Tall tales and stories from folklore can always be a bit peculiar, but the stories become even more bizarre when they are interwoven with supernatural themes and ideologies. Such is the case with tales formed by medieval witch-hunters, whose stories of nefarious sorceresses and powerful wizards (presented in a matter-of-fact way) often leaves the modern reader quite befuddled. Yet, some tales are stranger than others, and even the most desensitized perusers of witch stories can come across tales so odd that it shocks them out of their scholarly trance. Thankfully, not all of these shocking stories have to be tragic or bloody—some of them can be stupefying through sheer weirdness. One odd tale of a cursed man from Coblenz (modern Koblenz, Germany) fits that latter category perfectly.
The 15th-century Inquisitors, Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger, recorded the peculiar story in their influential text, The Malleus Maleficarum (published around 1487). Unfortunately for us (but fortunately for those involved), the Inquisitors systematically kept all names in their record of the event anonymous. The only thing that the authors labeled in their telling of the story was the name of the town in which the incident took place—Coblenz. A fair warning: the witch tale is quite sexual in nature, as was hinted in the title of this article. We will, however, try to present the untasteful aspects of the story as tastefully as possible.
As the story goes, a local man of Coblenz developed an incredibly embarrassing condition—the poor fellow somehow became a compulsive pelvic-thruster. This was not, so they said, some innocent dancing or suggestive teasing. Instead, the man would apparently just drop his trousers without any forewarning and start shagging the empty sky. Such adultery with the atmosphere and fornication with the firmament reportedly became a frequent habit for the man, and it no doubt greatly distressed his wife. The wife (also left unnamed) was said to have tried to intervene, but her efforts were to no avail. According to the Inquisitors, “he continues to do this repeatedly, nor have the cries and urgent appeals of his wife any effect in making him desist” (Part II, Qn 2, ch 1).
Although the episodes were reportedly habitual, one particular night saw the man’s incorporeal copulation reach a new level of strangeness. To his wife’s horror, the man apparently one evening made continuous love to the late-night air for as long as he had enough energy to keep his hips gyrating. The Malleus Maleficarum described the scene after he ended his uncanny orgy with the void: “after an incredible number of such bouts, the poor man at last sinks to the floor utterly exhausted” (Part II, Qn 2, ch 1). With the man’s state becoming worse, the wife or other concerned friends decided to bring in outside help in the form of witch-hunters and Inquisitors.
The afflicted man and the Inquisitors developed an odd theory about his condition. Both parties were convinced that witchcraft or demonic forces were afoot. Church authorities investigating his case proposed that he had been the victim of a succubus demon, and believed that a witch may have cast a spell on the man to help the demon reach its target. This theory was embraced by the Coblenz man, and he quickly accused “a certain woman” (again left unnamed) of casting a malignant spell on him. Fortunately for the woman, the Inquisitors apparently could not find any corroborating witnesses or evidence to substantiate the Coblenz man’s claim. She was lucky, for the authors of the Malleus Maleficarum seemed convinced of her guilt. To explain why the woman was not punished for witchcraft they wrote: “there are no laws or ministers of justice which can proceed to the avenging of so great a crime with no other warrant than a vague charge or a grave suspicion; for it is held that no one ought to be condemned unless he has been convicted by his own confession, or by the evidence of three trustworthy witnesses” (Part II, Qn 2, ch 1).
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Peasant Wedding Dance painted by Pieter Brueghel the Younger or workshop (1564–1638), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The Malleus Maleficarum by Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger, translated by Montague Summers (Dover Publications, 1971).