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A Skeptic Looks at Witch Hunting – Friedrich von Spee (1631)

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I ANSWER II. There are more excepted crimes than just witchcraft. Therefore let what the objection states be true for those other excepted crimes. If they want, my opponents can believe denunciations made by accomplices there. However, in the crime of witchcraft alone I do not agree that they should believe them, because of those particular reasons which I gave above, which one does not find in the same way in other excepted crimes.

ARGUMENT III. One must rely upon and adhere to the rule until it is shown that there is an exception or that the rule is wrong. But the laws upon which we depend are just like rules and state that one should rely upon sorcerers’ denunciations. Therefore [ . . . ] The minor premise is proven from the 1. fin. C. de maleficis & mathematicis [C. 9, 18, 9], which says that sorcerers should be subjected to torture in order to reveal their partners in crime and therefore deems that one may rely upon their denunciations. However, it is the height of rashness to depart from the text of the law and from reason and the common opinion. So Binsfeld writes on page 253.

I ANSWER I. It is true that one must rely upon and adhere to the rule until it is shown that there is an exception or that it is wrong. It is also true that it is rash to depart from the text of the law and the common opinion, if it is done without good cause. But we state that here we depart from the rule, the word of the law, and from the common opinion with good reason and by displaying that the rule is wrong. That is what we did more than adequately above. The reader should reread it.

I ANSWER II. There are two kinds of things that witches can be asked concerning others.

I. About accomplices who helped in killing people or animals, in causing harm, and similar crimes.

II. About accomplices at their sabbaths and festivals who practiced the art of magic and were seen there, etc. I should say, therefore, that the laws are to be understood to refer to the first kind of question, and we grant, if indeed our adversaries want it, that some trust can be placed in the first kind of interrogations, especially if the sorcerers also add details which agree and from which evidence for the truth of the denunciation arises which would satisfy a wise and prudent man, that is, things according to the Caroline Code which no innocent person could know or say, as I have warned several times already. However, one should not trust interrogations of the second kind, because even if witches want to say the truth they cannot always do so, owing to the danger of them being deluded about sabbaths discussed above.

[ . . . ]

ARGUMENT VII. The practice of the Church teaches that we should believe witches, since judges have at all times investigated those named by denunciations of this kind. Again Binsfeld, page 259.

I ANSWER I. Even if this was the practice of many judges, nevertheless it was not the practice of all. For I have shown above that our opinion does not lack learned authority.

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