The European Witch-Craze of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, by H.R. Trevor-Roper


Witch hunts are always a relevant topic, as we live in a time when internet witch hunts are rife. So I thought I should repost my review of an obscure history book. Rarely is history so weird as in this book, which addresses the theology behind the old witch hunts, and shows the backwards grasping for reasons, justifications and explanations, so familiar to us today, but become ludicrous with the benefit of hindsight.

Last night I was reading H.R. Trevor-Roper’s classic work The European Witch-Craze of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, which I was quite enjoying. In the first chapter, Trevor-Roper was discussing various clerical theories of how the Devil managed to beget offspring after having sex with witches at night in the form of an incubus, that visited female witches or a succubus, that visited male witches. But this was a problem; wasn’t the devil neuter? A great deal of theological thinking was expended in the attempt to resolve this matter. Some thought the Devil swiped the testicles off the dead and impregnated the witches with borrowed vital essences, but the church eventually followed the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas, the second founder of demonology after St. Augustine. He said the Devil could only discharge as incubus what he had previously absorbed as succubus. Trevor Roper then remarks:

There are times when the intellectual fantasies of the clergy seem more bizarre than the psychopathic delusions of the madhouse out of which they have, too often, been excogitated.

Excellent for other reasons not adumbrated here.

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