A unchecked and uncontrollable genocide was happening in Germany. No, not that one. This one was about witches or, rather, the unfortunately accused. Just like later on in history, the perfect circumstances were brewing, no pun intended, for a series of events to occur and lead to the mass killing of people that many saw as a problem. Just like the Jews later on, witches would be the scapegoat for the situations surrounding German society and the people who live in it.
gen·o·cide: (noun) the deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular ethnic group or nation. synonyms: mass murder, mass homicide, massacre;
But why Germany? The German empire had a weak central government that resulted in small units of political power. In these small units, the court was very powerful and that power went mostly unchecked. This resulted in the court having absolute authority over its jurisdiction. German's religion also changed with every new prince, resulting in hysteria of what religion was the one the small societies within the country should follow. The changing of religion lead to a constant stream of accusations and persecution. Depending on what side the accused was on, it could result in being burned on the stake or walking free. These reasons and many more resulted in the increase of accusations and persecution of witches in 17th century Bamberg.
Witches killed in Bamberg: est. 1,000 people
Witches killed in Salem: 20 people
The profile of witches in Germany were about as standard as everywhere else. The accused was typically an older woman, unmarried, etc, but German accusations also had another party that they accused. It was still an older woman, yes, but the accused were called lying-in-maids, which is a person who stays with a mother and baby 6-8 weeks after the baby is born to take care of the baby, mother, and house. This seems like an unlikely group to be accused, but when the jealousy of a mother over her newborn baby comes into play, it starts to make sense. There was also folklore in Germany about older widows ruining young men sexually, so this was an easy category of people to accuse. During this time, these women were accused because of small circumstantial reasoning, but the majority of the population was also accused for the same reasoning.
"Older widows were believed to have the power to ruin young men sexually...because they were sexually ravenous, and would suck out their seed"(Roper 27-28).
Some reasons to be accused of witchcraft: Female, middle aged, related to a known suspect, married with no children, stubborn or contentious, been accused of other crimes, low social position, and a confessed "witch" accusing another fellow "witch".
Men and women were both accused of witchcraft and many people contributed to their mass killing, but one man was almost mad with the thirst of blood from witches. He contributed to the most intensive period of witch trials in early modern Bamburg. This man was Prince-Bishop Johan Georg II. His biggest contribution was building a special witch prison called the Hexenhouse, where he could hold up to forty prisoners at a time to be torture until they confessed. It is estimated that he facilitated the torture and burning of 600 victims. The most famous victim murdered in this time period is Johannes Junius in 1628. He was a falsely accused citizen that suffered the consequences of uncontrolled power. In a secret letter written to his daughter, he accounts the horrific moments right before his death.
"Now follows, dear child, what i confessed in order to escape the great anguish and bitter torture, which it is impossible for me longer to bear"-Johannes Junius (Levack 202).
Johannes Junius was tortured mercilessly by thumb screws, leg screws, strappado, and countless more methods without a hint of confession. It is detailed that he proclaimed his innocence throughout his torture by saying that he "knows nothing of witchcraft"(Levack 199). He told his torturer many times that "he never denied God," "he never renounced God," and "God will not forsake him" (Levack 199). But as the torture continued, he could not take anymore and began to confess, fully aware of the consequences.
In this time period, a confession had to be uttered under torture or it was not legitimate. So the torturers were granted unlimited opportunities to torture until there was a confession. It was important to have a confession so that the accused's soul was cleansed of their sins before they were burned. This idea meant that the accused were essentially kept in prison and tortured until they confessed to being a witch. There was no escape after being accused, which caused many innocent people to confess to witchcraft just to make the pain stop.
""you will not escape...but one torture will follow after another until you say you are a witch" (levack 201).
After his tortured confession, he was burned at the stake. The policies and the brutality of Prince-Bishop Johan Georg II proved too much for even the mayor of Bamberg to escape from. His confession after uncontrolled torture proved that absolute power over other people, will force even innocent people to confess to witchcraft and be burned. Later on in history, a man with uncontrolled power began building special prisons, just under a different name.
Auschwitz Concentration Camp
"Those that do not learn history are doomed to repeat it."
Witchcraft in Spain
If witch hunting was the sport of "saving souls," Germany came in first and Spain came in at a close second. Spain was in the middle of the Spanish Inquisition, which was the purging of non-Christians from Spain. It is as brutal as it sounds. Though it had mostly a political agenda, it had religious applications. These people wanted to spread religion their religion by any means necessary, even at the tip of a weapon or a stake. This reign of intolerance and resistance of other cultures and customs began the perfect conditions for the society of Spain to purge not only for religious reasons, but also anyone they deemed needed to be tortured and die. Heretics were Spain's new souls to save.
a person believing in or practicing religious heresy;a person holding an opinion at odds with what is generally accepted.
Many people during this time period were accused of witchcraft. Men and women with the power to cure illness, especially when calling on "forces" or used a prayer improperly, men searching for enchanted treasures hidden by Muslims or Jews, men who used "masculine magic" or magic that derived from other disciplines, such as astrology and alchemy, and women who used "love magic" could all be accused of witchcraft. The problem with all of these reasons is the fact that they were vague enough to be applied to almost anyone, but specific enough to get a conviction with the right circumstances. Anyone could be accused, so anyone could be convicted.
"Love magic" was the primary accusation for women in this time period. In this culture, women could not be single and survive and there was a surplus of women compared to men, so women had anxiety about finding and keeping a husband. The only other choice for these women were to become a nun and even that was not promised. This started a strain of accusations because it relied on the accounts of feelings and hearsay. It also made the Catholic church unhappy because it went against what their faith was about by using the saint's names improperly and complicated the idea of free will.
Free Will:the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one's own discretion.
All of these reasonings and circumstantial evidence made the perfect storm for the Spanish Inquisition to purge heretics. In the beginning, Pope Sixtus IV aided the inquisition, but as it went on he fought against the abuse of it. Pope Innocent VIII succeeded him and he loved the idea of the inquisition. The love of the Inquisition paved the way to for the Grand Inquisitor, Tomas de Torquemada, to abuse the power that came with the title. He took quite a passion into ridding Spain of heretics and would torture all accused repeatedly because they were guilty until proven innocent. With the Spanish Inquisition, they valued a confession, but it was not necessary for a conviction. Confession was prison; no confession was death. Under his reign, punishments ranged from public shaming to being put to death.
"the hammer of heretics, the light of Spain, the savior of his country, the honor of his order."-Sebastián de Olmedo
Many practices came out of this heretic hunt. The first was a torture convention or scaffold called Auto De Fe that had a mass execution and punishment for the whole society to come and watch. There would be a parade of victims, drums, banners, and many other acts that one would see at a celebration. They also always occurred on Sundays and every person had to attend or it was enough suspicion to accuse a person of heresy. The victims were the people they felt were more guilty or uncooperative than the others. They were given one last chance to confess before they were burned at the stake. A confession meant strangulation before burning; no confession meant no "mercy."
Before these people were put on the stake, they had to march in something like a parade. They were made to wear what is called a san benito or a yellow tunic covered in images of the person's alledged sin. For witches, they would have images of devils, people burning, etc. If the person did not confess before they lit the fire, the tunic was left like it was. If the person confessed before, the tunic was turned inside out to symbolize that this person had confessed. If a person was especially problematic, they had to wear a yellow tunic, but also had to wear a coroza to signify it.
An account of this time was taken by Innocent VIII in 1484. His edict's main purpose was to give authority to the Inquisitors. He wanted them to "remove all impediments" and to "prevent the taint of heretical pravity and other like evils" (Levack 121). He essentially wanted to make it easier for the inquisitors the accuse and convict, with "full and entire liberty," witches of heresy so that they would not be "spreading their infection" (Levack 121). The church wanted to "save souls" and will do anything necessary to realize that idea.
Witchcraft in Italy
The Spanish were feeling a paranoia that their friends across the Mediterranean Sea just were not. The Spanish were being infiltrated by a multitude of different cultures and religions. Italy simply was not. The majority of Italy was comfortably Catholic, due to the presence of the Vatican within their country, and had almost no worry of another religion coming to convert or live among them. This main difference completely change the way that the Italians handled the idea of witchcraft and the heresy that goes along with it. With no animosity of neighbors because of religion, Italy could take a more logical approach to what people were being accused of.
Just like the Spanish, Italy had an inquisition of their own except it was called the Venetian Inquisition. There was not an overwhelming population of Catholics in Italy, but there was still the fear on the fringes of the country. Unlike Spain, this did not lead to mass hysteria and accusations, only mildly. The head of the Inquisition was called the Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition or, more simply, the Holy Offices. Most cases did not get to this level; they were mostly held locally. These local offices were made up of a bishop, an inquisitor (Dominican friar), and a papal nuncio. This inquisition originally was only after Protestants with suspicious people being accused of strange acts such as: having banned books, supporting divorce, ignoring religious fasts, etc. Then comes a transition into people being accused of witchcraft in the years 1547 to 1585 and from 1586 to 1650 twice as many accused witches were accused than protestants. Mainly these people were accused of love magic, divination, casting cords, and maleficio.
Venice in the sixteenth century
The strange aspect of the Inquisition in Italy is that there are no known guilt verdicts regarding witchcraft. Sometimes the accused were charge with a crime, but never witchcraft. There are many reasons as to why this occurred including:
1. The Inquisition was generally cautious and methodical.
2. The problem of jurisdiction and heresy: This point goes along with the previous because there was many instances of grey area within the idea of witchcraft, so people were cautious to convict and try anyone accused. The Holy Office wanted to get rid of heresy, but locals were not sure where witchcraft laid in regards to it. This lead to caution as well as locals wanting to handle the accusations themselves instead of involving the higher court. The trials relied on a book called Directorium Inquisitoroum by Nichlae Eyemic that was written in the 14th century and republished in the 16th. This book explicitly said that a guilty verdict had to include worship of the Devil and abuse of sacrament, which most never did. These acts had to clearly show these things or could not convict. This lead to strict guidelines for conviction.
Directorium Inquisitoroum by Nichlae Eyemic
3. Supernatural Illness (stregheria) or Natural Illness: Doctors or "cunningfolk" had to figure out why a person was sick or had died. They had to decide if it was natural or supernatural. Supernatural deaths had to be proven by the doctor. These people were not likely to decide that it was supernatural because it would take away their business and would basically plead the fifth.
Stregheria: Ancient Italian word for "witchcraft" or supernatural.
4. Evidence: The objects or acts that would be taken as evidence were previously mentioned, but it was warned not to waste time with things that were speculative or part of everyday life. Rumors were not taken as evidence, so witchcraft was seen as a waste of time for people to investigate.
5. Simply not enough judges: Because of this, they used their time for more dire cases besides witchcraft.
These ideals lead to an extreme amount of caution and method regarding the witch trials in Italy as well as some of it being purely circumstantial. As Sir Robert Filmer stated that this caution led "ultimately to the realization that the crime could not be proved" (Levack 155). The lack of hysteria that the many other countries had as well as other reasons lead to a more logical approach to how they approached the idea of witchcraft. It was not worth their time and ultimately they had no reasoning or right to "put such one to death" with no "warrant" (Levack 157).
Witch Hunting Manual
Now that the basic history of witchcraft in Europe has been detailed throughout this blog, it is time to talk about the manner in which they hunted these witches. There was not a written text that detailed what a witch was or how to persecute them. (Unless you count the various excerpts from the Bible and other random places) This all changed when a man, no doubt because of his want to help the society around him, wrote a handbook to solve all the problems of Europe. Malleus Maleficarum was written by Heinrich Kramer in 1486. This book would then go on to be the manual for witch hunting throughout Germany and other countries. It gained popularity mainly because these people had so many witches that they literally did not know what to do with them, not because of any ulterior motive I am sure like politics or religion.
Heinrich Kramer already sounds and looks like a person you really don't want to cross, but especially if you were someone he deemed a witch. He was a Dominican Inquisitor. (Apparently this part of the church handled everything to do with heresy, which seems odd given how big this idea came to be, but okay.) This book was written at a time when the inquisitors were facing resistance in their process of persecuting witches in Germany, convenient right? As soon as people start to follow the lead of logic, the people supporting these ideas have to throw them back into the whirlwind of hysteria. Despite this resistance, Pope Innocent VIII gave them the go ahead to keep persecuting witches throughout Germany. This order was included in the preface of the book so that everyone knew the highest authority validated these claims (Levack 57). This book was reprinted many times to reaffirm the fear and uncertainty that people in this society already felt or probably to line the pockets of the people profiting.
Some excerpts from this book are pretty chilling and manipulative. Part I details how anyone who does not believe in witches is in fact committing heresy themselves. So people had to believe or they were no better than a witch. "The errors held" by these people who do not believe in witchcraft of the power of it are "shown to be plainly heretical" (Levack 58). He goes on to say that he will "prove" that witchcraft is real through ways of "divine law" and "civil law" (Levack 60). He is basically warning all people that do not believe in witchcraft that they better or else. He has religion and the law on his side.
Civil Law:the system of law concerned with private relations between members of a community rather than criminal, military, or religious affairs.
Part II demonstrates how witches "entice and allure the innocent" to "increase that horrid craft and company" (Levack 63). He begins to detail the three ways witches try to convert people. The first way is through "weariness" by "inflicting grievous loses" of their "possessions" (Levack 63). Basically he is saying that when people lose what they cherish in the world and are overcome with grief, they will turn to witchcraft to reverse it. Another way witches convert people is through "seduction" (Levack 64). These witches would bring young women and others to be seduced by the Devil in various forms. The last way he details the conversion to witchcraft is through sadness and poverty, mainly through a scorned lover. Women will want to seek revenge on their lovers by converting to the Devil.
He then goes on to detail how to deal with the very present cases of women copulating with the Devil. Kramer believes this to be true through the "expert testimony of witches themselves" which makes these claims "credible" (Levack 67). He does not however take in to account that most of the confessions about witchcraft were made under extreme torture. Torture makes people say anything to make it stop.
Kramer make very misogynistic claims about women throughout this book. He never really mentions the possibility that men have been part of these acts, but mainly focuses on women. Women are copulating with the Devil and even causing impotence of the men around them. Men cannot handle the existence of these women as more than just dutiful house maids, so they had to come up with reasons to keep them in their place. If not, they were accused of witchcraft and being sexual beings with the Devil himself. Kramer shows that he believes women are inferior in intellect and morality so that they are more willing to be converted to witchcraft. All in all, not a very progressive thinking guy.