By the time 785, numerous events and laws were enacted, passed and altered with witches kept in mind. With the help of the Council of Paderborn, those against witches saw their opponents lowered in the eyes of the public. Anyone who was deemed a sorcerer in one form or another was demoted in the ranks about the land. Their position was decreased to serfdom and they were expected to report to the Church, who was seen as being responsible for these wayward souls.
To explore some of the popular thoughts pertaining to witchcraft, historical records reveal documents, such as “De ecclesiasticis disciplines,” which was attributed to Regino of Prum. The text goes on to make reference to evil spirits that enter the heads of people, which are really just a manifestation of an overactive imagination. The image of a witch was thought to be something that was quite false and influenced by others who wished to prey on a weak mind. Regino also went on to state that it was the duty of priests to correct this misconception among the people.
In 1080, we see a leniency granted towards witches, which was accredited to Pope Gregory VII. He wrote an important letter to King Harold of Denmark, stating that it should be forbidden to sentence witches to death for influencing the ways of nature. In the past, it was not uncommon for a witch to be blamed for a damaging storm.
When crops in the town suffered an unfortunate season or harvest, often times it was the way of witches that had something to do with this negative occurrence. Pestilence was also blamed on the acts of witches. In this day and age, we are always looking for someone to blame for our shortcomings and misfortunes. In the past, it was witches who received the most complaints and punishment for things that were truly out of their control.
In 1225 Germany, we see the establishment of a secular law code, which was referred to as “Sachsenspiegel.” Once again, the use of fire as punishment for a suspected witch reemerged. This particular law made death by fire legal for some of the consequences associated with someone who was thought to be practicing witchcraft.
In 1258, we see the term of “manifest heresy” in relation to the words of Pope Alexander IV. Through his very instruction, he stated, “The Inquisitors, deputed to investigate heresy, must not intrude into investigations of divination or sorcery without knowledge of manifest heresy involved.” If you were wondering what manifest heresy was, it was described as the act of praying to an idol by an alter, as well as the practice of participating in sacrifices. If one w as suspected of consulting to a demon, then they had committed manifest heresy. Those who fraternized with in public with someone thought to be a heretic also constituted as committing manifest heresy.
For more information on the history of Wicca and witchcraft, be sure to check out the continuing installments of this series of articles. The next article will take a look at one of the first witches burned to death after a sentencing from a court.