Popular Science Monthly/Volume 53/May 1898/Witchcraft in Bavaria

By Prof. E. P. EVANS.

THE earliest recorded instance of the infliction of the death penalty for witchcraft in Bavaria occurred on June 18, 1090, when the villagers of Völting seized three women suspected of being in league with the devil, dragged them to the neighboring town of Freising, and, after endeavoring in vain to extort from them confessions of guilt by torture, burned them alive on the banks of the Isar. Before being put to death, they were bound hand and foot and thrown into the river, and the fact that they sank and were nearly drowned ought to have been conclusive proof of their innocence, but this result of the superstitious ordeal did not accord with the wishes and fixed purpose of the fanatical mob and was therefore repudiated. In the account of this extraordinary and cruel application of lynch law, contained in the contemporary Annales St. Stephani Frising, and evidently written by a priest of Weihenstephan, the unfortunate women are spoken of as martyrs (martyrizatæ sunt). It is also significant of the attitude of the clergy at that time that the charred remains, after having been collected by relatives, were buried in consecrated ground with religious ceremonies, at which a priest and two monks officiated. Their conduct in this case was perfectly consistent with the views hitherto officially promulgated by the Church. In the Canon Episcopi. adopted by the ecclesiastical council of Ancyra in 900, the belief in witchcraft is expressly declared to be a pagan delusion; and in the so-called "Corrector," issued by Burkhard, Bishop of Worms, about a century later as a guide for confessionalists, a year's penance is imposed upon any one who believes in the nocturnal assemblies and orgies known as the sabbat, or who holds that storms can be produced, property appropriated and destroyed, or the minds of men influenced and their dispositions changed by magic arts and conjurations. Curiously enough, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries papal inquisitors denounced and persecuted as heretics all who did not believe these things. This strange transition from the repudiation and punishment of superstitions as survivals of paganism to their acceptance and enforcement as Christian and Catholic articles of faith is brought out very clearly by Dr. Sigmund Riezler in his recent Geschichte der Hexenprozesse in Bayern (Stuttgart, Cotta, 1896). This work, which may be regarded as a sort of sequel to the author's well-known Geschichte Bayerns, in three volumes, is the first complete history of witch trials in Bavaria ever published. In using the epithet "complete" we would by no means imply that every prosecution of this kind within the limits of the duchy, and afterward electorate, of Bavaria is mentioned. Many protocols of such proceedings have been lost and many others lie hidden in municipal and especially in ecclesiastical archives hitherto inaccessible to scientific investigation; but all the essential features of these trials are here so fully presented and portrayed that no publication of isolated acts or individual instances will add materially to our knowledge of the subject.

The oldest mention of witchcraft in Bavarian law is the imposition of a fine of twelve shillings (about twenty cents) upon persons who injure the harvests by magic arts; in addition to this fine the sorcerer is also made pecuniarily responsible to the owner for loss of property. Penalties of a like character were also inflicted upon such as foretold future events, produced storms, or caused horses and cattle to disappear by means of diabolical machinations. In Arbeo's Life of Corbinianus, the first Bishop of Freising, it is related that as he was one day riding up to the castle he met an old woman reputed to be a witch, accompanied by men bearing meat and one of them leading a live animal. On asking whence they came and what they were doing, he was told that the duke's son had been vexed by demons and that she had healed him. This information so excited the wrath of the bishop that he leaped from his horse and gave the old hag a sound beating; he also took away the gifts which she had received for her services and distributed them among the poor at the gate of the city. This incident occurred between 718 and 724. One of the capitularies of Charlemagne, issued more than sixty years later, soon after the final subjugation of the Saxons and designed to Christianize the conquered people, punishes with death "any one who, blinded by the devil and following heathen devices, may believe any persons to be witches and to devour human beings, and who may burn them for this cause or give their flesh to be devoured or devour the same." The capitulary also provides that practices of divination and of sortilege shall be handed over to the Church and to the priests in order that they may be turned from the error of their way and instructed in the Christian faith.

Additional examples of tins kind might be cited, but those already given suffice to show that after the conversion of the Bavarians and other German tribes to Christianity in the eighth century, the belief in witchcraft was regarded by the clergy in general as a remnant of paganism, which it was their duty to eradicate by catechetical instruction or by the imposition of ecclesiastical penance, but not to punish as a crime. Indeed, the annals of Bavaria during the middle ages, so far as they have been preserved, do not furnish a single well-authenticated instance of the institution of judicial proceedings against wizards or witches either by the Church or the State. Even in the above-mentioned case of mob violence at Freising in 1090, the women, who suffered death, were objects of compassion to the clergy, who looked upon them as the unfortunate victims of popular frenzy, innocently slain by a sudden outburst and aberration of the repressed forces of ancestral superstition; and this view of witchcraft seems to have been the prevailing one in the metropolitan and diocesan synods of Bavaria as late as the sixteenth century. From this standpoint it was perfectly natural for the Synod of Regensburg in 1512 to treat of heresy and sortilege in the same decree, and to condemn, together with schismatics, all vain superstitions, soothsayings, sorceries, and evil arts of witches,[1] "who address infamous prayers to the altars of idols and, deluded by Satan, imagine that they can thereby attain good things and ward off evil" In order to extirpate "this pestilential brood" it was enjoined that every one addicted to such practices, whether cleric or layman, should be sent to the bishop or his vicar to make confession and receive absolution; but if the said person did not, within nine days, heed the admonitions of his spiritual guardian and renounce his errors, he should be excommunicated. Similar measures were taken by the provincial synod of Salzburg in 1569, with an additional injunction calling upon all who had any knowledge of "familiarities, conventions, pacts, or confederations with the devil" to report them to the bishop or his official. The informers were also assured that they would have nothing to fear, inasmuch as their names would be kept secret. Here we have the beginning of that system of espionage, anonymous denunciation, and private inquisition which played so prominent a part in the subsequent history of witchcraft by making every man

a spy upon his neighbor. The bishop, however, is directed to endeavor "with prudence, zeal, and all love" to convert the accused, but, if unsuccessful, to proceed as provided by the canons of the Church. This procedure evidently involved only the infliction of canonical punishments such as penance, excommunication, and, in the case of a clergyman, degradation or suspension from the performance of sacerdotal functions. A priest who has learned through the confessional, or otherwise, that any person may believe in such things, is to teach him with fatherly affection that they are nothing but diabolical delusions"; but if the said person should be "notoriously tainted with wizardry" and should obstinately resist good counsel, then the priest is to apply to the bishop or his penitentiary for power to absolve the sinner. It is difficult to determine to what extent the Bavarian clergy, while officially declaring witchcraft to be a hallucination, believed in the reality of it. Doubtless the opinions on this point were divided, the more enlightened ecclesiastics discarding all stories of satanic compacts and concupiscence as mere illusions, while the lower and more ignorant orders of priests and monks were inclined to accept them as actual occurrences. In the decrees issued by the diocesan councils of Augsburg (1452), Treising (1440), Regensburg (1377 and 1512), and Salzburg (1420, 1490, and 1569), they are either not mentioned at all or characterized as errors and delusions, terms which would imply that they have no foundation in fact. But whatever theory of these strange aberrations may have been entertained, it is certain that the means employed for correcting them were remarkably humane and even rational as compared with the horrible atrocities and incredible absurdities which characterized the witch trials of the following century.

The first authentic cases of witch trials in Bavaria occurred under Duke Albrecht V in 1578. With the accession of Wilhelm V, surnamed the Pious, in 1579, persecutions and prosecutions of this kind increased in frequency and severity, and soon becoming epidemic, continued to rage for more than a century in every part of the country. The chief agents and instigators of this dreadful carnival of cruelty were Dominicans and Jesuits acting under instructions from Rome, and often opposed by the Bavarian clergy BO far as such opposition was possible without coming into direct collision with the Holy See. As early as the third century, Minutius Felix, in his apology for Christianity entitled "Octavius" and written in the form of a dialogue, makes the pagans accuse the Christians of being worshipers of Satan, and this charge was afterward brought by the Church against gnostics, Manicheans, Cathari, Albigenses, Waldenses, German Protestants, Knight Templars, and other heretics and schismatics who had become obnoxious or inconvenient to the Roman hierarchy. The same policy was pursued by the inquisitors who were sent to Bavaria as the plenipotentiary emissaries of the Pope, and who found the association of heresy with sorcery the most effective weapon for the punishment and suppression of the former. In Bavaria, however, this crimination was not so available and therefore never so strongly urged as in North Germany and in the southern provinces of France, where heretical opinions were more prevalent and had obtained a stronger foothold.

There is a general tendency among recent defenders of the Romish faith to resort to all sorts of shifts and subterfuges in order to relieve their Church from any direct responsibility for witchcraft persecutions. Goethe's cynical remark that writing history is one way of disavowing the past and repudiating its errors, applies with peculiar pertinence to the efforts of these apologists to cleanse the official robes of his Holiness from such an ugly stain. Thus Johann Diefenbach, in his volume Der Hexenwahn (Mainz, 1886), says: "Catholics can look back on this sad historical picture with a quiet conscience; individuals were soiled by the delusion of their time, but the Church remained immaculate." Again, he declares it to be "absurd and ridiculous to make the Church responsible for witch trials" The ecclesiastical historian Hergenröther, of Würzburg, and Professor Kaulen, of Bonn, take the same view. The assertion made by these authorities that the Church "never invoked the arm of secular justice for the bloody punishment of sorcery" is a mere verbal quibble, worthy of Thomas Aquinas: the papal inquisitors kept themselves free from blood-guiltiness, in the literal sense of the term, by burning their victims alive or in exceptional cases by strangling them before committing them to the flames. The idea of shedding human blood was so abhorrent to these pious souls that they appeased their consciences and vindicated the claims of divine justice by roasting the witch or wizard at the stake. These falsifications of history are so palpable that it would be superfluous to expose them were it not for the brazen-faced persistence with which they are repeated. The instructions and injunctions contained in the bull Summis desiderantes affectibus, issued by Pope Innocent VIII, on December 5, 1484, should alone suffice to show the speciousness of such palliative pleas. It is also a notorious fact that the chief promoters of prosecutions for witchcraft were, with rare exceptions, members of the monastic orders directly commissioned by the Pope. We need only mention the Dominican friars Institoris and Sprenger, authors of the Malleus Maleficarum (Witches' Hammer), justly characterized by Dr. Riegler as "the most preposterous and at the same time most pernicious book ever printed"; and the Spanish Dominican Nicholas Cymericus, who composed a systematic manual for the use of persecutors entitled Directorium Inquisitorum (first printed at Rome in 1503); and a treatise, Tractatus contra Dæmotium Invocatores, in which he maintained that sorcery is heresy and should be punished by the Court of Inquisition. Works of a like character were Flagellum Hæreticorum Fascinariorum, by the Dominician Nicholas Jaquier; De Strigiis, by the Dominican Bernard of Como; De Strigimagarum Dæmonumque Mirandis, by the master of the holy apostolical palace and general of the Dominicans, Silvester Mazzolino Prierias; Novus Malleus Maleficarum (New Witches' Hammer), by the Dominican Bartholomew de Spina; Disquisitiones Magicæ, by the Spanish Jesuit Martin Delrio; and Processus Juridicus contra Sagas, by the Munich Jesuit Paul Laymann.[2]

Equally untenable is the statement that no person was ever burned as a witch in Rome. The Roman chronicler Stefano Infessura, in his Diarium Urbis Romæ, describes the burning of a witch named Finicella, for having "in a diabolical manner killed many creatures and injured others" The execution took place on June 8, 1424, and "all Rome went to see it" Again, in the Chironicon Generale of Andreas von Regensburg it is recorded that during the pontificate of Martin V a cat killed several infants in their cradles. A shrewd man wounded the cat with a sword, and, following the traces of its blood, discovered that the animal was really an old woman, who lived in the house of a chiromancer and changed herself into a cat in order to suck the blood of children and thus prolong her own life. This anticipation of the modern theory of the transfusion of blood caused the old hag to be tried for witchcraft and burned at the stake. The Munich occultist and alchemist Dr. Johann Hartlieb, in the thirty-third chapter of his Buch alter verhotenen Kunst, Unglaubens und der Zauherei,[3] states that in the sixth year of the reign of the Pope Martin (i. e., in 1423) the belief that certain women and men were wont to transform themselves into cats and kill children was quite prevalent in Rome, and relates the case of a man who, having been harmed in this manner by a woman in his neighborhood, had her arrested and brought to the Capitol, where she exclaimed aloud, "If I only had my salve, I would travel off." Hartheb, who was present, had his curiosity greatly excited by this remark, and would have gladly given her the salve to see what she could do with it. But a doctor, in whom the spirit of scientific investigation was less strongly developed, stood up and said that she ought not to have the salve, since there was no knowing what mischief the devil might devise. The woman was then condemned to be burned, and Hartheb witnesed the execution, although he evidently regretted that she was not permited to try the experiment of salving and saving herself with witches' ointment. If it be true, he adds, that old women can transport a man through the air on a calf or a he-goat, there is no doubt that the devil has to do with it. In this connection he raises the query why there are so many more witches than wizards. To this question, he says, the "masters" or inquisitors reply that woman being, as a rule, more frivolous and credulous, is therefore more accessible and amenable to Satan than man. How enormous and atrocious this disproportion of the sexes was may be inferred from the witchcraft prosecutions at Schöngau and Werdenfels in Bavaria from 1589 to 1591, where, of one hundred and fourteen persons condemned to be burned or beheaded, one hundred and thirteen were women. The true explanation of this strange and shameful phenomenon is the false and contemptuous conception of woman growing out of the ascendency of ascetic and scholastic ideas in the mediæval Church. In the eyes of the religious celibate woman was the personification of seduction, and had been from

the beginning the satellite of Satan, the arch-seducer, and his facile instrument in bringing sin into the world with all its woe. This notion often crops out where one would least expect it, as, for example, in Albrecht Dürer's engraving of four naked women, bearing the date 1491 and the enigmatical letters O. G. H., which probably mean Odium Generis Humani. The female figures doubtless represent witches. Patristic and scholastic writers from Chrysostom to Thomas Aquinas vie with each other in their denunciations of woman, and the authors of the Malleus Maleficarum fairly overwhelm the reader with passages from these sources in proof of her flagitiousness. They also derive femina from fe and minus, signifying a creature of little faith. To this astounding etymology, which from the use of the word fe (faith) would seem to be of Spanish origin, they add an equally conclusive argument from physiology, declaring that "only an imperfect animal could have been formed out of a crooked rib" How could a being with such an origin be straightforward or exert any other than a perverting influence upon man, and, as Milton says, "by her charms draw him awry"? On the other hand, we are seriously assured that God's selection of man, in distinction from woman, as the form of his earthly incarnation, has tended to preserve the male portion of the human race from satanic influences and especially from "the scourge of sorcery" "Praise be to the Most High for this gracious immunity" exclaim these devout Dominicans. It is hardly conceivable that such wretched twaddle, which would have been silly enough if uttered in jest, should have been put forth by Christian metaphysicians and moralists in justification of barbarous cruelty inflicted for centuries upon the most helpless members of society. Perhaps the queerest feature of this foolish and fanatical crusade against woman is that it should have been preached by the ardent adherents of a Mariolatrous religion, in which the adoration of the Virgin Mother had already superseded the worship of her divine Son.

Hartlieb, to whose book we have just referred, was a physician, humanist, diplomatist, a man of the world with knowledge and experience gained by travel, well versed in literature and with a scientific turn of mind, and yet this representative of the highest culture of his time firmly believed in the reality of witchcraft and attributed it to the direct agency of the devil. He seems to have been especially interested in the art by which old hags produced hailstorms and showers of rain, and took every opportunity to get at the secret of it. In 1446, while he was on a mission from the Bavarian duke to the Count Palatine at Heidelberg, a notorious sorceress had been arrested and cast into prison. As a special favor he obtained from the sovereign permission to visit this witch and the promise that her life should be spared if she would teach how these meteorological phenomena could be effected, but the process involved such denial of God, the Virgin Mary, and the saints, repudiation of the holy sacraments and dedication of soul and body to sundry devils, that Hartlieb declined to become her pupil, and broke off the interview in horror at what he heard. The poor woman, who appears to have imagined that such things were possible, was given over to the executioner and burned.

It is hardly necessary to describe in detail the epidemic of witch persecution, which raged in Bavaria especially from 1589 to 1631. It ran its fatal course and was characterized by the same exhibition of credulity, cruelty, and gross perversions of justice as in other European countries. How any person possessing the least common sense or the most superficial knowledge of human nature, to say nothing of legal training, could expect to extort a confession of the truth by physical torture is to us an insoluble psychological problem. No sooner did the zeal of the authorities begin to relax than it was stimulated anew by the religious orders and the secular clergy, and especially by the chaplains and confessors of the rulers. One of the most bigoted and brutal of these ghostly functionaries was Mathias von Kemnat, court preacher of Friedrich I of the Palatinate. His chronicle of the reign of this monarch is an important but hitherto scarcely heeded contribution to the witchcraft literature of the fifteenth century, and anticipates many of the absurdities and atrocities of the Malleus Maleficarum. He witnessed with extreme satisfaction the burning of many witches in Heidelberg and other places, and records the most disgusting mass of drivel concerning the orgies of Satan and his female worshipers in what he calls the "synagogue of the sorcerers" Each novice, he says, as she joins this diabolical congregation, is instructed how to invest her staff with necromantic qualities by smearing it with a salve prepared from the fat of roasted children, venomous serpents, lizards, toads, and spiders. The witches kill people by rubbing them with this ointment, and with a powder made from entrails they produce epidemics and cause great mortality. "This is the reason" adds the learned divine, "why pestilence prevails in certain villages, while the inhabitants of other villages in the neighborhood remain strong and healthy" In view of these facts he urges that many fires be kindled and kept burning. Meanwhile he advises people to "carry with them quicksilver in a tube or quill as a good preservative against sorcery"[4]

Another still more fervid zealot of this work was this Jesuit Jeremias Drexel, court preacher of Duke Maximilian I of Bavaria from 1615 to 1638. He was somewhat celebrated as a pulpit orator, and waxed eloquent in describing injuries done to crops and kine and human beings by the maleficence of witches. "Thousands of this hellish brood have been burned at the stake" he exclaims, "and shall we accuse their judges of an unjust sentence? Nevertheless there are such extremely frigid (frigidissimi) Christians, who are unworthy of this name, and who resist with might and main the extirpation of this crew, in order, as they say, that, forsooth, the innocent may not suffer. Oh, out upon these enemies of the divine honor! Does not the Holy Writ expressly command, Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live? I appeal to God's behest and call, as loud as I can, on bishops, princes, and kings to destroy with fire and sword this worst of human pests."

Duke Maximilian I was in many respects a remarkable man, with uncommon keenness of intellect, strong sense of duty, untiring energy, deep religious feeling, and rare appreciation of the fine arts, but these superior qualities did not prevent him from being a fanatical witch persecutor. This perversion of so many excellent endowments was due chiefly to his early education. His preceptor, Johann Baptist Tickler, a theologian who had dabbled in law, was the author of a book entitled Judicium generate de pænis maleficarum, magorem et sortilegorum utriusque sexus, in which the combined erudition and casuistry of the jurist and the divine are used in justification of the utmost rigor in punishing sorcery and sortilege. In 1589, when the prince was only seventeen years of age, he was commissioned by his father, Duke Albrecht V, surnamed the Magnanimous, to witness and report the torture and burning of alleged witches at Ingolstadt, and his letters, now preserved in the Bavarian archives, reveal an amount of crass credulity and callousness of soul in the presence of human suffering wholly inconsistent with the good sense and susceptibility for which this youth was otherwise distinguished. With such a preparation for the performance of his duties as sovereign, it is no wonder that his reign, extending from 1597 to 1651, should embrace the period of Bavarian history in which the greatest number of witch prosecutions occurred, and the proceedings were most systematically and relentlessly conducted by both secular and ecclesiastical tribunals. The duke pursued this course with greater energy and persistency

because his personal feeling was strongly involved, inasmuch as he firmly believed that the barrenness of his first wife Elizabeth was due to magic influences. The court exorcist, a Barnabite named Marrano, tried his powers of disenchantment, but did not succeed in breaking the satanic spell, since the duchess died childless.

A tragi-comical feature of these witch trials was the prominence they gave to the hangman or headsman. Usually this public functionary was despised as a pariah, with whom no respectable person would associate; but in these topsy-turvy times he became one of the most conspicuous and influential members of the community. Thus Meister Jörg Abriel, the executioner of Schöngau, is described in contemporary records as driving three horses tandem through the country, like a fine gentleman, accompanied by his wife and two apparitors as attendants. Everywhere he was warmly greeted and hospitably entertained, and on one occasion on leaving Garmisch his health was drunk in eight gallons of wine. The reason for this distinction was that the executioner as an expert in the detection of "witch marks" on the bodies of the accused held the fate of hundreds of persons in his hands, since it depended upon his decision whether they should be tortured or not. Once he remarked that he had found no "devil's signs" but that the woman had "the look of a witch" and this observation sufficed to have the woman thrown into prison and put to the rack.

A new era of enlightenment began in Bavaria with the founding of the Academy of Sciences by the Elector Max Joseph on March 28, 1759, the aim of which, as he expressed it, was to "purify all departments of philosophy from unprofitable pedantries and prejudices" The motto of the institution, "Tendit ad æquum" would imply an endeavor to be not only just and equitable, but also level-headed generally; in other words, it was the intention to cultivate the moral and mental characteristics, in which the foremost men of learning had hitherto shown themselves lamentably deficient. Although the character of the academy forbade the discussion of matters of faith, this prohibition was fortunately so interpreted as not to include the question of witchcraft, which seems to have been placed by common consent in the category of "prejudices" Accordingly, on October 13, 1766, one of the academicians, Don Ferdinand Sterzinger, the superior of the Theatine Cloister in Munich and an acknowledged authority in ecclesiastical history, delivered an address on the common prejudice concerning witchcraft: Von dem gemeinen Vorurtheil der wirkenden und thätigen Hexerei. "Our enlightened times" he began, "in which the sciences seem to have reached the highest point, no longer tolerate any prejudices" He confesses, however, that he himself had not begun to doubt the reality of witchcraft until about a dozen years before. The popular prejudice which he thought it now high time to eradicate was the tendency to ascribe to the agency of witches "all injuries, diseases, and bodily infirmities which neither the doctor, nor the smith, nor the headsman may be able to recognize or to cure"[5] As regards the production of storms by sorceresses, he asks: "Can we reconcile it with the infinite goodness and wisdom of God that he should permit the course of Nature to be disturbed in order that an old woman may revenge herself on her neighbor?" The tales of transportation through the air on broomsticks, tongs, forks, and other domestic utensils transformed into fiery steeds, he dismissed as "the ridiculous gossip of old crones over their washtubs" But if witchcraft be a delusion, why did a kind and just Providence permit thousands of persons to be, on this account, cruelly tortured and put to death? In order to escape this dilemma, Sterzinger replies: "Do not those deserve death who blaspheme God, invoke and worship the devil, kill innocent children, and exhume corpses for the purpose of injuring their neighbors?" This question assumes the truth of the accusations usually brought against supposed witches, and proves that Sterzinger had not freed his mind from many of the absurdest prejudices of his time. The chief significance of his discourse consisted in the fact that it was delivered by an ecclesiastic before the Bavarian Academy of Sciences under the auspices of a sovereign whose immediate predecessors had been fanatical witch persecutors. It is a curious circumstance, showing how slight was the intellectual intercourse then between Catholic and Protestant Germany, that Sterzinger makes no allusion to Christian Thomasius, of Halle, who had still more effectually exposed the folly of the belief in witchcraft more than sixty years before. Sterzinger's standpoint is sufficiently characterized by the paragraph in his discussion of "Apparitions" (Gespenstererscheinungen), where he asserts that "to deny the devil is unbelief; to ascribe to him too little power is heresy; but to concede to him too great power is superstition" But once admitting diabolical agency as an actual and efficient factor in human affairs, it is impossible to draw a line at which the influence of Satan ceases, and credulity finds no stopping place until it reaches the misty plateau of the Blocksberg, or joins in the disgusting orgies of the sabbat.

Nevertheless, the discourse, with all its lack of logical force and consistency, produced an immense sensation and led to a fierce controversy, in which some of his academical colleagues took part as the zealous defenders of witchcraft, appealing to Holy Writ, Thomas Aquinas, the bulls of the popes, and canon law as their principal authorities. One of them, an Augustine friar named P. Angelus Merz, admitted that storms are due to natural causes, but added that spirits have a clearer and keener insight into these causes than men, and can make them operative in much shorter time than would be the case in the ordinary course of Nature. The most characteristic argument, however, was used by a Benedictine of the Bavarian cloister of Scheiern, P. Angelus März.[6] "Our cloister" he says, "can boast of having the largest piece of the true cross, stained with the blood of Christ, in all Germany. So great is the adoration of it and so strong is the faith in it that it has been necessary to make little crosses of brass or silver, which are brought into contact with the sacred relic and then disposed of to the worshipers." He states that often as many as forty thousand of these crosses are sold in a single year, and that they serve to protect their possessors against lightning, thunder, and tempest, and especially to heal bewitched cattle. But, he concludes, "if witchcraft is an old wives' fable, a prejudice, then are we, the father friars of Scheiern, infamous cheats, liars, and jugglers" An oratio pro domo of this sort might be suitably delivered by a monk to his fellow-monastics, but sounds strangely enough in the mouth of an academician addressing his learned associates in scientific research.

Opposition of this kind only served to enlighten the public mind, and the secularization of the cloisters in Bavaria by Maximilian Joseph, in 1803, destroyed the last lurking places of the witchcraft delusion, of which the mendicant friars were the most persistent promoters. This measure was followed in 1806 by the complete abolition of judicial torture,[7] and on October 1, 1813, by the publication of Anselm Feuerbach's new criminal code, in which heresy, witchcraft, and sorcery found no place, and the secular arm ceased to be the instrument of a mediæval hierarchy for the punishment of religious superstition. But a long-cherished and deeply rooted delusion is not easily eradicated, and although witchcraft disappeared from the Bavarian statute books, and by being thus removed from the jurisdiction of both secular and ecclesiastical tribunals was robbed of its most baneful character, it has not ceased to haunt the imaginations of men, and the belief in it continues to be fostered by the Catholic Church both in papal encyclicals and in popular literature.[8] Perhaps the most recent instance of this survival of mediævalism in one of the chief centers of modern civilization and scientific culture occurred on March 15, 1897, at Munich, Bavaria, where a Catholic priest of St. Benedict's Church solemnly went through the ceremony of exorcising a demon that haunted a house at No. 24 Park Street in that city. It seems that the evil spirit had disturbed the pious inmates of the dwelling by groaning, sighing, and making such a racket generally that it was impossible for them to sleep, and was seen one night by a child passing through the room in the disguise of an old woman dressed in black, evidently a survival of the race of ugly and ill-starred hags who have played such a melancholy part in the tragic annals of witchcraft. On receiving this information the parish priest and his acolytes went at once to the house with aspergills and censers to expel the infernal intruder by the supernal power inherent in holy water and consecrated incense. The event caused considerable sensation in the Bavarian capital and excited mingled feelings of indignation and disgust in the minds of even many good Catholics.

Lest we should pride ourselves on our superior enlightenment and freedom from the thralls of mediæeval supernaturalism, it would be well to remember that on January 6, 1897, Satan was burned in effigy in New York, to the loud shouting and singing of jubilant Salvationists. Of the two performances, we must confess that the low-toned and almost unintelligible mutterings of the sacerdotal exorcist in Munich, arrayed in gorgeous ecclesiastical robes and armed with the approved apparatus of incantation, was by far the more dignified and impressive, and, considered merely as a pageant, had a certain picturesqueness which was wholly absent from the crude and vulgar exhibition at the headquarters of the Salvation Army in West Fourteenth Street.

One curious and questionable feature of such survivals of mediævalism as that just witnessed in Bavaria, is the kind of evidence on which they rest. In most cases it is some child who sees the apparition and reports it, and whose word is accepted as conclusive. In the forest at Planegg, near Munich, is a little church known as Maria Eich, or Mary of the Oak. It is built round an oak tree, which stands just behind the altar, and is visited every year by thousands of pilgrims, who seek at this wonder-working shrine redemption from sin and relief for bodily infirmities. Here, too, the chapel in the woods, now so popular as a place of pilgrimage, owes its origin to the freak of a couple of boys, sons of a blacksmith, who in 1710 placed an image of the Virgin of Loreto in the bark of an oak, where it remained for a long time unnoticed and was gradually overgrown, until only the face could be seen apparently peering out of the trunk of the tree. This strange phenomenon now began to attract attention and soon came to be regarded as a supernatural apparition, and this belief was confirmed by rumors of miracles wrought by it. The sacredness of the spot, however, did not prevent the tree from being struck by lightning and partially destroyed on August 13, 1805, so that now nothing is left of it but a dead stump. With the predilection for logical non sequiturs peculiar to hagiologists, the fact that no one was killed by this accident was ascribed to the special protection of the Virgin, and this inference added greatly to the reputation of Maria Eich. Why she should have permitted the hallowed oak, which had borne her own image, to be smitten by a bolt from the sky, could not be satisfactorily explained, but was readily accepted as a divine mystery. According to the official record extending from 1732 to 1800, she showed herself gracious seven hundred and seventy-nine times during this period of sixty-eight years; since the beginning of the present century the tokens of her favor have been innumerable, in proof of which the skeptic is pointed to the mass of votive tablets and thank-offerings. That the rules of evidence here applied should suffice to convince ignorant peasants is natural enough. But how is it with the priests, who have had a university education, and are therefore supposed to be competent to see through such shallow and transparent fallacies? Are these men honest or not? Do they really believe what they affirm, or do they uphold these absurdities merely because such teachings foster piety and strengthen the power of the Catholic Church? Doubtless some of these eccleciastics are hypocrites, but it would be unjust to assume that the majority of them are practicing dissimulation and deceit.

The true answer to these puzzling questions is to be found by pointing to the kind of institutions of learning in which the clergy receive their education. Take, for example, as a favorable specimen, the Academy of Münster in Westphalia, which comprises only two faculties, one of theology and one of philosophy, but which, as regards the instruction imparted in these departments of study, claims to be on a par with German universities in general. The Prussian Government also exercises a certain control over the appointment of the professors. As an illustration of the sort of knowledge and intellectual discipline acquired in this academy, which has nearly five hundred students and about fifty professors, we may cite a course of lectures delivered in the summer semester of 1897 by Prof. Joseph Bautz on Die Lehre von den letzten Dingen, or the doctrine of the last day, including the dogmas of the Romish Church concerning the final judgment, purgatory, heaven, and hell. On each of these subjects Professor Bautz has already published a little volume, issued at Mainz with the approbation of the bishop, and therefore containing views accepted by the highest ecclesiastical authorities as orthodox. His positive knowledge of the topography of the infernal, purgatorial, and celestial regions is most remarkable, and can hardly fail to excite the amazement and admiration of the young candidates for holy orders who listen to his academical lectures. Purgatory, he tells us, is three stories high and all aglow with flames, which, however, are rather light-colored and pinkish in contrast with the dark-red and lurid fires of hell. The lower story of purgatory borders on hell, while the upper story is near the gates of heaven. Thus the same fire, although in different intensity, serves to torture the damned and to purge the just. This arrangement, he adds, is such as we should naturally expect from the all-wise God, who avoids superfluities and chooses the simplest and most economical way of accomplishing his eternal purposes; and it is also confirmed by the testimony of Mechthild of Magdeburg, St. Brigitta, and of a vision recorded by the Venerable Bede. The professor's so-called "facts" which he is constantly and copiously citing in proof of his theses consist almost wholly of what he terms "visions and private revelations" or what the carnal-minded scientist would dismiss with contempt as the wild dreams and morbid imaginations and "airy nothings" of ecstatic saints and hysterical nuns. Thus, as regards the duration of purgatory, he says, Catharine Emmerich speaks of souls compelled to remain in that place for centuries; according to Marina of Escobar, the average time seems to be at least from ten to twenty and fifty years or more; but Francisca of the Holy Sacrament was visited by pious Carmelite nuns, who had been in purgatorial fires for sixty years and expected to abide there much longer. A little girl, who died when she was eight years old, had been in purgatory sixteen years when last heard from through "the apparition of 1870"; this same authority, frequently adduced by the learned professor, states that some souls are not released from purgatorial punishment until the end of the world.

How material fire can affect disembodied spirits, and whether souls in purgatory are directly tortured by the devil, are questions, he says, which are quite pertinent in this connection, but somewhat difficult to answer. Whatever doubts may arise, however, are removed by the testimony of eyewitnesses, such as the blessed Maria Anna Lindmayr, to whom her friend Maria Becher and the mother of the latter appeared and left on her feet scars which were produced by contact with their persons, and were not only visible but quite painful for weeks afterward. Another instance, tending to edify the faithful and to confound the skeptical, occurred on November 16, 1859, at ten o'clock in the morning in the cloister of the nuns of St. Clare at Foligno, where a recently deceased sister appeared enveloped in smoke and earnestly entreated the superior, Anna Felice, to intercede in her behalf; in token of her presence she left the imprint of her hand burned into the door. The tourist in the Tyrol, who visits a little church in a place of pilgrimage near Innsbruck, will be shown by the sexton a similar mark of a man's hand on a wooden door. The deceased, we are informed, had been noted for his piety, and his widow could hardly believe the woeful tale of his purgatorial sufferings as he related them to her on one occasion, begging her at the same time to hasten his release by having additional masses said for his soul. In order to convince her of the truth of his statements, he pressed his hand against the door and left his "sign manual" there for all time.

Professor Bautz is equally certain as regards the locality of hell, which, he says, is not in Mars or in the moon or in the sun, but in the innermost parts of our own globe; volcanoes are its flues and earthquakes are produced by the movement of its fiery waves when it is especially active owing to the arrival of a large number of the damned. When the ground begins to tremble under our feet and the habitations of men "nod from high and totter to their fall" we now know the reason why. The seismometer thus acquires a new and most appalling significance as a means not only of measuring the concussions and vibrations transmitted in the material of the earth's crust, but also of registering the intensity of the sufferings endured by the denizens of hell. In the light of this doctrine we see the smoke of their torment ascending from every volcanic crater, and discern in the earthquake a moral admonition and spiritual meaning of which "science falsely so called" has not the slightest appreciation.

Professor Bautz tells us, furthermore, that souls in hell are beyond redemption and therefore without means of grace. In purgatory, on the contrary, sacred rites are performed and sanctuary privileges are enjoyed. The "poor souls" go to church (perhaps as a part of their punishment), and the services are conducted by deceased priests or, on extraordinary occasions, by holy angels sent for that purpose. The feasts and fasts prescribed by the Catholic Church are observed there; in this respect "the most perfect order prevails in purgatory" Indeed, he seems to think that in no spot on the surface of the earth are the offices so well done and the conduct of the worshipers so earnest and exemplary as in this subterranean place of expiation on the very confines of hell. It is no wonder that under such circumstances there should be "kindled in their glowing breasts an ardent longing for mansions in the skies"

In speaking of the final judgment. Professor Bautz refers to the resurrection of the Virgin Mary and her ascension to heaven as incontestable historical facts and describes these events in all their details. The apostles, he informs us, were caught up into the air, wherever they happened to be, and transported to Jerusalem, the scene of her "glorious departure" On their arrival they saw angels and heard the celestial hosts singing psalms. The body of the Virgin Mother was buried at Gethsemane and escorted thither by apostles and angels, the latter continuing to sing at her grave for the next three days. On the third day Thomas also made his appearance, this delay being due probably to the difficulty attending his aërial transportation on account of the heavy burden of doubt resting upon the mind of the inveterate skeptic. He was welcomed, however, by the other apostles, who took him to the tomb in order to show him the body of the deceased, when lo! it was no longer there; only the shroud lay on the ground and "emitted an indescribable perfume"

It would be tedious, as well as superfluous, to cumber our pages with further citations. These few examples will suffice to show the kind of academical instruction and intellectual discipline imparted to young men in such institutions of learning as the one at Münster, in which Professor Bautz is a bright and shining light. What wonder, then, that priests, who have been prepared for their sacred calling by having their minds crammed with stuff of this sort, and who have been taught to accept Tertullian's test of truth, "Credo quia absurdum" as the highest law of evidence and to make the absurdity of any statement the ground of its credibility, should be full of superstitious notions, especially as regards our relations to the invisible world and the agency of the devil in human affairs!"[9]

Professor Bautz makes no claim to originality in his views, but merely gives a general exposition of the opinions held by many fathers of the Church and the great majority of mediæval theologians. Tertullian and other patristic authorities believed volcanic eruptions to be the outbursts of hell fire, and in the middle ages Hecla was regarded with peculiar awe as one of the principal vent-holes of the infernal regions. The queer thing is that such antiquated and childish notions should be revived and taught in a German seminary of learning in the last decade of the nineteenth century.


  1. Artesque maleficas Phitonissarum; evidently a slip for Pithonissarum, or more correctly Pythonissarum. Another queer corruption is the allusion of tortured witches in their confessions to Filius Zabres—i. e., Virgilius Zauberer, Virgil the magician. In the middle ages the author of the Æneid acquired a popular reputation as a wizard which wholly eclipsed his fame as a poet. The first mention of him in this character is by John of Salisbury in the Policratius in 1159; but many tales and traditions of his power as a sorcerer were current, especially in Naples, long before the twelfth century.
  2. One of the severest charges brought by the Dominican friar Father Concinna against "Luther, Melanchthon, and their confederates" was that they did not believe in the existence of witches; unfortunately, the accusation is untrue, but it proves the strong desire of Catholic writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to claim for the papacy the sole honor of being sound on the witchcraft question. In the early part of the sixteenth century the jurist Franz Fonzimibius wrote a treatise, in which he ventured to utter opinions of hie own concerning witches. Bartholomew de Spina, in the work above mentioned (page 202), takes him to task for his impudence. "That a mere lawyer" he says, "should discuss a theological subject and set himself in opposition to profound theologians, such as the inquisitors commonly are, betrays extreme arrogance and can excite only the scorn and derision of all persons of discernment. I wonder at the effrontery of this man, and shudder."
  3. This book, written in 1456, has been handed down to us in three manuscripts, one in Wolfenbüttel, a second (incomplete) in Dresden, and a third in Heidelberg. This last consists of seventy-eight sheets in octavo, and bears the date 1558; at the end is the name of the Augsburg nun, Clara Hätzerlin, who made a business of copying manuscripts. She is chiefly known as the compiler of a Liederbuch, now in Prague, a collection of poems, some of which are decidedly indelicate, and prove that the cloistered virgins of that time were not prudes. Riezler prints in the appendix to his volume an extract from Hartheb's work, taken from the Heidelberg manuscript; indeed, the whole of it should be published as a valuable contribution to the witchcraft literature of the fifteenth century. Interesting is the use of Unglauben (unbelief) for Aberglauben (superstition) in the title. The latter woid was first introduced into the German language by Luther, who as a schismatic and heretic felt the need of a nicer discrimination between heresy, superstition, and sorcery, which the Catholic Church had hitherto lumped together as forms of unbelief and lapses from the true faith due to the seductions of Satan, the arch apostate. The reformer fully believed in the existence of pacts with the devil, but refused to admit dissent from the doctrines and renunciation of the authority of the papal hierarchy as proofs of a covenant with hell. The neologism Aberglaube is the memorial of this protest, so interesting historically and theologically.
  4. The recently canonized Jesuit Canisius wrote in 1563 to Laynez, the friend and associate of Loyola, complaining of the increase of witches in Bavaria and accusing them of devouring children. He was also held in high repute as an exorcist, and in 1 569 cast ten devils out of Anna Bernhauserin, a servant in the famous Fugger family at Augsburg. The tenth devil, however, proved to be a very obstinate one, and was expelled only in the presence and by the aid of the wonder-working image of the Virgin at Altötting, near Munich.
  5. This mention of "Arzt, Sclinued oder Freimann" as regular practitioners of the healing art would indicate that medicine, at least, was not one of the sciences which had reached the highest point at that time. The use of the word "Freimann" for executioner seems to have been confined to Munich.
  6. Owing to the similarity of their names, the Augustine and Benedictine have been frequently confounded, but they were two distinct persons and both prominent members of the Academy of Sciences. Scheiern was originally a castle belonging to the ancestors of the Wittelsbach dynasty, the present royal house of Bavaria, In 1108 it was converted into a cloister, which was secularized and sold in 1803. It was bought, restored, and richly endowed by Ludwig I, who intended to make it a place of burial for the royal family. The Benedictines took formal possession of it again with great pomp in 1838.
  7. Other German states anticipated Bavaria in this beneficent reform, Prussia having abolished judicial torture in 1740, Baden in 1767, Saxony in 1770, and Austria in 1776.
  8. See, for some examples of this tendency, the Popular Science Monthly for December, 1892, and October and November, 1895.
  9. Since this article was written, a distinguished Catholic theologian, Dr. Hermann Schell, Professor of Apologetics in the University of Würzburg, has published a book entitled Der Katholizismus als Prinzip des Fortschritts, in which he ascribes the Catholic clergy's "inferiority in the independent exercise of their reason" to the same cause—namely, the pernicious character of their theological training, involving the sacrifice of the intellect to the dictates of ecclesiastical authority. In this connection he refers to the "revelations of Miss Diana Vaughan," and the credulity with which they were received by the clergy, as a recent illustration of the results of such teaching. The ease with which the representatives of the Romish hierarchy, from the infallible Pope and his cardinals down to the humblest country vicar, fell into the snare laid by Leo Taxil and his confederate?, ought to serve as a serious warning and lead to educational reform.