- Religion and Philosophy
A Look At Mankind's Greatest Monsters, The Witch Hunters of Western Europe
The Greatest Monster
Mankind has created it's fair share of monsters in it's day. Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolfman really stand out among those creatures that have danced out of our imagination and into our nightmares. These monsters don't even compare to the monsters that roamed the countrysides in the 15th, 16th, and early 17th centuries. These monsters did not find their birth from the imagination or creative nature of society. They were brought into this world by a mother and a father, just the same as you or i. These monsters exhibited more depravity, obsession, and lust than any we could create. Serial killers, rapists, and even terrorist hold no candle to mankind's greatest monsters, the Witchhunters.
Western Europes bounty hunters
The 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries were centuries of learning and growth for the human race. Unfortunately they were also centuries of mass paranoia and fear. A group of distinguished "men of God" would see to it that the laws of the Bible were enforced with a stern hand and an even darker heart. The tragedy this brotherhood created was one that even Shakespeare would have had difficulty putting onto paper. These savage souls would scan the countryside in hopes of finding one accused of being a witch. Practising witchcraft was a sin punishable by death.
The death for a witch in those days was not has easy going as the murderers we execute today. Sometimes it would take these barbaric men hours, or even days to lay one witch to rest. Their torture hoped to coerce a confession. Upon confessing you would be killed in a cruel and callus fashion. Sadly even if you did not confess the torture usually killed you. There was a no win situation once the hunters came your way.
The torture of a witch would make even the most hardened Nazi war general flinch in disbelief. Hot oil poured into the ears, or fingers and toes crushed in vices. These were just a few of the ways the legendary witch hunters would get their confession. An accusation almost certainly meant you would find your fate looking into the eyes of one of the hunters has he scolded and tortured you until you had nothing left. No one was safe from the persecution.
The Book Itself
The Witch Hunter's Bible
The ruthless hunters relied on one text to guide their weary blades and fuel the desire to see witches brought to the judgement of God. The Malleus Maleficarum or Hammer of Witches. This text became the Bible to some of these cruel men. It was written and produced in 1486 by 2 fanatical Dominican priest. In it's pages acts so unspeakable and vile were described in clear detail. The writers of this horrid volume saw no torture as to extreme if it gave a witch to the Lord.
This sinister tomb of knowledge at one point had a following that was bewildering. It's devoted readers hung on every word, looking at it as more than a book, but a way of life. They would dedicate their lives and fortunes to the pursuit of those who had made a deal with the devil to cast powerful magics.
The witch hunters prided theirselves on divine judgement and a divine calling that God had made for them. I have trouble associating God with the murder of innocent people, but then again this was a different time.
Will true evil step forward
As with any group there will be those who stand out among the crowd. The ones who show more heart and better quality. This group was no different and it had it's far share of those who seemed to rise above the crowd. Jean Bodin (1529-1596) was one of those stand outs.
Bodin would become the most famous and most feared of the witch hunters. he was both a lawyer and a philosopher so people tended to listen to every word he spoke and view them as truth. It was Bodin who was credited with the first "legal" definition of a witch. "Someone who, Knowing God's laws. tries to bring about some act through an agreement with the devil"
Few witch hunters could capture the intelligence of Jean Bodin, and even fewer could match his cruelty. His violence was unbridled and he aimed it at every individual who would be so unfortunate to have the term witch cast at them. His complete existence strived on the execution of the accused.
He personally tortured and killed young children, house wives, and invalids. His belief was burning witches made their death to easy and far to quick. He felt the death of a witch should be slow and full of agony, which he was happy to oblige. Imagine, if you can, a young child maybe 13 held in a harness and her little hands being crushed by a vice has heavy boulders are strapped to her feet pulling the weight down threatening to rip her in two. This was a reality that Jean Bodin found comfort in.
Bodin penned his own book the "Demonomanie". This book was published in 1580 and found a very welcomed following. It was as cruel and hideous as the malleus maleificarum was but lacked the same quality. Bodin would never lose sight of his personal mission and death followed every step he took.
A new darkness steps forward
As with any great man, followers will rise out of the shadows. Bodin had many of these followers, but only one would stand as his equal. Nicholas Remy, the inquisitor of Lorraine. He was a judge of high standing. For 15 years he would reside over countless cases of witchcraft. In those 15 years he would become known as the scourge of the accused. Innocent was not a word he was familiar with when it came to witches. More than 900 people met their fate because of this most hated man. His hatred of witches spanned from the death of his eldest son. The boy succumbed to sickness shortly after he himself had turned a begger lady away. The lady touched the child's garments and several days later he was gone from this world, leaving behind a hatred in the heart of Remy that would never be overcome.
Remy was famous for his eagerness to kill small children accused of witchcraft. "Get them young" he always told his men "and they will no grow up to plague us." He would go on to massacre countless people and on his death bed it was hoped he would ask forgiveness for his acts, instead he confessed "my only regret is I did not slay more witch babies"
The Killing Bishop
Peter Binsfeld, Suffragan Bishop of Trier, was Germany's witch hunter supreme. He insisted that "light" torture be done away with and a new dawn of deviate devices be crafted to put fear in the black hearts of witches. This Bishop became known as The Killing Bishop, and kill he did. Over 6,500 souls left this world at this evil man's hand. He crafted new legislatures that made witches less than human beings and more of target practise for the witch hunters. He penned the Treatise on Confessions by Evil Doers and Witches.
Binsfeld was so feared that no one would approach him in disagreement, no one except Dutch Scholar Cornelius Loos. Loos would publicly speak against the Bishop, and go on record in keeping innocent souls away from the hunters. Binsfeld would later capture his protester and give him two simple options. Keep up the protest and suffer a death even more extreme than any witch or address the public with a recant and praise for the work of the Killing Bishop. Loos apologised and began support for the actions of the hunters.
I wish I could say the cruelty and malice of the early days are behind us and witch hunting has ceased to be. That is not the truth. We all remember Salem and the horrors that begot that little town. Anyone looking around them can see the persecution of anyone who does not fit into the norm of things. Look at how the gothic movement suffered when claims of devil worship and witchcraft were brought upon it. I have often found myself thinking how many scientist, lawyers, or even doctors have met their fate at the hands of a witch hunter.
When we see people who are different than ourselves we should never put them down or critisis. If we do we are no different than the ones who executed ionnocence for the sake of belief.