Did any one venture to deny that animals could be possessed by Satan, he was at once silenced by reference to the entrance of Satan into the serpent in the garden of Eden, to the transformation of Nebuchadnezzar, and to the casting of the devils into the swine by the founder of Christianity himself.
One part of this superstition most tenaciously held was the belief that a human being could be changed into the form of an animal. This became, indeed, a fundamental point. The most dreaded of predatory animals in the middle ages were the wolves. Driven from the hills and forests in the winter by hunger, they not only devoured the flocks, but sometimes came into the villages and seized children. From time to time men and women whose brains were disordered dreamed that they had been changed into various animals, and especially into wolves. Confessing this, and often implicating others, many executions of lunatics resulted; not to mention here the countless sane victims who, suspected of the same impossible crime, were forced by torture into confession of it, and sent unpitied to the stake. The belief in such a transformation pervaded all Europe, and lasted long, even in Protestant countries; probably no article in the witch creed had more adherents in the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries than this. Nearly every parish in Europe had its resultant horrors.
The Reformed Church in all its branches fully accepted the doctrines of witchcraft and diabolic possession, and developed them still further. No one urged their fundamental ideas more fully than Luther. He did, indeed, reject portions of the witchcraft folly; but to the influence of devils he not only attributed his maladies but his dreams, and nearly everything that thwarted or disturbed him. The flies which lighted upon his book, the rats which kept him awake at night, he believed to be devils; the resistance of the Archbishop of Mayence to his ideas, he attributed to Satan literally working in that prelate's heart; to his disciples he told stories of men who had been killed by rashly resisting the devil. Insanity, he was quite sure, was caused by Satan, and he exorcised sufferers. Against some he appears to have advised stronger remedies; and his horror of idiocy, as resulting from Satanic influence, was so great that on one occasion he appears to have advised the killing of an idiot child, as being the direct offspring of Satan. Yet Luther was one of the most tender and loving of men; in the whole range of literature there is hardly anything more touching than his words and tributes to children. In enforcing his ideas he laid stress especially upon the question of St. Paul as to the bewitching of the Galatians, and, in the case
- See Menabrea, "Procès au Moyen Age contra les Animaux," Chambéry, 1846, pp. 31 and following.