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Woodcuts of Witches, Wizards and Devils

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Well, here’s something you don’t see every day in real life: Witches with animal heads flying on broomsticks. Fuck. Why did all the good stuff happen before iPhones were around to capture it….? Or, is it just strange, nay fantastically unbelievable, that witches with animal heads ever flew around on broomsticks?

Now, once upon a time, long, long ago in a land not so very far from here, people actually did believe in witches and warlocks and wizards and animal hybrids flying with broomsticks through the devil-dark night. It was a form of mental aberration that infected the whole of Europe between the 15th and 17th centuries.

This dreadful fear of witches began with a couple of Dominican monks, Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger, who together wrote a barmy treatise on witchcraft called Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of Witches) in 1486. This book reinvented witchcraft and the devil as something more than just “delusions,” as had once been believed, into something solid, active, real, and very, very dangerous. Unsurprisingly, it was a bestseller for some 200 years.

According to the Malleus Maleficarum the world was literally hoaching with witches and the only way to defeat them was by the worst kind of torture and execution. This treatise received Pope Innocent VIII’s blessing. He had already given Kramer a Papal Bull Summis desiderantes affectibus in 1484 which approved his “inquisition” into all reports and suspicions of witchcraft. This Papal Bull was included in the Malleus Maleficarum as part of the book’s preface, which meant that misogyny was not only acceptable but actively encouraged.

And so it began two centuries of terror and torture and mass stupidity.
 
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The great thing about witchcraft is that anyone could be accused of it. The accuser never had to prove the veracity of their statement. The accused always had to prove their innocence. But this usually meant forfeiting their lives. You see, innocence was often proven by use of a variation of the ducking stool—a device once used for scolds and prostitutes—whereby a woman believed to be a witch would be tied to a rope and thrown into a river or a pond. If the woman sank and drowned—then she was innocent. Hurrah! If she floated and lived, well hell, she’s a witch and must be burnt at the stake.

Usually, it never came to this, as most women ‘fessed up after hours or days of relentless torture and were then executed. Oftentimes, these women would name their accusers (or others they didn’t like) as also being witches and in league with the devil. And so it went, more and more women were questioned, tortured, and executed.

Stupidity does not discriminate—which explains why the hysteria over witchcraft was surprisingly flamed by the rise in literacy. The mass publication of pamphlets, news sheets, and books saw a great demand for stories “true” and fictional about witches and witchcraft. These stories were exceedingly popular and were spread in posters across the land like a virus. In every village and town, these reports on the occult would be read aloud wherever they were posted. The literate read the stories. The illiterate spread the tales word-of-mouth. The most potent part of these documents were the woodcuts which depicted the women (and some men) who were in league with the Devil and using witchcraft to spread his nasty ill-will throughout the land.

One of the earliest of these illustrated pamphlets was A Rehearsall both Straung and True, of Hainous and Horrible Actes Committed by Elizabeth Stile, alias Rockingham, Mother Dutten, Mother Deuell, Mother Margaret, Fower Notorious Witches first published in 1579. This booklet told the story of Elizabeth Stile, a 65-year-old widow and beggar who was accused of witchcraft and cavorting with three other witches Mother Margaret, Mother Dutten and Mother Devell, and a man called Father Rosimunde, who could (allegedly) transform himself “into the shape and likenesse of any beaste whatsoever he will.” Nice trick. Bet he never had to buy a round at the local inn.

It wasn’t just the lowly peasantry or working class who believed in such stories but the very highest members of the establishment. The first king to unify the nations of England and Scotland as King James I wrote a treatise on witchcraft Daemonologie based on his own personal involvement in the infamous North Berwick witch trials of 1590. King James believed that most women were “detestable slaves of the Devil, the Witches or enchanters” and he personally took part in the interrogation of those accused of witchcraft.

Many of these women were just dear old ladies who had lost their husbands or were destitute and had become victims to the unwelcome focus of a someone’s ire. As Jon Crabb notes on the Publlic Domain Review, it was from such poor women came the image of the “old crone” which was then promoted through books like The Wonderful Discoverie of the Witchcrafts of Margaret and Phillip Flower, Daughters of Joan Flower neere Beuer Castle (1619), A Most Certain, Strange and True Discovery of a Witch (1643) and The History of Witches and Wizards: Giving a True Account of All Their Tryals in England, Scotland, Sweedland, France, and New England (1700). It is this image of a witch as depicted in woodcuts that is still the most prevalent depiction of a witch used today.
 
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An early though hugely influential depiction of a witch from ‘A Most Certain, Strange and True Discovery of a Witch’ (1643).
 
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Witches cooking up trouble.
 
More weird and wonderful woodcuts of witches and alike, after the jump….

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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05.09.2017
10:46 am
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Evil Demons, Devils & Imps from ‘The Infernal Dictionary’
11.02.2015
12:23 pm
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A few lessons in French maybe required if you want to seriously study the Dictionnaire Infernal (Infernal Dictionary)—an A-Z on demonology and the occult—though Google translate may offer an easier option to access the histories of such demonic figures as the Azazel, Bael or Zabulon. Written and compiled by French occultist, demonologist and author Jacques Auguste Simon Collin de Plancy, the Dictionnaire Infernal was first published in 1818 to considerable success, and was reprinted several times before its most incarnation in 1863 in an edition that contained 69 illustrations by artist Louis Le Breton.

Breton’s illustrations became the main source for nearly all future representations of demons, monsters and fantastical beasts. De Plancy filled his dictionary with detailed histories of the hierarchy of demons—-from lowly pot boilers (Ukobach) to the Seven Princes of Hell, the Demon Regent Asmodeus, Astaroth and Lucifer. He also included historical figures associated with the occult or free thought—from various kings and queens to Napoleon and Nostradamus and even the renowned author Sir Walter Scott. A title page from the 1826 edition described the book thus:

Infernal Dictionary, or, a Universal Library on the beings, characters, books, deeds, and causes which pertain to the manifestations and magic of trafficking with Hell; divinations, occult sciences, grimoires, marvels, errors, prejudices, traditions, folktales, the various superstitions, and generally all manner of marvellous, surprising, mysterious, and supernatural beliefs.

Though originally a free thinker—he had been greatly influenced by Voltaire in his youth—De Plancy eventually became a Roman Catholic and parts of the Infernal Dictionary show his vacillation from skeptic to devout believer. Unsurprisingly therefore, later editions were edited to fit in with Catholic theology. However, the Infernal Dictionary is still a highly important compendium of demonology and the occult—in particular the 1863 edition with its fabulous illustrations by Le Breton.

An edition of the Infernal Dictionnaire has been scanned by the Internet Archive and can be viewed here.
 
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One of the Seven Princes of Hell: The demon Bael with his three heads.
 
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The demon Buer—President of Hell.
 
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The Beast Behemoth.
 
More of Le Breton’s demons and pages from the ‘Dictionnaire Infernal,’ after the jump…

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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11.02.2015
12:23 pm
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Vincent Price teaches the dark arts on his 1969 album ‘An Adventure in Demonology’
09.25.2015
10:49 am
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Black Sabbath shared a manager with an explicitly Satanic band called Black Widow, and some people had a hard time keeping the two straight, or pretended they did. Nick Tosches’ crazed review of Black Sabbath’s Paranoid mixed up Ozzy and Black Widow’s singer Kip Trevor, who does not, in fact, sound like “Keith Relf whining about the tampons stuck up his nostrils.”

I mention this because I’d never heard of Vincent Price’s nearly 90-minute-long occult crash course Witchcraft-Magic: An Adventure In Demonology before I read an interview with Black Widow’s Clive Jones in the book Black Sabbath FAQ. Talking about the popularity of horror movies in the late 60s, Jones went on a tangent about his relationship with Price:

Vincent Price gave me… because he was on CBS, whenever he released an album, he gave me an album, which I still use to this day, of him talking about black magic and the war, and how black magic was used for good causes, as well as worshiping the devil type stuff.

 

 
As soon as I read those words, I made haste to Discogs to track this sucker down. Look, I don’t know what your idea of a good time is, but when it is the witching hour, and the autumnal equinox, and everyone is making ready for the festival of Samhain, and like that, fun for me means settling down with a hot mug of tannis root tea and an hour and a half of Vincent Price talking demonology, accompanied by spooky sounds from a 1969 synthesizer. From the bewitching intro:

Do you believe in witches and magic? [Chuckles] I hope so, because it can be unwise not to. Do you believe in life after death? Do you believe in luck? Do you believe in premonitions—being somewhere where you know you’ve been before, although you know you’ve never been there? Do you believe in dreams and the unseen forces of astrology? Do you believe that there is order and genius in the hundred thousand million galaxies similar to our own? Do you believe that the life of our bodies is the beginning and end, or do you believe in reincarnation? Perhaps in heaven and in hell? Do you believe in prophecy and poltergeists? Heh? Do you?

Yes, you see, the universe is populated with spirits: unseen forces which permeate all things, both tangible and intangible, both visible and invisible. Things we see and things we don’t, things we know or think we know and things we know nothing of: the natural and the supernatural. So come with me into the magic world of the supernatural—the world of witches and demons, warlocks and sorcerers, oracles and seers, alchemists and wizards—into the unfathomable world of the unknown, the world of the spirits and unseen forces that guide our destiny. They are everywhere. Let’s turn down the lights and throw another log on the fire.

Original pressings of Witchcraft-Magic apparently included a booklet called (gulp) “The Hand of Glory,” and one wonders who put so much research and care into this set. The album’s script, which traces the history of witchcraft through the Bible, the Middle Ages, the Spanish Inquisition, and Nazi Germany before turning to practical instruction in the dark arts (see side three, track three, “How to Make a Pact with the Devil”), is the work of a mysterious figure named Terry d’Oberoff, whose only other credit appears on the 1970 debut of an LA soul group called—wait for it—Black Magic.

Below, hear a needle drop of the whole double LP. If you’d like to hear more wailing of damned souls and less surface noise, Amazon has it on MP3 for $4.99.
 

Posted by Oliver Hall
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09.25.2015
10:49 am
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