Witchcraft in the Middle Ages and Renaissance was without a doubt, a major phenomenon, characteristic of those ages.
Unlike Medieval Magic which concentrated on the control and subjugation of the demonic spirits, Medieval Witchcraft concentrated on their worship. In other words, medieval witchcraft, according to written history, is a form of Satanism and Demonolatry of the Middle Ages. While magic was dealing with the Divine mysteries, with angelology, with the knowledge of the stars, numbers, etc., witchcraft was preoccupied with the knowledge of the Infernal powers, of demonology, of worship and spells.
Another difference between the two is the type of practitioners. While magic was generally practiced by the “learned” and “educated”, meaning priests and people of a high rank (physicians, alchemists, etc), witchcraft was mainly practiced by pagans, or country people (paganus = peasant) who were relying more on intuition rather than knowledge.
The witchcraft traditions of the middle ages were in most part from “the people”, in other words they were folkloric traditions based a lot on rural superstitions or Biblical mythology. Etymologically speaking, the word witchcraft comes from the slavonic word vraza, or superstition.
However, it was not always like that. We will later see many similarities between the two, like the practice of magical rituals by the priests, necromancy and others.
The nature of medieval witchcraft was and still is discussed by many, including historians of religion, each with their own opinions. While some, like Montague Summers nonchalantly declare that medieval witchcraft was Satanic and “depends on the Devil, and is fundamentally evil”, others like Joseph Hansen declare that witchcraft was “a product of medieval theology, ecclesiastical organization, and the magic trials conducted by the papacy and the Inquisition. These, under the influence of scholastic demonology, were conducted like heresy trials.” This opinion was considered valid until 1921, when dr Margaret Murray published The Witch-Cult in Western Europe.
Murray’s book was an unexpected success, and from Eliade and other historians’ opinions, an undeserved success, because it was full of errors. The theory exposed in the book suggests that witches in Europe were in fact a pagan cult worshipping a horned god. This theory survived even after the critics of the experts, influencing the birth of Wicca in the 40’s.
However, there is not enough evidence to back up Murray’s theories. Not enough is known about the pagan religions of western Europe to connect any of them with the witches and there is a gap in time between the pagan cults and the witch trials. In England, one of the last bastions of paganism in western Europe, there is no evidence that pagan cults survived later than the time of Canute, who died in 1035 , and on the Continent they seem to have disappeared long before. Also, witches were persecuted as heretics, not as pagans. The pagan traditions have indeed survived, and were implemented in witchcraft as they were in Christianity, but we cannot say they were the direct continuance of a pagan cult.
It seems that the witches did worship a horned god, and that was no other than the Devil from Christianity, as we shall see in a lot of evidence later on. An interesting documentary from BBC entitled “How the Devil got his horns” shows us the visual process that the Devil went through, and how he changed his appearance from the blue angel to the zoomorph creature inspired from pagan deities such as Pan or the Egyptian god Bes.
According to historian Richard Cavendish, their rituals and traditions seem to come from the Cathars and Luciferians, two Gnostic sects. I’ve wrote about their connections in the article Traditional Satanism. But medieval witches seem to have many other influences, like the classical grimoires, pagan and ancient traditions, Judeo-Christian mythology and folklore.
What it really was is still debated. However, Richard Cavendish makes an interesting point: “The evidence leaves little doubt that many innocent people made up confessions under the pressure of physical and mental torture… to reject all the huge quantities of evidence as illusory, to assume that beneath so much smoke there was no fire at all, seems unduly skeptical.” The same is suggested by Mircea Eliade, saying that “if the victims were not guilty of the crimes and heresies, a certain number of witches have confessed they were practicing magical-religious ceremonies of pagan origin and structure.”
Thus, we are only left to investigate and try to find an answer, even a personal one. However, in this article I will not try to offer any straight opinion, but I will leave this honor to the readers.
Inquisition and trials in the Middle Ages and Renaissance
If we were to take in consideration Hansen’s theory, witchcraft appeared with the witch-hunts, around the 13th century, not long after the crusade against the Cathars, though there were trials for witchcraft beginning with the year 306 when the Councils of Elvira, Ancyra and Trullo asked for various penalties for devil worship and idolatry but these were later forbidden at the Council of Paderborn in 785 when it was explicitly outlawed condemning people as witches and condemned to death anyone who burnt a witch. After that, many Christian parts have forbidden the persecution of witches for reason that they do not exist and are merely a superstition.
However, this gradually changed. The first trials for witchcraft were held in 1245 at Toulouse in south of France, the main centre of Catharism. There were convictions of witchcraft in Switzerland, Savoy and Italy at the beginning of the 15th century and in Germany beginning with 1446. The first execution for witchcraft in Spain happened in 1498, but the Spanish Inquisition took a cautious and skeptical attitude to accusations of witchcraft and trials were comparatively rare. Then there followed the trails on Scotland between the 16th and 17th centuries, and there was a witchcraft panic in Sweden and then the famous trials in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692.
Though heresies were not absent in Romania or the rest of the east-European orthodox countries, there were no harsh and systematic persecutions of witches. In Romania, more precisely in Transylvania, there were trials against witchcraft beginning with 1565, when the first sentence mentioned is that of the midwife Clara Botzi.
In 1487, two dominican clergymen published the notorious manual against witchcraft, Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of Witches or Hammer against Witches). This, along with Daemonolatreiae libri tres (trans. Demonolatry) in 1595, Compendium Malleficarum (1608) and the first of these, Directorium Inquisitorum from 1376, were the groundwork and basis of every inquisitor and the model from which they were tracing witches.
The radical change from the pagan or dualist heresy to the witchcraft heresy probably manifested most clearly after the publication of Malleus Maleficarum. The true “hunt” began in the sixteenth century and reached its climax in the seventeenth century.
Historian Jules Michelet says that “many [witches] perished just because they were young and pretty.” Stanislaw Przybyszewski, like Murray and Michelet but harsher, (and at the same time, poetically) tells how “merely possessing a book of philosophy was enough to put one’s life at risk, and in order to avoid this fate the inhabitants would burn all their books. And now the terrible martyrdom of the proud children of Satan began – which made the persecutions of Christians under Nero look like child’s play.” He tells that every passion came from the demon, and if this passion was destroyed, so was the demon. We see the same thoughts at Michelet, who seems to describe with pity the terrible events in the lives of the presumed witches. According to St. Cyprian, the young virgin, who without wanting or knowing, excites man with unclean thoughts, is already a sinner and loses her virginity. “The woman who is beautiful sins without her knowledge, for through her beauty she becomes a scythe with which Satan cuts his crop… the monk whom the demon drags away from the cross sins, for he does not have enough strength to endure to the end. The nun who washes herself more than twice a month sins – everywhere sin, everywhere eternal damnation.” Indeed the evidence used was usually absurd, the simple fact that she had a mark on the body was to the Inquisition a clear proof that she was “touched by the Devil”.
In Malleus Maleficarum, Part III, it is explained who can judge witches, the methods used, the number of witnesses at the trial and all the details of the trail according to the “judicial proceedings in both the ecclesiastical and civil courts.”
Thus, we find out that only heretics can be judged, not the soothsayers and diviners. Also, if their acts are not done with conscience and will, they cannot be trailed. “But it may be said that all witches have to deny the Faith, and therefore must be judged as heretics. However, it was not so. The Inquisition transformed into a mania that seemed to have no end, a mania in which tens of thousands of witches have died, mainly women. It was indeed, a crisis, a hysteria and a madness on all grounds, people were in panic and the priests “did not undertake a religious ceremony without first exorcising every corner of the church.”
What was once considered superstition, now became a pure and feared truth. People were condemned on various accusations, beginning with the adoration of the Devil, ecstatic dances, orgies, infanticide, cannibalism, curses. Witches were accuses of destroying the crops, for bringing storms or drought, for sickening the livestock and all sorts of trouble. Their crimes were numerous, as Johann Nider exemplifies in Formicarius. The denial and defamation of the Church and the pope by means of the Devil and the obscene rite of homage during which the Devil appears in human shape, the joy-rides, the bewitching of crops and livestock, the inciting of hate and lust, interference with intercourse and conception among humans and animals, and the metamorphosis of the witches and sorcerers into animals (lycanthropy), the killing of the fruit of the womb by sorcery, the use of body parts of corpses from murdered children for slaves and finally the copulation with the incubus and succubus.  All was happening at the Sabbath, the nocturnal meeting of witches.
Stephen Flowers suggests that Christians were using the same descriptions of the heretics as the Romans used of the Christians in the past. Romans believed that Christians were sacrificing new-born, as Minucius Felix wrote: “a child… is set before the would-be novice. The novice stabs the child to death.. then… they hungrily drink the child’s blood and compete with one another as they divide his limbs.” We see the same accusations at the byzantine monk Michael Psellos who wrote in De Operatione Daemonum about what orthodox Christians thought about the Bogomil heretics: “they cut their tender flesh all over with sharp knives and catch the stream of blood in basins. They throw the babies, still breathing and gasping, into the fire to be burned to ashes.” The same things were heard in America at the famous Satanic Panic in the 1980’s and 1990’s.
Diseases, the curse of the sinners
The diseases in the Dark Ages played an important role. Skin diseases, leprosy, plague, epilepsy, chronic ulcer, syphilis, all were punishing the medieval centuries. We also see this problem described by Aaron Leitch in the article Medieval Magic. With the exception of Arab and Jewish physicians and doctors who were employed on big sums of money by the rich, the medical treatment was rarely found – people didn’t have much choice but to stay in line at the Church to be sprinkled with holy water.
All of these “punishments” were in direct connection with sin. People who sinned were punished by God through disease. Because medicine was forbidden and holy water proved useless, people began directing their steps to witches. Michelet dedicates an entire chapter to this problem, which he simply entitles, Satan the healer. He gives us Paracelsus as an example, who after burning all his books of ancient medicine, declared that all he read and proved useful, was learned from the witches. He specially refers to his book Diseases of Women, which has its merits in the arms of women. No woman would have gone to a male doctor and didn’t trust him with her secrets. Instead, they went to the traditional practitioners, to the wise witches who knew the secrets of the healing herbs. But because these plants were also poisonous if not dozed correctly, these were seen as ingredients for poisons. An example is henbane, which is a plant with deadly poison, but which can also be an excellent emollient, a sedative that relaxes the tissues. You can imagine how, in the vision of the Church, this women looked with medicinal plants in her hand. The priest uses sacraments and prayers to heal, while Satan offers us material methods.
We can see the same attitude today, all over the world, in Europe and in Romania, where people go to the relics of the saints to pray for health, or go to the gypsy witches to ask for help in all sorts of problems. The relics (moaște) are basically parts of a saint’s body which did not putrefy, suggesting that the spirit of the saint is still present in them, having various powers such as healing, helping women with pregnancy, keeping the family away from harm and so on. They are usually kept in reliquaries (raclă) of gold or silver, thought others, called philatory, are transparent as to see the remains of the body. The usual custom is that a pilgrimage is first held, after which the people are allowed to kiss the relic, make the sign of the cross and pray for whatever their needs.
(Pilgrims at the relics of Saint Paraskeva of the Balkans. The biggest pilgrimage in Romania, held in Iași in the second week of October. The relics are said to have treated thousands of people of incurable diseases)
The reasons for the beginning of this hysteria can be various. The fact that the population was simply suffocated by the Church and doctrines could have been a reason for the revolt of the people who wanted to “break the chains” of this domination. Gerhard Zacharias says that this reaction of “overheated religious atmosphere” and “outbreak of hysterical or psychotic manifestations” was due to the desperate life style and the sensation of hopelessness in front of diseases, the depressions and tragedies. Another theory would be that the Church was losing its sympathizers and it had to get the attention of the people, by any means, over the power of the Christian Church.
Besides the accusations of witchcraft, there was also a hysteria of demonic possessions, the most known cases were those from Louviers, Loudun and Aix-En Provence.
The presumed demonic possessions from the Louviers Convent (France) in 1647, like those from Aix-En and Loudun, started when the nuns declared they have been possessed by demons after Father Mathurin Picard (nunnery direction) and Father Thomas Boulle (vicar) took them to a Sabbath of witches to communicate with Demons, specifically the demon Dagod, all according to the testimony of Madeleine Bavent. More testimonies from the nuns followed, throwing the Church and society into panic. After more investigations, it was discovered that the nuns suffered the classical symptoms of possession:
- Unnatural body movements
- Speaking in tongues (glossolalia)
- Appearance of wounds that vanish as quickly as they appear
The exorcism rituals that followed were public, generating a terrible spectacle. Almost every person present at the exorcism was questions by the inquisitors, resulting that the entire town of Louviers began presenting symptoms of hysteria, as the cries of the nuns undergoing exorcism rose with the screams of Father Boulle, who was tortured at the same time; Mathurin Picard had died previous to the public display.
The case from Loudun was deemed the most famous case of possession hysteria in history. This began in 1634, also in France, when the Convent of the Ursuline Nuns was seized by a series of demonic possessions.
Like the case from Louviers, the guilty one was also a priest, this time Father Urbain Grandier. He was accused of invoking demons and asking them to possess the nuns. This is the case that actually questioned the actual existence of demonic possession.
The accusation started when Mother Superior Jeanne Des Agnes reported having dreams in which she was visited by Demons and Grandier. After her testimony followed the rest coming from the other nuns. The demons involved in the possessions were Asmodeus, Zabulon, Isacaaron, Astaroth, Gresil, Amand, Leviatom, Behemot, Beherie, Easas, Celsus, Acaos, Cedon, Alex, Naphthalim, Cham, Ureil and Achas. They also appeared in a presumed pact of Grandier. This pact, written and signed by Grandier, seems to be also signed by various demons including their sigils. Among them are Satan, Lucifer, Beelzebub, Leviathan, Elimi and Astaroth. More about this pact can be read in the article The Pact, dedication and initiation.
Finally, Grandier was put under accusation, tortured and burn alive. The nuns were exorcised by Father Surin. An exceptional film on the subject of the Loudon possessions was directed by Ken Russell in 1971 under the title “The Devils“, the lead roles being interpreted by two great actors, Oliver Reed (Grandier) and Vanessa Redgrave (Jeanne Des Agnes). However, the case is presented slightly different than the written documentation.
The examples offered above are interesting, because they all resemble. Stephanie Connolly points out an important factor: they were all nuns. Thus, it is possible that they have been possessed or suffered psychical disorders due to sexual frustration of the chaste women.
Of course, if we’re talking about demonic possession it is inevitable to also talk about the associated disorders. Demonic possession is called by psychiatrists Dissociative Identity Disorder (multiple personality). One of the main reasons for which this disorder is associated with the so-called demonic possession is that the patients identify themselves with demons (demonomania or demonopathy). This disorder is not the only one associated with demonic possession. Other mental disorders such as hysteria, mania, psychosis, schizophrenia, epilepsy and even Tourette Syndrome were all erroneously considered demonic possession by the religious people because of the similar classical symptoms of demonic possession as presented above. For a complete list of demonic possession symptoms would be: uncontrolled twists, unnatural body movements and abnormal physical efforts, spitting and vomiting, interior voices, insults, blasphemies. Many of these are also signs of schizophrenia (hallucinations and interior voices, paranoia and violent behavior), epilepsy (convulsions), Tourette syndrome (involuntary movements and vocal outbursts).
In this sense we can give as an example the case from Tanacu, Romania, in the year 2005. A priest and few nuns thought that one of them (Irina Cornici – 23 years old) was possessed. They had done an exorcism that “failed”, tied her to a cross, stuffed a towel in her mouth and left her with no water and food. The girl died 3 days later, only to be declared that she was suffering of schizophrenia.
Indeed, there are rare symptoms such as speaking in unknown languages (glossolalia), exaggerated physical strength and wounds that quickly appear and disappear, to which I have no explanation.
In the past, anyone who suffered from madness, disease, disability and other misfortunes was considered possessed or touched by the Devil. In the Egyptian, Sumerian and Babylonian cultures, diseases were attributed to demons (as we can observe in the later medieval demonic hierarchies). This reminds me of the passage in the Bible, when Jesus heals the sick through exorcism of demons (when he healed a mute and a blind).
We also need to take into consideration the possibility that all these were part of a simple “theatre play”, an invention of the Church. As I said about witchcraft, in the Middle Ages the Church began to lose its influence and wanted to get it back by causing panic, either with witches or with demoniacs (possessed people). I think that I can now cite LaVey, who said that “Satan was the best friend the Church has ever had, as he has kept it in business all these years.”
If we think a little deeper into the subject, we see other reasons to believe so. As we can observe, the Church has an incredible hate towards women, who are considered a shame, an “unclean”. She is considered to have brought sin, when Eve listened to the Devil. It is interesting, because we can observe how the majority of witches and demoniacs were of course, women. It is known that in many cultures who accept the mythical story of Adam and Even (under this name or another) woman is considered a portal of evil, given the fact that she accepted to be tricked by the snake. Not only in Genesis, but in the entire Bible we can see how women are profaned (ex. she is impure because she has menstruation. see Job 14:1-4, Leviticus 15:19-30, etc.). These ideas influenced a lot, that women are inferior to men most probably sprang out of this. Lilith, Adam’s first wife became a demon because she did not submit to him. Jules Michelet wrote:
“Nature makes them Sorceresses – the genius peculiar to woman and her temperament. She is born a creature of Enchantment. In virtue of regularly recurring periods of exaltation, she is a Sibyl; in virtue of love, a Magician. By the fineness of her intuitions, the cunning of her wiles – often fantastic, often beneficent- she is a Witch, and casts spells, at least and lowest lulls pain to sleep and softens the blow of calamity.
All primitive peoples start alike; this we see again and again in the accounts given by travelers. Man hunts and fights. Woman contrives and dreams; she is the mother of fancy, of gods. She possesses glimpses of the second sight, and has wings to soar into the infinitude of longing and imagination. The better to count the seasons, she scans the sky. But earth has her heart as well. Her eyes stoop to the amorous flowers; a flower herself in her young beauty, she learns to know them as playfellows and intimates. A woman, she asks them to heal the men she loves.
A strong and bright and vigorous religion, such as was Greek Paganism, begins with the Sibyl, to end with the Sorceress. The first, a virgin fair and beautiful, brilliant in the full blaze of dawn, cradled it, gave it its charm and glamour. In later days, when sick and fallen, in the gloom of the Dark Ages, on heaths and in forests, it was concealed and protected by the Sorceress; her dauntless pity fed its needs and kept it still alive. Thus for religions it is woman is mother, tender protectress and faithful nurse. Gods are like men; they are born and they die on a woman’s breast.” – Jule Michelet, Satanism and Witchcraft, Carol Publishing, 1998
There were, however, cases in which men were condemned to death for the same reasons. They were also burned at the stake, as it was in the case of the Templar Knights, of abbe Guibourg or of Urbain Grandier. However, for some reason men were killed more through hanging, decapitation, crushing, drowning, etc.
The Jesuit Peter Thyraeus offers a fascinating example of the first tries to define demonic possession and exorcism in his work Daemoniaci, published in 1598. This work is considered to be the “the first systematic attempt to define demonic possession and exorcism. Thyraeus lists a variety of demonic symptoms, like speaking in unknown languages and hungering for raw meat, but spends just as much time talking about what aren’t symptoms: leading an immoral lifestyle, having an unpleasant temperament, sleeping during the day, etc. His stated goal in writing the Daemoniaci was to make sure that people received proper treatment for whatever ailed them. Those suffering from what he calls a demonic “obsession” ought to receive exorcism, but those suffering from any number of other spiritual or physical problems ought to seek care elsewhere.” (source) The same author wrote “Loca Infesta, hoc est..” in 1598, also discussing demonic possession.
Diana, the Sabbath and the Black Mass
Because I brought up the subject of the Sabbath earlier. it is essential to say that probably the nocturnal meeting appeared in the social conception because the Romans and Greeks considered witches to be “nocturnal creatures” who worshiped the night and Luna and they worshiped the goddess of the Moon – Selene, Hecate or Diana.
The first allusion to the Sabbath appears in Canon Episcopi in the year 905, in which it speaks of Diana’s flights. The idea was taken over by Burchard, Bishop of Worms in the year 1020 and was constantly repeated and commented upon later by other writers. Burchard says that the Goddess was Herodias, who was the enemy of John the Baptist.
In 1318, Pope John XXI ordered the investigation of a case in Avignon where it was said that magicians (witches) were having sexual intercourse with demonessess called Dianae.
Eliade also tells us about two women, who after the trials of the Inquisition in Milan, in 1384, have confessed of belonging to a society led by Diana Herodias. Diana was teaching them the use of medical herbs, how to discover thieves and how to recognize other wizards. He tells us that “it is obvious that the adepts of Diana didn’t have anything in common with the authors of satanic maleficia” and that “their rites and visions, most certainly, were solidary with an archaic cult of fertilization.”
Summers quotes Tartarotti, who says that “they ride forth upon strange beasts in a chase with Diana, a goddess of the old pagans.” In 1590, Henry Holand wrote in A Treatise Against Witchcraft about the possible meeting with “Herodias, Diana and Minerva”. William Perkins was saying that witches “are brought into far countries, to meet with Herodias, Diana, and the Devil.” It is said they were practically flying to this meeting.
The theory of the Dianic cult or of a pagan cult was initially brought by the German scholars Karl Ernst Jarcke and Franz Josef Mono in the nineteenth century, and was later adopted by the already mentioned Jules Michelet, Matilda Joslyn Gage and folklorist Charles Leland, but the hypothesis was best presented by Margaret Murray.
An important source about the Dianic cult would be Aradia, or the Gospel of Witches written by Charles Godfrey Leland in 1899. In the preface he speaks of a religion or tradition transmitted from generation to generation, “of which Diana is the Goddess, her daughter Aradia (or Herodias) the female Messiah” and they came to Earth to teach witchcraft.
Leland’s theories contributed to the birth of Wicca and Stragheria. Both Wicca developed by Gerald Gardner as well as Stregheria of Raven Grimassi were and are still vehemently contested by historians as well as practitioners. The Italians even deny the existence of a tradition called Stregheria. But as we well know, an attractive best-seller is easier to procure and “study” than academic material. A good example is “the wiches chant” or Eko Eko Azarak, published by Gerald Gardner in Gardnerian Book of Shadows. Although not based on anything precise other than the initial publication in the book The Black Arts (1921) which also didn’t mention the source, this “chant” was copied, modified and excessively promoted. We find it in numerous books as well as the lyrics of rock or metal bands such as Coven (in the track Satanic Mass) and Theatres des Vampires (in the track The Coven). To the present day, the count of variations has been lost.
In the 1970s came Dianic Wicca which concentrated exclusively on the worship of the goddess Diana, combining elements of Wicca and Leland’s theories.
Leland’s opinions differed from those of Tartarotti, Summers and other writers, he was rather a supporter of Michelet’s theories. However, if we consult Remy’s Demonolatry a bit closer, we can observe enough similarities between the pagan practices and those described in the book. Stephanie Connolly gives us few examples in the Complete Book of Demonolatry at pages 131-134.
In the Romanian folk tradition we meet the word striga, latin word for wizard, and Diana, roman goddess went patron of the witches in western Europe. Striga became Strigoi (a vampire-wizard), a being neither dead or alive, which was endowed with supernatural powers which were used in the people’s disadvantage.
In the Romanian folklore it is believed that Diana would be the substitute of a geto-thracian goddess. Her name became zână (dziana) in Romanian language and derived from the same root, another word, zănatec (crazy, absent minded) meaning bewitched by Diana or zâne. The name of a certain group of zâne, Sânzienele, probably derives from the latin Sanctae Dianae. Zânele can be ruthless, it is imprudent to utter their name. They are simply called Iele (them). They are beautiful and attractive, they are dressed in white with naked breasts and they fly in the air. They dance and sing and they can sicken those who see them, and this sickness can only be treated by the căluşari.
Getting back on the Sabbath, Michelet says that this is also a form of paganism, a worship of the Moon and this deviated to a simple gathering of lust and pretensions of magical rites. At the beginning, he says, women „burn little candles in honour of Dianom (Diana-Luna-Hecate).” He reminds us of Pan, who still chases women and children under a mask, and of Priapus-Bacchus-Sabasius who is slaughtered in celebration of the Sabasia. All this without a thought of mockery.
But, upon aproaching the year 1000, these are transforming. The traditions seem to change, at least from the declarations of the Church, that people „drink each other’s blood, or eat earth by way of host.” Beginning with the year 1200 and later, „nocturnal life” and the pagan dances become faster and more furious. Then, inevitably, it brings the subject of the Black Mass, which is implemented at the Sabbath. The Black Mass, says Michelet, is like a redemption of Eve from the curse Christianity had laid upon her. Here she becomes priestess, altar, host and is the central point of the ritual along with the Devil.
Making an analogy with the orgies and meetings of the pagans, Przybyszewski declares that the witches sabbath was a pagan rite turned upside-down, in a negative, grotesque manner. This was also the case in Christian rites, such as the Mass, which was later reversed and transformed into the Black Mass. The visit to the Sabbath was like consuming opium, once you’ve tried it you cannot stop.. When the judge asked why people are so attracted by the sabbath, the response came clear and passionate: Everything happening at the Sabbath is wonderful, there are pleasures that make you want to stay and never leave. In fact, the Sabbath is no longer just a revolt, it is a way of life. Everything that happened at the Sabbath wasn’t consciously done, it was practiced as a natural thing.
Summers tells us that the meetings were held in different places, either outdoors or in humble cottages and barns, or even in houses. He says something that seemed interesting to me, that the witches wore masks at the Sabbath. It seemed interesting, because I’ve seen this tradition even in modern times, beginning with the Church of Satan in the 1970’s to the Cathedral of the Black Goat who in 2003 held rituals and wore masks.
(Cathedral of the Black Goat wearing masks – source)
(Church of Satan wearing masks – source)
Of the outdoor meetings he says that the witches were gathering in the night of Walpurgis, a festival held on 1st May. Others, like the Neuchatelois coven were meeting in an old cemetery.
The Sabbath can be held at any hour, but as a precaution, it is held at night, and usually when „Satan commands”. The day doesn’t seem to be fixed either, as Madeleine Bavent declared. More explanations of these aspects can be found in the Covens article.
I said a bit earlier that witches were traveling to the Sabbath by flight. In Compendium Maleficarum, Guazzo tells us that the witches used an ointment of putrid ingredients and that they were carried away on a cowl-staff, or a broom, or a reed, a cleft stick or a distaff, or even a shovel. Other sources suggest that this ointment was hallucinogenic, giving them the impression that they were flying when they actually didn’t leave the room. An example is given by Cavendish, speaking of the writing Golden Ass of Apuleius (125 BC – 180 BC) where it writes that a witch anoints her body with this ointment and recites a spell to transform into a bird. It is known from the 15th century that this ointment caused hallucination. John Nider writes in Formicarius about a woman who tested the ointment in the presence of witnesses. This caused her a deep sleep. When she woke up, she told them she was with Venus and Diana, but the witnesses declared she never left the room.
The recipes usually included aconite and belladonna, baby’s fat and bat’s blood to aid nocturnal flight. Petru Culianu gives us further examples, such as Datura stramonium, Hyoscyamus niger, Atropa belladonna, aconite, Solanum nigrum, Physalis somnifera, Helleborus niger or Cannabis indica, used separately or in combination. Of these powerful narcotics, the most used where those of the Datura, also known as the Witches Weed.
When they met, they greeted their priest and the present Devil through osculum infame, or the Shameful Kiss, when they kissed the Devil’s posterior. Guazzo tells us the witches offered him pitch black candles which burnt with a blue flame.
Another story of the Devil’s kiss is given by Jeannette d`Abadie, who said that they had to kiss the Devil’s face, then navel, then penis and finally his posterior.
The meeting with the Devil at the Sabbath appears as early as 1335, from the testimonies of Anne Marie de Georgel and Catherine Delort. Anne Marie recounts how she saw a „man of huge stature, dressed in animal skins.” This man, she says, invited her to join him and she accepted. At the Sabbath she recounts how a he-goat taught her incantations, spells and the secrets of poisonous herbs.
John Nider says that the Devil appeared at the Sabbath in the form of a man. Martin le Franc, in 1440, said that he presented himself in the form of a cat, which they all worshiped.
When speaking of the orgiastic practices, we can bring up one of the first confessions of this kind obtained by Etienne de Bourbon, inquisitor in south of France in 1235. He recounts how witches were taken to a secret place where people called Lucifer and held orgies. A similar story is reported in 1175 in Verona, where heretics listened to blasphemous sermons, shut down the lights and dedicated to the orgy. Basque witches in the early seventeenth century had a Queen of the Sabbath who was the principal bride of the Devil. A Queen of Elfame or Elfin who copulated with male witches was mentioned in some of the Scottish trials.
All these orgies were bisexual, even incestuous. Exactly the same charges were imputed in the eleventh century to the Patarenes, the German heretics, and the Cathars. In the thirteenth century the Brethren of the Free Spirit from the Rhineland, the Apostolici from North Italy, the Luciferians who appeared in Germany from 1227, and the Bohemian Adamites in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were reported to hold sexual orgies in subterranean places. Same was said about the maniheists, carpocratians, messalians, paulicians and bogomils.
Religious orgies occur among many cultures. Sometimes they are magical fertility rites, but in most cases they have different significance. The orgy can be considered as direct possession by a supernatural power manifesting itself in sex.
Other medieval witches
Eliade in his book Occultism, witchcraft and cultural fashions says that “all the features associated with European witches are – with the exception of Satan and the Sabbath – claimed also by Indo-Tibetan yogis and magicians. They too are supposed to fly through the air, render themselves invisible, kill at a distance, master demons and ghosts, and so on. Moreover, some of these eccentric Indian sectarians boast that they break all the religious taboos and social rules: that they practice human sacrifice, cannibalism, and all manner of orgies, including incestuous intercourse.“
Eliade also bring in discussion the groups of benandanti. These benandanti declared they were good wizards who fought the stregoni, or evil wizards. None of their testimonies presented a satanic character of a witchcraft as seen by the Church. When they were fighting the stregoni, they either went victorious and assured the abundance of the crops or were defeated and there would be scarcity and famine. Even so, in 1581, two benandants were convicted to six months in prison for heresy and in the course of the next sixty years, there were other trials.
Over time, these benandanti began to be attracted to the side of witchcraft. Finally, after fifty years of inquisitorial trials, the benandanti admitted they were the same as the witches. More benandanti declared they have joined the worship of the Devil.
The Familiar Spirit
Montague Summers talks about a certain familiar spirit, which is, a demon of some lower rank that is offered to the witch after she has signed the pact with the Devil. The purpose of this spirit is to help the witch in the malefic work and in divination, and he accompanies her everywhere under different forms – as a man or animal, usually a black cat.
However, it is not a rule that this has to be an inferior demon, as this depends on the witch’s power and evil. If she is truly evil and powerful, she is offered a demon of higher rank.
The Bible also mentions this spirit, in Leviticus 20:27: “A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them.”
The familiar spirit also appears in the biblical story of the Endor witch. In 1 Samuel 28:3-25 it is written how the king Saul, after he killed all the wizards and witches, is this time constrained to consult with one of them in order to invoke Samuel who died. Thus Saul went to Endor to a witch who had a familiar spirit.
Many personalities wrote about familiar spirits, such as Cotton Mather in 1692 or Wirt Sikes who said that the “familiar spirit used by witches in the eighteenth century was a demon.” The same was wrote by William Forbes in 1722-1730 in Institute of the Laws of Scotland: “to them, he [the Devil] gives certain spirits or Imps which correspond and serve them as familiars.”
Recently, a Romanian website published an article about a “Devil worshiper” who became famous in the interwar period in her district, Botoșani. It writes that she was a witch who offered spells, curses, disenchantments etc. Elena, a woman from Dorobanți went to her for help. When she arrived at her home at night, as the witch told her, she saw two lads dressed in suits. The witch said that they were “her boys”, and she spoke with them in the presence of Elena. They settled that her “boys” were going to solve her problem, but when the women laid her eyes to the floor, she saw that the lads had hoofs instead of boots, after which she lost her voice. The witch smiled and told her “not to worry”. When Elena left, at a distance of a few miles, she saw the two “lads” at every crossroad, smiling at her. The villagers remember that at the witches’ funeral, when they wanted to carry her coffin in the Church, it became so heavy that nobody could lift it and they had to make the religious service in front of the Church. They said that the coffin was heavy because of her sins, that not even six men could lift it and that she was in league with the Devil.
In Witchcraft and Black Magic we are given many examples of familiar spirits. The witch Abre Grinset, who died in April 1667, declared she made a pact with Satan and that he offered her a familiar spirit for 20 years. Isobel Gowdie in 1662 offered details about the familiar spirits of the witches in the coven, so that Margaret Wilson had a spirit called Swein, Bessie Wilson had Rory, Jean Martin had a familiar who looked like a 20 year old man. The entire chapter offers use examples of familiars, but one could be emphasized. At page 48, Summers tells of a possible connection of Cornelius Agrippa with a familiar spirit under the form of a black dog, called Monsieur.
There is also a resamblence to that Patron/Matron demon or the Mentor, described by Stephanie Connolly in Complete Book of Demonolatry.
The Matron/Patron demon is “a counterpart to balance the individual. It is in this balance that we can see things clearer and begin to know the Self, better.” In other words, he is an agent that helps the individual.
The Mentor demon is instead a kind of teacher, who presents himself to the practitioner at a certain time in his life or in a certain situation in which he would need help.
Another interesting similarity would be with the Genius, Natal Daimon and Daimon of Profession, the three parts of the good demon described by Cornelius Agrippa. He tells us that “there is a threefold keeper of man… as a proper keeper, or preserver, the one whereof is holy, another of the nativity, and the other of profession.”
The Holy Daimon is offered by God (so he is different from the familiar offered by the Devil) that puts good thoughts in man’s mind. The natal Daimon, or Genius, is a Spirit whose nature is determined by the alignment of the stars at birth. He guides us in the roles and responsibilities we are incarnated to accomplish. The Daimon of Profession is offered by the stars, and he helps us in our professional work. This one would probably most likened to the familiar spirit.
The Wiches’ Mark or the Devil’s Mark (also Stigmata Diaboli or Sigillum Diaboli) was probably the most important sign of identification of a witch, it was the sign of Satan placed on the skin of his servants. It is said that this sign was totally insensible to pain and if pricked, it would not bleed.
This mark was practically any sign of dermatological affection, because it was described as a stain, a bump or even a mole and it was present anywhere on the body. Though, it’s a curious fact that it did not bleed and it was insensible to pain. An example is in the case of Isebell Le Moigne who declared at her trial in 1617, that at one night at the Sabbath “the Devil marked her on the thigh” and when she was examined, it was noted that this mark did not bleed and the woman did not feel any pain when pricked with pins. The same was in the case of Louis Gaufridi, when after the very technical research of two physicians and two surgeons, he presented three callous marks, where he did not feel pain and did not bleed, thus the doctors declared that the marks were not natural.
In Remy’s Demonolatry, chapter 5, it writes that witches are marked by the Devil “on the part of the body which was anointed by the priest on the day of their baptism”. Thus, the mark offered at the baptism becomes a mark of the Satanic baptism. Here it says that the mark is insensible, it does not bleed at that it was received from the Devil in the moment when the witch has renounced the Faith, like I have already described in the article “The Pact, dedication and initiation.” This traditions also exists today, when the adept marks his body in the time of the Initiation ritual. Stephanie Connolly makes an analogy between Remy’s descriptions and what is still practiced at Demonolatry baptisms.
If it can be said, witchcraft would have been an extension of a pagan cult which somehow resisted in the rural side, as it can be also observed in Romania’s countryside of today, where the old traditions have survived and have been passed orally.
It can also be said that it was an invention of the Church to eradicate any presumed enemy of the Christian doctrines, no matter if he was a dualist, gnostic, pagan, wizard or a simple heretic. Or, probably, an attempt to control the masses through fear and terror.
From this point of view, we can believe that people were so influenced by the theories of the Church, that they began to truly believe there was a cult of Satan, and so they decided to be part of it, developing a satanic tradition.
Thus, the conclusion will be left at the reader’s honor, because there is no clear evidence of what witchcraft in the Middle Ages and Renaissance would have been. The opinions will remain divided.
 Montague Summers, Witchcraft and Black Magic, Dover Publications, 2000, p. 17;
 Mircea Eliade, Occultism, witchcraft and cultural fashions, p. 70, cf. Joseph Hansen, Zauberwahn, p. 328; cf. Jeffrey Burton Russell, Witchcraft in the Middle Ages, p. 34
 Richard Cavendish, The Black Arts, Perigee, 1968, p. 288
 Richard Cavendish, The Black Arts, Perigee, 1968, p. 287
 Mircea Eliade, Istoria credintelor si ideilor religioase vol 3, Chisinau Universitas, 1994, p 240
 Mircea Eliade, Ocultism, Vrajitorie si Mode Culturale, Humanitas, 1997, p. 101
 Jules Michelet, Satanism and Witchcraft, Carol Publishing, 1998, p. 9
 Stanislaw Przybyszewski, The Synagogue of Satan, Runa Raven Press, 2002, p. 5-6
 Stanislaw Przybyszewski, The Synagogue of Satan, Runa Raven Press, 2002, p. 7
 Here I’m referring to the Devil’s Mark, of which you shall read later in this article.
 Heinrich Kramer, James Sprenger, trans. Montague Summers, The Malleus Maleficarum, Dover Books, 1971 p. 195
 Stanislaw Przybyszewski, The Synagogue of Satan, Raven Runa Press, 2002, p. 7
 Stanislaw Przybyszewski, The Synagogue of Satan, Raven Runa Press, 2002, p. 41
 Stephen E. Flowers, Ph.D, Lords of the Left-Hand Path, Inner Traditions Press, 2012, p. 133
 Jules Michelet, Satanism and Witchcraft, Carol Publishing, 1998, p. 77
 Gerhard Zacharias, The Satanic Cult, Allen & Unwin, 1980, p. 42
 Stephanie Connolly, The Complete Book of Demonolatry, DB Publishing, 2006, p. 122
 Stephanie Connolly, The Complete Book of Demonolatry, DB Publishing, 2006, p. 124
 Richard Cavendish, The Black Arts, Perigee, 1968, p 290.
 Richard Cavendish, The Black Arts, Perigee, 1968, p. 289.
 Mircea Eliade, Istoria credintelor si ideilor religioase vol 3, Chisinau Universitas, 1994, p. 241
 Montague Summers, Witchcraft and Black Magic, Dover Publications, 2000, p. 114
 Chalres Godfrey Leland, Aradia, or the Gospel of Witches, Ballantyne Press, 1910, p. 8
 Mircea Eliade, Istoria credintelor si ideilor religioase vol 3, Chisinau Universitas, 1995, p. 246
 Jules Michelet, Satanism and Witchcraft, Carol Publishing, 1998, p. 99
 Stanislaw Przybyszewski, The Synagogue of Satan, Raven Runa Press, 2002, p 35
 Montague Summers, Witchcraft and Black Magic, Dover Publications, 2000, p. 199
 Also on Walpurgisnacht, in 1966, Anton LaVey founded the Church of Satan.
 Francesco Maria Guazzo, ed. Montague Summers, Compendium Maleficarum, Dover Publications, 1988, p. 34
 Richard Cavendish, The Black Arts, Perigee, 1968, p. 290
 Ioan Petru Culianu, Eros si Magie in Renastere 1484, Polirom, 2011, p. 197
 Francesco Maria Guazzo, ed. Montague Summers, Compendium Maleficarum, Dover Publications, 1988, p. 35.
 In the Middle Ages, Hell and the Devil were represented in blue color, not red.
 Richard Cavendish, The Black Arts, Perigee, 1968,. 296
 Richard Cavendish, The Black Arts, Perigee, 1968, p. 291
 Mircea Eliade, Occultism, witchcraft and cultural fasions, University of Chicago Press, p. 86
 Gerhard Zacharias, The Satanic Cult, Allen & Unwin, 1980, p. 48
 Mircea Eliade, Occultism, witchcraft and cultural fasions, University of Chicago Press, p. 71
  Mircea Eliade, Occultism, witchcraft and cultural fasions, University of Chicago Press, p. 74
 Montague Summers, Witchcraft and Black Magic, Dover Publications, 2000, p. 43
 Montague Summers, Witchcraft and Black Magic, Dover Publications, 2000, p.46
 Stephanie Connolly, Complete Book of Demonolatry, DB Publishing, 2005, p. 163
 Henry Cornelius Agrippa, ed. Donald Tyson, Three Books of Occult Philosophy, Llewellyn Publications, 1992, p 527.
 Montague Summers, A Popular History of Witchcraft, Rear Book Design, 2011, p. 67
 Montague Summers, A Popular History of Witchcraft, Rear Book Design, 2011, p. 68-69
 Nicholas Remy, Demonolatry, Kessinger Publishing, 2003, p. 8
 Stephanie Connolly, Complete Book of Demonolatry, DB Publishing, 2005, p. 132
Other sources of interest:
https://ligeiavaughan.wordpress.com/ – a blog dedicated to Romanian folklore, witchcraft and magic. Offers a lot of information on plants and herbs.
Latest posts by FvF (see all)
- New articles! - October 9, 2019
- Three new articles and a special page - May 1, 2019
- Angelology - May 1, 2019
- Easter is not the pagan Ostara, Easter is not Ishtar - April 22, 2019
- Six new articles, a new contributor and much more to come! - February 8, 2019