Friday, January 25, 2008

Witches and cows

In the Malleus Maleficarum, there seems to be a lot of discussion of witchcraft vis a vis cows. Probably not surprising, given how important cows were to daily life in the middle ages: milk to drink and render into cheese, meat at slaughtertime, heat for those who kept them indoors with them.

Here's a passage about how cows inform on witches:

For sometimes when a cow has been injured in this way, and they wish to discover who has bewitched it, they drive it out into the fields with a man's trousers, or some unclean thing, upon its head or back. And this they do chiefly on Feast Days and Holy Days, and possibly with some sort of invocation of the devil; and they beat the cow with a stick and drive it away. Then the cow runs straight to the house of the witch, and beats vehemently upon the door with its horns, lowing loudly all the while; and the devil causes the cow to go on doing this until it is pacified by some other witchcraft.

A frightening image, the cow battering the door with its horns. And god save you if it was your door the cow chose.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Did the Malleus Maleficarum really exist?

Emphatically and unfortunately, yes.

You can buy a copy of the Malleus Maleficarum today on Amazon. At my website,, in the right hand column there is a running display of some particularly egregious quotes from the book (each time you refresh, a new one appears).

The authors, Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger, wrote it to guide courts in their prosecution of witches. The book reads like a pseudo (and psycho) legal text, including questions to be put to these witches, and how to proceed based on what they report.

Freud would have a field day with the recurring sections on how women can make the male genitals either shrink or completely disappear.

The book is threaded through with anecdotes that break your heart. I’ll be writing about some of those, so please check back later (but not too soon. Blogging with a newborn is a tenuous undertaking!)

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The second painting of "Mary Bliss Parsons"

This doesn't depict Mary Bliss Parsons; see discussion in previous post.

I had saved the image on my hard drive so I'm able to post it, although I can't refind where a google image search led to information on the artist, sitter and provenance. The yellow garment is the tip-off, somehow an extraordinary choice for a painting of this time period.


My mom was able to locate the painting; it's in the collection of the Worcester Art Museum. It's a painting of Mrs. Elizabeth Clarke Freake and her daughter Mary. View the info on provenance here (you will then click on the painting on the upper left--for some reason, the specific page isn't clickable). Thank you, Mom!

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