The Rise of Witchcraft: An Overview

January 30, 2004

The Rise of Witchcraft: An Overview

 Where did witchcraft come from? Why did medieval scholars fear this form of occult practice in particular, and how did it come to be seen as such a widespread threat?And how does the history relate to what is considered witchcraft today, in both fact and fiction.

With increasing interest in the occult these days, especially among children and novels written for them, witchcraft has become a particularly controversial subject. There is a great deal of discussion—and misinformation—about what witches are or were, and where the tradition came from. This article does not attempt to explain witchcraft or the occult, but gives a brief overview of how beliefs in witches and magic developed throughout the Middle Ages. Whereas in the early Middle Ages a ‘witch’, or a person thought to do magic, could be let off with penance and admonition, the later Middle Ages saw such people burned alive as intractable enemies of mankind. By looking at a selection of texts through the centuries, we will watch the fear of witchcraft developing, and see some of the influences that made it spread.[1]

All sorts of origins for witch beliefs have been suggested: Celtic and Germanic religion and folklore, biblical and patristic speculation on the nature of evil, Neoplatonism (the spiritualism of late antiquity) and the postulated survival of underground pre-Christian cults. Modern witches hark back to pagan nature-worship or the medieval ‘wise woman’. Nonetheless, there is no evidence of a coherent tradition of witchcraft from ancient times, although the continued translation of certain Old Testament terms as ‘witch’ or ‘witchcraft’ tends to obscure the issue.

The tradition we have inherited in the West, of the witch as a woman, or less commonly a man, who deliberately attempts to control hidden supernatural aspects of nature, or control nature in supernatural ways, is a medieval invention. From 1100 on, various ideas about the illicit supernatural began to be organized into a system of theological and legal statements. Individuals who might earlier have been considered (on various grounds) sorcerers, or cunning men and women, were now classed under the one category: ‘witch’. Moreover, at this same time, witchcraft came to be defined as heresy. It was not the result of a special gift, or an ability to call on powers of nature hidden to ordinary mortals; from 1100 onwards, witchcraft was increasingly seen as the result of a deliberate, God-forsaking pact with the devil.[2]

This in itself requires some explanation, for the Bible’s teaching on the devil certainly does not include such specific information. Medieval views on the devil—a large topic in itself—came from a variety of sources.[3] The apocryphal Book of Enoch described a war in heaven in which the archangel Michael threw Satan out with his rebel angels; this established in the Middle Ages the existence of demons as fallen evil spirits. The Genesis reference to sons of God marrying daughters of men gave the idea that demons can have sex with humans. Until the twelfth century, the role of demons was part of an inconsistent folklore in which they were anything from horrifying to mischievous. Under the scholastics, however, demons became evil angels, organized by Satan to overthrow humans. They would snare humans to become their worshippers. The human was thereby eternally damned, but also gained supernatural powers. These were witches. The cunning-folk, wise women, wizards and magicians, who were known to practise charms and enchantments—even those whose sole aim was to cure illness and help people—were identified as diabolical witches, out to destroy the world.

Sorcery in the ancient world

The term religio, in the Roman world, meant the proper relationship between the Romans and the gods. Superstitio, which meant abomination, was false worship of the gods. Latin Christianity took up these terms, but gave them different content. Religio was now the term for true Christianity; non-Christian religious practices were superstitio. Roman religion itself, and Roman magic (which Romans had condemned) were both maleficia (evil, harmful) and magia (sorcery). Christians therefore agreed with Romans that religio is the true cult of God, superstitio is the false; they just gave those terms different content.

Magic had, in fact, been very important in ancient daily life. Religious beliefs and practices of most people were identical with some form of magic. “and the neat distinctions we make today between approved and disapproved forms of religion—calling the former “religion” and “church” and the latter “magic” and “cult”—did not exist in antiquity except among a few intellectuals”.[4] At the end of antiquity some philosophers and theologians, astrologers and alchemists collected magical books and spells, some of which survive (Greek magical papyri are the surviving primary texts; extant texts are mainly from the second century BC to the fifth century AD). Neopythagorean and Neoplatonic philosophers, Gnostics and Hermetics, also quoted from material now lost. There is also evidence of magic from artifacts, symbols and inscriptions on gemstones, on ostraka and clay bowls, and on tablets of gold, silver, lead, tin and so forth.

Magic, always common, was often somewhat suspect, but rarely condemned outright in the Greek and Roman worlds. It was dangerous and could be considered rather sordid. With the rise of authoritative Christianity, however, magic was specifically condemned as evil.


Augustine of Hippo’s work on the nature of demons became standard for medieval Christians. In particular, he drew four significant conclusions: that the gods of the pagans are demons in disguise (based on Psalm 95:6); that pagan religious practices are superstitious abominations (see City of God IV 30-34); that demons and humans can enter pacts, each for private glorification (based on Isaiah 28:15); and that the difference between demonic magic and legitimate miracle is clear, and cannot be mistaken by a properly instructed Christian.

Augustine had enormous influence, particularly in his refusal to recognize any kind of acceptable magic (it was all overtly demonic). His main concern was godliness; he emphasized the pride, sinful curiosity and self-centredness of those who practise magic. Augustine’s teaching was directed towards avoiding idolatry and superstition, and rejecting personal sin, rather than to set forth a demonology. But his teaching on demons was to become more influential as time went on. His definition of superstition was connected with idolatry, and by extension, magic:

  1. Something instituted by humans is superstitious if it concerns the making and worshipping of idols, or the worshipping of the created order or part of it as if it were God, or if it involves certain kinds of consultations or contracts about meaning arranged and ratified with demons, such as the enterprises involved in the art of magic, which poets tend to mention rather than to teach. From this category—only their vanity is even more reckless—come the books of haruspices and augers.
  2. To this category belong all the amulets and remedies which the medical profession also condemns, whether these consist of incantations, or certain marks which their exponents call “characters”, or the business of hanging certain things up and tying things to other things, or even somehow making things dance. …
  3. Besides all this there are thousands of utterly futile practices—do this if a part of your body suddenly twitches, do that if a stone or a dog or a slave comes between you and a friend as you walk together. The habit of treading on a stone as if it were a threat to one’s friendship is less offensive than cuffing an innocent boy who happens to run between people walking together. But it is nice to record that such boys are sometimes avenged by dogs: some people are so superstitious that they go as far as striking a dog who comes between them, but they do so to their cost, because as a result of this inane remedy the dog sometimes sends its assailant straight to a real doctor.
  4. Other examples are these: treading on the threshold when you pass in front of your own house; going back to bed if you sneeze while putting on your shoes; returning inside your house if you trip up while leaving it; or, when your clothing is eaten by mice, worrying more about the premonition of future disaster than about the present damage.[5]

As Christianity spread throughout Europe and the increasingly fractured Roman Empire, asceticism and monasticism rose as a desired way of serving God. We see in some early ascetics’ writings a fear of demons and their activities. The emphasis moved to acts of sacramentalism opposing acts of magic, rather than the theological concern of idolatry and sinfulness. Augustine’s theology was distorted, to some extent, to support a fearful superstition.

Consider, for instance, Caesarius of Arles, in An admonition to those who not only pay attention to omens, but, what is worse, consult seers, soothsayers, and fortune-tellers in the manner of pagans: “None should summon charmers”, he writes, not because it might lead to erroneous belief, or even because it is forbidden by Scripture, but because “if a man does this evil he immediately loses the sacrament of baptism, becoming at once impious and pagan. Unless generous almsgiving together with hard, prolonged penance saves him, such a man will perish forever”.[6] The devil cannot actually injure you unless he has power from God, Caesarius wrote, but the lesson is that therefore you have to endure the evil of the devil, and not try to combat it with more pagan magic, even if it works. Nonetheless, the ‘religious’ way of combating magic could seem just as magical in itself, involving crosses, holy water, baptism and so on.

Magic prosecuted

Early Christians demonised magic and made it a dangerous sin against God. As the Middle Ages went on, penitential manuals (instructing the priest in the appropriate penance to hand out for various sins) would include the practising of magical kinds of activities alongside other sins to be repented of.[7]

But the threat of magic grew, as something that could harm not just the practitioner in a spiritual sense, but could be used to hurt others and was therefore a crime. In the church synod held in the area of Freising and Salzburg, 800, we see one of the earliest official pronouncements on sorcery. This is not just a warning against it, but instruction that it should be sought out and prosecuted and punished. This injunction was against those who conjure up tempests and other incantations, auguries and divination. They should be examined by the archpriest of the diocese and who is to make them confess to their evils. They should then be confined in prison until they mend their ways.

A similar declaration was made in a Diocesan statute of Gerbald, bishop of Liége.

Those who perform sortilegium [telling the future by casting lots] should be inquired about, as should aruspices [sooth-sayers] and those who observe months and seasons, who interpret dreams and wear certain phylacteries around their necks, with strange words written on them. Women should be inquired about who give out potions to other women in order to kill a foetus and who perform other divinations so that their husbands have more love for them. All malefici [evil magicians] who are denounced for any of these things are to be brought before us so that their cases may be discussed.[8]

Nonetheless, although the punishment for magic has become a matter for secular justice, at this stage, the bad effects of magic are the crime, not the magic itself. Spiritually, one should avoid using magic, but only when it is because it is used to do evil would it be actively prosecuted.

The trend towards taking magic more seriously continued. With Regino of Prüm (ca. 906), we begin to see the teaching against magic becoming more severe, in ‘A warning to Bishops’, from the Canon Episcopi. This text became part of Gratian’s Decretum which after 1150 was the primary body of teaching material for the study of canon law. Moreover, it was the starting point for all systematic discussions of sorcery and witchcraft from the 14th century onwards.

Bishops and the officials and clergy of bishops must labour with all their strength so that the pernicious art of sortilegium and maleficium, which was invented by the devil, is eradicated from their districts, and if they find a man or woman follower of this wicked sect to eject them foully disgraced from their parishes. For the Apostle says, ‘Avoid the man that is a heretic after the first and second admonition’ (Titus 3:10-11).[9]

But witchcraft was not necessarily in this category. Some women might give themselves to Satan and are deceived into thinking that they ride on beasts with Diana with other women. They then lead a multitude of others to believe this true, and so others start believing that there is spiritual power other than God. Therefore priests should preach that this is entirely false, and fantasy created by demons. So magic, which is actually practised, is considered evil because it is heresy (rather than superstition). Witchcraft at this stage is still considered delusion, false teaching of the devil.

Witchcraft becomes a crime

From 1100 onwards, there was a perception that something new and dreadful in the history of Christendom had appeared. Witches, in league with the devil, were deliberately attacking Christians. All agreed that it was a new and urgent danger. They also claimed that what they thought of as witchcraft was the same as what the ancients had thought. This was, in effect, a rewriting of history. Earlier ecclesiastical injunctions had considered witchcraft a delusion, even if some other sorts of magic could be real. But now, the teaching against believing in witchcraft was seen as only applicable before it became such a widespread threat. In a fairly rapid turnaround, witchcraft was considered real, it was demonic, and it was actively persecuting Christendom.

What contributed to this turnaround? Probably the improvement in church cohesion and uniformity was a large factor. Before the twelfth century, cosmology was haphazard and only loosely systematized. Aquinas and other scholastics, however, took the various strands of received theology and philosophy, brought them together and made a coherent picture of the universe. Moreover, this was taught as the new standard of belief about what was real. In doing this, scholastic ontology gave both demons and witches a logically consistent place within the Christian schema.

Aquinas wrote a comparatively tiny amount on sorcery and divination, but it was influential beyond all proportion. Selections of his writings on demons would later be extracted and quoted entirely out of context. His biggest contribution to the widespread beliefs about demonic witchcraft came from his success in presenting a coherent system of thought about the relations between man and God. In this, he was strongly influenced by both Plato and Aristotle, and so ancient ideas were brought back into Christian theology. The problem of evil, demons and demonic intervention in human affairs was part of his whole description of the universe. Unlike earlier writers, he not only asserted the existence of magic and demons, but set out to explain precisely how it was possible for demons to influence human actions. He gave a legitimate intellectual superstructure to the random accounts of chroniclers and theologians. After Aquinas, individual incidents of magic could be regarded not as isolated events to wonder at, but as manifestations of accepted parts of reality.

A large part of Aquinas’ teaching relevant to witchcraft is found in Summa contra gentiles[10] (written mostly against Moslems). In this he discusses sorcery and the world of nature. He defends the thesis “That the works of magicians result not only from the influence of heavenly bodies”; that is, that magic is not a natural effect of power from the stars. So what is the power of the magician? In the section, ‘Whence the works of magicians derive their efficacy’, Aquinas goes on to argue that the words and symbols used in magic are actually invocations and signs to an intelligent being; therefore the magic arts derive their efficacy from another intelligent being, to whom the magician’s words are addressed. “Hence it is clear that these arts which employ figures in order to produce certain effects, derive their efficacy, not from something that acts by nature, but from some intellectual substance that acts by intelligence.” Moreover, since magic arts are often employed in order to further adultery, theft, murder and other evils, the intellectual nature on whose assistance these arts depend is not well disposed. Magicians are often men of evil life, and it is not the mark of a virtuous mind to befriend and assist men of evil life; also the things done by magic are not generally the seeking of science and virtue, but lesser things like finding stolen goods, capturing thieves and so on. Magic involves evils such as slaying innocent children, untruth, in deceiving men, and magicians call upon the powers as superiors, but once they appear they command them as inferiors. No virtuous mind could be confused like that. So we may discount the contention of the pagans that magic is caused by gods.

What are they, then? They are demons. In ‘Of the assaults of the demons (in five articles)’, Aquinas explains, based on Ephesians 6:12, that demons do indeed assault humans. They will try to tempt man, and can do things that look like miracles (although they are not).[11] In Quodlibet XI, writing on sorcery and sexual impotence, Aquinas further asserts that demons may try to impede matrimony by preventing sexual intercourse. In another work, the Commentary of the Four Books of Sentences (a standard text by Peter Lombard) Aquinas warned that demons are very hard to exorcise.[12]

These snippets of specific information about demons, although (as noted above) form a very small part of his overall work, created great fear. The texts discussed above, and a few others, gave demons considerable physical power over humans, power which the demons would be all too ready to use. In the overall theology that asserted the existence of angels and demons, and a fearsome devil out to destroy Christians, the specific powers of demons became very important. They were the servants of a malevolent, focussed and completely evil Devil, whose goal was the destruction of Christendom. People suborned by these demons—worse still, who sought out demonic powers—were enemies against humanity. They must be stopped.

The weight of the law against witches

We now turn to some writings that give testimony to the process by which odd and isolated cases of sorcery or witchcraft came to be instances of Satan’s concerted assault on humanity through his agents.

In 1233, Pope Gregory IX: Vox in Rama 1233 wrote a letter to three officials who were deputed to seek out heretics. What is this heretical behaviour? The shape of devil-worshipping witchcraft begins to appear.

When a novice enters a heretical sect, Gregory wrote,

the shape of a certain form appears to him, which some are accustomed to call a toad. Some kiss this creature on the hind-quarters and some on the mouth; they receive the tongue and saliva of the beast inside their mouths. Sometimes it appears unduly large, and sometimes equivalent to a goose or a duck, and sometimes it even assumes the size of an oven. At length when the novice has come forward, he is met by a man of marvellous pallor, who has  very black eyes and is so emaciated and thin that, since his flesh has been wasted, seems to have remaining only skin drawn over the bone. The novice kisses him and feels cold, like ice, and after the kiss the memory of the catholic faith totally disappears from his heart. Afterwards they sit down to a meal and when they have arisen from it, from a certain statue, which is usual in a sect of this kind, a black cat about the size of an average dog, descends backwards, with its tail erect. First the novice, next the master, then each one of the order who are worthy and perfect, kiss the cat on its hindquarters; the imperfect, who do not estimate themselves worthy, receive grace from the master. Then each returns to his place and, speaking certain responses, they incline their heads toward the cat. “Forgive us,” says the master, and the one next to him repeats this, a third responding and saying, “We know master”; a fourth says, “And we must obey.[13]

This private exhortation was soon to be come a public issue. From the institution of the office in the 1230s, Inquisitors were solely charged to detect and eradicate heresy. One result of the inquisition was that the concept of heresy grew more precise, as well as methods for discovering and dealing with it. By the 1250s a number had raised the question of whether their charge included sorcery or magic, which were offences normally within the jurisdiction of local bishops. In 1258, a significant development occurred when it was allowed that the Inquisition could try sorcerers and witches—but only if there was also evidence of manifest heresy in their cases. Over the next century, however, witchcraft came to be identified with heresy. So as magic was coming to be defined exclusively as a pact between a human and demons, demon worship was defined as part of heresy, and therefore witchcraft was something to be tried by inquisitors.

Pope John XXII 1316-34 experienced several attempts on his life, one of which appears to have been an attempt by poison and sorcery. This probably prompted his denunciation of sorcery with Cardinal William of Santa Sabina. John gave more power to the Inquisitorial office, although he insisted on legal discipline. In his letter to the Inquisitors of Carcassonne and Toulouse, he wrote:

Our most holy father and lord, by divine providence Pope John XXII, fervently desires that the sorcerers, the infectors of God’s flock, flee from the midst of the House of God. He ordains and commits to you that, by his authority against them who make a sacrifice to demons or adore them, or do homage unto them by giving them as a sign a written pact or other token; or who make certain binding pacts with them, or who make or have made for them certain images or other things which bind them to demons, or by invoking the demons plan to perpetrate whatever sorceries they wish; or who, abusing the sacrament of baptism, themselves baptize or cause to be baptized an image of wax or some other material; and who themselves make these things or have them made in order to invoke the demons; or if knowingly they have baptism, orders, or confirmation repeated; then, concerning sorcerers and witches [des sortilegiis et maleficis, masculine] who abuse the sacrament of the eucharist or the consecrated host and other sacraments of the church by using them or things like them in their witchcraft and sorcery, you can investigate and otherwise proceed against the by whatever means available, which are canonically assigned to you concerning the proceeding against heretics. Indeed, our same lord amplifies and extends the power given to inquisitors by law as much as the office of the inquisition against heretics and, by his certain knowledge, likewise the privileges in all and singular cases mentioned above.[14]

Inquisitors, encouraged by such developments, began to include discussions of sorcery in the manuals of procedure they produced. Indeed, sorcery began to be a dominant interest of inquisitors. In 1324 a family and property dispute in Ireland became, under the local (continentally trained) bishop, a trial for sorcery, and Petronilla of Meath, a maid, became the first person executed for witchcraft.

Nicolau Eymeric became inquisitor of the kingdom of Aragon in 1356, and wrote a handbook for inquisitors, the Derectorium inquisitorum (1376) which remained an authority for inquisitors to the last. It was the most influential and widely used text until the seventeenth century. In it he distinguished soothsayers who used chiromancy (reading palms)—these were not heretics—from magicians and diviners who honour demons, re-baptize children and such. They were heretics.

Such heretics invoked demons by worship (latria), and honouring them (dulia, the reverence appropriate for saints) or by mere actions, such as tracing circles, using instruments, reading from books of necromancy and so on. Those who show demons latria are heretics under the law of the church, not magicians, and if they recant are to be perpetually imprisoned as penitent heretics. If they do not repent they are to relinquished to the secular arm and be punished by “the ultimate torture”. Those who show demons dulia are also heretics and suffer similar punishment.

The Theology Faculty of the University of Paris condemned sorcery in 1398. This was a very authoritative condemnation with the backing of the crown. In the 1390s a number of trials for sorcery were held in France, some of which aimed at causing or curing the madness of Charles VI; as well as trials for private acts of sorcery. The university linked learned magic with unlearned diabolical sorcery (for private and shameful ends) as both being idolatry and superstition.

The message spread. Bernadino of Siena (1380-1444), for instance, was one of the most successful Franciscan preachers of the fifteenth century. He was particularly concerned with those sins that threatened to call down the wrath of God on entire communities; sorcery, infanticide, sodomy, and toleration of Jews.
   In a sermon at Siena he mentions his success in Rome.

I had preached about these charms and about witches and sorceries to them, but they seemed to think that I had dreamed it all up. Finally it occurred to me to say that whoever knew of a man or woman doing such things and did not accused them would be guilty of the selfsame sin…And after I had preached, a multitude of witches and enchanters were accused.[15]


And so the fear of witches spread. The key years were 1430-60 particularly in what is now north-western Italy, south-eastern France, central and western Switzerland, and south-western Germany. People had suffered plague, famine, warfare, financial collapse and papal schism over the last century. The devil appeared to be destroying both the church and the people. Against this background arose a fierce hatred of witches, combining diabolical sorcery and heresy. Every kind of magic was now to be condemned without mercy as part of the devil’s sect.

Books on witchcraft circulated, which described details of actual trials. Part of the new idea was that the witch must be part of a coven, so any one individual convicted must reveal names of others in the group. Dominican theologian Johannes Nider wrote Formicarius, a book on ecclesiastical reform, including some of the earliest specific evidence of classical witchcraft, with a wealth of anecdotes of actual trials, based on conversations with the judges. Claude Tholosan, a French judge, wrote a treatise justifying the role of secular judges in witch prosecutions. An anonymous inquisitor wrote Errores Gazariorum (Errors of the Cathars) which described new sects of devil-worshippers, almost identical to the classical figure of the witch.

By mid-century witchcraft as diabolical sorcery had been fully assimilated with heresy, and therefore condemned by the highest authorities. Witches were now all involved in collective, heretical and maleficent action against humankind.

Pope Innocent VIII’s letter Sunmis desiderantes affectibus in 1484 laid down a plan of action against the worldwide conspiracy of witches and Satan. Pope Innocent had been asked to produce this letter by two Dominican inquisitors, Jacob Sprenger and Heinrich Kramer, to remove legal obstacles that were preventing them from hunting witches. The letter is actually about heresy.

Desiring with supreme ardour, as pastoral solicitude requires, that the catholic faith in our days everywhere grow and flourish as much as possible, and that all heretical depravity be put far from the territories of the faithful, we freely declare and anew decree this by which our pious desire may be fulfilled, and, all errors being rooted out by our toil as with the hoe of a wise labourer, zeal and devotion to this faith may take deeper hold on the hearts of the faithful themselves.[16] 

To remove any impediment (such as the protests of local bishops), and to prevent heretical depravity and the like spreading, Pope Innocent gave Kramer and Sprenger authority to find and punish heretics all over Germany, to preach in any church, and basically do whatever they liked. Moreover, the bishop must protect and aid them.

Kramer and Sprenger wrote the Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of Witches).[17] This book, seething with hatred of women in general and witches in particular, brought witch persecution to new depths. Malleus Maleficarum is a comprehensive and massive compendium of witch-lore. It is viciously misogynistic, paranoid and hysterical, without a trace of real concern for humanity. Kramer and Sprenger’s privilege was to be extended to Inquisitors throughout much of Europe. The witch craze was launched in earnest.

Blaming witchcraft

Why did the extreme fear of witches, and the subsequent persecution, arise? There are many factors, but the growing ideas about the strength and malignity of the devil were very important in the rise of witch beliefs. Scholastic theologians created, or at least systematized and popularized, a view of Satan out of all proportion to Scripture. Ordinary Christianity was no longer a defence against him. A stronger and more concentrated response to Satan was needed. His human servants were more dangerous than ever.

The activities of witches were described by theologians concerned about Satan, not from the experience of local wise women and their actions. But with these codifications, the activities of witches throughout Europe were made homogenous in the eyes of preachers and inquisitors. Whatever the specific accusations against witches, the official format soon took over. By 1450 at the latest, the fundamental crime of the witch was devil worship; the maleficia, evil deeds, that they performed were secondary crimes.

The witch became the most obvious cause of the most feared evils—sexual impotence, sudden illness or death, barrenness, crippling or painful illness, unpredictable changes in the weather, crop failure and loss of livestock. Persecution of those who would cause such things was, in this belief-structure, entirely logical.

These days, witches have a bad reputation among the religious, but an increasingly rehabilitated reputation in the secular world. Christian groups worry about the promotion of witches in children’s literature because of the possible connections with demons. Other groups frequently connect witches with positive pagan religion, or with no religion at all. We have the choice of considering witches on the basis of distraught medieval theologians or an idealized pagan past. Either way, the witches of modern fact and fiction have no obvious ancestors in reality.


[1] This essay, attempting to cover some thousand years of European history, is of course only the briefest of sketches. It relies on source texts taken from Alan Charles Kors and Edward Peters (eds), Witchcraft in Europe, 400-1700: A Documentary History, Second edition, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 2001. The commentary in this volume gives a much fuller description of the rise of witchcraft.  See also the series of books, still under publication, edited by Bengt Ankarloo and Stuart Clark, Witchcraft and Magic in Europe, Philadelphia. Another useful introduction is Valerie Flint, The Rise of Magic in Early Medieval Europe, Princeton University Press, 1991.

[2]  For more detailed histories of witchcraft, see Stuart Clark (ed.), Languages of Witchcraft: Narrative, Ideology and meaning in Early Modern Culture, Palgrave Macmillan, 2000, and Thinking with Demons: The Idea of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1991; a selection of other good texts amongst the great many availabe is: S Anglo (ed.), The Damned Art: Essays in the Literature of Witchcraft, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1977; Richard Kieckhefer, European Witch Trials: Their Foundations in Popular and Learned Culture, 1300-1500, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1976; Christina Larner, Witchcraft and Religion: The Politics of Popular Belief, Blackwell, Oxford, 1984. An older work, useful for its many primary case studies, is George Lyman Kittredge, Witchcraft in Old and New England, Harvard University Press, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1929.

[3]  For two classic studies on this topic, see Geoffrey Burton Russell, Satan: The Early Christian Tradition, Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London. 1981. and Lucifer: The Devil in the Middle Ages, Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London, 1984.

[4] Hans Dieter Betz (ed), The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, Including the Demotic Spells, second edition, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 1992, p. xli.

[5] Augustine On Christian Teaching, ed. and trans. R. P. H. Green, Oxford, 1995, pp. 91-95.

[6] Saint Caesarius of Arles: Sermons, Volume I (1-80), trans. Sister Mary Magdalene Mueller, New York, 1956, p. 265. For other examples of ‘church magic’ used to combat superstitious magic, see Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Beliefs in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century England, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1971; Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England c. 1400 — c. 1580, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1992; there are numerous other overviews of medieval magic.

[7]  See John T. McNeill and Helena Gamer, Medieval Handbooks of Penance: A Translation of the Principal Libri Poenitentiales and Selections from Related Documents, Columbia University Press, New York, 1990.

[8]  In Kors and Peters, op. cit., p. 54.

[9] In Kors and Peters, op. cit., p. pp. 61-62.

[10]  A good translation is that by the English Dominican Fathers, London, 1928.

[11], See St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiæ, Blackfriars in conjunction with Eyre and Spottiswoode, London and McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York, 1968.

[12]  In Kors and Peters, op. cit., pp. 103-105, trans. Peters.

[13]   Ibid, p. 115.

[14]  Ibid., p. 119; trans. Peters.

[15]  John Shinners (ed.), Medieval Popular Religion, 1000-1500: A Reader, Peterborough, Ontario, 1997, p. 244.

[16]  In Kors and Peters, op. cit., pp. 177-8.

[17] For an English translation, see The Malleus Maleficarum of Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger, trans. Rev Montague Summers, Dover Publications, New York, 1871.

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.