THE METHODS OF DESTROYING AND CURING WITCHCRAFT
Introduction, wherein is Set Forth the Difficulty of this Question.
Is it lawful to remove witchcraft by means of further witchcraft, or by any other forbidden means?
It is argued that it is not; for it has already been shown that in the Second Book of Sentences, and the 8th Distinction, all the Doctors agree that it is unlawful to use the help of devils, since to do so involves apostasy from the Faith. And, it is argued, no witchcraft can be removed without the help of devils. For it is submitted that it must be cured either by human power, or by diabolic, or by Divine power. It cannot be by the first; for the lower power cannot counteract the higher, having no control over that which is outside its own natural capacity. Neither can it be by Divine power; for this would be a miracle, which God performs only at His own will, and not at the instance of men. For when His Mother besought Christ to perform a miracle to supply the need for wine, He answered: Woman, what have I to do with thee? And the Doctors explain this as meaning, “What association is there between you and me in the working of a miracle?” Also it appears that it is very rarely that men are delivered from a bewitchment by calling on God’s help or the prayers of the Saints. Therefore it follows that they can only be delivered by the help of devils; and it is unlawful to seek such help.
Again it is pointed out that the common method in practice of taking off a bewitchment, although it is quite unlawful, is for the bewitched persons to resort to wise women, by whom they are very frequently cured, and not by priests or exorcists. So experience shows that such curses are effected by the help of devils, which it is unlawful to seek; therefore it cannot be lawful thus to cure a bewitchment, but it must patiently be borne.
It is further argued that S. Thomas and S. Bonaventura, in Book IV, dist. 34, have said that a bewitchment must be permanent because it can have no human remedy; for if there is a remedy, it is either unknown to men or unlawful. And these words are taken to mean that this infirmity is incurable and must be regarded as permanent; and they add that, even if God should provide a remedy by coercing the devil, and the devil should remove his plague from a man, and the man should be cured, that cure would not be a human one. Therefore, unless God should cure it, it is not lawful for a man to himself to try in any way to look for a cure.
In the same place these two Doctors add that it is unlawful even to seek a remedy by the superadding of another bewitchment. For they say that, granting this to be possible, and that the original spell be removed, yet the witchcraft is none the less to be considered permanent; for it is in no way lawful to invoke the devil’s help through witchcraft.
Further, it is submitted that the exorcisms of the Church are not always effective in the repression of devils in the matter of bodily afflictions, since such are cured only at the discretion of God; but they are effective always against those molestations of devils against which they are chiefly instituted, as, for example, against men who are possessed, or in the matter of exorcising children.
Again, it does not follow that, because the devil has been given power over someone on account of his sins, that power must come to an end on the cessation of the sin. For very often a man may cease from sinning, but his sins still remain. So it seems from these sayings that the two Doctors we have cited were of the opinion that it is unlawful to remove a bewitchment, but that it must be suffered, just as it is permitted by the Lord God, Who can remove it when it seems good to Him.
Against this opinion it is argued that just as God and Nature do not abound in superfluities, so also they are not deficient in necessities; and it is a necessity that there should be given to the faithful against such devils’ work not only a means of protection (of which we treat in the beginning of this Second Part), but also curative remedies. For otherwise the faithful would not be sufficiently provided for by God, and the works of the devil would seem to be stronger than God’s work.
Also there is the gloss on that text in Job. There is no power on earth, etc. The gloss says that, although the devil has power over all things human, he is nevertheless subject to the merits of the Saints, and even to the merits of saintly men in this life.
Again, S. Augustine (De moribus Ecclesiae) says: No Angel is more powerful than our mind, when we hold fast to God. For if power is a virtue in this world, then the mind that keeps close to God is more sublime than the whole world. Therefore such minds can undo the works of the devil.
Answer. Here are two weighty opinions which, it seems, are at complete variance with each other.
For there are certain Theologians and Canonists who agree that it is lawful to remove witchcraft even by superstitious and vain means. And of this opinion are Duns Scotus, Henry of Segusio, and Godfrey, and all the Canonists. But it is the opinion of the other Theologians, especially the ancient ones, and of some of the modern ones, such as S. Thomas, S. Bonaventura, Blessed Albert, Peter a Palude, and many others, that in no case must evil be done that good may result, and that a man ought rather to die than consent to be cured by superstitious and vain means.
Let us now examine their opinions, with a view to bringing them as far as possible into agreement. Scotus, in his Fourth Book, dist. 34, on obstructions and impotence caused by witchcraft, says that it is foolish to maintain that it is unlawful to remove a bewitchment even by superstitious and vain means, and that to do so is in no way contrary to the Faith; for he who destroys the work of the devil is not an accessory to such works, but believes that the devil has the power and inclination to help in the infliction of an injury only so long as the outward token or sign of that injury endures. Therefore when that token is destroyed he puts an end to the injury. And he adds that it is meritorious to destroy the works of the devil. But, as he speaks of tokens, we will give an example.
There are women who discover a witch by the following token. When a cow’s supply of milk has been diminished by witchcraft, they hang a pail of milk over the fire, and uttering certain superstitious words, beat the pail with a stick. And though it is the pail that the women beat, yet the devil carries all those blows to the back of the witch; and in this way both the witch and the devil are made weary. But the devil does this in order that he may lead on the woman who beats the pail to worse practices. And so, if it were not for the risk which it entails, there would be no difficulty in accepting the opinion of this learned Doctor. Many other examples could be given.
Henry of Segusio, in his eloquent Summa on genital impotence caused by witchcraft, says that in such cases recourse must be had to the remedies of physicians; and although some of these remedies seem to be vain and superstitious cantrips and charms, yet everyone must be trusted in his own profession, and the Church may well tolerate the suppression of vanities by means of others vanities.
Ubertinus also, in his Fourth Book, uses these words: A bewitchment can be removed either by prayer or by the same art by which it was inflicted.
Godfrey says in his Summa: A bewitchment cannot always be removed by him who caused it, either because he is dead, or because he does not know how to cure it, or because the necessary charm is lost. But if he knows how to effect relief, it is lawful for him to cure it. Our author is speaking against those who said that an obstruction of the carnal act could not be caused by witchcraft, and that it could never be permanent, and therefore did not annul a marriage already contracted.
Besides, those who maintained that no spell is permanent were moved by the following reasons: they thought that every bewitchment could be removed either by another magic spell, or by the exorcisms of the Church which are ordained for the suppression of the devil’s power, or by true penitence, since the devil has power only over sinners. So in the first respect they agree with the opinion of the others, namely, that a spell can be removed by superstitious means.
But S. Thomas is of the contrary opinion when he says: If a spell cannot be revoked except by some unlawful means, such as the devil’s help or anything of that sort, even if it is known that it can be revoked in that way, it is nevertheless to be considered permanent; for the remedy is not lawful.
Of the same opinion are S. Bonaventura, Peter a Palude, Blessed Albert, and all the Theologians. For, touching briefly on the question of invoking the help of the devil either tacitly or expressedly, they seem to hold that such spells may only be removed by lawful exorcism or true penitence (as is set down in the Canon Law concerning sortilege), being moved, as it seems, by the considerations mentioned in the beginning of this Question.
But it is expedient to bring these various opinions of the learned Doctors as far as possible into agreement, and this can be done in one respect. For this purpose it is to be noted that the methods by which a spell of witchcraft can be removed are as follows: – either by the agency of another witch and another spell; or without the agency of a witch, but by means of magic and unlawful ceremonies. And this last method may be divided into two; namely, the use of ceremonies which are both unlawful and vain, or the use of ceremonies which are vain but not unlawful.
The first remedy is altogether unlawful, in respect both of the agent and of the remedy itself. But it may be accomplished in two ways; either with some injury to him who worked the spell, or without an injury, but with magic and unlawful ceremonies. In the latter case it can be included with the second method, namely, that by which the spell is removed not by the agency of a witch, but by magic and unlawful ceremonies; and in this case it is still to be judged unlawful, though not to the same extent as the first method.
We may summarize the position as follows. There are three conditions by which a remedy is rendered unlawful. First, when a spell is removed through the agency of another witch, and by further witchcraft, that is, by the power of some devil. Secondly, when it is not removed by a witch, but by some honest person, in such a way, however, that the spell is by some magical remedy transferred from one person to another; and this again is unlawful. Thirdly, when the spell is removed without imposing it on another person, but some open or tacit invocation of devils is used; and then again it is unlawful.
And it is with reference to these methods that the Theologians say that it is better to die than to consent to them. But there are two other methods by which, according to the Canonists, it is lawful, or not idle and vain, to remove a spell; and that such methods may be used when all the remedies of the Church, such as exorcisms and the prayers of the Saints and true penitence, have been tried and have failed. But for a clearer understanding of these remedies we will recount some examples known to our experience.
In the time of Pope Nicolas there had come to Rome on some business a certain Bishop from Germany, whom it is charitable not to name although he had now paid the debt of all nature. There he fell in love with a girl, and sent her to his diocese in charge of two servants and certain other of his possessions, including some rich jewels, which were indeed very valuable, and began to think in her heart that, if only the Bishop were to die through some witchcraft, she would be able to take possession of the rings, the pendants and carcanets. The next night the Bishop suddenly fell ill, and the physicians and his servants gravely suspected that he had been poisoned; for there was such a fire in his breast that he had to take continual draughts of cold water to assuage it. On the third day, when there seemed no hope of his life, an old woman came and begged that she might see him. So they let her in, and she promised the Bishop that she could heal him if he would agree to her proposals. When the Bishop asked what it was to which he had to agree in order to regain his health, as he so greatly desired, the old woman answered: Your illness has ben caused by a spell of witchcraft, and you can only be healed by another spell, which will transfer the illness from you to the witch who caused it, so that she will die. The Bishop was astounded; and seeing that he could be healed in no other way, and not wishing to come to a rash decision, decided to ask the advice of the Pope. Now the Holy Father loved him very dearly, and when he learned that he could only be healed by the death of the witch, he agreed to permit the lesser of two evils, and signed this permission with his seal. So the old woman was again approached and told that both he and the Pope had agreed to the death of the witch, on condition that he was restored to his former health; and the old woman went away, promising him that he would be healed on the following night. And behold! when about the middle of the night he felt himself cured and free from all illness, he sent a messenger to learn what had happened to the girl; and he came back and reported that she had suddenly been taken ill in the middle of the night while sleeping by her mother’s side.
It is to be understood that at the very same hour and moment the illness left the Bishop and afflicted the girl witch, through the agency of the old witch; and so the evil spirit, by ceasing to plague the Bishop, appeared to restore him to health by chance, whereas it was not he but God who permitted him to afflict im, and it was God Who properly speaking restored him; and the devil, by reason of his compact with the second witch, who envied the fortune of the girl, has to afflict the Bishop’s mistress. And it must be thought that those two evil spells were not worked by one devil serving two persons, but by two devils serving two separate witches. For the devils do not work against themselves, but work as much as possible in agreement for the perdition of souls.
Finally, the Bishop went out of compassion to visit the girl; but when he entered the room, she received him with horrible execrations, crying out: May you and she who wrought your cure be damned for ever! And the Bishop tried to soften her mind to penitence, and told her that he forgave her all her wrongs; but she turned her face away and said: I have no hope of pardon, but commend my soul to all the devils in hell; and died miserably. But the Bishop returned home with joy and thankfulness.
Here it is to be noted that a privilege granted to one does not construe a precedent for all, and the dispensation of the Pope in this case does not argue that it is lawful in all cases.
Nider in his Formicarius refers to the same master, for he says: The following method is sometimes employed for removing or taking vengeance for a spell of witchcraft. Someone who has been bewitched either in himself or in his possessions comes to a witch desiring to know how has injured him. Then the witch pours molten lead into water until, by the work of the devil, some image is formed by the solidified lead. On this, the witch asks his enemy to be hurt, so that he may recognize him by that hurt. And when he has chosen, the witch immediately pierces or wounds with a knife the leaden image in the same part, and shows him the place by which he can recognize the guilty person. And it is found by experience that, just in the same way as the leaden image is hurt, so is the witch hurt who cast the spell.
But of this sort of remedy I say, and of others like it, that generally they are unlawful; although human weakness, in the hope of obtaining pardon from God, is very often ensnared in such practices, being more careful for the health of the body than for that of the soul.
The second kind of cure which is wrought by witches who remove a spell again requires an expressed pact with the devil, but is not accompanied by any injury to another person. And in what light such witches should be considered, and how they are to be recognized, will be shown later in the fifteenth method of sentencing witches, for they are always found at intervals of one or two German miles, and these seem to be able to cure any who have been bewitched by another witch in their own district. Some of them claim to be able to effect such cures at all times; some that they can only cure those bewitched in the neighbouring signiory; others that they can only perform their cures with the consent of the witch who cast the original spell.
And it is known that these women have entered into an open pact with the devil, because they reveal secret matters to those who come to them to be cured. For they suddenly disclose to such a person the cause of his calamity, telling him that he has been bewitched either in his own person or in his possessions because of some quarrel he has had with a neighbour or with some other woman or man; and at times, in order to keep their criminal practices secret, they enjoin upon their clients some pilgrimage or other pious work. But to approach such women in order to be cured is all the more pernicious because they seem to bring greater contempt upon the Faith than others who effect their cures by means of a merely tacit compact with the devil.
For they who resort to such witches are thinking more of their bodily health than of God, and besides that, God cuts short their lives to punish them for taking into their own hands the vengeance for their wrongs. For so the Divine vengeance overtook Saul, because he first cast out of the land all magicians and wizards, and afterwards consulted a witch; wherefore he was slain in battle with his sons, I. Samuel xxviii, and I. Paralipomenon x. And for the same reason the sick Ochozias had to die, IV. Kings i (Ahaziah; II. Kings i. A.V.).
Also the who consult such witches are regarded as defamed, and cannot be allowed to bring an accusation, as will be shown in the Third Part; and they are by law to be sentenced to capital punishment, as was said in the First Question of this work.
But alas! O Lord God, Who art just in all Thy judgements, who shall deliver the poor who are bewitched and cry out in their ceaseless pains? For our sins are so great, and the enemy is so strong; and where are they who can undo the works of the devil by lawful exorcisms? This one remedy appears to be left; that judges should, by various penalties, keep such wickedness as far as possible in check by punishing the witches who are the cause of it; that so they may deprive the sick of the opportunity of consulting witches. But, alas! no one understands this in his heart; but they all seek for their own gain instead of that of JESUS Christ.
For so many people used to go to be freed from spells to that witch in Reichshofen, whom we have already mentioned, that the Count of the castle set up a toll-booth, and all who were bewitched in their own persons or in their possessions had to pay a penny before they could visit her house; and he boasted that he made a substantial profit by this means.
We know from experience that there are many such witches in the diocese of Constance: not that this diocese is more infected than others, since this form of infidelity is general in all dioceses; but this diocese has been more thoroughly sifted. It was found that daily resort was being made to a man named Hengst by a very large concourse of poor folk who had been bewitched, and with our own eyes we saw such crowds in the village of Eningen, that certainly the poor never flocked to any shrine of the Blessed Virgin, or to a Holy Well or a Hermitage, in such numbers as they went to that sorcerer. For in the very coldest winter weather, when all the highways and byways were snow-bound, they came to him from two or three miles round in spite of the greatest difficulties; and some were cured, but others not. For I suppose that all spells are not equally easy to remove, on account of various obstacles, as has been said before. And these witches remove spells by means of an open invocation of devils after the manner of the second kind of remedies, which are unlawful, but not to the same extent as the first kind.
The third kind of remedy is that which is wrought by means of certain superstitious ceremonies, but without any injury to anyone, and not by an overt witch. An example of this method is as follows:
A certain market merchant in the town of Spires deposed that the following experience had happened to him. I was staying, he said, in Swabia in a well-known nobleman’s castle, and one day after dinner I was strolling at my ease with two of the servants in the fields, when a woman met us. But while she was still a long way off my companions recognized her, and one of them said to me, “Cross yourself quickly,” and the other one urged me in like manner. I asked them what they feared, and they answered, “The most dangerous witch in the whole Province is coming to meet us, and she can cast a spell on men by only looking at them.” But I obstinately boasted that I had never been afraid of such; and hardly had I uttered the words before I felt myself grievously hurt in the left foot, so that I could not move it from the ground or take a step without the greatest pain. Whereupon they quickly sent to the castle for a horse for me, and thus led me back. But the pains went on increasing for three days.
The people of the castle, understanding that I had been bewitched, related what had happened to a certain peasant who lived about a mile away, whom they knew to have skill in removing spells. This man quickly came and, after examining my foot, said, “I will test whether these pains are due to a natural cause; and if I find that they are due to witchcraft, I will cure you with the help of God; but if they are not, you must have recourse to natural remedies.” Whereupon I made reply, “If I can be cured without any magic, and with the help of God, I will gladly agree; but I will have nothing to do with the devil, nor do I wish for his help.” And the peasant promised that he would use none except lawful means, and that he would cure me by the help of God, provided that he could make certain that my pains were due to witchcraft. So I consented to his proposals. Then he took molten lead (in the manner of another witch whom we have mentioned), and held it in an iron ladle over my foot, and poured it into a bowl of water; and immediately there appeared the shapes of various things, as if thorns and hairs and bones and such things had been put into the bowl. “Now,” he said, “I see that this infirmity is not natural, but certainly due to witchcraft.” And when I asked him how he could tell this from the molten lead, he answered, “There are seven metals belonging to the seven planets; and since Saturn is the Lord of lead, when lead is poured out over anyone who has been bewitched, it is his property to discover the witchcraft by his power. And so it has surely proved, and you will soon be cured; yet I must visit you for as many days as you have been under this spell.” And he asked me how many days had passed; and when I told him that was the third day, he came to see me on each of the next three days, and merely by examining and touching my foot and by saying over to himself certain words, he dissolved the charm and restored me to complete health.
In this case it is clear that the healer is not a witch, although his method is something superstitious. For in that he promised a cure by the help of God, and not by devils’ work, and that he alleged the influence of Saturn over lead, he was irreproachable and rather to be commended. But there remains some small doubt as to the power by which the witch’s spell was removed, and the figures caused in the lead. For no witchcraft can be removed by any natural power, although it may be assuaged, as will be proved later where we speak of the remedies for those who are possessed: therefore it seems that he performed this cure by means of at least some tacit pact with a devil. And we call such a pact tacit when the practitioner agrees tacitly, at any rate, to employ the devil’s aid. And in this way many superstitious works are done, but with a varying degree of offence to the Creator, since there may be far more offence to Him in one operation than in another.
Yet because this peasant was certain of effecting a cure, and because he had to visit the patient for as many days as he had been ill, and although he used no natural remedies, yet cured him according to the promise made; for these reasons, although he had entered into no open pact with the devil, he is to be judged not only as a suspect, but as one plainly guilty of heresy, and must be considered as convicted and subject at least to the penalties set out below in the second method of sentencing; but his punishment must be accompanied with a solemn adjuration, unless he is protected by other laws which seem to be of a contrary intention; and what the Ordinary should do in such a case will be shown later in the solution of the arguments.
The fourth class of remedies, concerning which the Canonists are in partial agreement with some of the Theologians, is said to be no worse than idle and vain; since it is superstitious only, and there is no pact either open or tacit with the devil as regards the intention or purpose of the practitioner. And I say that the Canonists and some Theologians are only partially agreed that this sort of remedy is to be tolerated; for their agreement or non-agreement depends upon whether or not they class this sort of remedies together with the third sort. But this sort of vain remedy is exemplified above in the case of the women who beat the pail hung over the fire in order that the witch may be beaten who has caused a cow to be drained of milk; although this may be done either in the name of the devil or without any reference to him.
We may adduce other examples of the same kind. For sometimes when a cow has been injured in this way, and they wish to discover who has bewitched it, they drive it out into the fields with a man’s trousers, or some unclean thing, upon its head or back. And this they do chiefly on Feast Days and Holy Days, and possibly with some sort of invocation of the devil; and they beat the cow with a stick and drive it away. Then the cow runs straight to the house of the witch, and beats vehemently upon the door with its horns, lowing loudly all the while; and the devil causes the cow to go on doing this until it is pacified by some other witchcraft.
Actually, and according to the aforesaid Doctors, such remedies can be tolerated, but they are not meritorious, as some try to maintain. For S. Paul says that everything which we do, in word or deed, must be done in the name of Our Lord JESUS Christ. Now in this sort of remedy there may be no direct invocation of the devil, and yet the devil’s name may be mentioned: and again there may be no intention to do such things by means of any open or tacit pact with the devil, yet a man may say, “I wish to do this, whether the devil has any part in it or not”; and that very temerity, by putting aside the fear of God, offends God, Who therefore grants the devil power to accomplish such cures. Therefore they who use such practices must be led into the way of penitence, and urged to leave such things and turn rather to the remedies of which we shall speak later, though we have touched upon them before, namely, the use of Holy Water and Blessed Salt and exorcisms, etc.
In the same light should be regarded those who use the following method. When an animal has been killed by witchcraft, and they wish to find out the witch, or to make certain whether its death was natural or due to witchcraft, they go to the place where dead animals are skinned, and drag the intestines along the ground up to their house; not into the house through the main door, but over the threshold of the back entrance into the kitchen; and then they make a fire and put the intestines over it on a hurdle. Then, according to what we have very often been told, just as the intestines get hot and burn, so are the intestines of the witch afflicted with burning pains. But when they perform this experiment they take great care that the door is securely locked; because the witch is compelled by her pains to try to enter the house, and if she can take a coal from the fire, all her pains will disappear. And we have often been told that, when she is unable to enter the house, she surrounds it inside and out with the densest fog, with such horrible shrieks and commotions that at last all those in the house think the roof is verily going to fall down and crush them unless they open the door.
Certain other experiments are of the same nature. For sometimes people pick out the witches from a number of women in church by causing the witches to be unable to leave the church without their permission, even after the service is finished. And they do it in this way. On a Sunday they smear the shoes of the young men with grease, lard or pigs’ fat, as is their wont when they wish to repair and renew the freshness of the leather, and thus the juvenals enter the church, whence it is impossible for any witches who are present to make their way out or depart until those who are anxious to espy them either go away themselves or give them express leave to make their way to their homes (see note).
It is the same with certain words, which it is not expedient to mention lest anyone should be seduced by the devil to use them. For judges and magistrates should not attach too much weight to the evidence of those who pretend to discover witches by this means, for fear lest the devil, that wily enemy, should induce them under this pretext to defame innocent women. Therefore such persons must be enjoined to seek the remedy of penitence. However, practices of this kind are on occasion to be tolerated and allowed.
In this way we have answered the arguments that no spell of witchcraft must be removed. For the first two remedies are altogether unlawful. The third remedy is tolerated by the law, but needs very careful examination on the part of the ecclesiastical judge. And what the civil law tolerates is shown in the chapter on witches, where it is said that those who have skill to prevent men’s labours from being vitiated by tempests and hailstorms are worthy, not of punishment, but of reward. S. Antoninus also, in his Summa, points out this discrepancy between the Canon Law and civil law. Therefore it seems that the civil law concedes the legality of such practices for the preservation of crops and cattle, and that in any event certain men who use such arts are not only to be tolerated but even rewarded. Wherefore the ecclesiastical judge must take particular note whether the methods used in counteraction of hailstorms and tempests are within the spirit of the law, or whether they are in any way superstitious; and then, if no scandal to the Faith is involved, they can be tolerated. But actually this does not belong to the third method, but to the fourth, and also to the fifth, of which we shall speak later in the following chapters, where we deal with the ecclesiastical and lawful remedies, with which are sometimes included certain superstitious practices belonging to the fourth method.