Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

But we are not, as a matter of fact, obliged to base our speculations solely on the Bull. Innocent drew up this document at the request of two German members of what we should nowadays call the Papal secret police (i.e. the Dominicans), named Sprenger and Kramer. These men, having been appointed Inquisitors, began to accuse and condemn persons for witchcraft in certain German cities with such ferocity and obvious injustice that not only was there a popular outcry but even the local bishops and clergy refused their support. As a result of this, Sprenger and Kramer now went to the Pope and induced him to draw up the Bull I have just quoted: it ends with a declaration that Sprenger and Kramer have been appointed to go into these matters, that they have plenary powers, and that they must be given every help. It therefore reflects Papal credulity rather than Papal policy.

Soon after, Sprenger and Kramer prepared the famous handbook, the “Malleus Malleficarum“, and browbeat the Senate of the University of Cologne, to its shame, into endorsing it. The immense popularity of this work, which ran through ten editions in a few years, shows that it reflects the unconscious preoccupations not merely of its authors but of many people in northern Europe: it was followed during the next century by a spate of similar works from other Inquisitors, such as De Lancre, Delrio, Bodin, Torreblanca and others. It is, in many respects, a casebook of sexual psychopathy, and is concerned principally with three subjects: impotence, sexual fantasies and conversion hysterias. It also discusses the causing of storms, but, as these are treated simply as a method of destroying crops, the topic only represents a variation on the general theme of preoccupation with sex and fertility. It prescribes the questions which investigators of witchcraft are to ask, gives excellent clinical descriptions of the phenomena to be looked for, supported by case-histories; and it discusses the aetiology.

In fact, it is clear that by this date the activities which we normally call witch-hunting had ceased to be concerned with magical acts, as such, but revolved round certain sexual phenomena and represented a psychotic preoccupation with sex on the part of the instigators. To understand what was happening, it is essential to realize that the circumstance which at this date normally gave rise to a witch-trial was not the existence of a specific individual, supposedly a witch, but the existence of certain phenomena, usually sexual in character. From the occurrence of these phenomena, the existence of a witch was inferred as a necessary cause. It then remained to find the witch, and for this purpose the sufferer was invited to make a denunciation, or, failing this, the public at large might do so. Naturally, those with scores to pay off, and those with insane resentments, obliged. The victim was then arrested tortured for a confession, and burnt.