“The belief that there are such things as witches is so essential a part of the faith that obstinately to maintain the opposite opinion manifestly savors of heresy.”
So begins Malleus Maleficarum , a witch hunters manual published in 1486 that launched a new paradigm for all those concerned with the identification and extirpation of witches. Used as a judicial case-book the Malleus set forth definitions of witchcraft, rules of evidence and the canonical procedures by which suspected witches were tortured and put to death. Written by Inquisitors for Inquisitor, the Malleus construct came to be regarded as irrefutable truth and contributed to the identification and execution of as many as 60,000 “witches”, predominantly women. The 29th and last edition was published in 1669.
Because of the nature of the enemy the evidentiary standard was lowered and any witness, no matter what his credentials, could testify against the accused.
Using the nebulous “witch label” anyone with a grudge or suspicion could accuse anyone of witchcraft .
From the 15th century through the early 17th century a confederacy of “authorities” calling themselves “demonologists” existed and made money off the misery of others.
Identification of witches was detailed in the Malleus including both physical and behavioral clues. Physical signs included things such as bushy eyebrows and thin lips. The Malleus declared that witches have a “Devil’s mark (stigmata diaboli) or Devils seal (sigilum diaboli) which was usually a scar, birthmark, or blemish. An extra nipple (polythelia) was a tell-tale sign. Behavioral manifestations included living alone, cultivating strange herbs in the garden, public singing or dancing and saying hello to a neighbors cat.
Physician oversight of witch persecution was standard. So too was the involvement of “witch-prickers” who were able to provide their expertise and “medical” testing in the assessment and diagnosis of the witch.
Pricking them with needles, awes, and bodkins to prove they were indeed nefarious and non-human was a surefire way to line one’s pockets but for the pedophiles and pervs there was an added bonus—a thorough searching for that stigmata diaboli on someone else’s dime.
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.” The costs of a witch trial were usually paid for by the estate of the accused or their family.
And what my friend Laura Tompkin’s describes here in no different; except in place of “demonologists” we now have “addictionologists.”
Both faulty paradigms with a lot of people making money hand over fist.
In 1592 Father Cornelius Loos wrote:
“Wretched creatures are compelled by the severity of the torture to confess things they have never done and so by cruel butchery innocent lives are taken; and by new alchemy, gold and silver are coined from human blood.”
And this is no different. No different at all.