Sex and the Church Courts
The ecclesiastical courts had the exclusive right to try all offenses against the Church, which included not only matters of religion, but questions of morality and sex, as well. The system and content of canon law which gradually developed was completely different from the common law, which was used by the civil courts. Whereas the common law was primarily concerned with the protection of the rights, person and property of the individual, canon law frequently regarded as offenses actions which harmed no one. Thus they proceeded against individuals for "impure thoughts," in exactly the same manner as modern dictatorships practice "thought control." The Church attempted to prescribe behavior in not only the major matters of life, but in many minor matters also, such as enjoying the sight of a priest in trouble, refusing to sing in church, sitting in the wrong pew and even for passively encouraging or favoring such "crimes."
One of the most remarkable laws evolved by the Church court used marriage as a punishment for fornication. In 1308 the Archbishop Winchelsey developed a procedure whereby a contract was drawn up at the time of the first offense stating that, in the event of a third offense, the parties were to be considered as having been man and wife from the time of the first offense.
Nor can it be argued that such laws were established for any logical or ethical reason, or to foster lasting personal relationships, for the Church also held that it was a worse crime for a priest to marry than to keep a mistress, and to keep a mistress was worse than to engage in random fornication. In A History of Sacerdotal Celibacy in the Christian Church, H.C. Lea writes that when a priest was accused of being married, it was a good defense to reply that he was simply engaged in indiscriminate seduction, since this carried only a light penalty, whereas the former might involve total suspension.
The Church courts had at their disposal the ultimate penalty of excommunication which, in more serious cases, could include the loss of civil rights, and imprisonment, if the offender persisted in his sin. In time the Church so influenced public opinion that the secular courts began to support and reinforce the ecclesiastical courts and, without the protection of a separate church and state, many of the Church's extraordinary prohibitions eventually became embodied in the civil law (where some of them still persist today).
Nonetheless, it was apparent that no mere physical system of supervision could hope to regulate the most private behavior of men and even their very thoughts—only a more subtle psychological control, based upon terror, could do that. The Church had continually emphasized afterlife—the advantages of heaven and the disadvantages of hell. But now an additional emphasis was placed upon the horrors of eternal damnation and what it would mean to spend an eternity roasting in hellfire. It must be recognized also that the continually increasing repression of sex by the Church might be expected to have produced a greater interest in fantasies of sadistic horror in both the clergy and the general public, since modern psychiatric preception has revealed the intimate link that exists between sex and pain and how a repression of the sex urge tends to produce sadomasochistic and other abnormal inclinations. It is not surprising, therefore, that Taylor reports: "By the beginning of the 12th century, some of the predictable results of sexual repression had begun to appear: references to perversion, flagellation, sexual fantasies and heresy abounded...."
A great number of Christian ascetics have described how they were unable to escape all feeling of sexual desire, and how they tormented themselves and subjected their bodies to excruciating tortures in the vain attempt. Taylor writes, "In this unenviable state, men are quick to find sexual overtones in every object, every action of others. And it was just these men—restless, unhappy, obsessed, driven by the energies of their bottled-up libidos—who were apt to attain positions of power in the Church and stamp it with their character."
The more these men of God attempted to deny their inborn sexual nature, the more perverse they became; the more perverse, the more concerned they were with sexual sin; greater concern led to greater repression; perversity became perversion and still more repression was thought necessary. The Church's obsession with sex created a self-perpetuating chain reaction that continued to increase through the centuries until it finally burst in the holocaust of the inquisitions, leaving mangled, bloody corpses spread all across the face of Europe.
Sex and Witchcraft
Near the end of the Middle Ages, Pope Innocent VIII issued the Bull Summa desiderantes, most often referred to as a bull against witchcraft, but the sexual nature of its content indicates that it was something more than that. Innocent was actually prodded into issuing the declaration by two of his subordinates, Sprenger and Kramer, who returned from Germany with wild tales of sexual excesses and witchery; the churchmen and people of the community violently denied the charges, but the declaration was issued just the same, and Sprenger and Kramer were appointed Chief Inquisitors. Soon after, they prepared and had published a famous handbook on the subject, Malleus Malleficarum, which stated: "All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which in women is insatiable." With perfect logic, it then adds that the primary source of witchcraft is the quarreling of young women and their lovers. This small volume might be considered today a near-classic casebook of sexual psychopathy. The popularity of Malleus, which rapidly went through 10 editions, gives some indication of the perverted preoccupation the general public had in such matters at the time. The three main subjects of the book were impotence, conversion hysterias and sexual fantasies; all of these were said to be caused by witchcraft. And since the incidence of impotence, hysteria and sexual fantasy in such a sexually repressed society must have been staggering, it is not surprising that the witch hunters had no difficulty in finding an ample number of "victims" as evidence of witch magic.
Once they had found a "victim," finding the witch was a relatively simple matter. The techniques used by the Inquisitors guaranteed results: The victim was first asked to name whomever he though might have cast the spell upon him; failing in this, neighbors were interrogated and asked to name the witch; the Interrogators might select a likely prospect themselves; or the general public was sometimes asked to pick a candidate. The suspect was then arrested; tortured until he "confessed," and then burned at the stake, or otherwise disposed of.
Persons of both sexes and all ages—from small children to the most elderly—were accused, though the biggest group consisted of young girls in their teens. Both the accused and the accusers came from every stratum of society and many prominent persons were involved. To cite a single example from C. Williams' book, Witchcraft: In the mass persecutions in Bamberg between 1609 and 1633, when 900 persons were burned to death, one of those executed was Johannes Junius, a burgomaster of the city. Under torture, he confessed to witchcraft; asked to name his accomplices, he denied having any, but, tortured again, named some. Shortly before his execution, he was permitted to write to his daughter. He told her not to believe what he had confessed—"It is all falsehood and invention.... They never cease the torture until one says something."
In his article, "The Sabbats of Satan," in last month's Playboy, E.V. Griffith described some of the rituals purportedly practiced by witches of the time and it is undoubtedly true that in a period of such extreme sexual repression some devil worship really did exist. It was during the 14th century that the Black Mass was born, in which the holy sacrament of the Church was turned into a ritual honoring Lucifer, and the nude body of a young woman was used as an altar, from which were read the Devil's Commandments, with the "Thou shalts nots" of the Ten Commandments changed to "Thou shalts." But it is doubtful that these practices were as common as it is generally assumed. The actual number of devil worshipers will never be known, but it is certain that only a small percentage of those executed for witchcraft were actually guilty of any crime whatever.
Torture was not always required to elicit confessions, however. Many came forward of their own free will and admitted such sins, even though they knew that such admissions virtually assured their deaths. If this seems strange, one need only be reminded that even today any major murder brings forth a number of "false confessors," who admit to having perpetuated the crime (see "The False Confessors", Playboy, January 1958). Psychiatry would explain this as an overwhelming need for punishment that some deranged individuals experience because of an inner feeling of guilt that is completely unrelated to the act that they confess. In a time when an entire society was so thoroughly guilt-ridden, it is easy to understand why so many willingly came forward with confessions that were pure fantasy.
Though the inquisitions spread to include other forms of heresy, the predominantly sexual nature of the trials continued to the end. In fact, the very term "witchcraft trials" is a misleading misnomer, since it was sex that the Church wished to suppress and the inquisitions were a means of suppressing it.
It was a basic assumption, during the trials, that all witches (of both sexes) had had sexual relations with the devil. All inquisitors worked with an established manual of questions, and since these were almost wholly sexual, they were usually successful (with the help of a little torture) in producing sexual guilt.