Graphic Rule
Graphic Rule



On the death of Theodosius, the last ruler of the Empire proper who was capable of military leadership, the West began to go to pieces. A year later Alaric invaded Greece and attacked Italy; invasion followed invasion until by the middle of the fifth century Gaul, Spain and Africa had been lost, and in 476 Rome, thrice sacked, had a barbarian king. With the destruction of Imperial power the church was forced to fend for itself, its only weapon being the conversion of such barbarians as had not hitherto enjoyed its blessings. In later centuries the Christians accused the Saracens of cruelty and bloodiness, but in their own missionary work they set a ruthless example. They went about procuring converts on the grand scale by appealing directly to kings and chiefs, since these leaders, once convinced that Christianity was to their interest, could force the baptism of their subjects en masse. Thus Augustine claimed to have had ten thousand Angli baptized in one day, and Heraclius baptized one hundred thousand people in one year. Charlemagne decreed that any who rejected baptism should be put to death, and there is no estimate of the number upon whom this decree was executed in the thirty-three years of relentless warfare which he pursued in building the Holy Roman Empire. It required over two centuries of warfare to Christianize Scandinavia, and almost as long to spread the light across Middle Europe. The cost of Christianizing the whole of Europe is estimated at from eight to ten million lives, while the necessarily late introduction of Christianity into the New World was to cost twelve million native lives and utterly destroy the civilization of the Aztecs and the Incas.

As Imperial disintegration divided the whole of Europe into principalities, so it divided the church along the lines of the chief bishoprics, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, Jerusalem and Rome, which were now set at each other in a race for power. Rome was destined to survive, but the Rome See established its supremacy only after some centuries of vicissitude and by the aid of elaborate fabrications and forgeries in ecclesiastic literature, bribery and subversive intrigue, and a degree of ruthlessness which was the envy of kings themselves.

In the eastern churches, from the fourth century onwards, priests of every rank continued to be called 'popes' in imitation of Mithraism in which the priest was papa; but the bishop of Rome, who had, as it were, inherited the crown of Caesar, early arrogated to himself the exclusive prerogative to this familial title. There appeared in Matthew's gospel the Mithraic allusion, 'Thou art Peter, and upon this rock [petra] I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind [forbid] on earth shall be bound in heaven.' This passage is not recorded by the other three evangelists, although Mark, who strongly favored Peter, and also Luke narrate the incident out of which it is said to have arisen; nor is it referred to by Paul or any other writer. It is consequently accepted as a late interpolation, possibly made by Clement of Rome to support his own see and the one which claimed Peter as its founder. This verse was first advanced by Gregory I as a divine fiat to the Pope of Rome authorizing him to dictate to all Christians in ecclesiastic matters. Under the spurious Isidorean Decretals, forged presumably in the province of Tours about 850, the Roman See fortuitously came into control of the Frankish bishops and extended its nominal authority over the entire north of Europe. Basing its claim on the Petrine text, Rome now began to dream of a vast theocracy which would rule the world. The hope was long delayed while the ambitions and jealousies of kings, dukes, barons and princelings kept the whole of Europe in a state of war, and the conflict between Rome and other bishoprics kept the church itself in a divided state. It was not until the Saracens, who held the east, began to threaten the trans-Mediterranean lands that the dream gave promise of fulfillment.

Conceiving that the Holy Land, and secondarily the great cities of Asia Minor, could be recovered for the church, Urban II in 1095 instigated a vast penitential pilgrimage to Jerusalem which was also to be a war against the infidel. He promised all who participated therein freedom from the common law, remission of sin, and blessed immortality. This, the First Crusade, proceeded southwards across Europe, massacring, torturing and plundering without restraint. Two divisions indulged in such excess in Hungary that they were destroyed; a third, after killing some ten thousand Jews in the valley of the Rhine, was dissipated in the south; of two others multitudes perished by the way and the remainder arrived in Constantinople with sadly diminished numbers after having plundered the Greeks who had given them aid. Many were sold as slaves to pay for the feeding of the rest. Seven thousand out of a number variously estimated at 150,000 to 300,000 finally crossed the Bosporus and perished utterly at the hands of the Turks. A heap of whitening bones alone remained to testify to subsequent crusaders the fate of this, the so-called 'People's Crusade.'

Two years later a better organized military force, under Godfrey of Bouillon, succeeded in taking Jerusalem and founded the Latin kingdom of Palestine, which endured intact for nearly a hundred years and in a nominal form for a century longer. A month's siege was required to take the city, and no pagan army proved to be more ferocious than were the Christians. Divided amongst themselves by jealous leaders and mutual hatreds, the only unifying force was their hatred of the infidel. Jerusalem withstood a month's siege, and when it fell at last the Jews were herded into the synagogues and burned alive, and the chroniclers boasted that the crusaders rode their horses to the Temple knee-deep in the blood of disbelievers. At nightfall, 'sobbing for excess of joy,' as they reported, the crusaders came at last to the Holy Sepulcher to raise their bloodstained hands in prayer. On the next day, in the name of the Jesus who was supposed to have been buried in the sepulcher, they slaughtered a great multitude of people of every age, old men and women, maidens, children and mothers with infants, by way of a solemn sacrifice.

Eight times during the next two centuries the conflict between Christianity and Islam flared up in the east. As the papacy saw its chance to weaken an emperor, to enrich itself, or simply to divert the people of Europe from interstate warfare, the crusading effort was repeated. Crusading became a Christian vocation and, the Christians having learned the principle of organized and ruthless warfare in practice against the infidel, it was not long before they were applying its technique to themselves in efforts to stamp out Satanic heresy.

When, in effect, Gregory the Great prohibited the laity from reading the scriptures, he was moved by a deep concern lest Christians misinterpret the sacred allegories and thereby fall into dogmatic error. If the prohibition was successful in this respect, it was equally successful in creating a new and fertile soil for heresy in the form of a vast, illiterate populace. People who were not permitted to read the Holy Book had little reason to learn to read at all, and all history testifies that it is only the written word which can elevate the intellectual level of the masses above crass superstition. The age called Dark derived its gloom not from any pall cast by the fall of Rome, nor the ignorance of barbarian invaders, nor yet by war, nor plague, nor famine, and most certainly not by any decadence of the human intellect, but simply from the circumstance that reason and criticism had been condemned and displaced by Christian faith.

The medieval soil was rich for heresy, and worse. In spite of the forceful edicts of Constantine, Constantius and Theodosius, in spite of the Justinian Code and the anathemas of many popes, heresy had never ceased. It was not because of the absence of unbelief, but because of the physical inability of the church to undertake persecutions in a rigorous manner that dogmatic disagreement received negligible attention from the seventh until the eleventh century. Here and there, when admonitions failed to work, a heretic was punished, but history furnishes scarcely more than a bare mention of their death. In 1012 ten dissenters, and in 1017 twelve more, were burned at Orléans, and several more were destroyed in 1022 at Toulouse. In the next century one Pierre de Bruys was burned at St. Gilles (1126) for the assertion that the salvation of every man depends upon his personal merits and that God listens to the prayers of the just whether uttered inside or outside a church. In 1197 Peter II of Aragon decreed that all heretics who had not left his kingdom by a stated time would be put to death. If these events merit any common interpretation, they bespeak an awakening dissatisfaction on the part of the laity with the superstitious practices of the church and the immorality of the priesthood.

During the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the dissatisfaction broke into open revolt in the district of Albigensium, in southern France, among a people who called themselves Catharists (Puritans). Some Christian historians assert that the Albigenses were adherents of Satanism in its worst and most dangerous form, a still more perverted faith and practice stemming from Manichaeism. The particulars of the unbelief which Satan was here spreading were largely lost to history in the ensuing conflagration, but the Albigenses appear to have been an ascetic cult which sought to purge the church of sacerdotalism, simony and superstition. Apart from a select coterie who called themselves the Perfect, and who carried asceticism to a great extreme, the Catharists appear to have been a prosperous, intelligent and industrious people. In part their heterodoxy consisted of the facts that they abstained from eating flesh or killing animals, they wished to read the Bible for themselves, they condemned tithes, opposed prayers for the dead, preached peace and nonresistance, practiced ordination but refused to take an oath and used a system of sacraments technically different from that of the church, and aimed, in principle at least, to return to the Pauline ideal of poverty and simplicity. Their poets and minstrels openly ridiculed the clergy; they refused to worship images, saints, angels and the Virgin, scoffed at the Trinity, the Incarnation, Resurrection and Ascension, and denied the miraculous power of bells and crosses and even of the bones and other sacred relics of the saints. Above all, the Albigenses denied the authority of the pope and the supernatural power of his priests.

For two hundred years a succession of popes had tried by councils and condemnations to stamp out these Satanic agents, who persisted, even in the guise of wealthy and prominent citizens, in spreading insidious doctrines through France like a spiritual disease. Following the death sentences at Toulouse, condemnations were leveled against them in 1028 and 1056, a number being burned at Angoulême on the former date, and special preachers were sent into the devil's territory to try conversion in 1101 and 1114; in vain the Council of Toulouse in 1119 ordered the nobility and secular powers to assist in quelling the heresy. The title 'inquisitor,' in the sense of a judge in the matter of faith, was first used under the authority of Pope Alexander III by the Council of Tours, which condemned the Albigenses in 1163; and in 1184 the Synod of Verona cursed them roundly and ordered them, in case they relapsed or proved obdurate, to be handed over to the secular authorities for punishment by death.

When in 1198 Innocent III ascended to the papal throne, participation in the now open war between Satan and the church evoked the fervor of all classes. The crusading movement had become popular with kings and dukes as a means of settling political quarrels and readjusting boundaries. Knights and barons found in it an opportunity to enhance their fortunes; seigniors and gentry joined to escape from boredom, the multitude because they had no other occupation, or were pleased to exchange a dull and menial livelihood for rations, excitement, and the possibilities of distant travel in the army of the Lord. The raison d'être of the crusade, the recovery of the sepulcher, had been completely lost from view. Deploring these base motives, Innocent strove to correct the crusading spirit and to this end, in 1202, launched the so-called Fourth Crusade, in which Constantinople was captured (in 1204) and brought under Christian rule for the first time since the fall of Rome. Innocent, pleased to accept the capital of the East in lieu of the sepulcher, was dazzled by the eminence of his new position. He now became so royal that a Byzantine visitor to Rome declared that the pontiff of East and West was indeed not the successor of Peter, but of Constantine. The Pope himself asserted, 'The Lord left to Peter the governance not of the church only, but of the whole world.' When the Emperor of Constantinople quoted Peter to the contrary, Innocent replied in all sincerity that the apostle's admonition to obey the king as supreme was addressed, not to the clergy, but to the laity.

Innocent usually is cited as the greatest of all papal diplomats. After centuries of intrigue and warfare between the western bishoprics, he succeeded by his encyclopedic knowledge, the acumen of his political instincts and the sheer force of his character in gaining the final and supreme command for Rome. By the terrifying instrument of excommunication he demonstrated that the spiritual was at least de facto superior to the temporal power. He deposed Philip of Swabia in favor of Otto IV, then ousted Otto to put Philip again in power, and, finally, after Philip's murder, installed young Frederick II as emperor of Germany and by this move virtually reduced this country to a papal state. He dictated the marriage policies of Philip Augustus of France, Peter of Aragon and Alphonso IX, and dominated many lesser princelings, while he forced John of England to subordinate the crown of that country and Ireland in favor of a fief of the Roman see, subject to an annual tribute. By the edict of the Council of Toulouse, he held even bishops accountable to papal inquisitors and liable to the charge of heresy.

It was now, when the Fourth Crusade had spread the power of the church to the Bosporus, that Innocent perceived he would have to renew the war with Satan, who was about to destroy the church in southern France. Here the Catharists, or the bonshommes as they were affectionately known to the local people, were multiplying rapidly, protected by wealthy nobles among whom was Raymond, Count of Toulouse, a heretic himself, so Innocent charged, who was lax in the faith and tolerated and was even friendly with the Jews. Having failed through a period of ten years to convert the heretics by anathemas and denunciations, Innocent called for a crusade in 1209. Faced with the need of raising a large army to assault the Albigenses, and following the principle laid down by Gregory the Great and utilized by other popes in their crusades -- that the church could for sums of money grant indulgences that waived canonical penances -- he offered God's forgiveness for all sins, past and future, his own blessing, which conveyed God's grace, and the cancellation of interest on all debts as well as exemption from the jurisdiction of all ordinary courts, to any who would join in his crusade to drive the devil out of France. He gathered an army which in its hatred of Satan and its zeal for God's service established new precedents. When the papal legate, Arnold, Abbot of Cîteaux, was asked how heretics were to be distinguished from true believers, he is reported to have said, "Kill all; God will know his own." It was the Abbot's pleasure to report back to the Pope that in Beziers alone 'nearly twenty thousand human beings perished by the sword. And after the massacre the town was plundered and burnt, and the revenge of God seemed to rage over it in a wonderful manner " The crusaders spared 'neither dignity, nor sex nor age,' several thousand heretics being slain in the Church of Mary Magdalene where presumably they had falsely sought refuge. When tired of quick deaths, the crusaders grew dilatory and amused themselves by tearing out eyes and subjecting the heretics to other tortures. Innocent himself grew sick of the slaughter and publicly deplored the ardor of his troops, but he was unable to stop them. The faithful were enjoying themselves depopulating the south of France, confiscating property, settling political quarrels, extending baronial domains, and always fighting under the banner of the one true God. The immediate supply of heretics lasted the crusaders twenty years and it is estimated that a million of them were exterminated before the end of a century.

The crusade against the Albigenses was so well received that violent repression thereafter became the established policy of the church. No less an authority than Augustine had endorsed the use of force by citing the command in Luke, 'Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled'; Jerome, Leo the Great and a long line of churchmen had urged capital punishment for those who would split theological definitions. The Code of Gratian regulated the lives of the clergy from the cradle to the grave, and thereby furnished an example for the regulation of the lives of the laity, while the Isidorean Decretals had given the pope cognizance not only of ecclesiastic offenses but also of offenses of a mixed character. There remained then no argument against the pope's judging all aspects of belief and conduct and, if it proved necessary, imposing his will by the use of force. Since he could not personally conduct all inquiries, Gregory IX in 1232 empowered preaching Dominican friars to examine and pass judgment on suspected persons. These commissioners traveled from place to place, calling upon the people to confess or to denounce those whom they suspected to be heretics, and doing their work so well that they came to be known, from a play upon their name, as Domini canes, or hounds of God.

The major crusade initiated by Gregory was against some fisherfolk called the Stedinger, of Friesland, who worshiped the devil under the name of Asmodi; the devil appeared to them, so the inquisitors claimed, as a duck, a goose or a youth, and when they kissed him and danced around him, enveloped them in total darkness whereupon they all, males and females, gave themselves up to debauchery. The leader of this and other of Gregory's crusades was Conrad of Marburg, who embodied the best qualities of an inquisitor. He was endowed with penetrating insight into the devil's wiles, possessed unlimited ingenuity in trapping his agents and unbounded courage to face the unpleasantness and even the danger of the task. Conrad's thoroughness evoked so much opposition that archbishops were moved to remonstrate with the Pope, but to no avail, and the fagots were lit as soon as he appeared in a community. It has been said of him that he was harsh, inflexible and unlovable and swayed by no fear of persons or danger of death, that even his most prejudiced critics have never denied the singleness of his convictions and courage; if his zeal in ferreting out the evil ones bordered on fanaticism, the terrible situation with which he had to deal demanded such a man, for one of gentler disposition could not have faced its difficulties. Admittedly, his virtues did not include among them any of those softer features ordinarily called human, because the very nature of the evils which he had to expose and punish and the awful power of Satan who was behind them demanded a man possessing neither heart, nerves nor stomach. He succeeded in bringing an enormous number of heretics to the fire, some say eight thousand in a single year, before he was murdered by several noblemen of Mayence in 1233. Gregory immediately canonized him as a saint and martyr.

In Spain the inquisition was slow in starting, for this country had been pagan under the Visigoths, Catholic under the Hispano-Romans, Mohammedan by conquest and, under a regime of religious freedom, Judaism had developed peacefully alongside the Christian church. A mutual tolerance of different beliefs had arisen, which though vigorously denounced by popes in the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth centuries proved stronger than the inquisitors, who repeatedly tried to initiate the persecution of heresy. In the fourteenth century, however, adverse feeling set in against the Mohammedans and Jews, and the Christian clergy began to offer condemnation and death as the alternative to baptism. In the fifteenth century, jealousy between the local inquisitors appointed by the Spanish church and those appointed by Rome complicated the persecution of heretics who were thereafter pursued simultaneously by two inquisitions and had to pay double penalties. Resisting the use of torture until long after it had been familiar in the rest of Europe, the Spanish clergy ultimately included it in their theological armamentarium and added to it new refinements of the most exquisite kind. As usual they terminated it with death by bonfire, though it appears that the condemned were generally strangled before being placed upon the pyre. The crimes for which life imprisonment or death could be inflicted by the Spanish Inquisition included making ablutions in the daytime, abstaining from swine's flesh or wine, using henna, singing Moorish songs, possessing Arabic manuscripts, and indulging in mathematics and philosophy.

A notable crime was the possession of books suspected of heresy. Constantine had had the writings of Arius destroyed, Theodosius II and Valentinian III those of the Nestorians and Manichaeans, and Justinian, the Talmud. Aristotle's Periphyseon had been condemned in 1210, and the works of other men had been forbidden to the people at frequent intervals in this and the next century. In 1502 Ferdinand and Isabella established the censure of books as a state institution, all volumes having to be approved by the bishops, and in 1558 the penalty of death and confiscation of property was decreed against any bookseller or individual in whose possession a condemned book was found.


In considering the motives underlying the inquisition into heresy it may be assumed that the popes, prelates and lay officers who supported it were usually moved by the sincerest piety. The confiscation of a condemned man's property, as an accompaniment of the more severe penalties, must in certain instances have moved secular and ecclesiastic princes to support the inquisitors in the hope of gain, the worst abuses in this respect arising from the policy of confiscating a man's property posthumously, in which case his children and grandchildren were made subject to the penalty. But granting that jealousy, ambition, cupidity or the desire to preserve and enhance the temporal power of the church may in some instances have stimulated the inquisitors, the main motive underlying the persecution of heterodoxy from the time of Constantine onwards was the desire to preserve God's kingdom on earth against the attacks of Satan. In this battle the inquisitors had the allegiance of the vast majority of people; completely credulous of Christian theology, possessing a philosophy happily uncomplicated by any perspective of history or doubts such as might be stirred by a knowledge of natural philosophy, the masses were just as enthusiastic and sincere in heretic hunting as were the priests. A heretic was the flesh and blood embodiment of the Evil One and an enemy of God; to smell out these frightful fiends and burn them filled the devout with ecstasy and gave them a deep sense of righteousness.

One of the strongest bids to allegiance offered by the early church had been the protection it offered against the devil and his works. The belief in evil spirits had been dogmatically approved from the first century onwards. Augustine affirmed that witchcraft depends on a pact with the devil, and exorcism or protection against demonic influence by means of the church's sacred magic, the use of amulets, charms, incantations, exorcisms, prayers, the reading of the scriptures, the sight or manual sign of the cross, had always been one of its chief services. But to resort to any other kind of magic was to practice Satan's black art. Through the emphasis placed on wonder-working in both the Old and New Testaments and by all priests and ecclesiastic scholars, every application of magic became a potential miracle; in the course of a few centuries pious imaginations and clerical jealousies exalted the most ordinary phenomena into the miraculous, and men were prepared to believe anything and everything. Agobard, Archbishop of Lyon, probably spoke without exaggeration when he declared in the ninth century that 'the wretched world lies now under the tyranny of foolishness; things are believed by Christians of such absurdity as no one ever could aforetime induce the heathen to believe.'

The magicians of Egypt had threatened that unless their demands were granted they would reach out to the four corners of the earth, pull down the pillars of heaven and wreck the abodes of the gods above and those of men below. From the time of Constantine on all observation of nature, except as it expressly led to the saving of souls or the affirmation of scripture, carried a no less fearful threat; standing as it did in opposition to revealed truth, intellectual inquiry was Satan 's method and its discoveries were Satan's tools. Familiarity with the Egyptian, Assyrian and finally even the Greek language was held to be heretical and, with the fall of paganism in the fourth century, the ability to read these tongues disappeared from Europe. In the reign of Constantius the term 'enemies of the human race,' originally applied in pagan laws to the Christians, was transferred by the Christians to the magicians, and magic included nearly all efforts toward the manipulation of nature.

In 1163 Pope Alexander III forbade the study of natural philosophy, partly because the Arabs, who were the only natural philosophers of the time, were atheists and infidels, and partly because there was nothing said about natural philosophy in the Bible. In the next century the Franciscans and Dominicans, although fighting with each other over the deification of the Virgin Mary, jointly and in the most emphatic terms condemned all experiments in chemistry, physics and medicine. In 1380 Charles V of France and in 1404 Henry IV of England promulgated sharp-toothed laws against the possession of furnaces, crucibles, retorts and other apparatus, and similar measures were taken in this or later periods to exterminate the 'experimental' method in Italy and Spain, the experimenters being dreaded as cohorts of Satan. Even mathematics was looked upon with fear because of the magical power of numbers, and at the time of the persecution of Galileo (1564-1642) mathematicians were denounced as the greatest of all heretics.

It was universally believed that men who, in the dark of night, in secret cellars and attics, among a welter of apparatus -- stinking chemicals, herbs, fragments of animals, a jumble of cabalistic lore, Bible verses, secret numbers, sacred symbols, mystic names and incantations -- sought to transmute base metals into gold or to compound the elixir of eternal life, were actually practicing the devil's arts and must have been instructed in them by the Prince of Evil, that probably these sorcerers were contemplating the injury of their neighbors by opposing Providence and falsifying scripture; by putting reason above faith, they were blasphemously denying God's will.

There was scarcely any task exceeding diabolic wit and strength. It was Satan who built Hadrian's wall between England and Scotland, the bridges at Schellenen in Switzerland, at Regensburg across the Danube, and at Avignon, who made the drawings for the churches at Cologne and Aix-la-Chapelle and the masonry of Crowland Abbey. It was in competition with him that the archangel Michael built the Church of Mont-Saint-Michel. He rolled enormous boulders into the midst of plains far removed from any mountains, stood monoliths on end and arranged the queer circles of standing stones. Satan, said Tertullian, could carry water in a sieve. Yet he did not invent dogmatic errors or engage in alchemy and wonder-working for sheer devilment: he was the great Tempter who, seeking men for hell, led them in devious ways to sin. After Augustine, men were by nature incapable of good except through the grace of the Christian church; as this grace predisposed them to God's side in the unceasing conflict of the church with Satan, so even the most trivial sin revealed their bent toward the powers of evil.

The monk Pachomius once saw a pack of devils dragging along a bundle of leaves, pretending that this was costing them great effort, for no other reason than to tempt the good man to the sin of laughter. The devil might hide beneath the confessor's hood and mutter to the penitent, "Oh that is nothing! There is no evil in that! Take not that to heart!" To make the priest sneeze in the middle of his finest passage, to cause him to forget his words, even to plague him in the form of a fly when he is trying to go to sleep, may cause him to lose his patience, and this, a trivial offense in itself, may lead to more evil things. This is illustrated by the story of the most holy hermit who, at the prompting of the devil, procured a cock to relieve his loneliness. This was a little thing, but it came about that the cock grew lonesome too, and in a spirit of charity the hermit supplied it with a hen. Evil indeed was this deed, for the sight which the hermit then beheld awakened old ardors which he had thought were forever quenched. Suggestion fired imagination, and soon the poor man was enamored of the daughter of a neighboring nobleman, a young and beautiful girl; he sinned with her and, to escape the vengeance of her parents, killed his beloved and concealed her body beneath his couch. The crime was discovered and he had to pay the supreme penalty of death and eternal damnation -- all because he listened to the devil in a little thing. Thus it was that the evil one planted the seed of sin, by evoking pungent memories, quickening desires, stirring up doubts, fostering fears, inspiring anxieties, the fruit of which was pride, selfishness, neglect of vows, avarice, or lust.

Out of the last, the devil early forged a weapon which proved doubly powerful against a church which emphasized the superiority of the ascetic life. Virginity early came to be esteemed as the highest of all virtues, and Origen, surnamed 'the Adamantine,' had presumably by his own hands put himself beyond all risk of losing it. In the second century it was a custom for 'beloved brothers and sisters,' agapetae, to live together in spiritual marriage, both parties having taken the vow of continency. It was a misunderstanding of this phrase which led the horrified pagans to accuse them of incest. The antiquity of the custom is revealed by Paul's mixed metaphor, when he speaks of himself as having 'espoused' the Corinthian church, and desires 'to present' the same as 'a pure virgin to Christ.' The relationship of the Virgin Mary and Joseph was envisaged in these terms, and in the Shepherd of Hermas, a book which was read aloud as scripture in the churches in the second and third centuries, the custom is eulogized, the virgins boldly inviting the hero of the work to pass the night in their company. "Thou must sleep with us," they said, ''as a brother, not as a husband." Before the establishment of nunneries, many virgins who had lost their parents and brothers, or who were beset by illness or poverty, were forced to live with homeless clerics and monks. Tertullian advised well-to-do Christians to take one or more widows 'as spiritual spouses, who were beautiful by their faith, endowed with their poverty, sealed by their age.' By the time of Cyprian (?200-258) virgins who were dedicated to God lived in such intimate relations with confessors, priests and laymen that this bishop was forced openly to condemn the practice, as later did Gregory of Nyassa, Jerome, Augustine and other churchmen. Yet late in the fourth century Chrysostom, condemning both marriage and fornication, extolled the custom whereby 'men introduce young girls into their houses and keep them there permanently, respecting their virginity.' He argues that this form of love is actually more ardent than conjugal union, because where there is no restraint, there is speedy satiation; sexual intercourse, pregnancy, delivery, lactation, the bringing up of children, soon destroy youth and dull the point of pleasure. The virgin is free from these burdens, she retains her vigor and youthfulness and even at the age of forty may rival the nubile girl. 'A double ardor thus burns in the heart of him who lives with her, and the gratification of desire never extinguishes the bright flame which ever continues to increase in strength.' This 'more refined form of sexual intimacy,' this 'new refinement of tender chastity,' had come 'as a delicious discovery to the early Christians, who had resolutely thrust away the licentiousness of the pagan world.' As the rule of celibacy became fixed for teachers, spiritual wives became more prevalent until they virtually had the status of servant maids, and one Spanish synod, about 600, even ordered that they could be sold as slaves and the proceeds given to the poor. Nevertheless, the practice was generally disapproved officially.

By the decretal of Pope Siricius in 385 absolute celibacy was prescribed for all the higher clergy, a decretal admittedly evoked by the salacious conduct of vowed priests and virgins. The next year a Roman synod imposed conjugal abstinence on bishops, priests and deacons who were already married, and these precedents were followed by other edicts of equal or greater stringency, culminating in a series of decretals from 1031 to 1051 ordering clerics from subdeacons to bishops to cast aside their wives, who were to be turned adrift in the world, while their children were pronounced slaves. In proportion as success crowned these papal efforts, concubinage and female slavery increased, these being viewed as lesser sins than marriage, and culminated in the scandals of the monasteries which shook the church at the time of the Reformation. Woman, said Tertullian, is the gate to hell, and Augustine's opinion of her is unquotable.

To flee the tempter the ascetic betook themselves into deserts or remote mountains, or sought security behind monastery walls. Yet Satan followed them. Jerome, who immured himself in the desert near Chalcis, wrote to the virgin Eustochium, 'Oh, how often, when I was in the desert, in that vast, sunburned solitude that furnishes a fearsome dwelling place to the hermits, did I imagine that I was living amid the delights of Rome! I used to sit alone, my soul full of bitterness, clothed in foul sackcloth, my skin become like an Ethiopian's. I passed not a day without tears, without groanings; and when, against my will, sleep overcame me, my couch was the bare ground. I say nothing of my food and my drink; for the hermits, even in sickness, drink nothing but water, and all cooked food they esteem as a sinful luxury. And I, who through fear of hell had condemned myself to live such a life, to have no other companionship than that of scorpions and wild beasts, ofttimes imagined myself in the midst of troops of dancing girls. My face was wan with fastings; but within my chill body, my soul was burning desires; and in a man already dead as to the flesh, were blazing the fires of lust. Then, bereft of all other succor, I would cast myself down at the feet of Jesus, I would bathe them with my tears, I would wipe them with my hair; and I would subjugate my rebellious flesh with a full week's fasting. I do not blush to confess my misery; rather, I regret that I am no longer as I was. And I remember how oftentimes, crying aloud and praying, I saw day follow night, and how I ceased not to beat my breast until, at the voice of God, calm returned to me.'

Gregory the Great relates how the devil once kindled in the body of the holy Benedict so hot a flame of concupiscence that, in order to quell it, the poor man found no recourse but to strip himself naked and roll over and over in a bramble bush.

Many was the saintly monk to whom the devil appeared as a charming girl or a noble matron; the diabolic creature might pretend she had lost her way or was being pursued by evil enemies, or perhaps even that she had abandoned the world and wished to devote herself to God, and with modest countenance and great humility would beg the holy man for shelter and protection. Woe to him who took her into his narrow quarters! If the adventure did not end in carnal sin, it was only because the holy man discovered her disguise in time, or because her true character was revealed by a sudden and horrifying transformation into the hideous devil that she was.

There were, however, among the faithful many stouthearted souls who could not be reached by lust, and these Satan beset with more subtle bait. A truly remarkable exhibition of diabolic ingenuity and patience is the instance in which, in the guise of a young boy, the devil entered a monastery of great repute, and by years of study, application and good behavior came into the office of abbot; then, once in command, he allowed the place to fall into such evils, as, for example, riotous living and drinking, the unwarranted granting of dispensations, and licentious relations between the monks and the sisters of a neighboring nunnery, that the pope was forced to send two trusted monks to investigate, whereupon the devil-abbot disappeared into the depths of the earth. Such tales, told in all seriousness and widely repeated by the laity, were the favored product of the monastic mind when it was not occupied with the equally intriguing subject of hell.

It was left to the Christians for whom heaven was so real to devise the inescapable antithesis, a realistic hell. It was perhaps to them that Plutarch, in the first century, referred when he commiserated his fellow men for torturing themselves in their own imaginations. Taking the cue from earlier apocryphal writings, the author of the Apocalypse of Peter (second century) developed the doctrine of posthumous torture in some detail. In a place of chastisement directly opposite paradise, according to pseudo-Peter, blasphemers are hung by their tongues above a flaming fire; women who adorn themselves for the purpose of adultery are hung by the hair over a bubbling, stinking mire; murderers are cast into a pit of reptiles; mothers who forsake their children are immersed in a pit of gore and filth; persecutors of the righteous are burned in fire up to the waist while their entrails are devoured by worms; other evildoers are punished by having their eyes burned out, by being rolled on swords and spits, by boiling in pitch and blood, by being hurled from high cliffs, or by careful, protracted roasting. Similar descriptions appear in the Pistis Sophia (third century) and the Apocalypse of Paul (fourth century). It was not, however, until medieval times that the churchmen spun the agonies of hell into a degree of refinement worthy of poetic presentation.

Hell was variously located -- at the poles, in the antipodes, beneath volcanoes, at the center of the earth, in the farthest east, or completely outside the world, between it and one of the empyrean realms -- but on such points as the qualities of its tortures, the eternality of its punishments, and the fact that it was more densely populated than was paradise there was general agreement. This last reflected both the quality of Christian love and the uneasy feeling that Satan and not God was the real master of the universe.

Even allowing for the limited scope of righteous pleasures, the imagination has ever been much less prolific in devising beatific delights than punitive cruelties. Perhaps a difficulty is that delight is so quickly satiated, and the authorities on hell gave special emphasis to the peculiarities of its tortures, that however much its fire should burn, its beasts should tear, its devils should mangle, never should the body be destroyed nor its capacity to suffer be reduced in any measure.

Every monk whose repressions and privations gnawed within him like ever hungry worms was recompensed by revelations of the excruciating torments which would beset through all eternity the unholy ones who yielded to carnal pleasures and other sins. Vivid pictures of hell abound in oratory and literature. Notable in the monkish accounts of terror and pain is the vision of Alberico, a boy of ten, who was conducted through hell by the apostle Peter and two angels. Alberico encountered first a dismal valley where many souls were standing immersed in ice, some only to their ankles or knees, others up to their breasts or necks; just beyond was a fearful wood of gigantic trees, bristling with thorns, from whose sharp and spiny branches were hanging by their breasts those heartless women who had refused to nourish motherless babes with their own milk; to each breast clung a snake, sucking that which had been so cruelly denied. Farther on were those who had not refrained from sexual intercourse on Sundays and saints' days, forced to ascend and descend a ladder of red-hot iron, and now one, now another would plunge headlong into a huge caldron filled with oil, pitch and resin, which was seething at the ladder's foot. In a fearful furnace tyrants were being punished; murderers were suffering in a lake of fire -- while easygoing parish priests who had winked at the misdemeanors of their charges were being boiled in a giant stew pan, full of bronze, tin, lead and brimstone; blasphemers were boiling in a lake of molten metal; traitors and false witnesses were drowned in a lake of sulphurous water full of snakes and scorpions. Hard by there was tethered with an iron chain a serpent of enormous size which drew in with every breath a swarm of souls, just as if they were flies, only to spew them forth blazing like sparks with each exhalation of its hot and venomous breath. It will be recalled that it had been to save Abraham and Moses and the prophets of old from this eternal punishment that Christ had descended to hell before ascending unto Heaven, for it had been the cardinal principle of Paul's doctrine, and of all churchmen from Augustine on, that those who died unbaptized were excluded from paradise. It is not surprising then that at the entrance of hell Alberico saw one-year-old babies boiling in fiery vapors which were fed with flaming coal. This punishment, however, because of the relative innocence of the babes, was the first and least.

Best known among these visions of the hereafter is the First Book of the Divina Commedia of Dante Alighieri, who descended into hell and was guided about by Virgil, whom he found in the first circle which contained the unbaptized. Little that was new was revealed to Dante, although he described the sights he saw with such a refined poetic and philosophic style that it has been said it is by virtue of this work 'that he holds his place as one of the half-dozen greatest writers of all time.' In the second circle Dante beheld carnal sinners tossed by warring winds; in the third, gluttons bitten by Cerberus are exposed in a stinking land to storms of hail; in the fourth the prodigal and miser each push a heavy weight uphill; in the fifth, the irascible soak in the foul and fetid slime of the Stygian lake; in the sixth, archheretics agonize in tombs of flame; in the seventh, the violent swim in rivers of blood, suicides are changed into gnarled trees and blasphemers writhe under a rain of fire; in the eighth, pimps are scourged by demons, flatterers are immersed in human ordure, peculators boil in a lake of pitch, hypocrites are tortured under hoods of lead, sacrilegists are stung by serpents, and others are attacked by horrible diseases; in the ninth circle, the last and worst, traitors, chattering like storks, are frozen in chill blue ice.

The pyrotechnics of hell, its despairs, fires, darknesses, agonies, stinks, worms and miscellaneous tortures constituted a cult of cruelty which found its votaries among all righteous men, for why be righteous if the unrighteous be not damned? When, at the Council of Florence (1439), the church formally ratified the existence of purgatory, it did not commit itself on the question whether here too devils carried on torture, as in hell; but this was the generally accepted opinion, and it was even allowed that the torment was the more intense, being applied as it was for a limited duration of a few thousand years, whereas that of hell could be milder since it went on forever.

What Graf has called the most beautiful of all the devout legends to which the Christian imagination has given birth is the account in the Apocalypse of St. Paul, composed toward the end of the fourth century by an unknown Greek monk, which recounts how Paul, guided by the angel Michael, descended to hell and was so moved by the torments of the damned that he and thousands upon thousands of angels knelt before Christ and beseeched him to show mercy. Moved to pity, Christ granted to all souls that are in hell this grace: they shall have rest and shall be without torment from the sundown of Saturday until the dawn of Monday. And thus it came about that there is a respite for the damned, through Christ's grace, of one day in seven.

Surprising it was that despite such terrible and inexorable punishments, some men, such was their worldly pride, ambition and love of sensual pleasure, should even sell their souls to the devil for all time. For it was held that in exchange for a man's immortal soul the devil might endow him with wealth, fame, love, honors, knowledge or magic power, and many were the medieval stories of such pacts drawn up on parchment and signed in blood. Typically these pacts ran for a stated course of years before the devil was entitled to collect his price, and there is this much to be said for him: never once is it recorded that he became impatient and came to collect his due one day ahead of the specified date, or that he failed to fulfill his end of the bargain by holding back a little gold or cunning or sensory delight from one to whom he had promised them, much less that he ever attempted to slip out of the bargain entirely. In all these respects his conduct was superior to that of the Christians who had signed their names with blood, and presumably with good intent, to agreements which they no more than made than almost without exception they endeavored to evade by deceitful wiles or by importuning the aid of the Virgin Mary. For traditionally the Virgin specialized in getting men out of the devil's clutches. Indeed so often did she cheat Satan of his rightful due that he justly came to hate her above all the saints. Because of her he learned to look upon the contracts which men made with him as but valueless promises which he must in the end redeem by force and cunning. Rare, indeed, were the exceptions to this sad rule. In the original tale of Faust, intended to emphasize the essentially evil nature of purely human learning, which first appeared in print about 1587, the ambitious doctor, driven by a thirst for knowledge and a hankering after pleasure, traced with his blood this pact with Satan:


I, Johannes Faustus, Doctor, make the following declaration in this letter, written by my own hand. Having set myself to explore the elements, and perceiving that the faculties graciously bestowed upon me by Heaven are not sufficient to penetrate the nature of things, and that from other men I cannot receive satisfaction of my desire, I have given myself to this spirit here present, who is called Mephistophilis and who is a servant of the Prince of Hell, that he may teach me that which I desire to know and may be, as he promises, submissive and obedient unto me. For my part, I promise that, after the passage of twenty-four years from the date of the present writing, I will suffer him to do with me, with my spirit and my flesh, whatsoever shall seem good to him; and this for all eternity. To this end, I deny all beings that live, whether in heaven or on the earth. In token whereof, I write and subscribe this with mine own hand and in mine own blood.


In Goethe's version of this tale, Faust ultimately cheats the devil; but in the original, after enjoying the rich benefits of Satanic knowledge and magic for the allotted time, the doctor honestly keeps his contract. At the stipulated date he gives a banquet for his friends and explains the mystery of his witchcraft; and, after his friends have retired, he goes to his chamber to await the end. A little after midnight a mighty wind fills the house and shakes it on its foundations, there are fearsome whisperings in the darkness and his friends hear the doctor shriek for help. Then silence, and when morning comes and Faust's friends dare to go into his chamber, they find it all smeared with blood; his brains are spattered over the walls, and his eyes, torn from their sockets, and a few teeth are lying on the floor. The corpse, trampled and mangled, is found outside the house, tossed onto a muck heap.


In the words of the skeptic Reginald Scott (1580), the conventional witches of his day were 'women which be commonly old, lame, bleare-eied, pale, fowle, and full of wrinkles; poore, sullen, superstitious, and papists; or such as knowe no religion: in whose drowsie minds the divell hath gotten a fine seat; so as, what mischief, mischance, calamitie, or slaughter is brought to pass, they are easilie persuaded the same is doone by themselves; imprinting in their minds an earnest and constant imagination thereof. They are leane and deformed, shewing melancholie in their faces, to the horror of all that see them. They are doting, scolds, mad, divellish; and not much differing from them that are thought to be possessed with spirits; so shall onelie have respect to the constancie of their words uttered would easilie beleeve they were true indeed.'

Scott underestimates the number of girls, women in the prime of life, and of men, among the 'witches,' but that many old women sincerely believed they were witches (or warlocks) cannot be gainsaid. Beyond this generalization it is difficult to recover accurate facts about the great witchcraft delusion which tore the civilized world for centuries, for the simple reason that the persecutors of the evil suffered as many or more delusions than the persecuted.

In seeking the sources of the medieval panic, what may be called the orthodox interpretation is ably stated by the Reverend Montague Summers, who is foremost among recent authorities on the history and literature of witchcraft. Summers, it may be said, accepts the reality of Satan and demonic forces as evidenced both in past ages and at the present time. Chief among the primal roots of witchcraft, in his view, was the Gnosticism which had so nearly destroyed the early church, and the various sects and heresies which derived from it. In Summers's view, these heresies all rejected the god of the Old Testament, worshiped the devil, repudiated baptism and all Christian formulas, and are to be identified as the actual source and substance of Satanism and witchcraft.

Thompson, however, sees in medieval witchcraft the survival throughout Europe of religious cults stemming from prehistory and persisting in the folk religions. Magdelenian and Aurignacian art, for example, indubitably magical in operation, was intensely interested in ithyphallic figures of men and animals, Mother Goddesses, and human beings dressed in animal guises. This art was frequently so placed and concealed as to suggest that it decorated a sacred chamber in which men and women gathered for ritual exercises. It was such Stone Age revels, frequently near or centering around a megalithic monument, that were condemned by the Councils of Arles in 452, of Tours in 567, and of Nantes in 568. The first Council of Toledo in 681 issued admonitions against 'the worshipers of idols, those who venerate stones [menhirs, cromlechs, etc.], who kindle torches, who celebrate the rites of springs and trees,' while other admonitions refer to 'men who goeth about in the masque of a stag or a bull-calf,' who dress 'in the skin of a herd animal or put on the heads of beasts,' 'who make themselves into wild animals,' or 'who have turned themselves into devils.'

From many such evidences it is clear that early in the Christian Era pagan cults which mimicked wild animals were prevalent throughout Europe; it is equally certain that these cults frequently centered about the phallic stones and were mainly concerned with the fertility of herds and crops, in which case the participants were disguised as animals, or with the propagation of human beings, when no disguise, except perhaps on the part of the fertility god, was necessary. Not infrequently the local cults appear to have been headed by Christian priests who had been recruited from the peasantry and who could not quickly abandon the ways of their friends and fathers. When the church spread like an army of occupation into the wild north country, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, these persistent Stone Age cults assumed the dimensions of heresy.

That witchcraft represented an operative religious ritual, indigenous to pagan heath and hill, has been ably argued by Murray, who reconstructs its forms and beliefs from the vast literature of medieval trials. The religious unit or 'coven' consisted of twelve elders with the minister or high priest making up the pagan lucky number of thirteen. These covens came together on the evenings of the great days and feast days under a leader who acted as the god, the coven accepting this leader as an incarnate god as sincerely as the Christians accepted the devil incarnate as an ordinary man. A record was sometimes kept of initiations and other affairs in a secret book. The Sabbat (s'esbattre, to frolic) was a public meeting, generally held at night, of all the elders and witches of the district, who feasted and danced and celebrated their magic rites, worshiping their god and indulging in pleasurable orgies. Dances around a fire were a prominent part of these exercises, the chief devil taking the lead, the second in command bringing up the rear and looking after the hindmost with a whip. Some of the participants rode on brooms either as a ritual or in imitation of an aerial steed. Drugs such as aconite, poplar, cinquefoil and deadly nightshade, as well as bat's blood, animal fats and soot were rubbed into the skin and may have aided the illusion of real flight. Witches took to themselves particular animals, dogs, cats, weasels, toads and mice as familiars or incarnations of magic power, to aid them in their sorcery. The Esbat was a secret meeting of the elders when waxen images, candles and 'flying ointment' were prepared by expert hands, and a cat, dog, cock or an unbaptized child supplied by its witch-mother or stolen, was sacrificed.

Admission to the coven was voluntary, but it involved the renunciation in faith if not in practice of all other religion. Initiation consisted of painful and magic rites, and the catechumen might be called upon to sign his name in blood and to receive a tatooed devil's mark on the left shoulder. In time the coven meetings came to be a parody of the sacred rites of the church, with a black mass and sacraments performed with profane holy water and wafers. High offices were sometimes hereditary, and witches' children were dedicated to the god as soon as they were born, and were initiated at the age of thirteen. There was a marked preference for certain names, Joan, Jean, Janet or Jane being the commonest, Bessie, Elizabeth or Elspeth next, and Margaret, Margo or Meg, third. It is not unlikely that many a prepossessing witch who was no amateur at sensual delights devoted herself to saint baiting, or to collecting for the coven a wandering knight. The words witchery, enchantment, glamour, charm, fascinate, entrance, all of which had their provenance in witchcraft, have lost some force by shifting from the magic to the poetic realm.

Since human sacrifice was dangerous and difficult, covens of witches with clever indirection sometimes resorted to the public executioner in order to disguise the nature of the rite. The subterfuge required only a well-planned conspiracy, and by charges leveled against either a willing or unwilling victim and supported by concerted testimonies, the aid of both the church and secular authorities could be obtained in a sacrifice that was all the more effective toward the ends of witchcraft by being public and attended by a large and distinguished audience. Indeed, Murray has argued that Joan of Arc was such a female proxy, a voluntary Satanic martyr for Satanic ends. Certain it is that Joan's commander, Gilles de Rais, Marshall of France, was justly condemned for sorcery nine years after her death, having been convicted of sacrificing two hundred and more women and children in magic rites. The criminality of Gilles de Rais was well known to the peasantry, his own servants were accomplices in the kidnapping and murder of his many child victims, and Joan must have known about her commander's ritual of human sacrifice long before the battle of Orleans. Anatole France saw in Joan the rallying point of a powerful organization opposed to the church; Murray but identifies this organization with the witchcraft cult that permeated both France and England and had its adherents no less among the prominent clergy and nobility than the lower classes. If this interpretation is correct, Joan of Arc is probably the only witch to have attained beatification.

In all except perhaps the first of these theories allowance must be made for the number of witches who were unquestionably victims of neuropathies; those suffering hysterical delusions and confusion of personality, the schizophrenics, persecuted maniacs, melancholics, hypochondriacs, and those with anxiety neuroses engendered by nurses' tales and the constantly reiterated threats of the theologians. But when the mentally deranged are deducted from the roll, there remains what is probably the larger proportion, those who were falsely accused on the grounds of jealousy, revenge, cupidity, fear or simple gossip, and who had no means to defend themselves. It must be recognized that not all the votaries of witchcraft were uneducated, unintelligent peasants; many indeed were prominent citizens and scholars; nor is it enough to dismiss all witches as degraded sensualists, all Sabbats as vicious, licentious and obscene. From the beginning the approach of the churchmen was to pursue the victim with leading questions, based on the classic manuals, and to work upon her with fear and torture until the appropriate answers were obtained. By this method the examiners rather than the witches built up a tradition of witch lore which appears with little variation in trial records from all parts of Europe and from all periods.

In this tradition witches rode to the Sabbat and made other nocturnal excursions transported on a broomstick, a black horse, goat or ram, or on the back of the devil himself who made a great stir like a mighty wind. The witch's ointment, concocted of various magic drugs including the fat of infants either slain for the purpose or disinterred, was deemed necessary for this levitation. Many a witch, who was proved by trustworthy witnesses to have been lying in bed all night, was sincerely convinced that she had floated out of the window and traveled high above the landscape to a secret rendezvous on a far distant tor, or in a dark recess of the woods, or at the crossroads where magic has always had its standing stone. Such dreams of levitation, excited by a hard bed or disturbed stomach, were spun into the most heroic or obscene exploits.

In the conventional Sabbat the devil appeared as an animal of one kind or another, as a ghost or as a big black man, scaly, horrible to look upon and cold to the touch. To him the witches tendered an account of what they had done since the last meeting. Those who had caused the most death and destruction gained the most applause, while those who had done little evil or had lost their courage were derided and might even be chastised by the god himself. After the dancing and feasting there was promiscuous sexual indulgence, the lusty god playing a prominent role. The ascetically frigid inquisitors pretended to unmitigated horror at this aspect of the Sabbat and sadistically steeled themselves to proportionally vicious cruelty towards the robust and uninhibited peasantry who confessed to this carnal sin. To argue against the possibility of Satanic intercourse was absurd: on the evidence of Genesis the fallen angels had coupled with women who had forthwith begotten monstrous giants; Deuteronomy recorded human intercourse with Belphegor; the fathers from Augustine to Thomas Aquinas had proclaimed that it was impudence to seek to deny the fact; while the reality of incubi and succubi was everywhere accepted. Discounting nightmares and hallucinations, probably many of the child sacrifices which were unquestionably frequent in the witch cult were the fruits of the actual Sabbat, if not sired by Satan himself then by one of his frenzied surrogates in human form. The devil's caress was variously described as brutal, painful, lacerating, torturing, although there are abundant testimonies, some from girls but twelve to sixteen years of age, as to its delights. On one point there seemed to be well-nigh universal agreement: the devil was cold all over, like a creature of stone, yet his touch imparted an atrocious, delicious joy.

The religious feature of the Sabbat was of course the worship of His Satanic Majesty. Probably through the centuries this religious service slowly transformed itself from a pagan rite, with animal or human sacrifice, to what, if the evidence adduced in countless witch trials is to be credited, amounted to a diabolic perversion of the mass. The first ritual gesture was the kiss of adoration, homage and humility; as the faithful Christians in ancient days gave one another the kiss of peace, a kiss whose tradition was preserved in the address of priest to prelate, so the devil too required his embrace, but 'in such filthy parts that it is altogether shameful merely to recount it.' There followed the confession of evil deeds -- albeit good ones in the devil's opinion -- after which Satan atrociously blessed the assembly with his left hand. An altar rose miraculously from the ground and here in the gruesome light of pitch candles, beneath a disfigured and shameful crucifix was performed a bloody and sacrilegious sacrifice. The priest put on his sacerdotal ornaments back to front, held the sacred book in his left hand and recited the creed inversely. All sacred words were jumbled into a blasphemous jargon. 'Ghost holy and son, Father of name the in .... Ever for, glory the and, power the, kingdom the, is thine for, evil from us deliver, but temptation into not us lead. Amen.' This jumbling of sacred words came to be a touchstone in witch hunting, for it was believed that a true witch could not recite the Lord's Prayer without making at least one error. And so to the elevation of the Host, a round black turnip or black unleavened bread which, after being consecrated, was thrown to the ground and trampled under foot, or subjected to worse profanation. The Black Mass, according to the inquisitors, was designed in every detail to curse God and exalt his enemy, Satan, and when the abomination was consummated, the votaries of the devil were forced to renew their oaths of evil, to renounce baptism, to forswear Jesus Christ and all Christian ways and to follow faithfully the king of hell. At the crowing of the cock, which from time immemorial was supposed to dissolve all enchantments, the assembly dispersed and hurried to reach their homes by dawn.

If the ritual Sabbat was largely the product of the ecclesiastic erudition of the inquisitors, the practice of witchcraft owes more of its pattern to the witches. The forms of demonic influence most frequently encountered in the trial records are the making of a covenant with Satan, intercourse with incubi or succubi, and bodily transvection. Among the objective evidences of league with Satan were the 'devil's mark,' which might be a supernumerary breast, a suspicious looking mole (devil's teat) or an area of the skin which was insensitive to pain when pricked with a needle. In his search for devil's teats the howls of the accused did not stay the hand of the witch-finder: quite the contrary, since the object was to find a place where the needle could go in without causing pain; and when he failed he sometimes remained convinced that the devil's mark was there, but hidden in such parts and places that it would be necessary to tear the body to pieces to discover it.

By means of Satanic possession men changed themselves into wolves (lycanthropy) and prowled about at night devouring children. In order to protect a Greek thief, Aesop had changed a man into a wolf; Circe had accomplished the transformation by means of drugs; wolves had played a sacred role in the cult of Zeus Lycaeus, the Wolf Zeus, and it was at the altar of this god that Lycaon, king of Arcadia, was said to have been changed into a wolf by a child sacrifice, while the worshipers of Apollo Soranus decked themselves out in wolf skins and behaved like wolves. Virgil describes how Moeris became a wolf, and Petronius relates the story of Niceros and his werewolf friend. The belief in lycanthropy, whether the beast be wolf or other, was widespread in medieval Europe, and particularly in Ireland where the potentiality was supposed to run in families. St. Patrick is said to have cursed a certain tribe so that they and their descendants became wolves at a certain season every seventh year, while others were known to take a wolf shape at will and to kill sheep, pigs and cattle. So, too, in Wales and Scotland, and among the Serbs and Magyars, in Germany, Lithuania, Lavonia, Poland, Scandinavia and all of Russia. After the thirteenth century the belief spread in France as a religious, or a Satanic, article of faith, and epidemics of lycanthropy swept the country adding to the fear and misery of a people already tormented beyond measure by the machinations of the evil one.

Among other major items of the devil's work was the storm that raised the wind and buffeted ships at sea, or brought destructive hail and flood. Satanic, too, were those mightiest of all phenomena, the searing flash of lightning and the reverberating peal of thunder; these had ever belonged to the gods, but men seem never to have feared them greatly until they became the weapons of the king of hell. Though occasionally a churchman proposed a natural explanation for lightning, it was held for many centuries to be the Almighty's bomb hurled against the wicked, the vagaries of its actions being frequently advanced as evidences of God's existence. A typical anecdote concerns the priest of Treves who was struck in his own church whither he had gone to ring the bell against the storm. The lightning tore the priest's clothes from him and consumed certain parts of his body, showing that the sins for which he was being punished were vanity and unchastity, and that God was just.

It was Tertullian who first argued that lightning was the forked tongue of hell-fire maliciously wielded by Satan, and after him the doctrine of the diabolic origin of storms gathered strength as the fathers, finding ample warrant in scriptures, gave it their full approval. A long line of popes and, after the Reformation, many generations of Protestants, accepted as an article of faith the notion that demons could produce wind, rain, hail and drought.

The first and most natural means which had been used to ward off Satanic injury was, of course, prayer; but while this appeared to be efficacious in some instances, it frequently failed. It was about 110 that, according to tradition, Bishop Alexander of Rome recommended that holy water be kept in churches and bedchambers to drive away demons, and subsequently the churchmen added to this remedy an elaborate system of exorcisms which were specialized for every occasion, formal, sonorous rituals which, when read by an ordained priest, were supposed to paralyze the demons. Some were mildly admonitory, such as that of Pope Gregory XIII: 'I a priest of Christ ... do command ye, most foul spirits who do stir up these clouds ... that ye depart from them and disperse yourselves into wild and untilled places, that ye may be no longer able to harm men or animals or fruits or herbs, or whatsoever is designed for human use.' When mildness failed, the exorcism became denunciatory and commanding and, in addition to verbal execration, a bonfire was built, Psalm 114 was chanted, and malodorous substances such as sulphur and asafoetida were cast into the flames literally to stink the devil out of the country. Though great efficacy was attached to the 'names' of God the Father, Jesus or the Virgin Mary, medieval scholars agreed that the thing the devil most hated was the sign of the cross.

When it seemed that evil was ever on the increase, there was devised another means of routing the devil, which consisted of bits of consecrated paper upon which was written a sacred formula calculated to make the Evil One turn pale, and these were burned in the corners of the fields to protect against destructive insects, as well as against bad weather. The Agnus Dei, a piece of wax blessed by the pope's own hand and stamped with the 'Lamb of God,' was held to be so marvelous a protection against storms, and especially thunder, that Pope Urban V sent three of them as a gift of honor to the Greek emperor. This charm, also effective against pestilence and many other forms of enchantment, soon acquired wide popularity and it was perhaps the manufacture of spurious reproductions that led to a papal bull in 1471 reserving to the pope himself the exclusive right to consecrate them, which he did only in the first and seventh years of his pontificate. Standing unmitred, he prayed: 'O God ... we humbly beseech thee that thou wilt bless these waxen forms, figured with the image of an innocent lamb ... that at the touch and sight of them, the faithful may break forth into praises, and that the crash of hailstorms, the blast of hurricanes, the violence of tempests, the fury of winds, and the malice of thunderbolts may be tempered, and evil spirits flee and tremble before the standard of thy holy cross, which is graven upon them.'

Another favorite means of defeating the Satanic power was found in great processions bearing through the streets fragments of bones and clothes of saints, or various sacred statues and emblems: one of these at Liége, in the thirteenth century, thrice proved unsuccessful in bringing rain until it was discovered that the image of the Virgin had been forgotten, whereupon a new procession with the image produced such a storm that the people were driven to run for shelter.

The means of baffling the Prince of the Power of the Air, as Paul had called him, that came to be most widely used was the ringing of consecrated bells. The vogue of baptizing bells and hanging incantations upon their tongues as a protection against hailstorms was prevalent as early as Charlemagne, who issued a strict prohibition against it. The custom was soon restored, however, and in 968 Pope John XIII gave it his approval and himself baptized the great bell of his cathedral church, the Lateran, christening it with his own name. In time ponderous treatises were written on the subject of bells and their supernatural functions, and almost every church in Europe was adorned with these holy instruments, whose supernatural powers were usually proclaimed by suitable inscriptions. One at Basel was inscribed, 'I put demons to flight'; another, at Lugano, declared, 'the sound of this bell vanquishes tempests, repels demons, and summons men'; one at Erfut claimed that it could 'ward off lightning and malignant demons'; a peal in the Jesuit church at Pont-à-Mousson bore the words, 'They praise God, put to flight the clouds, affright the demons, and call the people'; and not far away another declared, 'It is I who dissipate the thunders.' The ritual for the consecration of these bells became solemnly complex and involved the use of holy water, salt, consecrated oil, prayer, the signing of the cross, the burning of incense, and ofttimes a great feast. Bells were transported by pilgrims all the way to the Jordan in order to have their potency enhanced by this, the most potent of baptisms.

Yet bells and waxen wafers, holy water and exorcism all failed to stay the hand of His Satanic Majesty. So good Christians, believing that in order to avert the devil's work they had first to understand it, began writing long and serious books on the subject. These astute students of demonology classified the devils into several species: the male or female malefica were responsible for unexpected noises, the rustling of leaves and the howling of the wind, thunderstorms, hailstorms and inundations, impotence by ligature, and disease and death by poison, spells, waxen images of the evil eye. Such demons could take the form of a bear, monkey, toad, raven, vulture, gentleman, soldier, hunter, peasant, dragon or Negro. The striga, always female, took the form of a bird-demon or other monster, flew about by night and killed children and handsome men in order to eat them. Of the concubitus daemonum, there were two sexes: the female succubus lay with men in their sleep, while the male incubus lay with women; to the visits of the latter the births of other witches, demons and evil children were attributable. Johann Weier in 1568 made an inventory of the demons and put their number at 7,405,926, comprising 1111 legions of 6666 each, 'apart,' as he says, 'from the errors of calculation.'

On the matter of incubi and succubi, Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventura and other theologians had claimed that a devil has no seed of its own and therefore does not procreate directly, but takes on the form of a succubus in order to receive the seed of man in ghostlike intercourse, and then transforms itself into an incubus so that it can impregnate the woman with whom it joins itself in a second intercourse, imparting to the children of these unions its diabolic traits. Whether it took the form of a succubus or an incubus was a matter of pleasure or expediency for the individual devil, but in general the devils much preferred being males to females. Thomas Cantipratensis asserts that he had many times received the confessions of women who complained of having been violated by incubi, and in the Life of Saint Bernard it is related that one brazen devil lay daily with a certain woman for several years without the slightest break or restraint so that he would even thrust himself into the bed where the husband also lay sleeping. Women were known to have died within a few days of bloat or madness after the Satanic embrace, but mostly they survived to bear the child of the cursed union. And strangely, some women endured such connubial relations for years with no great reluctance, one amour lasting for a quarter of a century. To many women, to have as a lover an angel of fire and to enjoy his supernatural embraces seemed an enviable lot; Pelagio, the Bishop of Sliva, reported in 1332 that he knew many nuns who voluntarily offered themselves to the fiend, while witches, of course, according to numerous confessions, always made willing mistresses. Lilith, the first wife of Adam, was said to suck the blood of infants and was long regarded to be the queen of the succubi; it is from her name that the word lullaby (Lili abi) is supposed to be derived.

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