Development of the Witch Stereotype in 15th Century Europe
Tracing the Historic Evidence of Fear and Hatred Gone Wild
By Deborah Spaide
There have been few phenomena in the evolution of mankind that have stirred the popular imagination more than the witch hunts of the 14th to 17th centuries. Even in the culture of our modern world, Halloween, a popular holiday celebrated by millions of children each year, keeps the memory of our misgivings alive. This year, in the interest of righting a wrong, Debra Avery used the occasion of Halloween to make the case for her ancestor, Mary Sanford, who was hanged as a witch in Hartford, Connecticut in 1662. She asked the state to pass a bill exonerating her great (x8) grandmother along with eleven other people who met a similar fate during the witch hunts in early America. Mary Sanford, a 39 year old mother of five, was one of multiple thousands of women, men and children who died because someone imagined they could fly on a stick, or make cows stop giving milk, or make men impotent. It is with her in mind that this paper is offered.
Witches of the middle-ages and early modern era were not a topic of fantasy and child’s play but of diabolic evil and imminent danger. The ancient belief in witchcraft developed into a documented teaching of the Catholic Church by the 15th century and was later adapted to the Protestant faith with intense fervor. While the official position of the Catholic Church has been silence, some of her defenders have deflected responsibility for the witch hunts onto the secular courts where most of the executions took place after 1550, and onto the Reformation which inspired a period of spiritual uncertainty and severe moral standards. Indeed, both arguments hold some degree of truth. The secular courts did assume responsibility for many of the trials, tortures and executions of witches – but only after the Church developed and distributed the manual by which they could interrogate and convict them.  In many cases, the Church, in the form of her Inquisitors and other representatives, identified the witches and turned them over to the secular courts for execution. As to the guilt of the Protestant Reformers, they were brutal in their pursuit of witches, even at times surpassing the determined purging of their Catholic brothers. Furthermore, the effects of their new doctrines of personal purity added substantial fuel to the witch fires. They can also claim credit for making the hunts intercontinental by carrying the witch hysteria into the New World. However, the Reformation did not get a solid start until Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door in 1517.  Therefore, the Reformation started fully 141 years after Nicolau Eymeric, the Papal appointed Inquisitor at Aragon, wrote The Directorium inquisitorum (defining witchcraft), 80 years after Johannes Nider wrote the Formicarius (offering one chapter on witch prosecution), and 30 years after the publication of The Malleus Maleficarum by two Dominican Inquisitors (which consummated the doctrine of diabolic witchcraft and established the official position of the Church). 
In this paper, I will argue that the Catholic Church is responsible for the development of the doctrine of witchcraft and the stereotype of witch as diabolic and female. While the Church can not be blamed for the entirety of the witch hunts and the full atrocity of innocent lives lost in its wake, she must accept responsibility for creating the toxic fountain from which all future witch hunts would drink. It is my hope that in the name of the thousands of the mothers, daughters and sisters who were sacrificed to a god of fear and fantasy, we will reconcile this historic injustice by remembering their stories and clearing their names.
Part 1: The Questions
The persecution of witches led to the torture and murder of thousands of innocent women, men and even children during the 14th to 17th centuries. In hind sight, there can be no question as to their innocence. The crimes of which they were accused were simply not possible although they often confessed under pain of torture. The fate of these women was sealed on the authority of a doctrine of demonic witchcraft which was widely dispersed in various publications and highly regarded among the most righteous and literate of their age. But where did the doctrine come from? And how did the stereotype of witch as female develop?
This thesis does not approach the witch hunts as a phenomenon that took place in a turbulent social setting. The convergence of multiple causes that aided and abetted the propagation of this atrocity has been the subject of many important historic studies. This paper has as one aim the goal of discovering the point in history when the stereotype of witch developed into a demonology doctrine focused primarily on women. Without this doctrine and the support it received from the Catholic Church it can be argued that the witch hunts would have never attained such popular support or disastrous results.
Part 2: The Context
In many ways the witch hunts of the High Middle Ages and Early Modern Era represent a social and spiritual “perfect storm.”  In the years preceding the hunts there was a convergence of natural disasters and social chaos that resulted in a highly turbulent and unsettled life for peasants and nobility alike. The political and religious institutions of the day were hard-pressed to maintain their authority and control in the face of such a litany of unexplainable hardships.
In considering the cultural context in which the witch hunts took place, it would seem the bubonic plague, or Black Death, would have been a primary source of anxiety and fear. In 1346, a ship from Crimea, infected with the plague, landed in the port of Messina. The environment was conducive to a rapid spread of the disease resulting in an epidemic throughout Europe. Within three years, the disease had killed one third of the population. Keith Thomas, in Religion and the Decline of Magic, said the bubonic plague was the most dreaded of all:
It was a disease of the towns and it particularly affected the poor, who lived in crowded, filthy conditions, thus attracting the black rats, which are nowadays thought to have carried the fleas which spread the disease…The plague terrified by its suddenness, its virulence and its social effects. The upper classes would emigrate temporarily from the afflicted area, leaving the poor to die. Unemployment, food shortages, looting and violence usually resulted.
The people were panicked to find a cause, alternately blaming stray cats, sinful behavior, astrological events, and even the sight of one of its victims. Over the next five years, Black Death would claim 25 million lives, and suspicions would turn to the Jews. Rumors circulated through Europe that the Jews used witchcraft to poison well water with the plague – a view the Catholic Church and Pope Clement VI publicly denounced. But terrified villagers were driven to mob violence against local Jews and many were cast out of communities or killed by their neighbors. By 1351 the plague was abated but would revisitEurope periodically over the next several centuries keeping fear and distrust at frenzied levels.
In addition to Black Death the weather was unpredictable. The Little Ice Age probably took root in the middle of the 15th century. Debate continues as to the cause of the climate change, but one theory by John Eddy holds that lesser solar activity (specifically sun spots) during what is called the Maunder Minimum led to cooler temperatures on earth. Other theories blame shifts in ocean currents. Undisputed is the fact that the cooler temperatures lasted for several hundred years and caused crop failures, slowed trade routes, and resulted in famine that affected millions of people worldwide.  As an example of the desperation caused by this weather aberration, villagers in the Alps who had watched expanding glaciers crush farms and entire communities called in the Catholic Bishop of Geneva for help. The Bishop agreed and was taken to the edge of the ice mass where he proceeded to perform an exorcism casting out the demons responsible for this evil.  The exorcism would be repeated several times over the next months and years. While the Bishop’s efforts didn’t work in the long run, the incident frames the interconnectedness of natural occurrences and the popular belief in demonology.
Schisms and Heresy:
The Church, which played a powerful role in all aspects of community stability and moral control, was in turmoil. The Papal Schism of 1378 was caused by disagreement within the clergy as to who should serve as Pope and where he should reside. This conflict followed on the heels of the earlier Great Schism (1054) which split the Church in two and has not been successfully reconciled to this day.  The resulting chaos from these divisions devastated the Church and greatly affected her ability to lead and direct the people. Between the death of Pope Gregory XI in 1378 and the Council of Constance in 1417, the Church had a total of 8 popes, and at one point 3 at the same time.
At this point in history, the authority of the Catholic Church and the leadership of the Pope had been challenged for centuries. Several new sects developed teachings in conflict with the Church and were condemned as heretics by the struggling Catholic institution. The Inquisition was launched in 1231 by Pope Gregory IX. Their original charge was to root out members of the Cathar and Waldensian sects, but by the 15th century their mission would change dramatically.
The Inquisitors of the 15th century played a pivotal role in the development of witchcraft demonology. But who were these men who carried so much authority? They were judges, pulled from the clergy and appointed by the Pope. Mendicant orders, such as the Dominicans and Franciscans, were seen as the perfect venue from which to choose Inquisitors since they were committed to poverty, highly educated in theology and the doctrines of the church, and above question as to integrity. These Judges traveled the countryside with a mission of preaching the laws of God’s kingdom and discovering heretical sects before they could do damage. The Inquisitors were mandated to assume several roles on behalf of the Church. Today, we might classify these roles as prosecutor, judge and jury:
Organized under papal authority in the second half of the thirteenth century and staffed in large part by members of the newly founded Dominican order, the Inquisition was the church court that dealt with the crime of heresy. It employed fashionable practices of Roman law, then undergoing revival, including secret sessions and indefinite detention before trial. Defense attorneys were uncommon, the right of appeal practically nonexistent, and, since in theory the Church was initiating the charge, the prisoner had no way either of confronting the person who accused him or of calling and cross-examining witnesses. Testimony about heresy, unlike other crimes, was taken from perjurers, excommunicates, and convicted felons. …By far the most decisive practice of Roman law adopted by the Inquisition, however, was the use of torture to elicit confessions.
But it was not only the Inquisitors who leveled charges of heresy against men and women, it was a effective defense in political circles, too. Heresy became the charge beyond refute – an ideal way to eliminate competition and political enemies. Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc) was only 16 years old when she was called to save France by supernatural voices which commanded her to fight in the military for King Charles in defense of France. After months of intense examinations by theologians, she was sent into the campaign against England. Her victories were legendary. Eventually, she was wounded and captured by the English. Although they wanted her dead, her supernatural reputation made her execution politically challenging. The decision was made to try her as a heretic and witch and thereby discredit her gifts as diabolically powered. The voices she had heard as a child were declared diabolical and she was accused of superstitious practices involving dancing around a fairy tree. On May 30, 1431, at the age of 19, she was burned at the stake for heresy.
Among the wealthy, heresy and witchcraft charges became an effective tool for handling disagreements over property. In 1324, Dame Alice Kyteler was a wealthy widow in Killkenny, Ireland. Following disputes over her inheritance rights, Dame Alice was accused of killing her husband by witchcraft. Several of her associates were also named and tried. Over the course of the next year, the ladies were accused and convicted of murdering by maleficia (evil magic), belonging to a secret sect of heretics, boiling the remains of babies, and having sex with demons. They were sentenced to death. Lady Alice was able to escape her captors but her associate was burned at the stake. This case has the ominous honor of being the first of the witch trials to involve women gathering together to conjure evil plots in a witch’s coven. 
Like Lady Alice, women in the Middle Ages were certainly vulnerable in some ways, but powerful and creative in others. Women lived full lives not unlike those of women today in many ways. They were wives, mothers, day laborers, healers, bakers, brewers, farmers and business assistants. Although they had few legal rights they were resourceful and knew how to get things done. They kept homes, raised children, delivered babies, made beer, prepared the dead for burial, worried over sick kids, created textiles, milked cows, grew vegetables, socialized, argued among themselves, scolded people who deserved it, loved or hated their husbands, and many of them went to Church and tried to live good lives.
In fact, in A History of Women, Michelle Perrot and Georges Duby make a strong case for the growing number of independent-minded and industrious women in the late 15th century.
In the years 1439 to 1477 there existed in the parish of Saint Sebaldus in Nurnberg nine female coppersmiths, seven brass workers, one cutler, one thimble-maker, one wiredrawer, three tinsmiths, a drawing-compass-maker, and six jugmakers. The situation was similar in other large cities like Cologne and Frankfurt. In the building trade women appear in Basel as members of the early guilds of masons, plasterers, and carpenters, although it seems likely that most of them were included as wives or relatives of male masters, rather than masters in their own right.
Women of privilege were increasingly literate, and beginning to defend themselves against the contemporary myths of women as weak in body, mind, and spirit. Christine dePizan in her 1404 book, The Book of the City of Ladies, creativelyrefutes the dominant claims that women were incapable of learning and naturally evil. As she considers a book in her library she wonders how so many men are inclined to speak wicked thoughts about women:
Not only one or two…but, more generally, judging from the treatises of all philosophers and poets and from all the orators – it would take too long to mention their names – it seems that they all speak from one and the same mouth. They all concur in one conclusion: that the behavior of women is inclined to and full of every vice…. Oh, God, how can this be? For unless I stray from my faith, I must never doubt that Your infinite wisdom and most perfect goodness ever created anything which was not good. Did You yourself not create woman in a very special way and since that time did You not give her all those inclinations which it pleased You for her to have? And how could it be that You could go wrong in anything?
In other words, Christine was asking, “Did you make a mistake, God?” Clearly someone was wrong – it was either the men who believe women to be evil or it was God. In her book, she used this conflict as a springboard into a discourse with three female angels who were sent by God to empower women and free them from oppression.
While not many women were as learned as Christine, some were patrons of literary works ranging from sermons to poems to stories of various saints (most of which were female saints). According to Karen Jambeck, author of Patterns of Women’s Literary Patronage, women were able to find an expression for their higher values through the vehicle of patronage:
In the absence of the women’s own words, these writings give eloquent testimony to their high consciousness and moral purpose. Their literary patronage, albeit on the margins of a discourse they could not directly control, establishes their participation in that discourse, and the writings sponsored by these women constitute an enduring legacy. 
Perhaps the role of women that would prove most dangerous was that of life-giver and healer. Infant mortality was high and half of the children died before the age of ten. Adult life expectancy was under 40 years, with a majority dead before reaching the old age of 35. Nutrition was a problem for the rich and poor. The rich enjoyed diets heavy in meats but avoided vegetables, while the poor ate whatever was available. Widespread deficiencies in vitamins A, D and iron were probable and malnutrition, disease and chronic pain were facts of life. 
There were few trained physicians, and those available were too costly for most people. Wise women (and men) were sought out to perform everything from delivering babies, to setting broken bones, and prescribing herbal remedies and potions. With a belief in magic intricately related to general well-being among the common people, they were also asked to remove curses, counter bad magic and provide protective blessings. For many of the healers of the 15th century, medical magic involved a combination of folklore and Catholic Church prayers, incantations and holy objects.
The only path available to women other than marriage and motherhood was a religious life. Convents and religious orders for women were not only an escape from the rigors of marriage and childbearing, they were also the only venue (other than widowhood) through which a woman might gain a level of independence, literacy and religious authority. In the 13th and 14th centuries, female mystics were growingly respected and sought out for spiritual advice and direction. Women were canonized at a rate of almost 30%, which was higher than at any point in previous history, and the mystical reputations of women like Catherine of Siena (d.1380), Joan of Arc (d.1431) and Bridget of Sweden (d.1373), who would themselves later be canonized, inspired many young women to seek a more meaningful life through asceticism and religious devotion. One female sect that began to flourish from the 13th century was the Beguines, who were loosely associated with the Franciscan and Dominican male orders. At one point in the mid thirteenth century, there were 1,170 Beguines living in one Germany city (involving 169 convents)! Duby and Perrot point out that the growth of the Beguines stirred up some discomfort among the clergy:
Contemporaries were especially suspicious of the interest in theology displayed by many of these female communities; indeed the mystical texts produced and circulated among them – such as the verses of Hadewijch (around 1230), the autobiography of Beatrice of Nazareth, or the ‘Streaming Light of the Deity’ by Mechthild of Magdebburg (around 1250) – grew into a flowering of ‘women’s culture’ so unprecedented as to cause amazement even among the well-disposed. The German Franciscan Lamprecht of Regensburg noted that “nowadays women express themselves on theological matters and appear to understand religious questions even better than competent men.”
While the achievements of these medieval women might have been heralded as signs of human evolution and progress during an otherwise chaotic point in history, it was instead another straw on the Church’s back. The rampant rise of mysticism had given the church reason to contemplate the value of spiritual discernment. After all, the multitude of spiritual gifts could not all be from God. Certain Inquisitors took on the task of developing a discernment tool with which priests and other clergy could determine if each spiritual gift was diabolical or divine. These tools would become Inquisition manuals which we will discuss in Part 4 and 5.
Part 3: Magic and the Early Witch
Nancy Neilson was married at 17 years old and gave birth to 8 children. Two of her children died from smallpox and one of unknown causes. At 40 years old, Nancy found herself accused of witchcraft. The charges included testimony from 15 people that she could pass through locked doors, ride through the air at night to witch meetings, and raise storms that were a threat to crops and livestock. She was also suspected of killing her 6 year old child. These are difficult charges to prove without a confession from the witch, so Nancy was submitted for torture on “the ladder” until she confessed. After she was released from her torture she promptly recanted the confession and pleaded her innocence. The process was repeated until she was broken and the confession held. She admitted to (or created) details of her crimes which included having sex with the devil, killing her child and later exhuming the body to boil and make potions, and killing her own cow. She was sentenced to “Spanish Boots,” a form of torture that crushed the foot, ankle and calf, and lashed until she died.
Witches were nothing new to the 15th century imagination. In fact, the charge of sorcery pre-dates Christianity. The Hebrew Bible states, “Thou shall not suffer a witch to live.” In the first book of Samuel, the Witch of Endor was called on by King Saul to raise Samuel from the dead prior to the battle against the Philistines - a battle he subsequently lost. But despite this apparent biblical injunction against the use of magic, it became an important part of medieval religious life. For Keith Thomas, the role of medieval magic was indistinguishable from religion:
By the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the Lives of the Saints had assumed a stereotypical pattern. They related the miraculous achievements of holy men, and stressed how they could prophesy the future, control the weather, provide protection against fire and flood, magically transport heavy objects, and bring relief to the sick. Many of these stories were retold in The Golden Legend, a popular compilation by a thirteenth century Archbishop of Genoa…
Thomas goes on to discuss magical beliefs in holy relics (pregnant women would use undergarment relics of saints to protect them in childbirth), veneration of saints (who had the power to heal or make you ill depending on their disposition), exorcisms to make crops grow, uses of holy water and salt, protective qualities found in church soil and the melted wax of holy candles, church bells which were thought to scare away thunder storms, and the consecrated host was often saved and used as a good luck charm.
Anne Llewellyn Barstow in her book, Witchcraze, tells the story of Pope John XXII who used a magic snakeskin to detect poison in his food when he began to fear that someone wanted him dead, and Pope Urban VIII ordered an exorcism to ward off the curse of a Spanish Ambassador, and again later to repel the evil effects of an eclipse. Clergy, too, were often practitioners of magic, in their role as exorcists and using the learned skill of necromancy (demon conjuring).
In fact, the literature indicates that the crime of sorcery or magic was primarily a male crime until the 15th century. The witchcraft of women did not generate much interest or fear and usually met with pity or sentences of penance for more serious matters. Beginning with the Renaissance of the 12th century, the rise of universities and popular interest in philosophy led to the rediscovery of magical texts from earlier Hebrew and Arabic cultures. These classical texts introduced the educated elite to alchemy, astrology and necromancy as true sciences of the times. But according to Michael Bailey, author of The Feminization of Magic and the Emerging Idea of the Female Witch in the Late Middle Ages, these new fields of study remained within the province of educated men:
Although never explicitly described in terms of gender, the practice of necromancy as clerical authorities conceived it seems to have been a decidedly masculine act. It involved skill, training, preparation, and above all education. A necromancer, whatever else might be thought of him, had to be intelligent and have a certain force of will to work his magic.
There was an occasional witch execution - frequently more about politics than religion - but the victims were as often men as women. In general, the Church seemed to take a tolerant position on witchcraft (perhaps with the knowledge that so many of her own clergy were practitioners) until the 14th century. The Canon Episcopi, compiled about the year 906 using materials from the Council of Ancyra in 314, stated the Church’s position clearly:
It is not to be omitted that some wicked women, who have given themselves back to Satan and been seduced by the illusions and phantasms of demons, believe and profess that, in the hours of night, they ride upon certain beasts with Diana, the goddess of pagans, and an innumerable multitude of women, and in the silence of the night traverse great spaces of earth, and obey her commands and of their lady, and are summoned to her service on certain nights…It is therefore to be proclaimed publicly to all that whoever believes such things or things similar to these loses the faith…Whoever therefore believes that anything can be made, or that any creature can be changed or transformed to better or to worse or be transformed into another species or likeness, except by the Creator himself who made everything and through whom all things were made, is beyond doubt an infidel.
In other words, at this point in Church history it was heretical to believe that a witch actually had the power to harm or help anyone. All power came from God. Women who believed in magic were given to delusion and should be pitied – the sin was not in the magical act but in the belief that the magic would work. This same position was reaffirmed in The Decretum by Burchard of Worms in 1025 and again in a papal statement in 1258 by Alexander IV, in which the Pope explicitly prohibited Inquisitors from wasting their time with witch hunts. But despite the clarity of mind that produced these rulings, the turbulence of the 14th and 15th centuries produced a need for a belief system that would answer the unanswerable questions, provide stability for the people, reform and re-assemble the church, and reinforce the control of the ruling elite. Ultimately, if all power came from a good God, why did so many bad things happen? Either God was not all powerful, or God was not all good. The result was a growing belief in the power of Satan in direct competition with the power of God - and the question of the day became how to know the difference.
In the 1320s we begin to see a change in the Church’s stand on witchcraft. Pope John XXII, faced with (real or imagined) threats against his life, issued a statement that said:
Grievingly we observe…that many who are Christians in name only…sacrifice to demons, adore them, more or have made images, rings, mirrors, phials, or other things for magic purposes, and bind themselves to demons. They ask and receive responses from them and to fulfill their most depraved lusts ask them for aid. Binding themselves to the most shameful slavery for the most shameful of things, they ally themselves with death and make a pact with hell…We hereby promulgate the sentence of excommunication upon all and singular who against our most charitable warnings and orders presume to engage in these things…
In this statement we see evidence of a clerical belief in the power of witches, who work in partnership with Satan, and a clear reversal of the Canon Episcopi policy which refused to give Satan credit for any real power. (“It is therefore to be proclaimed publicly to all that whoever believes such things or things similar to these loses the faith.”)
In 1376, Nicolau Eymeric, an inquisitor in Aragon, wrote The Directorium inquisitorum which was a handbook for future inquisitors. The Directorium talked briefly about witchcraft in an attempt to define the difference between various types of witchcraft and heresy. In the final analysis, any witchcraft that included worship of Satan was also heresy. This was a new definition of witchcraft and one that would be adopted by later inquisitors. 
But several elements of the later witch stereotype are still missing; there is no diabolical plot with large nocturnal witch gatherings, no night flight on brooms or beasts, no crazed orgies, and no assumption of gender. In fact, we don’t find literary evidence with hints of feminization until 1427 and the preaching of the Franciscan, Bernardino of Siena:
One of them told and confessed, without being put to torture, that she had killed thirty children by sucking their blood; she also said that she had let sixty go free…Yet, she confessed more, saying that she had killed her own little son, and had made a powder out of him, which she gave people to eat in these practices of hers…And therefore I would give you this caution and warn you that wherever one may be, and whoever may know him or her, in any place whatsoever inside or outside the city, straightaway accuse her before the Inquisitor. Whether within the city or outside its walls, accuse her – every witch, every wizard, every sorcerer, or sorceress, or worker of charms and spells. Do what I tell you in order that you will not be called upon to answer for it on the Day of Judgment… If it had happened that she killed one of your little children, what would you think about the matter then? From your own feelings take thought for another. 
You can almost sense the frustration of the preacher in his words, which leads to a possible interpretation that perhaps the people were struggling to believe his radical point of view and were generally reluctant to help the Inquisitors by identifying their neighbors as witches.
But Bernardino’s voice was not alone in his frenzied fear of witches; other important clergy were developing their own theories and beliefs. Over the course of the next 50 years the stereotype of witch as female would become absolute and the theology of witchcraft would be crafted, cataloged and distributed throughout Europe.
Part 4: The Formicarius
The search for a female witch stereotype takes us first to Germany in the early 15th century and a reform movement within the Dominican Order of the Catholic Church. Johannes Nider was born sometime before 1385 in the town of Isny, which is 60 miles from Augsburg, Germany. He joined the Dominican order in 1420 and became involved in a new reform movement called the “observants.” The Observants were concerned with the corruption and spiritual laziness in the church and addressed the problem by establishing Reform Houses where clergy could observe a stricter pious life. Nider studied arts at the University of Vienna and theology at the University of Cologne. His fervor for reform brought him success within his order and a leadership role within the Church. By the time that the Council of Basel was called in 1431, Johannes Nider was an opening speaker. 
The Council of Basel may have played a significant role in the development of the witch stereotype. It was here, over a period of four years, that Nider would collect his witchcraft anecdotes and the primary information used in the later development of his book entitled, Formicarius. Judge Peter of Bern would tell him tales of the witches he had convicted in his district and their amazing tricks and unimaginable evils. A monk named Benedict would confess to Nider that he had once practiced the art of demonic magic but had fortunately been rescued and reformed. Nicolas Amici, from the University of Paris, would share his stories about the trial and conviction of Joan of Arc (burned as a heretic in 1431 and considered a witch by many clergy, she had appealed to the Council of Basel for a hearing but was denied). Additionally, the atmosphere at Basel would have been conducive to much informal discussion about witches and witchcraft – given the parallel timing of the trial of Joan of Arc and the controversy that ensued as to the source of her powers.
Ultimately, the Formicarius was not a book about witchcraft – and indeed only the final chapter is devoted to the topic at all. Although there is not an English version in print, and very limited academic research available, it appears that Nider’s book was composed with a goal of providing the clergy with a tool for discerning spirits. In his role as reformer, and given the high interest in mystical experiences of the time, Nider would have possibly been pressed to determine the power source for various “miracles” and may have felt compelled to produce such a handbook to guide other clerics in similar decisions. The Formicarius, which literally interpreted means “Anthill,” is presented as a dialogue between a wise theologian (most likely intended to be himself) and a lazy student named Piger. The work contains five chapters:
The chapter themes reveal Nider’s conviction that spiritual laziness was the source of many contemporary concerns and spiritual discernment was the result of a devoted, sacrificial religious life. In his introduction he wrote: “While frequently traveling through certain territories, especially in German, I have sometimes heard the protests of people lax in the faith: ‘Wherefore now among Christians does God not strengthen the church with miracles or holy works in order to maintain the faith.’”
The chapter themes also suggest that Nider hoped the Formicarius would remind the brethren of the miracles that God was capable of, while at the same time warning them to beware of the “tricks” produced by Satan. While the book was likely intended to inspire devotion and discernment among both sexes, it also revealed a deep-seeded suspicion of women and their spiritual experiences. Michael Bailey notes the following in Battling Demons:
The Formicarius abounds in stories of visions, dreams, and revelations, some coming from God and others inspired by the devil…At the very outset of Nider’s discussion of good revelations, for example, he had the pupil note that more women than men seemed to receive visions and revelations, and, suspecting that many of these visions in fact came from the devil, the young man assumed that women’s weaker natures, both physical and moral, made them more susceptible to the devil’s deceptions.
Michael Bailey clearly points to Nider as the point in history when the first arguments were made for witch as female: “Johannes Nider, in his Formicarius, was the first clerical authority to argue explicitly that more women than men were inclined toward witchcraft. Indeed, Nider’s discussion of women as witches provided a model that Kramer would copy, at times almost verbatim, into his Malleus, and on which he would then elaborate.” 
While Nider may be able to claim the dishonor of being the first cleric to make the case for the predominant woman witch, it is hard to judge his life as misogynistic. First, because his views were not unusual for his day – indeed, he shared the views of every educated man, and second because his objectives do not appear primarily focused on women as evil but on reform within the church of all its members. But regardless of his intentions, fifty years later, Nider would be a primary source for the most infamous witchcraft work of all times, The Malleus maleficarum.
Before moving onto the Malleus, it may be useful at this juncture to discuss briefly the culture that produced such a distrust of women in the learned minds of men like Johannes Nider and his contemporaries. Their education would have taken them all the way back to the Garden of Eden where Eve tempted Adam to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge – which, according to Christian tradition, introduced death and sin to humankind. This is a thread that would be woven throughout history in support of the suppression of women. Scripture provided additional ammunition against women; she is a snare in Ecclesiastes 7:27, she is angry, impudent and confused in Ecclesiastes 25:29, and she is more sinful than Adam in 1Timothy 13-15. Around 350 BCE, Aristotle wrote extensively on the weakness of women, and in the 12th century his writings were rediscovered and circulated among the literate elite. Among other claims, Aristotle explained reproduction this way:
A woman is as it were an infertile male: the female, in fact, is female on account of inability of a sort, viz., it lacks the power to concoct semen out of the final state of nourishment…The male provides the form and the principle of the movement, the female provides the body, in other words the material…so the offspring produced by a female are sometimes female, sometimes not, but male. The reason is that the female is as it were a deformed male; and the menstrual discharge is semen, though in an impure condition…
Menstruation was especially curious to medieval men. From biblical times, menstrual blood was seen as potent, impure, and even dangerous. Isidore of Seville wrote in the 7th century:
The menstrua are the superfluous blood of women…From contact with this blood, fruits fail to germinate, grape-must goes sour, plants die, trees lose their fruit, metal is corroded with rust, and bronze objects go black. Any dogs which consume it contract rabies. The glue of bitumen, which resists both metal and water, dissolves spontaneously when polluted with that blood.
In the early 3rd century, Tertullian, who was a convert to Christianity, preached this lecture to women who had recently converted:
The judgment of God upon this sex lives on in this age; therefore, necessarily the guilt should live on also. You are the gateway of the devil; you are the one who unseals the curse of that tree, and you are the first one to turn your back on the divine love; you are the one who persuaded him whom the devil was incapable of corrupting; you easily destroyed the image of God, Adam. Because of what you deserve, that is, death, even the Son of God had to die.
St. Jerome in the 5th century, in a letter to a young woman who was contemplating a life of virginity, writes:
Samson was braver than a lion and tougher than rock. Alone and unprotected he pursued a thousand armed men; and yet, in Delilah’s embrace, his resolution melted away. David was a man after God’s own heart, and his lips had often sung of the holy one, the future Christ, yet as he walked upon the roof of his house he was fascinated by Bathsheba’s naked beauty, and added murder to adultery.
This educated discrimination against women was wide-spread and generally accepted. Even today, in many religious traditions, women are kept in subservient roles to men - even highly educated and otherwise successful women accept their humble role with a resolution that things will never change. The women of the 15th century may have realized that their situation was unequal and unjust, as evidenced by the writings of Marie de France (1170s), Christine de Pizan (1405) and the growth of the female religious orders such as the Beguines, but they may have been unaware that they had the power to make anything different. Indeed, they may have been right – for in the next decades the hammer would literally fall on thousands of women, condemning them for crimes they never committed and submitting them to a death of their spirits, bodies, and perhaps worse of all, their memories.
Part 5: The Hammer of Witches
The Malleus maleficarum (translated “Hammer of Witches”) was written in 1486 by two Domincan Inquisitors, Heinrich Kramer (Institor in Latin) and James Sprenger. In the decade prior to writing the Malleus, the two had been busy prosecuting witches in southern Germany. Faced with resistance from the local clergy, Kramer sought out support from the Pope. In 1484 he obtained a Bull from Pope Innocent VIII directing the local church authorities to support the Dominican duo in every way possible. In part, Pope Innocent VIII said the following:
It has indeed lately come to Our ears, not without afflicting Us with bitter sorrow, that in some parts of Northern Germany, as well as in the provinces, townships, territories, districts, and dioceses of Mainz, Cologne, Treves, Salzburg, and Bremen, many persons of both sexes, unmindful of their own salvation and straying from the Catholic faith, have abandoned themselves to devils, incubi and succubi,and by their incantations, spells, conjurations, and other accursed charms and crafts, enormities and horrid offences, have slain infants yet in the mother’s womb, as also of the offspring of cattle, and blasted the produce of the earth, the grapes of the vine, the fruits of the trees… 
The Bull of Pope Innocent, while only two pages in length, would prove invaluable in the prosecution of witches over the next 300 years. Although the Bull was written prior to the publication of the Malleus, it was included with the book in all subsequent printings - giving it the appearance of an endorsement for the demonology thesis. Additionally, a letter of appropriation from the University of Cologne, printed in the back of the book (although some contest its authenticity), also added a degree of authority and made the Malleus maleficarum seemingly beyond refute.
Many historians believe that the Malleus was more a synthesis of materials on witchcraft than a new theology. To a large degree, this appears to be true – many of the ideas expressed in the Malleus were not new or revolutionary. But the Malleus took up the cause with a defined purpose unlike any document had before. It has a fevered pitch – almost apocalyptic - transmitting overtones of fear and anxiety, which may reflect the way its author’s actually felt. They developed a concise and well-organized thesis which included the argument for witchcraft as a crime against the church, as female, and as diabolic. They then moved to the second section where they defined all the tricks of the witch trade and provided tips for how one might be protected against them. Finally, in section three, they laid out the case for the courts – how to prosecute and obtain convictions.
In The First Part, Treating of the Three Necessary Concomitants of Witchcraft, Which Are The Devil, A Witch, And The Permission of Almighty God, Kramer and Sprenger set out to prove that the majority of witches were women. Here is some of what the authors had to say:
What else is a woman but a foe to friendship, an unescapable punishment, a necessary evil, a natural temptation, a desirable calamity, a domestic danger, a delectable detriment, an evil of nature, painted with fair colours!...Cicero in his second book of The Rhetorics says, The many lusts of men lead them into one sin, but the one lust of women leads them into all sins; for the root of all woman’s vices is avarice. And Seneca says in his Tragedies: A woman either loves or hates; there is no third grade. And the tears of a woman are a deception, for they may spring from true grief, or they may be a snare. When a woman thinks alone, she thinks evil.
But the natural reason is that she is more carnal than a man, as is clear from her many carnal abominations. And it should be noted that there was a defect in the formation of the first woman, since she was formed from a bent rib, that is, a rib of the breast, which is bent as it were in a contrary direction to a man. And since through this defect she is an imperfect animal, she always deceives.
Justly we may say with Cato of Utica; If the world could be rid of women, we should not be without God in our intercourse. For truly, without the wickedness of women, to say nothing of witchcraft, the world would still remain proof against innumerable dangers.
To conclude. All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which is in women insatiable.
The authors spent a substantial amount of time on their theory of the evil nature of women, which is somewhat counter-intuitive. Why would they need to waste time convincing their peers of an idea that everyone already accepted? The amount of space and intellectual energy given this argument suggests that the popular tide of the 15th century had turned and that women were gaining some ground in the realm of spiritual authority. As mentioned earlier, this theory has other evidence in literary works, the growth of religious orders and the canonization of female saints.
They end the first section with the conviction that witches deserve only one fate: eternal damnation that begins in this life. So consuming was the fear of their power, that the Malleus closes every possible door of escape for the witches, including repentance:
The crimes of witches, then, exceed the sins of all others; and we now declare what punishment they deserve, whether as Heretics or as Apostates. Now Heretics…, are punished in various ways, as by excommunication, deposition, confiscation of their goods, and death…Indeed, even their followers, protectors, patrons and defenders incur the heaviest penalties. For, besides the punishment of excommunication inflicted on them, Heretics, together with their patrons, protectors and defenders, and with their children to the second generation on the father’s side, and to the first degree on the mother’s side, are admitted to no benefit or office of the Church. And if a Heretic have Catholic children, for the heinousness of his crime they are deprived of their paternal inheritance…But to punish witches in these ways does not seem sufficient, since they are not simply Heretics, but Apostates…It is clear enough from this that, however much they are penitent and return to the Faith, they must not be punished like other Heretics with lifelong imprisonment, but must suffer the extreme penalty.
In The Second Part, Treating of the Methods by Which Witchcraft is Inflicted, and How It May Be Auspiciously Removed, the authors reveal all the ways that witches do the devil’s work. They explain in detail how the witches fly through the night sky, gather together, make pacts with the devil, have uninhibited sex with demons and each other, boil children for potions, conjure hailstorms, cause impotence in men and deprive them of their virile member, change people into beasts, possess bodies, create illness, and kill cattle. Their power was amazing and expansive and their objectives were the destruction of all that was good and moral – especially the Church:
In a town which it is better not to name…, when a certain witch received the Body of Our Lord, she suddenly lowered her head, as is the detestable habit of women, placed her garment near her mouth, and taking the Body of the Lord out of her mouth, wrapped it in a handkerchief; and afterwards, at the suggestion of the devil, placed it in a pot in which there was a toad, and hid it in the ground near her house by the storehouse, together with several other things, by means of which she had to work her witchcraft. But with the help of God’s mercy this great crime was detected and brought to light. For on the following day a workman was going on his business near that house, and heard a sound like a child crying;; and when he had come near to the stone under which the pot had been hidden, he heard it much more clearly…And when she was taken and questioned, she discovered her crime, saying that the Lord’s Body had been hidden in the pot with a toad, so that by means of their dust she might be able to cause injuries at her will to men and other creatures.
The authors go on to urge all priests to take extra caution when offering communion to their female congregants, being sure “that the mouth shall be well open and the tongue thrust well out.” Further, they declare that watchful priests may even discern witches in their midst by observing women as they accept the Body of Christ.
While Kramer and Sprenger used this story to make the point that witches hated the Church and denigrated all things holy, we can read something else between the lines. Kramer and Sprenger offer irrefutable evidence that many of the women who were accused of witchcraft were practicing Catholics, active members of the Church community. What the Inquisitors saw were enemy agents infiltrating the community of saints, but, from our historic vantage point, we can see proof that many of the accused witches were wives, mothers, and daughters who thought themselves good Christians, attending Mass, taking communion, and submitting to the authority the Church.
As further evidence of this betrayal, Kramer and Sprenger address the devil’s desire for virgins and good women more than women of ill repute. In so doing, they remove any defense against witchcraft charges based on one’s moral history:
Here is to be noted that the devil is more eager and keen to tempt the good than the wicked…For since he already possesses the wicked, but not the good, he tries the harder to seduce into his power the good whom he does not, than the wicked whom he does, possess.
This strategy is continued in The Third Part, Relating To the Judicial Proceedings In Both the Ecclesiastical and Civil Courts against Witches and Indeed All Heretics, in which Kramer and Sprenger consider every loophole, every defense, and every weakness in the system. Judges are admonished to approach the prosecution of witches from every angle.
In order, then, that the Judges both ecclesiastical and civil may have a ready knowledge of the methods of trying, judging and sentencing in these cases, we shall proceed under three main heads. First, the method of initiating a process concerning matters of the faith; second, the method of proceeding with the trial; and third, the method of bringing it to a conclusion and passing sentence on witches.
Interestingly, the initiation of a witch hunt was not necessarily sparked by a random accusation of witchcraft in the community. The Judges were provided a script by which they could stir up accusations:
By the authority which we exercise in this district, and in virtue of holy obedience and under pain of excommunication, we direct, command, require and admonish that withing the space of twelve days…and we give this treble canonical warning that they should reveal it unto us if anyone know, see, or have heard that any person is reported to be a heretic or a witch, or if any is suspected especially of such practices as cause injury to men, cattle, or the fruits of the earth, to the loss of the State. But if any do not obey these aforesaid commands and admonitions by revealing such matters within the term fixed, let him know that he is cut off by the sword of excommunication.
Once the court had informants coming forward, The Malleus provided officials with deposition forms and rules regarding witnesses. Their legal arguments were impenetrable by the standards of the day. One of their most brilliant designs had to do with the protection of the accuser. The legal system at the time of Malleus included a self-limiting element called the “talion.” Talion dictated that a person who brought charges against another person would be liable for the costs to the court and reparation if the case was found to be false or not provable. This law would be abolished later, but Malleus found a way to circumvent the system before the law was changed. The people were to be instructed to make their accusations as “informers,” not accusers - leaving the Church and secular officials to assume the role of accuser. This radical change in legal protocol would also protect those who testified against the accused witch since they could assume the role of protected “informer” or witness:
For here let the Judge take note that he is not bound either to publish the names of the deponents or to bring them before the accused, unless they themselves should freely and willingly offer to come before the accused and lay their depositions in her presence. And it is by reason of the danger incurred by the deponents that the Judge is not bound to do this. For although different Popes have had different opinions on this matter, none of them has ever said that in such a case the Judge is bound to make know to the accused the names of the informers or accusers (but here we are not dealing with the case of an accuser).
With the legal threat of talion removed, and the identities of “informers” protected, the way was clear for anyone with a grudge to bring charges of witchcraft against their neighbors. In fact, the legal standard for witnesses for the prosecution was also lowered in witchcraft cases, to include criminals, convicted witches and known perjurers:
Note that persons under a sentence of excommunication, associates and accomplices in the crime, notorious evildoers and criminals, or servants giving evidence against their masters, are admitted as witnesses in a case concerning the Faith. And just as a heretic may give evidence against a heretic, so may a witch against a witch; but this only in default of other proofs, and such evidence can only be admitted for the prosecution and not for the defence…
The case for evidence given by perjurers, when it is presumed that they are speaking out of zeal for the faith…is admissible…
e initial charges that led to witch convictions changed over the years. In the 15th century, when Malleus was being written, it was often something as simple as a cow not making as much milk as she had previously: “the evidences of the fact are visible to the eye, as that a child has been harmed by sorcery, or, more often, a beast has been bewitched or deprived of its milk…”Malleus also devotes whole sections of the book to the ability of witches to affect male sexuality. Most male disorders (impotence, erectile dysfunction, even wet-dreams) were not seen as generating from the male – but the result of witchcraft.  Other charges might have to do with the death or disappearance of a child, the illness or bad fortune of a neighbor, words a woman said in anger (and were interpreted as a curse), the presence of small animals (cats, mice, birds, and dogs - thought to be “familiars”), hailstorms and pestilence, or a physical mark on the body such as a mole or abnormal growth on the skin.
Once accused, the possibilities for defense were minimal. If an accused witch had an advocate (which they often did not) the advocate was to be warned that he must adhere to four rules:
He must not accept a case that he believed was unjust or desperate (in other words, he could only defend someone he believed was innocent).
He must be modest, truthful and introduce no legal “quirks and quibbles,” or bring counter-accusations.
He must accept a fee that was regulated by the court.
He must not prevent the case from being conducted in a simple and summary manner – which would include introducing any complications or appeals into the process.
Furthermore, the Advocate who defended his client too passionately would incur the charge of defending heresy and would become “liable to excommunication.” This was not a system developed with a goal of finding truth – but rather with a goal of finding witches.
Once witches had been apprehended, the courts had another quandary to address - a confession was needed in order to apply the death penalty. But this little problem would not impede Kramer and Sprenger:
The next action of the Judge is quite clear. For common justice demands that a witch should not be condemned to death unless she is convicted by her own confession…and in this case she is to be exposed to questions and torture to extort a confession for her crimes.
Part 6: The Use of Torture in Witch Trials
During the “examination” period, everything an accused woman did or said would be used against her. If she seemed guilty – she was guilty. If she seemed innocent – the Judge had likely been bewitched by her gaze. If she felt no pain, she was guilty. If she shed no tears she was guilty. If she confessed, she was guilty. If she refused to confess, she was both stubborn and guilty. If she repented, she was still guilty.
Once accused, the woman would be brought to the penal cells for questioning. This involved a ritual of events that have been categorized by some historians as sexual terrorism. She was literally carried from her home to avoid allowing her feet to touch the earth (which was thought to interfere with her powers). Once in the jail, she was stripped naked and shaved in all areas of her body. The jailers were looking for charms that could be used to help the witch deceive the officials, and which she might be hiding somewhere on her person (even in the unmentionable places) and they were also looking for the “mark of the devil” which would later become a standard charge in witchcraft trials. The mark of the devil might be a mole, scar, or growth on the skin. It was believed to be received by a witch when she made a pact with the devil. Later, demonology would add a belief that the mark was used to suckle “familiars” in the form of mice, cats, dogs and birds. A whole industry of “prickers” developed in the late 17th century to test the marks found on accused women. If a needle inserted into the mark caused pain, it was not a “teat” but if it caused no discernable pain it was the devil’s mark and the woman was a witch. Prickers were often paid a fee based on the number of witches they discovered in a town or village – creating strong motivation for multiple charges in any one location.
The interrogation process was well developed by Kramer and Sprenger, with intervals of torture, followed by periods of nourishment and visits from family (who were encouraged to compel a confession). The Judge was allowed to use any deceit necessary to extract a confession:
And finally let the Judge come in and promise that he will be merciful, with the mental reservation that he means he will be merciful to himself or the State; for whatever is done for the safety of the State is merciful.
While the physical examination was taking place, other officials would be sent to search the woman’s home. They were looking for anything that might be tools of her evil trade. Small boxes, vials, elixirs, herbal ointments, charms and religious items, even a stick (used as a staff) might become evidence against her.
It is clear from these procedures that a woman had little chance of avoiding conviction once accused of witchcraft. In fact, women had very few legal rights in general. It is ironic that as a direct result of the witch trials women attained their first official right in the legal system – in 1591 women received the right to testify in court specifically to allow for her prosecution and to admit her testimony in trails against those she would implicate under torture.
An accused woman’s complete dependence on the men in her life had a strong influence on the kinds of women that were accused and convicted in the beginning stages of the witch hunts. Most often, accusations were leveled against widows and beggars – women who had no male protectors to intervene on their behalf. This constituted a first-wave witch hunt. But when these lonely women were instructed to name the other witches in their community, often under torture, they began to say whatever the officials wanted to hear. Little more was needed than the admission of one woman that she was in cohorts with several other women, to convince officials that they had discovered an entire witch’s sect. Thus began the second-wave witch hunt. Each newly accused witch would be subjected to the same interrogation process and many would produce yet additional names.
One is compelled to ask where were the husbands, fathers and sons who might have intervened for the second wave witches? The Malleus foresaw their potential meddling, too:
We place under ban of excommunication all their protectors, patrons, and defenders, so that when any such has been so sentenced and has scorned to recant his heresy, within a year from that time he shall be considered an outlaw, and shall not be admitted to any office or council, nor be able to vote in the election of such offices, nor be allowed to give evidence; he is not allowed to be called as a witness…he shall not succeed to any inheritance, and no one will be held responsible for any business transaction with him…Also their sons to the second generation may be disqualified and unable to obtain either ecclesiastical preferment or public office…
Sadly, many of the women were surrounded by the silence of their loved ones during their greatest suffering. Not only did a husband have to worry about his own life if he came to his wife’s defense, but his children’s and grandchildren’s as well.
The effects of the Malleus maleficarum would be far-reaching over the next 300 years.First printed in 1486, the Malleus was reprinted at least 30 times and in 3 languages before 1669. Interestingly, in the years immediately following the Malleus there was not a great surge of documented witch hunt activity. This fact has been used by Joseph Klaits, author of Servants of Satan, as proof that the Malleus did not directly influence the witch hunts.  Indeed, the witch hunts of the 16th to 18th century would numerically dwarf the hunts of the 15th century, but that hardly takes Malleus off the hook. There are several explanations for the perceived lull in prosecutions between 1486 and the crazes of the middle and late 16th century. One is that the demonology expressed in the Malleus was complicated and represented a radical change in the church’s position. The lull may have been more like an incubation period when the new theology was discussed among clergy and taught in universities – ultimately taking root in both the ecclesiastical and popular imagination. A second possibility is that the Malleus did result in more trials but that records were not kept or have been since lost. A third consideration is that the Malleus achieved the objectives of its authors at the time – encouraging clerical piety, religious reform, spiritual discernment, and a decrease in mystical feminine spirituality. Tamar Herzig, author of Witches, Saints and Heretics, holds this view.  Referring primarily to the work of Nancy Caciola and Dylan Elliott, she says that recent studies have “underscored the connection between the gradual decline in the position of charismatic holy women, who had flourished in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and the growing preoccupation with witchcraft in the following two centuries.”
Out of the literary silence we can extract a little more evidence for this theory. The period between 1486 and 1560 produced few female manuscripts to follow those of earlier medieval women such as Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), Christine de Pizan(1405) and Marie de France(1170s). One female author, Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), would find her work “constantly before the Inquisition.”
Regardless of the reason for the apparent pause, it would not last. By the mid 16th century witchcraft trials would become epidemic. The number of those executed on charges of witchcraft remains uncertain. Estimates range from a high of 9 million to a low of 45,000. The most reasonable numbers seem to be those of Anne Llewellyn Barstow in her book, Witchcraze, where she estimates that approximately 100,000 were executed and she provides a chart in Appendix B to back up her claim.
An accurate count of victims may never be discovered. Anne Lllewellyn Barstow says that calculating the number of victims, “is like working with quicksand.” Record-keeping was inaccurate and inconsistent during the Middle Ages, and even where records exist, many names are absent as well as details of gender, age and occupation. But the effort is important. In agreement with Barstow, “this was a mass murder of women that cannot be dismissed by historians.” Indeed, this was a mass murder that should not be dismissed by anyone.
Part 7: The End of the Witch Hunts
For everything that begins from the beginning has some cause. Now a man begins to do that which he wills; and he begins to will because of some pre-suggestion…
In the first chapter of Malleus, Kramer and Sprenger use Aristotle’s line of reasoning from Ethics, to establish the diabolical nature of witchcraft. The action of the witches was inspired by the pre-suggestion of Satan. But as I read their words, I wondered if they couldn’t be used to support this thesis? When looking into history for a beginning of the stereotype of female witches, there is no clearer beginning than the works of Nider, Kramer and Sprenger. And, if a man begins to will because of pre-suggestion, wouldn’t the Malleus be the source of the pre-suggestion that gave life to the demonology of witchcraft, and wouldn’t the Bull of Pope Innocent VIII have been the pre-suggestion that provided this demonology with unprecedented power?
There were voices of dissent. Reginald Scot wrote The Discoverie of Witchcraft in 1584 in which he attacked both the judicial procedures and the idea of witchcraft as one of man’s most faithless “fables.” Scot attempted to awaken his contemporaries to the simple fact that the demonology of witchcraft was not supported by scripture – it was invented by men – and he pointed to two specific men. In Book XVI, Chapter 1, Scot says of all the tales he had collected regarding witchcraft:
I can see no difference among the writers hereupon; of what countrie, condition, estate, or religion so ever they be; but I find almost all of them to agree in unconstancie, fables, and impossibilities; scratching out of Mal. M. the substance of all their arguments…But you must know of James Sprenger and Henrie Institor (Kramer), whome I have had occasion to alledge manie times, were coparteners in the composition of that profound and learned booke called Malleus Maleficarum, and were the greatest doctors of that art:..although they were allowed inquisitors and assigned by the pope, with the authoritie and commendation of all the doctors of the universitie of Collen and to call before them, to imprison, to condemne, and to execute witches; and finallie to seaze and confiscate their goods. These two doctors, to mainteine their credit, and to cover their injuries, have published those same monsterous lies, which have abused all Christendome, being spread abroad with such authoritie, as it will be hard to suppresse the credit of their writings, be they never so ridiculous and false. 
In educated circles, the objections raised by Scot would be joined by others such as John Webster, Francis Hutchinson, Sir Isaac Newton and materialists such as Thomas Hobbes and John Locke who believed that spirits could not assert any temporal power. In 1631, a Jesuit theologian by the name of Friedrich Spee wrote Cautio Criminalis: or a Book on Witches.Cautio was first published anonymously and without approval from Spee’s superiors, in fact, possibly without the consent of its author. But by the second printing of the book, Spee’s name was attached. Although Spee risked excommunication for his outspoken stand, it appears little objection was raised. 
But while the theologians and clerics had begun to question the validity of the witch hunts, in popular practice they were reaching their peak. In fact, the worst of the hunts would take place between 1620 and 1700, after which they would slow but continue until 1782.
Recently, a friend shared a relevant story about her own family history. She is a descendant of Reverend John Hale, who was the pastor of the church in Beverly, Massachusetts during the 1692 witch trials at Salem. As her oral family history tells it, he was very supportive of the prosecution of witches in the beginning stages, even attending several examinations and trials, but his attitude changed when his wife became one of those accused. After she was acquitted he took a stand against the trials, and published a book in 1697 in which he relates the events leading up to the Salem witch trials and the lack of evidence on which they were accused and executed. 
Reverend Hale believed in the demonology of witches until the stereotype broke down and the witch was no longer the demon next door, but the love of his life – his wife. Fortunately, he had the social clout to stand up to the system and defend his wife against the charges. But the experience made him wonder if other innocent women had been accused. His questions about the validity of the charges brought the Salem trials to a quick halt.
Brian Levack points out that most witch hunts were only a few years in duration and often ended abruptly. Like Reverend Hale and the Salem witch hunt, most ended after some of the population began to question the authenticity of the accusations:
The great majority of witches were old, poor women, and the frequency of their prosecution led to the creation of a stereotype of the witch that was accepted both by villagers and members of the elite. In many large witch hunts, especially in Germany but also in Massachusetts, the stereotype broke down as accusations and implications became more indiscriminate and as motives of political and economic advantage came increasingly into play. In the early stages of the witch hunts the victims conformed to the stereotype, but as the hunts progressed a higher percentage of wealthy and powerful individuals, children and males were named…This breakdown had the effect of arousing suspicions that innocent persons were being accused…
Part 8: Conclusion
The witch hunts were initiated following the creation of a stereotype that combined the witch as diabolical and female. Both of these elements were essential pre-conditions to the subsequent witch hunts. Without the witch as diabolical and endowed with the power of Satan, there would have been less fear in the popular imagination. Furthermore, if the stereotype of the witch had not been female there would been far fewer victims since women were already distrusted by the male elite and legally defenseless. It was the dissolution of this stereotype that would eventually bring the hunts to an end. In elite circles, the stereotype began to waiver with the works of Reginald Scot and other theologians who questioned the biblical basis of the demonology developed by Kramer and Sprenger. In the general population, the break down occurred later, and was caused when the second-wave hunts began to accuse and execute men, women and children who did not fit the mold of first-wave witches (widow, old, or poor).
In a search for the authorship of witch as female, the trail of historic literature leads us directly to Johannes Nider and his Formicarius. Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger, integrated Nider’s thesis with ancient demon theories and the science of necromancy to develop a comprehensive demonology doctrine in the Malleus maleficarum. The beliefs that were espoused in this doctrine were accepted wholesale by the Catholic community, authorized (under threat of excommunication) by the highest ecclesiastic authority and endorsed by all subsequent Popes for 300 years (by their words or by their silences).
There can be no question as to the innocence of the 100,000 people that our fear put to death. There can be no question as to the part our Church took in creating the tool that took their lives and mutilated their memories. We can not turn back time. We can not return mothers to their children, wives to their husbands. But we can heal their memories and restore their names.
Part 9: Healing Memories
“Come, oh breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live again.”
What do we do with the unjust deaths of so many innocent people, many of whom were martyrs in the truest sense of the word? And how do we resolve the fact that the agent of their suffering was created and incubated by our Catholic Church? If we look to scripture for our answers we find hope for reconciliation:
Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. Isaiah 1:18
We are called to evolve beyond this place in time – to a fullness of grace and clearer understanding of God’s design for humankind. Such evolution can not be focused on the past. Yet, neither can we collectively move forward while the blood of these innocent women cries out to God for justice – for reconciliation. This reconciliation is indeed the primary mission of our Church:
In intimate connection with Christ's mission, one can therefore sum up the church's mission, rich and complex as it is, as being her central task of reconciling people: with God, with themselves, with neighbor, with the whole of creation; and this in a permanent manner since, as I said on another occasion, "the church is also by her nature always reconciling.
The church is reconciling inasmuch as she proclaims the message of reconciliation as she has always done throughout her history, from the apostolic Council of Jerusalem down to the latest synod and the recent jubilee of the redemption. The originality of this proclamation is in the fact that for the church reconciliation is closely linked with conversion of heart: This is the necessary path to understanding among human beings.
In a study called Memory and Reconciliation, which was produced by the International Theological Commission at the request of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger on the occasion of the Jubilee Year 2000, the church theologians considered the purification of memory as a means of “liberating personal and communal conscience for all forms of resentment and violence that are the legacy of past faults.” Wherein they warn us that the “occasions when ecclesiastical authorities – Pope, Bishops or Councils – have openly acknowledged the faults or abuses which they themselves were guilty of, have been quite rare.” The study concludes with the words of Pope John Paul II:
“Love of the truth, sought with humility, is one of the great values capable of reuniting the men of today through the various cultures.” Because of her responsibility to Truth, the Church “cannot cross the threshold of the new millennium without encouraging her children to purify themselves, through repentance, of past errors and instances of infidelity, inconsistency and slowness to act. Acknowledging the weaknesses of the past is an act of honesty and courage…”
Let us as an eternal community acknowledge the dishonorable deeds of our history and seek the perfection of God’s forgiveness. Let us right our wrongs to the extent possible, and reinstate those whose lives and futures were martyred to our fear and ignorance. Let the history of our Church remember their names – and their sacrifice. Let us also look with forgiveness on those whose misplaced zeal gave birth to this violence, but let us never forget their mistakes that we might not so sin again.
It is at this place in time that we are called to reconcile a past long ignored - a reconciliation that reaches into the past and into a more promising future. But any reconciliation must include the absolution of all those excommunicated during this period on charges of witchcraft. Better to reinstate ten guilty to the community of the faithful, than to prevent one innocent from entering our love. Let us welcome these brethren back into the arms of the Church which they loved, and reconcile their memories together with the collective memories of every woman, through every age, who has shared their shame.
Accattolit, Luigi. When A Pope Asks Forgiveness. Alba House, New York, 1998.
Bailey, Michael D. Battling Demons. PennState Press, Philadelphia, 1971
Bailey, Michael. The Feminization of Magic and the Emerging Idea of the Female Witch. St. LouisUniversity, 2003
Barstow, Anne Llewellyn. Witchcraze. Harper Collins, New York, 1994
Bloch, R. Howard. Medieval Misogyny. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1991.
Burr, George Lincoln. Narratives of the Witchcraft Cases 1648-1706. Kessinger Publishing, American Historical Association.
Briggs, Robin. Witches & Neighbours: The Social Context of European Witchcraft. Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, 2002.
Deanesly, Margaret. A History of the Medieval Church 590-1500. University Paperback, London, 1969.
Fluker, Walter Earl. Dangerous Memories and Redemptive Possibilities: Reflections on the Life and Work of Howard Thurman. Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, Vol.7, No.4, Winter 2004.
Guazzo, Francesco Maria. Compendium Maleficarum. Dover Publications, New York, (original 1608) 1988.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. Young Goodman Brown and Other Stories. Dover Publications, New York, 1992
Heywood, Thomas and Richard Brome. The Witches of Lancashire. Routledge, New York, (original 1634) 2003.
Hoyt, Charles Alva. Witchcraft. Southern IllinoisUniversity Press, Carbondale and Edwardsville,1981.
Kelly, Henry Ansgar. The Devil, Demonology, and Witchcraft: The Development of Christian Beliefs in Evil Spirits. Wipf & Stock Publishers, Oregon, 1974
King James I. Demonology. The Book Tree. San Diego. (original 1597) 2002.
Leloup, Jean-Yves. The Gospel of Mary Magdalene. Inner Traditions, Rochester, 2002.
Macfarlane, Alan. Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England. Waveland Press, Inc., Illinois, 1970.
Marie d France. The Lais of Marie de France. Penguin, New York (original 1170s) 1999.
The History Channel: Salem Witch Trials. A&E Television Networks, 1998
Miller, Arthur. The Crucible. 20th Century Fox, 2004.
 Witches have become strongly associated with Halloween. Halloween was born of Celtic tradition and later transfluenced by Catholics into All Hallow’s Eve to commemorate loved ones that had died. It is followed on November 1st by All Saints Day devoted to the memory and celebration of the lives of the saints.
 The first witch executed in America was Alse Young in Windsor, CT on May 25, 1647. (Historical Witches and Witchtrials in North America by Marc Carlson. www.personal.utulsa.edu) Windsor was settled by pilgrim separatists who had Calvanist roots. But Puritan settlers would initiate hunts in Massachusetts. In the end, Connecticut would execute.7.people as witches (Connecticut Judicial Branch Law Libraries. www.jud.ct.gov) and Massachusetts would execute 15 (Kadri, Sadakat. The Trial. Page134). There were also executions in Virginia, Maryland and New Mexico.
 In March of 2000, Pope John Paul II made a generalized apology on behalf of the Church for the sins of all its children. (Memory and Reconciliation. www.vatican.va). Earlier, in 1995, At the Thirty-gourth General Congregation, The Society of Jesus approved a document entitled, The Jesuits and The Status of Women in the Church and Civil Society, in which they apologized for “taking part in a tradition that has given offense to women.” (Accattolit, Luigi. When A Pope Asks Forgiveness. Alba House, New York, 1998. Page110).
 See, for example, New Advent Catholic Encycolpedia: topic - witchcraft
 Indeed, according to Montague Summers who translated the Malleus Maleficarum into English, “The Malleus lay on the bench of every judge, on the desk of every magistrate. It was the ultimate, irrefutable, unarguable authority. It was implicitly accepted not only by Catholic but by Protestant legislature.” (Malleus. Page viii)
 Kramer, Heinrich and James Sprenger. Malleus maleficarum. Dover Books, New York. 1971. Page 194.
 The Reformation increased fear of the devil and tightened moral rules on all aspects of life, especially sexuality.
 The first witch execution in America was in Windsor, Connecticut, which was a pilgrim (Calvinist separatist) settlement.
 Protestant “pre-conditions” were seeded with the Lollards in 1376. Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic. page 58
The Malleus Maleficarum, or The Hammer of Witches, was written by Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger. It became widely circulated within Europe as the authority on witch hunting and prosecution. According to Witchcraft in Europe by Alan Charles Kors and Edward Peters, the title is better translated “Women Who Commit Maleficia.”
 Reference to movie of same name which depicts the 1991 convergence of storm systems over the east coast resulting in a super storm of unusual force and destructive power.
 Thomas, Keith. Religion and the Decline of Magic. Penguin Books. London. 1971. Page 8-9.
 Thomas, Keith. Religion and the Decline of Magic. Penguin Books. London. 1971 Page 28
Barstow, Anne Llewellyn. Witchcraze. Harper Collins. New York. 1994. Page 112
 Bailey, Michael. The Feminization of Magic and the Emerging Idea of the Female Witch in the Late Middle Ages. Saint LouisUniversity. 2002. Page 5. (found through Fairfield database: Muse)
 Kors, Alan Charles and Edward Peters. Witchcraft in Europe 400-1700. University of Pennsylvania Press. Philadelphia. 2001.Page 62
 Ibid. Page 63-67 There are several pages of questions such as this: “Have you consulted magicians and led them into your house in order to seek out any magical trick, or to avert it?...If you have, you shall do penance for two years in the appointed fast days.”
 Ibid. Page 117 “The inquisitors of pestilential heresy, commissioned by the apostolic see, ought not to intervene in cases of divination or sorcery unless these clearly savor of manifest heresy. Nor should they punish those who are engaged in these things…”
 Alan Charles Kors and Edward Peters. Witchcraft in Europe 400-1700. University of Pennsylvania Press. Philadelphia. 2001.Pages 119-120
 Kors, Alan Charles and Edward Peters. Witchcraft in Europe 400-1700. University of Pennsylvania Press. Philadelphia. 2001. Page 120-121
 Scot, Reginald. The Discoverie of Witchcraft. Dover Publications. New York. 1972. Page 273
 Incubi were male demons that had sex with female humans – succubi were female demons that had sex with male humans. The demonologists created an elaborate theory to explain how succubi could have sex with a man while he slept at night, stealing his sperm, and then become an incubi so he could have sex with a woman – impregnating her with the demon’s child.
 Kramer, Heinrich and James Sprenger. Malleus maleficarum. Dover Books, New York. 1971. Page xliii.
 Note: Sadakat Kadri, in The Trial (Random House, New York, 2005), suggests that the Pope commissioned the Malleus in the form of a report on the new witchcraft sect that he believed was developing during his reign. Page 109
 Heinrich Kramer, James Sprenger. Malleus maleficarum. Dover Books, New York. 1971. Pages 43-47. Note: Much of this language is also found in Nider’s Formicarius and may have been copied by Kramer and Sprenger.
 Familiars were demons that took animal form – this was an important aspect of their demonology and included beliefs that the witches would suckle the familiars with special nipples given her by the devil.
 It was believed that if the witch caught sight of the Judge before he saw her, that she would gain some power over him. With this in mind, the accused was often led backwards into the courtroom. (Malleus. Page 228)
 The studies Herzig refers to are: Nancy Caciola, Discerning Spirits and Demonic Possession in the Middle Ages (Ithica, NY and London, 2003); Dylan Elliot, Proving Woman: Female Spirituality and Inquisitional Culture in the Later Middle Ages (Princeton, NJ. 2004); Elspeth Whitney, The Witch She / The Historian He: Gender and the Historiography of the European Witch Hunts (Journal of Women’s History 7, no. 3 Fall 1995); Grace M. Jantzen, Power, Gender and Christian Mysticism (Cambridge, 1997).
 This is a quote from Dr. Elizabeth Dreyer, FairfieldUniversity, taken during a meeting about this thesis. She is the author of Passionate Spirituality. Paulist Press. New York. 2005. See also page 20.
 Kors, Alan Charles and Edward Peters. Witchcraft in Europe 400-1700. University of Pennsylvania Press. Philadelphia. 2001. Page 17 and Barstow, Anne Llewellyn. Witchcraze. Harper Collins. New York. 1994. Page 21
 Levack, Brian P. The Witch Hunt in Early Modern Europe. Pearson Longman. Edinburgh. Page 23.
 Anne Llewellyn. Witchcraze. Harper Collins. New York. 1994. Page 21
 Heinrich Kramer, James Sprenger. Malleus maleficarum. Dover Books, New York. 1971. Page. 32.
 Scot, Reginald. The Discoverie of Witchcraft. Dover Publications. New York. 1972. Page 273.
 Thomas, Keith. Religion and the Decline of Magic. Penguin Books. London. 1971. Page 682
 Spee, Friedrich. Cautio Criminalis: or a Book on Witch Trials. University of Virginia Press, Charlottesville, (original 1631) 2003.
 Modras, Ronald. Ignatian Humanism. Loyola Press, Chicago, 2004. Page153. Modras asserts that the manuscript was published by a friend who Spee had asked for an opinion of the work.
 Larner, Christina. Enemies of God. John Donald Publishers. Edinburgh. 2000. Page 17.
 Hale, John. A Modest Enquiry Into the Nature of Witchcraft. Beverly Historical Society. 2000. http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/salem/witchcraft/archives/ModestEnquiry/images.01/source/9.html
 Levack, Brian P. The Witch Hunt in Early Modern Europe. Pearson Longman. Edinburgh. Page 194.
 Apostolic Exhortation, Reconciliation and Penance, of John Paul II to the Bishops, Clergy and Faithful on Reconciliation and Penance in the Mission of the Church Today. 2004 (http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_jp-ii_exh_02121984_reconciliatio-et-paenitentia_en.html)
 International Theological Commission. Memory and Reconciliation: The Church and the Faults of the Past. 1999. (http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/cti_documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20000307_memory-reconc-itc_en.html)