Witches and the Inquisition

So, I know there isn’t really such a thing as “the Inquisition”, rather there are separate ones such as the Spanish, the Portuguese, the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition and many little ones, but not a giant, evil, looming institution that had offices in every town.

I have read a bit on the Spanish Inquisition, especially by Thomas F. Madden, and a lot of my misunderstandings have been cleared up. Thus, I can address attacks on the Church from that angle, however, I find myself tongue-tied with regards to the role of inquisitors in the witch hunts.

In the May 2014 edition of the infamous Awake magazine, there is an article entitled “The European Witch Hunts”, which treats the subject in a very abstract way, but which prompts some questions none the less. I should like to quote a few excerpts, pose questions related to them and then invite comments on every one of them.

“Looming large in this story is the Inquisition. It was created by the Roman Catholic Church in the 13th century “to convert apostates and prevent others from falling away,” explains the book Der Hexenwahn (The Witch Mania). The Inquisition functioned as a police force for the church.”

Q: Is that an accurate definition of Inquisition in this context? It wouldn’t be in the Spanish one, but what about witches?

“On December 5, 1484, Pope Innocent VIII issued a papal bull, or document, that condemned witchcraft. He also authorized two inquisitors​ — Jakob Sprenger and Heinrich Kramer (also known by his Latin name, Henricus Institoris) —​ to combat the problem.”

Q: What exactly was the role of Pope Innocent VIII’s Bull? Did it represent endorsement of the Malleus Maleficarum? Was the burning of witches in accord with this document?

“In response to The Hammer of Witches and the papal bull issued by Pope Innocent VIII, major witch hunts broke out in Europe.”

Q: Is that correct, or were the real witch hunts (the non-secular ones) predominantly before that time?

“What does that ugly era teach us? One key lesson is this: When professed Christians began to substitute religious lies and superstition for the pure teachings of Jesus Christ, they opened the door to enormous evil.”

Any comments?

In addition, is it legitimate to speak of “The Church” inflicting witch hunts, or “The Church” endorsing such trials? I ask this, since it does seem a bit hypocritical to say “The Church did all these good things: Universities, hospitals, etc.” when it was really many individuals, unless there was official ecclesiastical teaching or conciliar pronouncement to do so. But then on the other hand to say “Yeah, that was a bad Pope who issued that bull, but it wasn’t ‘The Church’”. :shrug:

Heinrich Kramer was kicked out of his diocese by his bishop as a dotty old man. Jakob Sprenger became associated with Kramer’s book about witchcraft at Kramer’s request to lead it some credence. It is debatable if Sprenger even sat on any witch trials; and it is said he made Kramer’s life more difficult. Summis desiderantes affectibus is most likely a political document with the intent to wrestle some authority towards Rome. But it didn’t work and Kramer, the bishop still thought he was a dotty old man and Sprenger didn’t defend him, subsequently retired and wrote his book Malleus Maleficarum, trying to prove that witchcraft actually existed, which was published in 1487.

All this happened in Germany by the way.

None of this has anything to do with Wicca by the way, which is a hodgepodge of pagan beliefs and invented last century.

First things first:

Having been a Jehovah’s Witness for some years and holding a position among their teaching authority before I left, I need to warn you about what you are reading. The Governing Body of the Jehovah’s Witnesses assigns a writing committee, usually made up of themselves, and selects writers and researchers to compose the material you have just read from a group of non-professionals. Except for their attorneys who both work and live at their Wallkill, NY offices, there are no college-educated workers among them.

The publications are not written by or checked for accuracy with academics. There are no scholars of any type among their numbers. Quotes from specialists and scholars are generally made along the lines of the logical fallacy known as “argument from authority.” On top of this they are now counting each and every IP ping and visit to their new website (where one can read their literature these days) as signs of “achievement” and point to the numbers as “proof” of God blessing their new Internet ministry.

The information in Awake! is highly inaccurate. The “witch-hunts” of Europe were not inspired or commanded by the Church. The Council of Paderborn (785 AD), for example, made punishable by law not only the belief that witchcraft existed but allowed the secular authorities to exercise capital punishment for self-appointed witch-hunters who had caused the death of persons due to their “witch-hunt” activities.

All other events in history regarding “witches” developed due to people disregarding the Church’s stand and the desire of some to label personal enemies as “witches” in order to ruin them publicly or subject them to “mob justice.” This disregard grew to a height in Europe during the 15th century.

Malleus Maleficarum was published in 1486 by Heinrich Kramer, a German Catholic clergyman, But just three years after it was published the Church condemned it as heretical. It was even banned from use as evidence by the Spanish Inquisition. There was no connection between this publication and the Holy See.

Watchtower publications are designed and heavily prayed over by Watchtower staff and their Governing Body for the purpose of undermining belief in anything but the religion of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The issues raised in their magazines are meant to stir up debate about subjects of the Governing Body’s choosing in order to get one, among other things, to spend less time studying and practicing their own religion.

The Governing Body wants you to have questions they design. They actually count on non-believers reading their materials in order to raise interest in the subject matter of their publications in the hopes that others hearing about any controversy they raise might say: “I want to read that issue of Awake! and look and see what this is all about for myself.”

In other words they are getting you to do some of their witnessing work for them. You are free to do what you choose, but don’t underestimate what propaganda (and that is what their publications are) is meant to do.

A lot of people like to talk about the witch hunts as religion gone wild.

That’s actually a myth.

Witch hunts became more prominent during the Reformation. And during this time there was a lot of confusion about religion. What’s the difference between a Catholic and a Lutheran? Most people didn’t know. They only knew that the other guy was evil.

Thus came the witch hunts.

The big question everybody has in the modern day is “How could this happen?”

There are several reasons. Firstly witch hunts were a great way to get rid of political enemies. Simply accuse your enemy of consorting with the Devil and you can get rid of him. Better yet, you can torture the accused in all manner of ways.

Another reason is that witch hunts were big business. Victims often had to pay for their own imprisonment, torture, execution and even had to pay for the party for the judges the night before being executed!

Another reason is that public executions were big entertainment. In a land where everyone was a farmer with no TV or internet who couldn’t read, what better way to spend an afternoon than by watching someone die?

Although everyone always talks about the Spanish Inquisition, some of the most heinous and notorious witch trials come from protestant lands. The Salem Witch Trials in the United States for example.

Although modern people look down on the witch hunters, you can see a lot of the same things going on today. Consider the fight over global warming. One side is calling for completely ostracizing the other - politically and in daily life.

Look at how people use Twitter and Facebook and Youtube - they make all kinds of absurd accusations.

The Homosexual movement is very belligerent, hostile and aggressive towards anyone who even sounds skeptical of the gay agenda.

And the list goes on and on.

In short: the witch trials although masked in religious intentions had very little to do with religion.

Indeed, but the devil will tell you a hundred truths to get you to believe one lie. That’s why I ask for refutations or clarification. :slight_smile:

Especially as regards their version of the Bible.

I’m probably spiking them. :eek:

Wow! I didn’t know that. :slight_smile:

Is that why the Papal Bull is considered of political nature?

Is there a reference for that, where it was condemned?

I understood your words “holding a position among their teaching authority” as “I worked at the Watchtower in Brooklyn”, is that correct? Wait, they pray that it undermines belief in other religions?

Which, I suppose, isn’t in itself bad, as long as the reader does proper research. That’s why I’m posting the thread. I take everything they publish with a truck load of salt, yet I like to use that as a way to learn more about my own faith. :slight_smile:

Another good book to recommend on the subject is Edward Peters, Inquisition. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989.

In the May 2014 edition of the infamous Awake magazine, there is an article entitled “The European Witch Hunts”, which treats the subject in a very abstract way, but which prompts some questions none the less. I should like to quote a few excerpts, pose questions related to them and then invite comments on every one of them.

“Looming large in this story is the Inquisition. It was created by the Roman Catholic Church in the 13th century “to convert apostates and prevent others from falling away,” explains the book Der Hexenwahn (The Witch Mania). The Inquisition functioned as a police force for the church.”


Is that an accurate definition of Inquisition in this context? It wouldn’t be in the Spanish one, but what about witches?

Here’s what actual historians, not bigoted hacks, have to say.

Robin Briggs, an Oxford historian, also observes that in Catholic countries, regarding the Inquisition, “the overall effect [on the witchcraft trials] was to inhibit local abuses and discourage large-scale persecution.” [Robin Briggs, [URL=“http://www.amazon.com/Witches-Neighbours-Cultural-European-Witchcraft/dp/0631233253/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1393698715&sr=8-1&keywords=Witches+and+Neighbours%3A+The+Social+and+Cultural+Context+of+European+Witchcraft”]Witches and Neighbors (NY: Penguin Books, 1996, pp. 335-36]

The same observation is made by Oxford Professor of History Diarmaid MacCulloch: “One should not fall into the old stereotype [regarding the Spanish Inquisition] of an organization that kept its place in Spanish society by sheer terror. Certainly the Inquisition used torture and executed some of its victims, but so did nearly all legal systems in Europe at the time, and it is possible to argue that the Spanish Inquisition was less bloodthirsty than most—as we shall see, it showed a healthy skepticism about witches and put a stop to witch-persecutions where it could. (p. 421) . . . Finally it is worth considering the two areas [Ireland and Iberia] of Catholic Europe which did not opt in to the witch-craze. . . . It is possible that on the Catholic side, the Catholic Irish clergy’s strong links with Iberia were significant, because Counter-Reformation Spain and Portugal stand out as the second region where witchcraft persecutions were positively discouraged by the Church authorities. . . . In the Iberian case, the unlikely heroes of this self-denial were the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions." (p. 574)
[Diarmaid MacCulloch, [URL=“http://www.amazon.com/The-Reformation-Diarmaid-MacCulloch/dp/014303538X/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1393698739&sr=8-3&keywords=Diarmaid+MacCulloch”]The Reformation: A History, New York: Penguin Books, 2003]

“The relative scarcity of executions for heresy by the lone truly clerically run institution of this group, the Roman Inquisition–under 2% of the provisional totals–points toward the generalization that heresy executions became a form of state-building in Reformation Europe. . . . If there is one constant motif running through the history of heresy executions in Reformation Europe it is the complete failure of old fashioned ecclesiastical institutions to frighten dissenters. . . .
None of these systems–certainly not the Roman Inquisition . . . or the still-unruffled Spanish Inquisition–accounted for very large numbers of Protestant victims between 1530 and 1554.”
[Ole Peter Grell & Bob Scribner, eds. [URL=“http://www.amazon.com/Tolerance-Intolerance-European-Reformation-Peter/dp/0521894123/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1393699110&sr=8-1&keywords=Tolerance+and+intolerance+in+the+European+Reformation”]Tolerance and intolerance in the European Reformation. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996, pp. 49-50, 54]

Q: What exactly was the role of Pope Innocent VIII’s Bull? Did it represent endorsement of the Malleus Maleficarum? Was the burning of witches in accord with this document?

Don’t know much about this.

Q: Is that correct, or were the real witch hunts (the non-secular ones) predominantly before that time?

“What does that ugly era teach us? One key lesson is this: When professed Christians began to substitute religious lies and superstition for the pure teachings of Jesus Christ, they opened the door to enormous evil.”

[quote]Any comments?


The witch hunts and trials were just as much in Protestant as Catholic countries. I don’t know whether the article mentioned this. Again Briggs:
“[T]he religious schism opened up by the Reformation did not have to imply any obvious division of opinion about witchcraft. Partisan scholars have spent much ink trying to demonstrate that either the Catholics or the Protestants were the real witch hunters, with remarkably little success. The more we know about local patterns of persecution, the harder it becomes to see confessional divisions as playing anything more than a marginal role.” (Briggs, 100)

The most conservative estimates (limiting analysis to the most active areas, i.e., parts of present-day France, Germany, and Switzerland) place the number executed between 40,000 and 50,000 occurring mostly from 1550 to 1630. (Briggs, 260) There were both Protestant and Catholic sections in these countries.

It sounds like you are approaching this from someone who is taking what they have read from Watchtower literature as worth the time to refute. It isn’t.

First of all a “papal bull” is nothing more but a letter of communication from a pope, and the one in question is known as “Summis desiderantes affectibus.” In it Pope Innocent VIII gave answer to Heinrich Kramer, an inquisitor who was seeking authority to prosecute people he believed to be witches and practitioners of magic. The bull dictates that such authority is given provided the person fit the description the bull then offered as definitions for what would have to be in evidence for someone to be considered guilty of such a crime.

Kramer, who had been refused assistance by the local ecclesiastical authorities, was obviously already slipping into a heretical mindset in what appears to have been a personal obsession he had with hunting down and punishing people he believed were sorcerers and witches. Because the bull could not be enforced against anyone without evidence to support Kramer’s claim (a likely reason for Pope Innocent VIII issuing his answer to Kramer as a bull since bulls were for public reading), no support for his activity was forthcoming.

Without being able to go after the people he wanted to in the manner he wished, Kramer would then retire from his position as inquisitor and wrote the now heretical Malleus Maleficarum.

There are many references to this information. Just Google any of this information and you will find what you are looking for as it is basic religious history.

Regardless of my position of authority in the past, I am quite worried as to what would cause you to read into my statement that I worked at the Watchtower in Brooklyn. I never did.

In my humble opinion I think time would be better spent praying the Liturgy of the Hours, spending an hour of silence before the Holy Eucharist, or physically ministering to the poor, the lonely, the sick…even participating in some recreation before taking time to read through Watchtower publications. If you are looking to refute what they say, it won’t succeed. The JWs label anyone who refutes their word as a minion of Satan, and they don’t give much credence to worshipers of the devil.

Here is a long article on the Inquisition from the old Catholic Encyclopedia.


By the way, you also mentioned learning more about the Spanish Inquisition from the writings of Thomas F. Madden. If I am not mistaken, Madden has written extensively on the subject of the Crusades. While in so doing he may have touched on the Spanish Inquisition, he has no books on that particular subject and the Crusades have nothing to do with the Spanish Inquisition.

The Spanish Inquisition has a lot to do with my family history however. We are of Sephardic (Jewish) heritage, and my mother tongue is Ladino (also known as Judeo-Spanish) which I grew up speaking.

While some have tried to make the Spanish Inquisition sound like it was an outright attack by the Roman Catholic Church upon Protestants, the truth of the matter is that it was an attack by the crown of Spain upon the Jews (many Muslims suffered as well). It was a misuse by Spain of the judicial system used by the Church to combat heresy. In the name of the Inquisition the Spanish authorities of the time legalized pogroms to force Jews and Muslims out of the country.

The anti-semitic fervor in Spain was very violent, but to give it a more religious motive the actions taken against the “undesirables” was to force conversion to Catholicism. While this may have been a way to offer protection by some Catholics who found the violence unsettling, some historians suggest it was a means abused to mark Jews for removal from the country.

While it is different today, Jews of the time were expected to lose all ethnic connections upon conversion. Any Jews who had not assimilated by immediately replacing their culture in favor of Spanish Catholic customs could be technically targeted on the charge of apostasy, even though the “apostasy” could have been something as simple as refusing to eat pork. Such apostasy was dealt with by tribunals which often ended in torture and death.

Eventually came an ultimatum in which all the Jews in the country were given the choice of being expelled from Spain or face the tribunal. All who did not want to face the tribunal were forced to leave the country in 1492. Even though there was clerical involvement in these procedures, the Spanish Inquisition was carried out independent of the Holy See.

Not all Jews who faced tribunal were Catholic converts who, according to charges, were secretly practicing Judaism. According to my family’s history on my father’s side, some of ancestors became Christians in Jerusalem during the time of the apostles. They ended up being persecuted and eventually forced to leave Spain merely because they were Hebrew. The last name I carried was actually given us during this time in an effort to Christianize us (it has since been changed). My mother’s side of the family faced an even worse fate as there are many documents from this era with names of my ancestors who faced the tribunal and its many horrors.

While one cannot attribute these events to the entire Catholic faithful of the past or today (after all it was happening in Spain not the world, which is why it is called the “Spanish” Inquisition), the Catholic Church still officially recognizes its failure in the matter. It is with her help that my family was able to fully trace our family history, including those dark days of the Spanish Inquisition. Two years ago the government of Spain extended an invitation to both sides of my family to take advantage of their Law of Return. My family, members of which have been Catholic likely before any Gentiles, has not rejected our faith in Mother Church. On the contrary, we are still here, still of the seed of Abraham, still able to claim our place as both Christian and Jewish despite all that has occurred.

In the face of this, religions like the Jehovah’s WItnesses have no authority to pass judgment on what may or may not have occurred during the Spanish Inquisition. They not only do a horrible job at getting the facts straight, they reach and publish conclusions which for the most part do not involve them. They are neither Jewish or Catholic. Most of them have no direct knowledge of or any connection to these events like we do. And unlike the Catholic Church and her faithful who to this day acknowledge the faults of the past, the Witnesses do not readily admit to their most horrible failures as they should. They make mention of the Spanish Inquisition without mind, heart, and without mercy. If my family can forgive and remain faithful members of the Church despite all that has happened, they have no business being critical about it.

Besides, the Witnesses claim that all the persecution that has come upon my people the Jews, including the Spanish Inquisition and the Holocaust (both of which I have lost family to), that all this happened because my people are blood guilty. The JWs teach that we are blood guilty for the death of Christ and that we deserve all that has happened to us up till now. Why should anyone want to read anything that comes from a group of people who believe detestable things like that?

Italian historian Rino Cammilleri says, “When almost all of northern Europe – and particularly Protestant Europe –- was hunting witches, that phenomenon was non-existent in Spain.”

However, there were 30,000 women in Britain and 100,000 in Germany burnt as witches, not by any Inquisition! [William Thomas Walsh, *Isabella of Spain, 1930].

As noted scientist and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead remarked, in an age that saw a large number of “witches” subjected to torture and execution by Protestants in New England, “the worst that happened to the men of science was that Galileo suffered an honorable detention and a mild reproof.” [Alfred North Whitehead, *Science and the Modern World (New York: New American Library, 1963), p. 10].

Indeed. He does have an article or two on the Inquisition as well. I think I read it at CatholicCulture.org. By no means do I consider my reading in-depth study, but that bit of reading did help a lot to understand the basics.

Wow, I didn’t know that either. Sounds quite like anti-semitism to me. From a religion that claims to be so loving towards all people.

I’ve studied into this area of history quite a bit both as an interested pagan and in studying the history of demonoligy and exorcism. There are people who will defend the church and even the inquisition itself in this area, aswell as modern witches and anti christians (usualy athiests) who make outragious claims about this part of history. From what I have read the truth seams to be somewhere in the middle.

At this time Europe was going through severe social upheaval, with the dawn of the renescance, the reconquesta in Spain, and the Protestant reformation making for an extreamly complex period in history. The various inquesitions are, in my oppinion unjustifiable for persecuting persons for their faith, however in historically accurate terms very few of the people burnt or hung as witches were infact involved in any sort of witchcraft.

There were, generally speeking, three sorts of witchcraft trials durring this period.

The first was a result of local politics, with the inquesition and religious authority used as a tool to seek revenge and settle personal scores. The example that imediately comes to mind is of a corrupt priest in France who was hung as a witch. He had earned the ire of a local magistrate by seducing, impregnating, and then leaving his daughter. Afterwards he offended the leader of a local convent by spurning her own romantic advances. The nuns staged a series of fake posessions which they atributed to the priest and he was hung by the magistrate. Of course instances like this did not involve real witchcraft.

The second are a result of the struggle between Catholicism and Protestantism for the faith of people in France and southern Germany, with both sides attempting to use exorcism and witch trials to establish moral authority over the other and win the faith of the people. Another case occurring in France was that of a small boy possesed by demons (he later recanted his claims) who’s Lutheran grandfather was blamed and exicuted. Again such cases don’t involve real witchcraft.

The third and rarest kind is that which may actualy involve witchcraft. Northern Europe, particularly Germany, had retained pagan custom and belief in custom and folklore and there were often individuals in the more remote areas who still practiced older customs or herbal medicine. When disease or famine or apparent posessions beset a area these people were often blamed and tried by local authority’s or inquisitioners. Wile not all were witches and there was no vast witch conspiracy or organized religion as inquisitioners and modern authors have claimed respectively, there are some who can truly be stated to have been witches.

Ultimately though the main focus of the inquisition was on religious heretics, Jews, and Muslims. The famous Spanish Inquisition did hold the first renescance witch trials and start many of the common accusations leveled at witches such as demonic orgys and child sacrifice, but its focus eventually moved to the persecution of Jews and Moors and most witch trials took place in France and Germanic Europe where the reformation was strongest.

Durring this period there were just over 30 individuals who were killed by express order of the pope but they were Christian heretics mostly concerned with a more Panthiestic view of god.

If you would like i can get out my books and look up the name and dates associated with my examples, I can’t recall them off the top of my head.

Thanks for your input, Skadi.

As noted above, many of my ancestors suffered the persecution of the Spanish Inquisition. There is an actual paper trail with the names of my relatives to support the family oral history of our time in Spain as Sephardi Jews. My last name that I now have and my mother tongue, Ladino, all come from this deep connection I have with the era. In fact Spain’s recent announcement of a Law of Return applies to me and my living relatives due to this connection.

From what I’ve learned from an almost 20-year study on my family’s origins does agree with much you have written. There were by some historian accounts very few Protestants the target of these persecutions, and likely no actual “witches” in the theological sense of the word–merely people accused of such. Muslims and Jews were the main targets, and many historians agree this had little to do with heresy. Members of my family had been Christians of Hebrew origin since the time of the apostles, and yet we were persecuted and forced to leave Europe.

Of course this did not make my family turn away from a faith in God or result in leaving our religion, which is what the Jehovah’s Witness propaganda which CutlerB is discussing in this thread is getting at. The subject matter is not regarding the Church’s own views regarding the Inquisition but about abandoning** all convictions** outside of the Watchtower due to events such as this one.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses see the Spanish Inquisition, witch-hunts, and even atheism as being one and the same, namely a product of a non-Jehovah’s Witness world. Their solution? Become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Their judgment: If you don’t, you deserve what happens to you like inquisitions, witch-hunts, and the evils of communism (which they attribute to atheism). To the JW, atheists might as well be Catholics or Jews or Satanists. I know this because I used to be one of them. Nothing that isn’t them is good or right or acceptable.

Absolutely true. This carefully fostered JW attitude is a rather ingenious method of insulating your followers from outside influence. If you believe everything non-JW is of Satan no logic or arguement can sway you, you will stand firm no mattr how defeated your arguement is because that Non-JW arguement is of Satan.

And unfortunately they are spreading, I grew up in a area that has been Catholic extreamly sense it was settled by the Germans and Irish 180 years ago, and the JWs are slowly creeping in, some even move to new towns to get congregations started. You can literally see the slow crawl southwest on the map as they cross the river from Wisconsin.

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