A person from the 15th century who worked and worked at their butter churn to no avail could find a curious explanation for their lack of butter within the pages of the Malleus Maleficarum, published in 1487 by the Inquisitors Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger. As told by them, such a butter dilemma was not due to bad ingredients or lack of skill, but instead was caused by the mischievous sabotage of witches. People who believed that supernatural explanation did not need to fear, however, for Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger also suggested that there was a simple ritual that could cleanse one’s butter churn of its witchcraft infestation.
Before the ritual of butter churn cleansing could be completed, the owner of the churn had to do a bit of sleuthing. According to the Inquisitors, that person with needed to find out the identity of the witch who was responsible for sabotaging the butter. The next step, after identifying a suspect, was to obtain three pieces of butter from said suspicious person. Buy it, barter for it, steal it—obtaining the witch’s butter was apparently vital for the ritual. Once the butter of ill repute was obtained, all that needed to be done to complete the ritual was to toss the witch’s butter into the bewitched butter churn, say some holy words, and then get back to churning. For readers curious about the Malleus Maleficarum’s own description of this ritual, the text stated:
“There are women who, when they have been turning a churn for a long while to no purpose, and if they suspect that this is due to some witch, procure if possible a little butter from the house of that witch. Then they make that butter into three pieces and throw them into the churn, invoking the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and so all witchcraft is put to flight.” (Malleus Maleficarum, part 2, question 2, chapter 7).
Of course, Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger felt the need to explain why this ritual was different than superstition or witchcraft. The true power in this cure, they claimed, was in the invocation of the holy phrases—the addition of the diabolical butter into the ritual apparently was little more than something done to annoy demons. The Inquisitors also came to the conclusion that holy water or blessed salt could be just as, or more, effective than the stolen butter ritual for the cleansing of bewitched churns.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Mound of Butter, painted by Antoine Vollon (1833–1900), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- From The Malleus Maleficarum (Part II, Question 2, Chapter 7) by Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger, translated by Montague Summers (Dover Publications, 1971).