A PSYCHOANALYTIC EXPLORATION
OF THE KILLING OF WOMEN
1 The Persecution of Witches
Witchcraft Trials and the Persecution of Witches
Witch persecutions in Europe were most prevalent between 1550 and
1650, historically the age of the Renaissance. The period from 1550
until 1800 is considered to be the beginning of modern times. The
leading minds during the Renaissance, from about 1500 to 1620, came
from the south, from Spain and Italy. 1620 to 1660 was the period
of revolution, radical social change and the emergence of capitalism.
From 1660 until 1800, the Age of Enlightenment, the direction of intellectual
development shifted north, to England, Holland and France. The period
before the outbreak of the persecution of witches, about 1000–1500,
is generally classified covering the High and the Late Middle Ages.
The sixteenth and seventeenth century persecution of witches did not
stem from the ‘Dark Ages’, but from the beginning of modern times
(Trevor-Roper 1970). The following chronological summary (Brackert
1977b, pp. 315–23) outlines the major stages of witch persecution.
500–900 The penitential books amply verify the common belief
in fortune-tellers, destructive witchery and storm-raising. The Church
considers it sinful, and combats this age-old belief.
643 King Rothar forbids the execution of women who have allegedly
eaten people alive (Lea 1913, vol. 3, p. 464).
906 The Canon episcopi is issued. It remains a binding
clerical statute for centuries. According to the Canon episcopi,
witcheries are delusions and illusions caused by the Devil. Anyone who
believes in such delusions is considered a Devil’s child.
c. 1000 The Church attacks the Cathars in France. This group
believes that the Devil rather than God has created the physical world,
and that he keeps the soul bound to the body. Thus it is the soul’s task
togain independence from this world in the fight against sensuousness.
c. 1150 Burning heretics to death becomes the common punishment
in northern France and Germany.
c. 1200 The notion of witches is still widely spread among the
people and clergy. However, there is still no collective notion of witchery.
1209 Pope Innocent III starts a crusade against the Albigenses,
a heretical sect in southern France.
1227 In addition to the Episcopal courts, which had originally
had ecclesiastical jurisdiction in cases involving heresy, Pope Gregory
IX establishes the Inquisitional Courts. The responsibility of these courts
is the persecution, conviction and execution of heretics. Compared to the
traditional trial of indictment, in the inquisition trial the accused is
almost completely stripped of his rights, which is justified by the gravity
of the crime.
c. 1230 The newly established Inquisition already deals with
the notion that during its gatherings, heretics would blaspheme against
Christian sacraments, worship the Devil, dance and indulge in ritual orgies.
Since the beginning of this century, these notions were also attributed
to the puritanical Waldenses.
1252 Pope Innocent IV explicitly authorises the use of torture
as a legitimate means in inquisitional trials, as does Pope Clement IV
c. 1330 Some witch persecutors project the concept of the vassalic
contract on the relationship between man and the Devil. According to them,
such a contract would imply mutual obligations: the man who makes a pact
with the Devil becomes his vassal, swears an oath of fealty and becomes
entitled to the help of demons. The tradition of the feudal kiss probably
provided the idea of the osculum infame, the kiss of shame, which heretics
were supposed to give the Devil, who was present in the shape of man or
animal, on his behind.
c. 1350 A clear mixing of many elements of the notion of witches
with that of heretics can be observed. The transition to the fifteenth-century
notion of witches now begins. Those convicted committed their disgraceful
deeds due to their pact with the Devil. They were said to have had an illicit
sexual relationship with the Devil and to have eaten children. At that
time, women were not yet the main target of the Inquisition.
1398 An expert opinion of the faculty of theology in Paris declares
maleficia a fact; any relationship between man and the Devil is regarded
as a rejection of God and is therefore heresy.
1400–1500 There are 38 trials against witches and sorcerers
in England, 95 in France and 80 in Germany. Many theological and canonical
works argue against the Canon episcopi and thereby set the stage for a
new era in the notion of what constitutes witchcraft.
1474 Heinrich Institoris and Jacob Sprenger, who would later
write The Witch Hammer, try to investigate mass persecution of witches
in Upper Germany, that is, the Alpine region. However, they meet with fierce
1484 Pope Innocent VIII issues his bull, appointing Institoris
and Sprenger as Inquisitors in Germany and lists the essential maleficia
of witches and sorcerers. It is also the first document of witch literature
that was spread among the people in the wake of the invention of letterpress
1487 Institoris and Sprenger publish the Malleus maleficarum,
The Witch Hammer, and cause the persecution now to concentrate on witches
– that is, on women. To the present day, this work is regarded as the seminal
encyclopaedia of witch hunting.
1500–1700 Intensive extermination of witches. The countless
trials and executions in all parts of Europe cannot be portrayed here.
1563 Weyer publishes his famous book De praestigiis Daemonum
et incantationibus ac veneficiis. Weyer was one of the first to dispute
the theses of The Witch Hammer. While this Dutch doctor, like most of his
successors, believed in the existence of the Devil, he also believed that
the defendants in the witch trials were innocent. Weyer said that the witcheries
were in fact pathological illusions and suggestions by the Devil. He considered
confessions given under torture to be completely meaningless. The early
end of witch trials in the Netherlands was due to his influence.
1631 Friedrich von Spee publishes the Cautio criminalis. He
sharply criticises the proceedings of the witch trials. ‘The nature of
the trial was such that no innocent person would be spared’, he writes.
1610 Last execution of witches in the Netherlands.
1684 Last execution of witches in England.
1736 England abrogates the penal law against witches.
1745 Last execution of witches in France.
1775 Last execution of witches in Germany.
1782 Last execution of witches in Switzerland.
The chronology of witch persecutions clearly shows two of its main
preconditions. On the one hand, witch trials developed directly from
inquisitional trials. Inquisitional principles of procedure were applied
creating an important precondition for expanding the persecution of
witches. On the other hand, the publication of the Malleus maleficarum
– which spread rapidly due to the invention of the letterpress – was
an important basis for the trials concentrating mostly on women. Both
preconditions help explain the expanded trials and therefore the external
conditions of the persecution. I will refer to the psychological causes
later. The Malleus maleficarum, written by Sprenger and Institoris,
a complete, theoretical line of reasoning explaining the existence
of witches at the beginning of the sixteenth century. By emphasising
black magic, they created the necessary conditions for the replacement
of inquisitional trials with witch trials. To ascertain the principles
of procedure of inquisitional trials, that is, secret written trials
and torture as a form of evidence, and to keep the trials in secular
courts at the same time, witchcraft was declared a crimen exceptum,
an exceptional crime.
The fact that witchcraft was declared an exceptional crime left little
chance for the accused to elude punishment. Witchcraft was put on
the same level as the other exceptional crimes: treason, conspiracy,
forgery and robbery with murder. Since all these crimes seriously
endangered or harmed the community, people felt the usual laws were
not strict enough. They wanted the state to use extreme measures to
punish people for such crimes. The theory of exceptional crime led
to radical changes regarding the indications of guilt, the length
and intensity of torture, testimonies and denunciation. Compared with
the usual practice of law, torture was used with a completely different
intention. As part of the normal criminal proceedings in the Middle
Ages, torture had formerly provided the possibility for a defendant
who did not have any witnesses testifying in his favour to clear himself
of suspicion by surviving the torture. In the witch trials, torture
became a means to force a suspect to confess. The judge was even allowed
to carry out torture more severely on the following day to achieve
a confession at the second attempt. In order to begin torture, there
had to be circumstantial evidence against the defendant. Thus the
circumstantial evidence was increasingly seen as final proof of guilt
since torture allowed no proof of innocence. Of all the different
types of evidence, the confession carried the most weight, and a conviction
based merely on testimonies or circumstantial evidence of guilt was
not approved of by the secular rulers. On condition that guilt had
been proven almost completely through circumstantial evidence, the
judges ordered more and more torture with a clear conscience. Thus
circumstantial evidence became the crucial part of the witch trial
(Hammes 1977, pp. 92–9). But what was considered circumstantial evidence?
Soldan and Heppe provide the answer:
Everything! A bad reputation often based on a testimony made by a
woman arrested by the inquisition, given out of hatred and under torture
years before and often not even confirmed by witnesses; being named
as an accomplice, being a descendant of a woman executed for witchcraft,
being homeless, having led a wild andrestless life, having gained considerable
knowledge rather quickly,
having uttered a threat followed by a sudden damage happening to the
person threatened, being present in the fields shortly before a hail
shower – all this appears to be something rather simple, but opposing
things were taken as signs as well, in a way that those who wanted
to avoid Scylla inevitably ended up in Charybdis. A successful treatment
was often no less fatal than being accused of having caused harm.
The accused woman had given laurel berries to her sick daughter-in-law
whereupon she recovered. The prosecutor then drew the conclusion that
the woman herself had caused that disease through witchcraft ... Those
who attended church services only sporadically were under suspicion
but those who attended church services regularly were suspected as
well, for their behaviour showed the intention to divert suspicion
from themselves. If somebody appeared to be frightened or scared when
arrested, it was interpreted as a sign of a bad conscience. If he
appeared calm and brave, the devil had made him headstrong and stubborn.
But the most fatal evidence was the testimony of a witch who, upon
being asked for the name of accomplices under torture, named any person
in order to be relieved from her agony, and that person was then arrested
immediately’ (Soldan and Heppe 1912, p. 325).
Not all of the aforementioned circumstantial evidence was of equal
value. A denunciation which was brought forth by someone sentenced
to death and not withdrawn at the last minute gained the greatest
importance for the judges, as well as with regard to the spreading
of trials. Even a witch was considered honest when facing death. The
witch was offered a considerable incentive if she held to her denunciation:
namely the promise that in this case she would not be burned alive
but killed in as painless a way as possible before being burned. Some
of the condemned were first decapitated or strangled by the executioner
when already tied to the stake. Often, the accused were promised that
they would escape torture if they named enough accomplices to satisfy
the court, as the witch hunters wanted the number of denunciations
to be as high as possible. Needless to say, this promise was rarely
kept. The accusation made by a witch was considered normal testimony.
The witch trials were different from ordinary trials in this respect
as well. As witchcraft was a crime difficult to prove, the presumption
of the guilt of a defendant was considered to be sufficient evidence.
It was only at the beginning of the witch trials that the defendant
was first given the right of testimony so that the denunciation made
under torture was fully accepted. Theconcept of the witches’ sabbath
then led to a torrent of trials.
Since every witch was supposed to take part in the sabbath, which meant
that she went to see many other witches, the court tried to find her
accomplices with the help of confessions. Out of despair and excruciating
pain, the convicted witches named alleged participants in the sabbath.
Hated or envied persons were of course preferred. In the seventeenth
century, at the climax of the persecutions, no one was safe any more
(Hammes 1977, p. 102–7). The rules concerning the death penalty established
by the court of Charles V, for example, permitted witnesses to testify
only if they were deemed satisfactory and were of good repute. The
Malleus maleficarum, in contrast, allowed anyone to be a witness.
Little was done to ensure the integrity of the witnesses. This was
also part of the theory of exceptional crime. Every means was accepted
if it made it easier for the judges to prove the guilt of the accused.
The following example shows to what excesses the freedom of the court
Several witches had been accused of having exhumed a recently buried
child in order to use it as an ingredient for their magical ointment.
After being tortured repeatedly, every single woman confessed her
guilt. The husband of one of the accused women insisted on having
the child’s tomb opened in the presence of a priest and other witnesses;
this was at least a small success for the new method. The child was
found unscathed in the tomb. Then, however, the free assessment of
the evidence proved to be nevertheless damaging for the accused women.
They were sentenced to death at the stake on the grounds that the
child in the tomb was nothing but an artifice created by the demons.
(Hammes 1977, p. 105)
In a great number of German trials, children appeared as informers
or witnesses and were fully accepted by the court. Kuczynski mentions
one case in which a grandmother was executed because of the testimony
of her seven-year-old grandchild.
In 1629 a seven-year-old girl called Gertrud Biel from Ketzerbach
stood trial in Marburg. How much this delusion had poisoned the souls
of the people can be seen in the confession of the little girl. The
child aroused suspicion when, during a game with schoolmates she mentioned
that she could do magic and had learnt it from her grandmother. ‘Look,
this is how you make weather,’ she said and lifted her skirts. Her
teacher promised the child a gold piece to get more out of her. She
replied that she could not sayanything because otherwise her grandmother,
called ‘the Prussian,’ would hit her hard. She admitted only that pushing
into a wall would conjure milk from the wall and that at home she milked
the cows until they bled. Landgrave Georg noted this incident with
the utmost regret, since the vice was already present in children.
Since the girl was still very young, one could not accept what she
said as evidence; the grandmother, however, who also was taken into
custody, had to face the consequences. (Kuczynski 1980, p. 134)
Probably the best known trial involving child witnesses took place
in the Swedish town of Mora in 1669. Based on the testimony of four-year
old children, 72 women and 15 youths were sentenced to death (Hammes
1977, p. 109–11; Baschwitz 1990, p. 318). I will discuss the problem
of child witnesses in more detail in Chapter 5.
As a witch trial did not focus on a crime which had actually been
committed, but merely on assumptions about a person’s attitude, the
court needed other means, in addition to circumstantial evidence,
to create the preconditions for inflicting torture. This was the purpose
of the witches’ ordeals. At first, the witches’ test was only supplementary,
albeit significant, circumstantial evidence, but soon it was regarded
as primary evidence.
There were all kinds of witches’ ordeals. The water test was adopted
from mediaeval trials, whereas the needle test and the weighing test
were exclusively invented for witch trials. For the water test, the
accused was thrown into water three times with her hands and feet
tied together. The court, often in the presence of the whole village,
watched carefully to see whether the accused would float or sink.
If she floated, she was proved to be a witch; if she sank, she was
innocent. It was assumed that witches weighed less than ordinary people
because their body was inhabited by a ‘light and airy spirit’. There
is no need to point out that in the course of this procedure many
died through drowning even though they were in fact innocent in the
eyes of the court.
The weighing test, too, originated from the idea that witches and
warlocks weighed less than ordinary people. If the body weight was
not in proportion to the person’s height and shape, the accused was
guilty. The witches’ ordeal that was applied most frequently and for
the longest time was the needle test. The skin was examined for blemishes,
warts, scars or liver spots which were considered to be witches’ marks.
Since it was commonly believed that these marks were insensitive to
pain and would not bleed when pricked, this was all that had to be
done to obtain evidence. Normally all women hadthese so-called witches’
However, in all witches’ ordeals there were deceitful manipulations
executioners and torturers. The so-called tear test was rarely applied.
The inability to shed tears under torture was regarded as strong evidence
to prove someone guilty. In some cases, the ‘cauldron snatch’ or hot
was applied. The accused had to snatch a ring from the bottom of a
filled with boiling water without hurting herself. Another way of proving
innocence was to walk through fire in a shirt soaked with wax without
it dripping from the shirt.
In earlier court procedures, a confession was decisive proof of the
accused person’s guilt, and was therefore enough to justify a conviction.
The confession was considered Regina probationum, the ‘queen of proof
law’. Though in the witch trials it was the court that had to conclusively
prove the guilt of the accused, the confession did not lose its original
status. The lack of witnesses did not lead to an acquittal due to
lack of evidence, but instead the court insisted that the accused
confess. If he or she did not do so voluntarily, the accused was submitted
to meticulous questioning, that is, torture. In witch trials, where
proof of guilt could not be produced except through a confession,
the main purpose of torture was almost exclusively to yield a confession
and to force the tortured person to denounce other people. The guilt
of the accused was considered proven merely by circumstantial evidence
and only had to be complemented by a confession. Only an insignificantly
small number of accused witches confessed without having been tortured
(Hammes 1977, pp. 111–23).
The torture actually began outside the chamber of torments with the
threat of applying it. After that, the prisoner was led inside the
torture chamber; she was stripped naked, tied to a rack, and her hair
was cut off. Torture was carried out in five rounds, during which
careful attention had to be paid that the accused did not die. Soldan
and Heppe (1912) describe the process of torture as follows:
Usually the torture began with the thumbscrews; the accused was stripped
and tied up and his thumbs were put into the screws. By slowly tightening
the screws his thumbs were crushed.
If this did not work, Spanish boots, or leg screws, were applied,
pressing the calf and shin together, often until the bones splintered.
To increase the agony, the screws were struck with a hammer now and
then. So that he would not be disturbed by the wailing of the tortured,
the executioner put a capistrum into the victim’s mouth, making screaming
The next degree of torture was pulling, expansion or elevation. During
treatment, the accused’s hands were tied behind their
backs and then fastened to a rope. The rope was suspended to a hook
in the ceiling from which the victim was dangled in the air in one
moment ... and in the next fastened to an upright ladder whose rungs
often had short sharp pieces of wood, the ‘jugged hare.’ He was slowly
pulled into the air until his arms were twisted over his head, whereupon
he was rapidly dropped several times, and then, ‘gently’ pulled up
again. If still no confession was forthcoming, heavy weights were
attached to the tortured person’s feet to stretch them even more terribly
and painfully. The victim hung for half an hour, or often a full hour
or even longer like this, and from time to time the Spanish boots
were put on him as well.
A new torture method was introduced in 1660 in Zurich. Two boards
with wooden nails were tied to the feet and knees, these were used
to stretch witches six hours every day ‘until cramps ran through all
their veins.’ It might happen that during this period that the court
personnel would leave to refresh themselves with food and drink.
Von Wächter reports that, according to a protocol taken down in
‘that a man accused of sorcery was tortured three and a half hours
with leg screws and thumbscrews, and in the end, because he did not
confess, he was pulled eight feet from the ground with a rope, and
a weight of 20 pounds was attached to his toe. If even this or similar
torture did not work, torturers trickled burning sulfur or pitch onto
the naked body of the victim, or held burning lights under his arms,
the soles of his feet or elsewhere’ ...
In the principality of Münster, the executioner used to break the
arms and dislocate the shoulders of the accused in this last stage
of the torture. The victim’s arms were firmly tied behind his head
and his henchmen pulled the victim up, so that his feet were several
spans above the ground. In the pauses the executioner fastened the
thumbscrews and the Spanish boots to the hands and feet of the victim
to increase the pain. From time to time it was repositioned and tightened.Over
and above this, the henchmen beat him with canes or leather straps,
which were weighed down at one end with lead or equipped with sharp
hooks, until the executioner told them to stop, so that the tortured
person would not die. (1912, vol. 1, pp. 348–50)
Only pregnant women and children below the age of 14 were supposed
to be exempt from torture, but this was not always the case (Hammes
1977, p.133). Specific methods for torturing women are not discernible
the court records (Brackert 1977a, p. 174). Men and women
alike were put to the rack, as described above.
Most of the witch persecutions were made possible only due to their
legal status as a crimen exceptum, that is, because they were derived
from the trials of the Inquisitions. In England, where torture was
illegal, only 19 per cent of the suspected witches and warlocks were
executed after trial. Political as well as economical reasons contributed
further to the growth of the witchcraft trials and consequently to
the persecution of witches.
It was in countries such as the Netherlands or England, where the
middle class had early won the fight for a voice in government, that
witchcraft trials first met popular resistance and were quickly ended.
In countries such as Spain, in which the monarch’s reign was consolidated
by the beginning of the sixteenth century, only a small number of
trials were held in the first place. Germany, because of its complex
governmental structure and history, saw the most violent witchcraft
trials over the longest period of time. The trials were also ended
first in those parts of the country where the absolutist government
was firmly established, such as in Prussia at the beginning of the
eighteenth century. For the government, witch persecutions were used
as a means of discipline; the people being subjected to arbitrary
rule. Unlike in the Middle Ages, a right to resistance no longer existed;
the only thing granted was a right to appeal to the ruler who could
meet this appeal if he wished to. As an example of how witchcraft
trials were used in local politics, Brackert mentions the trials that
raged in the Westphalian city of Lemgo at the end of the seventeenth
century (1977a, p. 183). The authorities used the witchcraft trials
as their most effective weapon against their critics and employed
them to systematically eradicate their rivals, powerful families in
the city. The victims tried to resist their eradication by repeatedly
appealing to their Count, but either these appeals were not answered
or the victims were punished for insurgency in addition to witchcraft.
By maintaining this attitude, the Count supported the rule of terror
in the city.
The political motives behind at least some of the witchcraft trials
also become clear in the trial of Joan of Arc. She stirred up the
French people against the English occupation forces. The Inquisitional
Court which sentenced her to death was controlled by the English sovereignty.
Thus, a politically unwelcome enemy could easily be removed (Grigulevic
1976, p. 231).
Witch persecutions were used as a means of discipline not only by
the state but also by the Churches in their struggle for power. Historically,
witchcraft trials took place in the same period thatreligious denominations
were fighting for consolidation. Both Catholics
and Protestants tried with all their might to achieve consolidation
by violently suppressing their opponent’s views. Both denominations
alike took action against witches, although no such generalisation
can be made for the whole of Europe. The Catholic clergy and the sovereigns
set to work in the southwestern part of the German Empire, in Lorraine,
Savoy or in France as eagerly as witch hunters in the Calvinistic
Vaudois, in the Protestant parts of the Jura Mountains, in Scotland
or England. On the other hand, more restraint was exercised in the
Catholic parts of Northern and Central Italy, Spain, Portugal and
in the Protestant parts of southwestern Germany, the Saar region and
Alsace (Labovie 1991, p. 34).
With the help of geographical references, Trevor-Roper (1979, p. 188)
shows that any significant outbreak of witch persecution occurred
in regions where Protestant and Catholic areas adjoined one another
and where religious disputes were no longer carried out on an intellectual
The flare-up of the craze in the 60s marked the end of the period
of the Protestant proclamation of faith. After that time, almost every
outbreak of the witch-hunt lunacy that was limited to a particular
place can be attributed to the aggression of one religion against
the other. Religious wars led to the worst period of witch persecutions
in French history. (Trevor-Roper 1979, p. 203)
A thesis often put forward in the literature on witch persecutions
says that throughout the witchcraft trials, financial profit was an
important factor regarding the motivation to carry out the trials
(Soldan and Heppe 1912, vol. 1, pp. 438–47; Hammes 1977, pp. 243–57).
Witchcraft trials were a profitable business for judges, executioners,
lay judges, notaries, messengers and torturers. Up to 1532, the convicted
peoples’ possessions were usually confiscated, regardless of whether
they had heirs or not. Most of the possessions went to lords of the
land. Even after confiscation was banned in 1532, in practice nothing
changed. There were many judges who, although they did not illegally
confiscate goods, nevertheless acquired the possessions of the accused
under pretence of covering the costs of the trials. As a result, the
remaining spouses and orphans often found themselves in abject poverty
(Hammes 1977, p. 248).
If condemned, the accused had to pay for any costs related to their
trials, starting with food and drink when the court members met in
a public house to discuss the action against a person under suspicion,
and ending with the firewood needed for the stake. After the ThirtyYears’
War, confiscation was re-established. Soldan and Heppe (1912,
vol. 1, p. 473) remark ironically that the witchcraft trials became
the new alchemy, turning human blood into gold.
Schormann (1981, pp. 80–9) makes the point that, at first sight, this
thesis is in contrast to the clearly proven facts showing that most
of the convicted persons belonged to the lower and poorer social classes.
The victims’ social and economic weakness has always been stressed.
Looking at the detailed listings of the costs, it becomes clear that
the persons directly involved in the trial, such as executioners,
clergymen, messengers, court officials, town servants and many others,
stood to gain significantly from the trials. This was not the case
with the lords of the land. On the contrary, they were charged with
the legal costs if the families concerned were insolvent. That is
why in some places, additional taxes were raised in order to cover
the legal charges. In a number of cases whole communities were obliged
to provide a guarantee that the charges would be covered. Some orders
were issued which tried to clamp down on the exorbitant expenses by
specifying rates for the fees that could be charged.
A sort of burden sharing was created by re-establishing the confiscation
of possessions. Thus, propertied victims were forced to contribute
to the legal costs of the poorer ones. The coffers of the communities
and the local rulers could no longer be expected to pay the high legal
If this claim is true, and if the confiscation of the possessions
of the few really did only finance the court costs of the many, then
we have another way of explaining the contradiction between the economic
weakness of the majority of the victims on the one hand, and the simultaneous
increase in affluence of the people carrying out the court case. This
would allow others to carry the costs; not the authorities or the
community, but instead the wealthier victims through the confiscation
of their possessions. (Schormann 1981, p. 85)
The economic enrichment of a small part of the population may be regarded
only as a marginal phenomenon accompanying witch persecution. In the
Saar region, for example, about 43 per cent of the accused women belonged
to the lower classes, that is, unpropertied people and beggars. Another
53.4 per cent belonged to the less propertied, and only 3.5 per cent
were landowners, which approximately represented the general structure
of the population (Labovie 1991, p. 176). We see from this that the
trials and the persecution of
witches were made possible by a series of motives in the political
struggle for power, particularly on the part of legal bodies. Yet
why were most of the persecuted persons women?
Did Women’s Power Underlie the Fear of Witches?
Particularly at the beginning of the witchcraft trials, when they
broke away from the trials for heresy, men were also often executed
for being sorcerers (Dülmen 1982, p. 290). After this short period,
women definitely represented the majority of victims of the witchcraft
trials. A comparison of relevant tables on various parts of Europe
shows that an average of 80 per cent of the victims were women, with
maximum values of 95 per cent in certain Jura regions and 92 per cent
in Essex and Namur, as well as minimum values of 58 per cent in the
Vaud region and 64 per cent in Freiburg, Switzerland (Schormann 1981,
p. 118). In Denmark, the percentage of women convicted was 90 per
cent, while in Norway it was 80 per cent (Labovie 1991, p. 34).
The majority of the women accused in witchcraft trials were old, but
we should bear in mind that in the Europe of the Early Modern Era,
a 40-year-old person was already considered old (Schormann 1981, p.
About 50 per cent of the accused women in the Saarland were over 50.
No less than 64 per cent of the imprisoned women were widowed, and
of those, half had lived alone. Among the female population, the proportion
of widowed women was very high during the period of the witch persecutions.
At the beginning of the seventeenth century, the percentage was at
3.5–7.5 per cent, and this increased, from 1628 on, to 10–20 per cent
in the years of war (Labovie 1991, p. 175).
According to Hammes (1977, p. 61), old women were the main victims
of witch hunters who sought the path of least resistance and found
it among old women. The majority of these women who lived alone and
who were able to make a living only by begging, represented a marginal
group which had no influence, but was numerous. The witchcraft trials
started out as a war against old women who were weak, lonely and often
unpopular (Baschwitz 1990, pp. 139–40).
In the further course of the witch persecutions, increasingly younger
women were convicted, too. The envoy to the Reichstag of the landgrave
Georg of Darmstadt wrote in 1582: ‘Since we have all but eradicated
the old ones, we will now go after the young.’ (Hammes 1977, p. 61;
Baschwitz 1990, p. 140). Towards the end of the trials in Würzburg
in 1629, almost one victim in four was younger than 14 years of age
(Hammes 1977, p. 61). While the victims of witchcraft trials were usually
women, the accusers in court were mainly men, which of course is also
due to the particularly difficult position of women in court at that
In Saarland, 80 per cent of the accusers in the witchcraft trials were
three-quarters of the witnesses in trials against men were men, and
of the witnesses in trials against women were also men (Weber 1996,
The explanation of why women became the major victims of witch persecutions
can be seen in the Church’s misogynistic attitude. The authors of
the Malleus maleficarum (The Witch Hammer) considered the equation
‘woman = witch’ to be self-evident and easy to prove. They claimed
that the Latin word femina (‘woman’) was formed from the Spanish word
fe (‘faith’) and the Latin word mina (‘less’), which made women those
‘with less faith’. In conformity with the prevailing theological doctrine,
the authors assumed that ever since the fall of Eve, women had been
far less able to resist the Devil’s seductive ways than men. However,
according to the authors, one had to be careful when using the name
Eve (‘Eva’ in German and most other European languages) in this context,
since Eve’s curse was annulled by the word Ave (Maria’s blessing),
that is, the word which is produced by reading ‘Eva’ backwards. As
the Malleus maleficarum made sexual intercourse with the Devil along
with the practice of evil witchcraft the central point of its theoretical
framework, one thing was obvious: the Devil, being traditionally a
male creature, mainly had to pursue women; and therefore his followers
would also have to be mostly women (Sprenger and Institoris 1971,
part 1, p. 44).
The fact that the witch theory increasingly assumed that witches belonged
to the female sex must definitely be seen as being grounded in an
ecclesiastical tradition which had always proclaimed the inferiority
of women. It therefore goes without saying that even the ideology
of the early opponents of the witch theory, such as Weyer, is based
on that same misogynous tradition. Weyer, for instance, explains the
greater female proneness to melancholy, and therefore women’s proneness
to being deceived by the Devil’s pretences, on the grounds of their
inferiority (Schormann 1981, pp. 116–22).
However, it is not sufficient to see witch persectuions exclusively
as a result of the Church’s misogyny. In what way did the population
support the authorities in the campaign against women?
A possible explanation seems to be the fear of women. This fear of
witches was considered to be the fear of wise women who were experts
in the use of herbs, able to control their own fertility and unwilling
to submit to a patriarchy. Since the only explanations that had so
far been taken into consideration were those comprehensible by logic
andreason, while unconscious motives were disregarded, the fear of
had to be linked to the actual characteristics of the convicted women.
Thus, to cause fear, women had to avail themselves of very powerful
One of those skills was supposed to be their knowledge of hallucinogenic
drugs. These ‘witches’ were considered to be drug addicts and their
flying experiences unusually realistic hallucinations. Duerr (1979,
p. 15) has pointed out that most of the women convicted of witchcraft
did not rub themselves with ointment. He writes that none of the minutes
contained any reference suggesting that witch ointment had been found
in the possession of the women in question. Without exception, those
convicted had been quite ordinary farm workers and citizens. By asking
leading questions, the judges imposed their ideas on the women who
later confirmed them under torture. Although Duerr realises this contradiction
to the historic situation, he nevertheless tries to hold on to his
drug hypothesis. He is of the opinion that it was not the witches
who rubbed ointment on their bodies, but night-flying women. These
‘old hags with magic powers’ used ointment made from plants and afterwards
had the impression of flying through the woods. According to Duerr,
this phenomenon was then attributed to witches.
For Becker et al. (1977, pp. 80–117), the witch was the woman physician
of the Middle Ages, an obstacle to men’s dominance and modern science.
In their capacity as midwives and physicians, witches were responsible
for the development of gynaecology. At the beginning of modern times,
these healing women lost their autonomy. They were forced into the
position of midwives controlled by physicians and the town council.
Pushing women out of medical practice was considered primarily to
be the result of a clash between two opposing medical principles:
on the one hand, the women’s healing skills, which were based on natural
methods of treatment; and, on the other hand, the scientific and theoretical
methods of the male medical profession. This clash resulted in a veritable
smear campaign against women.
One thing was sure: any kind of resistance put up during the Middle
Ages by wise women skilled in medicine was broken down after the witch-hunt.
Not only was the image of evil witches successfully spread by inquisitors;
now people also applied this negative image to midwives and wise women,
as it had been established in midwife books, and in the local council
of midwifery. Medicine practised by women was dead; the ‘scientific’
medicine of males triumphed and thus prepared to conquer midwifery
as well. (Becker et al. 1977, p. 116) The women burned as witches were
by no means the wise herbal experts
and physicians of the people (Behringer 1987b, p. 151). It has not
even been proved that midwives were really such a prime target of
the persecutions. Labovie (1991, pp. 180–1) could not account for
a single trial against a witch midwife in the Saarland. Nor is there
any indication that Luther (Haustein 1990, p. 177) connected witches
with midwives or wise women who used herbs.
It was only in people’s notions of witches that midwives played a
key role in the witch hierarchy. They were often regarded as witch
princesses. It was obviously very easy for them to provide one of
the indispensable ingredients of the magical ointments – a new-born
baby who had not yet been baptised. Moreover, there was the possible
threat of midwives promising the new-born babies’ souls to the Devil
without the parents knowing anything about it (Hammes 1977, pp. 61–6).
However, this is not indicative of the true nature of witchcraft accusations.
There is significant debate about why certain people were accused
of witchcraft. It should be noted that the deliberate intention of
extinguishing certain social, religious, or other existing groups
was not related to this phenomenon. Midwives, for instance, were especially
suspected of witchcraft by the misogynist authors of the Malleus Maleficarum.
However, these were respected members of the society, employed and
paid by the magistrates in the cities. The motive for staging witch
trials was the fear of being exposed to a witch’s spell. (Behringer
1987b, pp. 151–2)
Heinsohn, Knieper and Steiger (1979) also have a theory on the reasons
for equating midwives with witches. They say that the overall persecution
of witches had only been instigated to eradicate the midwives’ knowledge
of contraception. This perspective can, however, be regarded as completely
unfounded. Indeed, the very idea of the authorities being responsible
for a phenomenon of such dimensions is absurd in terms of mass psychology.
The real phenomenon of witch persecutions cannot be explained by reason.
Neglecting unconscious motives, almost all explanations try to answer
the question of what was so horrible about the women accused of being
witches. Reasonable and conscious motives are sought, making the fear
of witches appear plausible. The search for reasons behind the fear
of witches targeted the so-called witches themselves and not those
who accused them.
The theory of wise women with a profound knowledge of herbs, who might
have existed, but who were, however, not identical with thewomen prosecuted
as witches, lacks historical evidence, as does the
idea that there might have been a clandestine cult of witches rooted
deeply in the past. The theory of the witch cult was made popular
by Murray (1931). Witches, in Murray’s opinion, were followers of
a religion that was older than Christianity and widely spread throughout
society until the seventeenth century. The centre of that religion
was the worshipping of a horned god, who was known as Dianus or Janus
among the Romans. According to Murray, the witch cult is a dianic
cult which was prevalent during the Middle Ages, while Christianity
was merely a façade. It was not until the Reformation that Christians
had enough power to take action against the witch cult. However, Murray
cannot verify the cult’s existence. She was an Egyptologist, archaeologist
and ethnologist, but not experienced in historical methods. From Cohn’s
point of view (1975, pp. 109–25), this is the reason why she uses
only 15 sources from Scottish witch trials for her research, a totally
ahistorical approach, and one which infers the existence of a witch
cult on the basis of confessions made by condemned women under torture.
According to Murray, the witch cult was often traced back to a fertility
cult at the time of the Germanic tribes. Mayer (1936) draws connections
between the witch cult and the ancient belief in the goddess of the
earth, Mother Earth. Hecate, Demeter and Diana were personifications
of Mother Earth. Diana and Holda were considered the leaders of witches.
Thus it is typical for the witches’ assemblies to coincide with the
fertility feasts, the witches’ gatherings in the month of May. According
to Mayer, hobby-horses appear at all fertility dances. In many regions
the witches’ power was considered broken as soon as the hobby horses
were lifted off the ground.
While Mayer merely points out certain obvious parallels between notions
of witches and the old belief in Mother Earth, both of which belong
to the domain of the imagination, Brenner and Morgenthal (1977, pp.
188–214) consider the fertility cult to be most central to witchcraft.
The authors claim that witch cults really existed. According to Brenner
and Morgenthal, women were the ones who preserved this magical fertility
cult until the Middle Ages. In ‘magical religion’, elements of matriarchal
societies continued on into the patriarchal society of the Middle
Ages. The woman was a mediator between man and nature. In fertility
rites she broke the patriarchal restriction of her sensuality. Witchcraft
became the woman’s rebellion against suppression. The witches’ sabbath
became the place of women’s conspiracy against order and reason. Thus,
the excesses of witchcraft, like cannibalism, are patriarchal perversions
that have little to do with the actual fertility cult. These explanations,
however, do not have much in common with the historical
witch. In the Early Modern Age, witches were considered a power that
destroyed fertility, and this was the reason for their persecution.
Here, too, the methodical approach of the authors is striking. In
their work, they refer mainly to one source, Zacharias (1970), who
verifies the existence of the supposed fertility cult, like Murray,
with descriptions from a few court protocols of women who testified
Other theorists (see Honegger 1977, pp. 84–9) attempt to link the
persecution of witches to fertility cults. According to Russell (1979),
persecutions concentrated mainly on those areas where inquisition
trials had previously taken place. Under the pressure of their persecutors,
heretics fled into lonelier Alpine regions of Europe where magical
fertility cults were still widespread. Later, the Inquisition judged
these cult forms to be witchcraft, so that pagan interpretations were
no longer important. Ginzburg’s study of the agricultural cult of
the Benandanti in Friuli, Upper Italy, has become the basic evidence
for this thesis. In certain seasons, the Benandanti regularly fought
battles against evil spirits. The purpose of these battles, which
they fought without leaving their beds, was to save fields and crops
from being damaged by evil forces. Influenced by the Inquisition,
this old hallucinatory fertility cult was taken apart and modified
enough to adopt the shape of classical witchcraft. From then on, the
Benandanti participated in the sabbath, committed maleficia, created
thunderstorms and destroyed the fields and crops which they had previously
The research carried out on the Benandanti cannot prove at all that
a magical fertility cult of witches existed. As Cohn (1975, pp. 123–5)
emphasises, the Benandanti were lying in their beds, fighting only
under hallucination. There were no gatherings which could be transformed
into a witches’ sabbath under the influence of the Inquisition. The
notion of the witch cult must have been developed in the minds of
inquisitors and persecutors beforehand and then applied to the Benandanti.
If the notions of witches in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries,
which are the only ones relevant in this context, developed from a
fertility cult, its emergence must be sought in rural areas, because
that is where fertility rites traditionally took place.
Using geographic data, Russell (1979, pp. 159–268) shows that this
is obviously not the case. The notion of witches and their subsequent
persecution began in the cities and in the most industrialised areas
of Europe. In the Alps, the witch craze raged later, after the so-called
witches had fled from industrialised areas to this region. Some areas
Europe were much more susceptible to witchcraft than
others. Spain, though it had a strong tradition of high magic, had
little witchcraft, which supports Trevor-Roper’s view that the two
phenomena are wholly unrelated. Portugal, southern Italy, Scandinavia
and Ireland were also relatively untouched, as was England until the
fourteenth century. Witchcraft was strongest in France, the Low Countries,
the Rhineland, northern Italy, and the Alpine regions. With the exception
of the Alpine regions, these areas were the richest, most populous,
most highly industrialized, and most intellectually advanced in Europe.
Witchcraft appeared in the Alps only after witches and heretics took
refuge from persecution by fleeing to the safety of the mountains.
The geographical facts thus strongly suggest that on this issue Lea,
Hansen, Murray, Trevor-Roper, and even to some extent Runeberg and
Ginzburg, all of whom have emphasized the agrarian or mountainous
nature of witchcraft, are in error. This in turn gravely weakens the
hypothesis that witchcraft was fundamentally a fertility cult that
had its roots in agriculture or in hunting. (Russell 1972, p. 268)
The fear of witches did not emerge in rural areas but in those regions
of Europe which were the most developed and intellectually progressive.
There was neither a witch cult that developed from a fertility cult
nor were the condemned women experts in biology or adept at processing
narcotics. We have to banish the notion of witches in the sixteenth
and seventeenth centuries to the imagination. Cohn (1975, p. 125)
advises us not to underestimate the power of the human imagination
which has created demons and creatures of the night all over the world.
The Notion of Witches
What were the characteristics which made witches in the Early Modern
Age so dangerous in people’s minds that it was considered necessary
to have them identified and executed? The four crucial accusations
were: harmful magic, fornication and making a pact with the Devil,
and participation in the witches’ sabbath.
The accusation of harmful magic, the maleficium, was focused on the
skill of storm-raising. In 1585, Lerchheimer wrote, ‘They made storms,
rain at the wrong time, wind, thunder, hail, snow, hoar-frost, frost,
caterpillars, beetles, and other vermin so that the grain harvest,
the vines, the acorns and other crops on the fields shall rot’ (Hammes
1977, p. 73).
One part of the skill of storm-raising was killing people or animals
by means of lightning. Weather magic was particularly feared in ruralareas
where it increasingly became the central focus of the trials.
Since storm-raising was originally attributed to God, The Witch Hammer
also dealt with the question of what witches achieved only with the
Devil’s help when raising storms, what was exclusively to be attributed
to the Devil and which of these works could only happen with God’s
permission (Sprenger and Institoris 1971, part 2, pp. 147–9).
One aspect of the maleficia was that witches were accused of causing
impotence as well as infertility and illnesses in people and cattle.
There are countless reports of instances of witches causing infertility
and impotence. The removal of male genitals by a malevolent spell
was mentioned quite frequently, although it was clear that their disappearance
was no more than an illusion (Sprenger and Institoris 1971, part 2,
First, 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. (Sprenger and Institoris 1971, part 2, p. 119)
Sprenger and Institoris tell of a youth from the city of Regensburg
who, after deciding to leave his lover, thought he had lost his member.
Taking the advice of an old woman, he lay in wait for the girl one
night and choked her with a piece of cloth until she promised to heal
him. She touched him between his thighs and when the youth looked
down, his member had been given back to him (Sprenger and Institoris
1971, part 2, p. 119).
It was assumed that diseases were induced by witches; but only those
that had been prophesised by a witch or that had occurred suddenly
It has sometimes been found that even these [diseases] have been caused
by witchcraft. For in the diocese of Basel, in the district of Alsace
and Lorraine, a certain honest labourer spoke roughly to a certain
quarrelsome woman, and she angrily threatened him that she would soon
avenge herself on him. He took little notice of her; but on the same
night he felt a pustule grow upon his neck, and he rubbed it a little,
and found his whole face and neck puffed up and swollen, and a horrible
form of leprosy appeared all over his body. (Sprenger and Institoris
1971, part 2, p. 136)
Witches could also inflict illnesses on wild and domestic animals
or even kill them by touching them or bewitching them with their ‘evil
eye’. Sometimes they put some kind of witches’ spell under thethreshold
of the barn door or where the animals used to go to the
drinking trough. Cows were the favourite object of sorcery: ‘So also
there is not even the smallest farm where women do not injure each
other’s cows by drying up their milk, and very often killing them’
(Sprenger and Institoris 1971, part 2, p. 144). The stealing of milk
was said to occur as follows:
On the more holy nights according to the instructions of the Devil
and for the greater offence to the Divine Majesty of God, a witch
will sit down in a corner of her house with a pail between her legs,
stick a knife or some instrument in the wall or a post, and make as
if to milk it with her hands. Then she summons her familiar who always
works with her in everything, and tells him that she wishes to milk
a certain cow from a certain house, which is healthy and abounding
in milk. And suddenly the Devil takes the milk from the udder of that
cow, and brings it to where the witch is sitting, as if it were flowing
from the knife. (Sprenger and Institoris 1971, part 2, p. 145)
The prerequisite for the practice of black magic, be it storm-raising
or the causing of illnesses in humans or cattle, was a pact between
the witch and the Devil. The concept of these pacts did not arise
until the Early Modern Age. In exchange for the witches’ salvation,
the Devil provided them with supernatural powers which not only enabled
but in fact obliged them to inflict damage on other people. The pact
could only take effect if a visible sign existed for the concluded
agreement. The most common sign for this pact with the Devil was the
so-called stigma diabolicum, the witch’s mark, with which the Devil
branded his disciple when she attended the witches’ sabbath for the
first time. Irregularities of the skin, such as warts, scars and moles
that were insensitive to pain and did not bleed when punctured with
a sharp object, were all considered to be a witch’s marks (Hammes
1977, pp. 77–81). Occasionally, a formal contract was concluded between
the witch and the Devil and this had to be signed in the witch’s blood
(Leibbrand and Wettley 1967, p. 828).
It was commonly believed that in most cases, the pact with the Devil
was sealed by sexual intercourse between the human being, a Devil
incarnate, and the Devil. The Devil appeared to a female witch in
his male form, as incubus (lying on top) and to a male witch as a
female succubus (lying beneath). In these encounters, the Devil was
incapable of procreation. The Devil incarnate simply acted as a sperm
conveyor. In his female form, he received male sperm which he, in
his male form, could then pass on to a woman. When tortured, the women
confessed to having had intercourse with the Devil so that the
world would become full of Devil incarnates. Children fathered by
the Devil were called changelings. Deformed children and cripples
who had supposedly been fathered by the Devil were exposed at fairs
(see ‘The Changeling’ in Chapter 5).
Although the Devil was incapable of procreation, the number of his
followers increased. Either the witches promised the souls of their
children to demons, usually without the fathers’ knowledge, or it
was the witch midwives, who were identified as being particularly
suspicious in the Malleus maleficarum, who did this in secret: ‘As
soon as the child is born, the midwife, if the mother herself is not
a witch, carries it out of the room on the pretext of warming it,
raises it up, and offers it to the Prince of Devils, that is Lucifer
and to all the devils’ (Sprenger and Institoris 1971, part 2, p. 141).
This claim of the malleus maleficarum had serious consequences. Kinship
to a witch was seen as strong circumstantial evidence of witchery
on the part of the suspect. The question as to whether a person’s
mother or father had been burned at the stake as a warlock or witch
was the first question to be asked in interrogations. It was inferred
from the parents’ witchery that the children were also witches since
in such cases they were usually thought to have been dedicated to
the Devil. In this manner, entire families were eradicated.
From the sixteenth century on, attendance at the witches’ sabbath
was an essential part of witchery. Before flying to the place where
the sabbath was held, the witch rubbed her body with a foul-smelling,
watery liquid. Paracelcus enumerated the ingredients of such an ointment:
mincemeat made from children, poppy, winter cherry and hemlock or
lard of children, nightshade and blood of bats. Although the manner
of preparation varied considerably, there were two ingredients in
every magical ointment, namely herbs which could cause certain nervous
reactions, and parts of a child’s body. Nightshade, hemlock and henbane
could cause mental derangements resulting from poisoning. After rubbing
herself and her broomstick with ointment,, the witch uttered the incantation:
‘Up and out to nowhere’, and flew up the chimney to join the witches’
sabbath. Occasionally, she also flew on a goat’s back. In this respect,
the witches’ statements in the court records from different areas
are almost identical (Hammes 1977, p. 64).
From a report on a witch trial held in Logrono, Spain, in 1610, I
would like to quote excerpts of the most important and typical material
regarding the witches’ sabbath presented by the prosecution: After
a concession and promise [to renounce the Christian faith],
the master, who has the task of teaching the candidate and who has
convinced him to become a sorcerer, comes to his bedside or a place
where he is sleeping or lying awake, about two or three hours before
midnight on a witches’ sabbath night. If the candidate is still asleep,
he wakes him and anoints his hands, temples, chest, private parts
and the soles of his feet with a dark green, smelly water and takes
the candidates with him immediately. He carries them through the air,
through doors and windows, which the devil opens for them or through
another small gap or hole. In no time at all, they arrive at the place
determined for their meetings, the place of the witches’ sabbath.
There, the sorcerer first presents the ‘novice’ to the devil, who
is sitting on a throne which at times seems to be made of gold and
at other times of black wood. The devil sits there with great dignity
and majesty, and with an exceedingly sad face, ugly and bad-tempered
... His body and build are similar both to those of a human being
and a goat, his hands and feet have fingers and toes like those of
a human being, but they are all of the same length, tapering to a
point, with sharp claws. Then the novice has to bend his knees in
the presence of the devil, and he has to renounce the same things
in the same manner which his mentor the witch had impressed upon him;
the devil says the words with which he has to renounce his faith,
and he (the novice) repeats them and renounces, first God, then the
Virgin and Mother Mary ... Then he (the novice) accepts the devil
as his God and Lord and worships him, pressing a kiss on his left
hand, on his chest next to his heart and on his genitals. The devil
turns over on his left side and lifts his tail (which is similar to
that of a donkey), and lays bare those body parts which are extremely
ugly and that tend to be particularly dirty and smelly. He is then
kissed on those body parts beneath his tail. Afterwards, the devil
stretches out his left hand and lowers it to the head and further
down to the left shoulder or other body parts of the novice (depending
on his mood), and marks the candidate by digging his claws into him.
Thus he wounds him, making him bleed. Then the devil collects the
blood in a cloth or in some kind of container. The wounds of the witch-novice
causes him great pains which last longer than a month; and the mark
and stigma remain for a lifetime.
On the eves of certain annual holidays, they gather for the witches’
sabbath in order to worship and celebrate the Devil, and they all
confess to him and lament their sins. The women also make offerings
such as loaves of bread, eggs, and other things which theyhand to the
devil’s servants. The women then bend their kneels in
reverence, kiss the devil’s left hand and his chest close to his heart.
Two sorcerers, who usually serve as the devil’s train bearers lift
his garments so that the women are able to kiss his genitals. The
devil immediately turns to the left and his tail is lifted to reveal
the parts that are very dirty and smelly. At that very moment when
someone kisses the devil beneath his tail, the devil blows an awful
smelling wind into her face. He nearly always does this when kissed
in this way. All of the sorcerers then form a circle and receive communion
from the devil. The hosts have the devil’s likeness painted on them;
these hosts have a disgusting odour and are hard to swallow. Afterwards,
he also offers them a very bitter drink that turns their hearts cold.
As soon as the devil has finished the mass, he copulates with both
men and women in the manner of the Sodomites ... The queen [of the
witches’ sabbath] chooses the witches who are supposed to join the
devil for this purpose and who are waiting at a distance ... As soon
as the devil stops doing the aforementioned evil deeds and even more
horrible things that we will leave out here, warlocks and witches
mingle with each other, men with women, and even men with men, regardless
of social status or the degree to which they are related to each other.
(Zacharias 1970, pp. 56–62)
During court proceedings, inquisitors repeatedly asked the witches
about these notions, and, under torture, the accused women answered
the questions in the affirmative.