Here followeth how Witches Injure Cattle in Various Ways.
When S. Paul said, Doth God care for oxen? he meant that, though all things are subject to Divine providence, both man and beast each in its degree, as the Psalmist says, yet the sons of men are especially in His governance and under the protection of His wings. I say, therefore, if men are injured by witches, with God’s permission, both the innocent and just as well as sinners, and if parents are bewitched in their children, as being part of their possessions, who can then presume to doubt that, with God’s permission, various injuries can be brought by witches upon cattle and the fruits of the earth, which are also part of men’s possessions? For so was Job stricken by the devil and lost all his cattle. So also there is not even the smallest farm where women do not injure each other’s cows, by drying up their milk, and very often killing them.
But first let us consider the smallest of these injuries, that of drying up the milk. If it is asked how they can do this, it can be answered that, according to Blessed Albert in his Book on Animals, milk is naturally menstrual in any animal; and, like another flux in women, when it is not stopped by some natural infirmity, it is due to witchcraft that it is stopped. Now the flow of milk is naturally stopped when the animal becomes pregnant; and it is stopped by an accidental infirmity when the animal eats some herb the nature of which is to dry up the milk and make the cow ill.
But they can cause this in various ways by witchcraft. For on the more holy nights according to the instructions of the devil and for the greater offence to the Divine Majesty of God, a witch will sit down in a corner of her house with a pail between her legs, stick a knife or some instrument in the wall or a post, and make as if to milk it with her hands. Then she summons her familiar who always works with her in everything, and tells him that she wishes to milk a certain cow from a certain house, which is healthy and abounding in milk. And suddenly the devil takes the milk from the udder of that cow, and brings it to where the witch is sitting, as if it were flowing from the knife.
But when this is publicly preached to the people they get no bad information by it; for however much anyone may invoke the devil, and think that by this alone he can do this thing, he deceives himself, because he is without the foundation of that perfidy, not having rendered homage to the devil or abjured the Faith. I have set this down because some have thought that several of the matter of which I have written ought not to be preacher to the people, on account of the danger of giving them evil knowledge; whereas it is impossible for anyone to learn from a preacher how to perform any of the things that have been mentioned. But they have been written rather to bring so great a crime into detestation, and should be preached from the pulpit, so that judges may be more eager to punish the horrible crime of the abnegation of the Faith. Yet they should not always be preached in this way; for the secular mind pays more attention to temporal losses, being more concerned with earthly than spiritual matters; therefore when witches can be accused of inflicting temporal loss, judges are more zealous to punish them. But who can fathom the cunning of the devil?
I know of some men in a certain city who wished to eat some May butter one May time. And as they were walking along they came to a meadow and say down by a stream; and one of them, who had formed some open or tacit pact with the devil, said: I will get you the best May butter. And at once he took off his clothes and went into the stream, not standing up but sitting with his back against the current; and while the others looked on, he uttered certain words, and moved the water with his hands behind his back; and in a short time he brought out a great quantity of butter of the sort that the country women sell in the market in May. And the others tasted it and declared that it was the very best butter.
From this we can deduce first the following fact concerning their practices. They are either true witches, by reason of an expressed pact formed with the devil, or they know by some tacit understanding that the devil will do what they ask. In the first case there is no need for any discussion, for such are true witches. But in the second case, then they owed the devil’s help to the fact that they were blasphemously offered to the devil by a midwife or by their own mothers.
But it may be objected that the devil perhaps brought the butter without any compact, expressed or tacit, and without any previous dedication to himself. It is answered that no one can ever use the devil’s help in such matters without invoking him; and that by that very act of seeking help from the devil he is an apostate from the Faith. This is the decision of S. Thomas in the Second Book of Sentences, dist. 8, on the question, Whether it is apostasy from the Faith to use the devil’s help. And although Blessed Albert the Great agrees with the other Doctors, yet he says more expressly that in such matters there is always apostasy either in word or in deed. For if invocations, conjurations, fumigations and adorations are used, then an open pact is formed with the devil, even if there has been no surrender of body and soul together with explicit abjuration of the Faith either wholly or in part. For by the mere invocation of the devil a man commits open verbal apostasy. But if there is no spoken invocation, but only a bare action from which follows something that could not be done without the devil’s help, then whether a man does it be beginning in the name of the devil, or with some other unknown words, or without any words but with that intention; then, says Blessed Albert, it is apostasy of deed, because that action is looked for from the devil. But since to expect or receive anything from the devil is always a disparagement of the Faith, it is also apostasy.
So it is concluded that, by whatever means that sorcerer procured the butter, it was done with either a tacit or an expressed pact with the devil; and since, if it had been with an expressed pact, he would have behaved after the usual manner of witches, it is probably that there was a tacit or secret pact, originating either from himself or from his mother or a midwife. And I say that it arose from himself, since he only went through certain motions, and expected the devil to produce the effect.
The second conclusion we can draw from this and similar practices is this. The devil cannot create new species of things; therefore when natural butter suddenly came out of the water, the devil did not do this by changing the water into milk, but by taking butter from some place where it was kept and bringing it to the man’s hand. Or else he took natural milk from a natural cow and suddenly churned it into natural butter; for while the art of women takes a little time to make butter, the devil could do it in the shortest space of time and bring it to the man.
It is in the same way that certain dealers in magic, when they find themselves in need of wine or some such necessity, merely go out in the night with a flask or vessel, and bring it back suddenly filled with wine. For then the devil takes natural wine from some vessel and fills their flasks for them.
And with regard to the manner whereby witches kill animals and cattle, it should be said that they act very much as they do in the case of men. They can bewitch them by a touch and a look, or by a look only; or by placing under the threshold of the stable door, or near the place where they go to water, some charm or periapt of witchcraft.
For in this way those witches who were burned at Ratisbon, of whom we shall say more later on, were always incited by the devil to bewitch the best horses and the fattest cattle. And when they were asked how they did so, one of them named Agnes said that they hid certain things under the threshold of the stable door. And, asked what sort of things, she said: The bones of different kinds of animals. She was further asked in whose name they did this, and answered, In the name of the devil and all the other devils. And there was another of them, named Anna, who had killed twenty-three horses in succession belonging to one of the citizens who was a carrier. This man at last, when he had bought his twenty-fourth horse and reduced to extreme poverty, stood in his stable and said to the witch, who was standing in the door of her house: “See, I have bought a horse, and I swear to God and His Holy Mother that if this horse dies I shall kill you with my own hands.” At that the witch was frightened, and left the horse alone. But when she was taken and asked how she had done these things, she answered that she had done nothing but dig a little hole, after which the devil had put in it certain things unknown to her. From this it is concluded that the witch co-operates sufficiently if it is only by a touch or a look; for the devil is permitted no power of injuring creatures without some co-operation on the part of the witch, as has been shown before. And this is for the great offence to the Divine Majesty.
For shepherds have often seen animals in the fields give three or four jumps into the air, and then suddenly fall to the ground and die; and this is caused by the power of witches at the instance of the devil.
In the diocese of Strasburg, between the town of Fiessen and Mount Ferrer, a certain very rich man affirmed that more than forty oxen and cows belonging to him and others had been bewitched in the Alps within the space of one year, and that there had been no natural plague or sickness to cause it. To prove this, he said that when cattle die from some change plague or disease, they do not do so all at once, but by degrees; but that this witchcraft had suddenly taken all the strength from them, and therefore everyone judged that they had been killed by witchcraft. I have said forty head of cattle, but I believe he put the number higher than that. However, it is very true that many cattle are said to have been bewitched in some districts, especially in the Alps; and it is known that this form of witchcraft if unhappily most widespread. We shall consider some similar cases later, in the chapter where we discuss the remedies for cattle that have been bewitched.