Sacred-Texts  Neo-Paganism  Index  Previous  Next 

Malleus Maleficarum Part 3

Question XXXIII

Of the Method of passing Sentence upon one who has been Accused by another Witch, who has been or is to be Burned at the Stake

        The fourteenth method of finally concluding a process on behalf of the Faith is used when the person accused of heresy, after a careful discussion of the circumstances of the process with reference to the informant in consultation with learned lawyers, is found to be accused of that heresy only by another witch who has been or is to be burned. And this can happen in thirteen ways in thirteen cases. For a person so accused is either found innocent and is to be freely discharged; or she is found to be generally defamed for that heresy; or it is found that, in addition to her defamation, she is to be to some degree exposed to torture; or she is found to be strongly suspected of heresy; or she is found to be at the same time defamed and suspected; and so on up to thirteen different cases, as was shown in the Twentieth Question.
        The first case is when she is accused only by a witch in custody, and is not convicted either by her own confession or by legitimate witnesses, and there are no other indications found by reason of which she can truly be regarded as suspect. In such a case she is to be entirely absolved, even by the secular Judge himself who has either burned the deponent or is about to burn her either on his own authority or on that commissioned to him by the Bishop and Judge of the Ordinary Court; and she shall be absolved in the manner explained in the Twentieth Question.
        The second case is when, in addition to being accused by a witch in custody, she is also publicly defamed throughout the whole village or city; so that she has always laboured under that particular defamation, but, after the deposition of the witch, it has become aggravated.
        In such a case the following should be the procedure. The Judge should consider that, apart from the general report, nothing particular has been proved against her by other credible witnesses in the village or town; and although, perhaps, that witch has deposed some serious charges against her, yet, since has lost her faith by denying it to the devil, Judges should give no ready credence to her words, unless there should be other circumstances which aggravate that report; and then the case would fall under the third and following case. Therefore she should be enjoined a canonical purgation, and the sentence should be pronounced as shown in the Twenty-first Question.
        And if the civil Judge orders this purgation to the be made before the Bishop, and ends with a solemn declaration that, if she should fail, then, as an example to others, she should be more severely sentenced by both the ecclesiastical and civil Judges, well and good. But if he wishes to conduct it himself, let him command her to find ten or twenty compurgators of her own class, and proceed in accordance with the second method of sentencing such: except that, if she has to be excommunicated, then he must have recourse to the Ordinary; and this would be the case if she refused to purge herself.
        The third case, then, happens when the person so accused is not convicted by her own confession, not by the evidence of the facts, nor by credible witnesses, nor are there any other indications as to any fact in which she had ever been marked by the other inhabitants of that town or village, except her general reputation among them. But the general report has become intensified by the detention of that witch in custody, as that it is said that she had been her companion in everything and had participated in her crimes. But even so, the accused firmly denies all this, and nothing of it is known to other inhabitants, or of anything to save good behaviour on her part, though her companionship with the witch is admitted.
        In such a case the following is the procedure. First they are to be brought face to face, and their mutual answers and recriminations noted, to see whether there is any inconsistency in their words by reason of which the Judge can decide from her admissions and denials whether he ought to expose her to torture; and if so, he can proceed as in the third manner of pronouncing a sentence, explained in the Twenty-second Question, submitting her to light tortures: at the same time exercising every possible precaution, as we explained at length towards the beginning of this Third Part, to find out whether she is innocent or guilty.
        The fourth case is when a person accused in this manner is found to be lightly suspected, either because of her own confession or because of the depositions of the other witch in custody. There are some who include among those who should be thus lightly suspected those who go and consult witches for any purpose, or have procured for themselves a lover by stirring up hatred between married folk, or have consorted with witches in order to obtain some temporal advantage. But such are to be excommunicated as followers of heretics, according to the Canon c. excommunicamus, where it says: Similarly we judge those to be heretics who believe in their errors. For the effect is presumed from the facts. Therefore it seems that such are to be more severely sentenced and punished than those who are under a light suspicion of heresy and are to be judged from light conjectures. For example, if they had performed services for witches or carried their letters to them, they need not on that account believe in their errors: yet they have not laid information against them, and they have received wages and vails from them. But whether or not such people are to be included in this case, according to the opinion of learned men the procedure must be as in the case of those under light suspicion, and the Judge will act as follows. Such a person will either abjure heresy or will purge herself canonically, as was explained in the fourth method of pronouncing sentence in the Twenty-third Question.
        However, it seems that the better course is for such a person to be ordered to abjure heresy, for this is more in accordance with the meaning of the Canon c. excommunicamus, where it speaks of those who are found to be only under some notable suspicion. And if such should relapse, they should not incur the penalty for backsliders. The procedure will be as above explained in the fourth method of sentencing.
        The fifth case is when such person is found to be under a strong suspicion, by reason, as before, of her own confession or of the depositions of the other witch in custody. In this class some include those who directly or indirectly obstruct the Court in the process of trying a witch, provided that they do this wittingly.
        Also they include all who give help, advice or protection to those who cause such obstructions. Also those who instruct summoned or captured heretics to conceal the truth or in some way falsify it. Also all those who wittingly receive, or visit those whom they know to be heretics, or associate with them, send them gifts, or show favour to them; for all such actions, when done with full knowledge, bespeak favour felt towards the sin, and not to the person. And therefore they say that, when the accused is guilty of any of the above actions, and has been proved so after trial, then she should be sentenced in the fifth method, explained in the Twenty-fourth Question; so that she must abjure all heresy, under pain of being punished as a backslider.
        As to these contentions we may say that the Judge must take into consideration the household and family of each several witch who has been burned or is detained; for these are generally found to be infected.
        For witches are instructed by devils to offer to them even their own children; therefore there can be no doubt that such children are instructed in all manner of crimes, as is shown in the First Part of this work.
        Again, in a case of simple heresy it happens that, on account of the familiarity between heretics who are akin to each other, when one is convicted of heresy it follows that his kindred also are strongly suspected; and the same is true of the heresy of witches.
        But this present case is made clear in the chapter of the Canon inter sollicitudines. For a certain Dean was, owing to his reputation as a heretic, enjoined a canonical purgation; on account of his familiarity with heretics, he had to make a public abjuration; and through the scandal he was deprived of his benefice, so that the scandal might be allayed.
        The sixth case is when such a person is under a grave suspicion; but no simple and bare deposition by another witch in custody can cause this, for there must be in addition some indication of the facts, derived from certain words or deeds uttered or committed by the witch in custody, in which the accused is at least said to have taken some part, and shared in the evil deeds of the deponent.
        To understand this, the reader should refer to what was written in the Nineteenth Question, especially concerning the grave degree of suspicion, how it arise from grave and convincing conjectures; and how the Judge is forced to believe, on mere suspicion, that a person is a heretic, although perhaps in his heart he is a true Catholic. The Canonists give an example of this by the case, in simple heresy, of a man summoned to answer in the cause of the faith, and defiantly refusing to appear, on which account he is excommunicated, and if he persists in that state for a year, becomes gravely suspected of heresy.
        And so likewise in the case of person accused in the way we are considering, the indications of the facts are to be examined by which she is rendered gravely suspect. Let us put the case that the witch in custody has asserted that the accused has taken part in her evil works of witchcraft, but the accused firmly denies it. What then is to be done? It will be necessary to consider whether there are any facts to engender a strong suspicion of her, and whether that strong suspicion can become a grave one. Thus, if a man has been summoned to answer some charge, and has obstinately refused to appear, he would come under a light suspicion of heresy, even if he had not been summoned in a cause concerning the Faith. But if he then refused to appear in a cause concerning the Faith and was excommunicated for his obstinacy, then he would be strongly suspected; for the light suspicion would become a strong one; and if then he remained obstinate in excommunication for a year, the strong suspicion would become a grave one. Therefore the Judge will consider whether, by reason of her familiarity with the witch in custody, the accused is under a strong suspicion, in the manner shown in the fifth case above; and then he must consider whether there is anything which may turn that strong suspicion into a grave one. For it is presumed that it is possible for this to be the case, on account of the accused having perhaps shared in the crimes of the detained witch, if she has had frequent intercourse with her. Therefore the Judge must proceed as in the sixth method of sentencing explained in the Twenty-fifth Question. But it may be asked what the Judge is to do if the person so accused by a witch in custody still altogether persists in her denials, in spite of all indications against her. We answer as follows:
        First the Judge must consider whether those denials do or do not proceed from the vice or witchcraft of taciturnity: and, as was shown in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Questions of this Third part, the Judge can know this from her ability or inability to shed tears, or from her insensibility under torture and quick recovery of her strength afterwards. For then the grave suspicion would be aggravated; and in such a case she is by no means to be freely discharged, but, according to the sixth method of sentencing, she must be condemned to perpetual imprisonment and penance.
        But if she is not infected with the taciturnity of witches, but feels the keenest pains in her torture (whereas others, as has been said, become insensible to pain owing to the witchcraft of taciturnity), then the Judge must fall back upon his last expedient of a canonical purgation. And if this should be ordered by a secular Judge, it is called a lawful vulgar purgation, since it cannot be classed with other vulgar purgations. And if she should fail in this purgation she will be judged guilty.
        The seventh case is when the accused is not found guilty by his own confession, by the evidence of the facts, or by legitimate witnesses, but is only found to be accused by a witch in custody, and there are also some indications found which bring him under light or strong suspicion. As, for example, that he had had great familiarity with witches; in which case he would, according to the Canon, have to undergo a canonical purgation on account of the general report concerning him; and on account of the suspicion against him he must abjure heresy, under pain of being punished as a backslider if it was a strong suspicion, but not if it was a light one.
        The eighth case occurs when the person so accused is found to have confessed that heresy, but to be penitent, and never to have relapsed. But here it is to be noted that in this and the other cases, where it is a question of those who have or have not relapsed, and who are or are not penitent, these distinctions are made only for the benefit of Judges who are not concerned with the infliction of the extreme penalty. Therefore the civil Judge may proceed in accordance with the Civil and Imperial Laws, as justice shall demand, in the case of one who has confessed, no matter whether or not she be penitent, or whether or not she have relapsed. Only he may have recourse to those thirteen methods of pronouncing sentence, and act in accordance with them, if any doubtful question should arise.
Next: Question XXXIV
Of the Method of passing Sentence upon a Witch who Annuls Spells wrought by Witchcraft; and of Witch Midwives and Archer-Wizards