HSTEU305 Week 2
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
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, refers basically to Germans]
Salic Law, France, 6th C. (see Cohn, p. 164)
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."
"If a stria eats a man and is put on trial, she shall be sentenced and condemned to pay 8,000 denarii, or 200 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
Lombard Code of King Rothar, Italy, 643 AD (see Cohn, p. 164)
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, then the
judge shall pay compensation according as above."
he who possesses the guardianship of a free girl or woman (with the exception
of her father or brother)
unjustly accuses her of being a striga or a masca, he shall lose her guardianship and she shall have the right
to choose whether she wishes to return to her relatives or to commend herself to the court of the king, who
will then have her guardianship in his control."
789 Charlemagne’s Capitulary for the Saxons (Cohn, 164)
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.”
Decree of Charles the Bald, France, 873 (against sorcerers & witches for murder)
recommend the lords of the realm to seek out and apprehend with the greatest
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 shall 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."
LEGISLATION ABOUT WITCH BELIEFS IN CANON LAW &
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.
III. 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:
"To our well
loved son Abbot Mellitus: [Pope] Gregory, servant of the servants of God. ...When
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.
[* Note: This is NOT the earlier 5th C. theologian, Bishop Augustine of Hippo, but a later missionary to the English.]
Since they have
a custom of sacrificing many oxen to demons, let some other solemnity be substituted
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. Of your kindness you are to inform our brother
Augustine of this policy, so that he may consider how he may best implement it on the spot."