Black Cats And Broomsticks Stereotyping, Myth, Reality

A Warm, Witchy Welcome

Hello Poppets.

A warm, cackling, welcome to you all. Come, sit by the boiling cauldron as I tell you of all sorts of curses and magic. Oh don't worry, I won't hex you. We're here to dispel common myths and beliefs about witches, not encourage them. Posts will be on a weekly basis, as I get to learn along with you and need material to write about (I can't conjure this stuff up overnight you know.) Until then, dearies, keep your pets close and eyes open for updates.

January 13, 2017

Torture, Tests, and Confessions: Germanic Witches

...Okay Then.

A brief warning dear poppets: this isn’t going to be particularly pleasant. Before we can get to the slaughtering of hundreds, some of them children, the general attitude of the church towards witchcraft in general must be covered. Enough babbling, let’s get to the point shall we?

The Ancient world’s depiction of the witch is in itself a field, and at most, shows an early formation of traditional views of the witch and her activities. (Levack 5) What will be receiving a brief, focus here is St. Augustine’s demonization of all witchcraft, magic, and religious practices not fitting within the church’s ideals. This ideal will, although at times waver, will come back full fledge in the late 1500s-1600s in Germany. St. Augustine, during the middle ages, was one of the “greatest of the Church Fathers.” (Levack, 27) This position of power provided his ideals with a greater weight than that of a lower ranking figure. What exactly where these ideals? The practice of magic, all magic, involved demonic invocations and was condemnable. The only element missing here is, calling directly for practitioners of witchcraft to be tortured and burned at the stake (or if you happened to be in England, hanging).

There's a Major Difference People

Where is the trial and torture info you may ask. We’ll get to those dear poppets, but first, we need to take a look into an earlier trial: the Trial of Dame Alice Kyteler. This resembles many of the later trials those accused of witchcraft would have gone through, minus the required torture (we’ll get to that very soon). A good, short summary of what happened to the good Dame can be found here:

Her alleged crimes fit many of the usual charges: attending witches’ Sabbaths, creating powders and potions, and use of sorcery to murder and infatuate her four husbands.(Levack,41) What is of interest here is the addition of Dame Alice’s accomplice and how she was tortured to gain incriminating “evidence” against said Dame. Specifically, she was “six times whipped on the order of the Bishop” until she admitted to her crimes and had provided additional information on Dame Alice. (Levack,41) Levack and the source of this information (The Sorcery Trial of Alice Kyteler as edited by Davidson and Ward) do not specify what exactly is indicated by six times. The text mentions only that this takes place during the same day as Dame Alice’s trial.

What does this exactly have to do with Germanic witches? Both these documents and trial methods are not only held up as proof that witches should be burned, but also taken to extremes when it comes to methods used to drag confessions out of the accused. One such person was Niclas Fiedler, tried during the mass panic in the electorate of Trier, which is located in Germany. Along with Fiedler, Dr. Dietrich Flade (the former vice governor of Trier), was also prosecuted under extreme torture, both physical and psychological. Fiedler having been subjected to half an hour’s worth of what appears to be a modified version of strappado. (Tied up, rope tied to a wall and said rope beaten by the hangman with a stick. Fun.) This was only halted when the mayor, either feeling pity for him or attempting to gain his trust, entered the room and stopped the torture.

It Gets Worse, Have a Laugh Break

Torturers served a dual role that makes the entire process far worse than that of just cold blooded torture. The accused were to not be killed with torture, so the torturer served a healing role as well. This is evident in Johannes Junius' confessions and a letter sent to his daughter. Junius was first told of his accuser's name (who, himself, had been tortured into revealing said name). This process is repeated one more time when Junius refutes the claims and he is then tortured for an unspecified amount of time with thumbscrews, leg-screws, and strappado.(Levack, 199) Only after he confesses and then reaffirms these confessions twice more, is he put to death via burning.

Dislocated Bones and Pain Ahead

The "healing" role is only evident in a letter sent to his daughter. Once this torture is ended, the executioner (who also tortured him), begs of him to confess something, saying:

"Sir, I beg you, for God's sake confess something, whether it be true or not. Invent something, for you cannot endure the torture which you will be put to... one torture will follow after another until you say you are a witch" (Levack,201)

This use of torture was all too common in Germany, with anther prisoner (N.N.) in Eichstatt suffering the strappado until she confessed that she was indeed a witch.(Levack 205)N.N., however, refuted these claims four days later and was once again tortured via stretching over the ladder. After this round of torture, she newly accuses 48 accomplices and is then put to death after reaffirming these accusations.

January 20 2017

Wicked Dances and Sinful Deeds: The Witches' Sabbath

One Hell of a Party...

Instead of continuing along the torture train, so to speak, turning our attention to some of the deeds these women would be accused of is of more importance. We will, however, return to this topic, albeit briefly, due to the unique nature of some the Norwegian locals witch beliefs.

You may be wondering what wicked deeds filled the witch coven’s repertoire. Most of these deeds fell into four main categories: love magic, healing magic, divination, and the undoing of other witch’s spells. I can already here you proclaiming “Healing magic! Undoing potentially harmful magic!! Those sound just dandy, why would someone be burned and tortured for that?” I’m afraid it wasn’t so simple, dear poppets. The church was spreading at this time and their stance was any magic, no matter the intentions, was to be punished as a sin against God. Helping to spread this fear throughout Europe was the spread of demonological treaties which was occurring during the worst time to be accused as a witch in Europe (1570-1700) (Levack, 69)

Included amongst these claims was the idea, which had been long held, that the witch, no matter their gender, would copulate with Incubi and Succubi, often in public or whilst at the Sabbath (or Sabbat, both spellings are legitimate).(Levack, 67) What are exactly are these fell creatures? To put it in a nutshell: sex demons. The goals of said creatures are often stated to be the draining of life energy via the act of copulation. As for what they looked like...

Hello mortals...

Don’t believe everything you see, dear poppets. Very rarely would early artwork depict these creatures as sexy, evil, Goth men or half naked women. While they may have taken on fair forms to seduce the soon to be witch, they would quickly drop it and reveal themselves as an animal or demon...


Not exactly sexy are they? Despite this, rather unpleasant fact, most witch trials and accusations involved admittance of guilt to copulation with such fiends. Most of the doctrine also reinforced the belief that women, who were ‘necessary evils’, were themselves sex fiends. Catholic doctrine in particular would point out that women were found of ‘carnal abominations’ from the very start, being defective in formation.(Levack, 63)Male witches, in later writings, were not exempt from this accusation either, and the devil would take on a female form in those cases.(Levack, 80)

This particular claim, despite so many witches admitting to it (under torture and admonition from the jailer mind you), was somewhat disputed. What most confessions confirmed was that the act was far from pleasant, and most witches only endured it under threat of punishment. The reasons for it being unpleasant: Satan’s ugliness and the chosen form used. (Levack, 81)Often these forms would be those of an animal (which would be further stigmatizing). One particular scholar, Henri Boguet, uses these claims as further proof that other religions are heretical. Because gods/deities getting it on with mortals is apparently utterly horrifying. Enough sex talk, on to the Sabbath and the means by which a witch would get there.

I am a Nerd.

Scholars were much divided on whether witches physically attended the Sabbath, or merely believed that they had. Some authors, like Nicolas Remy, found both sides to be equally valid in their opinions. Using cited examples, he notes cases of suspected witches, watched by their neighbors or family, acting out in a manner that suggests they are participating in Sabbatical acts, all without leaving their house. (Levack 84) Also noted, are cases where witches were said to escape up the chimney after smearing themselves or an object with ointments and flying to the Sabbath. In some cases, witches would summon demons in the form of animals to ride to the Sabbath.

Satanic Taxis at Your Service

As my word limit is fast approaching, I should describe what actually happens at the Sabbath. Pierre De Lancre, a French magistrate, wrote an account of the supposed activities that would take place. The majority of this account comes from Gentle Rivaffeau, a man accused of witchcraft(Levack, 105) The Sabbath would take place at multiple locations, and always at night due to the secretive nature of the witch’s craft. The devil would preside over these festivals and a multitude of incubi and succubi would be present to dance and copulate with attending witches. Feasting and drinking would occur and the devil’s backside would be kissed in reverence. In this particular document, dancing takes on a sexual nature and Spain was also decried within the same paragraph.(Levack, 106) One interesting element here is that the devil would not copulate with unmarried virgins, preferring the sin of adultery.

In Norway, due to the location of the witches Sabbath, flight via broom or other means was actually required to get there. Norway is unique in its categories of magic as well, with shapeshifting, luck magic, and Fylgjur being unique to their system. What is fylgjur? Well, my poppets, it was similar to a familiar and protected the family or the owner. It would also take on a shape fitting the owner’s personality.

Kinda Like a Patronus. Here's Mine.

January 27, 2017

Possession and Witchcraft:Demonic Invitations

*Tubular Bells*

Glancing at the title of this week’s entry may have a few of you scratching your heads. Before you grab my shirt and shriek “Possession? What does that have to do with witchcraft? Or magic?” Calm yourselves dear poppets, have some tea, sit back, and I’ll explain everything (well not everything, even my knowledge is limited.)

While it is true that witchcraft and demonic possession are treated as two separate things, at times they will overlap. This overlap is often caused by accusations that the witch, in an effort to harm an intended victim, will summon a demon and command them to enter that person’s body. Conjure the mental image of a group of drunk and or stoned teens deciding to summon Satan, it actually happening, and the ensuing carnage and you might get a similar picture (minus the drunken teens and the stupidity that entails of course.)

I'll Just Be Going Then..

Demonic possession had been around long before witchcraft, and is still around today, weirdly enough . If you want specific dates for comparison, Levack’s The Witchcraft Sourcebook (I highly recommend this by the way. Some of the stuff in there is extremely fascinating) has you covered. Witch trials started in the 15th century and only lasted on a large and public scale until the 18th century. In comparison, demonic possessions had been recorded for much longer and are still a thing today. (Levack, 231) This fascination with the devil is in itself worthy of a blog post or two, but as this is not the focus of this particular blog, you will have to delve into those dark depths on your own time.

Back to the main focus, possession, much like a disease, was communicable and entire groups would often display such unsightly symptoms as bodily contortions, vomiting of nails or other foreign objects, strength far beyond that of a normal human, and the ability to speak in tongues the person should not know (Latin being a fairly popular one in any exorcism film you may see today.) In some cases, rather than there being only one possessed person, whole groups would be under the sway of evil forces. Often these would be groups of nuns or children (high impressionability could be a key cause of these outbreaks.)(Levack, 231)

One Spark is all it Takes..

With how fervently the church prosecuted and believed in witchcraft, you’d think that they would be just as quick to believe cases of demonic possession. Oddly, enough they take a more skeptical approach in these cases, with the church testing the person’s claims before even considering an exorcism. (Levack, 232) Some of these cases would even be deemed psychological in nature, quite progressive for a group that would take the testimony of children as truth enough in a witchcraft case.

Exorcism, when it was deemed necessary, was more often than not, also used as a propaganda piece to further the church’s goals and make them look like the superior (and only) religion. Both Protestants and Catholics used exorcism, but in vastly different ways. But, my dear poppets, let's get back to the nuns, those crazy, crazy nuns.

Pure Evil, This One.

One case, based around a convent in Wertet, displays many of the traditional possessed nun stories (I can’t believe this is a thing): speaking in tongues, sudden fits of inappropriate behavior, bodily damage caused by unseen forces, etc. The cause of this madness was very much a puzzle, until two nuns revealed they had seen a woman trap a cat in a basket in the nunnery. (Levack, 237) Upon hearing this, the animal was swiftly found and released and the woman who had left it there was branded a witch and placed in jail, along with her accomplices. The cat was not entirely the cause of this group possession, as the Lamia (Witch), had, under the guise of returning borrowed salt, caused small seeds covered in it to appear in the Nun’s dorms. (Levack, 236)This, however, is not the most famous case of mass nun possession. The case of the Loudon Nuns inspired both a book and film.

The Loudon case is unique in the facts that not only were there public exorcisms, but the accused was actually a member of the clergy. Urban Grandier, a parish priest with a rather scandalous reputation (he had impregnated the daughter of one of the town officials and had less than stellar relations with the bishop and king’s counselor), ended up burning at the stake for causing said possessions. (Levack, 252)

Look at the word count! Let’s get to the main points. After physical attempts to heal the nuns failed, an exorcist was brought in. The demons then revealed Urban Grandier had sent them into the nuns, and had committed unholy acts on holy ground (i.e. the church).(Levack, 256) Also found were written pacts with demons, a magical charm, and the devil’s mark. Needless to say, Urban Grandier burned.

Crispy Priest Flesh Anyone?

February 02, 2017 

The Skeptic's Opinion: Witchcraft as Melancholy?

Not Quite the Same Thing, but..

With my previous three posts, you may be thinking that science and skepticism, if they existed at all, were far from accepted opinions and would have been frowned upon. Well, dear poppets, that is not completely true, as documents were created that upheld and attempted to prove that witchcraft was no more than a melancholic person’s ramblings and phantoms created by mental illness. A major proponent of this view was Johann Weyer, a demonologist who may be familiar to those of you who read my previous entry.

The Face of a Man Who is NOT Buying It.

Yes, if you remember my entry about demonic possession and witchcraft, this was the guy who observed and recorded the possessed nuns of Wertet. (Levack, 277) In said writing, he never attributed any powers to witchcraft, instead attributing all of the events to the wickedness and snares of the devil. Witchcraft, as he viewed it, was no more than an illusion and was not to blame for any of the events at Wertet, or at the other convents he had investigated or read about. You may wonder what all of this has to do with melancholy, well; I’ll get to that quite soon.

Weyer viewed witchcraft as little more than the effects of melancholy on weak minded and unfaithful people, particularly women (gender equality? What’s that?) (Levack, 277) This, as a result, meant that any crimes these women (and men) would be accused of were not valid; as there was no way that they could afflict their neighbor by muttering curses at them or their cows. He further dismantles the defense of witchcraft as real by basically saying my view of this scripture is correct and yours isn’t.How exactly does he interpret this? Translations from the Hebrew to Latin are not correct, and there is yet another discrepancy when looking at the Greek translations. (Levack, 278) What the Hebrew text describes is a broad umbrella of activities that could be considered magical, and the witch has less power than say, German writers would ascribe to them.

In Shorter Terms...

So, who is the cause of these actions, if the witch has no power and can’t place a curse upon her neighbors? Why, good old Lucifer himself, of course! Yeah, Weyer got quite a bit of flak for this opinion, particularly from demonologists from the late sixteenth century. (Levack, 277) Lamia (his word for witches) held no special powers and were not needed by the devil to cause mischief. He, instead, was allowed to run amok by God and cause strife. I’m not sure how that arrangement works out, but I can easily see why this would cause an outcry amongst the more religious folk.Combine this idea, with unexplained disasters, and weak willed or faithless humans, and you have the local loon proclaiming they can control the weather causing a stir.

Basically, Its One Never Ending Chess Game

Since the witch has no real power, according to scripture and the like, why then, do so many claim to be witches? This, in part, is due to a lack of faith and mental illnesses, or humors, rather. Melancholia, as defined by Greeks and most scholars of this time, is an overabundance of black bile, leading to an altered mental state. A state that could simply make you more likely to brood, listen to The Cure, and smoke on a rooftop. Whats of more interest are cases of persons prone to odd fits and delusions of, say, being a vase or believing that they were an animal.(Levack, 282) Women, being the weaker sex in both physical and mental state, were believed to be more prone to this.

Pictured: Melancholy, Sexy, Sexy Melancholy.

What is particularly interesting in Weyer’s case is his belief about punishment and witchcraft. Since the people claiming to be witches were simply afflicted with illusions caused by the Devil, any confession they made would be worthless in the eyes of the court. These prisoners should, according to Weyer, not be tried as heretics, as a heretic, by his definition is:

“…warned once or twice and still constantly and stubbornly persists in his fanatical beliefs.”(Levack, 283)

Instead of being burned at the stake for heresy, these women (he refers only to women as witches at this point), should be examined and have biblical teachings more thoroughly applied to them.

VERY Thoroughly Applied

This more lenient belief applied also to their treatment. He argues that as good Christians, the court should resist the urge to torture these women until a satisfying confession tumbles forth from their lips. Combined with the filthy prisons and lack of empathy from their captors and neighbors, these women saw no better escape than “quick” deaths via burning. Rather than face death at the hands of torment, these women would:

“…freely confess to any crime proposed to them, rather than be thrust headlong back into the same dungeons and torture within the stinking prisons.” (Levack, 284)

February 09, 2017 

Puritanical Beliefs and Women

The Picture Of Lingering Doubt And Paranoia

Before we get into the meat of the Salem Witch Trials, the ideals and religious dogma of the people involved, as well as how this may have influenced the victims, needs to be addressed. The colonies of New England practiced Puritanism, which although similar to the Church of England at the time, had a few key differences. Puritans were displeased with the state of the Church under Henry VIII’s rule but, unlike the pilgrims (who were separationists), they did not want to cut ties entirely with the church. Puritans, instead, were obsessed with, well, purifying their version of the church. Instead of having elaborate ceremonies, like the Catholic Church, they would instead hold three, hour long sermons twice a week. Yes, dear poppets, you read that right, three. (Bremer, The Puritan Experiment) Taking a nap wasn’t allowed either, and if you tried to do so, well…

*Poke* Poke* *Jab*

That device, my dear poppets, is the church stick, Officials would walk around during sermons and poke or tickle anyone who spoke out of turn, had their eyes closed, or weren’t paying attention. Church therefore, turned into a trial of patience and will for all involved. “What does this have to do with women in the church?” You may be asking. Let’s get to that shall we?

As a reminder: women in the eye of the Catholic Church are considered “a necessary evil.” (Godbeer, 12) This view doesn’t translate over into the Puritan’s dogma, as the family unit is considered a key to maintaining good Christian values, and having the mother be a living hell spawn, simply is not possible. (The mother is supposed to model good behavior for her children and demonstrate how a proper woman of God is supposed to act.) The Puritanical view, therefore, places Eve on a pedestal as a role model for women. This itself causes problems, as anyone familiar with Christian ideology knows.

Behold The Apple Incident

To combat this little issue, Puritans choose to ignore the apple incident and instead focus on how Eve acted as a companion and helper to Adam. Women were expected to do the same and by most accounts, this is what happened. When any woman dared to break norms, however, any tolerance that Puritanical beliefs gave them would be tossed out the window. These women, instead of being God’s handmaidens would instead be branded servants of the devil, placing them on par with the local Indian tribes, Quakers, and Evangelicals. (Godbeer, 19) The fear of these invading, unwanted forces, combined with the fear of not knowing where they would end up in the afterlife (they also believed in predestination) , resulted in whole communities turning into high strung, nervous, and moody wrecks.

Psychologists Would Have a Field Day...

This attitude, combined with the lot in life that the victims of the Salem Witch trial found themselves in, resulted in a cocktail of resentment, a desire to act out, and a way of getting attention. Before we get into their backstories, however, we need to introduce our victims (if you could call them that). Some of the first known victims in the records are Abigail Williams (age 12) and Betty Parris (age 9). (Godbeer, 51) The daughter and niece of the pastor in Salem Village, both of which would have sudden fits and act as if an unseen entity was violently attacking them. Later, after the baking of a urine cake by Tituba (an Indian maid who worker for Samuel Parris), more young girls and women came forward to claim they too had been attacked.

They Would Have Worn Something Like This

Amongst these women are named Mrs. Pope, Goodwife Bibbard, Mary Walcott, Mercy Lewis, and Elizabeth Hubbard. (Godbeer, 55) Why would these women act out in such a manner? A manner that, although it would have gotten them attention, also put their mortal souls in peril (they had acted out against the social order and blasphemed in church.) Many of them felt they had no other way towards receiving power, as this was a purely patriarchal society, with males making all the decisions, and women only having a say in church matters and when their husbands were gone, ill, or had died.

Every Puritan Widow's Nightmare

Several of these women had been recently orphaned by an Indian attack and had come to live with remaining relatives or friends. (Godbeer, 23) Some of these women were reduced to being servants and what property they did have was damaged or destroyed in the raid. These women would, as a result, have little to offer as a potential dowry. Upset over this, a few of the girls had even tried divination to see who their future husband would be. (Godbeer, 23) This resentment, combined with an overall lack of power, a religiously devout upbringing, and general mood of anxiety may have led to the girls acting out and blaming it on the devil and witchcraft to sooth their own souls

I Have Nothing To Add Here...

February 23, 2017

Created By
Rachel Avery


Created with images by cocoparisienne - "cat black cat domestic cat" • - "Praetorius, Witches' Sabbath" • Mike Licht, - "Exorcist 2010" • reidy68 - "nun zombie possessed" • CircaSassy - "A family flight around home (1884)"

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