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Eradicating the Devil's Minions

Eradicating the Devil's Minions: Anabaptists and Witches in Reformation Europe, 1535-1600

Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 384
  • Book Info
    Eradicating the Devil's Minions
    Book Description:

    Eradicating the Devil's Minionsis an investigation into the roots of religious intolerance in Reformation Europe, and a unique examination of mass hysteria and social extremism.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8431-7
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures and Maps
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-2)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 3-7)

    On 2 December 1562 in the small southwestern German town of Wiesensteig, twenty women were burned at the stake for allegedly causing a hailstorm four months earlier that destroyed many crops in the vicinity. They were also accused of blasphemy, cannibalistic infanticide, and robbing children of their ‘holy baptism.’ During the following year the city’s lord, Count Ulrich of Helfenstein, approved the burning of forty-three more witches, reviving witch panics after they had lain dormant for over sixty years. Once begun, the great European witch-hunts would consume thousands of women and men for their alleged participation in diabolical acts, such...

  7. 1 The Devil’s Minions? Anabaptists, Magic, and Witches in the Sixteenth Century
    (pp. 8-33)

    During the later Middle Ages the concept of heresy was expanded to encompass a grand diabolical conspiracy which by the middle of the fifteenth century claimed that a vast horde of people, mostly women, made pacts with Satan in exchange for magical powers, flew to secluded sabbat meetings where they worshipped him, banqueted, danced, and engaged in perverse sexual orgies, and conspired to harm neighbours and destroy Christian society. Secular and ecclesiastical rulers had already developed several means of enforcing conformity of belief, principal among these the office of inquisitor against depraved heresy, which, with secular support, led to the...

  8. 2 Blackened Tongues and Miraculous Hosts: Anabaptists and Miracles in the Polemical Literature
    (pp. 34-62)

    The Reformation and the Counter-Reformation were critical to the religious conflict, intolerance, persecution, and moral policing that led to the infamous witch-hunts.² On its own, the Jesuit strategy of promoting miracles and exorcisms as proof that the Catholic Church controlled access to the supernatural realm and that Protestants were in league with the devil was key in raising fears of the diabolical.³ In response, as Philip Soergel has shown, Protestants depicted Catholic miracles as diabolical magic and priests as sorcerers, in a tradition that had begun with Luther himself, who had depicted the papacy as the Antichrist.⁴ Similarly, Gerhild Williams...

  9. 3 Shamans and Soothsayers: The Persecution of Anabaptists and Witches in the Northern Netherlands
    (pp. 63-96)

    In his survey of the witch-hunts Brian Levack notes several regions where witchcraft trials began at the same time that heresy trials ended, a correspondence seen in France and Catholic Cologne, where the bishop ended prosecution of Anabaptists and began trials of witches in 1605.² Although this pattern is not always discernible, he argues that heresy and witchcraft trials both aimed to eliminate ‘individuals who were believed to be in league with Satan and corrupting society.’³ Levack’s suggestion has been confirmed by William Monter, who notes that the apparent rise of Anabaptism from the ashes of the German Peasants’ War...

  10. 4 Rebaptism and the Devil: Anabaptists and Witches in the Southern Netherlands
    (pp. 97-129)

    If the persecution of Anabaptists was at times intense in the northern Netherlands, it was even more so, and longer lasting, in the southern provinces, a fact noted by the anonymous editor cited who blamed the current ‘troubles’ in Flanders on Philip II’s acceptance of the slanderous rhetoric of anti-Anabaptist writers. While royal officials had some justification for their oppressive measures during the heyday of militant Anabaptism in the 1530s, it is puzzling that until the 1590s Philip continued to pressure local officials to eradicate peaceable Mennonites to the last member, even though they did not participate in the iconoclastic...

  11. 5 The Devil’s Sabbat: Nocturnal Anabaptist Meetings, Hailstorms, and Witchcraft in Southern Germany
    (pp. 130-165)

    These two Lutheran pastors enunciated the widely held belief that the very existence of Anabaptist heresy was sufficient cause for God to severely punish Europeans. The fervour to extract detailed confessions from Anabaptists arose from the need to publicize, ridicule, and demonize their heresy both to discourage imitation and to reinforce the verity of sacramental realism for Catholic and Lutheran churchmen. Earlier Catholic story-tellers had used the forced confession of Jews and witches to dispel scepticism and dissuade the curious from conducting their own experiments on sacramentals to determine if they really possessed tangible power.² Of course Jews did not...

  12. Figures
    (pp. None)
  13. 6 Eliminating the Desecrators of Hosts: Anabaptists and Witches in the Austrian Tirol
    (pp. 166-196)

    So said Katharina Hutter, wife of the great leader of communitarian Anabaptism Jacob Hutter, to her captors. Such antisacramental comments inspired a vicious response from the Habsburg rulers to defend belief in sacramental realism. Like Württemberg and Hesse, the Tirol had a sizeable Anabaptist population, but was ruled by the arch-Catholic Habsburg Ferdinand of Austria (r. 1521–64), who commanded the harsh treatment of heretics in ways parallel to his brother and nephew in the Habsburg Netherlands and to the later persecution of witches.

    Even before the rise of Anabaptism in the 1520s, the need to defend the Real Presence...

  14. Conclusion
    (pp. 197-206)

    In the sixteenth century, a scapegoating attitude, feeding off major tragedies, escalated anxiety over the plotting of secretive organizations that could not be rooted out by normal means and led to judicial changes that reduced the rights of suspects and allowed the application of horrific forms of torture upon suspects. Based on the historical example presented in this study, there are grounds for concern that demonizing rhetoric against a threatening group, once it is proclaimed from pulpit and press (and now on television and the Web), and at least obliquely countenanced by governmental spokespersons, might again penetrate the mindset of...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 207-264)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 265-290)
  17. Index
    (pp. 291-319)