Thesis Director: Adrian O’Connor, Ph.D. Assistant Professor, College of Arts and Sciences
Thesis Committee Member: J. Michael Francis, Ph.D. Professor, College of Arts and Sciences
University of South Florida St. Petersburg
By the end of the fifteenth century, demonological beliefs were well established by demonologists, inquisitors, judges, and the educated upper class of early modern Europe. These teachings, coupled with the almost universally held belief in magic and witchcraft throughout Europe, gave rise to a period of intense witchcraft persecutions. The gradual introduction of the inquisitorial procedure in Europe allowed for a higher number of witchcraft accusations than was seen in previous centuries. Likewise, the employment of torture on suspected witches combined with the type of leading questions asked during the trial directly resulted in confessions of Devil-worship.
In the trials examined in this paper, witches who were first accused of practicing harmful magic against their neighbors were typically found guilty of worshiping the Devil throughout the course of the trial. This occurred because demonologists and judges strongly believed that witches gained their power by renouncing their faith and swearing allegiance to the Devil. They also believed that witches participated in several horrific rituals and crimes associated with the Devil, such as attending the Sabbath, sex with the Devil, and cannibalistic infanticide. These beliefs prompted judges to use whatever means necessary to get witches to confess to worshiping the Devil, so as to reaffirm what they already believed about witchcraft and the Devil and to gain more understanding.
This study analyzes several demonological and legal treatises, witchcraft trial documents, and confessions of witchcraft and Devil-worship. Witches themselves had little control during the trials. However, although they were forced to confess to crimes of Devil-worship, the details of their confessions were entirely their own. Therefore, the trials discussed in this paper were a dialogue between the judge and accused witch, and, more specifically, between established demonology and popular magic. Ultimately, demonological beliefs triumphed over popular magical beliefs because of state-sponsored violence and the authority given to judges and inquisitors over suspected witches.
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Pacini, Rachel, "Making a Witch: The Triumph of Demonology Over Popular Magic Beliefs in Early Modern Europe" (2017). USFSP Honors Program Theses (Undergraduate). 191.