Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

If we treat the optical verification as an ingenious invention designed to give characteristic verisimilitude to the narrative, we can explain this as an hysterical manifestation. We note that the delusion began when he wished to stop sleeping with his mistress. Can we suppose that the young man deluded himself that he had lost his member in the same way as psychotics sometimes suppose their pelvis to be made of glass, and that the girl, finding herself in danger of strangulation, had the wit to try the effect of a little counter suggestion by the most obvious method? Sprenger and Kramer themselves end the story by warning us:

But it must in no way be believed that such members are really torn right away from the body but that they are hidden by the devil through some prestidigitatory art, so that they can be neither seen nor felt.

In the case of hysterical and schizophrenic manifestations, of the sort then referred to as ” possession “, it was obviously insufficient to burn the person alleged to have caused them; in view of the erotic symptoms displayed by the persons possessed, it was necessary to find some way of showing them to be guilty also. This was managed by employing the argument that the devil cannot enter a person unless he be destitute of all holy thoughts. Accordingly, all deluded or possessed persons were presumed to be in deadly sin, which is as much as to say that lunacy was made a capital crime, the only admissible defence being that one was possessed by God and not by the devil. The Church’s attempt to impose this principle came up against the strong medieval belief that lunacy varies with the phases of the moon. Against this it was argued, rather as in a modern libel action, that the devil deliberately caused the manifestations to vary with the phases of the moon in order to bring one of God’s creatures (meaning the moon) into disrepute; or if he did not, then the devil was himself affected by the moon; or if he was not, men were more susceptible to diabolic influence at full moon. The frightful casuistry of such arguments does not seem to have worried anyone.

With the fantasies of intercourse with incubi and succubi we need not deal, as these have been discussed in a previous chapter. Concerning the purely sexual character of the phenomena which the Inquisitors were attacking under the rubric of “witchcraft” the Malleus is quite explicit: “All witchcraft comes from carnal lust,” it says, which in women is insatiable.” With perfect realism, it adds that the most prolific source of witchcraft is quarrelling between unmarried women and their lovers.