Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

In Spain, Torquemada personally sent 10,220 persons to the stake and 97,371 to the galleys. Counting those killed for other heresies, the persecutions were responsible for reducing the population of Spain from twenty million to six million in two hundred years — a feat which not even the contemporary exponents of political heresy hunting have yet rivalled. While the well known estimate of the total death-roll, from Roman times onward, of nine millions is probably somewhat too high, it can safely be said that more persons were put to death than were killed in all the European wars fought up to 1914. (250)

The blame, of course, does not attach only to the Catholics. As I shall argue in a later chapter, the Protestant reformers were still more strongly patrist than the Roman Church, and they persecuted witches with, if anything, even greater ferocity. In Scotland, the church porches were provided with a box for anonymous denunciations. Calvin, in Geneva, with crocodile tears of compunction, burned heretics of all kinds. Luther attributed all insanity to the devil.

It is easier to understand these extraordinary phenomena when we recall that Custance, during the depressive phase of his insanity, felt himself “vulnerable to demonic attack”. It is hardly possible to make sense of this almost incredible obsession except by conceding that those who instigated these persecutions really did feel themselves menaced on every hand by diabolic threats. Similarly the preoccupation of Innocent’s agents with Impotence is more explicable when we remember that Custance actually found himself impotent while in this state; and we can better understand why the authors of the “Malleus” declared that all witchcraft sprang from carnal lust when we recall that Custance felt, in this phase, that all sin was fundamentally sexual sin.

In saying this we cannot overlook the important part played by the sadism of the Inquisitors and the projection of their own unconscious desires upon the victims. The accused, of all ages from five to eighty-five, were stripped naked: the modes of questioning, even when torture was not technically being used, were cruel to a degree. A common one was to tie the right arm to the left leg and vice versa, and then to leave the accused for twenty-four hours, so that severe cramps occurred. The Justification for this course was that witches give suck to demons, and these demons must revisit their patroness at least once in twenty-four hours. If any spider, louse or fly were found in the cell during that time, this was interpreted as a demon in disguise and provided evidence of guilt. Again, it was held that witches could be identified by the existence of insensitive spots. To locate them, the Inquisitors would prick every inch of skin as far as the bone with a thick bodkin, and especially the private parts. (This did not constitute torture.)