KILLING WOMEN: GENDER, SORCERY AND VIOLENCE IN LATE MEDIEVAL GERMANY by James Mitchell © 2008
Wenn man einen mann verbrennt, so brennt man wohl zehn frauen. If you burn one man, it’s the same as burning ten women. —Strassburg Cathedral Chaplain Geiler von Kaisersberg, 1508 Denn geht es zu des Bösen Haus, Das Weib hat tausend Schritt voraus. When we go to the house of Evil, Women will be a thousand steps ahead. —Goethe, Faust I, Walpurgisnacht.
SCHOLARS STUDYING THE WITCH HUNTS that swept across most European countries during the period 1560-1700 commonly agree that the dominant concept of witchcraft was constructed during the fifteenth century, primarily in Germanspeaking lands. The various elements that came together to define witches as a diabolically sponsored conspiracy of maleficent sorcerers, guilty not only of committing harmful acts which endangered their neighbors, but also of subverting the Christian religion through the worship of the Devil or by consorting with demons, had been present in an occasional fashion throughout the Middle Ages. But the same elements took form in the theoretical writings of fifteenthcentury clerics in such a way as to create a particular, if notional, identity for contemporary sorcerers which enabled judicial authorities to prosecute persons so identified, at the same time enabling injured victims to target suspected perpetrators. Although the actual number of fifteenth-century witchcraft trials was small compared with those to follow, 1 collectively they realized what Brian Levack calls the “cumulative concept of witchcraft," 2 whose constituent elements include worship of the Devil, pacts made with the Devil or with demons to empower the sorcerers, the notion of the witches’ sabbath, the belief that witches can fly, and their ability on occasion to shape-shift or metamorphose into animals. The main varieties of maleficia also came to be defined, which included such large-scale exertions as the creation of adverse weather events to effect crop failures, down to a variety of actions intending personal injuries and illnesses. These elements achieved an intellectual foundation in the principal theoretical works of the fifteenth century: the Formicarius by Johannes Nider, written between 1435 and 1437; Malleus Maleficarum (Witches’ Hammer) by Heinrich Kramer, first published in 1486 with thirteen reprints before 1520; the Papal bull Summis desiderantes of Innocent VIII of 1484; and De Lamiis et Pythonicis Mulieribus (Of Witches and Diviner Women) by Ulrich Molitoris, published in 1489. Taken together, these works created so to speak a character profile for the detection of witches, in addition to establishing a moral and judicial authorization for their capture, judicial prosecution, and eventual elimination. With the exception of the Papal bull, these The fifteenth-century trials, which occurred mainly in French and German-speaking areas in today’s Switzerland, are discussed comprehensively in Blauert, Andreas, Frűhe Hexenverfolgungen (Hamburg: Junius, 1989). 2 Levack, Brian P. The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe, 2nd ed. (London and New York: Longman, 1987), 29-50. 1
theoretical writings also emphasized the susceptibility of women to become the primary performers of witchcraft. Although the word “witch” in English may have originally indicated either a male or a female sorcerer, in German, “die Hexe” is always feminine in gender. 3 Although the concept of maleficent sorcery is not in itself gender-specific, with the passage of time women came to be seen as the chief perpetrators and were of course prosecuted accordingly. During the great witch hunts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the percentage of women executed for sorcery as opposed to males is estimated from 75 to 90 per cent, depending on the time and place of the executions. 4 In the following essay, we will examine in detail the process by which witchcraft became deliberately and definitively feminized in fifteenth-century Germany, and we will also show how contemporary artists of the time made use of the prevailing popular notions about witches to depict them in accordance with the “evil old woman” archetype. We will also see how these women subjects became eroticized through their depiction as young seductresses and as participants in diabolical sexual extravaganzas of various kinds. Finally we will show how the witchcraft fright presented the same artists with the opportunity of illustrating women in sexually suggestive, not to say pornographic poses, made publicly permissible and even fashionable for the first time in the history of German art. 2. Prior to 1430, most witchcraft prosecutions in Europe involved charges of either maleficium or ritual magic. Although the case records that survive are mostly incomplete, they do not indicate charges of diabolism, and it is clear that many of the prosecutions were politically motivated. 5 But after 1430, not only do the witchcraft trials increase in frequency, but also charges of diabolism and heresy become more frequently associated with them, as urged in the theoretical writings of the period, leading some scholars to assert that these developments mark the beginning of the European witchhunt. 6 Thus the first witchcraft treatise, Formicarius, written by the Dominican theologian and inquisitor Johannes Nider between 1435 It is possible to say “der Hexer” in German to indicate a male sorcerer, but this use is quite rare. 4 Bailey, Michael D. Battling Demons. Witchcraft, Heresy and Reform in the Late Middle Ages. (University Park, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2003), 48. 5 Kieckhefer, Richard. European Witch Trials: Their Foundations in Popular and Learned Culture, 1300-1500. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976) 10-26. 6 Levack, Witchcraft, 186. 3
and 1437, describes witches as persons who not only cast spells, but who also pay homage to and worship the Devil, renounce the Christian faith, and trample on the cross. 7 Witches are thus seen as dangerous heretics requiring not chastisement, but outright extermination, a theme which will be reiterated in the most influential witch manual of the century, the Malleus maleficarum. Pope Innocent VIII in Summis desiderantes describes witches as persons who “have given themselves over to devils” in order to wreak various kinds of havoc in the community, and authorizes both Malleus authors, the Dominican churchmen Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger, to undertake an inquisition against them in order to “prevent the taint of heretical depravity and of other like evils from spreading their infection to the ruin of others who are innocent.” 8 In other words, witches were now officially stigmatized as heretics, and the inquisitors were now explicitly deputized by the Pope to prosecute and punish them. Not only do Formicarius and Malleus establish diabolism as a constituent element of witchcraft, but they also agree that women are especially likely candidates for its transaction, and accordingly for its punishment. Since Formicarius preceded Malleus by fifty years, Johannes Nider is the first clerical authority to state that women are more inclined to sorcery than men, and it has been demonstrated that Kramer lifted Nider’s ideas almost directly into Malleus, at times almost verbatim. 9 Before both, however, there exists a long history of notions regarding female sorceresses extending back into Antiquity. The ancient Romans conceived of a creature called a strix that flew about at night, screeching like an owl and attacking human beings for their flesh and blood, and carrying off babies to devour them. Ovid says that such creatures could be actual birds, or else women who have magically transformed themselves into birds. 10 Mention of similar beings is made by Petronius and Apuleius, while the Latin grammarian Sextus Pompeius Festus, writing in the second century C.E., defines strigae as “the name given to women who practice sorcery, and who are also called flying women.” 11 The soLevack, Witchcraft, 34-35. In Kors, Alan C., and Peters, Edward, eds. Witchcraft in Europe 1100-1700. A Documentary History. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1972) 108-110. The bull does not discriminate between male and female witches. 9 Bailey, Battling Demons, 49. Bailey’s work shows Formicarius to be more significant than previously assumed. 10 Cohn, Norman. Europe’s Inner Demons. The Demonization of Christians in Medieval Christendom. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993). 11 In Cohn, Demons, 163. The strigae were also called lamiae, a reference to the mythical Queen of Libya, loved by Zeus, who sucked the blood from babies because Hera had killed her children. 7
called “night-witches” also take flight much later in a legal text composed by the Italian Bishop Gratian in 1140 called Canon Episcopi: It is also not to be omitted that some wicked women, perverted by the Devil, seduced by illusions and phantasms of demons, believe and profess themselves, in the hours of night, to ride upon certain beasts with Diana, the goddess of pagans, and an innumerable multitude of women... and to obey commands, as of their mistress.... 12 As Levack points out, the belief that witches could fly is closely associated with the notion of the witches’ sabbath, in that it explained how the women could commute back and forth to their secret nocturnal gatherings without being detected. 13 That the female witch stereotype is lurking in the background of German folklore in the thirteenth century is shown in the following lines written around 1230 by an anonymous poet known as “Der Stricker,” (“The Knitter”), who is unconvinced of the existence of such beings: ob ein wἳp einen ovenstap űberschrite und den gegen Halle rite, daz si taete deheinen val, daz geloube ich niht.... 14 whether a women bestrides a fire poker and rides it to Halle and tries to land there— that I don’t believe. 15 Such folkloristic evidence confirms that the association of women with witchcraft certainly pre-existed the fifteenth century, 16 12 Kors,Witchcraft, 29. In later texts, Diana is replaced by Hecate as the goddess associated with night witches. Hecate was known in ancient times as the goddess of sorcery and magic. 13 Levack, Witch-Hunt, 44. 14 In Behringer, Wolfgang, ed. Hexen und Hexenprozesse. (Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1988) 25. 15 All translations in this paper are mine, unless otherwise noted. Halle is a city in central Germany, where this poet from south Germany apparently thinks that witches might gather. 16 Wolfgang Behringer states that “reports of executions of women for witchcraft are spread throughout the Middle Ages,” citing documentary evidence contained in Joseph Hansen, Quellen und Untersuchungen (see Bibliography). Behringer, Wolfgang, “Witchcraft studies in Austria, Germany and Switzerland,” in Witchcraft
but it is the accomplishment of Nider and Kramer to provide a rationale explaining why this association will eventually become prevalent in the witchcraft persecutions, and why women are more susceptible to practicing sorcery than men to begin with. Nider regards witches in Formicarius 17 as potent sorcerers capable of performing the usual panoply of malificia—killing children, suspending fertility, destroying crops, calling forth lightning and hail, spreading disease and pestilence—and he describes them as Satanic servants who gather to worship demons at orgiastic, nocturnal assemblies called sabbaths. 18 He then examines the alleged proclivity of women for witchcraft, “ultimately based on longstanding Christian conceptions of the physical, mental, and spiritual weaknesses of women, and their greater susceptibility to the temptations of the devil,” drawing upon very “standard biblical, patristic and scholastic sources.” 19 To substantiate his arguments concerning female corruptibility and the propensity of women for duplicity, treachery and evil, Nider quotes such diverse authorities as the Bible, a commentary of St. John Chrysostom, and Cicero and Seneca. 20 Almost all of Nider’s witchcraft ideas were taken up in the infinitely more influential Malleus maleficarum, 21 but Heinrich Kramer’s main intention was sub-stantially different: to make readers aware that witches were a real threat to civil society, and to incite the authorities to take immediate corrective action. 22 This polemic is in early modern Europe. Studies in culture and belief, eds. Barry, Jonathan; Hester, Marianne; and Roberts, Gareth, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996) 81. 17 Nider’s Formicarius is a very extensive work covering many different topics of interest not only to demonologists, but more generally to Christian clerics and moralists as well. Only a few pages are dedicated to witchcraft, and otherwise it presents almost a descriptive catalogue of various virtues and vices. Many gender issues are discussed, including for example “How dangerous it is to live with women,” “Why men are superior to women,” and “How to deal with women who talk too much.” There are also discussions about how to conduct oneself in old age, why nobody should construct a house under the surface of the earth, and a chapter dealing with Catherine of Siena. Unfortunately the Latin in which Formicarius is written is highly truncated and abbreviated, as happens commonly in early bookprinting, making it very difficult to read. The work has not yet been translated, but the facsimile edition of Hans Biedermann (see Bibliography) provides a table of contents in translation for all the chapters. 18 Bailey, Michael D., “The Feminization of Magic and the Emerging Idea of the Female Witch in the Late Middle Ages,” in Essays in Medieval Studies 19 (2002): 122. 19 Bailey, “Feminization,” 122. 20 Bailey, “Feminization,” 123. This small list of references from Antiquity pales in comparison with the many citations in Malleus, most of which are bogus. 21 Notably the notion of the witches’ sabbath does not occur with Kramer, who is now considered the sole author of the Malleus. 22 Many leading clerics and rulers of the period did not consider witchcraft an important threat. Kramer’s argument resembles recent modern perceptions of
central to Kramer’s approach, and serves as his justification for creating the resulting witch manual. As the title of the work already suggests—maleficarum (performers of maleficent magic, or simply sorcerers) is a feminine plural in Latin— it is absolutely clear to the author that the perpetrators are mainly women. Answering the question why more sorcerers are female, Kramer explains that 1) women, being “frail and unstable,” are inclined to be “credulous,” making them more prone to “attack” by the “Evil Spirit;” that 2) “the way they are made makes them naturally prone to leak,” making it easier for individual spirits to find entrance; that 3) women have a “lewd, slippery tongue,” useful when employed as an “evil skill;” that 4) because “women are weaker than men both intellectually and physically,” they “seem to be of a different species,” when it comes to intellectual or spiritual matters; and that last not least, 5) she “is given to fleshly lusts more than a man, as is clear from her many acts of carnal filthiness.” 23 If all this weren’t enough to drive a woman into witchcraft voluntarily, our author suggests further that God formed woman from a curved chest-rib bent in an opposite direction from a man’s: “From this weakness one concludes that since she is an unfinished animal, she is always being deceptive.” 24 Not only is woman something of an anatomical disaster, even her name is disreputable, since, according to Kramer, it derives etymologically from fe (“faith”) and minus (“less”). 25 Woman is therefore an almost inevitable vessel for infidelitas and perfidia, which together may produce falsa fides, or even haeresis, 26 and if these are left unchecked, the calamitous result will surely be “the extermination of the Faith.” 27 Due to the immense popularity and widespread circulation of Malleus maleficarum, it is reasonable to suggest that the feminization of witchcraft reaches its most effective ideological expression and influence in its pages. A further issue that is not mentioned in the Malleus, but which we may regard as a subtext from its positioning of women to be so inferior as to be powerless, is the inference that female witches require the assistance of demons in order to practice sorcery. In and of themselves, women are not possessed of the strength of mind or physical prowess to transact maleficent witchcraft, so instead they must seduce demons—and seduction of international terrorism as a powerful, secret conspiracy set against destroying the social order. 23Maxwell-Stuart, P.G., ed. and transl. The Malleus Maleficarum. (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007) 73-79. 24 Maxwell-Stuart, Malleus, 75. 25 Maxwell-Stuart, Malleus, 75. 26 False faith, heresy. These terms occur repeatedly throughout the Malleus. 27 Maxwell-Stuart, Malleus, 78.
course is exactly what they excel at by nature, according to Nider and Kramer—so that the demons will perform magic for them. This in turn injects sexual intercourse as a fundamental urgency into the general conception of witchcraft, which finds ample expression, as we shall see, in the visual media of the times. It is interesting in this regard to compare the imagined practice of witches with the actual career of a male necromancer of the period, such as Dr. Johann Georg Faust (c. 1480 to 1540) a dubious magician, astrologer and alchemist who obtained a degree in divinity from Heidelberg University in 1509, and who died, according to one source, as the result of an (al)chemical explosion in Breisgau. 28 Faust’s name and persona achieved literary immortality in the plays of Marlowe and Goethe, but the point is that Faust was able to act as a necromancer—necromancy means the summoning of the dead or of devils, usually to perform different kinds of sorcery, not necessarily malevolent but normally self-serving—because of his superior education and his acquired knowledge of obscure and esoteric texts. He was empowered, in other words, by his own literacy and intellectual proficiency to accomplish the magic. Whereas a potential female sorcerer, illiterate and uneducated as she almost certainly would have been, had no other recourse but to offer herself sexually to the Devil or his representatives in order to make use of their magical powers in the service of her own interests. In other words, because of her intrinsic inferiority and lack of literacy, a woman must yield to and seduce the male power, in the shape of the devil or a demon, in order to enforce or transact her own will; ultimately she remains as powerless after the event as before, even though of course in a judicial proceeding she is the only one to be held accountable.
The details of Faust’s life are quite erratic, as was apparently his sudden demise.
3. It has often been noted that any serious analysis of European witchcraft must lead to the conclusion that its causes are many and various, and that it was produced by a plurality of causes and circumstances rather than a single or even a dominant reason. As Robin Briggs contends in a well-known essay called “Many Reasons Why,” “It is not just that monothematic explanations have so far failed to work in practice for the specific instance of witchcraft,” but also that “careful analysis usually reveals overlapping levels... of causation and meaning, which are extremely hard to rank against one another even in individual cases.” 29 Briggs takes his interpretation a big step further when he announces that “once we start aggregating [causative elements], the variables multiply so fast that chaos theory, with its patterns of unpredictability, is the scientific model which best fits the case.” 30 For this reason, Briggs suggests that the study of the witch persecutions “needs to be broken down into its components, not treated as if it obeyed a single set of laws.” 31 I would like to suggest another model for organizing the witchcraft evidence, which consists of breaking it down into the societal levels or tiers where the various actions occurred. The top tier would be that of the clerical preachers and inquisitors, the theorists who authored the guidelines and justifications for the persecutions, and who therefore set the agenda for what was to follow. 32 The second level would include the judicial authorities who tried the witches and who operated under a separate level of legal strategies and imperatives, derived from the clerics who established the more general philosophy, and no less elite in nature. Another level would consist of the accusers, for the most part an illiterate class of aggrieved peasants in the population who saw themselves as witchcraft victims and who could have likely cared less about the demands of the church to designate witches as heretics. And a bottom tier of course must be reserved for the true victims, namely the witches themselves, who for the most part probably went to their graves without any experience or knowledge of the crimes for which they were condemned. 29 Briggs, Robin. “’Many reasons why:’ witchcraft and the problem of multiple explanation” in Witchcraft in early modern Europe: Studies in culture and belief, ed. Jonathan Barry, Marianne Hester and Gareth Roberts (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996) 53. 30 Briggs, Reasons, 53. 31 Briggs, Reasons, 53. 32 Definitely an ongoing process, since theoretical writings of various kinds continued to appear in several European countries throughout the entire duration of the persecutions, some of which indeed argued against the persecutions.
All of these tiers were engaged with witchcraft in their own particular way and also more or less simultaneously, so that attempting to isolate and identify causative factors in any one tier would not automatically or necessarily lead to changes on other levels, let alone serve to explain them. This way of viewing the European witchcraft phenomenon avoids the relativity inherent to the “Many reasons why” argument on the one hand, or a descent into an inexplicable chaos theory on the other. In this paper we have provided a brief outline of the ideological writings on the tier or level of the clerical theorists, who provided the defining moment of the feminization of sorcery in fifteenth century Germany. I would like now to suggest the existence of yet another tier of witchcraft activity, in which numerous German artists thematicized witchcraft in their works, depicting the witches almost exclusively as women. This imagery began to appear with increasing frequency in the second half of the century—before the popular interest in witchcraft faded temporarily during the Reformation period, when other concerns prevailed. 4. The emergence of book printing after Gutenberg’s invention of moveable type in 1439 effected a truly revolutionary innovation in the propagation and dissemination of ideas, not only in terms of circulating ever-increasing numbers of texts among the literate public, but also by distributing a whole multitude of woodcut drawings that appeared in flyers, broadsheets and book illustrations, which might be enjoyed by illiterate persons as well. From about 1480, printing presses were also used for prints in addition to woodcut book illustrations. 33 These visual media were innovative and instantly popular, offering totally new opportunities for their creators—for example, artists could for the first time make political statements in their works, as evidenced by the astonishing number of forthrightly propagandistic and often satirical drawings and cartoons produced during the Reformation by both its proponents and detractors. 34 Although Malleus maleficarum and Formicarius were not illustrated, the well-known woodcut engravings shown below decorated the pages of Ulrich Molitoris’ popular treatise Concerning
33 “Woodcut." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 22 April 2008. <http://0-search.eb.com.opac.sfsu.edu:80/eb/article-9077414>. 34 For an entire work dedicated to this subject see Scribner, R.W. For the Sake of Simple Folk. Popular Propaganda for the German Reformation. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994).
Witches and Diviner Women, 35 which appeared originally in 1489 and in several editions throughout the entire century following. The 1493 edition included a small number of anonymous woodcut drawings that may have had a didactic purpose, but which, given the cartoonlike simplicity typical of early book printing, seem to us almost humorous. [See Figures 1-4.] We can see from illustrations such as these how the changing concepts of witchcraft are reflected in the sequence of imagery which continues throughout the fifteenth century in Germany, for example by comparing the Molitoris engravings to a painted illustration of two decades previous. The illuminated picture appears in a manuscript by Johannes Tinctoris, Contra sectam Vaudensium, a witchcraft tract that appeared around 1460. It shows two couples worshipping the Devil in the form of a goat, while another pair of witches plus one lone female riding side-saddle zoom past overhead. The painting appears stylistically related to the “Adoration of the Lamb” motif often seen in Northern Renaissance art, most notably perhaps in an altar panel bearing the same name by Jan Van Eyck. The picture shows that the female witch archetype had not yet replaced an earlier paradigm which perceived that men were equally represented at the diabolical ceremonies. [See Figure 5.]
5. With the rising popularity and widespread distribution of German witchcraft illustrations toward the end of the century, practically all aspects of a witch’s career were represented, emphasizing her interactions with the Devil and with demons, and portraying the whole catalogue of maleficia that resulted. Another common motif was the execution of the condemned women, generally by burning. The result of this was the creation of at least three separate witch stereotypes which began to occur with increasing frequency in the visual media of the period: in the woodcut drawings appearing in book illustrations and flyers, in copper-plate etchings similarly employed, and in separately produced drawings and paintings.
35 See Molitoris, Ulrich. Schriften, ed. Jörg Mauz, SJ. (Konstanz: Verlag am Hockgraben, 1997), which contains the original Latin treatise: De lamiis et phitonicis mulieribus, and its first German translation: Von den unholden oder hexen of 1508, the basis for several reprints.
The first stereotype is that of the crone, or “evil old woman,” and it is important to understand that it appeared in other contexts besides witchcraft. A good example, going back in time at least as far trecento in Italy, is that of the procuress, generally depicted as an ugly old woman who manages prostitutes. She is frequently depicted as a venal fraudster, wearing dirty clothes, her face wrinkled and her teeth missing. In the following painting by Lucas Cranach entitled “The Procuress,” she is shown fleecing a gentleman of his money bag, shaped amusingly like a breast, while one of her ladies plies him with alcohol. [See Figure 6.] The number of German witchcraft illustrations in the fifteenth century representing witches as old hags or crones is of course legion. A famous woodcut created by Hans Baldung Grien in 1544, commonly regarded as one of the most famous pictures from the entire German Renaissance, represents the witch-crone at her most destructive. “Der behexte Stallknecht” (“The Bewitched Stable Boy”) lies dead on the floor of the stable, his hay fork underneath him and his currycomb fallen out of his hand. He has been kicked to death by a horse, which looks back malevolently at its work while preparing to leave the crime scene. An aged witch with withered breasts 36 looks on, holding a torch to illuminate the area, her presence implying that extremely foul play has been afoot. 37 [See Figure 7.] As numerous as the representations of witches as old crones appeared in all the visual media of the times, they absolutely pale in significance in comparison with the number of artworks depicting witches as young seductresses, which we can define as the second stereotype. A primary step in the self-realization of the witch, so to speak, consisted of her ability to either seduce the Devil personally, or else be seduced by him or by his minions, the demons. Artists of the time seized upon the opportunity of showing naked women, often engaged in sexual activities, and there arose a minor corpus of blatantly erotic works quite unique in the history of Renaissance art, whose salacious aspects could be socially legitimized by the allegedly educative rationale of informing the public about the nature of witchcraft. 36 Naked withered breasts appear often in the representation of aged witches, signifying perhaps the disappearance of two major characteristics of womanhood, namely seduction and motherhood. Devoid of these natural assets, the old woman has become (from a dominant male point of view) sexually, if not socially useless and therefore prone to evil influences. 37 For a discussion of the relevance of Grien’s picture to contemporary literary texts, see Mesenzeva, Charmian A.“’Der behexte Stallknecht’ des Hans Baldung Grien“ in Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 44, no. 1 (1981): 57-61.
Depicting the potential witch as a tempting young seductress gave artists the chance to portray her as a sexual object, capable of arousing desire. The first works to appear show the young woman fully clothed, courted by a devil, 38 as in the Molitoris woodcut we have seen above. 39 A more elaborate version of a similar theme is shown in the following woodcut by Albrecht Dűrer, in which a devil is seen offering his buttocks to a vain young woman absorbed in combing her hair. 40 [See Figure 8.] Since there is presumably nothing seductive about a crone, images of younger women now begin to flood the production of witchcraft imagery, and which rapidly becomes eroticized first by showing them nude, and second by showing them engaged in sexual acts. This opportunity of depicting nude women without risking condemnation by the local authorities must have proved irresistible to many artists. In Renaissance Germany, nude women were generally confined to a few Biblical themes, mostly Adam and Eve portraits or Samson and Delilah drawings, or else they appeared in various scenes taken from classical mythology, as was primarily the case for example with most female nudes of Lucas Cranach.41 A well-known etching by Albrecht Dűrer entitled “Initiation into the Society of Witches” from 1497 seems to be a figure study of nude women at various ages. With only the head of a demon, lost apparently in a “male gaze,” visible at the lower left of the picture to indicate any association with witchcraft at all, the artist seems much more interested in representing the female anatomy as realistically and with as much technical skill as possible, from the full-front nude young woman on the right to the more reclusive mature women on her left. [See Figure 9.] The pictorial progression of the seductress stereotype goes from images of vain young women either making themselves attractive or simply being courted by devils, or both at once, to fullscale nude drawings of the women, and from there to outright pornographic representations of sexual activities either already at, or else preparing for, the witches’ sabbath. It is important here to 38 It is not clear in most images if the seducer is the Devil or one of his demon servants; for the present purpose I resolve the issue by calling either a devil. 39 On p.16, right. 40 Kissing the devil’s buttocks was regarded as a ritual practice of worship or submission. In this case, the devil seems to have a hard time getting the young woman away from her mirror, in which only he himself is reflected. 41 For a good review of the progress in the depiction of the female body in the art of the period see Scribner, R.W., “From the Sacred Image to the Sensual Gaze: Sense Perceptions and the Visual in the Objectification of the Female Body in SixteenthCentury Germany,” in Religion and Culture in Germany (1400-1800), ed. Lyndal Roper (Leiden: Brill, 2001) 129-145.
remember that the idea of demonic copulation as a characteristic element of the witch’s career long preceded its pictorial representations, which began to appear with remarkable frequency toward the end of the fifteenth century. These images were so to speak a kind of permitted pornography, morally sanitized by their association with witchcraft, and no one depicted the erotic play of witches with more enthusiasm than Hans Baldung Grien. The number of pictures that Grien produced relating to witchcraft seem to evidence nothing less than an obsession with the theme. The two following drawings we will consider belong to the most famous in the entire German witchcraft portfolio. The first, entitled “New Year’s Greeting” was apparently intended as a New Year’s present for a clerical friend of the artist in 1514. It bears the ironic inscription, “Happy New Year to the Cleric,” and suggests that the cleric in question may have been in difficulty attempting to maintain his abstinence vows. Three witches are shown, one younger and two older. They are either engaged in sexual play, or possibly rubbing themselves with unguents, held to be a useful preparation for flying through the air. [See Figure 10.] Full-scale penetrative sex is the order of the day in Grien’s “Young Witch with a Dragon.” A dragon uses his enormous tongue to enter the woman from behind, while two putti attempt to line up the dragon’s rather strangely shaped anatomy to maximum advantage. The creature seems to have two tongues, perhaps reminiscent of the forked tongue of a snake, only one of which seems long enough to go the distance. 42 The tongue of the dragon replaces the male erection, which would have of course been forbidden in any artwork of the period and indeed for centuries to come for reasons of dominant-male propriety, while the fact that the women in both Grien drawings have let down their hair demonstrates their innate and incorrigible sexual licentiousness. 43 [See Figure 11.] Finally we come to what we may regard as a third stereotype, the woman transformed into a demon. In the final stage of her career, the witch is now naked and bereft of all humanity, her mind and body shattered by contact with the diabolical forces to which she has surrendered herself. Nowhere does the image of a destroyed woman appear to such ghastly effect as in the following drawing entitled 42 But an alternate interpretation of the drawing speculates that the woman "is firing a jet of fiery gas into the beast's mouth." In Zika, Charles; Sa'dī,'Abdal-Rahmān ibn 'Abd Allāh; and Hunwick, John O., Exorcising our demons magic, witchcraft, and visual culture in early modern Europe. (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2003) 292. 43 Women were expected to keep their hair under cover until the 18th century. In the Dűrer engraving “Initiation into the Society of Witches” shown above, it is still covered, since they have not yet moved on to sexual recreation.
“Old Witch” by Nikolaus Manuel Deutsch (c. 1484-1530): [See Figure 12.] Conclusions It is clear that the gendering of witchcraft emerged from two different sources. The first of these were vaguely defined, folkloristic notions about evil female sorceresses known as “night witches.” These spooky chimeras originated in pagan Europe, and they are randomly mentioned in various writings from the early medieval period up to the fifteenth century. The second source are the theoretical writings (Hexenlehre) of the German clerics Heinrich Kramer (Malleus maleficarum) and Johann Nider (Formicarius). Since the Malleus unequivocally viewed witches as females and because it came to be accepted as the foremost authority for their persecution, the identification of witches as females became indelibly impressed on the judicial authorities and on the population at large. Considering the larger question of how such an unimaginable horror as the witchcraft persecutions could have come about in early modern Germany to begin with, we have argued against the “many reasons why” approach posited by Robin Briggs in his response to the variety and complexity of the problems involved. We have instead suggested a multi-tiered model which seeks to identify causal connections at the various levels in society where the persecutions took place, from the church inquisitors down to the level of the victims themselves, since the actors at each level were acting under very different sets of assumptions and prerogatives. We have also suggested that contemporary artists also functioned as a separate tier in the process, assuming a unique level of interest involved with, for example, reproducing erotic images of nude female bodies. However, the attempt to find a single solution to the question of how witchcraft became feminized seems less difficult to answer. Given the fact that the witch persecutions did find a thorough and detailed ideological basis in Formicarius and Malleus, just as the Nazi persecution of European Jews originated in the all but hallucinatory racist theories of its perpetrators, we have only to look at the notions of gender expressed in both works. They consist not of a poorly executed corpus of misogynist ravings, 44 but constitute 44 Walter Stephens discusses the issue of misogyny in Malleus at some length, concluding that “hatred of women was not the sole or even the primary motive for compiling the Malleus.” Stephens, Walter. Demon Lovers. Witchcraft, Sex, and the Crisis of Belief. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002) 33.
instead a radicalization of very traditional prevailing male views of women extending far back into Antiquity. As we have seen, both Nider and Kramer reference classical authorities repeatedly, as well as the Bible, and both authors repeat the prevailing age-old medical notions of the â€œfailed manâ€? variety, seeing womenâ€™s menstrual cycles as a medical illness, her comparative lack of muscular strength as physical inferiority, and her gender-specific manner of self-presentation as a sign of sexual licentiousness, severely forbidden by traditional Christian morality. Therefore the inadequate female self, in its own subjectivity a failed subject, requires constant supervision by her self-appointed male guardians in the interest of maintaining her virtuous conduct, and it requires severe punishment in the interest of preserving the social order if these men are disobeyed. Combined with the inquisitorial interest of the clerical writers to root out imagined heretical conspiracies, and to purify a male-dominated social order by purging it of moral contaminants, it is hardly surprising that women were destined to become their tragic victims.
Figure 1. Witches shapeshifted into animals.
Figure 2. A devil seducing a potential recruit.
Figure 3. Brewing up a hail‐storm.
Figure 4. Lunch‐time. Figures 1‐4, the Molitoris woodcut engravings, were down‐ loaded from Universitätsbibliothek Salzburg, “Ulricus Molitoris: De lamiis et phitonicis mulieribus,” [http://www.ubs.sbg.ac.at/sosa/inkunabeln/WI167.htm], accessed on 22 April, 2008.
Figure 5. Reproduction taken from Behringer, Wolfgang. Witches and Witch‐Hunts. A Global History [Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2004], 70.
Figure 6. Lucas Cranach, The Procuress. クラナッハの近代的人間性. [http://www.ne.jp/asahi/inlet/jomonjin/cranach.html]
Figure 7. Reproduced from Mesenzeva, Charmian A., “’Der behexte Stallknecht’ des Hans Baldung Grien,“ in Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 44, no. 1 (1981) 59.
Figure 8. Reproduced in Kors, Witchcraft, 55. It appeared originally in Der Ritter von Thurn, printed in Basel in 1493. A good example of the increasingly sophisticated use of woodcut engravings as book illustration.
Figure 9. Reproduced in Hallinger, Agnes, „Die Hex’ muss brennen!“ Volksglaube und Glaubenseifer des Mittelalters. [Augsburg: Battenberg, 1999] 77.
Figure 10. Reproduced in Hallinger, Hex’ muß brennen, 38.
Figure 11. Reproduced in Hallinger, Hexâ€™ muĂ&#x; brennen, 39.
Figure 12. Reproduced in Hallinger, Hex’ muß brennen, 55.
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