Witch-Hunt Books - Books of Magic and Witchcraft

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

Witch-Hunt Books
Books of Magic and Witchcraft

Like the chicken and the egg, it’s impossible to determine how much the witch-hunts inspired the genre of witch-hunters’ manuals and how much the manuals influenced the witch-hunts. Certainly, stereotypes of witches and the demonization of witchcraft resulted from these books. Witch-hunting was given a religious, even papal, seal of approval in mass-market print form. Regular people, even the illiterate, were able to buy picture books that enabled them to recognize a “witch” and her familiars. (Let’s just say that whoever created these illustrations must have enjoyed drawing cats and bats.)

These manuals taught witch-finders how to find “witches” and instructed judges to have no mercy. Methods of torture were discussed dispassionately. This is a virulent genre; the books are worth reading if only because they still possess the ability to shock. The hatred of witches, women, nature, and foreign people and cultures is palpable.

Interspersed among witch-hunters’ manuals are a few other works published simultaneously, protesting against the witch-trials or the demonization of witches. It is worthwhile to read these as well because they put the lie to the notion that the European witch-hunts occurred because of ignorance, because people didn’t know any better. Balthasar Bekker and Friedrich Spee knew better, and felt strongly enough to record their beliefs in print for everyone to read, at tremendous personal sacrifice and great personal risk.

Some of the most prominent witch-hunters’ manuals are discussed below although there are others in the genre. The few works that dispute witch-hunt methods stand pretty much alone, although history shows that there was a tremendous response to these works. Bekker’s work in particular is believed to have drastically minimized witch-hunting in the Netherlands. Because many of the authors of the most prominent witch-hunt manuals also presided over trials, much of their historical background will be found in WITCHCRAZE!

Unlike grimoires, authors of witch-hunters’ manuals were pleased and proud to sign their work. Publication dates and locations are reliable. There was no reason, when publishing these books, to fear the law; these authors were the law. Books are listed in alphabetical order by author’s name. (As you will see, in general, grimoires had snappier, more evocative titles.) None of the following titles have been lost. All remain in print.

Ady, Thomas

A Candle in the Dark, or a Treatise Concerning the Nature of Witches and Witchcraft: Being Advice to the Judges, Sheriffs, Justices of the Peace and Grandjurymen What to Do Before They Pass Sentence on Such as are Arraigned for their Lives as Witches (1656)

Ady’s book argues that the Bible does not support the validity of witchcraft, at least in the demonic sense. Ady criticized tests used by contemporaries to determine whether someone was a witch. This book was particularly popular among Protestant critics of the witch-trials for whom the Bible was the ultimate arbiter. The book contains the first written reference to “hocus pocus,” used to describe fairground conjurers who practice deceit and illusion rather than witchcraft.

Bekker, Balthasar

The World Bewitched or The Enchanted World (1690)

Balthasar Bekker, a Dutch scholar and Reformed Dutch Church clergyman (March 20, 1634—June 11, 1698) was a major force in preventing the escalation of witch-hunts in Holland. In 1690, he published The World Bewitched, a revolutionary work in which he argued that spirits cannot control the actions of humans and that witches do not consort with the devil, and therefore people are deluded if they fear the power of witches. Bekker suggested that Church leaders encouraged these beliefs so as to justify their practice of confiscating the estates of wealthy people convicted of witchcraft. This book is now considered the seventeenth century’s most influential critique of demonology and witchhunting.

The World Bewitched was published in Dutch and was soon translated into English, French, and German. Within two months of publication, 4000 copies had been sold in the Netherlands alone. Bekker’s church did not support him. In 1692 he was expelled from the ministry because of his book. The World Bewitched was very influential among the Dutch populace, despite protests from local church officials, and witchhunting in Holland was subsequently mild, never reaching the panic levels experienced in France, Germany, and Switzerland.

Bodin, Jean

Demonomania of Witches (1580)

Jean Bodin (1529—1596) was a French Carmelite monk who left the order to study law, eventually becoming a law professor and attorney. Beginning in 1561, Bodin spent 15 years serving King Charles IX of France, at which point he authored and published Six Books of Republic, which analyzed the concept of sovereignty, the king’s right to rule. The book became extremely influential and established Bodin as a leading European political theorist. Many of his books fell somewhat foul of the Inquisition because they were understood to reveal Calvinist sympathies. Bodin has been described as “a learned and humane scholar” and praised for his early defense of religious tolerance.

Of course, that tolerance didn’t extend to witches, nor was Six Books of Republic Bodin’s only work. Bodin left the Court shortly after its publication and became a small-town attorney, public prosecutor and trial judge. Bodin was already prominent and esteemed when he wrote Demonomania and it quickly became among the most widely read demonological treatises of its day, going through ten editions before 1604. It was published in French, German, and Latin.

The book is essentially a professional handbook for prosecutors and judges. In it Bodin argues that it is the responsibility of all judges to treat witches harshly and then execute them by the most painful methods possible. He regretted that burning someone alive wasn’t painful enough and suggested the use of green wood so as to prolong the experience. Anyone showing mercy to witches was suspect and should be tried and executed, too. Bodin suggested that Johann Weyer (see page 146), who had previously disputed the existence of witches, be among those tried. No exceptions were to be made for little witches; Bodin encouraged children to be tortured as brutally as adults so that they’d testify against their parents (and presumably against whomever else their torturers suggested).

Demonomania was used by many judges to justify cruelty and torture. Bodin himself boasted that he’d had both children and adults burned with hot irons until they confessed to any and every accusation. He died from bubonic plague in 1596.

“Whatever punishment one can order against witches by roasting and cooking them over a slow fire is not really very much; and not as bad as the torment which Satan has made for them in this world, to say nothing of the eternal agonies which are prepared for them in hell, for the fire here cannot last more than an hour or so until the witches have died.” (Jean Bodin, Demonomania)

Boguet, Henri

Discourse on Sorcery (1602)

Henri Boguet (c. 1550—1619) was a French attorney and author of legal textbooks for witch-trial judges. Boguet himself had presided over witch-trials as a chief judge in Burgundy and he included details of personal experience in his Discourse on Sorcery. As judge, Boguet condemned at least 600 people to death, including children, for whom he showed no mercy. Boguet describes how he oversaw in person the torture of an eight-year-old girl allegedly possessed by demons. Despite the common practice of strangling the condemned prior to burning their bodies, Boguet personally made sure that many of the condemned were burned alive. His textbook was highly popular, with over a dozen reprints by 1614. He held witches responsible for outbreaks of syphilis. Boguet writes as an eye-witness that Germany in 1590 was

almost entirely occupied with building fires [for witches]; and Switzerland has been compelled to wipe out many of her villages on their account. Travelers in Lorraine may see thousands and thousands of the stakes to which witches are bound.

del Rio, Martin

Disquisitiones Magicarum or Investigations into Magic (1603)

Martin del Rio (1551—1608), who became a Jesuit at the age of 30, was considered a great scholar. His work was written in Latin and became immensely popular, even displacing the Malleus Maleficarum in certain circles. It argues that European witchcraft beliefs and practices were stimulated by attraction to Moorish culture in Spain and also implicates various heresies and the emergence of Protestantism as having influence over witches. He perceived Christianity as besieged by alchemists, sorcerers, and witches whom he classified as heretics as well as evil-doers. Del Rio’s teacher at the Sorbonne, Professor Juan de Maldonado, also taught Pierre de Lancre (see page 144). A popular lecturer, he emphasized that faith was more vital than reason, and is believed to have had an impact on the witch-hunts, if only indirectly, through his famous, powerful students.

Gifford, George

A Discourse of the Subtle Practices of Devils by Witches and Sorcerers (1587) and A Dialogue Concerning Witches and Witchcraft (1593)

The English clergyman George Gifford (c. 1548—?) wrote two books arguing that witches did not possess supernatural power to harm. Only the devil himself possessed the power to work supernatural evil. Gifford believed that most self-professed witches were delusional and that witch-hunters and persecutors were stimulated by fear and hysteria, not reason. Gifford was an independent thinker; in 1584 he had been suspended from his ministry for refusing to subscribe to the articles of the established church. He lost his position despite petitions otherwise from his parishioners. Gifford did not deny the existence of witchcraft; however he amended its definition. Magical work and mystic power sought through Christian channels were not to be considered witchcraft. Gifford’s works contain rare descriptions of the Essex witch-trials.

Guazzo, Francesco Maria

Compendium Maleficarum or Collection on Witches (1608)

Francesco Guazzo was an Ambrosian monk considered an expert on witchcraft and demonology. Federico Borromeo, Archbishop of Milan between 1595 and 1631 and later a cardinal, requested that Guazzo write Compendium Maleficarum. In 1605, Guazzo had been called to Germany because of his reputation as an expert demonologist. In Germany he was personally involved with various witchcraft trials, serving as a judge. He returned to Milan in 1608 and presented Compendium Maleficarum to the archbishop. It immediately became a standard text for witch-hunters and judges, used by lawyers and church official for making arguments and rendering decisions during trials.

Guazzo acknowledges in the text that some women accused of attending sabbats had witnesses who saw them simultaneously home in bed. However, Guazzo points out that these alibis aren’t proof that the witches weren’t at the sabbat, for two reasons:

Image Witches can magically journey in their dreams.

Image Satan is perfectly capable of creating a “false body” that impersonates the witch well enough to fool her husband and children, making it look like she’s home while really she’s reveling.

Using Guazzo’s arguments, it’s virtually impossible to provide an alibi or prove innocence. It wasn’t necessary, incidentally, to read the Compendium Maleficarum either closely or in full to be influenced by it. Its very title subliminally sent a powerful message. Maleficarum is the feminine form of the Latin term for witches, which subtly reinforced the notion that witches were largely, if not exclusively, female. In fact, it wasn’t necessary to read Compendium Maleficarum at all in order to understand its underlying message. Compendium Maleficarum is essentially an extension and update of Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger’s Malleus Maleficarum (1486). Guazzo’s work also shows the influence of other witch-hunting authors like Martin del Rio and Nicholas Remy. However, unlike these other books the Compendium is a picture book. The other manuals presuppose a fairly high level of literacy. None of these books are easy to read. The language is specialized; they’re full of convoluted legal arguments and theology. Unlike English witch-trial pamphlets, these handbooks were intended as texts for attorneys, clergymen, and judges, not for the average reader. The Compendium Maleficarum however doesn’t demand literacy at all; the book is illustrated with a series of provocative, stereotypical and frequently sordid woodcuts depicting witchcraft, demons, and maleficia. The images remain familiar today; they’re used to illustrate countless books on witchcraft. The illustrations, perhaps even more than the text, made the Compendium Maleficarum an extremely influential book.

See CREATIVE ARTS: Visual Arts: Medieval Woodcuts.

Gui, Bernardo

The Inquisitor’s Manual (c. 1324)

Bernardo Gui (1261—1339) was Inquisitor in Toulouse between 1307 and 1323 and took personal credit for at least 930 convictions of heresy, although not necessarily of witchcraft. His book’s main targets were Jews who had converted to Christianity but then “relapsed.” It describes methods to be used by the Inquisition and set a precedent for witchcraft trials as well as trials for heresy. Gui makes an appearance, allegedly very much in character, as the witchhunting Inquisitor of Umberto Eco’s novel The Name of the Rose. Among his suggestions, Gui proposes that the Inquisition investigate “women who ride out at night.”

James I, King of England

The Daemonologie (1603)

The Daemonologie attracted great attention, not least because its author was the king. It contains little fresh material and is mainly a reworking of various continental witch-hunters’ manuals. James I had long held a passionate fear of and fascination for witchcraft. His ascent to the throne united the crowns of England and Scotland. In his other incarnation as King James VI of Scotland, James had participated in various witchcraft trials, most notoriously those of the North Berwick witches, accused and convicted of plotting against the throne. Scotland had a history of brutal witch panics, second in intensity perhaps only to Germany; England, on the other hand, had a relatively mild attitude towards witchcraft with little focus, until James’ arrival, on demonology.

James was so enraged by Reginald Scot’s The Discoverie of Witchcraft (see page 145) that he ordered every single copy of the book burned by the public hangman. Daemonologie was intended as a refutation of Scot’s work, written in the year of James’ ascension to the throne of England. It was popular enough to justify publication of a second edition in 1651.

Kramer, Heinrich and James Sprenger

Malleus Maleficarum or Hexenhammer or The Hammer of the Witches (1486)

The most influential witch-hunters’ manual of all is often popularly described as the “witchhunter’s Bible,” however it might better be considered the witch-hunters’ Mein Kampf. For years, it outsold every other book except for the Bible.

The Hammer of the Witches, to use the English translation of the title, is a long tract written in Latin by two Dominican scholars, published in Cologne in 1486. The Malleus Maleficarum is a practical textbook, whose primary focus is legal advice on how to bring witches to trial and convict them.

Although it was not the first manual offering advice to those judging witch trials, it quickly became the most influential of such works and might be considered the first comprehensive guide to identifying, interrogating, torturing, convicting, and burning witches. It served as source material, inspiration, and justification for countless other treatises. In essence, without The Hammer of the Witches this section of The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft might not exist and most probably the section devoted to witch-hunting would be substantially briefer. The Hammer of the Witches provided primary source material for the Inquisition.

The authors were not unfamiliar with the Inquisition, although certainly not from the perspective of the persecuted. Heinrich Kramer, once spiritual director of the Cathedral at Salzburg, was appointed Inquisitor for southern Germany in 1474. (Heinrich Kramer is sometimes known as Institoris, the Latin version of Kramer.) His partner, Jacob (or James) Sprenger, Dean of Theology at the University of Cologne, became Inquisitor for the Rhineland in 1470. Eventually he would be General Inquisitor for the German lands. The first major witch-hunt in Germany, the Ravensburger persecution of 1484, inspired Kramer to write The Hammer of the Witches. It was first printed in 1486. There were 13 editions by 1520 and 16 more by 1669.

The Malleus Maleficarum has a preface in the form of a papal bull (a bull is an official decree) from Pope Innocent VIII, essentially a Vatican seal of approval. This proclaimed to readers, most of whom were theologians and professional witch-hunters and judges, that this was more than just another book. It appeared to be an official Vatican publication.

The Malleus Maleficarum was revolutionary in how directly and exclusively it identified witchcraft with the female sex. Although the stereotype certainly existed prior to publication, it essentially hammered the point home so that it could not be avoided. It casts women in an extremely negative light and maliciously so. The Malleus Maleficarum falsely derives the word “feminine” from “fe” (faith) and “minus” (minus, less, lack). Women, according to the Malleus Maleficarum, are inherently lacking in faith but insatiable with carnal desire and hence vulnerable to the devil’s administrations in a way that men cannot be.

The book states that disbelief in the existence of witches and witchcraft is heresy. Also, according to the book, witchcraft is the most evil of all crimes and the most abominable of all heresies.

When investigating witchcraft, not all forms of torture are acceptable, although perhaps not for reasons you might think. Malleus Maleficarum bans hot iron and boiling water ordeals, which had previously been used, because the devil might use these methods to help a witch escape unscathed. (Various cold water ordeals might be substituted.) Although the book doesn’t go into further detail, various shamanic traditions, to this day, use hot iron and boiling water as demonstrations of power and ritual possession. Whether Kramer and Sprenger were aware of these traditions or had seen demonstrations is unknown.

The Malleus Maleficarum remains in print. It has been translated into English, French, German, and Italian. Although written by Dominicans, the tract was accepted by Lutheran and Calvinist authorities as well as Catholic, perhaps one of the only things, along with witchcraft, with which they were all in agreement. Interestingly, the Spanish Inquisition, which was under distinct management from Europe’s other Inquisitions, was not overly impressed with the Malleus Maleficarum and skeptical of its value.

Lancre, Pierre de

A View of the Duplicity of the Messengers of Evil (1613)

This work was published in Paris as a justification of witch-hunter Pierre de Lancre’s (c.1553—1630) merciless persecution of the French Basques in 1608. De Lancre’s book gives extensive details of the diabolical sabbat, and drags out every stereotype of cannibal, devil’s ass-kissing witches. De Lancre’s book, like the Malleus Maleficarum is virulently hostile to women and particularly prurient. Far more is revealed about de Lancre’s sexual fantasies than about any aspect of witchcraft. It also includes attacks on Jews, whom he describes as Christianity’s oldest enemy.

The book does contain what may be the only known pre-twentieth-century reference to an “esbat.” De Lancre claims a French witch used the word to describe a gathering of witches. It’s not necessary to actually read the book incidentally; an engraving by the artist I. Ziarko graphically depicting the diabolical sabbat complete with witches in attendance, appeared as a double-page spread in the second edition of the book so that the illiterate could still appreciate the message.

Mather, Cotton

Late Memorable Providences Relating to Witchcraft and Possessions (1689)

The Reverend Cotton Mather (February 12, 1663—February 13, 1728) was a profound believer in diabolical witchcraft and involved in many of the New England witch trials, including those in Salem Village. He preached a sermon in Boston in 1689 entitled “A Discourse on Witchcraft.” The sermon was included in a larger collection of writings entitled Late Memorable Providences Relating to Witchcraft and Possessions.

Reverend Mather was highly influential in the Massachusetts Bay Colony; at a time and place where the variety of reading material was limited, Reverend Mather’s work was highly circulated, discussed, and respected. Three years after publication, Salem Village erupted in its notorious witch panic. Mather’s work breaks no new ground but is consistent with those of his contemporaries in Britain.

Perkins, William

Discourse on the Damned Art of Witchcraft (1608)

Reverend William Perkins (1555—1602) was an English Puritan preacher and author of this 1608 guidebook for witch-hunters. The book established criteria for what constituted “legitimate” suspicion of witchcraft:

Image Those who consort, are affiliated with or closely associate with witches are most likely witches too, thus encouraging arrests of husbands, children, siblings, parents, and other relatives of suspected witches.

Image If someone is cursed and then dies, the curser should immediately be arrested and charged with witchcraft.

Image Deathbed accusations of witchcraft must be heeded.

Perkins writes that because all evil things written about witches are true, severe torture is justified to extract confessions. Essentially there is to be zero tolerance of snippy, evasive witches. All witches, regardless of crime or circumstances, warrant equal punishment: the worst. Perkins writes

by witches we understand not those onely which kill and torment: but all Diviners, Charmers, Juglers, all Wizzards, commonly called wise men and wise women…in the same number we reckon all good Witches which doe no hurt, but good, which doe not spoile and destroy, but save and deliver.

Remy, Nicholas

Demonolatry (1595)

Nicholas Remy (1534—1612) was a French priest and attorney. In 1570, he served in the Inquisitorial tribunals in Alsace. He became privy councilor to the Duke of Lorraine in France. In 1591, he became Lorraine’s attorney general and presided as judge over witchcraft trials for the next 15 years. Remy was also involved with werewolf trials. He was proud to boast that he was personally responsible for the deaths of 900 witches between 1581 and 1591. According to him, this was his life’s greatest accomplishment. Perhaps he could have made it an even thousand but an epidemic in 1592 caused him to flee to his country estate where, at his leisure, Remy compiled a treatise on demonology based largely on his own personal experiences. The book was published to great popular acclaim, enough to warrant eight reprintings, and was translated into German. Among Remy’s arguments is that trial judges and magistrates are immune to witchcraft by virtue of their office and the divine sanction obtained by royal appointment.

Demonolatry’s title comes from its focus on the diabolical relationship between witches, demons, and Satan. According to Remy, Satan craved Black Masses and manifested to people in the form of a black man or animal. Demons could enter into sexual relationships with women. If the women would not be seduced, then the demons would rape them.

Scot, Reginald

The Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584)

Reginald Scot (1538—1599) lead the skeptical opposition to the witch-hunts. Scot does a case-by-case analysis of the realities and illusions of witchcraft and witch-hunting. It is perhaps the earliest “rational” approach to the witch-hunts. He reveals tricks of conjuring (illusion) and so refutes notions of diabolism. It encourages the notion that if witchcraft is only conjuring and thus not “real,” it’s not really witchcraft and so should be safe from persecution. Scot’s book is credited with saving lives. A chapter of the book is devoted to criticism of alchemy. Scot’s book so aggravated King James VI of Scotland that he ordered all copies burned and was inspired to write his own treatise on the subject after he became King James I of England.

Spee, Friedrich

Cautio Criminalis or Circumspection in Criminal Cases, also published as A Book on Witch Trials (1631)

Friedrich Spee (February 25, 1591—August 7, 1635) was a Jesuit assigned to be the confessor for those condemned to die as witches in Wurzberg in the 1620s. What he heard convinced him that the unfortunate souls were innocent of the crimes of which they were accused. Cautio Criminalis was first published as an anonymous attack of the witch-hunts. He described torture in (non-prurient) detail, particularly the use of the rack. Spee did not deny the existence of witchcraft or even demand the abolition of the trials. Instead he demanded legal reform and an end to hysteria, panic, torture, and lies. Spee is among the heroes of the German witch-hunts. Many experts believe that his book was instrumental in abolishing the witch trials in various places, such as Mainz, and helped stop or at least reduce the terrible slaughter in Germany.

Weyer, Johann

De Praestigiis Daemonum (1563)

Weyer (1515—1588), also known as Wierus, was a student of the theologian and magical scholar Cornelius Agrippa. He was personal physician to the Duke of Düsseldorf. Although other books had debated the reality of various aspects of witchcraft and demonology, Weyer’s was the first to deny the reality of witches altogether. According to Weyer, witches were not recruited and made no pact with the devil; however the whole notion of supernatural witches was a diabolical illusion. In other words, the devil, whose existence he does not deny, is responsible for the witch panic and witch-hunters are playing into his hands. The witch-hunters might be said to be operating under a diabolical illusion or they might be construed as collaborating with Satan themselves. In response, French witch-hunter Jean Bodin suggested that Weyer be burned for witchcraft. Virtually every contemporary demonologist, Catholic or Protestant (Weyer was Lutheran) attacked his suggestions and his reputation.

Weyer did not dispute the existence of malevolent sorcery, nor did he suggest that those guilty of that crime go unpunished. However, he claimed that witchcraft as presented by the witch-hunters, complete with supernatural powers and demonic pact, was an impossibility. Instead he believed the witch-hunts to be misguided attacks on harmless, if perhaps crazy, old women. (Weyer is believed among the first to use the term “mentally ill.”)

Weyer published his work in 1563 in Latin and continued to publish expanded editions in 1564, 1566, 1577, and 1583. He also translated an abridged version into German in 1566, which was reprinted in 1567 and 1578.