from the book WOMAN, CHURCH AND STATE:
By Matilda Joslyn Gage.
Although toward the beginning of the IV. century, people began to speak of the nocturnal meeting of witches and sorcerers, under the name of "Assembly of Diana," or "Herodia," it was not until canon or church law, had become quite engrafted upon the civil law, that the full persecution for witchcraft arose. A witch was held to be a woman who had deliberately sold herself to the evil one; who delighted in injuring others, and who, for the purpose of enhancing the enormity of her evil acts, choose the Sabbath day for the performance of her most impious rites, and to whom 'all black animals had special relationship; the black cat in many countries being held as her principal familiar. "To go to the Sabbath" signified taking part in witch orgies. The possession of a pet of any kind at this period was dangerous to woman. One who had tamed a frog, was condemned to be burned in consequence, the harmless amphibian being looked upon as a familiar of Satan. The devil ever being depicted in sermon or story as black, all black animals by an easy transition of ideas, became associated with evil and witches.1 Although I have referred to witchcraft as having taken on a new phase soon after the confirmation of celibacy as a dogma of the church by
the Lateran Council of 1215, it yet requires a chapter by itself, in order to show to what proportions this form of heresy arose, and the method of the church in its treatment. This period was the age of supreme despair for woman,2 death by fire being the common form of witch punishment. Black cats were frequently burned with a witch at the stake;3 during the reign of Louis XV. of France, sacks of condemned cats were burned upon the public square devoted to witch torture. Cats and witches are found depicted together in a curious cut on the title page of a book printed in 1621. The proverbial 'nine lives' of a cat were associated in the minds of people with the universally believed possible metamorphosis of a witch into a cat.4 So firmly did the diabolical nature of the black cat impress itself upon the people, that its effects are felt in business to this day, the skin of black cats being less prized and of less value in the fur market than those of other colors. A curious exemplification of this inherited belief is found in Great Britain. An English taxidermist who exports thousands of mounted kittens each year to the United States and other countries, finds the prejudice against black cats still so great that he will not purchase kittens of this obnoxious color.5 In the minds of many
people, black seems ineradicably connected with sorcery.
In the "Folk Lore of Cats," it is stated that as recently, as 1867 a woman was publicly accused of witchcraft in the state of Pennsylvania on account of her administering three drops of a black cat's blood to a child as a remedy for the croup. She admitted the fact but denied that witchcraft had anything to do with it, and twenty witnesses were called to prove its success as a remedy. From an early period the belief in metamorphosis by means of magical power was common throughout Christendom. St. Augustine relates6 that "hostess or innkeepers sometimes put confections into a kind of cheese made by them, and travelers eating thereof, were presently metamorphosed into laboring beasts, as horses, asses or oxen." It was also believed that the power of changing into various animals was possessed by witches themselves.7 At the present day under certain forms of insanity persons imagine themselves to be animals, birds, and even inanimate things, as glass; but usually those hallucinations occur in isolated instances. But among the strange epidemics which have at various times affected christendom, none is more singular than that Lycanthropia, or wolf madness, which attacked such multitudes
of inhabitants of the Jura in 1600, as to become a source of great public danger. The affected persons walked upon their feet and hands until their palms became hard and horny. They howled like wolves, and as wolves do they hunted in packs, murdering and devouring many children, nor could the most severe punishment put an end to this general madness. Six hundred persons were executed upon their own confessions, which included admissions of compact with the devil, attendance upon the Sabbath and cannibal feasting upon a mountain, the devil having used his power for their transmutation into wolves.8 Witches were believed to ride through the air upon animals or bits of wood. The fact of their possession of such powers is asserted by many writers, the usual method of transportation being a goat, night crow or enchanted staff.9 The rhyming Mother Goose question:
"Old woman, old woman, oh whither, oh whither so high?"
And its rhyming answer:
"To sweep the cobwebs from the sky,
And I'll be back by and by,"
doubtless owes its origin to the witchcraft period.
A song said to be in use during witch dances ran:
"Har, Har, Diabole, Diabole; Sali huc,
Sali illuc; Lude hic, Lude illic;
Although the confirmation by the church in the
XIII. century of the supreme holiness of celibacy, inaugurated a new era of persecution for witchcraft, a belief in its existence had from the earliest times been a doctrine of the church, Augustine, as shown, giving the weight of his authority in favor. But to the Christian Emperor Charlemagne, in the eight century, the first use of torture in accusation of witchcraft is due. This great emperor while defying the power of the pope, over whom he even claimed jurisdiction, was himself a religious autocrat whose severity exceeded even that of the papal throne. Torture was rapidly adopted over Europe, and soon became general in the church; the council of Salsburg, 799, publicly ordering its use in witch trials.
A new era of persecution and increased priestly power dates to the reign of Charlemagne, who although holding himself superior to the pope, as regarded independent action, greatly enlarged the dominion of the church and power of the priesthood. He forced Christianity upon the Saxons at immense sacrifice of life, added to the wealth and power of the clergy by tithe lands, recognized their judicial and canonical authority, made marriage illegal without priestly sanction and still further degraded womanhood through his own polygamy. Although himself of such wanton life, he yet caused a woman of the town to be dragged naked through the city streets, subject to all the cruel tortures of an accompanying mob.
In the ninth century the power of the pope was again greatly increased. Up to this period he had been elected by the clergy and people of Rome, and the approbation of the emperor was necessary to confirm it. But Charles the Bald, 875, relinquished all right of jurisdiction over Rome, and thereafter the Roman Pontiff became an acknowledged if not sometimes
a supreme power in the appointment of temporal princes. The power of bishops, clergy, and cardinals diminished as that of the pope increased.
Notwithstanding her claims of power through St. Peter, it has been by gradual steps that Rome has decided upon her policy and established her dogmas. it is but little over four decades, at the Ecumenical of 1849, that the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, was first authoritatively promulgated, although her worship had long existed, being traceable to the Egyptian doctrine of the trinity, with the substitution of Mary in place of Isis. It was not until 1085 that Hildebrand, Pope Gregory VII, declared matrimony a sacrament of the church; and not until 1415, at the Council of Trent, that extreme unction was instituted and defined as a sacrament. Each of these dogmas threw more power into the hands of the church, and greater wealth into her coffers. Thus we see the degeneration of Christianity has had its epochs. One occurred when the Council of Nice allowed chance to dictate which should be considered the canonical books of the New Testament, accepting some theretofore regarded as of doubtful authenticity and rejecting others that had been universally conceded genuine.10 Another epoch of degeneration occurs when the State in person of the great emperor Charlemagne added to the power of the Church by the establishment of torture, whose extremest use fell upon that portion of humanity looked upon as the direct embodiment of evil. The peculiar character attributed to woman by the church, led to
the adoption of torture as a necessary method of forcing her to speak the truth. The testimony of two, and in some countries, three women being held as only equal to that of one man. At first, young children and women expecting motherhood, were exempted, but afterwards neither age or condition freed from accusation and torture, and women even in the pangs of maternity were burned at the stake,11 Christianity in this respect showing much more barbarity than pagan nations. In pagan Rome the expectant mother was held sacred; to vex or disturb her mind was punishable, to strike her was death. She even possessed a right pertaining to the Vestal Virgins; if meeting a condemned criminal on his way to execution, her word sufficed for his pardon. It scarcely seems possible, yet in some christian countries the most prominent class subjected to the torture, were women expecting motherhood. Christianity became the religion of Iceland A. D., 1000, and by the earliest extant. law, the "Gragas," dating to 1119, we find that while torture was prescribed in but few instances yet the class principally subjected to it, were women about to become mothers. But generally throughout Europe, until about the XIV. century, when priestly celibacy had become firmly established and the Inquisition connected with the state, a class consisting of nobles, doctors of the law, pregnant women, and children under fourteen, were exempt from torture except in case of high treason and a few other offenses. But at a later period when these institutions had greatly increased the irresponsible power of the church,
we find neither sex, condition nor age, free from its infliction, both state and church uniting in. its use.
In Venitian Folk Lore, it is stated that Satan once became furious with the Lord because paradise contained more souls than hell, and he determined by fine promises to seduce human beings to his worship and thus fill his kingdom. He decided to always tempt women instead of men, because through ambition or a desire for revenge, they yield more easily. This legend recalls the biblical story of Satan taunting the Lord with the selfish nature of job's goodness, and receiving from God the permission to try him. Witchcraft was regarded as a sin almost confined to women. The Witch Hammer declared the very word femina meant one wanting in faith. A wizard was rare; one writer declaring that to every hundred witches but one wizard was found. In time of Louis XV. this difference was greatly increased; "To one wizard 10,000 witches;" another writer asserted there were 100,000 witches in France alone. The great inquisitor Sprenger, author of the "Witch Hammer" and through whose instrumentality many countries were filled with victims, largely promoted this belief. "Heresy of witches, not of wizards12 must we call it, for these latter are of very small account." No class or condition of women escaped him; we read of young children, old people, infants, witches of fifteen years, and two "infernally beautiful" of seventeen years. Although the ordeal of the red hot iron fell into disuse in the secular courts early in the fourteenth century, (1329),13 ecclesiasticism preserved it in case of
women accused of witchcraft for one hundred and fifty years longer.14 One of the peculiarities of witchcraft accusations, was that protestations of innocence, and a submission to ordeals such as had always vindicated those taking part in them if passing through unharmed, did not clear a woman charged with witchcraft, who was then accused with having received direct help from Satan. The maxim of secular law that the torture which did not produce confession entitled the accused to full acquittal was not in force under ecclesiastical indictments, and the person accused of witchcraft was always liable to be tried again for the same crime. Every safeguard of law was violated in case of woman, even Magna Charta forbidding appeal to her except in case of her husband.
Before the introduction of Christianity, no capital punishment existed, in the modern acceptation of the term, except for witchcraft. But pagans unlike christians, did not look upon women as more given to this practice than men; witches and wizards were alike stoned to death. But as soon as a system of religion was adopted which taught the greater sinfulness of women, over whom authority had been given to man by God himself, the saying arose "one wizard to 10,000
witches." and the persecution for witchcraft became chiefly directed against women. The church degraded woman by destroying her self-respect, and teaching her to feel consciousness of guilt in the very fact of her existence.15 The extreme wickedness of woman, taught as a cardinal doctrine of the church, created the belief that she was desirous of destroying all religion, witchcraft being regarded as her strongest weapon,16 therefore no punishment for it was thought too severe. The teaching of the church, as to the creation of women and the origin of evil, embodied the ordinary belief of the christian peoples, and that woman rather than man practiced this sin, was attributed by the church to her original sinful nature, which led her to disobey God's first command in Eden.17
Although witchcraft was treated as a crime against the state, it was regarded as a greater sin against heaven, the bible having set its seal of disapproval in the injunction "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." The church therefore claimed its control. When coming under ecclesiastical jurisdiction, witchcraft was much more strenuously dealt with than when it fell under lay tribunals. It soon proved a great source of emolument to the church, which grew enormously rich
by its confiscation to its own use of all property of the condemned. Sprenger, whose work (The Witch Hammer), was devoted to methods of dealing with this sin, was printed in size convenient for carrying in the pocket.18 It based its authority upon the bible, twenty-three pages being devoted to proving that women were especially addicted to sorcery. This work was sanctioned by the pope, but after the reformation became equally authoritative in protestant as in catholic countries, not losing its power for evil until the XVIII. century. A body of men known as "Traveling Witch Inquisitors," of whom Sprenger was chief, journeyed from country to country throughout christendom, in search of victims for torture and death. Their entrance into a country or city was regarded with more fear than famine or pestilence, especially by women, against whom their malignity was chiefly directed, Sprenger, the great authority, declaring that her name signified evil; "the very word femina, (woman), meaning one wanting in faith, for fe means faith, and minus less.19" The reformation caused no diminution in its use, the protestant clergy equally with the Catholic constantly appealing to its pages. Still another class known as "Witch Finders," or "Witch Persecutors" confined their work to their own neighborhoods. Of these, Cardan, a famous Italian physician, said:
"In order to obtain forfeit property, the same persons act as accusers and judges, and invent a thousand stories as proof."20 The love of power, and the love
of money formed a most hideous combination for evil in the church; not a christian country but was full of the horrors of witch persecutions and violent deaths. During the reign of Francis I. more than 100,000 witches were put to death, mostly by burning, in France alone. Christ was invoked as authority, the square devoted to Auto da Fé, being known as, "The Burning Place of the Cross."
The Parliament of Toulouse burned 400 witches at one time. Four hundred women at one hour on the public square, dying the horrid death of fire for a crime which never existed save in the imagination of those persecutors and which grew in their imagination from a false belief in woman's extraordinary wickedness, based upon a false theory as to original sin. Remy, judge of Nancy, acknowledged to having burnt eight hundred in sixteen years; at the rate of half a hundred a year. Many women were driven to suicide in fear of the torture in store for them. In 1595 sixteen of those accused by Remy, destroyed themselves rather than fall into his terrible hands. Six hundred were burnt in one small bishopric in one year; nine hundred during the same period in another. Seven thousand lost their lives in Treves; a thousand in the province of Como, in Italy, in a single year; five hundred were executed at Geneva, in a single month.
While written history does not fail to give abundant record in regard to the number of such victims of the church, largely women whose lives were forfeited by accusation of witchcraft, hundreds at one time dying agonizingly by fire, a new and weird evidence as
to the innumerable multitude of these martyrs was of late most unexpectedly brought to light in Spain. During a course of leveling and excavations for city improvements in Madrid, recently, the workmen came upon the Quemadero de la Cruz.21 The cutting of a new road through that part of the city laid bare like geological strata, long black layers super-imposed one above the other at distances of one or two feet, in the sandstone and clay. Some of these layers extended 150 feet in a horizontal direction, and were at first supposed to be the actual discovery of new geological strata, which they closely resembled. They proved to be the remains of inquisitorial burnings, where thousands of human beings of all ages had perished by the torture of fire.22 The layers consisted of coal coagulated with human fat, bones, the remains of singed hair, and the shreds of burnt garments This discovery created great excitement, people visiting the spot by thousands to satisfy themselves of the fact, and to carry away some memento of that dark age of christian cruelty, a cruelty largely exercised against the most helpless and innocent, a cruelty having no parallel in the annals of paganism. Imagination fails to conceive the condensed torture this spot of earth knew under the watchword of "Christ and His Cross"; and that was but one of the hundreds, nay, thousands of similar "Burning Places of the Cross," with which every christian country, city, and town was provided for many hundreds of years. A most diabolical custom of the church made these burnings a holiday spectacle. People thus grew to look unmoved upon
the most atrocious tortures, and excited crowds hung about witch burnings, eagerly listening as the priests exhorted to confession, or tormented the dying victims with pictures of an unending fire soon to be their fate.
An accusation of witchcraft struck all relatives of the accused with terror, destroying the ordinary virtues of humanity in the hearts of nearest friends. As it was maintained that devils possessed more than one in a family, each member sought safety by aiding the church in accumulating proof against the accused, in hopes thereby to escape similar charge. It is impossible for us at the present day to conceive the awful horror falling upon a family into which an accusation of witchcraft had come. Not alone the shame and disgrace of such a charge; the terrors of a violent death under the most painful form; the sudden hurling of the family from ease and affluence to the most abject poverty; but above all the belief that unending torment by fire pursued the lost soul throughout eternity, made a combination of terrors appalling to the stoutest heart. A Scotch woman convicted as a witch and sentenced to be burned alive could not be persuaded by either priest or sheriff to admit her guilt. Suffering the intensest agonies of thirst during her torture she espied her only son in the surrounding crowd. Imploring him in the name of her love for him she begged as her last request, that he should bring her a drink. He shook his head, not speaking; her fortitude her love, his own most certain conviction of her innocence not touching him; when she cried again, "Oh, my dear son, help me any drink, be it never so little, for I am most extremely drie, oh drie, drie." His answer to her agonizing entreaties could not be credited were it not a subject of history, and the date so recent.
"By no means dear mother will I do you the wrong, for the drier you are no doubt you will burn the better."23 Under Accadian law 3,000 years before christianity, the son who denied his father was sentenced to a simple fine, but he who denied his mother was to be banished from the land and sea;24 but in the sixteenth century of the christian era, we find a son under christian laws denying his mother a drink of water in her death agony by fire.
It was instituted in Scotland 1653, "that all who used witchcraft, sorcery, necromancy, or pretended skill therein, shall be punished capitally; upon which statute numberless innocent persons were tried and burnt to death, upon evidence which, in place of affording reasonable conviction to the judge, was fraught with absurdity and superstition.25
Thirty thousand persons accused of witchcraft were burned to death in Germany and Italy alone, and although neither age nor sex was spared, yet women and girls were the chief victims. Uncommon beauty was as dangerous to a woman as the possession of great wealth, which brought frequent accusations in
order that the church might seize upon the witches property for its own use.
Children of the most tender years did not escape accusation and death. During the height of witch. craft persecution, hundreds of little ones were condemned as witches. Little girls of ten, eight, and seven years are mentioned; blind girls, infants26 and even young boys were among the numbers who thus perished. Everywhere the most helpless classes were the victims.
It was declared that witches looked no person steadily in the face, but allowed their eyes to wander from side to side, or kept them fixed upon the earth. To this assertion that a witch could not look any one in the face, the present belief of a connection between guilt and a downcast look, is due; although the church taught that a woman should preserve a downward look in shame for the sin she had brought into the world, and to this day, an open, confident look upon a woman's face is deprecated as evil. Attendance upon Sabbats27 and control of the weather were among the accusations brought against the witch. In Scotland a woman accused of raising a storm by taking off her stockings, was put to death. Sprenger tells of a Swiss farmer whose little daughter startled him by saying she could bring rain, immediately raising a storm.28
Whatever the pretext made for witchcraft persecution we have abundant proof that the so-called "witch" was among the most profoundly scientific persons of the age. The church having forbidden its offices and all external methods of knowledge to woman, was profoundly stirred with indignation at her having through her own wisdom, penetrated into some of the most deeply subtle secrets of nature: and it was a subject of debate during the middle ages if learning for woman was not an additional capacity for evil, as owing to her, knowledge had first been introduced in the world. In penetrating into these arcana, woman trenched upon that mysterious hidden knowledge of the church which it regarded as among its most potential methods of controlling mankind. Scholars have invariably attributed magical knowledge and practices to the church, popes and prelates of every degree having been thus accused. The word "magic" or "wisdom" simply meaning superior science, was attributed in the highest degree to King Solomon, who ruled even the Elementals by means of his magic ring made in accord with certain natural laws. He was said to have drawn his power directly from God. Magi were known as late as the X. century of this era. Among their powers were casting out demons, the fearless use of poisons, control of spirits and an acquaintance with many natural laws unknown to the world at large. During the present century, the Abbe Constant (Eliphas Levi), declared the Pentagram to be the key of the two worlds, and if rightly, understood, endowing man with infinite power. The empire , (below page 2)