1. Religion & Spirituality
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Discuss in my forum

Hammer Time

Portrayal of Witches, Witchcraft, and Female Sexuality in Medieval Christianity

By

Basic portrayals of witchcraft and satanism in church records are actually quite amusing. Most clerics seem to have been rather limited in creativity, so witches were shown as behaving a simplistically opposite fashion from Christians. Since Christians kneeled, then witches stood on their heads when paying homage to their masters. Communion was parodied by a Black Mass. Catholic sacraments became excrement.

One of the most famous symbols of the Inquisition’s witch-craze was the publication of the Malleus Maleficarum (Witches’ Hammer) by Jakob Sprenger and Heinrich Kramer. These two Dominican monks wrote a lurid account of what witches were “really” like and what they “really” did — an account which would rival modern science fiction in its creativity, not to mention its fictitiousness. Women as a group bear the brunt of the monks’ condemnation, being described as treacherous and contemptible.

This was at a time when Christianity’s attitudes against sex had long since turned into full-blown misogyny. It is amazing how celibate men became obsessed with the sexuality of women. As it is stated in Malleus Maleficarum: “All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which is in women insatiable.” Another section describes how witches were known to “...collect male organs in great numbers, as many as twenty or thirty members together, and put them in a bird’s nest.” Evidently they were not entirely stingy with their collections — there is the story of a man who went to a witch to have his lost penis restored:

    She told the afflicted man to climb a certain tree, and that he might take which he like out of a nest in which there were several members. And when he tried to take a big one, the witch said: You must not take that one; adding, because it belonged to a parish priest.

These sentiments were nothing unique or unusual — indeed, they are a result of centuries of mean-spirited sexual pathology on the part of church theologians. The philosopher Boethius wrote in The Consolation of Philosophy that “Woman is a temple built upon a sewer.”

Later, in the tenth century, Odo of Cluny stated “To embrace a woman is to embrace a sack of manure.” Women were regarded as impediments to true spirituality and union with God, which helps explain why investigators focused on women and ignored men. The church had a long-standing prejudice against women, and this was given vent when the doctrine of devil worship was revealed.

Of course interrogations of witches followed the standard Inquisition procedures, but with some added bonuses. Accused witches were all stripped naked, had all of their body hair shaved of, and then “pricked.” The sexually neurotic Malleus Maleficarum had become the standard text on how to deal with witches, and this book stated authoritatively that all witches bore a numb “devil’s mark” which could be detected by sharp prodding.

Inquisitors were also quick to search for the purported “witches’ tits,” blemishes which were supposed to be extra nipples used by witches to suckle demons. If the men interrogating the witches were to become aroused, it was assumed that the desire originated not in them, but instead was a projection from the women. Women were supposed to be highly sexually-charged beings, while the celibate Inquisitors were supposed to be beyond such things.

No longer merely adherents to a more ancient religious tradition, witches had been made into slaves of Satan. Instead of a healer or a teacher, the witch was made into an instrument of evil. The witch was portrayed — and treated — as a heretic.

Sources:

  • Helen Ellerbe, The Dark Side of Christian History.
  • James A. Haught, Holy Horrors.
  • J.N. Hillgarth, Christianity and Paganism, 350-750.
  • Malcolm Lambert, Medieval Heresy.
  • Edward Peters, Heresy and Authority in Medieval Europe.
  • R. Dean Peterson, A Concise History of Christianity.

« History and Background | Use of Torture »

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.