Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

The change from this scepticism started with John XXII, whom psychiatrists now regard as having suffered from persecution mania: gathering together all the wildest fragments of superstition, he issued the Bull Super illius specula formulating the new view. His excited campaigns against the new sin helped to build up a sense of danger. Further enactments followed in 1374, 1409, 1418, 1437, 1445 and 1451, and a witch hunting craze was gradually developed. Prominent theologians wrote fervent appeals to the public. At first, stress was laid upon the propensity of witches to work harmful magic, and upon the heretical angle, but by the end of the fifteenth century the stress is almost entirely upon the sexual aspect. Following Innocent VIII’s Bull, it was finally asserted that it was heretical to deny the reality of witchcraft. But before the persecution could be put on an active footing, it was necessary to get the cooperation of the civil courts, for the ecclesiastical courts were not prepared to accept the responsibility of shedding blood and would only hand over the victim to the secular arm, with a sanctimonious recommendation to avoid the shedding of blood. The civil authorities, if prepared to cooperate, then hanged or burned the victim, since this did not involve the shedding of blood, in a strictly literal sense. But it was not until 1400 that the civil courts consented to recognize copulation with the devil as a capital crime. The proposition that witches engaged in night flights became dogma in 1450: this made it possible to argue that accused persons attended sabbats many miles away without being seen en route or having any ordinary means of transport.

The absolutely frenzied state into which many of those who made the attacks worked themselves is scarcely believable. It was claimed that in some towns there were more witches than louses. According to Lea,

“a Bishop of Geneva is said to have burned five hundred persons within three months, a Bishop of Bamberg six hundred, a Bishop of Wurzburg nine hundred. Eight hundred were condemned, apparently in one body, by the Senate of Savoy. Paramo (in his History of the Inquisition) boasts that in a century and a half from 1404, the Holy Office had burned at least thirty thousand witches.”