Malleus Maleficarum Part 2
How Devils may enter the Human Body and the Head without doing any Hurt, when they cause such Metamorphosis by Means of Prestidigitation.
Concerning the method of causing these illusory transmutations it may
further be asked: whether the devils are then inside the bodies and heads
of those who are deceived, and whether the latter are to be considered as
possessed by devils; how it can happen without injury to the inner
perceptions and faculties that a mental image is transferred from one inner
faculty to another; and whether or not such work ought to be considered
First we must again refer to a distinction between such illusory glamours;
for sometimes the outer perceptions only are affected, and sometimes the
inner perceptions are deluded and so affect the outer perceptions.
In the former case the glamour can be caused without the devils' entering
into the outer perceptions, and merely by an exterior illusion; as when the
interposition of some other body, or in some other way; or when he himself
assumes a body and imposes himself on the vision.
But in the latter case it is necessary that he must first occupy the head
and the faculties. And this is proved by authority and by reason.
And it is not a valid objection to say that two created spirits cannot be in
one and the same place, and that the soul pervades the whole of the body.
For on this question there is the authority of S. John Damascene, when he
says: Where the Angel is, there he operates. And S. Thomas, in the
Second Book of Sentences, dist. 7, art. 5, says: All Angels, good and
bad, by their natural power, which is superior to all bodily power, are able
to transmute our bodies.
And this is clearly true, not only by reason of the superior nobility of
their nature, but because the whole mechanism of the world and all corporeal
creatures are administered by Angels; as S. Gregory says in the 4th Dialogue:
In this visible world nothing can be disposed except by an invisible
creature. Therefore all corporeal matters are governed by the Angels, who
are also called, not only by the Holy Doctors but also by all the Philosophers,
the Powers which move the stars. It is clear also from the fact that all
human bodies are moved by their souls, just as all other matter is moved
by the stars and the Powers which move them. Any who wish may refer to S.
Thomas in the First Part, Quest. 90, art. 1.
From this it is concluded that, since devils operates there where they are,
therefore when they confuse the fancy and the inner perceptions they are
existing in them.
Again, although to enter the soul is possible only to God Who created it,
yet devils can, with God's permission, enter our bodies; and they an then
make impressions on the inner faculties corresponding to the bodily organs.
And by those impressions the organs are affected in proportion as the inner
perceptions are affected in the way which has been shown: that the devil
can draw out some image retained in a faculty corresponding to one of the
senses; as he draws from the memory, which is in the back part of the head,
an image of a horse, and locally moves that phantasm to the middle part of
the head, where are the cells of imaginative power; and finally to the sense
of reason, which is in the front of the head. And he causes such a sudden
change and confusion, that such objects are necessarily thought to be actual
things seen with the eyes. This can be clearly exemplified by the natural
defect in frantic men and other maniacs.
But if it is asked how he can do this without causing pain in the head, the
answer is easy. For in the first place he does not cause any actual physical
change in the organs, but only moves the mental images. And secondly, he
does not effect these changes by injecting any active quality which would
necessarily cause pain, since the devil is himself without any corporeal
quality, and can therefore operate without the use of any such quality.
Thirdly, as has been said, he effects these transmutations only by a local
movement from one organ to another, and not by other movements through which
painful transformations are sometimes caused.
And as for the objection that two spirits cannot separately exist in the
same place, and that, since the soul exists in the head, how can a devil be
there also? It is to be said that the soul is thought to reside in the
centre of the heart, in which it communicates with all the members by an
outpouring of life. An example can be taken from a spider, which feels in
the middle of its web when any part of the web is touched.
However, S. Augustine says in his book
On the Spirit and Soul, that it is all
in all, and all in every part of the body. Granting that the soul is in the
head, still the devil can work there; for his work is different from the
work of the soul. The work of the soul is in the body, to inform it and fill
it with life; so that it exists not merely locally, but in the whole matter.
But the devil works in such a part and such a place of the body, effecting
his changes in respect of the mental images. Therefore, since there is no
confusion between their respective operations, they can both exist together
in the same part of the body.
There is also the question whether such men are to be considered obsessed
or frenzied, that is, possessed of devils. But this is considered separately;
namely, whether it is possible through the work of witches for a man to be
obsessed with a devil, that is, that the devil should actually and bodily
possess him. And this question is specially discussed in the following
chapter, since it has this special difficulty, namely, whether this can be
caused through the operations of witches.
But as to the question whether the temporal works of witches and devils are
to be considered as miracles or of a miraculous nature; it is to be said
that they are so, in so far as they are beyond the order of created nature
as known to us, and are done by creatures unknown to us. But they are not
properly speaking miracles as are those which are outside the whole of
created nature; as are the miracles of God and the Saints. (See what was
written in the First Part of this work, in the Fifth Question, in the
refutation of the third error.)
But there are those who object that this sort of work must not be
considered miracles, but simply works of the devil; since the purpose of
miracles is the strengthening of the Faith, and they must not be conceded to
the adversary of the Faith. And also because the signs of Antichrist are
called lying signs by the Apostle.
First it is to be said that to work miracles is the gift of freely given
grace. And they can be done by bad men and bad spirits, up to the limits of
the power which is in them.
Wherefore the miracles wrought by the good can be distinguished from those
wrought by the wicked in at least three ways. First, the signs which are
given by the good are done by Divine power in such matters as are beyond
the capacity of their own natural power, such as raising the dead, and things
of that sort, which the devils are not able to accomplish in truth, but only
by an illusion: so Simon Magus moved the head of a dead man; but such
manifestations cannot last long. Secondly, they can be distinguished by
their utility; for the miracles of the good are of a useful nature, as the
healing of sickness, and such things. But the miracles done by witches are
concerned with harmful and idle things; as when they fly in the air, or
benumb the limbs of men, or such things. And S. Peter assigns this difference
in the Itinerarium of Clement.
The third difference relates to the Faith. For the miracles of the good are
ordained for the edification of the Faith and of good living; whereas the
miracles of the wicked are manifestly detrimental to the Faith and to
They are distinguished also by the way in which they are done. For the good
do miracles in a pious and reverent invocation of the Divine Name. But
witches and wicked men work them by certain ravings and invocations of devils.
And there is no difficulty in the fact that the Apostle called the works of
the devil and Antichrist lying wonders; for
the marvels so done by Divine permission are true in some respects and
false in others. They are true in so far as they are within the limits of
the devil's power. But they are false when he appears to do things which are
beyond his power, such as raising the dead, or making the blind to see. For
when he appears to do the former, he either enters into the dead body or
else removes it, and himself takes its place in an assumed aerial body; and
in the latter case he takes away the sight by a glamour, and then suddenly
restores it by taking away the disability he has caused, not by bringing
light to the inner perceptions, as is told in the legend of Bartholomew.
Indeed all the marvellous works of Antichrist and of witches can be said to
be lying signs, insasmuch as their only purpose is to deceive. See S. Thomas,
dist. 8, de Uirtute Daemonum.
We may also quote here the distinction which is drawn in the Compendium of
Theological Truth between a wonder and a miracle. For in a miracle four
conditions are required: that it should be done by God; that it should be
beyond the existing order of nature; thirdly, that it should be manifest;
and fourthly, that it should be for the corroboration of the Faith. But
since the works of witches fail to fulfil at least the first and last
conditions, therefore they may be called wonderful works, but nor miracles.
It can also be argued in this way. Although witches' works can in a sense
be said to be miraculous, yet some miracles are supernatural, some
unnatural, and some preternatural. And they are supernatural when they can
be compared with nothing in nature, or in natural power, as when a virgin
gives birth. They are unnatural when they are against the normal course of
nature but do not overstep the limits of nature, such as causing the blind
to see. And they are preternatural when they are done in a manner parallel
to that of nature, as when rods are changed into serpents; for this can be
done naturally also, through long putrefaction on account of seminal
reasons; and thus the works of magicians may be said to be marvellous.
It is expedient to recount an actual example, and then to explain it step
by step. There is a town in the diocese of Strasburg, the name of which it
is charitable and honourable to withhold, in which a workman was one day
chopping some wood to burn in his house. A large cat suddenly appeared and
began to attack him, and when he was driving it off, another even larger
one came and attacked him with the first more fiercely. And when he again
tried to drive them away, behold, three of them together attacked him,
jumping up at his face, and biting and scratching his legs. In great fright
and, as he said, more panic-stricken than he had ever been, he crossed
himself and, leaving his work, fell upon the cats, which were swarming over
the wood and again leaping at his face and throat, and with difficulty drove
them away by beating one on the head, another on the legs, and another on
the back. After the space of an hour, while he was again engaged upon his
task, two servants of the town magistrates came and took him as a malefactor
and led him into the presence of the bailiff or judge. And the judge,
looking at him from a distance, and refusing to hear him, ordered him to be
thrown into the deepest dungeon of a certain tower or prison, where those
who were under sentence of death were placed. The man cried out, and for
three days bitterly complained to the prison guards that he should suffer in
that way, when he was conscious of no crime; but the more the guards tried
to procure him a hearing, the more furious the judge became, expressing in
the strongest terms his indignation that so great a malefactor had not yet
acknowledged his crime, but dared to proclaim his innocence when the evidence
of the facts proved his horrible crime. But although these could not prevail
upon him, yet the judge was induced by the advice of the other magistrates
to grant the man a hearing. So when he was brought out of prison into the
presence of the judge, and the judge refused to look at him, the poor man
threw himself before the knees of the other magistrates, pleading that he
might know the reason for his misfortune; and the judge broke into these
words: You most wicked of men, how can you not acknowledge your crime? At
such a time on such a day you beat three respected matrons of this town, so
that they lie in their beds unable to rise or to move. The poor man cast his
mind back to the events of that day and that hour, and said: Never in all my
life have I struck or beaten a woman, and I can prove by credible witnesses
that at that time on that day I was busy chopping wood; and an hour
afterwards your servants found me still engaged on that task. Then the
judge again exclaimed in a fury: See how he tries to conceal his crime! The
women are bewailing their blows, they exhibit the marks, and publicly
testify that he struck them. Then the poor man considered more closely on
that even, and said: I remember that I struck some creatures at that time,
but they were not women. The magistrates in astonishment asked him to relate
what sort of creatures he had struck; and he told, to their great
amazement, all that had happened, as we have related it. So, understanding
that it was the work of the devil, they released the poor man and let him
go away unharmed, telling him not to speak of this matter to anyone. But it
could not be hidden from those devout persons present who were zealous for
Next: Chapter X
Of the Method by which Devils through the Operations of Witches sometimes actually possess men.