Tuesday, April 28, 2009

How to interrogate a witch

Apologies if this is content you've seen before... I originally wrote this as a guest post for Lee Lofland's wonderful blog The Graveyard Shift, and provided a link to it. Now that a respectable amount of time has passed, I'd like to post it on my blog as well.

The Graveyard Shift is an incredible resource for crime writers. Many thanks to Lee for letting me guest blog. My name’s Erika Mailman and I’m warping the concept of the blog a tad… I’m not displaying the latest crime-fighting gadgets or talking about police procedures. Instead, I’ll discuss the “cops” of the medieval Dominican monastery, the tonsured friars who hunted witches.

Instead of the Macavity-nominated Police Procedure & Investigation, the book that guided friars in their interrogation of witches was the Malleus Maleficarum. Written in the late 1400s by two German inquisitors, this book addresses every question that a witch hunter might ask.
An exceedingly popular book, the Malleus underwent multiple printings. Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press 30 years earlier made possible its widespread dissemination. It’s still in print after 500 years (I got my copy on Amazon), and a more chillingly misogynistic book can’t be found.

In pseudo-reasonable legalistic writing, the friars set about instructing readers how to identify witches, what to do with them once they’re in custody, how to interrogate them, when and how to use torture, and how to determine if the “extreme penalty” (death) is warranted.
In this post, I’ll be highlighting some of the information found in the book.

Ø Not believing in witchcraft constitutes heresy. The authors knew that in some communities, witch hunters would face opposition from those who argued that witchcraft didn’t exist. Their solution: disbelief in witchcraft became heretical itself. While people might stick their neck out to protect a wrongly-accused neighbor, their willingness would abate if doing so put them under suspicion.

Ø Women are more likely than men to be witches. The title Malleus Maleficarum, which means “The Witch’s Hammer” (i.e., the book is a weapon to hurt witches with), gives the word “witch” a feminine gender. Although medieval witch woodcuts often depict men and women in equal number, and data shows that in the 1300s both were equally targeted, the Malleus clearly finds women more culpable.

There are two reasons for this. They are “feebler both in mind and body” and therefore unable to resist the Devil’s allure as easily as men. But the second, more overwhelming reason, is that women are unspeakably carnal. The authors in Freudian slippage delighted in describing the various lustful abominations women indulge in. [Remember, friars undertook vows of abstinence.] They wrote, “To conclude. All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which is in women insatiable.”

Ø Women steal penises. One of the strangest things women were accused of doing was stealing penises. They either pilfered the member outright, or rendered it smaller. The Malleus devotes incredible amounts of ink to this problem; no less than three full sections deal with the issue. The book earnestly reports that witches “sometimes collect male organs in great numbers, as many as 20 or 30 members together, and put them in a bird’s nest, or shut them up in a box, where they move themselves like living members, and eat oats and corn, as has been seen by many.”

The image of corn-eating phalluses would bring a smile to your face if the consequences weren’t so severe. And so terribly, terribly current. Believe it or not, a penis theft epidemic rages in certain African countries today. As recently as April 2007, Congolese men tried to lynch witches who had stolen their members. In 2001, a mob beset five people in Benin for the crime. Reminiscent of being burned at the stake, the vigilantes doused four of them with gasoline and set them on fire; the arguably lucky fifth was hacked to death.

Ø They don’t recommend attorneys for these kinds of cases. Although witches desperately wanted someone to speak on their behalf—especially since so many of them lived powerlessly on the fringes of society—they would have to fight to convince someone to do so. Why? Because any advocate of theirs would be defending heresy… and therefore also a heretic. The Malleus states, “Such cases must be conducted in the simplest and most summary manner, without the arguments and contentions of advocates.”

Ø It’s best that the witch not know who her accusers are. For fear that the witch would demonically retaliate, the Judge suppressed the names of the witnesses. The Malleus does admit that personal feuds may lead to an accusation, and in that case the accused should be released. That sensibleness is tempered, however, by stating that “It is very seldom that anyone bears witness without enmity, because witches are always hated by everybody.”

Ø The judge and inquisitors must be careful to protect themselves. Lest the witch target them, the officers of the church and court took protective measures. They did not let the witch touch them, and to prevent the evil eye, she would be led into their presence backwards. They wore a necklace called Agnus Dei (“Lamb of God”) that contained consecrated salt embedded in wax. The witch would be shaved (everywhere) to locate any powerful amulets she might’ve hidden on her body.

Ø How to obtain confession. First, the witch’s friends were brought to her, instructed to tell her that she would be spared her life if she confessed. If that did not work, the Judge would “order the officers to bind her with cords, and apply to her some engine of torture; and then let them obey at once but not joyfully, rather appearing to be disturbed by their duty.” If she still resisted, “let her be often and frequently exposed to torture.”

Ø What to do after she confesses. Lifetime imprisonment was the proper sentencing for normal heretics. But witches were more than simple heretics; they were Apostates (people who forsake religion). As such, they had to suffer the extreme penalty, even if they were penitent and immediately confessed. Thus, the only value to confession was to avoid torture before execution.

Ø So… what about that promise to spare her life if she confessed? This forms the most egregious part of the Malleus Maleficarum. The book suggests that the Judge may pass the buck: “The Judge may safely promise the accused her life, but in such a way that he should afterward disclaim the duty of passing sentence on her, deputing another Judge in his place.”

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Friday, April 24, 2009

And now we bring you your weekly gross-out

Please don't read this if you are eating! Switch screens and come back when you're done. I'll even give you a few "carriage returns" so your eyes don't happen to fall on anything gross.

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For today's excerpt from the Malleus Maleficarum, the witch hunting Bible penned by two medieval German friars, the blog will turn a bit scatological.

Amusingly enough, this quote comes from the section entitled, "Whether Witches Can Sway the Minds of Men to Love or Hatred":

We know of an old woman who, according to the common account of the brothers in that monastery even up to this day, in this manner not only bewitched three successive Abbots, but even killed them, and in the same way drove the fourth out of his mind. For she herself publicly confessed it, and does not fear to say: I did so and I do so, and they are not able to keep from loving me because they have eaten so much of my dung - measuring off a certain length on her arm. I confess, moreover, that since we had no case to prosecute her or bring her to trial, she survives to this day.

In the immortal words of E.L.O., she's "got a strange magic."

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Contest winners

I’ve pulled two winners for the two separate editions of The Witch’s Trinity and am announcing them here. I plan to do another giveaway over the summer and hope to blog on a more regular basis, so I hope you will bookmark this page and check back here now and then.

The winners are:

U.S. hardcover: Wanda

U.K. paperback: Nightdweller20

I have asked them to respond by Thursday midnight EST with their addresses; if I don’t hear from them, I will pull other winners from those who entered.

I used a somewhat unconventional method to select the winners. I had heard other bloggers talk of “auto randomizers” that they used for their contests, so I imagined it would be an easy websearch to find one. Well, I failed on that end, and noticing the luck of having 51 entries, I thought, “That’s almost a card deck!”

I eliminated the Seven of Clubs, since long ago some rabid Hearts-playing friends and I decided that was the most worthless card. I organized the suits by how I like them (which probably does not match their ranking in poker): Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds and Spades.

If you’re still following my [questionable] logic, the first 13 names on my list corresponded to the Ace through King of Hearts. The second deck was Clubs, skipping from six to eight to avoid the hapless seven. And so on.

So, to get the actual cards to pull, to correspond to the numbered list of entrants? I pulled up Solitaire on my computer and looked at the hand it dealt me. Believe it or not, the Seven of Clubs was the first card on the left! So I skipped him and went to the next two, the Eight of Diamonds and the Queen of Spades.

If you are double-checking me, there may be irregularities because I missed two people’s comments when they initially posted, and so tacked them onto the end of my list when I did my double-check just before the [skillfully-done] drawing. I used my own numbered list which I added names to as they posted.

It’s a good thing I don’t run a corporation and I’m not in charge of anything important.

Anyway, I enjoyed this process and I thank everyone who took the time to enter to win. Those who didn’t, I suggest asking your library to purchase a copy and/or putting it on your gift wishlist. Or just wait for the next giveaway!

Many thanks! And Happy Earth Day....

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Get yourself ready for May

A few days left for the giveaway of Witch’s Trinity! Scroll down a few posts to learn how to put your name in the (pointed) hat.

In the meantime, find yourself a willow tree and quickly. You have only a week or so to protect your livestock against a year’s worth of witchcraft.

According to the witch hunting Bible The Malleus Maleficarum,

On the first of May before sunrise the women of the village go out and gather from the woods leaves and branches from willow trees, and weave them into a wreath which they hang over the stable door, affirming that all the cattle will then remain unhurt and safe from witchcraft for a whole year.

This was a “common practice” in Swabia, a region in Germany.

You’re welcome!

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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

If you’re looking for The Witch’s Trinity giveaway, keep reading; it’s the post under this one.

It’s been a long time since I posted an excerpt from the Malleus Maleficarum; it’s time. I’m going to write about an anecdote the friar authors relate, about a woodcutter in Strasburg.

While he was cutting wood one day, a large cat attacked him. While he drove it off, another appeared, larger and more fierce. He fought off those two, then a third showed up. He crossed himself, and in a great panic beat them away by hitting one on the head, one on the back, and one on its legs.

He returned to his work. An hour later, two men came and took him to the magistrate. He was under arrest!

The judge kept his distance from the man and refused to listen to him—the man was tossed into “the deepest dungeon of a certain tower, where those who were under sentence of death were placed.” He stayed there three days, begging his jailers to help him get an audience with the judge.

Finally the judge relented, and he got his hearing. He threw himself before the magistrates and pleaded to know what his crime was. The judge said:

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 man protested his innocence, said he was cutting wood all that day, and in fact the men who arrested him could attest that that was what he was doing! Upon further reflection, the man remembered the cats. “I remember that I struck some creatures at that time, but they were not women,” he said.

The woodcutter told of the three large cats that attacked him. Horrified, the magistrates let him go.

The anecdote ends there, but the Malleus goes on to examine it. Did devils arrange the attacking cats without the presence of the witches, or were the witches actually there in the shape of the cats?

The friars believe the second:

For when the devils attacked the workman in the shapes of cats, they could suddenly, by local motion through the air, transfer the women to their houses with the blows which they received as cats from the workman; and no one doubts that this was because of a mutual pact formerly made between them.

As with all the anecdotes, I try to reason out a reasonable explanation, but sometimes the stories are simply too farfetched to do so. With this one, I came up with a few ideas:

A. The man really did attack these women in a fugue state. Returning to his work, possibly one cat snarled at him, and he confused that brief cat skirmish into the maelstrom of beating. He did say that during the cats’ attack he was “more panic-stricken than he had ever been,” which may explain his increased adrenaline after the real attacks on the women.

B. Rabid cats? But that doesn’t explain the damaged matrons who sent the magistrates after him.

C. Pure, total, crazy fantasy on the part of the witch hunters. The Malleus says it is “charitable and honorable” to withhold the name of the town in Strasburg where this happened. Makes it kind of hard to double-check facts when the scene of the crime is unknown!

For those interested in reading more, this is from Part II, Qn. I, Ch. 9 of the Malleus Maleficarum.

Image is from www.bottesfordhistory.org.uk and is a woodcut from The Wonderful Discovery of the Witchcrafts of Margaret and Phillipa Flower, about women executed at Lincolne, England in 1618.

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Thursday, April 02, 2009


Update: The contest is now closed. Please bookmark and check back later: we will do another giveaway over the summer.

In tandem with Literate Housewife's posting of an interview she and I did, I'd like to offer two copies of The Witch’s Trinity as a giveaway.

One is a hardcover U.S. version, a first edition (left).

The other is the U.K. mass market paperback version (right).

All you need to do to be considered is to post a comment here. The deadline is midnight, April 21, 2009, so that the next day—Earth Day—I can post the two winners. Somewhat befitting since what the earth does and doesn’t do in medieval Germany is the crux of my novel.

I will use an auto-randomizer to pick a hardcover and paperback winner. I will mail anywhere; all nations welcome.

Please also check Literate Housewife on Monday for the interview.

P.S. Please either leave your email address in the comment or make sure to check back here on April 22 so I have a way to let you know if you won!

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