10 striking witchcraft facts in the Middle Ages
Today, the Middle Ages are the most popular product of the mass culture. A lot of movies have been shot about this time, and many books have been written. They often tell about witches, magicians, and sorcerers, and the information is not always reliable. The witchcraft facts gathered in this review will help to understand how things were with magic and witchcraft in the Middle Ages.
10. Unsuccessful pursuit
Perhaps the most famous medieval text on the magic “Hammer of Witches” was written in the 1480s as a practical guide for witch hunts. He was also intended to justify his main author Heinrich Kramer and his idea of magic. Kramer was a member of the Dominican order and an inquisitor, who was active in Germany in the late fifteenth century. Before writing The Hammer of Witches, Kramer tried to bring to justice the suspects in witchcraft in Innsbruck, but there his activities aroused strong outrage among the local civilian population. As a result, in order to extinguish a wave of riots, the local bishop, with the support of the Archduke, annulled the Inquisition’s sentences, freed the women and asked Kramer to leave the city. Only after this failure Cramer wrote The Hammer of Witches, justifying his methods and exaggerating his successes in witch hunts.
9. Magic and panic
The 15th century is crucial in the history of witchcraft because it laid most of the intellectual basis for mass hysteria around the witches of the early modern period. The opinion about the witches was also changed. If earlier it had been believed that they were just engaged in magic, they began to think that they were making a covenant with the devil. It was at the beginning of the 15th century that the notion of the witches’ coven emerged, to which witches gathered to communicate with the devil.
8. The trials of sorcerers
While the early medieval authorities were sceptical about the reality of magic, changing philosophical and theological opinions meant that by the 14th-century magic had begun to be considered a crime. Nevertheless, these medieval courts over witches differed from mass hysteria around witches, which were massively burnt in the 16th and 17th centuries. There were very few cases when a large number of people were unjustly tried at the same time. In the overwhelming majority of the trails over witches and sorcerers, there was only one accused. The only exception is the mass executions of Philip the Beautiful during the suppression of the order of the Templars.
7. Magic and religion
The popular image of medieval witch hunts will not be complete without a priest or monk who represented the Church in pursuit of the suspects in witchcraft. But sometimes priests themselves practiced magic, in particular, forms that required training and access to written materials. The monks of St. Augustine in Canterbury kept 30 magic books in their library. In these texts, there was information about the rituals needed to summon spirits. Priests, in particular, rural parish priests, could also perform rituals in which magic was mixed with Orthodox rituals. In the 12th century, there was an English ritual, in which to make the fields fertile, the land was watered with milk, honey, oil, herbs and holy water while reciting excerpts from the Bible.
6. Such trivial magic
In the Middle Ages, people also used what is so popular today in Las Vegas and on the children birthdays: sleight of hand and tricks. The book of the 14th century “Secretum Philosphorum” was mainly devoted to experiments and tricks. One section described how to use invisible ink to play trick on your friends.
5. Norwegian sorcerers and witches
For Norwegians, men considered respectable some things that could obviously be considered magic, for example, the same use of runes. But seiore (Old Norse magic) was considered a lot of women. It was believed that the men who practiced the seiore, humiliated themselves. In the sagas, usually male characters who practiced the seiory, exhibited in a negative way, and the texts stressed the lack of manliness in them.
4. Magic as a Science
During the late Middle Ages, such sciences as astrology were part of the venerable intellectual discourse. For example, Albert the Great, who was one of the leading theologians in medieval Europe and often wrote about natural philosophy, believed that stones have special healing properties, and astrology is a true science of prediction. Many medieval kings patronized astrologers and alchemists and even consulted with astrologers about important political decisions.
3. Inquisitors are not magicians
It was often assumed that the Inquisition, a division of the clergy authorized to combat heretics, played a leading role in the trials of witchcraft suspects. Although some inquisitors are really persecuted whether suspected of witchcraft, most of such tests were conducted by secular authorities. In 1258, Pope Alexander VI announced that the inquisitors should not investigate the cases of witchcraft if they did not have obvious elements of heretical thought.
2. Cloud seafarers were abducting crops
Of course, condemning the church did not mean that people stopped believing in magic. Around the same time, as the capitulation of Saxony was written, The Bishop of Lyons of Agobard composed a treatise, condemning faith in magic. From it, modern scientists learned a lot about what people really believed in them. Agobard mentioned the belief that weather mages could raise storms and, most surprisingly, “sailors from the lands located on the clouds,” swam across the sky and, with the help of these weather magicians, abducted the crop planted by people on the ground.
1. Faith in magic was considered pagan superstition.
In the begining of Middle Ages, it was not considered as respectable to admit the belief in magic. St. Augustine, an influential theologian of late antiquity, denied that demons can provide people with magical powers, believing that they can only deceive people, forcing them to think that they have been gifted with magical powers. The capitulation of the Carolingians, in the territory of the newly conquered (and again Christianized) region of Saxony, the murder of women on suspicion of witchcraft on pain of death was prohibited, describing it as a “pagan crime”, as witchcraft did not exist.