Witches and their affiliation with the devil

Witches and their affiliations with the Devil was a widely-spread belief amongst many in Early Modern Europe. There was an increasing fascination with the concept of the devil and his presence amongst the Earth. The hysteria of the power of evil was heightened by the coming of the Reformation in the early Sixteenth Century. This sense of fascination enabled many of the educated elites to develop their own science of demons and this later become known as Demonology. However, it’s not just the concept of the devil that created intrigue but also the association that witches had with the devil that caused even more fear for concern. In this blog post I will explore and analyse the obsession of the devil and the affiliation witches had to him, which led to a wide-spread witch hunt hysteria in the early modern period.

The fascination with the devil amongst elites enabled its literary move amongst literature and art. An example could be found in the book Malleus Maleficarum (1486) written by Heinrich Kramer  who argued that the devil existed amongst us and that any entity  who were inclined to evil could actively ally with him. The association with witches and the devil was therefore a belief that was created amongst society as being sinful and perverse, and even disbelief in the idea itself was considered heretical, as it could permit witches to escape the punishments they deserved. The partnership with the devil and witches was first developed through promises, which the devil invoked himself and the witches were typically expected to sign contracts with him in their own blood. It was believed that the witches association with the devil enabled them to have power and as a result had the ability to invoke evil deeds such as, killing babies, to cause strange and lingering illnesses and to ruin crops and live-stock. Witches are also perceived to gather together in rituals and Sabbaths in order to pay homage to their satanic master and within these ceremonies they were expected by their master to proclaim the evil they had done for him and promise to do more. Richard Bernard believed in this sinful contract and preparation of sin by explaining, Before the Divell can come to solicitte for witchcraft, hee findeth some preparedness in such parties, to give him hope to prevaile.”[1]

 

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Ulrich Molitor( Constance 1489) Woodcut depicts a women seducing the devil

 

 

Women were also perceived during the period of Early Modern Europe as being a “demon seducer” and were typically portrayed as adoring the devil and offering them sexual services. In Early modern treatises, engaging in intercourse with the devil was framed with a perverse understanding of the reproductive body and conception. Many writers asserted the notion that sex was never procreative and this raised the issue that if witches weren’t having sex with the desire to have children, then their actions were driven by their rampant sexual desire and sexual hedonism. The illustration above drawn by Ulrich demonstrates the perception of witches craving a lustful seduction for the devil. It was generally perceived by most in the early modern period that witches were responsible for sinful acts with the devil and it was claimed that it was “for her pleasure”[1] that the devil copulated with a witch and not his. Such witches were condemned further for their sexual lust for the devil, as not only did it involve an evil entity but their commitment to the devil was also motivated by sexual pleasure and their own gratification.

One may wonder what triggered such fear of the devil and his servants and why the accused witches were affiliated with him. One may argue that the Reformation in the 16th century enabled a strict and Protestant life that viewed the devil with fear. This consequently led to a New England society that made women an easy target for the witchcraft hysteria. Another reason for this hysteria was the widespread rise of literature that featured works about the theology of witchcraft and it’s association with the devil. The tensions and religious wars between the Protestants and the Catholics only drove forward social anxieties terror, consequently causing further fear of witchcraft during the period. One may also that women during the early modern period were already considered as inferior and prone to sinful actions and affiliating them with the devil as witches enabled men to condemn them for their own safety.

 

 

[1] Karlsen, Carol F.  The Devil in the Shape of a Women.  New York: W.W. Norton, 1998.

[2]  Reginald Scot, Scot’s Discovery of Witchcraft, p. 59