Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

At all periods, of course, there were a few men honest enough, intelligent enough and courageous enough to stand out against this nonsense. Friedrich Spee and Father Kircher in the seventeenth century, Agrippa von Nettesheim and de Weier in the sixteenth, Paracelsus in the fifteenth, Bartholomeus Anglicus in the thirteenth, and others. De Weier succeeded in convincing a priest who thought himself troubled by a succubus that his trouble was imaginary, and managed to cure him. Du Laurens similarly cured two women. (257) De Weier was able to insist on rational treatment in several cases of “possession”, and subsequently in his De praestigiis daemonum, without daring to deny the existence of witchcraft outright, he pressed for the use of medical methods until it was certain that the case was not a medical one. This book was placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum — primae classis, which means that all other works by the same writer are automatically prohibited— and it remains there to this day. (256)

The Inquisitors realized, naturally, that if they asserted that all such cases were due to witchcraft, they would be made ludicrous whenever a doctor managed to effect a cure. They therefore laid down rules for discriminating between the results of witchcraft and ordinary illness, the principal rule being that any disease which the doctors could not cure was due to witchcraft! Because of this, epilepsy, regarded as a form of possession, was often regarded as caused by sorcery.

Despite the dictum that all witchcraft originates in lust, however, it is clear that a proportion of witchcraft trials were concerned with attempts to commit murder, and a few with attempts, or alleged attempts, to cause illness or damage crop and cattle. It is entirely natural, during a period when witch-trials were so common that the subject was in everyone’s mind, that some people should be led to attempt to perform magical acts; and it is natural too, that malign individuals, having suffered some illness or loss, should seek the satisfaction of vengeance by accusing someone else; it was a convenient way to remove someone one disliked, or who stood in one’s way. The Inquisitors could not refuse to try such cases, even had they wished; actually, being convinced that any witch would have committed sexual crimes in addition to any others of which she might be accused, they were perfectly willing to administer the question. It was, indeed, a basic assumption that any witch had had intercourse with the devil. All Inquisitors worked with an interrogatory, or manual of questions, and as these questions were almost wholly sexual they usually succeeded in finding sexual guilt.

But while a great part of the time of the Inquisition was taken up, especially in Germany, with the examination of these clinical sexual phenomena, it is almost certainly true that some of those coming forward belonged to an entirely different category. Some thirty years ago, Margaret Murray brought forward detailed evidence in support of the view that a form of pagan worship, probably of very ancient totemic origin, had survived into medieval times, and had grown increasingly popular. This worship was devoted to a horned deity, one or whose names was Cernunnos, and an altar to him has beer found below the foundations of Notre Dame de Paris. The worship was of an ecstatic variety, and, like certain other pagan religions, such as the worship of Dionysos, culminated in the sexual act.