Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

But it was not sufficient for the Inquisitors to decide that a certain person was a witch: it was also considered essential to obtain her confession, the rationalization being that if she died falsely protesting her innocence her postmortem tortures would be worse. It was therefore “only common justice” to torture the victim until she said the words which would lead to her being put to death. Not even the perverted malice of Nero or Claudius conceived such a refinement of cruel casuistry as these men who claimed to serve a god of love. As noted earlier, the records are full of cases of confessions being withdrawn after the torture ceased. In Spain, as in England, some attempts were made to arrive at the truth. James I was so struck by the defects in the evidence that he completely altered his position on witchcraft. In Spain, when Salazar was sent to investigate a wave of accusations in 1611, he reported that among 11,300 persons accused there was not one genuine case. Women who claimed to have had intercourse with incubi were medically examined and found to be virgin. He said that the principal cause of accusations was the invitation of the priest to report witches and that

“there were neither witches nor bewitched until they were talked and written about”.

After he made his report, it was decided to prohibit the preaching of sermons on witchcraft and little more was heard of the subject in Spain.

The total impression left is not of a gradual emergence from honest error to enlightenment, but of a great wave of perverse and psychotic behaviour which particularly affected France, Switzerland, Germany, Scotland and some of the Scandinavian countries, but which affected England only slightly, Spain little more, and left Italy practically untouched. In Italy, witches were concerned almost entirely with the purveying of love potions and fertility charms, and, even when accused, could usually purchase their freedom with a small fine. But in Germany, particularly, only a few exceptional spirits were strong enough to stand against the tide. As Garacon and Vinchon say, referring to the arch persecutors Kramer and Sprenger,

“Erudite symbolists, mystic poets, they first created, then plucked, the most perverse of the flowers of evil, to decorate with its very perversity the most august grandeur of God.”