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date: 28 April 2017

Magic and the Occult in Martin Luther’s World

Summary and Keywords

In the 15th- and early-16th-century German-speaking lands, reports circulated of spirits shaking the walls of houses, comets presaging imminent doom, and dwarves warning miners to leave their tunnels. Widely accepted, such accounts point to a worldview in which the natural was believed to encompass a far broader swath of beings and activities than modern definitions of the term. Humans were enmeshed in a world where forces beyond human experience and, at times understanding, were active; they accepted their place in it and manipulated it, if necessary.

When studying such attitudes and the practices surrounding them, scholars of late medieval and early modern religious movements must move beyond truisms about “magical” or “enchanted” worlds to understand the impulses driving both reformers and those they wished to reform. Certainly 15th- and 16th-century Germans accepted that the divine permeated all creation, as creation was a product of God, and they saw divine manifestations throughout their world. Based on this truism, scholars have debated the extent to which pre-modern Europe was an enchanted world for approximately a century. Yet the powers imbuing that world had a more complex relationship to divinity than the somewhat romantic connotations of “enchanted” found in various modern works. Magicians, witches, devils, and other entities were all created beings who could access powers beyond the normal ken but were certainly not divine, despite any claims they might make to the contrary. Because such powers were imbued into nature itself, they were accessible to ordinary humans as well. And access them humans did! They were invoked to protect a village, cure ill children, and ward off injuries to livestock. They could also be used for evil, and archival and print documents attest to the practice of maleficent or demonic magic by learned clergy and illiterate peasants alike. When Protestant reformers demanded recognition of God’s omnipotence, they implicitly condemned this applied, occult magic and, in the process, practices that reflected a complete cosmology, that is, an understanding of how this world and the heavens operated. In this circumstance, it is not surprising that even the early reformers themselves could seem reluctant to abandon this immanent occultism.

Keywords: Martin Luther, devil, demons, folklore, magic, occult, preternatural, supernatural, witchcraft, witches

The Preternatural in the Age of Luther

Magic “is the most perfect and principal branch of knowledge, a sacred and more lofty kind of philosophy, and the most absolute perfection of every most excellent philosophy.…”1 When Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim (1486–1535) wrote this encomium to magic in his De occulta philosophia libri tres, it would never have crossed his mind to link the occult, magic, demonism, and witchcraft in the way that many modern works, and this article, do, yet other authors during his time would not have found the connection so far-fetched. While Agrippa’s magic focused on the philosophical, occult properties of nature, and magic itself was an appreciation of God’s intent and actions within his creation (that is, nature), legal scholars like Ulrich Molitor (c. 1442–pre-1507) and religious reformers like Martin Luther (1483–1546) emphasized the ways it could be applied and could distract humans from true ways of knowing God, and even lead them to damnation. Yet Luther and his followers continued to tell stories about marvels, spirits, and witches and describe powers that fell outside of human knowledge and understanding but clearly were less than divine—powers scholars describe as preternatural. Pre-Reformation acceptance of such powers, entities who wielded them, and human ability to access both continued to inform Reformation society well into the 16th century. The durability of such ideas could at times challenge the very reformatio Protestants were trying to achieve.

Modern scholarship has frequently used a group of phrases to describe the sense of immanence and occult potential that late medieval and early modern Europeans took for granted. “Community of the living and the dead” describes the social and spiritual bonds that endure in and transcend this world, while “enchanted world” and “magical worldview” serve as common shorthand to express the convictions described above and the attitudes and practices that stem from them. Because these phrases are so widely used they can seem banal, but they are far from it, and this chapter must rely on the detailed and nuanced assessments of such concepts found in current scholarship.2 In particular, these ideas have been shown to transcend early Reformation divisions, proving a degree of continuity even after a Reformation that ostensibly threatened them. Certainly they were at the heart of Luther’s worldview and that of his supporters. Beliefs in an immanent, occult world underlay many reformers’ more explicit theological and social pronouncements, and they saw such immanence manifesting in both daily life and extraordinary circumstances in perfectly acceptable and in quite dangerous ways.

One example of Luther’s acceptance of the preternatural occurs in a story he told in the Table Talk:

A gentleman had a young and beautiful wife, who, having died, was buried. Shortly afterwards, this gentleman and one of his servants sleeping in the same chamber, the wife, who was dead, came at night, bent over the bed of the gentleman as though she were conversing with him, and after a while went away again. The servant, having twice observed this circumstance, asked his master whether he knew that every night a woman clothed in white stood by his bedside. The master replied that he had slept soundly and had observed nothing of the sort. The next night he took care to remain awake. The woman came, and he asked her who she was and what she wanted. She answered that she was his wife. He returned, ‘My wife is dead and buried.’ She answered she had died by reason of his sins, but that if he would receive her again, she would return to him in life. He said if it were possible, he should be well content. She told him he must undertake not to swear, as he was wont to do; for that if he ever did so, she should once more die and permanently quit him. He promised this, and the dead woman, returning to seeming life, dwelt with him, ate, drank, and slept with him, and had children by him. One day that he had guests, his wife went to fetch some cakes from an adjoining apartment and remained a long time absent. The gentleman grew impatient and broke out into his old oaths. The wife not returning, the gentleman with his friends went to seek her, but she had disappeared; only the clothes she had worn lay on the floor. She was never again seen.3

This story did not originate with Luther; versions of it appear in medieval romances. In fact, what makes Luther’s telling so striking is how little it varies from these earlier treatments. The revenant wife could easily be equated with a succubus, the image of a lady in white drew directly on medieval descriptions of visitations by the Virgin Mary, and their long second life together might seem like a demonic deception. What Luther makes of it is something much more mundane. For him, this tale is about blasphemy and the losses people could suffer if they did not follow God’s commandments. While the “seeming wife” might give the audience a frisson of fear—the element of the unheimlich that made the story memorable and even appealing—there is no sense that she was threatening or unnatural. As a Lazarus, the wife was a normal exception, certainly atypical but not impossible for 15th- and early-16th-century Germans to accept.

While such beings were not always as peaceful as the gentleman’s wife, many other preternatural influences could be readily accepted, integrated into daily life, and exploited. Holy men and women were, by definition, able to perform marvels, whether they were personal, such as levitating, or communal, such as curing the ill and expelling demons. Objects could emit fluids containing occult powers, and these fluids were understood within a Christian framework, such as the famous bleeding host of Wilsnack in northeastern Germany, a pilgrimage site about which Luther and his followers assuredly knew.4 There the host testified to transubstantiation, dripping the blood Christ shed for humanity, but when murder victims oozed blood if their murderer was present, it too testified to the moral and supernatural forces imbued in nature. Intimate secretions, such as blood and semen, were believed to carry extraordinary powers and could be used to protect or injure a person; people took care to dispose of nail clippings and hairs because they retained an inherent connection to the body from which they fell or were removed. People often wore charms and amulets for protection and buried magical pouches by thresholds and windows, openings where danger could enter. Stories about monsters and marvels circulated widely, even in the early days of the printing press, and were interpreted as portents of divine pleasure or discontent.5 Analyzing such prodigies, described as “nature in search of explanation,” intrigued such literary luminaries in 15th-century Germany as Sebastian Brant, and texts providing information about them circulated both in Latin and German and were frequently illustrated.6

Angels were among the preternatural beings that would have a special and beloved place among Catholic and Protestant reformers, although their greatest role in Protestant pastoral and theological work would not develop until the second half of the 16th century. Protestant theologians opposed the idea of saints returning to earth to aid the faithful, but the faithful themselves continued to venerate the holy dead and presume that entities such as angels would, and should, help the living. Emphasizing the role of angels on earth and among true believers filled a need among both theologians and their followers for extraordinary but orthodox intercessors. Luther wrote that angelic guidance was one of God’s blessings to humans against demons,7 and Ambrosius Blarer (1492–1564), reformer of Constance and friend of Melanchthon, summarized the valuable and intimate services angels gave to Christians: “to secure our way into the next life God has ordained the beloved and holy angels that they might serve our welfare by being with us at all times. They walk with us in the journey of life to the judge, and they rejoice greatly when we live a holy and godly life in this world.”8

Blarer’s description does more than highlight angelic influence; it illustrates the ways that traditional beliefs and practices were perpetuated within the Evangelical community. Other, less orthodox beliefs also continued to be taught in part because of the sources reformers relied on for information. For example, one of the earliest, largest, and bestselling collections that emphasized angels was Andreas Hondorff’s Promptuarium Exemplorum from 1568. There he integrated medieval exempla and hagiographies, the Bible, and early Lutheran wonder books to create a collection of stories preachers could use as vivid examples in their sermons. As such, pre-Reformation ideas endured and circulated at multiple levels. While including, and assuring the continued discussion of, being such as ghosts, changelings, and other spirits, Hondorff emphasized angels. Angels were God’s messengers, protectors of towns and individuals, and executors of divine will; they understood far more about God’s creation and plan than mere mortals. Although not supernatural themselves, they brought to earth support and knowledge beyond that found in the ordinary workings of nature.9

As Hondorff’s book also shows, belief in more questionable figures endured well into the 16th century. Miners, like those Luther’s father employed, took precautions against spirits or dwarves who caused ceilings to collapse and invisible gases to overpower miners or to explode. Belief in ghosts was widely held throughout medieval Europe, and authors in the early 16th century described ways to minimize their apparition: burying suicides face down or at a cross-roads and assuring that the dying resolved all their earthly disputes before they passed.10 Stories about dragons, misty ladies, and wild hunts were told around the fires by 15th- and 16th-century Germans11 and were effective and memorable because they were plausible: everyone knew a friend of a friend, a reputable woman or man, who had immediate experience of such things.

Such accounts were not innately demonized either, in the way they may have been later in the 16th century. For example, one story that circulated in 15th-century Germany told about young Hänsel, a persecuted cowherd, who met an old man while guarding his cattle. After Hänsel helped the man, he gave Hänsel three wishes. Hänsel wished for a bow and arrows so that he could hunt, a pipe to make music, and his stepmother to fart whenever she gave him a nasty look. Hänsel’s humilitation of his tormentors escalated from a stepmother who mortified herself through farting to end with Hänsel’s pipe having such power that it kept everyone dancing as long as he played it. Although exhausted and embarrassed, somehow people in the town were able to bring Hänsel before the local magistrate, who promised to protect Hänsel from evil as long as he stopped playing the pipe, which Hänsel willingly did. Although a friar, the illicit lover of Hänsel’s stepmother, briefly accused Hänsel of working with the devil, that claim never appears to have been taken seriously.12 Instead, most accepted Hänsel’s explanation for the origins of his magical tools and abilities, and there is no sense that a prosecution began once the town had recovered. Magical tools, beneficent itinerants, and an occult compulsion to fart were acceptable aspects of this preternatural world. In Hänsel’s case they even righted wrongs.

Despite telling and seemingly accepting what modern readers might regard as implausible stories, the people of 15th- and 16th-century Germany were far from credulous; they saw how individuals who accessed such powers could be frauds and the powers themselves false. The cheating friar in Hänsel’s story was a commonplace in late medieval tales, and authors before and after the Reformation wrote about false relics, stigmata, and crying statues of the Virgin. At the heart of most accounts of marvels and wonders was detailed proof of their plausibility, indicating that the author expected to find informed and persistent skeptics. Such opponents could even be members of the clergy; when the spring at Laaberberg was deemed holy because of its cures, the bishop of Regensburg, who had the ecclesiastical governance of that area, sent investigators who said belief in the spring’s curative powers was superstitious and boarded up the chapel built on the site.13 The Protestant idea of the “cessation of miracles” would also seem to reflect, or at least lead to, a similar skepticism, but that concept did not deny marvels and even miracles could still occur; rather, it accepted the existence of marvels and argued that God no longer needed to perform earthly miracles. The development and emphasis of this doctrine was, however, a product of the later 16th and 17th centuries. In the 15th and early 16th centuries, while Luther was young, authors still referred to precedents who accepted the existence of occult forces and the preternatural; Luther, for example, drew from Geiler von Kaysersberg (1445–1510) who, in turn, drew from the theologian and demonologist Johannes Nider (c. 1380–1438). As a product of this environment and imbued with such examples, it should be no surprise that Luther ridiculed what he saw as false practice but did not deny the possibility of occult knowledge.14 Primarily he saw the intellectual and spiritual substrate of magic as a minor concern compared to the other theological and political battles in which he was engaged.

Occultism: Magic as a Scientific Discipline

Although the word “occult” is often used somewhat generically—a noun or an adjective describing the hidden and, at times, magical powers of nature—“occultism” and “occultists” have a more specific sense when applied to premodern Europe. Occultists were those who saw the study of occult properties and powers (occultism) as one of their primary preoccupations. As such, they examined a wide variety of topics: astronomy, alchemy, natural magic, image magic, divination (in many forms), and ritual magic. They accepted many of the ideas about the preternatural that were in wider circulation, and described in the previous section, but situated them within an intellectual framework that incorporated ancient pagan, Jewish, Muslim, and Christian texts. And their occult practices and philosophy fell within the realm of learned magic.

The late medieval German lands housed some of Europe’s most famous occultists: Johannes Trithemius (1462–1516), who gained fame for attacking absurd examples of magical practice; Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, mentioned above, who wrote a leading compilation of magical thought, De occulta philosophia; and Johannes Reuchlin (1455–1522), one of Europe’s leading Hebraists who wrote influential works on the kabbalah, mystical Jewish texts on the occult properties of names and letters. Although Luther would strongly condemn Trithemius’s occult practices by the late 1530s, these scholars influenced many of his early followers through the humanist networks in which they were enmeshed and their emphasis on the importance of texts, something humanists, occultists, kabbalists, and reformers shared.15 Philipp Melanchthon, in particular, would remain sympathetic to certain aspects of occult studies throughout his life and would influence Lutheran practitioners who worked to detach such occultism from religious speculation and to ground it in natural philosophy—in other words, to assure its recognition as a scientific discipline among those who did not study it.16

At its most basic level occultism was based on similar principles and attracted similar practitioners from the later Middle Ages well into the 16th century. Drawing on Hellenic analyses of a world order based on correspondences, occult scientists and practitioners presumed that four elements could be linked to four humors, four parts of the body, four personal characteristics, and so forth; astral rays could also exert influence, as could, of course, God and spirits. Theories about the occult properties of natural objects and their expected interactions were widely developed in both neoplatonic and neopythagorean thought during late antiquity, and in the Middle Ages occultists had access to some of these texts, many translated from the Arabic. By the 15th century occultists could turn to these earlier works as well as documents that came to Europe with those fleeing the Muslim conquest of Constantinople. While humanists working outside the universities made the most extensive contributions to Renaissance occultism in Italy, in late medieval Germany intellectuals and professionals could be exposed to elements of occult philosophy in urban schools and in universities as well as in non-institutional humanist circles that followed the Italian model more closely.17

Opinions about the legitimacy of occult practice varied widely in late medieval Germany, but its use in medicine was among the least controversial. Specific astronomical configurations had long been deemed best for harvesting and preparing medicaments as well as caring for patients. In certain circumstances those involved in such activities were expected to recite prayers, make ritual signs, and use distinctive tools to enhance their treatments. Such practices were commonly done at all levels of society, but the links between those who did learned magic, occult philosophy, and medicine were close. Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa and Johannes Trithemius were also trained medical doctors, versed in the occult writings of the famous Florentine Platonist, Marsilio Ficino (1433–1499), among others. The doctor Philip von Hohenheim, better known as Paracelsus (1493–1541), may have been mistrusted during his lifetime for some of his medical theories, but his treatment for protecting and restoring eyesight would have seemed plausible to fellow doctors trained in natural magic:

Make from the finest lead a round lamen in the hour of Venus, when the Moon is in the sign Aries. In the hour of Venus likewise, engrave the signs and letters in the figures below. Then in the hour of Saturn make a copper lamen of the same weight and shape as the leaden one. When the Moon is in the sign Capricorn, engrave the characters you see in the figures. Keep both figures until Mars comes into conjunction with Saturn and then, at the point of this conjunction, put the two lamens together so that their characters and signs are touching. Then enclose them in wax to keep out moisture, sew them into piece of silk, and hang this round the patient’s neck on the day and in the hour of Mercury.18

Like many other occultists, Paracelsus did not confine himself to just one area of natural philosophy; in his case, he saw his medical practice as inspiring, even mandating, his studies of the natural world. Because of its value to pharmacology, alchemy was a natural concomitant to his work in medicine, and while his De Natura Rerum (1537) may include unorthodox conclusions about how certain natural objects interact with humans and the heavens, anyone interested in that science would have recognized Paracelsus’ descriptions of general alchemical processes. When seen as the study of matter’s transformation, particularly the processes of purifying and perfecting it, alchemy could gain wide support, even from individuals such as Luther, who commented that

The science of alchemy I like well, and indeed, ‘tis the philosophy of the ancients. I like it not only for the profits it brings in melting metals, in decocting, preparing, extracting and distilling herbs [and] roots; I like it also for the sake of the allegorical and secret signification, which is exceedingly fine, touching upon the resurrection of the dead at the last day.19

Although the Elector of the Palatinate and the Emperors Frederick III, Maximilian I, Rudolf II, and Ferdinand I primarily patronized alchemists because they hoped that their client would eventually find a way of transmuting base metals into gold,20 Luther pointed to an aspect of alchemy that occultists themselves also stressed: in the process of learning how Creation itself could be altered, alchemists also implicitly explored one of the great transformations in the Christian faith.

More widely discussed and likely more broadly integrated into European magical practices was the study of the stars and their effects on earth. Astronomy and astrology were an integrated and acceptable magical science in ancient and medieval Europe, with astrology essentially functioning as applied astrology. Stars and planets were believed to affect everything on earth in distinct ways. Humans each had their own individual astral impression and, if they learned to understand it accurately and appropriately, could use it to improve both their body and soul. Following earlier medieval precedent, in 15th- and early 16th-century Germany the practice of assessing planetary influences on terrestrial elements (natural astrology) was generally considered legitimate, but religious reformers increasingly argued that using astrology to predict events and prevent damage to individuals (judicial astrology) was dangerous, if not heretical. Yet such attitudes did not prevent astronomy from being used to predict general trends, often calamities, although orthodox astronomers would insist that the stars did not determine events.21 At twenty-year intervals in the late 15th and 16th centuries astronomers led Germans to expect disasters. In 1464, 1484, 1504, and 1524, planetary conjunctions were expected to be so serious that humanity faced ruin, either through a mighty flood like the one Noah suffered or through the End Times. Every few years some mighty portent that warned humanity about its ruin was seen in the stars.22 Despite the hit-and-miss nature of such predictions, astronomy and astrology faced few condemnations, unlike other ways of divining the future, such as reading auguries and scrying.

In 15th- and 16th-century German territories that became Lutheran, there was unprecedented dissemination of writings about the stars’ influence on the world; as a conservative estimate, almost 1,000,000 copies of single-leaf astrological calendars and annual prognostications circulated before 1501.23 The authors were also more diverse than those writing many other texts on learned magic and included “lesser-known professors, physicians, surgeons, barbers, midwives, priests and pastors, calendar-makers, courtiers, and nearly endless ranks of amateur practitioners.”24 Forming a sort of “folk occultism,” these prognostications often predicted disasters such as floods, high winds, lightning, and hail, exactly the type of damage that could lead to illness, famine, and riot in an agricultural society. Complementing the many broadsheets and booklets that interpreted more material wonders, such as mutant livestock, popular calendars and other “star-centered materials” reflected and disseminated a sense of immanence and magic in late medieval German society. Yet this was an immanence the laity interpreted; clerical mediation was unnecessary. As such, it has been recently argued that this vast diffusion of astrological and astronomical literature contributed to a reinterpretation of the relationship between nature, humanity, and the divine.25

Perhaps because of such revolutionary consequences, commentators on occultism in the later Middle Ages tended to follow one of two perspectives. Supporters, such as Agrippa, argued that, by exploring and revealing the hidden properties of God’s creation, occultists were actually contributing to a greater understanding of God and were fully using their reason and capabilities as God intended. For many theologians, however, such occult studies threatened both the practitioner’s soul and dishonored God. Opponents of occultism pointed to the invocation of and interaction with spirits that could be part of these studies and questioned whether such impure activities and theories could draw humans closer to a pure God. They argued that invoking spirits was idolatry and condemned the challenge to free will and divine omnipotence and omniscience they saw in divination.26 These criticisms were plausible, because not all occultist practices fit the more positive philosophical claims of Agrippa and his followers. A few 15th-century German necromantic manuals have survived, and they show learned, ritual magic being used to steal money, overpower rulers, and rape women, among many other crimes.27

Yet in Philip Melanchthon 16th-century occultists found a champion, at least for those practices that clearly fell within the realm of a natural philosophy that complemented the Scriptures. Although Luther tended to dismiss or mildly ridicule astronomy, he did distinguish it from astrology, which he regarded pure “nonsense.”28 For Melanchthon, however, the science of the stars had been part of his life since infancy; Melanchthon’s father had asked one of the leading astronomers in Germany, Johannes Virdung (c. 1465–c. 1535), to prepare a horoscope for Melanchthon when he was born, and Melanchthon, in turn, had one done for both of his daughters.29 Melanchthon saw natural philosophy, and astronomy in particular, as a means to appreciate God’s providence and as a way God communicated with humanity. Building on astronomy’s place as one of the four parts of the university quadrivium, he wrote and spoke about astronomy’s value to the Christian life and promoted its study so extensively among his students that they became known as the “Wittenberg astronomers.”30 Melanchthon’s promotion of the science of the stars would be one of the ways the second generation of Lutheran intellectuals differed from their Calvinist counterparts, who condemned astronomers and astrologers as trying to challenge God’s omnipotence.

Defining Magic and Debating its Consequences

Modern scholars of magic have traditionally distinguished between magic and religion based on the ideologies underlying practitioners’ actions. In such analyses, magic attempts to control the natural and supernatural world for a practitioner’s or client’s benefit, while religion supplicates a higher power for assistance.31 As such, a working that channeled the properties of plants and the essences of astral forces while commanding spirits to appear and assist would be magic, while prayer to saints for aid during a plague and the processions and offerings promised to them would be religion. Such distinctions, however, rest on a binary that would have been puzzling to 15th- and 16th-century Germans, a binary that demanded greater separation between veneration and clientage than was common in late medieval beliefs. People who threatened to curse a saint and spit on its images if it did not help them would have been stunned to learn that they were irreligious.

Magical practices and even the beliefs underlying them had never been neutral. Throughout the Middle Ages judges and theologians questioned the foundations of magical practice and the possibility of morally neutral or beneficial (white) magic.32 Fifteenth-century secular and ecclesiastical judges as well as theologians developed the ideas found in earlier texts and connected magic to conspiracies against Christianity itself, a topic covered in the next section. Early Reformation leaders were the heirs of such debates and expressed attitudes towards many common magical practices that complemented the coercion–supplication binary. In the process, they contributed to the theological delegitimization of a traditional magical world.

For most of the population, however, magic’s status was more ambiguous. Individuals claiming special access to and power over occult forces were scattered widely across the German lands and were turned to for help in finding lost objects, assuring health, and protecting crops or livestock.33 It was widely acknowledged, though, that such magical practitioners were innately dangerous. The powers they used to heal could just as easily be used to harm; the sympathetic magic used to call on rain or get a cow to give milk could be redirected to cause neighbors’ fields to flood and their cows’ milk to transfer to other cattle. Practitioners’ use of sacramentals, prayers, and rituals drawn from the liturgy contributed to both perceptions of their power and their questionable status since, in so doing, they assumed almost clerical roles. For example, exorcisms were frequently employed in magical workings, and an especially powerful charm or amulet would contain prayers, Latin phrases, and maybe even a relic, all components of orthodox Christianity. More learned magical practitioners might make a cross containing the letters from the first word of the Paternoster (Our Father), considered a particularly powerful prayer since Jesus himself gave it to humanity. In so doing, traditional magicians, commonly called cunning-folk or wise women/men, could be seen as usurping authority the clergy reserved for itself.34

Clerical fears over magic’s implications and consequences came to the fore at the Council of Basel (1431–1449). Called to resolve the Great Schism, the Council of Basel played a key role in developing and disseminating ideas about diabolical magic that were starting to coalesce. Building on texts such as the University of Paris’s condemnation of magic (1398), one of the influential figures at that council, Johannes Nider, described in his Formicarius (written c. 1438) the interrelationship between witchcraft and diabolism; while he did not condemn all magic, he tried to be quite specific about what was licit versus illicit. While Nider “seems to have been inclined to allow even somewhat questionable practices to continue, so long as there was no obvious possibility of involvement with demons,”35 other authorities saw demonic activity as more pervasive. Particularly influential was the Duke of Savoy, Amadeus VIII (1383–1451), whom the Council elected as Pope Felix V. Savoy’s rulers had actively prosecuted witches and heretics for magical crimes since the early 15th century, and Duke Amadeus continued to advocate for prosecution when he was elected pope. His rival claimant, Pope Eugenius IV (1383–1447), also supported prosecution, and he argued that Felix must be a corrupt and ineffective ruler and spiritual guide given that heresy and sorcery clearly flourished in his territories. The Franciscan inquisitor Pontus Fougeyron supported Eugenius’ claims, and Eugenius gave detailed descriptions of heretical magicians, such as those who presumably flourished in the Savoy, in letters to both Pontus (1434) and all inquisitors (1437).36

Among the factors contributing to the connection made between heresy, evil, and magic among late medieval Europe’s intellectuals was the growing influence of Augustinianism and nominalism in the universities that trained leading theologians. Such Augustinianism was also at the heart of Luther’s early theology and would influence many of followers. For Augustine of Hippo (354–430) the corruption inherent in pagan magical rites was a topic to which he frequently returned, but in De doctrina Christiana (written 390s–426), De divinatione daemonum (written c. 406–411), and The City of God (written 413–426) he built on the work of previous Church Fathers to describe the ways pagan magic depended on demons and to condemn this magic. In the process, he wedded magic to demons in a way that later supporters of magic would find difficult to challenge. Augustine argued that demons, by their nature, knew more about creation than humanity. For this reason, magic done with their aid was more likely to be successful than magic that relied on purely human knowledge, but it was innately corrupt and corrupting. Magic was thus superstitious in the worse sense, that is, it was based on false belief and the worship of false gods. Its practice further reinforced the separation from God that came with original sin, and its abandonment signified human receptivity to divine grace.37 According to Augustine, then, Christians must then deny all contact with anyone practicing magic.

Despite Augustine’s influence, the texts of the Council of Basel, and the 15th-century demonologies written in the Alps and German lands, there remained individuals involved in trials of magical practitioners who had a more moderate tone. While accepting the existence of evil or false magic, Ulrich Molitor, a Swiss jurist, wrote in his De Lamiis et pythonicis mulieribus that many practitioners were simply deluded or “stupid” when they thought they were transported to meetings of other witches. He questioned the use of torture in obtaining confessions as well, noting that the fear it inspired would lead people to say anything in the hope of avoiding suffering.38 Through magic’s interrelationship with natural philosophy, practitioners of learned and ritual magic would also find support in Germany’s schools and universities and in the humanist movement more generally; although they would argue that their magic was fundamentally different than what the local wise woman practiced, their opponents frequently saw them as part of a continuum of corruption. Even advocates could see how magic could be both good and evil. Influential reformers such as Melanchthon recounted information from his correspondents where magicians actually provided knowledge that allowed reanimated corpses to return to apparent life and occult forces acted to punish magicians who used their powers maliciously.39 Such stories and the exempla found in Evangelical sermons illustrate an ambivalent attitude towards magic. By circulating them, reformers perpetuated them and contributed to their plausibility; by providing little judgment on the magicians’ activities, reformers allowed hearers to form their own opinions.

With magic’s significance so debatable and its demonic connection narrowly disseminated, many common magical practices endured in German Protestant territories. Reformers’ continued reliance on late medieval postils and sermon collections, the difficulties in developing Evangelical educational programs for both laity and clergy, the connections between Catholics and Protestants in many parts of the German lands, and the gradual formation of distinctive Protestant doctrines (and the many debates over them) only contributed to the durability of traditional magic. Yet when such magic became plausibly and clearly linked with the Great Enemy, Satan, in the middle of the 16th century, the battle against magic became one front in a cosmic battle.

The Role of Demons

Philip Melanchthon once told a story that had reached him from Bonn. There a young noblewoman existed for two years as a reanimate corpse, and no one recognized it until a magician pulled something out from under her left armpit. She then dropped dead, because as Melanchthon noted, “The Devil used the corpse. He can do this, but he cannot revive the dead.”40

Melanchthon’s interpretation highlights a common trope of Reformation studies: the reality and influence of the devil for Martin Luther, in particular, and his supporters more generally.41 When Luther claimed that “man is the battlefield between God and the Devil,” he meant that literally; actual demons physically wrestled with believers to bring them to their damnation.42 When Luther threw his inkwell at a demon, it was at an actual demon, not a metaphor for his (understandable) frustrations as a translator. Demons delighted in tormenting humanity, and people could not escape them:

For it is undeniable that the devil lives, yes, rules, in all the world. Therefore witchcraft and sorcery are works of the devil, by which he not only injures people but sometimes, with God’s permission, destroys them. But we are all subject to the devil, both according to our bodies and according to our material possessions. We are guests in the world, of which he is the ruler and the god. Therefore the bread we eat, the drinks we drink, the clothes we wear—in fact, the air and everything we live on in the flesh—are under his reign.43

While Luther’s statements about demons’ ubiquity and his certainty that demons plagued him daily may seem extreme, they reflected common 15th- and early-16th-century concepts about the moral corruption of creation, the influence of the leading corruptor (Satan), the battles true believers must endure, and the dependence on the divine that believers must have when facing such torments. But Luther and his followers did not just echo such concepts. Through their writings and the sermons they prepared, the engravings their supporters circulated, and the very Reformations they initiated, it could be argued that they amplified fears of demonic power among allies and opponents in ways that would could play out disastrously from the 16th into the 18th century.

In the later Middle Ages devils were seen as more active and successful than they had been depicted in earlier medieval texts and sermons. In monastic chronicles, such as that of Caesarius of Heisterbach in the mid-13th century, or lives of the saints, devils could be readily expelled and could appear as weak, ludicrous, and at times even piteous figures, although they were also treacherous and dangerous.44 By the 15th century, though, demons became formidable opponents. Although the reasons for such a transformation remain obscure, the consequences are more apparent. The early 15th century saw the rise of a series of trials and treatises where demons were portrayed as manipulating and conspiring with humans to harm others and attempt to undermine God. While demons and their allies could never truly threaten divine omnipotence, they could injure God’s people on earth, and demonic corruption also led to their allies’ damnation. As described in texts by jurists (Ut magorum and maleficiorum errors, 1437) and theologians (Flagellum haereticorum fascinarioum, c. 1443), devils were at the heart of a litany of mundane and extraordinary evils.

In these texts, devils both directly intervened to harm humans and prompted humans to injure others; in the latter case demons gained a double victory by causing one human to sin while simultaneously hurting another. Demons could be directly responsible for plagues, famines, fires, and earthquakes as well as more personal misfortunes, like nightmares and sleepwalking. Their very presence on earth accounted for the number of unfortunate signs and wonders to be found in nature.45 They reveled in destroying marriages; in his Table Talk Luther told of one case where Satan caused both a husband and a wife to be so fearful that their spouse intended to murder them that the husband slit his wife’s throat with the knife she had hidden under her pillow for her protection.46 Demons caused impotence, but they also bred with humans to create enemies to the true faith, such as the leader of a powerful German family who opposed Elector John Frederic of Saxony (1503–1554), a fervent supporter of the Lutheran Reformation and head of the Schmalkaldic League.47 The profits to be gained from alliance with Satan were so great that people were believed to be willing conspirators, going so far as to give visible signs of their submission. In the case of Andreas from Tschafel, condemned to death at Lucerne in 1519, that sign was the little finger on his left hand; he gave it to the Devil so that he could win at gambling.48

Religious opponents were particularly likely to be seen as demonic allies. By making this connection, Lutherans followed long-standing medieval practice and one all early modern confessions echoed. Recognizing the ancient pattern to such accusations should not, however, lead us to dismiss their potency. In the 15th century, two heretical groups had been seen as particularly threatening—Hussites and Waldensians—and the vocabulary used to connect them to the Devil provided a ready rhetorical repository for reformers as well as reflecting their religious convictions. Religious opponents were demonic tools, captivated by demonic deceptions and prone to murder, cannibalism, deviant sex, idolatry, and many other crimes. Images of clergy morphing into devils, being excreted by devils, and serving as mouthpieces for devils were commonplace in Reformation pamphlets.49 Other broadsheets specifically portrayed Luther in direct combat with the Devil for Evangelical souls, with the Devil standing in place of the entire medieval Church.50 Early allies who fell away from Luther were subject to similar condemnation. Hearing of the death of Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt (1486–1541), once Luther’s senior colleague but exiled from Saxony for his radical social and religious beliefs, Luther reported that Karlstadt “had seen his own demon” and that Karlstadt’s wife had noted that “wherever we were there had always been a malevolent spirit,” observations which suggested that Karlstadt had been a servant of the Devil.51 Luther’s opponents made similar connections, even if in the early 16th century Luther’s Evangelicals disseminated such claims most thoroughly and vociferously. Pier Paolo Vergerio (c. 1498–1565), papal nuncio and Catholic reformer, met Luther at Wittenberg in 1535. After his encounter he described Luther as fathered by the Devil and demonically possessed.52 Ironically, Vergerio would die a Protestant.

The Devil played, however, an even greater cosmic role in the late medieval and early modern German lands, although one that was theologically more problematic. Although demons opposed Christ and the heavenly hosts in medieval apocalyptic writings, in late medieval millennialism and apocalypticism the Devil became a more central figure. In earlier interpretations of Revelation, the Devil was commonly equated with the dragon, the serpent, and even the seven-headed beast, all figures that Evangelicals would also link to the papacy. At the end of the apocalyptic battle, the Devil would be thrown into the abyss and the thousand-year reign of Christ on earth would begin. By the 15th century, authors and preachers were more certain that the time for this battle was approaching; while earlier images retained their force, ultimate evil also became strongly identified with the Antichrist, whose characteristics are apparent in his name. As a singular, evil entity, the Antichrist would be readily equated with the Devil, but in so doing, the Devil became both more threatening and more powerless—threatening because his advent as Antichrist signaled the beginning of an unimaginable battle between the forces of good and evil; powerless because it was promised in Scripture that he would lose and the chosen be saved. Early reformers such as Luther, Melanchthon, Huldrych Zwingli, Martin Bucer, and others believed that the Antichrist was an actual, physical being and had taken concrete form as both the pope and false representatives of Catholic church. In particular, Christians were urged to be vigilant, following the warning in 1 Peter 5:8: “Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.” Both early Evangelicals and reformers among late medieval theologians were certain that, if the events in Revelation were to occur, the Antichrist/Devil needed a mighty army. In the process, they set the tone for later 16th- and 17th-century theologians and jurists who equated that army with witches.

Witchcraft in Practice and Theory

No one should believe that witches and diviners, in order to stir up storms, kill bodies, kill animals, destroy property, etc., are the real causes of these things, nor believe that creatures of God have this power, except through demons who have God’s permission.… Except by the will of God no leaf falls from a tree to earth. Therefore, it is forbidden to Christians to think that these evils are caused by demons and witches and are thus ordained by God. God does good through himself, and evil through the evil ones.53

[S]orcerers or witches are the Devil’s whores who steal milk, raise storms, ride on goats or broomsticks, lame or maim people, torture babies in their cradles, change things into different shapes so that a human being seems to be a cow or an ox, and force people into love and immorality … not that the devil is unable to do these things by himself without sorcerers, for he is lord of the world, yet he will not act without human help.54

At first glance these quotes by Martin Luther taken from sermons written less than six years apart seem contradictory. In the first he censures listeners who believe in witchcraft or demonic conspiracies and depicts witches who are helpless unless demons assist them; in the second he asserts that magical practitioners commit almost immeasurable evils and are in a degrading, subservient relationship with the Devil. The devil, and the resolution, are in the details. In both texts, Luther made it clear that many people believed that practitioners of magic existed who caused horrible suffering; these individuals, called witches, worked with demons. Demons wanted to have people think that they thus controlled creation and, as appears in the last quote, wanted to have humans assist them, presumably because it further corrupted God’s greatest creation: humanity. What was most important, however, was the true source of the power both witches and demons wielded: God. Explicitly in the first quote and implicitly in the second, even such evil figures were in the end subservient to God, a resolution which, for Luther, should have given true Christians some comfort.

Unfortunately for 16th-century Evangelicals and modern scholars, Luther’s pronouncements on witchcraft are rarely so easy to resolve. Although some scholars profess that Luther’s opinions about witches became more moderate after the Peasant’s War (1525), his Table Talk is filled with examples from the 1530s where he equated witchcraft and demonic activity and said how he “would burn all of them myself, according to the law.”55 He also described how his mother “conciliated” a woman suspected of witchcraft and occult murder in her own village, presumably for fear that, if she angered this woman, she might become a victim.56 Luther’s mixed treatment of witches and witchcraft more generally was not unusual in the late medieval German lands. Individuals practicing magic that might be labeled witchcraft also cast beneficial spells and could enjoy a comfortable life in towns and villages. At the same time, however, a discourse arose that linked witches to demonism and demonic conspiracies, and this depiction spread through woodblocks, broadsheets, sermons, and songs.57 To be a witch in the 15th- and early-16th-century Germanies was to be in a position of both power and danger.

One of the challenges modern scholars face in the study of late medieval witchcraft is defining the term itself. A myriad of words were used to label individuals that could have been prosecuted for witchcraft, and the Latin terms carried with them implications from both the classical and medieval words. In German Wettermacherin, Milchdiebin, Teuffelsheuren, Zauberinnen, Zewberin, Hexe, Teuffels Pfeffin, and Teuffels Prophetin were all used synonymously, although they pointed to different activities and qualities; Latin treatises described witches as maga, saga, lamia, maleficia, venefica, pythonissa, daemonum ancilla, and hailora.58 At the most basic level, however, a witch was someone who used magic maliciously. An angry, corrupt person, the witch did maleficia, evil deeds. As such, a witch could be male or female, young or old, rich or poor. The modern stereotype of a premodern witch—female, elderly, just getting by—had not yet developed, but it appears that in late medieval Germany and Switzerland, witches were believed to be primarily female.

Witchcraft trials began in the Alpine regions of Switzerland and southern Germany during the early 15th century apparently in response to fears about heresy. The Waldensians there were accused of magical attacks against Christians, and the idolatrous demonic assemblies that judges such as Claude Tholosan believed they attended were the most blatant sign of their challenge to God’s true Christian faith.59 The Waldensian trials were not, however, confined to a single gender or region. Waldensian men and women alike were accused of destroying crops, sickening children, and injuring livestock of good Christians, and accusations of Waldensian magic and demonolatry spread north of the Alps.60 In 1460 there was even a prosecution of vauderie, a term that by this time signified both witchcraft and Waldensian belief, at Arras in northern France. There noblemen and town councilors as well as more marginal members of society were prosecuted for witchcraft. The Dominican inquisitor, Nicholas Jacquier (d. 1472) saw the Arras prosecutions as just touching the surface of a pit of heretical, magical depravity, but the prosecutions so disturbed local society that the duke of Burgundy ended the trials.61

As the resolution to the Arras prosecutions suggests, other considerations affected accusations of and trials for witchcraft than those found in theological treatises. In part, reactions could differ from those found in programmatic texts because in the early 15th century the idea of witchcraft itself was in transition. Moreover, accusers and prosecutors, at least initially, focused on the harm a witch caused. Trials in German-speaking areas such as Basel, Lucerne, and Nuremberg during the first half of the 15th century appear to have happened because the accused witch was guilty of doing evil deeds. The charges levied against witches become almost monotonous: they caused hailstorms and weather that damaged crops and injured livestock and humans; they sickened otherwise healthy children, triggering blindness, disease, and even death; and they spoiled food and fodder.62 Witches could even threaten the natural social order when they performed such love spells as this one from a 1407 trial in Basel:

On the earthen threshold I tread and reach in through the door. I wake all the dead… I conjure you all together, that you should rise up … and made P. Vischer my love: twelve murdered men, twelve drowned, twelve hanged … they must cause Peter to love me.63

The witches’ banishment when convicted, as opposed to execution, reflects a sense of witches as those who used magic for evil purposes rather than those who conspired with demons.64 These milder verdicts did not just come about because witches were believed to be rare, either; Hans Fründ, a chronicler in the Swiss Valais, wrote that “in 1428 the region was infested with sorcerers—over 700 in all.”65 In both Swiss and northern German villages and towns, witches were criminals who threatened the communities and rules believed to be so essential for survival, but they did so through occult means. They were criminals, not demonolaters. Yet precisely because the powers they used were hidden and the threat they posed so difficult to quantify, the menace witches were believed to cause, and which some did exploit, could easily be seen as particularly dangerous and broaden to encompass the demonic realm.

Connections between witches and demons were made in theological treatises and some trial records throughout the 15th and early 16th centuries, although fear of demonic activities was generally not the complaint that began a trial. This focus on harmful magic appeared in Basel during 1407 when over a dozen “well-born women” were linked in a case of ritual magic. The case began when several servants of one of the women noticed that their mistress spent a lot of time in a room that servants were not allowed to enter. Despite their mistress’ prohibition, one servant went in and discovered what she thought were the accouterments of ritual magic. Others were less certain and found other faults more grievous; when the servant first approached the magistrates about what she found, they scolded her for disobedience. Their response, however, inspired her to collect evidence, and eventually rumors began to spread. The investigation of such rumors inspired accusations against the “well-born women” of invoking demons, possessing books that described spells and gave lists of demons, and trying to, and even succeeding at, murdering their husbands through magic. Eleven women were banished from Basel.66

Other records made the connection between witches and demons more explicit, especially as the 15th century progressed. Trial accounts increasingly described witches as conspiring with devils, although the use of torture in these trials raises questions about the extent to which the accused just responded to the judges’ questions in ways that they thought would cause the torture to end. There were clear statements of demon–witch collaboration. In the trial of Else of Meersburg, recorded around 1450 in Lucerne, she described how she raised a hailstorm when she threw water in the air “‘in the names of all the devils,’ in particular Beelzebub and her own special demon, Krütli.” There was also the trial of Gret Fröhlicherin and Verena Symlin in the territory around Basel during 1458, where Verena confessed that “she denied almighty God and His worthy mother, and gave herself to the Devil and his spirit and therewith committed her evil with her companion Gret Fröhlicherin.”67 Chronicles also began making the connection between witches and demons. The number of witches in the neighboring mountains clearly stunned Swiss chronicler Hans Fründ, who saw them as using “diabolical magic to cause death, injury, sterility, and impotence.” While Fründ believed that witches often directly collaborated with demons, at times he saw them as working with a more ambiguous “spirit,” a term that could signify many occult beings, including ghosts and fairies.68 During the same trial the demon and witch were depicted as having a domestic, almost sweet, relationship; then they would work together to devastate their region. In this sense both demons and witches appeared as outlaws, defying both human and divine decrees.69

Writings studying demons and, especially, their worldly activities and relationships with witches increased in the late 14th and 15th centuries. Known as demonologies, these texts apparently circulated widely among lay jurists, inquisitors, and theologians interested in witchcraft and heresy, and their authors frequently cited recent texts as well as the standard biblical, classical, and patristic sources. In the late 1430s, three treatises were produced that have each been cited as the first time the composite doctrine of diabolic witchcraft appeared: Tholosan’s Ut magorum et maleficiorum errores, Nider’s Formicarius, and the anonymous Errores Gazariorum. This composite had four parts: witches did evil deeds (maleficia) through magic; such sorcery required demonic aid and witches would have to worship demons to gain such aid; witches’ evil deeds included activities that marked them as unchristian or false Christians including secret nighttime meetings, desecration of holy objects and sacramentals, and deviant sex with devils and other witches; and witches also performed other activities traditionally associated with magicians, such as transforming into animals and traveling on animals’ backs to secret meetings.70 In 1376 Nicolas Eymeric (c. 1316–1399) had already treated witchcraft as a heresy in his Directorium inuqisitorum, and sometime in the 1450s and 1460s Jean Vineti (d. c. 1470), Dominican inquisitor and professor at the University of Paris, Europe’s premier theological center, wrote the Tractatus contra daemonum invocatares, where he connected witchcraft, diabolism, and heresy in a single but key area: the summoning of demons. By the time Heinrich Kramer (c. 1430–1505) published, arguably, the most famous demonological treatise ever, the Malleus Maleficarum (1487), he could draw on a long, contemporary tradition linking witchcraft to the Devil and stressing the growing frequency and danger of such connections.71

When these 15th-century authors connected witches to demons, they expanded the crime of witchcraft far beyond the evil deeds that made up the initial accusations. By making this bond central to witchcraft, these jurists and theologians transformed the witch from an “evil person” to an idolater and apostate. Such crimes made witchcraft more than a danger to human communities; it was a defiance of and challenge to God, albeit one doomed to failure. The vocabulary of idolatry had particular resonance among Europe’s Protestant reformers, given that many of the reform movements during both the 15th and the early 16th centuries accused the Catholic church of having set up false idols, including the Church itself. They asserted that the Church directed Christians away from true worship due only to God and deceived Christians into what was essentially worship of rituals, ritual objects, and clergy. As idolaters and apostates, witches complemented this narrative. They turned away from the true God to a false one (the Devil) and embraced his rites and subordinates (demons) for a false promise of salvation (the pact and its worldly benefits).

Given these associations and the threat that evil magic was believed to pose to communities in the 15th- and early-16th-century German lands, those theologians who argued that witches were in reality deluded rather than powerful would show little sympathy for such individuals, whom the Devil taunted and exploited.72 Instead, theologians such as Melanchthon criminalized witchcraft, as he did in his 1552 church ordinances, and Catholic and Protestant rulers alike passed laws against witchcraft. Among the most influential was the Constitutio Criminalis Carolina of 1532, which laid out the procedure for judging capital crimes in the territories Emperor Charles V ruled. There, magical practice was clearly criminalized, even if its link to demons was unstated: “Item if anyone harms people or causes damages through sorcery, they shall be condemned to death and this punishment shall be executed with fire. Yet whoever uses sorcery but causes harm to no one should be punished differently.”73 Those practicing magic—sorcerers, occultists, wise women, and witches alike—would face such consequences through the 18th century.

The Occult and the Reformation

Martin Luther’s life and the Reformation in which he played such a central role took place in a world where distinctions between natural and supernatural, magical and scientific were made differently, if they were made at all, than the way modern audiences would often make them. What we see as magic, a term that often carries with it some sort of deception, was part of 15th- and 16th-century lived experience and only deceptive if corrupt individuals or demons themselves tried to explain and practice it. Humans existed in a world imbued with forces directly touching divinity and, whether they stated it explicitly or implicitly, believed such forces could be accessed; they could even be ways to know God better. While most early reformers, both Protestant and Catholic alike, only tangentially engaged with the debates over witchcraft and occultism, they did assess the validity of many traditional practices and decried what they saw as the growing presence and effectiveness of the Devil. When Luther, Melanchthon, and others discuss the evil eye, reanimate corpses, and haunted forests, their belief in these places and events should be seen as part and parcel of the spirit that drove the Reformation.

Review of the Literature

The last several decades have seen widespread interest in and revisions to many topics covered in this chapter. In many cases this work has been inspired by, even if it eventually contests, several historiographical commonplaces: the opposition between magic and religion, a similar opposition between magic and science, the relative (dis)enchantment of the world, confessional distinctions in attitudes to magic and religion, and the role of class, educational level, and gender in the acceptance of the ideas and practices described above. While many of these concepts have roots in 19th-century texts, in this review the focus is on the 20th-century works most commonly associated with them.

Since the 19th century, a magic–religion–science trifecta has been at the heart both of academic debates about late medieval and early modern beliefs and practices and of conceptions about an evolving and evolved modernity embedded in 20th-century European self-consciousness. To simplify a complex debate, in this paradigm the premodern world was magical, a place where humanity lived in ignorance of many natural forces and sought to coerce the supernatural for protection and power. Spreading and consolidating in the 16th and 17th centuries was a religious worldview whose spirituality focused on supplicating the supernatural for assistance and venerating or worshipping the supernatural and its manifestations. Although generations of anthropologists debated the extent to which the magic–religion dichotomy was valid, in the 1970s the historian Keith Thomas provided its most sophisticated application to the early modern context.74 Yet Thomas also foreshadowed many of the ways contemporary scholars would find the distinctions between magic, religion, and science invalid in analyses of premodern societies.

Science fits with magic and religion in the traditional Christian perspective as an opponent of magic, which modern works too frequently portray as a false science. This role fulfills an obvious and necessary separation in modernity between the immanent, appreciated through religion, and the imminent, understood through science. Despite older works, such as that of Lynn Thorndike, that stressed the interrelationship of magic and science and the problems of such terminology given the modern epistemological freight of those terms,75 the separation of science from magic and religion, its elevation over those two areas, and the imposition of modern definitions of those terms on the 15th and 16th centuries continues, in part because of the difficulties in coming up with a historically appropriate but intelligible vocabulary for such analysis. No single work has inspired modern reassessment of the relationship between science and occultism (learned magic) for the late medieval and early modern German lands. Some research has come from historians of science;76 another thread derives from those who study occultism specifically.77 For those focused on 16th- and 17th-century European witchcraft, Stuart Clark’s scholarship has played a central role by showing how the study of demonology allowed jurists, theologians, and intellectuals to arrive at more profound assessments of both demons and concepts in theology, linguistics, and natural philosophy.78 Clark’s work has inspired a veritable cottage industry of scholars demonstrating how premodern magical beliefs could be used to analyze many aspects of the human experience, to “think with demons.”79 Other scholars, such as Robin Barnes and Philip Soergel, have demonstrated how particular fields, such as astronomy/astrology and the interpretation of wonders, combined both philosophical and practical traditions and were part of a recursive exchange of ideas.80 While much of this work focuses on the 17th and 18th centuries, given the traditional periodization of the “Scientific Revolution,” enough of it has its roots in medieval and 16th-century controversies as to be relevant to the study of Martin Luther’s era.

Probably the most contentious and influential area of debate in the last decade has been the extent to which premodern Europe can be seen as “enchanted” and exactly what that designation implies. Building from the analyses of Max Weber and Ernst Troeltsch,81 who saw disenchantment as the heart of modernity, especially Protestant modernity, well-known scholars such as Euan Cameron, Robert Scribner, and Alexandra Walsham have explored what it means to live in a world where the preternatural and supernatural imbued everything.82 Although such a perspective might seem to privilege intellectuals’ writings, as they explored the role of the divine in all aspects of creation, even demons and spirits, work on the “enchanted world” by Owen Davies, Stephen Wilson, and Edward Bever, among others, have described how the psychology and practices of an enchanted world encompassed large parts of European society.83

Work on (dis)enchantment often incorporates debates about the circumstances and “mental toolkit,” to use the well-known phrase of Lucien Febvre, of the affected person.84 As such, class/status, educational level, and gender have also become key components of any discussion of magic, witchcraft, and belief in demons. Frequently such research from the 1970s and 1980s relied on a binary between elite and popular, educated and uneducated, male and female that was best represented in such groundbreaking work as The Cheese and the Worms and Luther’s House of Learning.85 More recent scholarship has challenged such binaries, stressing that even when a belief or practice can be labeled popular, meaning linked to peasants and artisans, it may also be shared by those classified as elite, such as lawyers, administrators, and clergy. In fact, key to this modern scholarship are the concepts of the circulation of attitudes and a common lived religious experience. This “reciprocity” underlies many current studies on daily life and religion in 15th- and 16th-century Europe.86

The role of such reciprocity between Christian denominations, much less between the other religions in Europe at that time, has been far more contentious. Since the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, communities have sought to distinguish themselves from corrupted outsiders, and historians have not been immune to these impulses. Well into the 20th century, historians wrote about Luther’s era to argue for the validity of a particular confession and to condemn another for its magical or irreligious beliefs. In the 1970s, ecumenism affected Reformation studies more generally, including studies of magic, witchcraft, and the occult, and H. C. Erik Midelfort and William Monter provided nonconfessionalized analyses of southern German witchcraft that remain influential.87 More recent work, especially in broader conceptual topics such as demonology and natural magic, continues to stress similarities in how confessions approached these subjects well into the 16th century.88 It also relies on local and regional studies to assess the degree of confessional division and the effects of other disciplines, such as law, and social networks on magical practices and attitudes towards the preternatural and supernatural.89

Although the history of witch trials is incorporated into many of the above themes, much scholarship in that area also focuses on the social, cultural, and economic causes and consequences of the trials. The relationship between womanhood and witchcraft has been with the field since its beginning, and contemporary work on that subject tends to be inspired by early 20th-century anthropology that linked witchcraft to ancient fertility cults and the adoption of such claims by feminists in the 1960s and 1970s, although modern research challenges many of the assumptions underlying such studies.90 Scholars such as Lyndal Roper and Eva Labouvie set the terms of the discussion about witchcraft and gender,91 and more recent research, including their own, has developed the integration of gender values, economic status, local concerns, and witch trials in many German lands during the 16th and 17th centuries.92 Work on the later 14th and 15th centuries has only been undertaken more recently and was pioneered by scholars at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland.93 As scholars have discovered wide regional variations between gendered accusations of witchcraft, some research has begun to explore in greater detail what it means when men are accused of witchcraft.94 They have also linked witchcraft to a wide range of traditional practices that fall between the modern categories of magical or religious.95 In the process they provide a picture of 15th- and early-16th-century Germany as teeming with magical possibilities.

Primary Sources

The sources for the study of magic, witchcraft, demons, and the occult in the 15th- and 16th-century German lands are quite diverse, ranging from the textual (both manuscript and printed) to many images (woodblock, engravings, and paintings) and actual objects that have survived (witch bottles, amulets, and magical pouches). Among the printed texts there are more straightforward documents, such as the rare grimoires and necromancers’ manuals (books of ritual magic) and the many demonologies and natural philosophies, but useful references to magic, witchcraft, demons, and the occult can be found in less obvious works: sermons, personal letters, ambassadors’ reports, hagiographies, and political treatises. For example, trials of treasure hunters contain useful information about spirits and the revenant dead. Many sources about witchcraft, magic, and demons are also available in manuscript form, as the circulation of manuscript materials continued long after printing had spread. In addition, manuscript trial records of both ecclesiastical and secular courts provide extensive documentation about common beliefs concerning the legitimate and illegitimate use of magic; the progress of an accused witch’s career; the activities of demons during plagues, wars, and urban disputes; and the effects of the stars on climate and crops.

Because these materials are so diverse and scattered throughout modern Germany and other territories that were once partly or entirely under German rule,96 the quickest and most effective way to start research on these topics is through major digital depositories. For German printed material, the most comprehensive source is VD16 (Verzeichnis der im deutschen Sprachbereich erschienenen Drucke des 16. Jahrhunderts). (There is also a VD17 for 17th-century works.) It provides access to over 100,000 titles from more than 260 libraries. For scholars interested in 15th-century printed texts, known as incunabula, they are more difficult to access. A useful finding aid is the ISTC (Incunabula Short Title Catalog), which contains over 30,000 editions. It may provide links to digitized versions of the document, but the ISTC is generally more useful as a finding aid. Once a text is located, the library or archive can be contacted about availability.

For manuscript materials, the scholar must start with major research libraries and archives. Among those libraries with the richest collections for magic, witchcraft, and the occult in the German lands are the Bavarian State Library (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek), the Herzog August Bibliothek, Niedersächsische Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek, and Sächsische Landesbibliothek. Within the US, the Cornell University Library is known for its “Witchcraft Collection,” which contains rare and one-of-a-kind materials. Many of these libraries have excellent links to digitized printed material as well, and the Bavarian State Library is the current home of several major digitizing initiatives, including VD16.

The availability of archival materials about witchcraft and the occult varies widely, and while unexplored materials assuredly exist, several of the major collections have been well studied. The basic place to start is at the Archivportal of the Deutsche Digitale Bibliotek; it is widely searchable and provides links to all of the major archives in Germany. Unfortunately, finding archival materials is often tied to hours perusing individual archival inventories, personal connections with fellow researchers, notations in other works, and plain luck.

Further Reading

Bächtold-Stäubli, Hanns, E. Hoffmann-Krayer, and Gerhard Lüdtke, eds. Handwörterbuch des deutschen Aberglaubens. 10 vols. Berlin: de Gruyter, 1927–1942.Find this resource:

Bailey, Michael D. Battling Demons: Witchcraft, Heresy, and Reform in the Late Middle Ages. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2003.Find this resource:

Barnes, Robin B. Astronomy and the Reformation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.Find this resource:

Behringer, Wolfgang. Hexen und Hexenprozesse in Deutschland. Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 2000.Find this resource:

Bever, Edward. The Realities of Witchcraft and Popular Magic in Early Modern Europe Houndsmills, U.K.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.Find this resource:

Blauert, Andreas. Frühe Hexenvergolgung. Ketzer-, Zauberei- und Hexenprozesse des 15. Jahrhunderts. Hamburg: Junius Verlag, 1989.Find this resource:

Brosseder, Claudia. Im Bann der Sterne: Caspar Peucer, Philipp Melanchthon und andere Wittenberger Astrologen. Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2004.Find this resource:

Bynum, Caroline Walker. Wonderful Blood: Theology and Practice in Late Medieval Northern Germany and Beyond. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007.Find this resource:

Cameron, Euan. Enchanted Europe: Superstition, Reason, and Religion, 1250–1750. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.Find this resource:

Clark, Stuart. Thinking with Demons: The Idea of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.Find this resource:

Collins, David J. The Cambridge History of Magic and Witchcraft in the West: From Antiquity to the Present. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2015.Find this resource:

Dillinger, Johannes. “Evil People”: A Comparative Study of Witch-Hunts in Swabian Austria and the Electorate of Trier. Translated by Laura Stokes. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2009.Find this resource:

Dillinger, Johannes. Auf Schatzsuche: von Grabräubern, Geisterbeschwörern und anderen Jägern verborgener Reichtümer. Freiburg, Germany: Herder, 2011.Find this resource:

Dülmen, Richard van. Kultur und Alltag in der Frühen Neuzeit; 3: Religion, Magie, Aufklarung, 16.-18. Jahrhundert. 2d ed. Munich: Beck, 1999.Find this resource:

Gordon, Bruce, and Peter Marshall, eds. The Place of the Dead: Death and Remembrance in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2000.Find this resource:

Heitzmann, Christian. Die Sterne lügen nicht: Astrologie und Astronomie im Mittelalter und in der Frühen Neuzeit. Wolfenbüttel, Germany: HAB, 2008.Find this resource:

Kieckhefer, Richard. Forbidden Rites: A Necromancer’s Manual of the Fifteenth Century. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998.Find this resource:

Levack, Brian P., ed. The Oxford Handbook of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.Find this resource:

Lücke, Monike. “… viele und manchfeldige böse Missethaten …”: Hexenverfolgungen auf dem Territorium Sachsen-Anhalts vom 16.–18. Jahrhundert. Halle/Saale, Germany: Courage, 2000.Find this resource:

Oberman, Heiko A. Luther: Man between God and the Devil. Translated by Eileen Walliser-Schwarzbart. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989.Find this resource:

Rieger, Miriam. Der Teufel im Pfarrhaus: Gespenster, Geisterglaube und Besessenheit im Luthertum der Frühen Neuzeit. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2011.Find this resource:

Scribner, Robert W. For the Sake of Simple Folk: Popular Propaganda for the German Reformation. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1981.Find this resource:

Scribner, Robert W. Religion and Culture in Germany (1400–1800). Edited by Lyndal Roper. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2001.Find this resource:

Soergel, Philip M. Miracles and the Protestant Imagination: The Evangelical Wonder Book in Reformation Germany. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.Find this resource:

Stokes, Laura. Demons of Urban Reform: Early European Witch Trials and Criminal Justice, 1430–1530. Houndsmill, U.K.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.Find this resource:


(1.) Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, De occulta philosophia, book 1, c. 2, as quoted in P. G. Maxwell-Stuart, ed. & trans., The Occult in Early Modern Europe: A Documentary History (Houndsmills, U.K.: Palgrave Macmillan, 1999), 116.

(2.) Among the best recent explorations of these concepts are John Bossy, Christianity in the West, 1400–1700 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985); Euan Cameron, Enchanted Europe: Superstition, Reason, and Religion, 1250–1750 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010); Bruce Gordon and Peter Marshall, eds., The Place of the Dead: Death and Remembrance in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2000); and Stephen Wilson, The Magical Universe: Everyday Ritual and Magic in Pre-Modern Europe (London: Hambledon, 2003).

(3.) WA TR 253, no. 186, as translated in The Table Talk of Martin Luther, ed. and trans. William Hazlitt (London: Bell & Daldy, 1872).

(4.) Caroline Walker Bynum, Wonderful Blood: Theology and Practice in Late Medieval Northern Germany and Beyond (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007), esp. chaps 2 and 3 for Wilsnack and other northern German sites.

(5.) Robert W. Scribner, For the Sake of Simple Folk: Popular Propaganda for the German Reformation (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1981) is the classic study of such pamphlets and their influence in the early Reformation. Recent reassessments that expand this topic into the early seventeenth century are Andrew Pettegree, Reformation and the Culture of Persuasion (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 156–184; and Philip M. Soergel, Miracles and the Protestant Imagination: The Evangelical Wonder Book in Reformation Germany (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

(6.) Soergel, Miracles, 2 and 5–6.

(7.) See Luther’s sermon on angels: Coburg, 1530; WA 32:120. Referenced in Bruce Gordon, “Malevolent Ghosts and Ministering Angels: Apparitions and Pastoral Care in the Swiss Reformation,” in The Place of the Dead, eds. Gordon and Marshall, 101. For general information about angels in early modern Europe, see Peter Marshall and Alexandra M. Walsham, eds., Angels in the Early Modern World (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2006), esp. chap. 3 (Philip M. Soergel, “Luther on the Angels”).

(8.) Ambrosius Blarer, Der geistlich Schatz Christenlicher vorbereitung und gloubigs trosts wider Tod und Sterben … (Zurich, 1566), fol. 56r-v, as quoted in Gordon, “Malevolent Ghosts,” in The Place of the Dead, eds. Gordon and Marshall, 104.

(9.) Soergel, Miracles, 160.

(10.) Bruce Gordon and Peter Marshall, “Introduction: Placing the Dead in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe,” in The Place of the Dead, eds. Gordon and Marshall, 7. See Kathryn A. Edwards, Living with Ghosts: The Dead in European Society from the Black Death to the Enlightenment (forthcoming) for more detailed discussion of ghost beliefs in a European context, while Miriam Rieger focuses on Lutheran ministers’ interpretations of ghosts and other spirits: Der Teufel im Pfarrhaus: Gespenster, Geisterglaube und Besessenheit im Luthertum der Frühen Neuzeit (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2011).

(11.) Hanns Bächtold-Stäubli, E. Hoffmann-Krayer, and Gerhard Lüdtke, eds. Handwörterbuch des deutschen Aberglaubens. 10 vols. (Berlin, de Gruyter, 1927–1942); Johannes Dillinger, Auf Schatzsuche (Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder, 2010); and “Evil People”: A Comparative Study of Witch-Hunts in Swabian Austria and the Electorate of Trier, trans. Laura Stokes (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2009).

(12.) Richard Wunderli, Peasant Fires: The Drummer of Niklashausen (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1992), 15–21.

(13.) Soergel, Miracles, 18, from the Bavarian Chronicle. Believers had the last laugh, however, since soon after there were strong storms and heavy flooding. Locals blamed the bishop’s actions, and the chapel, and spring were reinstated.

(14.) See Cameron, Enchanted Europe, 158–173, for Luther’s ideas about enchantment and the occult.

(15.) David J. Collins, “Learned Magic,” in The Cambridge History of Magic and Witchcraft in the West: From Antiquity to the Present (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 332.

(16.) For influential discussions of the connection between premodern magic and science, see Randall Styers, Making Magic: Religion, Magic, and Science in the Modern World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004); Steven Shapin, A Social History of Truth: Civility and Science in Seventeenth-Century England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995); Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer, Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985); and Antoine Faivre and Wouter J. Hanegraaff, eds. Western Esotericism and the Science of Religion (Louvain, Belgium: Peeters, 1998).

(17.) Collins, in Collins, The Cambridge History, 334–335.

(18.) Archidoxis Magicae Libri VII, bk 1, 442–443, as quoted in Maxwell-Stuart, The Occult, 107. A lamen is a pendant worn so that it hangs on or near the heart.

(19.) WA TR 1, no. 760, trans. Hazlett.

(20.) Robin B. Barnes, Astronomy and the Reformation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 24.

(21.) Richard Kieckhefer, Magic in the Middle Ages (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 128. Also see Christian Heitzmann, Die Sterne lügen nicht: Astrologie und Astronomie im Mittelalter und in der Frühen Neuzeit (Wolfenbüttel, Germany: Herzog August Bibliothek, 2008).

(22.) Barnes, Astronomy, 87, 91, and 95; Soergel, Miracles, 13–14.

(23.) Barnes, Astronomy, 30.

(24.) Ibid., 6.

(25.) Ibid., introduction.

(26.) Edward Bever, The Realities of Witchcraft and Popular Magic in Early Modern Europe (Houndsmills, U.K.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 382.

(27.) Richard Kieckhefer, Forbidden Rites: A Necromancer’s Manual of the Fifteenth Century (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998); Kieckhefer, Magic, 151–171; Claire Fanger, “Medieval Ritual Magic: What it is and why we need to know more about it,” and Frank Klaassen, “English Manuscripts of Magic, 1300–1500: A Preliminary Survey,” in Conjuring Spirits: Texts and Traditions of Medieval Ritual Magic (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2004), vii–xviii and 3–31.

(28.) In so doing, Luther represented a division over the value of astronomy and astrology that was only beginning during his time and would take several centuries to more widely disseminate in the German lands.

(29.) Barnes, Astronomy, 134 and 140.

(30.) Ibid., 134–135; Claudia Brosseder, Im Bann der Sterne: Caspar Peucer, Philipp Melanchthon und andere Wittenberger Astrologen (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2004). Catholics saw Melanchthon’s support for such activities, which became more explicit as Luther aged, as a sign of corruption in the Lutheran church. According to Johann Oldecop (1494–1573), a priest in Hildesheim, the “‘rabbis and Pharisees of the Lutheran sect’ [should be condemned] for their propensity to divine meanings from the wonders they sensed in ‘figures of storm winds, thunderclaps, fiery clouds, three or four suns, or the form of a small child.’”: Soergel, Miracles, 124.

(31.) These interpretations are nicely summarized in Ronald Hutton, “Anthropological and Historical Approaches to Witchcraft: Potential for a New Collaboration?” Historical Journal 47.2 (2004): 413–434, here 428; and Edward Bever, “Popular Witch Beliefs and Magical Practices,” in The Oxford Handbook of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe, ed. Brian P. Levack (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 50–68, here 53.

(32.) The idea of white magic is a 19th-century development; in late medieval and early modern Europe, if an action was classified as magical, it was generally perceived to be dangerous. As dangerous and occult, it easily became illegitimate.

(33.) Bever, The Realities of Witchcraft, has examples scattered throughout his book, but they are concentrated in pp. 215–317. Also see Dillinger, Auf Schatzsuche.

(34.) For a broad but intriguing summary of magic’s place as part of early modern European life more generally, see Richard van Dülmen, Kultur und Alltag in der Frühen Neuzeit; 3: Religion, Magie, Aufklarung, 16.-18. Jahrhundert. 2d ed. (Munich: Beck, 1999).

(35.) Michael D. Bailey, Battling Demons: Witchraft, Heresy, and Reform in the Late Middle Ages (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002), 131.

(36.) See Laura Stokes, Demons of Urban Reform: Early European Witch Trials and Criminal Justice, 1430–1530 (Houndsmills, U.K.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 4–7, for a summary of the Council’s activities in developing the connection between demonism and magic; Andreas Blauert provides much greater detail in Frühe Hexenvergolgung. Ketzer-, Zauberei- und Hexenprozesse des 15. Jahrhunderts (Hamburg, Germany: Junius Verlag, 1989). English translations of excerpts from Eugenius’s letters are in Alan Charles Kors and Edward Peters, eds., Witchcraft in Europe, 400–1700: A Documentary History (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001), 153–155.

(37.) See the summary by Michael D. Bailey of early Christian views on magic in Magic and Superstition in Europe: A Concise History from Antiquity to the Present (Plymouth, U.K.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007), 43–76 and his more detailed development in Fearful Spirits, Reasoned Follies: The Boundaries of Superstition in Late Medieval Europe (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2013).

(38.) Jürgen Beyer, “Molitor, Ulrich,” in Enzyklopädie des Märchens. Handwörterbuch zur historischen und vergleichenden Erzählforschung (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1997–1999), vol. 9, col. 767–769; and Bever, The Realities, 69–70.

(39.) Philipp Melanchthon, Historiae quaedam recitatae inter publicas lectiones, in Corpus Reformatorum, 20: coll. 519–608, nos. 131 and 235.

(40.) Ibid., col. 597, no. 235.

(41.) The classic statement of the Devil’s influence on Luther’s life and thought is Heiko Oberman, Luther: Man between God and the Devil, trans. Eileen Walliser-Schwarzbart (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006).

(42.) Oberman, Luther, 219.

(43.) Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians (1535), as quoted in Cameron, Enchanted Europe, 166.

(44.) For a thorough, recent edition see Caesarius of Heisterbach, Dialogus miraculorum: Dialog über die Wunder, eds. Nikolaus Nösges and Horst Schneider, 5 vols. (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2009), esp. vol. 3: De daemonibus.

(45.) Soergel, Marvels, 109; and Stuart Clark, Thinking with Demons: The Idea of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 161–178.

(46.) Luther, Table Talk, trans. Hazlett, no. 580.

(47.) Ibid. The most dramatic early description of how and why witches cause impotence, one that may have been known to Luther or his followers, is in Heinrich Kramer, Malleus Maleficarum, trans. Christopher S. Mackay, 2 vols. (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 2: 187–200.

(48.) Stokes, Demons of Urban Reform, 1.

(49.) The classic work is Scribner, For the Sake of Simple Folk.

(50.) Oberman, Luther, 72–73.

(51.) Herman Barge, Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt (Nieuwkoop, Netherlands: B. de Graf, 1899), 1: 614, in Gordon, “Malevolent Ghosts, in Gordon and Marshall, The Place of the Dead, 88.

(52.) Oberman, Luther, 88.

(53.) Martin Luther, sermon on the First Commandment (given 1516; published 1518), in WA 1:406–410, quoted in Kors and Peters, Witchcraft in Europe, trans. Peters, 264–265.

(54.) Martin Luther, sermon on Matthew 2: 1–12 (1522); WA 10:1.

(55.) WA TR 3:51–52, no. 3979, trans. Edward Peters, in Kors and Peters, Witchcraft in Europe, 263.

(56.) Luther, Table Talk, trans. Hazlett, no. 588.

(57.) Wolfgang Behringer, Hexen und Hexenprozesse in Deutschland (Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch, 2000), provides the best brief synthesis of the vast literature on this topic, but it is unfortunately growing out of date.

(58.) WA TR 3:355–356, no. 3491; WA TR 4:31–32, no. 3953; WA 10:551–552; and Sigrud Brauner, Fearless Wives and Frightened Shrews: The Construction of the Witch in Early Modern Germany (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2001), 54. Detailed discussions of the vocabulary of magic and witchcraft in premodern Europe can be found in Davies, Popular Magic, 1–13; Kyle A. Fraser, “Roman Antiquity,” in Collins, The Cambridge History of Magic and Witchcraft, 126–127 and 130–135; and Iris Gareis, “Merging Magical Traditions,” in Levack, The Oxford Handbook, 41–45.

(59.) See Claude Tholosan’s description and analysis of these trials in Ut magorum et maleficiorum errores, excerpts from which have been translated into French in Martine Ostorero, Agostino Paravicini Bagliani, and Kathrin Utz Tremp, eds., L’imaginaire du sabbat: Edition critique des textes le plus anciens (c. 1430–c. 1440) (Lausanne, Switzerland: Université de Lausanne, 1999).

(60.) See the cases in Hans Peter Broedel, Fifteenth-Century Witch Beliefs,” in The Oxford Handbook of Witchcraft, ed. Levack, 32–49.

(61.) Ibid., 43–44; Franck Mercier, La Vauderie d’Arras: Une chasse aux sorciers à l’Automne du Moyen Age (Rennes, France: Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2006), 139–162.

(62.) Bever, The Realities, 69–70; Dillinger, “Evil People,” especially chapter 2. The Swiss and south German territories began prosecuting witches somewhat earlier and more widely than other German lands, but such prosecutions did occur. For example, in Württemberg the first trial only occurred in 1497, but in the next sixty years there were thirty more: Bever, The Realities, 383.

(63.) Stokes, Demons of Urban Reform, 41–42.

(64.) Stokes, Demons of Urban Reform, 37–80, discusses each city in a separate chapter.

(65.) Broedel, in Levack, The Oxford Handbook of Witchcraft, 39, summarizes the more detailed discussion by Katherin Utz Tremp and Catherine Chène, “Hans Fründ,” in Ostorero, Paravicini, and Tremp, eds., L’imaginaire du sabbat, 21–51.

(66.) Stokes, Demons of Urban Reform, 38–39.

(67.) Ibid., 7.

(68.) Broedel, in Levack, The Oxford Handbook of Witchcraft, 39.

(69.) Stokes, Demons of Urban Reform, 25–28.

(70.) This summary is indebted to the clear and detailed description of the composite doctrine of witchcraft in Bailey, Battling Demons, 32.

(71.) Gerhild Scholz Williams, “Demonologies,” in Levack, The Oxford Handbook, 69–83, describes the many types of demonological writings circulating in fifteenth- and early-sixteenth century Europe, including those intended for preachers and the laity.

(72.) Bever, The Realities, 69–70. For Saxony specifically, see Monike Lücke, “… viele und manchfeldige böse Missethaten …”: Hexenverfolgungen auf dem Territorium Sachsen-Anhalts vom 16.–18. Jahrhundert (Halle, Germany: Courage, 2000).

(73.) Constitutio Criminalis Carolina, no. 109, as translated by Stokes, Demons of Urban Reform, 15.

(74.) Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1971).

(75.) Lynn Thorndike, A History of Magic and Experimental Science, 8 vols. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1923–1958). Of most use here are vols. 3–4 (the 14th and 15th centuries) and vols. 5–6 (the 16th century).

(76.) Laura Di Giammateo, Magia e medicina Helmstedt: l’insegnamento di Aristotele, Melantone e Bruno nell’Academia Iulia (Lanciano, Italy: Barabba, 2013); Marcus Hellyer, Catholic Physics: Jesuit Natural Philosophy in Early Modern Germany (South Bend, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005); and Styers, Making Magic.

(77.) David J. Collins, “Albertus, Magnus or Magus? Natural Philosophy and Religious Reform in the Late Middle Ages.” Renaissance Quarterly 63 (2010): 1–44;Christopher Lehrich, The Language of Demons and Angels: Cornelius Agrippa’s Occult Philosophy (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2003); Faivre and Hanegraaff, Western Esotericism; and Dan Burton and David Grandy, Magic, Mystery, and Science: The Occult in Western Civilization (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003).

(78.) Clark, Thinking with Demons is the best known, but his later Vanities of the Eye: Vision in Early Modern European Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007) deals with similar themes.

(79.) For those considering the German lands in the fifteenth and sixteenth century, see Bailey, Fearful Spirits; Jan Machielsen, Martin Delrio: Demonology and Scholarship in the Counter-Reformation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015); Richard Raiswell, ed., The Devil in Society in Premodern Europe (Toronto: Center for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 2012); and Cameron, Enchanted Europe.

(80.) Barnes, Astronomy; Soergel, Miracles. Also see Ken Kurihara, Celestial Wonders in Reformation Germany (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2014); and Karl Möseneder, Paracelsus und die Bilder: über Glauben, Magie, und Astrologie im Reformationszeitalter (Tübingen, Germany: Niemeyer, 2009).

(81.) Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans. Talcott Parsons (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1930) (Originally published 1904–1905.); and Ernst Troeltsch, Protestantism and Progress: The Significance of Protestantism for the Rise of the Modern World, trans. W. Montgomery (London: Williams & Norgate, 1912).

(82.) Alexandra Walsham, Providence in Early Modern England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999) and “The Reformation and the Disenchantment of the World Reassessed,” Historical Journal 51.2 (2008): 497–528; Cameron, Enchanted Europe; and Robert W. Scribner, “The Reformation, Popular Magic, and ‘the disenchantment of the world,’” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 23 (1993): 475–494.

(83.) Bever, The Realities; Davies, Popular Magic; and Wilson, The Magical Universe.

(84.) Lucien Febvre, The Problem of Unbelief in the Sixteenth Century: The Religion of Rabelais, trans. Beatrice Gottlieb (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982).

(85.) Carlo Ginzburg, The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller, trans. John and Anne Tedeschi (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980); and Gerald Strauss, Luther’s House of Learning: Indoctrination of the Young in the German Reformation (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978).

(86.) Paul A. Russell, Lay Theology in the Reformation: Popular Pamphleteers in Southwest Germany, 1521–1555 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2002); and John M. Frymire, The Primacy of the Postils: Catholics, Protestants, and the Dissemination of Ideas in Early Modern Germany (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2010).

(87.) H. C. Erik Midelfort, Witch-Hunting in Southwestern Germany: The Social and Intellectual Foundations (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1972); and William Monter, Witchcraft in France and Switzerland: The Borderlands during the Reformation (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1976).

(88.) Rieger, Der Teufel im Pfarrhaus; Clark, Thinking with Demons; Gerhild Scholz Williams, Defining Dominion: The Discourses of Magic and Witchcraft in Early Modern France and Germany (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995).

(89.) Kathryn A. Edwards, ed., Werewolves, Witches, and Wandering Spirits: Traditional Belief and Folklore in Early Modern Europe (Kirksville, MO: Truman State University Press, 2002); Helen Parish and William Naphy, eds., Religion and Superstition in Reformation Europe (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002); and Manfred Wilde, Die Zauberei- und Hexenprozesse in Kirsachsen (Cologne: Böhlau, 2003).

(90.) For a clear survey of these developments, see Diane Purkiss, The Witch in History: Early Modern and Twentieth-Century Representations (London: Routledge, 1996).

(91.) Eva Labouvie, Zauberei und Hexenwerk. Ländlicher Hexenglaube in der frühen Neuzeit (Frankfurt: Fischer, 1991) and “Männer im Hexenprozess. Zur Sozialanthropologie eines ‘männlichen’ Verständnisses von Magie und Hexerei,” Geschichte und Gesellschaft 16.1 (1990): 56–78; and Lyndal Roper, Oedipus and the Devil: Witchcraft, Sexuality, and Religion in Early Modern Europe (London: Routledge, 1994).

(92.) Lyndal Roper, Witch Craze: Terror and Fantasy in Baroque Germany (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004); Dillinger, “Böse Leute”; Thomas Robisheaux, The Last Witch of Langenburg: Murder in a German Village (New York: Norton, 2009); and Alison Rowlands, Witchcraft Narratives in Germany: Rothenburg, 1561–1629 (Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 2003); and Braun, Fearless Wives.

(93.) See, for example, Martine Ostorero and J. Véronèse, eds., Penser avec les demons: Démonologues et demonologies (XIIIe–XVIIe siècles) (Florence: Edizioni del Galuzzo, 2015); Martine Ostorero, La diable au sabbat: Littérature démonologique et sorcellerie (1440–1460) (Florence: Edizioni del Galuzzo, 2011); and Bagliani, Ostorero, & Tremp, eds., L’imaginaire du sabbat. Also see Stokes, Demons of Urban Reform; and Bailey, Battling Demons and Fearful Spirits.

(94.) Lara Apps and Andrew Gow, Male Witches in Early Modern Europe (Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 2003); Alison Rowlands, ed., Witchcraft and Masculinities in Early Modern Europe (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009); and Rolf Schulte, Man as Witch: Male Witches in Central Europe (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).

(95.) Wolfgang Behringer, Shaman of Oberstdorf: Chonrad Stoeckhlin and the Phantoms of the Night, trans. H. C. Erik Midelfort (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1998); Sabine Richter, Werwölfe und Zaubertänze: vorchristliche Glaubensvorstellungen in Hexenprozessen der frühen Neuzeit (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2004); and Dillinger, Auf Schatzsuche.

(96.) Such countries include Switzerland, Austria, Luxembourg, Lichtenstein, and parts of Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and France, to name only a few.