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Tuesday, February 09, 2016

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Witch Hunters

Jean Bodin (1529-1596)

He claimed that those who denied witchcraft themselves were witches. Wrote De la Demonomanie des Sorciers  in 1580.

Nicholas Remy  (1530-1616)

Matthew Hopkins (ca. 1620 – 1647)

He was an English witchhunter whose career flourished during the time of the English Civil War. He claimed to hold the office of Witch-Finder General, although this was not a title ever bestowed by Parliament, and conducted witch hunts mainly in the counties of Suffolk, Essex, Norfolk and occasionally in other eastern counties of England.

In 1647 he printed a pamphlet in his own defense, and then died. This we learn from his coadjutor Sterne, who assures us that he had "no trouble of conscience for what he had done, as was falsely reported of him." Under the title of  A Confirmation and Discovery of Witchcraft, in which he boasts that he had been part and agent in convicting about two hundred witches in Essex, Suffolk, Northamptonshire, Huntingdonshire, Bedfordshire, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, and the Isle of Ely. He assures us "that in many places I never received penny as yet, nor any am like, notwithstanding I have hands for satisfaction, except I should sure; but many rather fall upon me for what hath been received: but I hope such sues will be disannulled, and that where I have been out of moneys for towns in charges and otherwise, such course will be taken that I may be satisfied and paid with reason."

Hopkins himself, in defending himself against the charge of interestedness, tells us that his regular charge was 20s. for each town, including the expenses of living, and journeying thither and back. In his book, he confesses that, besides the other practices of stripping the victims naked, and thrusting pins into various parts of their body, in search of marks; and swimming them, - he had practiced the new torture of keeping them awake, and forcing them to walk, which was an invention of his own: but he acknowledges that he had been so far obliged to yield to public opinion in the latter part of his course, as to lay aside this his own favourite remedy.

King James I (1566-1625)

Henri Boguet  (1590-...)

Cotton Mather (1663-1728)

Pierre de Lancre (1553 - 1631)

Pierre de Lancre or Pierre de l'Ancre was the French judge of Bordeaux who conducted a massive witch-hunt in Labourd in 1609 and had in less than a year some 70 people burnt at the stake, among them several priests. De Lancre wasn't satisfied: he estimated that some 3,000 witches were still at large (10% of the population of Labourd in that time). But the Parlement of Bordeaux eventually dismissed him from office.

In his Portrait of the Inconstancy of Witches, de Lancre sums up his rationale as follows:

To dance indecently; eat excessively; make love diabolically; commit atrocious acts of sodomy; blaspheme scandalously; avenge themselves insidiously; run after all horrible, dirty, and crudely unnatural desires; keep toads, vipers, lizards, and all sorts of poison as precious things; love passionately a stinking goat; caress him lovingly; associate with and mate with him in a disgusting and scabrous fashion--are these not the uncontrolled characteristics of an unparalleled lightness of being and of an execrable inconstancy that can be expiated only through the divine fire that justice placed in Hell?

A number of these "witch hunters" wrote books on witchcraft, including Nicholas Eymeric, the inquisitor in Aragon and Avignon, who published the Directorium Inquisitorum in 1376. The most notable of these works was published in 1487, written by the German Dominican monk, Heinrich Kramer – allegedly aided by Jacob Sprenger – known as the Malleus Malificarum (The Hammer of the Witches) in which they set down the stereotypical image of the Satanic witch and prescribed torture as a means of interrogating suspects. The Malleus Malificarum was reprinted in twenty-nine editions up till 1669.

Witchfinders in Africa

In many African societies the fear of witches drives periodic witch-hunts during which specialist witch-finders identify suspects, even today, with death by mob often the result.

Audrey I. Richards, in the journal Africa, relates in 1935 an instance when a new wave of witchfinders, the Bamucapi, appeared in the villages of the Bemba people.They dressed in European clothing, and would summon the headman to prepare a ritual meal for the village. When the villagers arrived they would view them all in a mirror, and claimed they could identify witches with this method.

These witches would then have to "yield up his horns"; i.e. give over the horn containers for curses and evil potions to the witch-finders. The bamucapi then made all drink a potion called kucapa which would cause a witch to die and swell up if he ever tried such things again. The villagers related that the witch-finders were always right because the witches they found were always the people whom the village had feared all along. The bamucapi utilised a mixture of Christian and native religious traditions to account for their powers and said that God (not specifying which God) helped them to prepare their medicine.

In addition, all witches who did not attend the meal to be identified would be called to account later on by their master, who had risen from the dead, and who would force the witches by means of drums to go to the graveyard, where they would die. Richards noted that the bamucapi created the sense of danger in the villages by rounding up all the horns in the village, whether they were used for anti-witchcraft charms, potions, snuff or were indeed receptacles of black magic.

Witch Hunt


The Witches Gallery