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The Witches' Sabbath
In Honor of Fallen Witches, Real and Imagined...
The Compendium Maleficarum (“Compendium of Witchcraft”) is a 1608 witch-hunting manual by Italian priest Francesco Maria Guazzo. The book contains many woodcarvings illustrating alleged tales of witches’ evil crimes.
The woodcarving above illustrates the “osculum infame,” or “kiss of shame,” an imagined act of witches performing analingus on the Devil, submitting to him and sealing their pact. Those medieval priests were imaginative, kinky f*ckers!
The problem is, like most religious prudes, rather than simply enjoying their phantasmagoric masturbatory fantasies in the privacy of their own church cells and rectories, these priests projected their fantasies (in this case, fantasies of demonic butt-licking) onto others, namely, social outcasts whom they accused of the “crime” witchcraft, then tortured and burned alive.1
The Compendium Maleficarum quotes an accusation read by a judge of the Holy Inquisition in Avignon, France in 1582, which condemned eighteen women and men to burning at the stake, convicted of witchcraft.
The accusation contains a lurid, prurient description of a Witches’ Sabbath ceremony leading up to a “kiss of shame,” resulting in an orgy with incubi and succubi (male and female demons who have sex with humans of the opposite sex.)
Today, on Halloween, in honor of all the women and men accused of witchcraft and tortured and burned by these perverted inquisitors, I release this spoken word piece: my reading of the inquisitor’s lurid accusation quoted in the Compendium Maleficarum, accompanied by the pianist Adey Bell.
Listen to it with subtitles via the video at the top, or listen to just the audio below:
The Witches’ Sabbath:
A Selection from Guazzo’s Compendium Maleficarum (1608), translated by Montague Summers (1929).
Read by Michael Ellsberg
Piano accompaniment by Adey Bell, playing “Rev. 22:20” by Puscifer.
Here is the full text of the French inquisitor’s accusation at the 1582 witch trial, read in the piece above. This is from Montague Summers’ 1929 English translation of Guazzo’s 1608 text in Latin2:
Sebastien Michaelis in his Pneumologie gives an example of a sentence passed at Avignon in 1582, as comprising in a little space the most execrable and abominable of the crimes of Witches and Sorcerers. The extract is as follows:—
We N. N. having considered the charge wherewith you stand charged and accused before us, and having examined both the statements of yourselves and your associates, and your own confessions made to us according to lawful requirements and often repeated upon oath, as well as the depositions and charges of the witnesses and the other legitimate proofs, basing our judgement on that which has been said and done during this process, we are fully and lawfully agreed that you and your associates have denied God the Creator of us all and the Most Holy Trinity our Maker, and that you have worshipped the devil, that ancient and implacable Enemy of the human race. You have vowed yourselves to him for ever, and have renounced your most Holy Baptism and your sponsors therein, together with your part in Paradise and the eternal heritage which our Lord Jesus bought for you and the whole race of men by His death. All these you did deny before the said cacodemon in the form of a man, and that blatant devil did baptise you anew with water, and you did change the names given to you at the Holy Font, and so took and received another false name in the guise of baptism. And as a pledge of your fealty sworn to the devil you gave to him a fragment and particle of your clothing; and that the Father of Lies should have a care to delete and obliterate you from the book of life you did at his direction and command with your own hands write your names in the black book there prepared, the roll of the wicked condemned to eternal death; and that he might bind you with stouter bonds to so great a perfidy and impiety, he branded each of you with his mark as belonging to him, and you did swear homage and obedience to his behests upon a circle (the symbol of Divinity) traced upon the earth (which is God’s footstool); and each of you bound herself to tread under foot the Image of the Lord and the Cross; and in obedience to Satan, with the help of a staff smeared with some abominable unguent given to you by the devil himself and placed between your legs you were enabled to fly through the air at dead of night to the place ordained, at an hour fit for vilest criminals, and on stated days you were so carried and transported by the Tempter himself; and there in the common synagogue of witches, sorcerers, heretics, conjurers and devil-worshippers, you did kindle a foul fire and after many rejoicings, dancings, eating and drinking, and lewd games in honour of your president Beelzebub the Prince of Devils in the shape and appearance of a deformed and hideous black goat, you did worship him in deed and word as very God and did approach him on bended knees as suppliants and offered him lighted candles of pitch; and (fie, for very shame!) with the greatest reverence you did kiss with sacrilegious mouth his most foul and beastly posterior. . . . Then, adding sin to sin, you the men did copulate with Succubi, and you the women did fornicate with Incubi: moreover, in most bitter and icy connexion and foul coitus with demons you did commit the unspeakable crime of buggery. And, most hateful of all, at the bidding of the aforesaid Serpent thrust from Paradise, you did keep in your mouths the most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist received by you in the sacred Church of God, and did execrably spit It out upon the ground that you might with the greatest of all contumely, contempt and blasphemy dishonour God, our true and sacred Hope, and promote the glory, honour, triumph and kingdom of the devil himself, and worship, honour and glorify him with all honour, praise, majesty, authority and adoration. All which most grave, abhorred and unspeakable crimes are directly contumacious and contemptuous of Almighty God the Creator of all.
P.S. for my introduction to the topic of medieval priests’ and witch-hunters’ obsession with sex among witches, demons, and the Devil, see Part 1 of this two part series: Infernal Seductions.
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It is important to distinguish between Christian witch hunters accusing people of the “crime” of witchcraft, versus the accused people actually practicing anything that could be recognized as witchcraft.
According to historians, even aside from supernatural claims, it’s unlikely that many of the estimated 50,000-100,000 people killed in the medieval witch hunts actually practiced anything resembling organized witchcraft rituals; the accused were mostly Christians, and did not think of themselves as witches. The character of the medieval witch, casting malevolent spells and cavorting with the Devil, is entirely an invention and projection of paranoid Christian fantasy.
Witchcraft as known today by neo-pagans and wiccans was largely developed in the twentieth century. These are worthy traditions—I identify with them loosely, as an “atheist witch/pagan,” a term I won’t try to explain here—but they do not trace any direct lineage to supposed actual, practicing “witches” in medieval Europe.
[T]he great majority of people who were killed for witchcraft did not think they were witches. In the majority of cases, if they confessed that they were witches, it was usually because they had been tortured repeatedly and at length in order to obtain a confession, as was the case in the Salem witch trials, for example. These were people who faced horrifying punishment for absolutely no reason, then were killed.
Here’s how GPT-4 summarizes the topic. Not bad!
The accusation of "witchcraft" in medieval and early modern Europe was a complex issue that evolved over time and varied across different regions. The understanding of what constituted "witchcraft" during these periods was quite different from modern neo-pagan or Wiccan practices, or even from older pagan rituals.
Here are some key points to consider:
Evolution of the Witch Stereotype: During the early medieval period, belief in malevolent magic or witchcraft was common, but the idea of organized witch cults worshipping the devil emerged more fully in the later medieval period. By the time of the early modern witch hunts (15th to 17th centuries), this stereotype of the devil-worshipping witch became more widely accepted in certain regions.
Varied Beliefs and Practices: Some of those accused might have been involved in local folk practices, herbal medicine, or other activities that were misinterpreted as malicious by their accusers. Some of these folk practices might have had pre-Christian origins, but that does not mean they were practicing a cohesive, organized form of pagan witchcraft.
Accusations and Motivations: Many accusations of witchcraft were driven by personal vendettas, social or political reasons, or mass hysteria. People might be accused of witchcraft because they were outsiders, because they had disputes with neighbors, or because they behaved in ways that did not conform to societal norms.
Christian Context: The majority of medieval Europeans were Christian, and many of those accused of witchcraft were also Christian. The idea of devil-worship and making pacts with the devil was a Christian concept. [emphasis added]
Pagan Religions: While many ancient pagan practices and beliefs were absorbed into Christian traditions or persisted in modified forms, there's little evidence to suggest that those accused of witchcraft in the later medieval or early modern periods were practicing an organized form of ancient pagan religion. Most of the records we have of these practices come from Christian writers, who might not have had a clear or unbiased understanding of pagan beliefs.
Modern Neopaganism and Wicca: Modern Wicca and other neo-pagan movements, which might be referred to as "witchcraft" in a contemporary pagan sense, are largely 20th-century developments. They draw inspiration from a variety of sources, including ancient pagan traditions, but they are not direct continuations of medieval witchcraft practices.
In summary, while some individuals accused of witchcraft in medieval times might have been involved in local folk practices or healing traditions, it's unlikely that they were practicing "witchcraft" in the sense of a cohesive, pagan religion. The image of the witch as a devil-worshipping, malevolent figure was largely a construction of the late medieval and early modern periods, influenced by religious, social, and political factors.