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An excerpt from Cautio Criminalis
by Friedrich Von Spee, Jesuit priest (1631):


1. Incredibly among us Germans, and especially (I am ashamed to say) among Catholics, are popular superstitions, envy, calumnies, backbiting, insinuations, and the like which, being neither punished nor refuted, stir up suspicion of witchcraft ...

2. Hence everybody sets up a clamor that the magistrates investigate the witches   -   whom only popular gossip has made so numerous.

3. Princes, therefore, bid their judges and counselors bring proceedings against the witches.

4. The judges hardly know where to start, since they have no evidence.

5. Meanwhile, the people call this delay suspicious; and the princes are persuaded by some informer or another to this effect.

6. In Germany, to offend these princes is a serious offense; even clergymen approve whatever pleases them, not caring by whom these princes (however well-intentioned) have been instigated.

7. At last, therefore, the judges yield to their wishes and contrive to begin the trials.

8. Other judges who still delay, afraid to get involved in this ticklish matter, are sent a special investigator.   In this field of investigation, whatever inexperience or arrogance he brings to the job is held zeal for justice.   His zeal for justice is also whetted by hopes of profit.

9. If a madman's ravings or some malicious or idle rumor points to some helpless old woman, she is the first to suffer.

10. Yet to avoid the appearance that she is indicted solely on the basis of rumor, without other proofs, a certain presumption of guilt is obtained by posing the following dilemma: Either she has led an evil and improper life, or she has led a good and proper one.   If an evil one, then she should be guilty.   On the other hand, if she has led a good life, this is just as damning; for witches dissemble and try to appear especially virtuous.

11. Therefore the old woman is put in prison.   A new proof is found through a second dilemma: she is afraid or not afraid.   If she is (hearing of the terrible tortures against witches), this is sure proof; for her conscience accuses her.   If she does not show fear (trusting in her innocence), this too is a proof; for witches characteristically pretend innocence and wear a bold front.

12. Lest these should be the only proofs, the investigator has his snoopers, often depraved and infamous, ferret out all her past life.   This, of course, cannot be done without turning up some saying or doing of hers which men so disposed can easily twist or distort into evidence of witchcraft.

13. Any who have borne her ill now have ample opportunity to bring against her whatever accusations they please.

14. And so she is hurried to the torture unless, as often happens, she is tortured on the very day of her arrest.

15. In these trials nobody is allowed a lawyer or any means of fair defense, for witchcraft is reckoned an exceptional crime.

16. So that it may seem that the woman has an opportunity to defend herself, she is brought into court and the indications of her guilt are read and examined.

17. Even though she denies these charges and satisfactorily answers every accusation, no attention is paid and her replies are not even recorded; all indictments retain their force and validity, however perfect her answers are to them.

18. Next day, she is brought out again, and hears a decree of torture   -   just as if she had never refuted the charges.

19. Before torture, however, she is searched for amulets; her entire body is shaved, and even those privy parts indicating the female sex are wantonly examined.

20. What is so shocking about this?   Priests are treated the same.

21. When the woman has been shaved and searched, she is tortured to make her confess the truth   -   that is, to declare what they want.

22. They start with the first degree, i.e., the less severe torture.   Although exceedingly severe, it is light compared to those tortures which follow.   Wherefore if she confesses, they say that the woman has confessed without torture!

23. Now, what prince can doubt her guilt?

24. She is therefore put to death without scruple.

25. The result is the same if she confesses or not.   If she confesses, her guilt is clear; she is executed.   All recantation is in vain.   If she does not confess, the torture is repeated   -   twice, thrice, four times.

26. If, during the torture, the old woman contorts her features in pain, they say she is laughing.

27. If she dies under torture, they say the devil broke her neck.


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