HSTEU205 Handout #3
CONCERNING EARLY MEDIEVAL WITCH BELIEFS
These excerpts (also reverse side) will be the basis of first short paper.
See Syllabus for paper instructions, to be discussed in class.
I. SECULAR LEGISLATION ABOUT WITCHES:
A. Late Roman Imperial Law, from Theodosian Code, 4th C. AD
who perform maleficia, incantations or raising storms, or those who disturb
the minds of
men through the invocation of demons, should be punished by every sort of penalty." (including
capital penalty for the crime of honoring or invoking demons)
B. Barbarian Legal Codes: ["Barbarian" = Greek word for foreigner, basically Germans]
Law, France, 6th C. (see Cohn, p. 164)
"If a stria eats a man and is put on trial, she shall be sentenced and condemned to pay 8,000
denarii, 200 solidi.
any person shall call a free woman a stria or an evil one, and shall
fail to prove it, they shall
themselves be arraigned and fined 7,500 denarii, which are 187 solidi."
one man shall call another hereburgium and accuses him of having carried
a cauldron to the
place where the striae meet, and shall be unable to prove it, let him be arraigned himself &
condemned to pay a fine of 2,500 denaril."
Code of King Rothar, Italy, 643 AD (see Cohn, p. 164)
"Let nobody presume to kill a foreign serving maid or female slave as a striga or masca, because
it is not possible, nor ought it to be at all believed by Christian minds that a woman can eat a
living man up from within. If anyone presumes to perpetrate such an illegal and impious act, he
shall pay 60 solidi as compensation according to her status, and moreover, he shall pay 100
solidi in addition for the guilt, half to the king and half to him those servant she was....If indeed a
judge has ordered him to perpetrate this evil act, the judge shall pay compensation as above."
Charlemagne’s Capitulary for the Saxons (Cohn, 164)
“If anyone, deceived by the Devil, Shall believe, as is cusomary amongst pagans, that any man
or woman is a striga and eats men, and shall on that account burn that person to death or eat
his or her flesh, or give it to others to eat, he shall be executed.”
of Charles the Bald, France, 873 (against sorcerers
& witches for murder)
"We expressly recommend the lords of the realm to seek out and apprehend with the greatest
possible diligence those who are guilty of these crimes in their respective countries. If they are
convicted, and if the testimony against them is not sufficient to prove their guilt, they shall be
submitted to the will of God [i.e. trial by ordeal]. This shatll decide whether they are to be
pardoned or condemned and put to death, so that all knowledge of such heinous crimes may
vanish from our dominions.
II. CHURCH LEGISLATION ABOUT WITCH BELIEFS IN CANON LAW & PENITENTIAL CANONS:
Episcopi, circa 906 AD
(see text in Kors & Peters, pp.60-63)
Important text on Church’s attitude to belief in nightflying with Diana;
later included in Gratian’s Decretum (1140), compilation of canon law
Rusticorum [Corrector of Rustics] Bishop
Burchard of Worms,
(see short excerpt in Cohn, p. 165: Germany, 11th C.
longer except in K&P pp. 63-67, especially paragraph 170, p. 67)
Important text on church’s attitude to
belief in nightflying, flesh-eating bird woman called,
in Latin strix, [plural strigae], and in Italian strega [plural streghe]; both translated witch,
note this is only one version of what witches do, and different from flying with Diana
POPE GREGORY THE GREAT, early 7th C.
Policy of conversion to Christianity by gradual & assimilationist methods:
Bede, History of the English Church and People [Penguin edition, 1981]
Bk I Ch 30 Pope Gregory’s Letter to Abbot Mellitus in Britain 601 AD:
our well loved son Abbot Mellitus: [Pope] Gregory, servant of the servants of
by God's help you reach our most reverend brother, Bishop Augustine, [*] we wish you to inform
him that we have been giving careful thought to the affairs of the English and have come to the
conclusion that temples of idols among that people should on no account be destroyed. The
idols are to be destroyed, but the temples themselves are to be aspersed with holy water, altars
set up in them and relics deposited there. For if these temples are well built, they must be
purified from the worship of demons and dedicated to the service of the true God. In this way,
we hope that the people, seeing that their temples are not destroyed, may abandon their error
and flocking more readily to their accustomed places, may come to know and adore the true God.
[*NOT earlier 5th C. theologian, Bishop Augustine of Hippo, but a later missionary to the English.]
they have a custom of sacrificing many oxen to demons, let some other solemnity
substituted in its place, such as a day of Dedication or the Festivals of the holy martyrs whose
relics are enshrined there.... They are no longer to sacrifice beasts to the Devil, but they may
kill them for food to the praise of God and give thanks to the Giver of all gifts for the plenty they
enjoy. If the people are allowed some worldly pleasures in this way, they will more readily come
to desire the joys of the spirit. For it is certainly impossible to eradicate all errors from obstinate
minds at one stroke, and whoever wishes to climb to a mountain top climbs gradually step by step
and not in one leap.... For while they offer the same beasts as before, they offer them to God
instead of to idols, so that they would no longer be offering the same sacrifices.
kindness you are to inform our brother Augustine of this policy, so that he
how he may best implement it on the spot."]