During the age of witch-hunts, infertility, miscarriages and sexual impotence were often attributed to the nefarious deeds of witches. The witch-hunters also apparently believed that witches had the ability to cast a glamour or illusion that caused men not to be able to see or feel their own genitalia. Although this sounds outlandish today, the most preeminent text on witchcraft of the day, the Malleus Maleficarum (published 1487), claimed that such illusionary spells were a common form of witchcraft.
The authors of the Malleus Maleficarum, Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger, provided a bizarre and disturbing story of a case in which this type of spell supposedly was used. It can be found in Part II, Question I, Chapter VII of their work. The incident allegedly took place in the town of Ratisbon (modern Regensburg, Germany). Unfortunately, as with many of the stories contained in their book, Kramer and Sprenger kept all of the names of people involved in this tale anonymous.
The Malleus Maleficarum claimed that a “certain young man” had became involved in an affair with a woman in Ratisbon. In time, he decided to end their relationship. The book did not discuss his plan on how to end the relationship, but the woman evidently understood the young man’s intentions. Once the man had successfully ended the affair, however, he suddenly suffered a very unusual condition—one day, he apparently could no longer see or feel his manhood. According to Kramer and Sprenger, he could only find smooth skin between his legs.
Depressed because of his predicament, the young man went to a tavern to drown his sorrows. While drinking, he struck up a conversation with a woman, and they somehow began talking about his recent loss. According to the story, this woman convinced the young man to consider witchcraft as a possible cause of his unusual condition. With this in mind, the woman in the bar suggested that the young man hunt down the witch and use all means possible, even violence, to convince the witch to remove the spell.
Following the woman’s advice, the young man set about identifying the witch. After running through the suspects, he finally believed that only his ex-lover could have been responsible. Therefore, he stalked her, ambushed her and demanded that she give him back his genitalia. When she professed her innocence, the young man proceeded to strangle her with a towel, threatening that he would kill her if she did not remove the spell. He only released her when she swore that she would heal him. Then, by touching the young man between his legs, the woman reminded the man where his genitals were located—miraculously, he could now see and feel himself again. Instead of this unnamed man being portrayed as a stalker who committed a sexual assault, he was described as a victim who survived a particularly powerful witch with the power to make his manhood vanish and reappear at a touch.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
Picture Attribution: (Scene from the Salem Witch Trials by John Whetton Ehninger (1827–1889), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- From The Malleus Maleficarum by Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger, translated by Montague Summers (Dover Publications, 1971).