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The Bavarian Witchcraft Law (1611)

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[Therefore it is necessary] to inquire about and investigate with the utmost vigor not only those who arrogate to themselves the art of divination, regardless of whether it is to recover stolen goods or for other purposes, but also those who employ superstitious actions, words or incantations or similar questionable practices. It is also necessary to inquire especially of the local sources and such folk concerning the old women, whose advice is commonly sought in such matters, and the blacksmiths in the countryside. Further, to search out the places where the supernatural arts are sometimes practiced and used. [ . . . ]

[Our] officials shall have this mandate together with the appendix read out from the pulpit twice a year, once at Christmas and again around or after Pentecost.

[ . . . ] Given and announced in our city of Munich under the stamp of our privy seal, the twelfth day of February in the year of our Lord 1611.

[Appended is a detailed survey of superstitious, magical practices.]

A Catalogue and register of some of those arts and divinations as well as superstitious practices and objectionable beliefs forbidden by this present mandate so that others, which are not specified, might easily be recognized and evaluated.

[The mandate concludes with sixteen articles that establish detailed punishments. Devil worship is threatened with death by fire (Art. 1), those who call on the Devil without worshipping him as God shall “only” be beheaded (Art. 2). Further examples:]

Article 3: The fortune tellers, sorcerers, masters of the black arts and other rabble, who visit people in their homes or elsewhere in order to prognosticate or practice and perfect their sorcery and divination; also those who practice the diabolical, magical, forbidden arts to search out, discover, and reveal future events, secret or otherwise obscure, unknown, and hidden things, interpret dreams, and draw up horoscopes, etc.; and those who pass themselves off as magicians and want to be regarded as such, declaring themselves willing and ready [to help] those who come to them and inquire about such things: all those who have deliberately committed such crimes or led others astray with them shall die by the sword.

Article 4: Similarly, those who make or cause one person to love another using witches’ salves or by giving food or drink or other things [i.e., using love potions] or conversely incite envy and hatred between people by these or other magical means; nor less those who bewitch men and women, whether by giving them something or by mystic association or in other ways, so that they become permanently disabled and barren, or are deprived of their health; and those who inflict dangerous and deadly diseases on anyone through witchcraft and sorcery shall also be executed with the sword and, depending on the circumstances, [their bodies] shall in some cases subsequently be burnt to ashes.

Article 5: All those who go or run to sorcerers, fortune-tellers, and others as listed above or summon them to ask their advice, believe them, applaud them, and make use of their help and counsel without any serious injury that would be punishable by death ensuing shall be banished from the land in perpetuity, and their goods and possessions shall become the property of the state. [ . . . ]

Article 7: The man or woman who – not seriously, but only out of curiosity or for amusement and entertainment – shows their palm to gypsies, fortune-tellers, and others as the opportunity arises, and asks them to look at [their hands] and tell their fortunes, and one actually knows that they have done this, shall either be put in jail on bread and water for a whole month or sent to work on a building project or the like in return for only the barest necessities of life, or set in front of the church on a Sunday or holiday, as mentioned earlier, to be disgraced before and derided by everyone or to take their punishment in the stocks with the rod once or twice. If there should be reasons or circumstances why the punishments laid out above cannot take place, then an appropriate and proportionate fine shall be determined and levied on the perpetrator. [ . . . ]

Article 10: In addition to the commensurate punishment of death by fire and confiscation of their property, those who not only call on, worship, and honor the Devil as God, but also injure or harm people, animals, or crops with sorcery shall also be branded on the body with red-hot tongs or something similar once, twice, or more often depending on the nature of their crimes before they are put into the fire. [ . . . ]

Article 15: Alchemy and making gold out of something that is not gold and silver out of something that is not silver [ . . . ] shall [ . . . ] be completely and utterly forbidden herewith, and the transgressors of this prohibition shall be considered contemptible and incompetent by everyone and shall be punished by a considerable fine (possibly with an appropriate discount depending on their ability to pay) or, failing this, with imprisonment, exile, etc.

Source of German text: Wolfgang Behringer, ed., Mit dem Feuer vom Leben zum Tod. Hexengesetzgebung in Bayern. Munich, 1988, pp. 165-70; reprinted in Bernd Roeck, ed., Gegenreformation und Dreißigjähriger Krieg 1555-1648. Deutsche Geschichte in Quellen und Darstellung, edited by Rainer A. Müller, Volume 4. Stuttgart: P. Reclam, 1996, pp. 160-68.

English translation: Heidi Eberhardt Bate

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