Malleus Maleficarum Part 3
Of the Continuing of the Torture, and of the Devices and Signs by which the Judge can Recognize a Witch; and how he ought to Protect himself from their Spells. Also how they are to be Shaved in Parts where they use to Conceal the Devil's Masks and Tokens; together with the due Setting Forth of Various Means of Overcoming the Obstinacy in Keeping Silence and Refusal to Confess. And it is the Tenth Action
THE Judge should act as follows in the continuation of the torture. First he
should bear in mind that, just as the same medicine is not applicable to all
the members, but there are various and distinct salves for each several
member, so not all heretics or those accused of heresy are to be subjected to
the same method of questioning, examination and torture as to the charges laid
against them; but various and different means are to be employed according to
their various natures and persons. Now a surgeon cuts off rotten limbs; and
mangy sheep are isolated from the healthy; but a prudent Judge will not
consider it safe to bind himself down to one invariable rule in his method of
dealing with a prisoner who is endowed with a witch's power of taciturnity,
and whose silence he is unable to overcome. For if the sons of darkness were
to become accustomed to one general rule they would provide means of evading
it as a well-known snare set for their destruction.
Therefore a prudent and zealous Judge should seize his opportunity and choose
his method of conducting his examination according to the answers or
depositions of the witnesses, or as his own previous experience or native wit
indicates to him, using the following precautions.
If he wishes to find out whether she is endowed with a witch's power of
preserving silence, let him take note whether she is able to shed tears when
standing in his presence, or when being tortured. For we are taught both by
the words of worthy men of old and by our own experience that this is a most
certain sign, and it has been found that even if she be urged and exhorted by
solemn conjurations to shed tears, if she be a witch she will not be able to
weep: although she will assume a tearful aspect and smear her cheeks and eyes
with spittle to make it appear that she is weeping; wherefore she must be
closely watched by the attendants.
In passing sentence the Judge or priest may use some such method as the
following in conjuring her to true tears if she be innocent, or in restraining
false tears. Let him place his hand on the head of the accused and say: I
conjure you by the bitter tears shed on the Cross by our Saviour the Lord
JESUS Christ for the salvation of the world, and by the burning tears poured
in the evening hour over His wounds by the most glorious Virgin MARY, His
Mother, and by all the tears which have been
shed here in this world by the Saints and Elect of God, from whose eyes He has
now wiped away all tears, that if you be innocent you do now shed tears, but
if you be guilty that you shall by no means do so. In the name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.
And it is found by experience that the more they are conjured the less are
they able to weep, however hard they may try to do so, or smear their cheeks
with spittle. Nevertheless it is possible that afterwards, in the absence of
the Judge and not at the time or in the place of torture, they may be able to
weep in the presence of their gaolers.
And as for the reason for a witch's inability to weep, it can be said that the
grace of tears is one of the chief gifts allowed to the penitent; for S.
Bernard tells us that the tears of the humble can penetrate to heaven and
conquer the unconquerable. Therefore there can be no doubt that they are
displeasing to the devil, and that he uses all his endeavour to restrain them,
to prevent a witch from finally attaining to penitence.
But it may be objected that it might suit with the devil's cunning, with God's
permission, to allow even a witch to weep; since tearful grieving, weaving and
deceiving are said to be proper to women. We may answer that in this case,
since the judgements of God are a mystery, if there is no other way of
convicting the accused, by legitimate witnesses or the evidence of the fact,
and if she is not under a strong or grave suspicion, she is to be discharged;
but because she rests under a slight suspicion by reason of her reputation to
which the witnesses have testified, she must be required to abjure the heresy
of witchcraft, as we shall show when we deal with the second method of
A second precaution is to be observed, not only at this point but during the
whole process, by the Judge and all his assessors; namely, that they must not
allow themselves to be touched physically by the witch, especially in any
contract of their bare arms or hands; but they must always carry about them
some salt consecrated on Palm Sunday and some Blessed Herbs. For these can be
enclosed together in Blessed Wax and worn round
the neck, as we showed in the Second Part when we discussed the remedies
against illnesses and diseases caused by witchcraft; and that these have a
wonderful protective virtue is known not only from the testimony of witches,
but from the use and practice of the Church, which exorcizes and blesses such
objects for this very purpose, as is shown in the ceremony of exorcism when it
is said, For the banishing of all the power of the devil, etc.
But let it not be thought that physical contact of the joints or limbs is the
only thing to be guarded against; for sometimes, with God's permission, they
are able with the help of the devil to bewitch the Judge by the mere sound of
the words which they utter, especially at the time when they are exposed to
And we know from experience that some witches, when detained in prison, have
importunately begged their gaolers to grant them this one thing, that they
should be allowed to look at the Judge before he looks at them; and by so
getting the first sight of the Judge they have been able so to alter the minds
of the Judge or his assessors that they have lost all their anger against them
and have not presumed to molest them in any way, but have allowed them to go
free. He who knows and has experienced it gives this true testimony; and would
that they were not able to effect such things!
Let judges not despise such precautions and protections, for by holding them
in little account after such warning they run the risk of eternal damnation.
For our Saviour said: If I had not come, and spoken to them, they would not
have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. Therefore let the judges protect themselves
in the above manner, according to the provisions of the Church.
And if it can conveniently be done, the witch should be led backward into the
presence of the Judge and his assessors. And not only at the present point,
but in all that has preceded or shall follow it, let him cross himself and
approach her manfully, and with God's help the power of that old Serpent will
be broken. And no one need think that it is superstitious to lead her in
backwards; for, as we have often said, the Canonists allow even more than this
to be done for the protections against witchcraft, and always say that it is
lawful to oppose vanity with vanity.
The third precaution to be observed in this tenth action is that the hair
should be shaved from every part of her body. The reason for this is the same
as that for stripping her of her clothes, which we have already mentioned; for
in order to preserve their power of silence they are in the habit of hiding
some superstitious object in their clothes or in their hair, or even in the
most secret parts of the their bodies which must not be named.
But it may be objected that the devil might, without the use of such charms,
so harden the heart of a witch that she is unable to confess her crimes; just
as it is often found in the case of other criminals, no matter how great the
tortures to which they are exposed, or how much they are convicted by the
evidence of the facts and of witnesses. We answer that it is true that the
devil can affect such taciturnity without the use of such charms; but he
prefers to use them for the perdition of souls and the greater offence to the
Divine Majesty of God.
This can be made clear from the example of a certain witch in the town of
Hagenau, whom we have mentioned in the Second Part of this work. She used to
obtain this gift of silence in the following
manner: she killed a newly-born first-born male child who had not been
baptized, and having roasted it in an oven together with other matters which
it is not expedient to mention, ground it to powder and ashes; and if any
witch or criminal carried about him some of this substance he would in no way
be able to confess his crimes.
Here it is clear that a hundred thousand children so employed could not of
their own virtue endow a person with such a power of keeping silence; but any
intelligent person can understand that such means are used by the devil for
the perdition of souls and to offend the Divine Majesty.
Again, it may be objected that very often criminals who are not witches
exhibit the same power of keeping silence. In answer to this it must be said
tat this power of taciturnity can proceed from three causes. First, from a
natural hardness of heart; for some are soft-hearted, or even feeble-minded,
so that at the slightest torture they admit everything, even some things which
are not true; whereas others are so hard that however much they are tortured
the truth is not to be had from them; and this is especially the case with
those who have been tortured before, even if their arms are suddenly stretched
Secondly, it may proceed from some instrument of witchcraft carried about the
person, as has been said, either in the clothes or in the hairs of the body.
And thirdly, even if the prisoner has no such object secreted about her
person, they are sometimes endowed with this power by other witches, however
far they may be removed from them. For a certain witch at Issbrug used to
boast that, if she had no more than a thread from the garments of any
prisoner, she could so work that however much that prisoner were tortured,
even to death, she would be unable to confess anything. So the answer to this
objection is clear.
But what is to be said of a case that happened in the Diocese of Ratisbon?
Certain heretics were convicted by their own confession not only as impenitent
but as open advocates of that perfidy; and when they were condemned to death
it happened that they remained unharmed in the fire. At length their sentence
was altered to death by drowning, but this was no more effective. All were
astonished, and some even began to say that their heresy must be true; and the
Bishop, in great anxiety for his flock, ordered a three days' fast. When this
had been devoutly fulfilled, it came to the knowledge of someone that those
heretics had a magic charm sewed between the skin and the flesh under one arm;
and when this was found and removed, they were delivered to the flames and
immediately burned. Some say that a certain necromancer learned this secret
during a consultation with the devil, and betrayed it; but however it became
known, it is probably that the devil, who is always scheming for the
subversion of faith, was in some way compelled by Divine power to reveal the
From this it may be seen what a Judge ought to do when such a case happens to
him: namely, that he should rely upon the protection of God, and by the
prayers and fasting of devout persons drive away this sort of devil's work
from witches, in those cases where they cannot be made to confess under
torture even after their clothes have been changed and all their hair has been
shaved off and abraded.
Now in the parts of Germany such shaving, especially of the secret parts, is
not generally considered delicate, and therefore we Inquisitors do not use it;
but we cause the hair of their head to be cut off, and placing a morsel of
Blessed Wax in a cup of Holy Water and invoking the most Holy Trinity, we give
it them to drink three times on a fasting stomach, and by the grace of God we
have by this means caused many to break their silence. But in other countries
the Inquisitors order the witch to be shaved all over her body. And the
Inquisitor of Como has informed us that last year, that is, in 1485, he
ordered forty-one witches to be burned, after they had been shaved all over.
And this was in the district and county of Burbia, commonly called Wormserbad,
in the territory of the Archduke of Austria, towards Milan.
But it may be asked whether, in a time of need, when all other means of
breaking a witch's silence have failed, it would be lawful to ask the advice
in this matter of sorceresses who are able to cure those who are bewitched. We
answer that, whatever may have been doe in that matter at Ratisbon, it is our
earnest admonition in the Lord that no one, no matter how great may be the
need, should consult with sorceresses on behalf of the State; and this because
of the great offence which is thereby caused to the Divine Majesty, when there
are so many other means open to us which we may use either in their own proper
form or in some equivalent form, so that the truth will be had from their own
mouths and they can be consigned to the flames; or failing this, God will in
the meantime provide some other death for the witch.
For there remain to us the following remedies against this power of silence.
First, let a man do all that lies in his own power by the exercise of his
qualities, persisting often with the methods we have already mentioned, and
especially on certain days, as will be shown in the following Question. See
II. Corinthians ix: That ye may abound in all good works.
Secondly, if this should fail, let him consult with other persons; for perhaps
they may think of some means which has not occurred to him, since there are
various methods of counteracting witchcraft.
Thirdly, if these two fail, let him have recourse to devout persons, as it is
said in Ecclesiasticus xxxvii: Be continually with a godly man, whom
thou knowest to keep the commandments of the Lord. Also let him invoke the
Patron Saints of the country. But if all these fail, let the Judge and all the
people at once put their trust in God with prayers and fasting, that the
witchcraft may be removed by reason of their piety. For so Josaphat prayed in
II. Paralipomenon xx: When we know no what we should do, we have this
one refuge, that we should turn our eyes to Thee. And without doubt God will
not fail us in our need.
To this effect also S. Augustine speaks (26, q. 7, non obseruabitis):
Whosoever observes any divinations or auguries, or attends to or consents to
such as observe them, or gives credit to such by following after their works,
or goes into their houses, or introduces them into his own house, or asks
questions of them, let him know that he has perverted the Christian faith and
his baptism and is a pagan and apostate and enemy of God, unless he is
corrected by ecclesiastical penances and is reconciled with God. Therefore let
the Judge not fail always to use the lawful remedies, as we have said,
together with these following final precautions.
Next: Question XVI
Of the fit Time and of the Method of the Second Examination. And it is the Eleventh Action, concerning the Final Precautions to be Observed by the Judge