It was generally believed that devils had intercourse with human beings, mainly with women. If a devil lay on top he was known as an incubus, if underneath a succubus.
Theologians accepted the reality of intercourse between a devil and humans as a proven fact. The incubus was a devil acting as a male, the succubus as a female. They debated on the nature of the devils (whether corporeal or spiritual), the extent of the sin, and the techniques of the act.
Sources of knowledge for them were:
Some obscure Scripture passages.
The testimonies of witches obtained under torture during the witch trials of the 15th-19th centuries. "The curiosity of the judges [at witch trials]," writes Henry C. Lea, "was insatiable to learn all the possible details as to sexual intercourse, and their industry in pushing the examinations was rewarded by an abundance of foul imaginations." Thus a combination of prurient inquisitors and hysterical young women about to be burned produced most of the accounts, which are completely the product of erotic and neurotic imaginations.
Here we examine some of the beliefs in more detail.
Main source for the information on this page is: The Encyclopedia of Withcraft and Demonology by Rossell Hope Robbins, Spring Books, London 1959.
1. "Devils, although they are spirits, have sex with humans."
The fact that demons, who were spirits, could have relations with humans had, in people's mind, the authority of the Bible and Church behind it. Augustine (354-430), in his De Civitate Dei, expounded on Genesis vi,4: "The sons of God [= the angels] made love to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them." He was the first to consider fully "whether the angels, since they are spirits, are able bodily to have intercourse with women." Augustine inclined to the affirmative.
Pope Innocent VIII (1484-1492) and Bonaventura (1221-1274) also agreed that intercourse between devils and humans was possible. Augustine, and in particular Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), affirmed that demons as evil spirits either entered into corpses or else made new bodies out of the elements. This traditional view appeared throughout all the literature on demonology, and as late as 1665 the Carmelite manual, Theologia Moralis, complained that "some deny this opinion, holding it impossible that devils could practice effectual intercourse with humans. But the opposite opinion is very certain and 'must be accepted."
The illustration from a 14th-century manuscript in Paris depicts how a devil (an incubus) impregnated Merlin's mother.
2. "Devils obtain the semen they use from male humans."
Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) wrote:
"If sometimes children are born from intercourse with demons, this is not because of the semen emitted by them, or from the bodies they have assumed, but through the semen taken from some man for this purpose, seeing the same demon who acts as a succubus for a man becomes an incubus for a woman." (Summa Theologica)
In the De Trinitate he stated:
"Devils do indeed collect human semen, by means of which they are able to produce bodily effects; but this cannot be done without some local movement , therefore devils can transfer the semen which they have collected and inject it into the bodies of others."
Caesarius of Heisterbach (1180-1240) believed that devils took semen emitted in nocturnal emissions or masturbation and used it to create new bodies for themselves. Bonaventura (1221-1274) similarly wrote:
"Devils in the form of women [succubi] yield to males and receive their semen; by cunning skill, the demons preserve its potency, and afterwards, with the permission of God, they become incubi and pour it out into female vaginas."
The Dominican Charles Rene Billuart (1685-1757), in his Tractatus de Angelis, wrote:
"The same evil spirit may serve as a succubus to a man; and as an incubus serve a woman. By this duality they are able to re-use semen received while acting as succubus for later emission as incubus."
In his Compendium Maleficarum, Guazzo summarized the theory thus:
"For devils can assume the bodies of dead people, or recreate for themselves out of air and other elements a palpable body like that of flesh, and to these they can impart motion and heat at their will. They can therefore create the appearance of sex which they do not naturally have, and abuse men in a feminine form and women in a masculine form, and lie on top of women or lie under men; and they can also produce semen which they have brought from elsewhere, and imitate the natural ejaculation of it."
Martin of ArIes suggested that the incubi squeezed out semen from corpses; other demonologists, such as Guazzo, that they stole it from men's nocturnal emissions, and "by speed and experience of physical laws preserved that semen in its fertilizing warmth."
Notice how the medieval theologians spin their theories from pure speculation!
They simply assume that sex somehow belongs to the realm of the devil . . .
3. "Sex with devils is a mixed experience."
Engraving from 1489 showing a girl being seduced by a devil who disguised himself as a farmer.
Some of the early accounts had emphasized the intense pleasure of diabolic intercourse. The Inquisitor Nicholas Jacquier, writing in 1458, said it was inordinate carnaliter [= 'extremely fleshy'] , and that many witches "for several days afterward remain worn out [afflicti et debilitati]." Italian accounts generally concurred; Grillandus (1536), the famous papal lawyer, reported confessions made to him personally by women who enjoyed the devil "maxima cum voluptate [= with intense pleasure']. " William of Paris, in his De Universo, said the devil could delude women into thinking that relations performed only once or twice were repeated fifty or sixty times a night. On the other hand, La Vauderye de Lyonois (1460) gave the later and more general view, that witches had intercourse with "great fear [timore et pavore]."
This assertion of fear and pain first appeared in print about 1470, when the techniques of demonology were still a novelty, in Iordanes de Bergamo, who wrote: "These self-same witches confess and assert that the penis of the devil as well as his semen is always frigid."
In nearly all the later accounts, however, those accused of witchcraft said intercourse was painful and lacking in pleasure. So Henry Boguet reported:
"Thievenne Paget said, moreover, that when Satan copulated with her she had as much pain as a woman in labor. Françoise Secretain said that, while she was in the act, she felt something burning in her stomach; and nearly all the witches say this intercourse is by no means pleasurable to them, both because of the devil's ugliness. and deformity, and because of the physical pain which it causes them, as we have just said." (Discours des Sorciers, Lyons 1602)
From now on the source of knowledge about sex with the devil comes from witch trials.
The testimonies at these trials are utterly untrustworthy because they were extracted under torture.
The poor women, lying on the rack, would say anything to relieve their immediate pain.
4. "The devil has a strange penis."
A witness examined by De Lancre, seventeen-year-old Marguerite de Sare, testified that whether the devil appeared to her as man or goat, he always had a penis like a mule's, having chosen to imitate that animal as being best endowed by nature; that it was as long and as thick as an arm . . . and that he always exposed his instrument, of such beautiful shape and measurements . . .
Similar confessions from Lorraine were recorded by Nicholas Remy in his Demonolatreiae (Lyons 1595):
"The female witches also all maintain that when they are laid by their demons, they can admit, only with the greatest pain, what are reputed their penises, because they are so huge and rigid. Alexia Drigie examined her devil's penis when it was sticking up, and said it was always as long as some kitchen utensils which then happened to be in view and which she pointed out with her finger; but that there was nothing where the testicles and scrotum should be hanging. Claudia Fellet said she herself had often experienced something forced into her, swollen to such a size, that no matter how capacious a vagina a woman might have, 'she would not be able to hold it without extreme pain'. And nearly all the other witches complain they are very unwilling to be embraced by their demons, but that it is useless to struggle against them."
5. "The devil's penis feels cold during intercourse."
Testimony is almost unanimous as to the coldness of the devil. Boguet quoted Jacquema Paget, a witch of Franche-Comte, who
had several times taken in her hand the member of the devil which slept with her, and that it was as cold as ice and a finger's length, but not as thick as that of a man. Thievenne Paget and Antoine Tornier also added that the members of their devils were as long and big as one of their fingers.
Sylvine de la Plaine, aged twenty-three, condemned to be burned by the Parlement of Paris in 1616, described her experiences:
"The devil has known me once before, and his member was like that of a horse, and on insertion it was as cold as ice and ejected ice-cold semen, and on his withdrawing it burned me as if it had been on fire."
Francesco-Maria Guazzo (Milan 1604) related how a 'wench of intelligent appearance' was tried before the Parlement of Aquitaine in 1594. After describing the preparations for the witches' sabbat, she continued her testimony:
"Afterwards, the Italian [boy friend] again took the girl to the same place; and then the goat asked her for a tress or lock of her hair, which the Italian cut and gave to him. By this token the goat led her apart as his bride into a neighboring wood, and, pressing her against the ground, penetrated her. But the girl said that she found this operation quite lacking in any sensation of pleasure, for she rather experienced a very keen pain and sense of horror of the goat's semen, which was as cold as ice."
A few similar reports came from England. Mother Bush of Barton in 1649 said that the devil who visited her in the form of a young man "was colder than man, and heavier, and could not perform nature as man" - John Stearne, Confirmation and Discovery of Witchcraft, London 1648.
In 1662 Isobel Gowdie (Janet Breidheid, too) of Auldearne, Scotland, described the devil as "a mickle, black, rough man, very cold, and found his 'nature' as cold within [her] as spring well water." (Robert Pitcairn, Criminal Trials, Edinburgh 1833).
In Treves, in 1572, Eva of Kenn admitted intercourse with a devil, but "it was like an icicle". And Johann Klein (1698), while admitting that women may imagine intercourse in erotic dreams, nevertheless believed in the reality of the reports of actual intercourse "cum semine frigidissimo" [= with extremely cold semen].
The coldness of the devil rapidly became part of folk literature, so that in the Strange and Wonderful History of Mother Shipton (London, 1686), a kind of 'merry tale', Agatha Soothtell, when sixteen, "was seduced by the devil in the shape of a very handsome young man . . . [who] prevailed so far as to gain her, but his touches (as she afterwards confessed to the midwife) were as cold as ice or snow. From this time forward, she was commonly once a day visited by her hellish gallant, and never wanted money."
The famous English philosopher Henry More, in his, Antidote Against Atheism (London 1653), gave what he imagined a scientific
reason for this characteristic:
"It stands to good reason that the bodies of. devils, being nothing but coagulated air, should be cold, just as coagulated water (which is snow or ice); and that it should have a more keen and piercing cold, since it consists of more subtle particles than those of water, and therefore is more fit to penetrate, and more accurately and stingingly to affect and touch the nerves."
When these poor women, under torture, described the devil's penis in detail, this was used against them as evidence.
In the eyes of the judges it confirmed what was already 'generally known' about the devil . . .
6. "The devil often uses a forked penis at intercourse."
In his Tableau, De Lancre says:
"Marie de Marigrane, a girl of Biarritz aged fifteen years, affirmed that it seemed that, the member of her devil for its full length was of two parts, half of iron, half of flesh, and similarly his testicles; and she testified to have seen it many times at the sabbat as she described it. Furthermore, she had heard many women, who had slept with the devil, say that he made them cry out like women in travail with child, and that he always held his tool exposed."
Another of De Lancre's witnesses added further details of the devil's penis:
"This was generally sinuous, pointed, and snake-like, made sometimes of half-iron and half-flesh, at other times wholly of horn, and commonly forked like a serpent's tongue; he customarily performed both coitus and pederasty at once, while sometimes a third prong reached to his lover's mouth."
A devil "cum membro bifurcato" [= with a forked penis] was mentioned as early as 1520.
7. "Devils have sex with young girls."
From about 1430, the Inquisition, while not yet making it a major feature of the witchcraft trials, prosecuted women for relations with the devil. Even young girls could have such intercourse.
Johannes Henricus Pott, at the end of the seventeenth century, told how a girl of nine or ten, under the influence of her stepmother, was seduced by a devil, but on account of her youth was merely scourged while forced to witness her stepmother's being burned as a witch (Specimen Juridicum de Nefando Lamiarum cum Diabolo Coitu, Jena 1689).
Bodin, in his Demonomanie (1580),
said girls of six, "which is the age of consent for women", had intercourse. And at Wiirzburg, in January, 1628, three children - Anna Rausch, twelve, Sybille Lutz, eleven, and Mürchin, eight and a half, all confessed to sexual relations with incubi. Anna declared she had intercourse six times with "Jack Catch, the devil"; the court records noted "this copulation the child has formalissime [technically] described." Sybille copulated with another one. Little Miirchin testified formaliter she had coitus cum demone [= intercourse with a devil]. Sybille and Anna were put to death; Mürchin and seven others, between eight and thirteen, after interrogation were remanded to their fathers for reformation. Diefenbach, Der Hexenwahn, 1886.
The limit of this fantasy was surely reached in a letter written by the Chancellor of Wiirzburg in August, 1629: "The witch affair has sprung up again in a manner beyond description. . . . There are some 300 children of three or four years who have had intercourse with devils."
Sad, sad, sad accounts of the utter madness these beliefs led to!
The execution of many of these young children is extraordinarily cruel, especially because their supposed 'crimes' were totally imaginary.
8. "The devil's intercourse with a woman may produce a monster."
Pope Benedict XIV, in De Servorum Dei Beatificatione, commenting on Genesis 16,4, affirmed that union with a devil could produce offspring:
"This passage has reference to devils known as incubi and succubi ... for while nearly all authorities admit copulation, some writers deny that there can be offspring .... Others, however, asserting that coitus is possible, maintain that children may result, and say that this has actually occurred, although in some new and unusual way not ordinarily known to people."
The relatively late dissertation of Johann Klein (submitted to the University of Rostock in 1698) gave some of the most detailed accounts of the monstrous offspring of these unions. A magisterial report told of the confession of a woman who claimed to have given birth first to a tapeworm and later to a girl the size of a jug, which sucked her breast. Her incubus, David, removed both. By another incubus, Hansen, she had a boy and girl, both of which Hansen took away from her. She confessed that her incubi continued to consort with her in prison, and that she bore there a further child, which was also removed. "Although there was copious flooding which stained the clothes and the floor, all traces of the child disappeared."
Bodin gave further stories of monsters resulting from such generation. And at Toulouse in 1275, it was alleged that Angela de Labarthe gave birth to a monster with a wolf's head and a snake's tail; she was presumably the first woman burned for intercourse with the devil. Carpzov and Pott also told many stories of this nature, including one of a woman at Augshurg, who in 1531 gave birth to a two-footed serpent.
Legends, perhaps arising from rumors circulated by their enemies, credited many well-known historical figures with a devilish origin: Robert (the father of William the Conqueror), Luther, Alexander the Great, Plato, Caesar Augustus, Scipio Africanus; also Romulus and Remus, Merlin, and the whole race of Huns, and the inhabitants of the Island of Cyprus . . .
Other witches confessed their children were fathered by the devil. Holinshed's Chronicle told of a young Scots woman discovered copulating with a monster; she later gave birth to "such a misshapen thing as the like before had not been seen." To avoid dishonor, the family burned the foetus. A Prodigious and Tragical History of the arraignment, trial, conffssion, and condemnation of six witches at Maidstone in Kent . . . 1652 noted that "Anne Ashly, Anne Martin, and one other of their associates, pleaded that they were pregnant with child, but confessed it was not by any man, but by the devil."
9. "Every witches' sabbath is a sexual orgy."
An early Latin tract (1460) on the Arras witches summarizes the curious beliefs about sexual relations with devils:
"At the sabbats of the Vaudois, the presiding devil took aside the neophyte and carried her off to one side of the grove, so that in his own fashion he might make love to her and have carnal knowledge of her; to whom he said maliciously that he would lay her down on the ground supporting herself on her two hands and feet, and that he could not have intercourse with her in any other position; and that was the way the presiding devil enjoyed her, because at the first sensation by the neophyte of the member of the presiding devil, very often it appeared cold and soft, as very frequently the whole body. At first he put it in the natural orifice and ejaculated the spoiled yellowing sperm, collected from nocturnal emissions or elsewhere, then in the anus, and in this manner inordinately abused her.... Upon her return to the sabbat, the neophyte, before the banquet, entered into sexual relations with any other man . . . . Then, the torches, if there are any) being extinguished, each one at the order of the presiding devil takes his partner and has intercourse. Sometimes indeed indescribable outrages are perpetrated in exchanging women, by order of the presiding devil, by passing on a woman to other women and a man to other men, an abuse against the nature of women by both parties and similarly against the nature of men, or by a woman with a man outside the regular orifice and in another orifice. . . . Indeed a man experiences no pleasure with a she-devil, neither a woman with a he-devil; but they only consent to copulate out of fear and obedience .... In the second intercourse, however, the woman neophyte herself is known carnally by some demon, intimately and thoroughly, in the same way it was first done by the presiding demon; but in other succeeding copulations no more by a demon; except when on account of the paucity of men to complete the pairings (which happens whenever the greater part of the group there consist of women rather than men) the demons take over the part of the men in copulation, as it happens sometimes, though only occasionally. When the women are fewer, the complement is filled by she-devils, and this happens very frequently in other unions, in addition to the first two couplings, in the first of which, after admission to the group, in returning to the presiding devil, a man has intercourse with a female devil. . . . Indeed, as sometimes happens, yet only occasionally, a certain man always has copulation with a she-devil, and it is an indication of extreme vileness in him'; and likewise in any woman who has all her unions with a devil rather than with a man."
Joseph Hansen, Quellen und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte des Hexenwahns und der Hexenverfolgung im Mittelalter, Bonn 1901.
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