound, if pursued, to lead to a burning; hence the number of executions provides no index of the number of persons actually believing in witchcraft: if it is an index of anything, it is of the number of cases of sexual psychopathy occurring. The expression "witchcraft trials" is, in fact, quite misleading as to the aims and motives' involved. The Church wished to suppress certain sexual, phenomena, and, just as we do today, it chose to make use of the existing machinery for the purpose — in this case, the machinery of the Inquisition.
Sprenger and Kramer, though their own observations were often accurate and describe phenomena which we can readily recognize as forms of sexual pathology, were always ready to accept, at second hand, wild stories which supported their preconceptions, however extraordinary. Thus, though they quite accurately distinguish loss of potency due to lack of semen from that due to inability to obtain an erection, they also describe a third form in which the penis becomes invisible and intangible — caused by a woman casting a "glamour" (it is to this power of bewitching that we refer today when we speak of the glamour of film stars).
Sprenger and Kramer illustrate the casting of a glamour with the following story:
A certain young man had had an intrigue with a girl. Wishing to leave her, he lost his member: that is to say, some glamour was cast over it so that he could see or touch nothing but his smooth body. In his worry over this he went to a tavern to drink wine; and after he had sat there for a while he got into conversation with another woman who was there, and told her the cause of his sadness, explaining everything and demonstrating in his body that it was so. The woman was shrewd and asked if he suspected anybody.
The young man named a certain person. The woman advised him to persuade this person to restore to him his integrity, by violence if need be. He took this advice and stopped the woman in question in a lonely place, demanding that she withdraw the spell. When she protested that she was innocent and knew nothing about it, he fell upon her, and, winding a towel tightly round her neck, choked her, saying;
"Unless you give me back my health you shall die at my hands."
Then she, being unable to cry out, and with her face already swelling and growing black, said:
"Let me go, and I will heal you."
The young man then relaxed the pressure of the towel, and the witch touched him with her hand between the thighs, saying:
"Now you have what you desire."
And the young man, as he afterwards said, plainly felt, before he had verified it by looking or touching, that his member had been restored to him.
If we treat the optical verification as an ingenious invention designed to give characteristic verisimilitude to the narrative, we can explain this as an hysterical manifestation. We note that the delusion began when he wished to stop sleeping with his mistress. Can we suppose that the young man deluded himself that he had lost his member in the same way as psychotics sometimes suppose their pelvis to be made of glass, and that the girl, finding herself in danger of strangulation, had the wit to try the effect of a little counter suggestion by the most obvious method? Sprenger and Kramer themselves end the story by warning us:
But it must in no way be believed that such members are really torn right away from the body but that they are hidden by the devil through some prestidigitatory art, so that they can be neither seen nor felt.
In the case of hysterical and schizophrenic manifestations, of the sort then referred to as " possession ", it was obviously insufficient to burn the person alleged to have caused them; in view of the erotic symptoms displayed by the persons possessed, it was necessary to find some way of showing them to be guilty also. This was managed by employing the argument that the devil cannot enter a person unless he be destitute of all holy thoughts. Accordingly, all deluded or possessed persons were presumed to be in deadly sin, which is as much as to say that lunacy was made a capital crime, the only admissible defence being that one was possessed by God and not by the devil. The Church's attempt to impose this principle came up against the strong medieval belief that lunacy varies with the phases of the moon. Against this it was argued, rather as in a modern libel action, that the devil deliberately caused the manifestations to vary with the phases of the moon in order to bring one of God's creatures (meaning the moon) into disrepute; or if he did not, then the devil was himself affected by the moon; or if he was not, men were more susceptible to diabolic influence at full moon. The frightful casuistry of such arguments does not seem to have worried anyone.
With the fantasies of intercourse with incubi and succubi we need not deal, as these have been discussed in a previous chapter. Concerning the purely sexual character of the phenomena which the Inquisitors were attacking under the rubric of "witchcraft" the Malleus is quite explicit: "All witchcraft comes from carnal lust," it says," which in women is insatiable." With perfect realism, it adds that the most prolific source of witchcraft is quarrelling between unmarried women and their lovers.
At all periods, of course, there were a few men honest enough, intelligent enough and courageous enough to stand out against this nonsense. Friedrich Spee and Father Kircher in the seventeenth century, Agrippa von Nettesheim and de Weier in the sixteenth, Paracelsus in the fifteenth, Bartholomeus Anglicus in the thirteenth, and others. De Weier succeeded in convincing a priest who thought himself troubled by a succubus that his trouble was imaginary, and managed to cure him. Du Laurens similarly cured two women. (257) De Weier was able to insist on rational treatment in several cases of "possession", and subsequently in his 'De praestigiis daemonum', without daring to deny the existence of witchcraft outright, he pressed for the use of medical methods until it was certain that the case was not a medical one. This book was placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum — primae classis, which means that all other works by the same writer are automatically prohibited — and it remains there to this day. (256)
The Inquisitors realized, naturally, that if they asserted that all such cases were due to witchcraft, they would be made ludicrous whenever a doctor managed to effect a cure. They therefore laid down rules for discriminating between the results of witchcraft and ordinary illness, the principal rule being that any disease which the doctors could not cure was due to witchcraft! Because of this, epilepsy, regarded as a form of possession, was often regarded as caused by sorcery.
Despite the dictum that all witchcraft originates in lust, however, it is clear that a proportion of witchcraft trials were concerned with attempts to commit murder, and a few with attempts, or alleged attempts, to cause illness or damage crop and cattle. It is entirely natural, during a period when witch-trials were so common that the subject was in everyone's mind, that some people should be led to attempt to perform magical acts; and it is natural too, that malign individuals, having suffered some illness or loss, should seek the satisfaction of vengeance by accusing someone else; it was a convenient way to remove someone one disliked, or who stood in one's way. The Inquisitors could not refuse to try such cases, even had they wished; actually, being convinced that any witch would have committed sexual crimes in addition to any others of which she might be accused, they were perfectly willing to administer the question. It was, indeed, a basic assumption that any witch had had intercourse with the devil. All Inquisitors worked with an interrogatory, or manual of questions, and as these questions were almost wholly sexual they usually succeeded in finding sexual guilt.
But while a great part of the time of the Inquisition was taken up, especially in Germany, with the examination of these clinical sexual phenomena, it is almost certainly true that some of those coming forward belonged to an entirely different category. Some thirty years ago, Margaret Murray brought forward detailed evidence in support of the view that a form of pagan worship, probably of very ancient totemic origin, had survived into medieval times, and had grown increasingly popular. This worship was devoted to a horned deity, one or whose names was Cernunnos, and an altar to him has beer found below the foundations of Notre Dame de Paris. The worship was of an ecstatic variety, and, like certain other pagan religions, such as the worship of Dionysos, culminated in the sexual act.
Though torture was frequently used to obtain confessions, and while many confessions are undoubtedly worthless, yet there is a residuum of cases where torture was not used, in which the persons accused confessed freely. Their God, they , said, had promised them that they would be happy in the after life, and they died without remorse or terror.
To the Church it was evident that this deity must be the devil, for it was axiomatic that all pagan deities were devils. At the very beginning of the Christian era, the author of Revelation had called the altar of Zeus at Pergamos "the throne of Satan". In The Anatomy of Melancholy, Burton makes the identification of pagan deities with Christian devils quite clear, and points to the tradition that they could have intercourse with human beings:
"Water devils are those naiads or water nymphs. Paracelsus hath several stories of them that hath lived and have married to mortal men.... Such a one was Egeria, with whom Numa was so familiar, Diana, Ceres, etc.... Terrestrial devils are Lares, Genii, Fauns, Satyrs, Wood-nymphs, Foliots, Fairies, Robin Goodfellows, Trulli...."
In a Bull issued against a sect known as the Stedingers, in 1233, Gregory IV accused them of communion with devils, and of scorning sacraments, and added that the ceremony ended in "indiscriminate debauchery". In the same century, the minister of the Scottish parish of Inverkeithing was presented for leading a fertility dance in the churchyard. In 1282, Dame Alice Kyteler was tried for worshipping a deity other than Christ. Margaret Murray has brought forward numerous other indications of the survival of a pagan worship. (182) It is also well established that the sabbath constituted a form of religious ceremony, including hymns, prayers, sermon, homage to the god and a ritual meal. Converts were required to make a public profession of faith and were then given a new name (baptized).
The Church would naturally object to the existence of a rival religion, as it objected to Jewry and Mohammedanism, but we can imagine that the especial fury with which it attacked this religion was due to the fact that where the Christian Church despised and hated the sexual act, the worshippers of the Horned God elevated it to a sacrament.
It is clear, then, that the witchcraft trials covered at least four entirely different phenomena: (i) the worship of the Horned God; (ii) sexually based hysterias and delusions; (iii) other inexplicable illnesses, such as epilepsy; (iv) actual maleficium, or the performing of magic routines. The common feature in all these was supposedly the use of witchcraft. Actually however, it does not seem to be the case that the worshipper of Cernunnos were normally practitioners of witchcraft Since the Church christened them witches, a number of actual sorceresses may have drifted into their ranks, and there is some evidence of a gradual perversion of the original rite; but there are certainly many cases where maleficium was never in question, Joan of Arc being a well known instance.
However, few were aware of these distinctions, and the two ideas became inextricably confused. We find cases where people are accused of, and even confess to, being present at sabbat when eyewitnesses state that they were in their bed the whole time. Evidently we have to do here not with actual pagan worship, but with an illusion. The witches applied an ointment which was supposed to make it possible to fly through the air; the formula is known and it has been made-up and analysed. (181) It contains atropine and belladonna, which induce beatific visions. Now flying through the air is a stock symbol, in the psychoanalytic interpretation of dreams, for sexual intercourse, and that it had the same connotation here we need scarcely doubt. According to Delassus,
"Martin d'Arles raconte, dans son livre des superstitions, qu'une dame très pieuse se voyait souvent, en songe, chevauchant à travers la campagne avec un homme, qui abusait d'elle, ce qui lui causait une très grande volupté."
Jahns sees the inference, and comments:
"It thus happened that respectable matrons admitted to their father confessors that 'they felt as though they had involuntarily ridden by night over field and meadow, and that when their steed leaped over any water it was like someone having intercourse with them in a most voluptuous way'." He adds, "We have before us, therefore, a direct admission of the connection between the witch-ride and union with Satan."
It is not necessary for our purpose, fortunately, to give a full account of witchcraft, and only one further point need be made. Accusations of witchcraft invariably ended with the charge that the accused had committed sodomy with the Devil "despite his freezing coldness". It seems fairly definite that at sabbats, those taking part had intercourse with the leader, who was in all probability equipped with an artificial phallus for the purpose, but I know of no evidence of sodomy. We may suppose, therefore, that this was simply a further instance of the Inquisitors projecting their own unconscious desires upon their victims.
It is often said that the Holy See declared witchcraft to be a heresy simply for the convenience of bringing it under the Inquisition. Where by the word witchcraft was meant the activities of the worshippers of Cernunnos, it is evident that no special effort was needed to prove them heretical; but where the psychopathies were in question, clearly some justification had to be devised. Recourse was had to the argument that witchcraft was performed by aid of the devil: but this alone was not enough to prove the case, for heresy consisted in obstinately rejecting the official teaching of the Church. Hence, if a man invoked the devil, believing it to be a sin, he might be guilty of sin, but could not be guilty of heresy. Only if he held that it was not a sin to invoke the devil, could he be handed to the secular arm for burning. Hence it was always necessary to prove that a person accused of witchcraft was a worshipper of Satan. It was, therefore, argued that to invoke the devil implied that one believed the devil could tell the truth, that to believe this was heretical, and hence even those who felt it to be a sin should still be treated as heretics.
Thus it was held heretical to be chaste or to fast in hones of the devil; but it was not heretical to invoke devils to seduce women, since this was a function granted to devils by God , and did not imply adoration. Earlier ages had distinguished between good and bad magic; the Church abandoned this distinction in favour of magic worked by the aid of the devil as against magic worked by the aid of God, and roundly declared that even to employ magic for good ends was a sin and a heresy if the devil was the agency, and merited death. Means, in fact, became more important than ends. By the same methods it was argued that it was not heretical to make use of the Host to divine the love of a woman, but it was heretical to do so by magic. (249)
Even these few examples make it pretty clear that the Church was not concerned with stopping evil activity, but with heresy. It did not deny the power of the devil to do these things, it admitted it; but protected itself by the claim that he could only do so by God's permission.
Clearly these are rationalisations designed to give some degree of justification to programmes which had already been decided upon. This does not make them unimportant; the Church was always careful to maintain as consistent a philosophical structure as it could, but its methods of so doing were influenced by unconscious forces. In this instance, the relevant question to ask is, why does the devil figure so insistently in the story?
In the early days of Christianity, the devil had played a very minor role. Devils and demons there were in plenty; we have already noted how the various pagan deities, and the local genii and nymphs from an earlier animistic period had been comprehensively labelled devils. There were demons, too, derived (etymologically, at all events) from the Greek daimons which influenced individuals for good or ill. And Augustine speaks of "Silvanos et Faunos quos vulgo Incubos vocant". But Satan himself had been a remote and abstract figure. True, when Gregory I decided deliberately to incorporate heathen material into the Christian myth, he had constructed a master devil, taking his horns and hoofs from Pan and German forest sprites, his red beard and his smell from Thor, his limp from Vulcan and Wotan, his black colour from Saturn and Loki, his power over the weather from Zeus and Wotan, and so on. (139) But he remained somewhat aloof, "a pure spirit, dangerous and tempting but not the direct enemy of man". (96)
But early in the fourteenth century the picture suddenly changes, and the devil appears as a quite definite figure, with fully described anatomy, habits and intentions. (The startlingly detailed descriptions of his penis are probably to be explained partly by the fact that Inquisitors generally pressed witches for details, and perhaps because the leader of the coven had an artificial phallus.) Moreover, his teaching is not just error, it is something active. He is the enemy of man, exclusively occupied in trying to mislead him; and the enemy of God, exclusively occupied in misleading men into denying or perverting Christian morals and Christian practices. Furthermore, the various lesser demons now appear as members of a hierarchy, all organized to carry out his commands in a pattern very similar to that of the Catholic Church. The names of his various lieutenants were known (they were taken from prominent diabolic figures in other religions) and the exact number of his employees was calculated: 7,405,926. (96)
Graf mentions that he was also equipped with parents.
"In Germany mention is often made of the devil's grandmother, a woman not altogether bad, provided with nine hundred heads, and among the South Italians his mother is known and often spoken of."
Hell became specifically his dominion, and was equipped with a topography, dimensions, structure, flora, fauna and climate. (111) According to the Jesuit, Cornelius a Lapide, it was only two hundred Italian miles across, but this was perhaps sufficient, since a German theologian calculated that a cubic mile was sufficient to contain one hundred billion souls, provided they were packed tightly, "like anchovies".
It is clear that we have to do here with the familiar psychological process of decomposition. Since it is difficult and painful to feel conflicting emotions of love and hate at the same time, it simplifies our emotional situation if we can divide people and things into wholly good and wholly bad. This is why, in popular literature, we find clear-cut heroes, whose motives are always pure, and double-dyed villains. But since in real life people are mostly a mixture of good and bad, such writing is untrue to life. Similarly, in the political field, it is agreeable to think that one's own side is wholly right the other wholly wrong. The leaders of totalitarian states encourage this decomposition, because if all hatred is projected on their opponents, nothing but love is left for themselves; and to facilitate this process they attempt to show that all their opponents are tarred with the same brush. This seems to be just what the Church attempted in the fourteenth and subsequent centuries. Faced by growing dissatisfaction within, on account of the venality and immorality of its appointees, and threatened by heresy from without, it sought to label all heresies with the same tags, and to depict them as devoted to worship of the same god, who should be the exact antithesis of the Christian deity. By so doing, it not only weakened the , but simultaneously strengthened itself.
And, in fact, the way in which the devil is made to provide a mirror image of the Deity is quite striking. He has his Mass, his churches, his disciples (who go about in twelves, or, with their leader, thirteen); he has great power and knowledge; he descends into hell. Not for nothing has the devil been called God's Ape.
In many early religions, however, it is noticeable that no such decomposition has taken place. Even Jahweh originally displayed both divine and diabolic attributes; as Gener says:
"Il est Dieu et diable à la fois, mais plus frequemment il est diable."
We can catch decomposition in the act of occurring in the Roman Janus, or Dianus, who is depicted with two faces to signify his two aspects. Since he is specifically a god of fertility, one of these faces has the pointed ears of Pan, the other has a nobler aspect: frequently one face is white, the other black. Aphrodite likewise appeared in both chaste and sexual forms. Etymology confirms the common origin of deity and devil, for both are derived from the same Sanskrit root DV.
It is a paradoxical detail that the god worshipped by the witches was (in their view) just such an undecomposed god. The man who represented him at the sabbat had a mask tied to his hinder parts, to represent the second face of Janus, and the worshippers were required to bestow a ceremonial kiss on this mask. Christian writers spread the story that they were required to kiss the devil's arse, and the "obscene kiss" was one of the accepted criteria of heresy, but many witches stated clearly that this was not the position. (182) Thus de Lancre records:
"Bertrand de Handuch . . . aagee de dix ans, confessa . . . que le cul du grâd maistre auoit un visage derriere et que c'estoit le visage de derriere qu'on baisoit, et non le cul. Miguel de Sahourpse en disoit tout autant."
"Le Diable estoit en forme de bouc, ayant vne queue et au dessoubs vn uisage d'homme noir, ou elle fut contraints le baiser."
The second face can be clearly seen in an old cut by de Teramo.
Men make gods in their own image, and if the Deity was an image of their better selves, the Devil was an image of their worse selves. He engaged in just those forbidden sexual acts which tempted them: and this is why he was so frequently accused of sodomy. (In some accounts, he is equipped with a forked penis, so that he can commit fornication and sodomy at the same time.) (139) But it is also true that the Deity is a father figure, and it therefore follows that his counterpart, the Devil is a Projection of many of the aspects of a father. Not only has he great knowledge and power, not only is he extremely old, but he also obstructs one's plans and must be circumvented by cunning. Despite his wisdom, he is often outwitted. Like a father, he can often be induced to help one, especially in return for Promising to do what he says; he is quite grateful for co-operation, and seems genuinely concerned about injustice.
Decomposition, of course, is an infantile solution in life just as it is in literature. Good and bad are not neatly separated, and it is a mark of maturity to be able to accept the fact, with all that it implies in making one's own decisions about the goodness or badness of particular people and their actions. The medieval retreat to decomposition was a retreat from reality and a defeat of the spirit.
But it was not enough only to decompose the father figure. The Church had already had to make many concessions to matrism, introducing a mother figure into its religion in an attempt to retain the allegiance of those who had introjected maternal as well as paternal images. But the Virgin Mary was in danger of losing her virginity: in many parts she had been made most specifically a goddess of fertility, and at many shrines ex votos were offered for the restoration of sexual powers. If the Virgin were to represent the pure and compassionate elements in the mother, there must be someone to represent the impure and destructive ones.
This role was neatly filled by the witch. The witch is the bad mother, and, since the nightmare of patrists is to discover that their mother has betrayed them by sleeping with their father, the witch's main function, psychologically speaking, was to have intercourse with the bad father. This explains why it was such an essential dogma that all witches had had intercourse with the devil. Actually, in earlier days, witch like gods, had been undecomposed figures. H. Williams, speaking of the Anglo-Saxons, says:
"Their Hexe appears to be half divine, half diabolic, a Witch priestess who derived her inspiration as much from heavenly as from hellish sources; from some divinity or genius presiding at a sacred grove or fountain."
A difficulty here was that men attended witches' sabbats, and men were not infrequently denounced as the cause of witchcraft especially when the denouncing was done by a sexually frustrated woman, as in the case of the denouncing of the Cure Grandier at Loudun. Nevertheless, the idea that witches were predominantly women was sedulously fostered — the "Malleus" devotes a whole chapter to discussing why this is — and with such success that to this day the word "witch" at once suggests a woman rather than a man.
It also followed logically that, if the good mother, the Virgin, was already the patroness of fertility, the witch must be against fertility: this accounts for the stress on this point by Kramer and Sprenger. Similarly, as the Virgin was the type of compassion, the witch must be devoted to heartlessly destructive activities.
But before the Church could bring about this revolution, it was necessary for it to retreat very far from the position attained in earlier days, when it had maintained the position that witchcraft was a superstition. In 785 the Synod of Paderborn had ordered death for anyone who should put any person to death for being a witch. Charlemagne confirmed this ruling, and the Canon Episcopi ordered bishops to combat belief in witchcraft and to excommunicate anyone who persisted in such belief. An Irish Council had ruled,
"Whoever, deceived by the Devil, believes in the fashion of the heathen that anyone can be a witch and burns her on this account is to undergo punishment by death."
The Synod of Treves, in 1310, said:
"Let no woman allege that she rides through the night with Diana or Herodias, for it is an illusion of the Demon."
John of Salisbury, Archbishop of Canterbury in the twelfth century, came even nearer to the modern view when he said that
"some falsely believed that what they suffered in imagination . . . and because of their own fault was real and eternal" — not a bad description of psychogenic illness — and added, "We must not forget that those to whom this happens are poor women or simple and credulous people."
The change from this scepticism started with John XXII, whom psychiatrists now regard as having suffered from persecution mania: gathering together all the wildest fragments of superstition, he issued the Bull Super illius specula formulating the new view. His excited campaigns against the new sin helped to build up a sense of danger. Further enactments followed in 1374, 1409, 1418, 1437, 1445 and 1451, and a witch hunting craze was gradually developed. Prominent theologians wrote fervent appeals to the public. At first, stress was laid upon the propensity of witches to work harmful magic, and upon the heretical angle, but by the end of the fifteenth century the stress is almost entirely upon the sexual aspect. Following Innocent VIII's Bull, it was finally asserted that it was heretical to deny the reality of witchcraft. But before the persecution could be put on an active footing, it was necessary to get the cooperation of the civil courts, for the ecclesiastical courts were not prepared to accept the responsibility of shedding blood and would only hand over the victim to the secular arm, with a sanctimonious recommendation to avoid the shedding of blood. The civil authorities, if prepared to cooperate, then hanged or burned the victim, since this did not involve the shedding of blood, in a strictly literal sense. But it was not until 1400 that the civil courts consented to recognize copulation with the devil as a capital crime. The proposition that witches engaged in night flights became dogma in 1450: this made it possible to argue that accused persons attended sabbats many miles away without being seen en route or having any ordinary means of transport.
The absolutely frenzied state into which many of those who made the attacks worked themselves is scarcely believable. It was claimed that in some towns there were more witches than louses. According to Lea,
"a Bishop of Geneva is said to have burned five hundred persons within three months, a Bishop of Bamberg six hundred, a Bishop of Wurzburg nine hundred. Eight hundred were condemned, apparently in one body, by the Senate of Savoy. Paramo (in his History of the Inquisition) boasts that in a century and a half from 1404, the Holy Office had burned at least thirty thousand witches."
In Spain, Torquemada personally sent 10,220 persons to the stake and 97,371 to the galleys. Counting those killed for other heresies, the persecutions were responsible for reducing the population of Spain from twenty million to six million in two hundred years — a feat which not even the contemporary exponents of political heresy hunting have yet rivalled. While the well known estimate of the total death-roll, from Roman times onward, of nine millions is probably somewhat too high, it can safely be said that more persons were put to death than were killed in all the European wars fought up to 1914. (250)
The blame, of course, does not attach only to the Catholics. As I shall argue in a later chapter, the Protestant reformers were still more strongly patrist than the Roman Church, and they persecuted witches with, if anything, even greater ferocity. In Scotland, the church porches were provided with a box for anonymous denunciations. Calvin, in Geneva, with crocodile tears of compunction, burned heretics of all kinds. Luther attributed all insanity to the devil.
It is easier to understand these extraordinary phenomena when we recall that Custance, during the depressive phase of his insanity, felt himself "vulnerable to demonic attack". It is hardly possible to make sense of this almost incredible obsession except by conceding that those who instigated these persecutions really did feel themselves menaced on every hand by diabolic threats. Similarly the preoccupation of Innocent's agents with Impotence is more explicable when we remember that Custance actually found himself impotent while in this state; and we can better understand why the authors of the "Malleus" declared that all witchcraft sprang from carnal lust when we recall that Custance felt, in this phase, that all sin was fundamentally sexual sin.
In saying this we cannot overlook the important part played by the sadism of the Inquisitors and the projection of their own unconscious desires upon the victims. The accused, of all ages from five to eighty-five, were stripped naked: the modes of questioning, even when torture was not technically being used, were cruel to a degree. A common one was to tie the right arm to the left leg and vice versa, and then to leave the accused for twenty-four hours, so that severe cramps occurred. The Justification for this course was that witches give suck to demons, and these demons must revisit their patroness at least once in twenty-four hours. If any spider, louse or fly were found in the cell during that time, this was interpreted as a demon in disguise and provided evidence of guilt. Again, it was held that witches could be identified by the existence of insensitive spots. To locate them, the Inquisitors would prick every inch of skin as far as the bone with a thick bodkin, and especially the private parts. (This did not constitute torture.)
But it was not sufficient for the Inquisitors to decide that a certain person was a witch: it was also considered essential to obtain her confession, the rationalization being that if she died falsely protesting her innocence her postmortem tortures would be worse. It was therefore "only common justice" to torture the victim until she said the words which would lead to her being put to death. Not even the perverted malice of Nero or Claudius conceived such a refinement of cruel casuistry as these men who claimed to serve a god of love. As noted earlier, the records are full of cases of confessions being withdrawn after the torture ceased. In Spain, as in England, some attempts were made to arrive at the truth. James I was so struck by the defects in the evidence that he completely altered his position on witchcraft. In Spain, when Salazar was sent to investigate a wave of accusations in 1611, he reported that among 11,300 persons accused there was not one genuine case. Women who claimed to have had intercourse with incubi were medically examined and found to be virgin. He said that the principal cause of accusations was the invitation of the priest to report witches and that
"there were neither witches nor bewitched until they were talked and written about".
After he made his report, it was decided to prohibit the preaching of sermons on witchcraft and little more was heard of the subject in Spain.
The total impression left is not of a gradual emergence from honest error to enlightenment, but of a great wave of perverse and psychotic behaviour which particularly affected France, Switzerland, Germany, Scotland and some of the Scandinavian countries, but which affected England only slightly, Spain little more, and left Italy practically untouched. In Italy, witches were concerned almost entirely with the purveying of love potions and fertility charms, and, even when accused, could usually purchase their freedom with a small fine. But in Germany, particularly, only a few exceptional spirits were strong enough to stand against the tide. As Garacon and Vinchon say, referring to the arch persecutors Kramer and Sprenger,
"Erudite symbolists, mystic poets, they first created, then plucked, the most perverse of the flowers of evil, to decorate with its very perversity the most august grandeur of God."
As we have seen in the previous chapter, the accusations brought against the witches were, in some important respects, identical with the accusations brought against the Cathars. They were accused of general immorality and especially of sodomy; and they were accused of worshipping the devil. These accusations were also brought against the Templars, when Philip le Bel found it politically desirable to exterminate them. They were accused of sodomy, immorality, renouncing Christ and specifically of the "obscene kiss" — which, as we have seen, was a characteristic feature of the worship of the Horned God. How palpably fictitious the charges brought against them were is shown by the fact that they were accused of having in every Preceptory an idol and a secret document yet, though Philip seized all their buildings from the start, no such documents or idols were ever found. (168) Those who confessed did so under torture or threat of torture, and many of them subsequently withdrew their confessions, saying that they had only given them to escape the rack. Furthermore, the Templars were accused of worshipping the Cat — and this was allegedly a common symbol for the Cathari. The Cathari, as we have seen, were also allegedly associated with the troubadours. It therefore comes as no surprise to discover that the Stedingers and the Waldenses were also accused of worshipping a cat, and — as if this were not sufficient — we find that they were alleged to kiss it sub cauda (under the tail). Incidentally, it is this famous cat which accounts for the fact that in children's story books today the witch is traditionally depicted accompanied by a cat.
But while the Inquisition was extremely preoccupied with homosexuality, it did not refrain from making accusations of incest also. Michelet says:
"Selon ces auteurs (de Lancre, etc.) le but principal du sabbat, la lexicon, la doctrine expresse de Satan, c'est l'inceste."
The Cathars were also accused of incest, and, as we have seen, the troubadours were preoccupied with incest also. A further curious link is provided by the fact that, according to Freimark, the heretic sects displayed the same anaesthetic marks as were supposed to be diagnostic of witches.
It seems unlikely in the extreme that the worshippers of the Horned God really engaged in incest; since the members of the coven copulated with the Grand Master, their action could only have been incestuous if they were all his daughters or his sisters, which no one has suggested. In point of fact, the names of the witches and their leaders are in several cases known, and show little sign of consanguinity.
In short, we find the Church alleging similarities between a somewhat diverse group of sects, a diversity which is rather marked in the case of the Cathars and the witches, since the former abstained from all intercourse while the latter made it the centre of their religion. In particular, it alleges the actual performance of both incest and homosexuality, though the clinical experience shows that these are usually mutually exclusives in the sense that where the former is overt the latter is deeply repressed.
Thus heresy became a sexual rather than a doctrinal concept; to say a man was a heretic was to say he was a homosexual, and vice versa.
In fact, the Church sought to bring together all its enemies into a common pattern, and to tar them with the same brush. And in its accusations, there was this much truth: all these heretics were to a greater or lesser extent, matrists. While their dogma and ritual differed greatly — and some of them claimed to be still within the Church — psychologically they had one thing in common: mother identification. This is the only heresy in which the medieval Church was really interested. To bring the worshippers of the Horned God under this head was more difficult than with other heresies, for two reasons. Firstly, because it was not an exclusive mother identification: its deity, when not an animal, was a man. It is true that he was assisted by a high priestess who also has her symbolic avatars (one of them is the Queen of Faerie), but the doctrine was not matrist in the ordinary sense. It was, rather, a doctrine of worship of the repressed half of the male deity, and the repressed half of the male includes his feminine components.
It may be said that the Church was always interested in another heresy: dualism. The Manichees, like the Zoroastrians before them, decomposed good and evil, and postulated a God of Light forever in conflict with a God of Darkness. The Church could not allow that any pre-Christian religion had been corrects even when it had itself begun to fall into the same error. It sought to distinguish itself by the claim that, whereas in Manichaeism the outcome of the conflict was uncertain, in Christianity the devil only operated by permission of God, so that the outcome was sure. It then proceeded to make this claim ridiculous by persecuting heretics with rack and stake, saying that this violence was made necessary because it might have brought the whole world to ruin. Once the Church adopted its desperate plan of encouraging decomposition, persecution of Manichaeism became inevitable, because it made the whole Christian position ludicrous. But although Manichees decomposed, they did not project, and so were not led into the sexual and sadistic obsessions which entrapped the Church. They were not only more logical in doctrine, but psychologically were more mature than the unhappy neurotics who led the ranks of Christendom.
Enough has now been said to make it clear that the Middle Ages were far from being the period of orderliness and morality which they are sometimes represented as being. They represent rather a cross between a charnel house and an insane asylum, in which sadism and perversion, cruelty and licence, flowered on a scale which has seldom, if ever, been equalled. In comparison, the spontaneous animality of the Celtic predecessors is comparatively attractive. It is the permanent self-delusion of patrists to suppose that standards of behaviour are declining; and it is this desire to see the past as a Golden Age that bias cast over the horrors of medieval society a delusive glamour, just as effectively as did the witches.
In the picture I have drawn I have attempted to outline the forces at work and to show their interaction: Eros and Thanatos, sex and repression, projection and decomposition; father, and mother identification. In the next section I shall adopt a slightly different viewpoint, and shall try and show how these forces interacted in the five centuries which separate the Middle Ages from the present day, relating them to the more significant movements in general history. Merely to summarize the eccentricities of sexual behaviour in the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Age of Reason might provide a chronique scandaleuse, but would not be very enlightening. Let us attempt, therefore, to see attitudes to sexual matters as part of the changes in social ethos generally.