Witchcraft confessions and demonology Jean Boding was one of the most esteemed European writers on satanic witchcraft, and also among the most radical. With his De la Demimondaine des Sorcerers, Jean Boding attacks the skeptics of demonology as much as the legions of demons and execrable witches’ supposedly plotting universal destruction. He deduces a whole chapter in his book to witches confessions. Some Judges hesitated to condemn witches as their stories were so strange that they must be fables’.
These confessions tell of nocturnal assemblies where witches and demons are said to fornicate and once naked, where members of an underground cult affirm and reaffirm their allegiance to the Devil, where would-be plots are made and spells are cast, where children are sacrificed and then consumed in anthropomorphous rituals. Stories are strange but yet remarkably coherent, as Boding observes: We see that the confessions of witches in Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Ancient Greece and Rome, are all similar’.
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Confessions were the central resource for demonologies across Europe who used it in their concerted effort to condemn witches and to understand witchcraft. Without envision demonology would be very different. Among contemporary historians, there is a consensus that the withes’ Sabbath is sheer myth. Nevertheless, thousands of accused Witches’ produced these first-person narratives. Through confession, accused witches were in effect constrained to reproduce deontological theory, each reiteration serving to confirm both the reality of the Sabbath and the necessity of the witch-hunt.
Demonologies restored to confession as a weapon for convicting and condemning the members of what they perceived to be a satanic cult threatening the very fabric f society. Indeed, witches were believed to strike hard where the community was most vulnerable. But this eminently practical objective pursued by demonologies was inextricably linked to a theoretical agenda: understanding the occult world of witches and their clandestine activities.
Through confessions, the demonologies sought access to the world of witches that remained stubbornly elusive without these first-person narratives. Boding emphasized on confessions as a vehicle for information on the Sabbath. To quote Walter Stephens, Witches were expert witnesses to the reality of demons’. And while some visual traces of their clandestine activities were believed to remain such as devil marks. Therefore the Judge had to listen more than observe.
When it came to the precise methods employed, demonology remained faithful to respected practices of the time, including the use of authorities, etymologies, and the method of parallel passages. In the first place, the demonologies-hermeneutic respected a time-honored tradition by reading the strange stories told in trials against authorities – sacred texts, the writing of the church fathers, ancient By Rasa philosophy and history. Quotes from the Bible and mysterious coincidences are usually largely commented on.
Biblical commentary and etymology are thus called upon to explain and confirm narrative gathered in trials. The pattern was usually circular within demonologies. Soon demonologies became the authors of features of witchcraft in light of the work of other demonologies. In the Malls Maleficent , references to Johann Minder’s Formicas reside comfortably alongside passages from Aquinas , both texts serving as authorities. Facts from different confessions began to overlap and therefore eventually it became in effect its own self-legitimate discourse.
In addition a method of parallel passages was used to elucidate confessions. Borrowed from biblical exegesis, this method was based on the principle that ‘ nothing is conveyed in a hidden manner in one place of the Holy Scripture that is not explained elsewhere in a manifest manner’. The Judicial confessions extracted during trials constituted a veritable corpus – demonologies elucidated more obscure passages. ‘Now to confirm the proof of witches confessions, one must link them with the confessions of other itches. In this way, raw data generated by new confessions were confirmed by pre- existing confessions. Drawing on Faucet’s work, we can better appreciate how the Sabbath could be at once the primary object of demonology and its invention. If confession has come to occupy a privileged place in western culture, we might conclude that this reflects more the needs of institution than the psychological needs of the individual. To be sure, demonology presents an extreme example of institutional uses and abuses of confession.