Malleus Maleficarum Part 2
Of the Manner whereby they Change Men into the Shapes of Beasts.
But that witches, by the power of devils, change men into the shapes of
beasts (for this is their chief manner of transmutation), although it has
been sufficiently proved in the First Part of the work, Question 10, Whether
witches can do such things: nevertheless, since that question with its
arguments and solutions may be rather obscure to some; especially since no
actual examples are adduced to prove them, and even the method by which
they so transform themselves is not explained; therefore we add the present
exposition by the resolution of several doubts.
And first, that Canon (26, Q. 5, Episcopi) is not to be understood in this
matter in the way in which even many learned men (but would that their
learning were good!) are deceived; who do not fear to affirm publicly in
their sermons that such prestidigitatory transmutations are in no way possible
even by the power of devils. And we have often said that this doctrine is
greatly to the detriment of the Faith, and strengthens the witches, who
rejoice very much in such sermons.
But such preachers, as has been noted, touch only the outer surface, and
fail to reach the inner meaning of the words of the Canon. For when it says:
Whoever believes that any creature can be made, or can be changed for the
better or the worse, or be transformed into any other shape or likeness
except by the Creator Himself Who made all, is without doubt an infidel. . . .
The reader must here remark two chief things. First, concerning the words
be made; and secondly, concerning the words be
transformed into another likeness. And as to the first, it is
answered that be made can be understood in two ways: namely,
as meaning be created, or as in the sense of the natural
production of anything. Now in the first sense it belongs only to God, as is
well known, Who in His infinite might can make something out of nothing.
But in the second sense there is a distinction to be drawn between creatures;
for some are perfect creatures, like a man, and an ass, etc. And other are
imperfect, such as serpents, frogs, mice, etc., for they can also be
generated from putrefaction. Now the Canon obviously speaks only of the
former sort, not of the second; for in the case of the second it can be
proved from what Blessed Albert says in his book On Animals, where he
asks: whether devils can make true animals; and still with this difference,
that they cannot do so in an instant, as God does, but by some motion,
however sudden, as is shown in the case of the Magicians in Exodus
vii. The reader may, if he likes, refer to some of the remarks in the
question we have quoted in the First Part of the work, and in the solution
of the first argument.
Secondly, it is said that they cannot transmute any creature. You may say
that transmutation is of two sorts, substantial and accidental; and this
accidental is again of two kinds, consisting either in the natural form
belonging to the thing which is seen, or in a form which does not belong to
the thing which is seen, but exists only in the organs and perceptions of
him who sees. The Canon speaks of the former, and especially of formal and
actual transmutation, in which one substance is transmuted into another; and
this sort only God can effect, Who is the Creator of such actual substances.
And it speaks also of the second, although the devil can effect that, in so
far as, with God's permission, he causes certain diseases and induces some
appearance on the accidental body. As when a face appears to be leprous, or
some such thing.
But properly speaking it is not such matters that are in question, but
apparitions and glamours, by which things seem to be transmuted into other
likenesses; and we say that the words of the Canon cannot exclude such
transmutations; for their existence is proved by authority, by reason, and
by experience; namely, by certain experiences related by S. Augustine in
Book XVIII, chapter 17, of the De Ciuitate Die, and by the arguments
in explanation of them. For among other prestidigitatory transformations, he
mentions that the very famous Sorceress, Circe, changed the companions of
Ulysses into beasts; and that certain innkeepers' wives had turned their
guests into beasts of burden. He mentions also that the companions of
Diomedes were changed into birds, and for a long time flew about the temple
of Diomedes; and that Praestantius tells it for a fact that his father said
that he had been a packhorse, and had carried corn with other animals.
Now when the companions of Ulysses were changed into beasts, it was only in
appearance, or deception of the eyes; for the animal shapes were drawn out
of the repository or memory of images, and impressed on the imaginative
faculty. And so imaginary vision was caused, and through the strong impression
on the other senses and organs, the beholder thought that he saw animals, in
the manner of which we have already treated. But how these things can be done
by the devil's power without injury will be shown later.
But when the guests were changed into beasts of burden by the innkeepers'
wives; and when the father of Praestantius thought he was a packhorse and
carried corn; it is to be noted that in these cases there were three
First, that those men were caused by a glamour to seem to be changed into
beasts of burden, and this change was caused in the way we have said.
Second, that devils invisibly bore those burdens up when they were too heavy
to be carried. Third, that those who seemed to others to be changed in shape
seemed also to themselves to be changed into beasts; as it happened to
Nabuchodonosor, who lived for seven years eating straw like
And as to the comrades of Diomedes being changed into birds and flying round
his temple, it is to be said that this Diomedes was one of the Greeks who
went to the siege of Troy; and when he wished to return home, he was drowned
with his comrades in the sea; and then, at the suggestion of some idol, a
temple was built to him that he might be numbered among the gods; and for a
long time, to keep that error alive, devils in the shape of birds flew about
in place of his companions. Therefore that superstition was one of the
glamours we have spoken of; for it was not caused by the impression of
mental images on the imaginative faculty, but by their flying in the sight
of men in the assumed bodies of birds.
But if it is asked whether the devils could have deluded the onlookers by
the above-mentioned method of working upon the mental images, and not by
assuming aerial bodies like flying birds, the answer is that they could have
For it was the opinion of some (as S. Thomas tells in the Second Book of
Sentences, dist. 8, art. 2) that no Angel, good or bad, ever assumed a
body; but that all that we read in the Scriptures about their appearances
was caused by a glamour, or by the imaginary vision.
And here the learned Saint notes a difference between a glamour and
imaginary vision. For in a glamour there may be an exterior object which is
seen, but it seems other than it is. But imaginary vision does not necessarily
require an exterior object, but can be caused without that and only by those
inner mental images impressed on the imagination.
So, following their opinion, the comrades of Diomedes were not represented
by devils in the assumed bodies and likeness of birds, but only by a
fantastic and imaginary vision caused by working upon those mental images,
But the learned Saint condemns this as an erroneous and not a simple
opinion (though, it is piously believed, it is not actually heretical),
although such appearances of good and bad Angels may at times have been
imaginary, with no assumed body. But, as he says, the saints are agreed that
the Angels also appeared to the actual sight, and such appearance was in an
assumed body. And the scriptural text reads more as if it speaks of bodily
appearance than imaginary or prestidigitatory ones. Therefore we can say for
the present concerning any visions like that of the comrades of Diomedes:
that although those comrades could by the devil's work have appeared in the
imaginary vision of the beholders in the manner we have said, yet it is
rather presumed that they were caused to be seen by devils in assumed aerial
bodies like flying birds; or else that other natural birds were caused by
devils to represent them.
Next: Chapter IX
How Devils may enter the Human Body and the Head without doing any Hurt, when they cause such Metamorphosis by Means of Prestidigitation.