The Wicked Witchcraft Blog of the West An Account of Witchcraft In Europe and the Americas too

January 20, 2017

The Early Church and its Non-Magical Rituals

An Analysis of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas on Magic

How did the Catholic Church reconcile that all magic was evil, when Church ritual is so similar to magic ritual?

Within his Summa Contra Gentiles (, Aquinas says, “magic arts derive their efficacy from another intelligent being, to whom the magician’s words are addressed.”

When one thinks of how this applies to witchcraft, spells directed to a supernatural being immediately come to mind. However, one may not immediately think of the Catholic ritual of transubstantiation in the same terms.

Efficacy is the ability to produce a result. In transubstantiation, the desired result is for bread and wine to become the body and blood of Christ. The priest derives the result by saying specific words from Church ritual asking Christ to change the bread and wine. For more information on transubstantiation one can follow this link to learn more about the Catholic Church's teachings:

The above woodcarving depicts two witches throwing animals in to a pot to create a potion. In other words, these witches are starting with simple natural items (such as bread and wine). Then they are most likely saying a spell and are expecting a supernatural potion as a result (like the body and blood of Christ).

St. Augustine’s stance on magic/witchcraft wavered between two views. At one point, St. Augustine believed that demons and witches could not exist in a world overseen by God. However, Catholics and Protestants in the 15th-17th centuries look back to the words of St. Augustine in City of God and The Divination of Demons to justify burning witches at the state.

In these works, St. Augustine condemned all magic. He believed that all magic was the work of the Devil, and any person that acted with the Devil was a pagan or heretic. Therefore, witches were pagans and heretics and deserved to get a taste of Hell by burning at the stake. More information on the history of witchcraft persecution can be found here:

Later in the 13th century, St. Thomas Aquinas built upon the anti-magic work of St. Augustine. Aquinas believed that all magic was bad, and he used rational logic to come to this conclusion.

First, Aquinas established that no man can perform magic and concoct potions through spells on their own. He stated, “if there be any men that are able by their own power to transform things by words…they belong to another species.” Therefore, witches must evoke the Devil to help preform magic, be it for good or bad.

He went on to explain how good effects must come from good means, or else no virtue exists. Following this logic, Aquinas argued that good magic is without virtue because a witch still has to evoke the Devil to preform it.

It has been established that these two previously mentioned images are similar. They both depict a person starting with simple objects and with the help of a supernatural being turning those items into supernatural concoctions. Yet one is the ultimate good (the gift of Christ) and the other is an evil worthy death (witchcraft/magic). Why is that?

The apparent answer is that God is involved with transubstantiation, which gives the Church virtuous ends with virtuous causes through God. However, magic uses the Devil to create good or bad effects, but the process is always unvirtuous. This would be St. Thomas Aquinas's answer.

But why could God not have been the interceder in good/white magic? If God was the interceder, then some witches would have been using good means to a virtuous end. Therefore, under these circumstances, there would be no reason to persecute white witches.

January 27, 2017

Guilty Until Proven Guilty: Witch-hunts and Torture

How was witchcraft discovered and punished throughout Europe?

One answer does not exist for the whole of Europe. Spain and Germany had two separate ideas of torture, while they also punished witches completely different as well. For more on witchcraft tests, torture, and primary sources follow these three links:

Pope Innocent VIII opened the conversation of trying and punishing witches with a papal bull in 1484. Within his decree, Pope Innocent called “to remove all impediments by which…inquisitors are hindered in the exercise of their office…to prevent the taint of heretical pravity…from spreading their infection to the ruin of others who are innocent.” Pope Innocent also gave his inquisitors the sole authority in “correcting, imprisoning, punishing, and chastising” those guilty of witchcraft/heresy.


Germany had a particularly cruel rule to discover witches; unlimited torture was allowed to gain the confession of a witch. In fact, a confession was not legitimate unless the accused confessed after torture. The belief was that one could not truly be penitent unless they suffered first; therefore, witches were tortured because it was crucial for the soul.

The first day of torture consisted of the accused touring the prison after being stripped naked. The torturers would then explain how the various torture devices functioned, and the day would end with the accused witch being whipped.

Torture began the following day. In Germany, the two main methods of torture were strappado, pictured below, and squassation, which was strappado with weights attached to one’s ankles and the pulley system constantly being yanked up and down. During periods of respite, accused witches were fed salty foods and pickled water, so they would remain thirsty, and the accused were sleep deprived. In other words, accused witches were always uncomfortable and were in conditions to confess to anything (even crimes they did not commit). One interesting fact of German torture was that if blood was shed, then torture ceased.

In 1486, Heinrich Kramer wrote the Malleus Maleficarum, which served as a guide book to trying and punishing witches in Germany. The reason that torture and confession were so important in Germany was as Kramer wrote, “For common justice demands that a witch should not be condemned to death unless she is convicted by her own confession.” Kramer also wrote that once a witch confessed under torture, they must be taken to confess again sans the stress of torture.


Spanish witch-hunts centered around the Inquisition. The Inquisition began in 1478 under Pope Sixtus IV; however, it did not reach its peak until Pope Innocent VIII embraced the witch-hunts with the papal bull mentioned above. The face of the Spanish Inquisition was Tomas de Torquemada, the Grand Inquisitor, who is famous for his cruelty through torture.

In Spain, accused witches were guilty until proven innocent. Just like in Germany, torture was used to force the accused to confess; however, the main torturer devices in Spain were the pulley, rack, and fire. Also, once a witch confessed they had to verify their confession outside of torture, similar to Germany. For more on torture techniques see

Once a witch confessed they were sentenced to execution. Executions were performed at the Auto da Fe. Everyone in the city was expected to attend the parade and executions of the Auto da Fe. The accused were processed to their stake in a yellow tunic called a san benito, and the event ended with the burning of the heretical witches.

Differing Opinion

In 1631, the Jesuit priest Friedrich Spee von Langenfeld attacked the practice of torture in his Cautio Criminalis. He glossed over the events that occur to begin a witch-hunt. Once the witch is accused, according to Spee, she is condemned because an inquisitor gained compensation for every witch he burned. He stated, “men with their mean-spirited interpretation can easily twist and turn [any evidence] into proof of magic.”

Spee also described that no matter how an accused which reacted at a trial, she was guilty. “If she shows fear, then this is evidence because they say that her conscience is accusing her. If she does not show fear, then this is also evidence because they say it is quite peculiar to witches to boast that they are innocent and hold their heads high.”

The rest of the Cautio Criminalis is full of these situations where one is damned if they do and damned if they don’t. The most striking sentence of Spee’s work is “To let her go once she has been arrested would disgrace the inquisitor.” Therefore, according to Spee, torture was pointless in witch trials, in fact a trial was pointless, because a witch was doomed as soon as he/she was accused.

February 3, 2017

I Don't Think We're in Europe Anymore...But We Are: Scandinavian and Venetian Witchcraft

How Did Witchcraft Practices and Trials Deviate from Traditional Thought?

In order to talk about the deviations, the norms must first be established. The traditional categories of witchcraft practices in Europe were:

  1. Divination: magic that allows one to see into the future or find lost objects
  2. Healing: using spells or charms to heal
  3. Destroying: using sorcery to harm (think of poppet/voodoo dolls)
  4. Counter-magic: the use of bodily liquids/hair of the victim to undo the other forms of magic

Another common feature of witchcraft in the majority of Europe was the pact between the Devil and witches, which allowed for magic to exist. For more information about traditional witchcraft practices and trials follow these links:

As one has read in this blog, the traditional belief about trials evolved overtime. By 1500 witchcraft was viewed as crimen exceptum, which was the center of why witches were guilty before being proven guilty above. The belief that all magic was bad and the status of crimen exceptum allowed for the wide acceptance of torture to lead to a myriad of unfound confessions and deaths throughout Europe.

Different Practices

The belief of flygjur and shapeshifting into animals, such as wolves, bears, and eagles, sets Scandinavian witchcraft apart from the whole of Europe

Scandinavia has a different list of magical practices:

  1. Luck- can be good or bad and it is used to explain why something happens
  2. Love Magic- both to arouse or stifle the love interest of others
  3. Divination- same as above but one must tap into the spirit of the dead to do so without penalty
  4. Fylgjur- the belief that guardian spirits connected to individuals reflect the inner qualities of a person in the form of an animal. (bear=strength, eagle= social position, wolf= evil mind)
  5. Shapeshifting- people can separate their soul from their body and have their soul take the shape of an animal away from their body.

When one compares the two lists they will find that only one similarity exists, divination. However, even the practice of divination is different in Scandinavia. Instead of creating a pseudo-kaleidoscope with a cracked egg and water, Scandinavians tap into the knowledge of the dead to learn about the future or find lost items.

Another difference in Scandinavia is that men were accused more so than women of Trolldómr, the Scandinavian word for magic. Trolldómr was used through the spoken word mostly in Scandinavia, and men held the positions of power where one would speak in public.

Not the best images, but they get the point across

The Donna di Fuora, or “ladies from outside,” was a common cult practice for poor women in Italy. Essentially, Italy had the same word for witch and fairy; therefore, no true distinction between the two existed. When the Catholic Church arrived to accuse people of evil witchcraft, the locals did not understand. They could not comprehend maleficio, evil magic. Instead they viewed magic through the perspective of fairies, who are a part of nature. These ladies from outside were simply intermediaries between nature and human in their community rather than Devil worshippers.

Different Ideas for Trials

Roman precursor to the Scandinavian Ping

Before the Church arrived in Scandinavia, all witchcraft trials were settled by the Ping, a tribal-like judicial board led by high-ranking men in the community. For a witchcraft case to reach the Ping, the accused had to kill somebody. Even then, the Ping would typically either fine or exile those found guilty. Also, Scandinavians practiced double jeopardy; if the Ping acquitted a witch, he/she could not be tried for the same crime again. However, once the Church arrived, Scandinavian trials look similar to the rest of Europe

The Venetian Inquisition began in the mid-16th century under the jurisdiction of the Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition (also known as the Holy Office). Their main duty was to act as a court of appeals to local tribunals. Within these tribunals, bishops, inquisitors, and the papal nuncio heard local witchcraft cases.

Local tribunals followed the instruction of the Directorium Inquisitorum by Nicolau Eymeric for witchcraft cases. Eymeric wrote the guidebook in the late-14th century, a full century before Kramer’s Malleus Maleficarum. The Directorium Inquisitorum was much less harsh than the latter manual, and its use in Venice led to ZERO witchcraft convictions between 1550-1650.

To find the Directorium Inquisitorum follow: Also, for more information on witchcraft manuals from Notre Dame:

Eymeric’s guidebook required two criteria for a judge to convict a witch of heretical maleficio: worship of the devil and the abuse of the sacraments. The necessity of both coupled with the fact that Venice distinguished between Stregheria (supernatural illness) and natural illness made a conviction nearly impossible. Furthermore, a doctor had to provide evidence that stregheria was the cause of death rather than natural illness. This evidence was highly unlikely because doctors wanted people to come to them when they were sick because they claimed to heal natural illnesses.

One final difference between Venetian tribunals and the Spanish Inquisition is the motives of the inquisitors. As previously mentioned in this blog, Friedrich Spee pointed out that Spanish inquisitors were paid for how many witches they burned; therefore, they had incentive to burn witches. However, this practice did not exist in Venice, and the results speak for themselves: ZERO convictions between 1550-1650. But would you expect anything else from such a peaceful place...

Information taken from lectures of Dr. Wendy Lucas

February 10, 2017

The Evil Stepmother and Stepsisters of Europe: Witchcraft in England, Scotland, and Ireland

How did witchcraft on the British Isles compare to mainland Europe?

Witchcraft in the British Isles possesses many similarities to the European mainland. Just as the mainland has the extreme witch-hunters (Germany and Spain), the middle of the road chasers (Scandinavia), and the rational-minded tame witch-hunters (Italy) so does the British Isles. Wait and see who is who in the British Isles…But you won't have to wait until the clock strikes midnight. Just read on.


The first similarity is the proportion of executions for witchcraft  between Scotland and Spain/Germany. Spain and Germany were the two hotspots for burning witches on the mainland of Europe. Of the 5000 trials in the British Isles, Scotland held 2000 of these, and Scotland killed 3x more witches than England even though their population was a fourth of England.

A reasonable assumption is that Scotland is similar to these two countries because Mary Queen of Scots was influenced by the notions of witchcraft from her husband, the dauphin of France (a Catholic country on the mainland). She enacted the first witchcraft laws in Scotland in 1563. These laws punished witches as heretics; therefore, just like Spain and Germany, Scotland burned their witches.

As the reader has read earlier in this blog, Friedrich Spee condemned the German practice of paying inquisitors a bounty for every witch he burned (Levack, 147). Scotland also gave commissions to local magistrates to try witches with no overseers.

The other similarity with Spain is the closeness of the Catholic Church regarding witchcraft confessions. Both Spanish and Scottish clergy urged, or even led, the prosecution of witches. The clergyman would also play a part in listening to and gaining confessions (supposedly to help the souls of these heretics).

For more information about witchcraft in Scotland visit:


I had no idea how similar the English flag was to all the flags in Scandinavia

England and Scandinavia have the largest stretch for similarities of these three examples. The main similarity is that these two regions experienced a late surge in the prosecution of witches as a result of outsiders bringing in their ideas.

Scandinavia was very liberal toward witches while the local Ping was in charge of witchcraft cases. However, once the Church (both Catholic and Protestant) entered the picture, the trials and executions of witches skyrocketed. For example, Sweden did not enact a witchcraft law until 1593, and the largest Swedish witchcraft scare was not until 1668-1676. Finland also did not witness their anti-witchcraft peak until 1675-1676.

England had three major witchcraft statutes in 1542, 1563, and 1604. These first two statutes were not particularly harsh towards witches. The 1563 statute carried a one year imprisonment and four appearances in the pillory for the first offense of maleficia and death for the second offense (still two chances though). This statue punished other magic even less harsh; only life imprisonment and life in prison for repeat offenders.

Then the outsider James VI of Scotland became King James I of England in 1603 brought his harsh punishments of witches seen in Daemonologie. His statute in 1604 punished malefica with death for the first offense, and it also stated that even the intention of trying to cause harm through witchcraft would result in death. These ideas led to the height of English witchcraft prosecution in 1640.

To read James I's Daemonologie and learn more about English witchcraft follow this link:


And no. They similarities are not just flags.

Two strong similarities exist between Ireland and Italy:

  1. Very Few Trials/Executions
  2. Strong Fairy Culture

The first similarity is true in Italy because the local courts did not want the Holy Office to enforce their rule over their jurisdiction, and Italy wanted to focus on cases they could rationally prove (which witchcraft was not). Ireland had few trials because they did not want the English law to be inflicted upon them. Therefore, both Ireland and Italy did not want a stronger power to enforce their ideals upon them.

For the second similarity, the reader can find in “I Don’t Think We’re in Europe Anymore…” earlier in this blog. Italians believed in Donna di Fuora, or “ladies from outside.” Essentially these women were intermediaries between nature and humans void of the Devil. They did not have two distinct words for witch and fairy. Similarly, Ireland had a strong fairy culture. These fairies would just perform little mischievous acts that were also void of the Devil and did not merit conviction for witchcraft.

For more information follow this link to a review on Witchcraft and Magic in Ireland:


As the reader can see Scotland is the stepsister to Germany and Spain as a result of the proportion of witches tried and executed, trying witches as heretics, paying inquisitors like Germany, and their Catholic ties to Spain.

England is the evil stepmother (because they are the largest in Britain) to Scandinavia because they both experienced late surges in the persecution of witchcraft as a result of outsiders (James I and The Church).

Ireland is the stepsister to Italy because they both have few witchcraft trials to check the power of the man (England and the Holy See) and their strong fairy cultures.

February 24, 2016

The American Dull Story: The Lack of Witchcraft in Early Virginia

Witchcraft (or the lack of) in Early America

King James VI stated in his Daemonologie that the devil is present when barbary is present and wild parts of the world. Therefore, many people thought the Americas were full of the devil. In fact, the Puritan minister William Crashaw said that the devil was more visible and palpable in Virginia more than any other known place in the world. Looking back (which is the wrong way to view history) one would think early America would be full of witchcraft charges and executions. However, they would be wrong since Virginia had ZERO executions for witchcraft.

Why Early Virginia Lacked Witchcraft Executions

Women were a limited resource in Virginia because they were always few in number. When the English first settled Jamestown, they came as a group of men without women. Until 1660 the closest ratio men to women in Virginia was 6:1. Even after 1660, the ratio remained 3:1 for a time.

Virginia was settled by the London Virginia Company. A joint-stock company was a group of investors that financed projects that were too large or an individual or a simple partnership. Since they were investors, their principle concern was return on their investment rather than religion. Therefore, few clergy went to Virginia, which resulted in few people caring about witchcraft in the colony.

Jamestown was more focused on surviving rather than chasing witchcraft. Jamestown had a long tradition of trying to stabilize and find balance within the colony. In fact, early Jamestown went through a winter in 1609-1610 called the Starving Times when three-fourths of their population died. When the majority of your population are dying of starvation, witch-hunting is not high on one’s priorities.

If you are more interested in learning about the founding and beginning years of Jamestown visit:

How Early Virginia Tried Witchcraft

Cases would begin in a county court, which would determine whether or not to send a case to the General Council in Jamestown. Rather than witchcraft many of these cases were defamation of character charges. Women would gossip and tell other women that someone was a witch. That someone would then sue the gossiping woman for defamation.

These cases relied on circumstantial evidence. If a man could not kill livestock for some reason, livestock were acting weird, someone guessed that another would die soon and was right, among other strange circumstances.

As a result, Virginia passed the 1655 Order. This order stated “any person who with scandalous speeches termed women to be witches had to prove with oath and witnesses their allegations or would be fined one thousand pounds of tobacco.

In all the General Council saw ten maleficia witchcraft cases between 1626 and 1730. Of these ten cases, two times men were the accused. The case of Joan Wright was the first in 1626. Her neighbors accused Wright of killing a newborn, crops, and livestock and predicting the death of several colonists. Even though Wright confessed to knowing witchcraft and how it worked, the General Council acquitted her without torturing or any other inquiry.

Grace Sherwood

The most famous of these ten cases was that of Grace Sherwood. Sherwood first appeared in court in 1698 when she tried to sue her neighbors for defamation of character. Multiple neighbors had accused Sherwood of bewitching their pig and cotton and turning into a black cat. Sherwood would lose both these cases.

In 1705 Sherwood brought the same neighbors to court again, and she won. A year later those neighbors accused Sherwood of bewitching the wife and caused a miscarriage. These charges would lead to Sherwood’s appearance in front of the General Council on counts of maleficia.

The court would order the searching of Sherwood’s person for witch’s marks, and they found two. However, the Council was still not ready to call her a witch. The court then sentenced her to a dunking test. Sherwood floated (failed the test). Upon her failure, Sherwood was convicted and sentenced to imprisonment.

From this point, further punishment is lost. What historians know is that Sherwood gained her land rights back by 1714 and was able to pay all her back taxes from imprisonment. Both the cases of Wright and Sherwood demonstrate that Virginians did not want to exhaust the valuable resource of women in the colonies. If these women would have been in England with these same charges, they would most likely have been...

For more information about witchcraft in Virginia visit these sites:

Information taken from lectures of Dr. Wendy Lucas

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