Medieval Inquisitors Believed That Witches Allegedly Collected Living Severed “Members”


The European and colonial witch hunters believed many bizarre ideas about witches, but some theories were more baffling than others. The Malleus Maleficarum, published by the inquisitors Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger around 1487, served as the go-to guide for those who wanted to root out witchcraft for most of the witch-hunting era. In it, the inquisitors wrote about witches, demons, monsters, spells and other miscellaneous dark content. One of the more peculiar spells that witches were able to cast could allegedly make men believe that their manhood was missing. Supposedly, the spell was an illusion that left only smooth skin visible to the victim’s eye. We have already published a small article on that strange magic, HERE. Yet, there was an additional quirk to the spell. The witches, according to the inquisitors, liked to hoard the illusory severed members in hidden locations.

The wording used by Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger to describe this bizarre theory in The Malleus Maleficarum is too entertaining to be paraphrased, so it will be quoted here. Witches that used the dismembering spell “sometimes collect male organs in great number, as many as twenty or thirty members together, and put them in a bird’s nest, or shut them up in a box, where they move themselves like living members, and eat oats and corn, as has been seen by many and is a matter of common report” (Part II, Qn 1, ch 7).

In some of the odd tales, the witches who allegedly used spells to make men think that their members were gone would eventually direct the emasculated victims to one of these wriggling hoards. The Malleus Maleficarum reported one account where a witch supposedly instructed one of these memberless men to climb a tree and pick out his lost limb from a crowded nest that was filled with wiggling manhoods. When the unnamed victim chose the largest one in the nest, the witch chastised the man and made him pick again, saying that the one he was holding belonged to a parish priest.

As was stated earlier, the dismembering and the hidden hoards were all allegedly an elaborate illusion. But beware, The Malleus Maleficarum later stated that the Devil was also known to take genitals if the good angels allowed, and when Satan gathered manhood, it was apparently no illusion.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

Picture Attribution: (Witches’ Sabbath, by Francisco Goya (1746–1828), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).


From The Malleus Maleficarum by Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger, translated by Montague Summers (Dover Publications, 1971).

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