In a universe where God and the devil had, to such an extent, abandoned their traditional roles, learned theologians had plenty of space in which to carve out the new category of witchcraft. Although the broad contours of late-medieval learned conceptions of witchcraft were determined by basic metaphysical assumptions, the specific form these conceptions took was primarily the result of the evidence and experience available to various authors. This chapter discusses the epistemological problems posed by belief in witchcraft. It examines how motifs drawn from traditional beliefs about spectral night-traveling women informed the construction of learned witch categories in the late middle Ages. In the case of Institoris and Sprenger, their category ‘witch’ responded to their experience as inquisitors, which included extensive familiarity with the oral testimony of victims of witchcraft and of accused witches themselves. Their witches were the common people's witches, those unpleasant and unpopular individuals held responsible for damaging crops, souring milk and causing illness out of petty malice. Institoris and Sprenger were predisposed to accept almost any consistent body of testimony at face value. Their notion of witchcraft retained congruence with traditional beliefs lacking in the constructions of authors with different experience or epistemological orientations.
This chapter discusses a different set of ideas about the construction of learned witch categories in the late Middle Ages, all of which, from the clerical perspective, revolved around the idea of direct or indirect commerce with the devil: heresy, black magic and superstition. In late medieval times, witchcraft was a composite – a combination of motifs derived from a number of quite different traditions: those associated with monstrous female spirits, animal transformation, demonolatrous heresy, maleficent magic and superstition being among the most prominent. The resulting composite figures were in no way haphazard; rather, each one of these established categories were used as a kind of conceptual template to provide the underlying principles around which one version of witchcraft was ordered and constructed. In the text, as in some other German texts, the witch was defined through her maleficium and practice of magic. Many French models of witchcraft depicted the witch more as a demonised heretic – a being defined by her willing entry into the demonic pact and her worship of the devil. In every case, however, the template originally chosen by the witch theorist both defined and restricted the field of his inquiry and the scope of his investigation, while determining, at the same time, the inherent plausibility of his definition of ‘witch’ and ‘witchcraft’, and the extent to which these categories could be used to drive witchcraft persecutions.
Research on the continuation of witchcraft beliefs after the end of the witch trials is still in its infancy among German historians. Cultural and denominational distance must have played a prominent role and should not be underestimated, especially as it was used for auxiliary argumentation culminating in the handy and catchy accusation of superstition. Even if exorcists and witch doctors who spread the belief in witchcraft were seen as damaging, superstitious and dangerous in the official verdict, this view only prevailed very haltingly among the local population. Prussian medical authorities, and many doctors in their wake, tried to use their medical and scientific world-view to rationalize the irrational and to explain 'abnormal' beliefs increasingly in terms of mental illness. The Catholic Church and state administration were confronted time and again with petitions and queries regarding witchcraft and magic, which contain many differing views and interpretations.
In this study, the various aspects of the way the Jews regarded themselves in the context of the lapse into another religion will be researched fully for the first time. We will attempt to understand whether they regarded the issue of conversion with self-confidence or with suspicion, whether their attitude was based on a clear theological position or on doubt and the coping with the problem as part of the process of socialization will be fully analysed. In this way, we will better understand how the Jews saw their own identity whilst living as a minority among the Christian majority, whose own self-confidence was constantly becoming stronger from the 10th to the 14th century until they eventually ousted the Jews completely from the places they lived in, England, France and large parts of Germany. This aspect of Jewish self-identification, written by a person who converted to Christianity, can help clarify a number of
The attitude to women who convert to Christianity was different from the attitude described above, and extremely complex. There are almost no descriptions of women converting voluntarily. On the other hand there are discussions concerning women who were forced to convert. The discussion that we perceive as a Halakhic discussion is in fact an intellectual discussion that is particularly special.
It is impossible to understand the question of the attitude to converts to Christianity without examining the attitude to Christians who converted to Judaism. This attitude is the mirror image of the attitude to converts from Judaism. In the same way that converts to Christianity were rejected and members of Jewish communities would try to distance themselves from them, so they would try to become close with and appreciate converts to Judaism.
This chapter compares the attitude to those leaving their faith in the Hellenistic world (the Period of the Mishna), with the attitude to those leaving their faith in the Period of the Gemara when the non-Jewish world in Europe was primarily pagan.
This chapter will describe the attitude to converts to Christianity during the First Crusade when conversion was forced on the Jews by the Crusaders and when the threat of death was very real should they not succumb to the demand. Some Jews managed to flee, others were converted forcibly while some died as martyrs and others put themselves and their children to death in order not to be forcibly converted. The attitude now became that of seeing all converts as having been forcibly converted though it was still not clear how one reconciles the desire that many had to accept the forced convert back into the faith with the normative ideal expressed by the action of the martyrs.