18 May 2012

Formal Examination: Preparations for Torture

The Malleus Maleficarum by Kramer and Sprenger, 1489, Excerpts

Common justice demands that a witch should not be condemned to death unless she is convicted by her own confession. We are to consider now is what action the Judge should take, and how he should proceed to question the accused with a view to extorting the truth from her so that sentence of death may finally be passed upon her.

While the officers are preparing for the questioning, let the accused be stripped; or if she is a woman, let her first be led to the penal cells and there stripped by honest women of good reputation. And the reason for this is that they should search for any instrument of witchcraft sewn into her clothes; for they often make such instruments, at the instruction of devils, out of the limbs of unbaptized children, the purpose being that those children should be deprived of the beatific vision. The hair should be shaved from every part of her body. The reason for this is the same as that for stripping her of her clothes, which we have already mentioned; for in order to preserve their power of silence they are in the habit of hiding some superstitious object in their clothes or in their hair, or even in the most secret parts of the their bodies which must not be named.

The Judge shall use his own persuasions and those of other honest men zealous for the faith to induce her to confess the truth voluntarily; and if she will not, let him order the officers to bind her with cords, and apply her to some engine of torture.

If the Bishop and the Judge are well persuaded that, all circumstances considered, the accused is denying the truth, let them torture him slightly, without shedding blood, bearing in mind that torture is often fallacious and ineffective. For some are so soft-hearted and feeble-minded that at the least torture they will confess anything, whether it be true or not. Others are so stubborn that, however much they are tortured, the truth is not to be had from them. There are others who, having been tortured before, are the better able to endure it a second time, since their arms have been accommodated to the stretchings and twistings involved; whereas the effect on others is to make them weaker, so that they can the less easily endure torture. Others are bewitched, and make use of the fact in their torture, so that they will die before the will confess anything; for they become, as it were, insensible to pain. Therefore there is need for much prudence in the matter of torture, and the greatest attention is to be given to the condition of the person who is to be tortured. But if the accused cannot thus be terrified into telling the truth, a second or third day may be appointed for the continuation of the torture; but it must not be repeated then and there.

A second precaution is to be observed, not only at this point but during the whole process, by the Judge and all his assessors; namely, that they must not allow themselves to be touched physically by the witch, especially in any contract of their bare arms or hands. Let it not be thought that physical contact of the joints or limbs is the only thing to be guarded against; for sometimes, with God's permission, they are able with the help of the devil to bewitch the Judge by the mere sound of the words which they utter, especially at the time when they are exposed to torture.

And note that, if she confesses under torture, she should then be taken to another place and questioned anew, so that she does not confess only under the stress of torture.

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