From the late 15th century through the early 17th century a confederacy of “authorities” calling themselves demonologists assisted in identifying witches. Shaping ecclesiastical orthodoxy they set the standards that cooperating political authorities could follow in criminalizing, persecuting and punishing heretics.
Behavioral manifestations included living alone, cultivating strange herb and saying hello to a neighbors cat.Witches were blamed for everything—plague, crop failure, and erectile dysfunction.
Using the nebulous “witch label” anyone with a grudge or suspicion could accuse anyone of witchcraft .
Propaganda, threats, misinformation, guilt assumed from the start.
Physician oversight of witch persecution was standard.
During the European witch-hunts the legal notion of crimen exceptum (an exceptional and most dangerous crime] allowed for the suspension of normal rules of evidence to punish the guilty.
Because of the nature of the enemy the evidentiary bar was lowered and any witness, no matter what his credentials, could testify against the accused.
Belief in the seriousness of the situation rationalized cruelty.
The Devil’s mark (Stigmata diaboli) was taken as the mark of a witch entailing close inspection.
Professional witch-prickers used needles, pins and bodkins to poke the skin with lack of bleeding confirming the accusation. The accused did not bleed due to retractable needles and sleight of hand. False accusations, if exposed, were excused if they were a result of “zeal for the faith.”
The consequences of being branded a heretic by questioning the existence of witches essentially silenced any dissenting voices and the notion of crimen exceptum freed the consciences of those involved.
Sanctimony, feigned piety and hypocritical devoutness was used as justification. After all–Torture and torment are a small price to pay when it comes to protecting the public and saving souls.
Through the witch trials clerics, doctors, and lawyers used their expertise as witnesses to increase their prestige. Witch hunts developed into a means of economic profit. Some gained a lot of money from the witch trials. The witch or her relatives paid for the salaries of those who worked the witch trials including judges, court officials, torturers, physicians, clergymen, scribes, guards, attendants. Even the people who made the stakes and scaffolds for executions gained from the conviction and death of each witch.
“Witch hunting,” wrote the historian Rossell Hope Robbins, “was self-sustaining and became a major trade, employing many people, all battening on the savings of the victims.”
Context, characters and circumstances may differ but the mechanics do not. The mosaic remains the same. The Malleus shows how false constructs come to be regarded as irrefutable and the creation and chains of causation are timeless.