In 1488 during the reign of Henry VII, one year after the Dominican Heinrich Kramer wrote his notorious witch-finding manual ‘Malleus Maleficarum’, an adolescent girl named Agatha Soothtell gave birth in a cave among the dales and moors of Yorkshire to her daughter Ursula, supposedly conceived by the Devil himself.
The present chapter resumes the physiological theme of the previous chapter, and explores in more detail how and why the body became the locus of Gothic horror in the last decades of the century, and how the fields of psychiatry, criminology, and sexology helped determine the focus of Gothic representation.
Work on the history of witchcraft has come to a point at which we both can and must rethink this and other basic assumptions about the rise of these trials. We must reconsider how far the concept of witchcraft was consolidated into a single imaginative construct during the fifteenth century, and how the mythology of witchcraft functioned in distinct places. Most basically, we must ask anew how useful standard models of historical explanation are for understanding the early witch trials.
The figure is that of a man clothed in the skin of a stag and wearing on his head the antlers of a stag. The hide of the animal covers the whole of the man’s body, the hands and feet are drawn as though seen through a transparent material; thus conveying to the spectator the information that the figure is a disguised human being. The face is bearded, the eyes large and round, but there is some doubt whether the artist intended to represent the man−animal with a mask or with the face uncovered.
In his very learned and exhaustive treatise, ‘De la Demonomanie des Sorciers,’ the worthy Bodin, with enterprise worthy of a modern serial-story writer, keeps his reader’s curiosity whetted to its fullest by darkly hinting his knowledge of awesome spells and charms commonly employed by Satan’s servants. Unlike the modern writer, however, he refrains from detailing them at length in his last chapter, fearing to impart knowledge which may easily be put to the worst account. However valuable a testimony to his good faith and discretion, this would undoubtedly have brought down upon him the strictures of modern critics, and might indeed have entailed severe loss to the world had not other less conscientious writers more than rectified the omission.