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The Process of Trance: Heavenly and Diabolic Apparitions

in Johannes Niders Formicarius*

by G&bor Klaniczay

Johannes Nider (1380-1438) is a frequently mentioned but rarely studied

ecclesiastical writer and reformer of the first half o f the fifteenth century-*1 After
entering the Dominican order in 1402 in Colmar, he studied in Cologne then,
between 1422 and 1426 at the University of Vienna where he returned at the end
of his life as die Dean of the Faculty of Theology.2 He took part in the Council of
Constance, and subsequently became a leading representative of the Dominican
observance,3 in 1428 he was elected Prior of the Convent o f Nuremberg, in 1429
he was sent as a new Prior to reform the convent in Basel. He was one of the
influential opinion-leaders of the Council of Basel, a prolific writer and
polemicist, author of several successful treatises.
His most popular work, probably inspired by the controversies at the Council
of Basel, was the Formicarius finished between 1436 and 1438.4 This vast
panorama of contemporary religiosity presents the anthill as a model o f human
society. Nider follows here the beehive metaphor of a distant Dominican

* The first version of this study was presented at a conference in 1996 in Claremont on Trance,
organized by Nancy van Deusen. The written version is the result o f my work at the Bedagio Study
Centre o f the Rockefeller Foundation, where I had the opportunity and the privilege to be Fellow
for a month in 1996. While at that moment my enquiry upon Johannes Nider and his role in the
origins of the concept of the witches sabbath was discussing a fairly unexplored agenda, the last
ten years have witnessed a real explosion of studies concerning both Johannes Nider and the
fifteenth-century beginnings o f witch-hunts. In the course of various workshops, conferences, or
individual consultations I had the opportunity to discuss my findings with my colleagues working
on similar themes, and benefit from their comments and criticism. I wish to thank especially the
helpful suggestions of Renate BIumenfcld-Kosinski, Peter Burke, Nancy Caciola, Don Handefman,
Sabine von Hcusinger, Brian Patrick McGuire, Martine O3torero, Eva P6cs, and Werner Tschachcr.
I am grateful to Judith Rasson for helping me to revise the English o f the te x t Cf. also my
forthcoming book, Sainthood and Witchcraft: A Structural Comparison.
1 On Nider see K. Schieler, M agister Johannes N ider aus dem Orden der PredigerBruder: Ein
Beitrag zur Ktrchengeschichte des funftehnten Jahrhunderts (Mainz, 1885); in the past years
several important new studies have appeared. Cf. Margit Brand, Studien 2u Johannes Niders
Deutschen Schriften (Rome, 1998); the partial edition and commentary o f the Formicarius by
Catherine Chine in L'im aginaire du sabbat: Edition critique des textes lesp lu s anciens (1430 c
1440 c.), re unis par Martine Ostorero, Agostmo Paravicini Bagliani, Kathrin Utz Tremp, en
collaboration avec Catherine Chene, Cahiers Lausannois d'histoire medievale 26 (Lausanne, 1999)
(hereafter referred to as L'im aginaire du sabbat), pp. 99-265; Werner Tschacher, D er Formicarius
des Johannes Nider von 1437: Studien a t den AnfSngen der europSischen Hexenverfolgungen im
SpSbnittelalter (Aachen, 2000); Michael D. Bailey, Battling Demons: Witchcraft, Heresy, and
Reform in the Late M iddle Ages (University Park, Penn., 2002); Johannes Nider, Les Sorciers et
leurs tromperies: "Lafourm itiere," livre V, ed. and trans, Jean Ciard (Grenoble, 2005).
2 Isnard Wilhelm Frank, Hausstudium und Universitfitsstudium der Wiener Dominikaner bis
1500, A rckiv fu r dsterreichische Geschichte 127 (1968), 214-15; Paul Uiblein, c<L, Die Akten der
Theologischen FakultSt der Universitat Wien (1396-1308), 1 (Vienna, 1978), p. 115.
3 William Himebusch, The H istory o f the Dominican Order, 2 (New York, 1973), pp. 262-67.
4 Schieler, M agister Johannes Nider, pp. 372-81; Bailey, Battling Demons, p. 153.

204 Gabor Klaniczay

precursor, Thomas of Cantimpre (d. 1270) Bonum universale de apibus, 5 and he

selects his parallel metaphor with the help of the biblical proverb Vade ad
formicas o piger: considera viis eiusl Disce sapientiam (Ex. 6.6). The dialogue
between Theologus and Piger constitutes a rich collection of exempla.678It is
divided into five books each consisting of 12 chapters: the first deals with rare
good deeds and examples, the second with conceivably good revelations, the
third describes false and misleading revelations, the fourth the merits of the
perfect ones, finally, the fifth the tricks of the witches. We encounter saints
and heretics, visions, revelations, possessions and simulations, high virtues and
deadly sins, miracle-workers, magicians, sorcerers and witches. The wide range
of this spectrum, encompassing good and evil in the same moral and analytical
framework represents an important innovation which might account for its great
The Formicarius is preserved in 27 manuscript copies (now in Vienna, Basel,
Munich and Wiesbaden)?, three incunabula editions 1470-73, 1480, and 1484,
each of about 300 copies (the one published in Cologne, 1480, was reprinted in
facsimile, the one of 1484 was published in Augsburg) and in the subsequent
two centuries there were five further editions (1516 and 1517, Strasbourg; 1519,
Paris; 1602, Douai; 1692, Helmstedt).910 The impact of Formicarius was
strengthened by the fact that some parts of it related to dreams, visions,
apparitions and witchcraft were inserted into his commentary on the Ten
Commandments, which was finished about the same time as the Formicarius and
became even more widely read than his other work. The Praeceptorium divinae
legis Le. Tractatus de decern praeceptis became a real best-seller; it had
seventeen printed editions before 1500, six before 1472.10
The importance of Formicarius can be best illustrated by the fact that it was
one of the principal sources for the most important demonology handbook of
early witch-hunts, the Malleus Maleficarum of Heinrich Kramer (Institoris) and
Jakob Sprenger.11 This is why modem historiography if it dealt with Nider at all,

5 Thomas de Cantimpr6, Les exemples du Livre des abeilles, e d Henri Platelle (Tumbout, 1997).
On this model cf. Bailey, Battling Demons, p. 98.
6 Beatrice Galbreth, Nider and the Exemplum: A Study o f the Formicarius, Fabula: Zeitschrifl
fu r Erz&hlforsckung 6 (1963), 55-72.
7 Thomas Kaeppeli, Scriptores Ordinis Praedicatorum M edii A evi, 2 (Rome, 1975), pp. 500-15;
cf. L 'imaginaire du sabbat, pp. 108-20; Tschacher, D er Formicarius des Johannes Nider, pp. 83-
8 Cf. Hain, Reperiorium bibliographicum, 2:429-501; Johannes Nider, Formicarius, facsimile
ed. (Graz, 1971); Tschacher, Der Formicarius des Johannes Nider, pp. 107-17.
9 [ have used the Helmstedt edition, which appeared under the changed title De visionibus ac
revelationibus; the cited page numbers refer to ttus volume: Johannis N ideri. . . D e visionibus ac
revelationibus: Opus rarissimum historiis Germaniae refertissimum, anno 1517, argentinae
editum . . . (1692) (hereafter referred to as Formicarius).
10 Hain, Reperiorium, 2:11780 ff.; John Dahmus, Medieval German Preaching on the Ten
Commandments: A Comparison of Berchtold of Regensburg and Johannes Nider, M edieval
Sermon Studies 44 (2000), 37-53.
11 M alleus Maleficarum von Heinrich Institoris (alias Kramer), ed. Andre Schnyder, unter
mithilfe Jakob Sprengers aufgrund der dSmonoIogischen Tradition zusammengestellt (Gdppingen,
The Process of Trance 205

was principally interested in his description of early fifteenth-century Swiss

witchcraft prosecutions. There has been much less attention dedicated to the
equally colorful parts dealing with late medieval visionary religion, it In what
follows, I should like to examine a theme related to the original conceptual
scheme of Nider, who was interested in the juxtaposition of "heavenly and
diabolic visions, and insisted that they should be examined in the same broad
framework. One of the common features of these two forms of establishing
communication with the supernatural is that they both rely upon trance, ecstasy,
or religious rapture. The ambivalent assessment of trance became a crucial
constituent in die changing evaluation of mystical visionary sainthood and of
witchcraft in the fifteenth century, so the manner in which Nider deals with this
subject deserves special attention. Let me enumerate his principal examples.
Before having a closer look at these famous cases, we need to stop for a
moment, for a critical assessment What is the status, what is the claim of these
stories to reality? I have already mentioned that there are scholars who
consider the Formicarius yet another collection of exempla and we know that this
genre is as much subject to the rules of folklore as to the requirements of
truthfulness.*1314 Nider himself also repeatedly calls his stories exempla," yet,

1991); Gflnter Jeiouschek, ed., M alleus M aleficarum, 1487 (Hildesheim, .1992); Montague
Summers, turns., M alleus Maleficarum (London, 1928; repr. New York, 1970). O f its impact see
Joseph Hansen, Quellen und Untersuchungen sur Gesckichte des Hexenwahns und der
Hexenverfolgung im M ittelalter (Bonn, 1901, repr. Hildesheim, 1963), pp. 360-410; Peter Segl,
ed., D er Hexenhammer: Enlstehung und Umfeld des Malleus Maleficarum von 1487 (Cologne,
1988); Walter Stephens, Demon Lovers: Witchcraft, Sex, and the Crisis o f B elief (Chicago, 2002),
pp. 32-57.
>2 Hansen, Quellen, pp. 88-99, translated and with commentary in English, together with the
Praeceptoriunt; Henry Charles Lea, M aterials toward a H istory o f Witchcraft, 1, ed. Arthur C.
Howland (Philadelphia, 1939), pp. 259-73; Richard Kieckhefer, European Witch Trials: Their
Foundations in Popular and Learned Culture, 1300-1500 (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1976); Amo
Borst, Aiifange des Hexenwahns in den Alpen, in Barbaren, Ketzer und Artisten: Welten des
M ittelalters (Munich, 1988), pp. 262-86, repr. in Andreas Blauert, Ketzer, Zauberer, Hexen: Die
Anfiinge der ewopaischen Hexenveifolgungen (Frankfiirt am Maui, 1990), pp. 43-67; Carlo
Ginzburg, Storia notturna: Una decifrazione del sabba (Turin, 1989); English translation,
Ecstasies: Deciphering the W itches' Sabbath, bans. Raymond Rosenthal (New York, 1991), pp,
69-86; quotation taken from Andreas Blauert, Fruhe Hexenveifolgungen: Ketzer-, Zauberei- und
Hexenprozesse des IS. Jahrhunderts (Hamburg, 1989), pp. 32-36, 56-59; most recently Michael
Bailey, The Medieval Concept of the Witches' Sabbath, Exemplaria 8 (1996), 419-39; idem.
B attling Demons, pp, 29-54. The critical edition of this famous fifth book is being currently
prepared by Catherine Chenc in the study centre of Agostino Paravicini Bagliani at the Universiti
de Lausanne, parts of which are already published in L 'imaginaire du sabbat, pp. 99-265; see also
the French edition: Nider, Les Sorciers et leurs tromperies, cd. and trans. C6ard.
13 Wemer Williams-Krapp, Dise ding sint deimoch nit ware zeichcn der heiligkeit: Zur
Bewertung mystischer Erfahrungen im 15. Jahrhundert, Zeitschrift filr Literaturwissenschaft und
Linguistik 80 (1990), 61-71; Peter Dinzelbacher, H eilige oder Hexen? Schicksale aujfdiliger
Frauen in M ittelalter und Fruhneuzeit (Zurich, 1995), pp. 25, 66, 89-93, 96, 114, 252-56; Dyan
Elliott, "The Physiology of Rapture and Female Spirituality, in M edieval Theology and the
Natural Body, ed. Peter Biller and A. J. Minnis (Woodbridgc, Eng., 1997), pp. 141-74; this issue is
. included in Michael Baileys enquiry, Battling Demons, pp. 91-117.
14Cf. Claude Bremond, Jacques Le Goff, Jean-Claude Schmitt, L'exemplm, Typologie des
sources du moyen Hge occidental 40 (Tumhout, 1982).
206 Gabor Klaniczay

these stories seem to be quite different from classical thirteenth- and

fourteenth-century types of exempla, filled with pastoral objectives and rooted in
folkloric stereotypes. In the turmoil of the Basel Council, in the midst of this
accelerated supermarket of information, most of Niders work gives rather the
impression of sensitive journalism, though incontestably it contains some old-
type exempla as well. Naturally it would be very important to trace the factual
background of these stories, but this would form the subject matter of a separate
study.15 Even without this undoubtedly crucial inquiry, Niders stories merit an
examination as specific narratives, which earned attention in their age and had a
tremendous impact. The types of religious behavior described in them became
models for posterity.

N i d e r s S t o r ie s

In book three of Formicarius, On False and Imaginary Visions (de falsis et

iltusoriis visionibus), we find the motif of simulated ecstasy recurring time and
again as one of the most deceptive of the phenomena associated with false
prophets. Nider begins his long list of examples with a story related by a fellow
inquisitor, Nicolaus of Landau. A certain fraticellus seu semi-beghardus16
living in the town of Bem acquired considerable notoriety by throwing about
stones and pieces of wood in his house at night, making the kind of racket that
haunting ghosts would make. Then he started telling people that they could
expect to receive a revelation from some spirit, though he could not say whether
good or evil. He shut himself up in his room, changed his voice and started
moaning and groaning, pretending that he was the spirit of a deceased local
notable. Then he started answering the questions of the curious, as if the spirits
themselves were answering.17 He even collected money to be able to undertake

,s See the recent studies by Kathrin Utz Tremp: Bernard Andenmatten and Kathrin Utz Tremp,
Dc Iheresie i la sorcellerie: Linquisiteur Ulric de Torrente OP (vers 1420-1445), et
Iaffermissement de I'inquisition en Suisse Romande, Zeitschrift fu r Sckweizerische
Kirchengeschichte 86 (1992), 72-74; Kathrin Utz Tremp, 1st Glaubenssache Frauensache? Zu den
AnfSngen der Hexenverfolgung in Freiburg (urn 1440)," Freiburger GeschichisbldUer 72 (1995),
9-50; idem, Waldenser, Widerganger, Hexen und Rebellen: Biograpkieti zu den
Waldenserprozessen von Freiburg im Uchtland (1399 und 1430), Freiburger Geschichtsbldtter
Sonderband (Fribourg, Switz., 1999). Catherine Chbne has identified several of the persons
mentioned in the Formicarius; see Chenes analysis in L 'imaginaire du sabbat, pp. 221-48.
16 Ernest W. McDonnell, The Beguines and Beghards in M edieval Culture: With Special
Emphasis on the Belgian Scene (New York, 1969); Jean-Claude Schmitt, La mart d u n e hiresie:
L'Eglise et les clercs fa ce aitx beguines et aux begards du Rhin superieur du XIVe au XVe siecle
(Paris, 1978). As for Beguines in Bem, see Kathrin Utz Tremps study to he published in vol. 9 of
Helvetia Sacra, Die religiOsen Laiengemeinschaften des Mittelaiters (Beginen, Begarden), Kanton
Freiburg. Stadt Freiburg"; cf. Andenmatten and Utz Tremp, De Ihdrfsie i la sorcellerie," p. 75.
On Nicolaus of Landau, see Tschacher, D er Formicarius des Johannes Nider, p. 56; on the activity
of Burginus around 1409, see ibid., p. 202.
17 Formicarius 3.1, p. 288: mutata voce verbis gemebundis, ac si amnia esset alicujus defiincti,
in civitate bene noti, responsa sciscitandbus dedit, asserendo se animam esse cujusdam nuper
defuncte persone. (Unless otherwise stated, the translations are my own.) The episode is analyzed
by Nancy Caciola, Spirits Seeking Bodies: Death, Possession and Communal Memory in the
The Process o f Trance 207

pilgrimages to earn indulgences for the deceased. After a while, however, his
activities grew suspicious; his clients started inspecting him, exposed the hoax,
and he got what he deserved.
Burginus, another beghardus seu fraticellus mere secularis, who lived in the
diocese of Constance, withdrew from the world to live the life of an ascetic
recluse. His followers watched in awe as, lost in prayer and contemplation, he
received revelations (And he received those revelations, notes Nider, alas,
illusory ones, from the Evil Spirit in the form of the Angel of Light.18). Then, as
if he were St. Anthony or Pachomius, he started preaching a new rule for
anchorites. He was burned at the stake by the Inquisition for his fanatical
Very likely, the group of Swabian heretics against whom Nider leveled the
traditional charge of participation in orgies1 were likewise Beguines and
Beghards: They say that in the heat of male-female copulation, when the cold
light of reason fades and man becomes a beast, they find the marvels of
contemplation and exquisite ecstasy.20 Nider adduces a number of further
examples of the groups depravity, which more or less repeat the Inquisitions
established topoi in connection with the heresy of the Free Spirit.21 They declare
themselves to be beyond the reach of sin; they strip naked at their gatherings to
pray and take communion (the practice, Nider notes, is akin to those of the
Adamites2223, and is meant to show that they have no sense of guilt or shame, nor
any carnal desire); they boast that the men regularly sleep with the virgins of the
confraternity, and never touch them. By way of debunking their claims, Nider
tells of a sixty-year-old virgin that he knew who lost the first flower of her
virtue at their gatherings___They say that during their love-making and lavish
feasts, which they indulge in whenever they can, they receive singular revelations
with the assistance of die devil. Andas if the light of these revelations had
come from some good spiritthey are seduced by these visions into joining the
sect and nothing can dissuade them.22

Middle Ages, in The Place o f the Dead: Death and Remembrance in Late M edieval and Early
M odem Europe, ed. Bruce Gordon and Peter Marshall (Cambridge, 2000), pp. 66-86, at pp. 69-73.
18Formicarius 3.2, p. 303: orationi & contemplation! multum, ut videbatnr, incubuit, & in his
revelationes, sed heu illusorias, a maligno spiritu sub similitudine angeli lucis habere coepit.
19 Norman Cohn, Europe's Inner Demons: An Enquiry Inspired by the Great Witch-Hunt (New
York, I97J); of. Gabor Klaniczay, Orgy Accusations in the Middle Ages, in Eros in Folklore, ed.
MiMIy Hopp&l and Eszter Csonka-Takacs (Budapest, 2002), pp. 38-55.
20 Formicarius 3.5, p. 338: in fervore coitus maris cum femina, u b i. . . ratio absorhetur, & homo
besdis assimilatur, supremam contemplationcm & raptum excellentissimura dicunt consistere.
21 Robert E. Lemer, The Heresy o f the Free Spirit in the Later M iddie Ages (Berkeley and Los
Angeles, 1972).
22 Ernst Werner, "Die Nachrichten liber die bOhraischen Adamiten in religionsgeschichtlichcr
Sicht, in Thea Btlttner and Ernst Werner, Circumceliionen und Adamiten: Zwei Formen
m iuelalterlicher H dresie (Berlin, 1959), pp. 73-141.
23 Formicarius 3.7, pp. 350-51: Districtum scio. ubi virgo quaedam (si bene memor sum), prope
sexagenaria primo florem perdidit pudicitiae in consilio malignantium ta li. . . In actibus namque
venersis, & in epulationibus quas faciunt, ubi possunt, splendidis, dicuntur opere Daemonis
208 Gabor Klarticzay

Trance of diabolic originor at least of questionable origincould be found

even within the walls of Church establishments in the High Middle Ages. Nider
recounts the story of a thirteen-year-old boy as told to him by the Dominican
inquisitor, Heinrich Kalteisen. The boy was sent to attend the Dominican school
at s-Hertogenbosch. Once when he entered the monastery garden, he saw
something white on a leaf of one of the plants. Without making the sign of the
cross, he plucked the leaf, and swallowed it, and so rashly swallowed a dreadful
devil. Almost immediately, he fell into a trance, his body immobile and
unresponsive to every external stimulus (rapi eum fratres viderunt et privari
omnibus exterioribus sensibus corporis). The boys ecstasy was disturbing in its
aftermath. When he came to, he started speaking Latin and French fluently (he
had not known a word of either language); he quoted Biblical passages by heart,
worked miracles, and had visions and revelations. Some credulous and
lighthearted women believed that Gods spirit appeared there, where, in fact, the
devil found a dwelling (nonnullc femine qui cito credunt et leves sunt corde
satis putabant adesse Dei spiritum, ubi dyabolus locum habebat). The
Dominicans looked on all this with the utmost suspicion; they did not believe in
an uncouth novice making such enormous progress in so short a time. With the
help of the Sacred Host, they managed to expose the hoax: in reality, all this
proved to be the work of the Devil, whom they then managed to exorcise.24
Disturbing ecstatic states of this sortas Piger reminded his mentor
occurred mostly in the lives of holy women of high repute. These women
would lose all sense of the external world, and, by force of their interior
devotion, fall into a profound ecstasy. I myself have witnessed an occasion when
a woman, listening to a sermon on the love of Christ, let out loud shrieks and
moans before the eyes of all the congregation, as if unable to control her
overwhelming love for Christ. Most educated people consider demonstrations of
this sort to be mere simulation.25
Though Nider himself shares this reservation, he reminds his pupil not to
judge too hastily: The effects of heavenly love (as the godly Dionysius teaches
us) are not less powerful than those of human love, but are, in fact, more so. We
see this by the fact that just thinking of the Beloved is enough for one to become

quasdam revelationes raras habere. Quibus illecti tales, velut boni spiritus illuminationibus, multae
impersuasibiliter adhaerent.
Formicarius 3.1, pp. 290-92. On Heinrich Kalteisen, see Tschacher, D er Formicarius des
Johannes Nider, pp. 171-72; later in 1452 he became Archbishop of Nidaros (Trondheim) in
Norway; cf. entry in Einar Jansen, ed., Norsk Biografisk Leksikon (Oslo, 1934), pp. 30-33.
& Formicarius 3.1, pp. 292-93; Vidi aliquando & audivi saephis feminas, ut videbantur satis
bonae famae, rapi, quantum visu perpendi potuit, ad interiora ab extemis sensibus, quasi ecstasin
quandam ex devotione patcrentur. Vidi insuper aliam, quae in publica praedicatione alicujus de
Christi charitatc audita sententia, coram omnibus clamorem quendam datum extulit, quasi non
valeret amorem sui pectoris ad Christum, clausum, ut antea retinere. Et tamen a multis literatis tales
pro Cells habebantur.
The Process of Trance 209

delirious, and fall to sighing, moaning, weeping, singing and crying out loud.26
But we should not be surprised, adds Nider, if thoughtful men of experience
give very little credence to the actions of these women, for they have an
inclination to evil, have no perseverance when it comes to doing good, and have
an unquenchable thirst for spurious fame.2728*30
Nider gives a number of examples to validate his skeptical view of female
visionaries. He knew a Dominican nun who lived a life beyond reproach before
she entered the order, and immediately thereafter. When, however, she heard in
this reformed convent of the extraordinary lives lived by the saints of old, she
was overcome with the desire to be considered one of them. She feigned ecstasy
and pretended to have received revelations, though she had had neither
experience, as she admitted later in the presence of her superior. . . In acts of
pure simulation, she began to cry out joyfully for all to hear, and then fell to the
floor, pretending to be beside herself in ecstasy.2* A similar tale was narrated to
Nider by Conrad, a fellow Dominican preaching in the Rhineland, about a
woman renowned for her holiness. During the sermon, she uttered cries of
rejoicing before all the multitude; but she did this, as she later confessed, not
from a surfeit of love, but from a vain desire for attention.2
Another famous incident occurred just before the Council of Constance, in the
small nearby town of Radolfzell. The saintly recluse living in the town often lay
prostrate in a state of ecstasy, and when she came to, described the secret
revelations that she had received.. . . One day, they started spreading the news
that the five wounds of Christ would appear on her hands, feet and side on a
particular day A great throng of the curious gathered for the occasion; they
found the recluse lying on the floor of her cell, motionless in her rapture, and
quite beside herself' (velut in rapto, immobilis, fatua), but the stigmata failed to
appear, to the great consternation of ail those who had believed in the womans
enigmatic teachings and revelations (deliramentis et ejus revelationibus). Among

26 Formicarius 3.1, pp. 294-95: Divinus amor (ut divinissimus docet Dionysius), non minorcs in
quibusdam sed maiores habet effectus arciore humano, quern constat rapi ad dilcctum
cogitationibus, et sese exprimere in gemitu, singultu, fletu, cantu et clamoribus.
27 Formicarius 3.1, p. 293: ne mireris, si pmdentes & experti de quanimdam feminarum actibus
fidem habeant modicam, quas flexibiles ad malum, inconstantes ad bonutn, & pronas valde ad
vanam gloriam esse agnoscunt
28 Formicarius 3.1, pp. 293-94: revelationem finxit & ecstasin, quam nunquam habuit, ut tnihi
coram suo Superiors propria fassa e st. . . publice mere ficta clamare coepit voce alta & in jubilo;
vel, cadendo in solum, cfflngerc raptum vel mentis excessum. The Dominican friar mentioned must
have been Konrad von PreuBen (d. 1426), a militant representative of Dominican observance; sec
Eugen Hilienbmnd, Die Observantenbewegung in der deutschen Ordensprovinz der
Dominikaner, in Reformbemuhungen und Observanz-bestrebungen im spStmittelalterlichen
Ordenswesen, ed. Kaspar Elm (Berlin, 1989), pp. 227-29; Tschacher, Der Formicarius des
Johannes Nider, p. 33.
2Formicarius 3.1, pp. 294: coram cunctis clamare quasi in jubilo coepit Quae fassa
e s t . . . quod illud non cx charitatis fervore, sed tantum fecisset ex inani gloria.
30 Formicarius 3,11, pp. 391-93: Ostenderat aulem se predicta femina saepe numero jacere,
velut in ecstasi & in raptu ccstatico: Ex quo re versa & expergiscens, suis postmodum secreta, quae
non noverat, dicere solebat. . . certa die, quae nominabatur, quinque Christi stigmatum insignia, in
manibus, pedibus, & in corde feminae certitudinaliter apparerent
210 Gabor Klaniczay

those present was Heinrich von Rheinfeiden (d. 1433), a Dominican friar and
professor of theology, who took advantage of the occasion to preach a fire and
brimstone sermon about the dangers of believing in foolishness of this sort.
Not much later, the fraudulent woman (ipsa jictrix) and an associate of hers were
obliged to appear before an ecclesiastical court; here she retracted her claims, and
repented of her sins.
The best known story of this type is that of Magdalen of Fribourg (Magdalena
Beutlerin). In the order of the Poor Clares she became famous for her frequent
raptures (extaticis visionibus ac a sensu alienationibus)-31 In some cases she
claimed to have been raptured corpore et anima to the extent o f physically
disappearing for several days. During such an occasion, in 1429, at the feast of
Saint Ursula and the 11,000 martyr virgins she disappeared and could not be
found either inside or outside of the convent. The sisters thought at first that she
had escaped from the convent following some diabolic inclination, or that she
was wandering in the woods with excessive ascetic motivations. Then, the same
day, in the sanctuary of the church of the convent the sisters found suddenly a
letter fallen from the sky, written by Magdalene with her own blood. In this she
announced her rapture: In the name of Lord Jesus Christ, our Creator, Saviour
and Beholder, I announce that he has received me and put me in a place in the
town where no one can find m e. . . but I have not left you forever, when Christ,
my only support in this great misery would request it, you would see me
again. . . but do not look for me for you cannot find me.32 (Magdalene may
have been hiding somewhere in the sanctuary during this time.33) She was found
four days later, lying lifeless in front of the sanctuary. She came to herself after
another three days, then asked for something to write with, and in a new epistle
she urged the inhabitants of the convent to reform their lives.34
Magdalenes most famous action was to pronounce a prophecy before
Christmas 1430 that she would die during the following Epiphany. She said that
her devoted followers could assist at this spectacle and thereby escape the
tortures of Hell. Subsequently she refused food for seventeen days, then after
receiving the Eucharist, she fell into a trance and confirmed her prophecy. The
news attracted a great deal of attention, and was confirmed by the presence of

31 Formicarius 3.8, pp. 361-65; the quotations below are from this long passage. Cf.
Dinzelbacher, H eilige oder Hexen? pp. 91-93; Peter Dinzelbacher, Kurt Rub, Magdalena von
Freiburg, in Die deulsche Lileratur des M ittelalters: Verfasserlexikon, 4:1117-21; Elliott, "The
Physiology o f Rapture, pp. 169-71.
32 Formicarius 3.8, pp. 361-65; In der Ehre Gottes Jesu Christi, unseres Schflpfere raid Erlfiscrs
usd Erhalters, so kunde ich euch dab mich Christus hat empfangen raid hat mich gesetzt an elnen
solchen Ort der Stadt, wo ich beraubt bin alles zeitlichen Trostes, wo ich keinen Menschea
sehc___ Ich bis aber niciit von euch fortgegangen. Sondem wann cs Jesus Christus, racine einzige
zuvcrzicht in diesem groBen Elend, will, so werdet ihr mich noch langer sehen. . . Ihr sollt mich
nicht mehr suchen, denn man kann m idi nicht finden. Cf. Wilhelm Schleuflner, Magdalena von
Freiburg: Eine pseudomystische Erschcinung des spSteren Mittelalters, Der Katholik 87 (1907),
109-10; Wilhelm Oehl, Deutsche M ystikerbriefe des M ittelalters 1100-1550 (Darmstadt, 1972),
pp. 525, 814; Formicarius 3.8, p. 361.
33 Dinzelbacher, H eilige oder Hexen? p. 92,
34 Oehl, M ystikerbriefe, p. 526.
The Process of Trance 211

various secular and ecclesiastic notables, urban authorities, and also some
skeptics, i.e., a certain Magister Paulus who was a professional doctor, and also
Niders personal envoy, a certain Frater Johannes, who subsequently provided a
detailed description of the event. On the appointed day a large public came to the
convent church for witnessing the event. She inclined her head on the breast of
another Clarisse sister; she immediately fell intoreal or fictitiousecstasy, and
thus she lay for a while. As the bystanders were curious whether she was dead or
alive, the doctor publicly touched her pulse and confirmed that she was still alive.
Then, in a strange coarse voice, unlike the one she had before, she uttered a loud
cry To the sarcophagus! This was carried out, but she remained alive. The
impatient crowd was quickly losing faith. Finally she arose from the sarcophagus
in front of the crowd and asked for food. She hoped to save face by referring to a
new revelation that divine intentions had changed and she would be left alive.
Though her immediate followers continued to believe in her, her fame was
ruined. What do you think of the prophecy of this woman? Piger asks his
master, Was it from God or from the Devil? Or did it have natural causes? Or
was it mere acting?33*
One should note that this account is not only biased but also truncated. It
omits the immediate continuation of the story, when allegedly her stigmatization
occurred. Another description of these events exists in a brief biography of her,
preserved in the manuscript containing two of her mystical writings, Die Goldene
Litanie and the Erklaerung des Vaterunsers,36 In this description the same series
of events is narrated in a rather positive, hagiographic tone, describing that she
finally got out of the sarcophagus because she had been asked to do so by the
Provincial of the order, and the following day, when the Passion of Our Lord
was read and at the end of it, when they read, All things are complete; Father,
into thy hands I commend my spirit, she cried out 0 woe, woe, how my foot
pains me! and her foot was shown to those who stood by. Then a wound broke
out on her foot, from which fresh blood ran out on to the ground, and the same
thing happened to her hands. This was seen by the people who had been sent by
the city council as witnesses. This biography then adds a series of subsequent
marvelous raptures, yet it also reports that, despite these miracles, Her holy,
blessed life was scoffed at and denied by many sinful people, and it was often
taken as a sign that she was a sorceress.37
Let us look at a few further examples described by Nider. The stories
presented so far derive from a relatively limited milieu, from the religious life of
fourteenth- and fifteenth-century South German and Swiss towns. But the

33 Formicarius 3.8, pp. 362-64: Quid ergo sentis de praefato vaticinio istius mulierculae. Num a
Deo fuit, a Demoae, vel a nature, vel ab arte talia fingente? Dinzelbacher, H eilige oder Hexen? p.
36 They have been discovered and studied by Karen Greenspan, Erklaerung des Vaterunsers: A
Critical Edition o f a Fifteenth-Century M ystical Treatise by M agdalena Beutler o f Freiburg fPh.D.
diss., University of Massachusetts at Amherst, 1984); an excerpt of this biography is translated by
her and included in the collection edited by Elizabeth AJvida Petroff, M edieval Women's Visionary
Literature (Oxford, 1986), pp. 350-55.
37 Petroff, M edieval Women's Visionary Literature, pp. 354-55.
212 Gabor Klaniczay

phenomena of vision and ecstasy had been examined by Nider in a much broader
circle. Let us see how far his attention extends.
As for diabolic possession, he returns to the problem in his fifth book dealing
with the witches and their deceptions (de maleficis et eorum deceptionibus).
Among half a dozen of examples there is one that might be related to the pupil at
s-Hertogenbosch: a seventeen-year-old girl in Cologne who swallowed the devil
in the form of a fly and became instantly possessed.38 The devil twisted every
member of her virgin body, and would not leave her until he was exorcised by
Gottfridus Stuffel, a Dominican professor of theology.3940
The most famous trance description of Nider does not have to do with female
visionaries but with witchcraft. The subject itself is the well-known belief
concerning women who go out for a nightly flight with the goddess Diana. This
myth is continuously attested from the early Middle Ages on. Penitential
handbooks of the medieval church have been condemning this belief since the
instructions of Regino of Pram of 906, taken up in the Decretum of Burchard of
Worms as stemming from the Synod of Ancyra of 314, and later incorporated,
with the name Canon episcopij in the Decretum of Gratian and widely
disseminated through this channel. According to the text some wicked women,
perverted by the Devil, seduced by illusions and phantasms of demons, believe
and profess themselves, in the hours of the night, to ride upon certain beasts with
Diana, the goddess of pagans, and an innumerable multitude o f women, and in
the silence of the dead of night to traverse great spaces of earth, and to obey her
commands as of their mistress, and to be summoned to her service on certain
nights . . . Wherefore the priests throughout their churches should preach with all
insistence to the people that they may know this to be in every way false and that
such phantasms are imposed on the minds of the faithful and not by the divine
but by the malignant spirit.^ The early medieval Church considered the belief

33 Formicarius 5.2 (quomodo fia n t obsessiones hominum a demonibus), pp. 527-38;

Formicarius 5.11, pp. 64144.
39 Formicarius 5.1!, pp. 642-43: membris omnibus virginei contusis, exiit Daemon.
40 Reginonis abbatis Prumiensis libris duo de synodalis causis. . . , ed. F. W. H. Wasserscbleben
(Lipsiae, 1840), p. 355: . . . sceleratae mutieres retro post Satanam conuersae, daemonum
illusionibus et phantasmatibus seductac, credunt se et profitentur noctumis horis cum Diana
paganorum dea et innumera multitudine mulierum equttare super quasdam bestias, et multa
ierrarum spacia intempestae noctis silentio pertransire, eiusque iussionibus uelut dominae obedirc,
et certis uoctibus ad etus seruidum euocari. . . sacerdotes per ecclesias aibi conmissas populo Dei
onuii instantia predicate debent, ut nouerint hec omnino falsa esse, et non a diuino, sed a maligno
spiritu talia phantasmata mentibus fidelium irrogari. Cf. Decretum M agistri Gratiani, hrsg. von B.
Friedberg (Leipzig, 1922), pp. 1030-31; English translation in Alan C. Kois and Edward Peters,
eds., Witchcraft in Europe 1100-1700: A Documentary H istory (Philadelphia, 1972), p. 29; 2nd
rev. ed. Edward Peters (Philadelphia, 2001), p. 62. For a more detailed analysis o f this tradition see
Ginzburg, Ecstasies, pp. 89-91; Werner Tschacher, Der Flug durch die Luft zwischen
lllusionstheorie und Realitatsbeweis: Studien zum sog. Kan on Episkopi und zum Hexenflug,"
Zeitschrifl der Savigny-Stiflung zur Rechtsgeschichle 116, Kan. Abt. 85 (1999), 225-76; cf. Aron
Gurevich, Medieval Popular Culture: Problems ofBeliefand Perception, trans. Janos M. Bak and
Paul A. Hollingsworth (Cambridge, 1988), pp. 78-103.
The Process of Trance 213

an erroneous superstition like the beliefs in strigae in general.4! Yet, despite the
interdictions, these mythological constructs survived in various forms in legends,
literary creations and in folklore (Herodiada, Dame Habonde, Satia), and as
Carlo Ginzburg has convincingly shown,4142 they became constitutive elements in
the complex mythology of the witches sabbath at the end of the Middle Ages.
On the other hand, the fifteenth-century reversal of the negative ecclesiastical
attitude to the unconditional acceptance of the possibility of such nightly flights
was the consequence of, and a further stimulus to, the emerging witch
persecutions. This change took place precisely in the 1430s, the very period when
the Formicarius was conceived.
It may strike us as slightly suspicious that Nider presents the well-known story
as something that indeed happened to his own preceptor, and only later refers to
his related readings in the field of canon law. He describes how a vetula
dementata" claimed to be carried through the air on a night-ride with Diana and
accepted the request of the Dominican friar to be present at this occasion, in
which she sat in a large bowl (cubella) used for kneading dough positioned on a
bench, rubbed herself with her ointment, uttered magic incantations; whereupon
her head leaned back, and she fell asleep almost immediately. She apparently had
some demonic dreams in the company of Domina Venere, when she
exploded into joyful jubilation, fluttered her hands and her whole body with
violent gestures. She fell off the bench together with her cubella, badly hitting
her head, then lay in deep sleep for some hours. When she awoke, she was told
that she had not been on a ride with Diana. She became very confiised when all
the witnesses confirmed that her body was seen to remain motionless in the room
the entire time.43
Nider also refers to the other well-known medieval version of the womens
night-flights, to the legend of St. Gcimanus who unmasks the demons coming for
the presents prepared for these women, a myth also known from the Golden
Legend by James of Voragine.44 The same mythological circle, leading
ultimately to the formation of the concept of the witches sabbath, is represented
by the legend of the exercitus furiosus (Wutendes Heer). The Fifth Book of
Formicarius does not neglect to mention the thirteenth-century notes of William
of Auvergne in this respect. Nider points out that the noctumus

41 E. Blum, Das staatliche und kirckliche Recht des Frankenreichs in seiner Stellung zum
Damon-, Zauber- und Hexenwesen (Paderbom, 1936); Dieter Harmening, Superstitio:
Uberlieferungs- und theoriegeschichtliche Untersuchungen zur kirch lich -theolcgis chen
Aberglaubensliteratur des MiUelalters (Berlin, 1979); Valerie I. J. Flint, The Rise o f M agic in Early
M edieval Europe (Princeton, 1991).
42 Ginzburg, Ecstasies, pp. 89-108,
43 Formicarius 2.4, p. 200; cf. Hansen, pp. 89-90; Lea, M aterials, pp, 260-61; same story also
in the Praeceptorium, ibid., p. 271. See the detailed analysis of this story by Catherine Chine in
L imaginaire du sabbat, pp. 204-20.
44Jacobi a Voragine, Legenda awea, vulgo historia Lombardica dicta, ed. T. Graesse,
(Vratislaviae, 1890, Osnabrilck, 1965); Jacopo de Varazze, Legenda Aurea, cap, 139, edizione
critica a cm di Giovanni Paolo Maggioni (Certosa del Galuzzo, 1998), pp. 689-94. For this
particular episode see Jean-Claude Schmitt, Les revenants (Paris, 1994), pp. 44,208.
214 Gabor Klaniczay

exercitus. . . animae defunctorum can appear to the just and to the evil as
After having reviewed these motifs related to the (real or simulated) ecstasy of
late medieval mystics and various cases of possession by the devil let us see what
ecstatic motifs concerning witches are reported by Nider. His information about
the doings of witches is said to be first-hand. One group of sources is
constituted by the records of the early witch trials allegedly conducted by the
judge Peter, castellan of Blankenburg in the Simmental, near Bern. The trials
were held between 1392 and 1406, and Judge Peter of Bern asserted having had
many witches of both sexes burned at the stake, and of having obliged others to
flee from the canton of Bern.46 Niders other source was a contemporary of his,
the Dominican inquisitor of Autun, who had reformed the convent at Lyon, and
who also had more than his share of dealings with witches. I will come back to
the novel nature of Niders description concerning this new sect, which, with
its murder of infants, sacrilegious denial of God and alliance with the Devil,
seemed much more dangerous than the previous lone, isolated sorcerers.4748
From the point of view of the phenomenon of trance, four manifestations deserve
mention: animal metamorphosis, ecstatic flight, preparation of magic potions and
unctions, and finally the witches sabbath as alliance with the devil.
The capacity for metamorphosis into animals is attributed to the first
representative {primus actor) of the witch sect of the Bern region, i.e., to
Scavius, who was able to flee from his persecutors in the shape of a mouse (his
name also merits attention: did it mean perhaps that he was a leper?).4*
It was a disciple of Scavius, called Hoppo, who became, in his turn, a
master of witchcraft {in maleficii magistrum) and taught a certain Scaedeli, who
is presented in such a detail by Peter of Bern to Johannes Nider. He lived in the
village of Boltingen, near Lausanne. Scaedeli had the ability, together with his
master, to transfer one third of anyones crops to his own land, to cause hail,
lightning and ravaging wind and to use lightning for killing human beings. He

45 Formicarius 5.1, p. 525. In cap. 10 and 11 o f the first Praeceplum in the Praeceptorium Nider
comments on several other motifs from De universo by Guillaume d Auvergne: the legend of Mora
Veneris, W erwolf beliefs, and women who in quator temporibus extasiro per daemonetn
patientes; see Lea, M aterials, pp. 265-71. On William o f Auvergne and the exercitus furiosus,
see Schmitt, Les revenants, pp. 115-45; more recently, Wolfgang Behringer, Chonrad Stoeckhlin
und die Nachtschar: eine Geschichte aus derfiU hen Neuzeit (Munich, 1994).
46 Formicarius 5.3, p. 543: qui multos utriusque sexus incineravit maleficos, et alios fugavit e
territorio dominii Bemensis. Excerpts from the parts o f Formicarius to be discussed below are
published by Hansen, Quellen, pp. 91-99; Lea, M aterials, pp. 261-64. The long-accepted
identification of this judge with Peter of Greyerz was recently put in question by Catherine Chene,
L 'imaginaire du sabbat, pp. 22427,
47 Borst, "Anfange, in Blaucrt, Friihe Hexenverfolgungen, pp. 17-19, argues for the hypothesis
that Nider could have reinterpreted the reports of judge Peter in the light o f the new witch-
stereotypes, spread in the 1430s; see Blauert, Friihe Hexenverfolgungen, pp. 56-59.
48 This hypothesis was suggested by Borst, AnfUnge, p. 52. On late medieval attitudes to
lepers see Saul Nathaniel Brody, The Disease o f the Soul: Leprosy in M edieval Literature (Ithaca,
N.Y., 1971). On the role of the figure o f the leper in the formation o f new witch stereotypes, see
Ginzburg, Ecstasies, pp. 3362,
The Process of Tranee 215

was also able to cause the sterility of animals and men, he could enrage horses by
simply touching their bridles; he could tell the future, and when someone tried to
capture him, he emitted a horrible smell and it was said that he could get from
one place to another through the air. 49 Though it was not related here to other
elements of witchcraft mythology, this reference to the capacity for flying is a
valuable indication of a new, increasingly popular, belief. However, in addition
to the confession of the invocation of the devil, obtained with torture, Scaedeli
does not convey any further elements that could be related to
The stories concerning the preparation of a magic unction, also mentioned in
the story on the vetula dementata," who used it for flying with Diana, could
perhaps give us useful additional indications in this matter. The witches of the
Simmental confessed to having murdered their own children, digging buried
infants out of their graves, and stealing unbaptized newborns from their sleeping
parents sides in order to cook their flesh: From this material we make a certain
unguent that is useful for our desires, arts, and transformations. From the liquids
we fill a container, and from this, with a few additional ceremonies, anyone who
drinks immediately becomes a member and master of our sect.5' This potion,
with its magical powers bringing about an instant conversion to the devil, is also
mentioned in the more detailed account of the witches rituals related while
tortured by a young man accused of witchcraft (his wife, who was likewise
tortured, denied the charge with her last breath). Afterwards he drinks from the
aforesaid flask; and, this done, he forthwith feels himself to conceive and hold
within himself an image of our art and the chief rites of our sect.*50152 His
confession, as reported by Nider, relates how the witches gathered in church on
Sunday morning before the blessing with the holy water. They denied Christ,
their Christian faith, and the Catholic Church, and swore to follow the devil,
whom they called magisterulus, This embryonic account of the witches sabbath,
however, does not contain a number of the key elements associated with the
concept, that is, ecstatic flight in the night, feasting and orgies, dancing, and
indiscriminate copulation.53
Niders account suggests that he himself was uncertain as to whether all this
actually took place, or was just a figment of the witches imaginations. Judge
Peter told him the story of his own encounter with witchcraft: After he had
already given up his office as judge, the witches avenged themselves on him by
pushing him off a flight of steps in the dead of night. He was found the next
morning, bruised and bloody 54 Nider adds an explanation: We neednt believe
that Peter was physically pushed off the steps by some witches who were not

451L imaginaire du sabbat, pp. 152,170,251: de loco in loco per aSra, ut putabant, transineare;
Tschacher, D er Formicarius des Johannes Nider, pp. 393-94,405-6.
50 Formicarius 5.3, p. 544, and 5.4, pp. 554,559,
51 Formicarius 5.3, p. 546; L'im aginaire du sabbat, pp. 154-55; English translation in Kors and
Peters, eds., Witchcraft in Europe, 2nd rev. ed., p. 157.
52Formicarius 5.3, p, 547; L'im aginaire du sabbat, pp. 156-57; English translation in Kors and
Peters, eds., W itchcraft in Europe, 2nd rev. ed., p. 158.
53 Cf. Ginzburg, Ecstasies, p, 71.
54 Formicarius 5.7, pp. 590-92,
216 Gabor Klaniczay

there; it was very much the present demons conjured up by the witches rites and
sacrifices that led to Peters fall.53*55 This statement has a certain logic.
But how should we inteipret the assertion that demons deceive the witches,
and only in the imagination of superstitious persons give them the impression of
being present. But, then, how were they capable of precipitating Peter down the
stairs? It is by the impact of the witches on the imagination that the demons can
evoke the sensation of being absent or present56 Who is exploited and deceived
by the other here; is the superstitious layperson deceived by the witch and the
demon, is it the demon by the witch, or the witch by the demon? It is no wonder
that the lazy disciple Piger again asks this question twenty pages later, whether
these demons act in phantasia or realiter?57 We can clearly see that Nider
himself is struggling with these unresolved alternatives. This ambiguity is seen in
his explanation of ecstasy and trance as well.
Piger keeps asking Theologus just how much credence we can give to things
that appear to us in trance, in dreams, and in visions. Nider relies in his answer
upon the scholastic theory58 of the interpretation of dreams: he discusses at
length the different ways of seeing with the bodily or with spiritual eyes. He
distinguishes between the practical intellect destined to perceive lower, earthly,
matters and the speculative intellect directed to grasp eternal, superior realities.
The varieties of the imaginationes somnii could be influenced by various
natural impulses. It could count as an internal natural cause. if the dream
provides a mental (animalis) reflection of what one has seen awake, of if the
physical condition of the body (being hungry or sated, the balance of the bodily
humours) is the cause of a dream. The astrological impact of the stars could be
considered as an external natural cause. If someone is looking for supernatural
messages in dreams; this person should deduce first the natural factors and
consider only that what remains unexplained by these causes. But even then a
serious problem remains. Having carefully isolated the supernatural, spiritual
elements of the dreams, one has to examine them, and consider whether they
originate from God, or from the master of deception, that is, from the devil.59
After rather lengthy scholastic sophistry, Nider writes as follows. There are
certain false visions which are relatively easy to recognize, such as deception
that has its roots in greed and avarice (ex avaritia), visions due to demonic
possession (possessi per Daemonem), and visions due to an over-active fantasy

53 Formicarius 5.7, p. 595: Nec tamen credere debes, Petrum . . . manibus maleficarum, quae in
castro non erant, corporaliter per gradus projcctum, sed maleficarum sacrifices vel cerimoniis
allecti Daemones pracsentes illud praecipitium fecenrnt Petri; L imaginaire du sabbat, pp. 196-99.
56 L imaginaire du sabbat, p. 595: Et ut mentes maleficarum deciperent, in imaginatione
supers titiosum homimrm, effecerunt ut sibi viderentur pracsentes e sse. . . Daemonis impressionc in
imaginatione malificorum factum est, ut absentia velut praesentia cemerentur.
57 Formicarius 5.9, p. 613.
5Maria Elisabeth Wittmer-Busch, Zur Bedeutung von Schlaf und Traum im M ittelalter (Krems,
1990), pp. 141-71; Jean-Claude Schmitt, Revet an XHe siecle, in I sogni net Medioevo,
Seminario Intcmazionale, Roma, 2-4 ottobre 1983, a cura di Tullio Gregory (Rome, 1985), pp.
291-316; Steven F. Kruger, Dreaming in the Middle Ages (Cambridge, 1992).
59 Formicarius 2.3-4, pp. 187-98.
The Process of Trance 217

(per pkantastica luminaria).60 Often all we have to guide us is our instincts, our
discretio spirituum. It is our intuitive recognition of the difference between spirits
that enables us to recognize the presence of evil, for Satan himself goes
disguised as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11.14); and the devil and his demons seek
to deceive people by appearing to them sub specie boni.6i
It is hard to tell die difference between the various kinds of natural and
supernatural causes, and one is always being caught off guard: Certain human
beings, St. Augustine tells us (Civ. Dei 24.23) can at will do with their bodies
some things that others find utterly impossible to imitate and scarcely credible to
hear. For some people can actually move their ears, either one at a time or both
together___Certain people mimic and render so expertly the utterances of birds
and beasts, as well as of any other human beings, that it is impossible to tell the
difference unless they are seen. Some people produce at will without any stench
such rhythmical sounds from their fundament that they appear to be making
music even from that quarter. From my own experience I know of a man who
used to perspire at will. Certain people are known to weep at will and to shed a
flood of tears.6263And Nider continues to cite Augustine by way o f illustration:
There was a presbyter named Restitutus, who could fall into a trance whenever
he wanted to, and and lie still exactly like a dead man. In this state he not only
was completely insensitive to pinching and pricking but at times he was even
burned by the application of fire and felt no pain except afterwards from the
wound.63 Thus, there are people, who have it in their nature to be easily
alienated from their five senses, and the rest of us can wonder whether they are
able to do all this on their own, with the connivance of the devil, or with the help
of the good angels.64
Niders reflections are a faithful mirror of the uncertainties voiced in the
theological debates of the time. What he set out to do in Formicarius is to explain
a phenomenon that very much preoccupied churchmen at the time of the Council
of Basel. To understand the historical impact of Niders accounts and skepticism,

66 Formicarius 3 .1, p. 287.

61 Formicarius 2.5, pp. 209-10.
42Formicarius 3.8, pp. 365-66: Anima enim unius dominium habet in corpus suum, quod altcri
esset impossible, ut B. August lib. 24. de Civitate Dei probat, cap. 23___ Nonnulli, ut volunt, de
corpora frngunt, quae alii nullo modo possunt, & audita vix credunt. Sunt enim, qui & auras
movent, vel singulas, vel ambas sim ul.. . - Quidam voces avium, pecorumque, & aliorum
quorumlibet hominum sic imitantur, ut nisi videantur, discemi omnino non possint Nonnulli ab
imo, sine pudora, ita numerosos, pro arbitrio, sonitus edunt, ut ex ilia etiam parte cantare videantur.
Ipse sum expertus, sudarc hominem solera, cum vellet Notum est, quosdam Here, cum volunt,
atque ubertim lacrymas fundere. English translation by Richard Levine in Saint Augustine, The City
o f God against the Pagans, 4, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, Mass., 1988),pp. 390-91.
63 Formicarius 3.8 p. 366: jacebat similis mortuo ut non solum vellicantes atque pungentes
minims sentiret, sed aliquando etiam igne ureretur admoto, sine ullo dnloris sensu, nisi postmodum
ex vulnere; Augustine, City o f Cod, p. 391.
64 Formicarius 3.8, p. 367: Tales igitur, qui se a corporeis sensibus faciliter per naturam possunt
alienate, mira in conspectu aliorum, aut propria mdustria, aut Daemonum versutia, ant bonorum
Angelomm ministerio possunt efficere.
218 Gabor Klaniczay

we need to consider them in the light of the historical and anthropological

literature dealing with the process of trance.

S a in t s , S h a m a n s and D e m o n ic P o s s e s s io n

Considered against the background of theoretical literature on trance and

ecstasy,65 Niders narratives contain a number of motifs which encourage us to
compare these descriptions of the trance-states of late medieval visionaries with
models of what has been called the most archaic of ecstasy techniques,
shamanism.6** In what follows, it is in no way implied that the religious
phenomena represented by late medieval mystics should be classified into any
kind of broadly defined shamanism; the confrontation intends rather to point out
certain common traits among them for elaborating a broader historical typology
of types of contact with the supernatural,
The most instructive story in this respect is the one of the young Dominican
novice of s-Hertogenbosch. The boy was thirteen at the time of his first public
trance, described by Nider. This is about the age in Siberian shamanism at which
a young candidate shaman is first called, during a shamans dream, to join the
company of older shamans in taking up the role ascribed to him by his destiny.6?
The function of the initiatory shaman sickness is the acquisition of
knowledge, In the case of the Dominican novice it was also the trance that gave
the young boy his knowledge of French and Latin, his insights into the Bible, as
well as his power to work miracles and receive revelations. The Dominicans
interpreted these capacities as originating in possession by the devil. But
possession is, in fact, not so far away from the shamans trance as one might
assume. Although there is no consensus on this issue, some anthropologists have
indeed argued for a close relationship between shamanism and possession.
Mircea Eliade and Luc de Heusch have tried to distinguish shamanism by
stressing the fact that shamans are able to use trance technique in a routine
manner, unlike magicians who are first possessed and only subsequently can act
as masters of spirits. Ian M. Lewis, on the other hand, building on
Shirokogoroffs classic account of Tungus shamanism, has convincingly shown
that the initiatory shaman sickness is a form of possession, and that even the657

65 See the entry on extase in the Dictionnaire de Spiritualite, 17 vols. (Paris, 1961), 4:2045-
2189; Ian M. Lewis, Ecstatic Religion: An Anthropological Study o f Spirit Possession and
Shamanism (Harmondsworth, Eng., 1971); Nancy Caciola, Discerning Spirits: Sanctity and
Possession in the Later M iddle Ages (Ph.D. diss, University of Michigan, 1994); idem, Wraiths,
Revenants and Ritual in Medieval Culture," Past and Present L52 (1996), 3-46; idem, Mystics,
Demoniacs, and the Physiology o f Spirit Possession in Medieval Europe, Comparative Studies in
Society and H istory 42 (2000), 268-306; idem, Discerning Spirits: Divine and Demonic Possession
in the M iddle Ages (Ithaca, N.Y., 2003) (this book appeared after I finished my study); Barbara
Newman, Possessed by the Spirit: Devout Women, Demoniacs, and the Apostolic Life in the
Thirteenth Century, Speculum 73 (1998), 733-70.
66 Mircea Eliade, Le chamanisme ei les techniques archalques de t 'extase (Paris, 1951).
67 Lariri Honko, Role-Taking o f the Shaman, Temenos 4 (1969), 26-55; Anna-Lcna Siikala,
The Rite Technique o f the Siberian Shaman, FF Communications 220 (Helsinki, 1978), pp. 330-41.
The Process of Trance 219

subsequent states of trance routinely generated for ritual occasions with

traditional shamanic tools (drums, dance, and drugs) have analogies in the
processes of controlled, recurrent, self-induced possession.6* Though a basic
difference between the two phenomena persistswhile the possessed suffers the
intrusion of a foreign spirit into his/her body, the shamans trance is an active
exercise of the capacity of the soul to journeythe two phenomena are linked so
far as their resorting to the process of trance.6869
This could shed some light on Niders late medieval account. The first
initiatory trance of the teenager-prophet, which for him signified the acquisition
of knowledge, a period of incubation, was regarded by his fellow monks, and
perhaps also by himself, as an instance of demonic possession. According to
Niders account the trigger was the boys inadvertent swallowing of the white
something (the motif o f swallowing the devil might have originated from an
anecdote of Gregory the Great, who described the story of a nun swallowing the
devil with a piece of lettuce70). The subsequent recurrence of minor ecstasies of
the possessed young novice, his miracles and his prophecies could be regarded as
instances of putting to use in routine ways the capacities acquired in the course of
the first trance. This pattern is not unfamiliar for anthropologists dealing with the
phenomena of shamanism in tribal societies.
Before going on to see how far the categories of shamanism might apply to
other religious phenomena discussed by Nider, we need to briefly address two
other questions. Can we speak, in however fragmentary form, of the presence of
shamanism in Europe during the High Middle Ages? And if this is the case, can
we show any correlation between shamanism and the religious ecstatics of the
time, or, on the other side, the emerging late medieval witchcraft beliefs?
As for the first question, a number of significant recent research results have
been published. After discovering and analyzing the shamanistic beliefs of the
benandanti of Friuli, who were tried as witches in the sixteenth and seventeenth

68 Eliade, Chamanisme; Luc de Heusch, Cultes de possession et religions iniciatiques de salut

en Afrique, Annates du Centre d 'Etudes des Religions (Bruxelles, 1962); S. M. Shirokagoroff,
Psychomental Complex o f the Tungus (London, 1935); Lewis, Ecstatic Religion, pp. 49-57.
69 Let me reproduce here a written comment to my study by Don Handelmari (Hebrew
University, Tel Aviv). Given that in trance a person is other than himself, trances could be
compared in terms o f whether the person is present or absent from himself. In the instance o f the
soul journey, the person is present, but elsewhere, travelling, and perhaps still in contact with those
at the site of his body. In the instance of possession, the person is absent, extinguished or taken
over by someone, some force that has intruded in the body/person and taken over. In the
relationship between shamanism and possession agency seems to be at issue. The shaman seems to
be one who has the agency to travel; the possessed no longer controls his action. Shaman sickness
is a form o f possession which intrudes into the shamanhis success (with help) of extruding this
intrusion returns agency to him, enabling him to travel. Controlled, recurrent, self-induced
possession is then the deliberate use o f agency to enable shamanic traveling.
70 Gregorius Magnus, D ialogi 1.4; cl. Frederick C. Tubach, Index exemplorum, FF
Communications (Helsinki, 1969); Dinzeibacher, Heilige oder Hexen? p. 222. Niders heavy
reliance upon the Dialogues of Gregory the Great is analyzed by Bailey, Battling Demons, p. 98.
220 Gabor Klaniczay

centuries,7172* Carlo Ginzburg published another wide-ranging synthesis on the

origins of the witches sabbath myth.77 Taking into account reactions to his book
on the benandanti, he gives a comparative analysis of all that we know
concerning the activities of their European counterparts (kresnik taltos7475*
calusariis donni di fuora,76 etc.): their spirit journeys, shamanistic activities,
fertility battles, and contacts with the dead. Though our concrete data for all these
figures date no further back than early modem times, it is highly unlikely that
medieval European villages should have known nothing about these or other
kinds of benevolent cunning folk.
Ginzburg also explores the belief systems of medieval Europe for more far-
reaching traces of shamanism. Pointing to the nocturnal rides of women with the
goddess of the night, and to the practice of communicating with the dead, he
speaks of a Celtic substratum of European mythologies.77 On the other hand,
the journeying souls metamorphosis into an animalas exemplified, for
instance, by Pauls Diaconuss Gunthram legend,7* by Odins metamorphosis in
the Ynlingasaga,79 and the werewolf concepts80*found in the Slavic, Baltic,
German and Mediterranean culturesare traced back to the shamanistic
substratum of European mythology. He divides these shamanistic beliefs
presumably mediated by the Scythians, and reinforced, from time to time, by
more direct Eastern influencesinto two types: the male variant, characterized
by ecstatic fertility battles; and the female variant, characterized by the
communication with the dead.*1

71 Carlo Ginzburg, I Benandanti: Stregoneria e culti agrari Ira Cinquecento e Seicento (Turin,
1966); The Night Battles: Witchcraft and Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth
Centuries, trans. John and Anne Tedeschi (Baltimore, 1983).
72 Ginzburg, Ecstasies: Deciphering the W itches' Sabbath, trans. Raymond Rosenthal (New
York, 1991).
72 Maja BoJkovic-Stulii, Testimonianze orali croate e Slovene sul Krsnik-Krcsnik, M etodi e
ricerche, n.s. 7 (1988), 32-50.
74 Gabor Klaniczay, Shamanistic Elements in Central European Witchcraft, in Shamanism in
Eurasia, ed. MiMly Hoppal (Gottingen, 1983), pp. 404-22; for an amplified version see Gabor
Klaniczay, The Uses o f Supernatural Power: The Transformation o f Popular Religion in M edieval
and Early Modern Europe, ed. Karen Margolis, trans. Susan Singennan (Cambridge, 1990).
75 Mircea Etiade, Some Observations on European Witchcraft, History o f Religions 14 (1975),
149-72; Gail Kligman, Cdlus: Symbolic Transformation in Romanian R itual (Chicago, 1981).
7fi Gustav Henningsen, The Ladies from Outside; An Archaic Pattern of the Witches Sabbath,
in Early Modem European Witchcraft: Centres and Peripheries, ed. Bengt Ankarloo and Gustav
Henningsen (Oxford, 1990), pp. 191-217.
77 Ginzburg, Ecstasies, pp. 89-152, esp. pp. 106-7.
78 Paul the Deacon, History o f the Lombards 3.34, trans. William Dudley Foulke (Philadelphia,
1974), pp. 147-48; Hannjost Lixfeld, Die Guntiamsage (AT 1645 A): Volkserzahlungcn und
Alter Ego in Tiergestalt und ihre scharaanistische Herkunft," Fabula 13 (1972), 60-107; cf.
Ginzburg, Ecstasies, pp. 151-52.
79 Walter Baetke, Yngvi und die Ynglinger: Eine quellenkritische Untersuchung iiber das
nordische "Sakralkonigtum." Sitzungsberichte der S&chsischen Akademie der Wissenscbaften zu
Leipzig, Ph.-hisL Kl. Bd. 109 no. 3 (Berlin, 1964).
80 Ginzburg, Ecstasies, pp, 138-39,153-54.
*1Ibid., pp. 243,257.
The Process o f Trance 221

Besides the scheme elaborated by Carlo Ginzburg, one should mention a

second recent attempt to reconstruct this archaic layer of European witch beliefs.
The work of Eva Poes82 gives a more scrupulous comparative analysis of Central
and South East European sorcerers, cunning people and folk mythological beings
( szepasszony, Vila, mora, zmej, rusalia, etc.) than has previously been the case.
P6cs has discovered another important domain of popular belief systems which
have played an important role in the formation of the concept of the witches
sabbath, that of the ambivalent fairy-mythologies. These same comparative
investigations have also led her to important new statements concerning the
relationship of Hungarian idltos beliefs and Siberian shamanism. Instead of
relying upon a set of remote and far-reaching analogies, the approach suggested
by Eva Pries, following the example of Geza Roheim,83 lays a greater stress upon
more concrete historical contacts and borrowing, namely upon the influences
coming to Hungary from the neighboring Slavic peoples and from all other
peoples on the Balkan peninsula.84
As a result of this research, Eva P6cs attempted to set up a new typology of
dual shamanism present in the Baltic, Old Slavic, Central European and Balkan
regions. Relying upon the reconstruction attempts of Roman Jakobson, V.V.
Ivanov and V. N. Toporov,85 she suggested comparing the struggle between
Perun and Volos in Slavic and Baltic mythologies to the shamanistic antagonism
of a fieiy/heavenly monster and a watery/nether-worldly one, documenting a
number of forms reflecting this antagonism in the folk mythologies of Eastern
Europe. These motifs seem to provide a meaningful explanation for the two
classes of shamanistic sorcerers observed by Carlo Ginzburg for the duality of
male sorcerers fighting for fertility and female seers assuring communication
with the world of the dead. In addition, her work offers new explanations as to
how these mythological elements could have merged into early modem
witchcraft beliefs.86

82 Eva Pics, Fairies and Witches at the Boundary o f South-Eastern and Central Europe, FF
Communications N. 243 (Helsinki, 1989); idem, Between the Living and the Dead: A Perspective
on Witches and Seers in the Early Modern Age (Budapest, 1998).
83 Roheim Giza, Magyar nephit es ndpszokasok (Hungarian folk beliefs and folk customs)
(Budapest, 1925); idem, "Hungarian Shamanism," in Psychoanalysis and the Social Sciences, 3, ed.
G iza jNew York, 1961), pp. 131-69.
84 Eva Poes, Hungarian Taltos and His European Parallels," in Uralic M ythology and Folk-lore,
ed. Mihaly Hoppil and Juba Pentikfiinen (Budapest and Helsinki, 1989), pp. 251-76.
85 Roman Jakobson, "The Slavic God Veles and His Indo-European Cognates," Studi
linguistici in onore di Vittore Pisani 2 (Brescia, 1969), pp. 579-99; V. V. Ivanov and V. N.
Toporov, "Le mythe indo-europeen du dieu de Forage poursuivant le serpent Reconstruction du
schima, in Echanges et communications: M elanges afferts a Claude Levi-Strauss a l'occasion de
son 60im e anniversaire, ed. Jean Pouillou and Pierre Maranda (Paris, 1970), pp, 1180-1206.
85 Eva Pics, Le sabbat et ies mythologies indo-europiennes, " i n Le sabbat des sorciers X V -
X V llie siecies, cd. Nicole Jacques-Chaquin and Maxime Preaud (Grenoble, 1993), pp. 23-31; idem,
A kigyi, a mennyko es a tehenek: Kettfis samanizmus cs boszorkanysag K6zep-DK-Eurip4ban
(The snake, the thunder and the cows: Dual shamanism and witchcraft in Central and South Eastern
Europe), in A tradicionalis muveltseg tovdbbelese, Az V, magyar-jugoszlav folJdorkonferencia
eldadasai, Bp, 1991. nov. 1-3. Folklor is tradicii VII (Budapest, 1994), pp. 89-101; idem. Between
222 Gabor Klaniczay

In the light of all this, it is conceivable that certain modified, Christianized

shamanistic beliefs and shamanistic practitioners were indeed a part of the
popular religion of the High Middle Ages in various regions of Europe, Having
made this assumptionwhich is likely to be controversial for a long time to
comelet me return to the second question: can we show any correlation
between these vague traces of shamanism and the ecstatic visionaries of the late
Middle Ages, and respectively, between shamanism and the emerging stereotype
of the witches sabbath? As regards the second part of the question, it was
exactly this correlation that Carlo Ginzburg and Eva Pdcs set out to show,
namely, that the nocturnal flights, the ecstatic elements in the witches revelry,
the metamorphosis into animal, the communications with the dead were all
ingredients originating from the fairy mythology and the shamanistic
substratum, salvaged to find their way into the medieval demonological
stereotype of the witches alliance with the devil. The first part of the question,
however, is as yet unanswered.
In his recently published book, titled Saints or Witches? The Fate o f Notorious
Women in the Middle Ages and in Early Modem Times, Peter Dinzelbacher
raises the question: Can we carry Ginzburgs thesis a bit further, and interpret
not only certain elements of witchcraft, but even mysticism to be a fresh variant
of Eurasian shamanism?*? Without really examining the possibility, however,
he summarily rejects the idea, noting that significant analogies notwithstanding,
the notion of a correlation would require that we show the existence of a
historical continuity between the late medieval visionaries and the ancient
Germanic religion. Alas, says he, there is no trace of mysticism in all the early
Middle Ages.
As I see it, however, we could try to find a more general, typological
correlation, one whose point of departure is the role that the possessor of
supernatural power, the sorcerer figure, plays (or is thought to play) in his/her
own community. Contemplating the issue in this light, we could discover
considerable typological similarities between shamanism and the Christian cult
of the saints. In both cases, we are dealing with a mechanism for warding off
misfortune and influencing the supernatural based upon placing the community
under the protection of a patron living in its midst, a person with supernatural
power to protect it from outside harm and work miracles on its behalf. This
feature of the cult of the saints was emphasized by Peter Brown.** Operating with
the categories of the Anglo-Saxon school of anthropology, primarily as found in87

the Living and the Dead: A Perspective on Witches and Seers in the Early M odem Age, trans.
Szilvia Redey and Michael Webb (Budapest and Ithaca, N.Y., 1999).
87 Dinzelbacher, H eilige oder Hexen? p. 293: Man kOnnte die These Ginzburgs weiterspinnen
und nicht nur eihen Toil des hexerischen Tuns, sondetn auch der mystischen Phanomene als
> jtlngere Sonderformen des eurasischen Schamanismus interpretieren.
88 Peter Brown, The Cult o f the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity (Chicago,
1981); idem, The Rise and Function o f the Holy Man in Late Antiquity, in idem, Society and the
Holy in Late Antiquity (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1982), pp. 103-52.
The Process of Tranee 223

Edward Evans-Pritchards Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azandef9

Brown shows that the cult of the miracle-working saints in the Christian
communities of late antiquity gradually came to overshadow the techniques for
warding off misfortune customary at die time, namely, the contemporary forms
of accusations concerning magic and witchcraft.^ With powers received from
above, the spectacular ability to cast out devils, and the positive example of
his/her godly life, the saint simply stole the show. He/she simply won over the
audience of the traditional experts of magic matters, so that people lost interest
in previous methods of averting misfortune which were based on discovering
the enemy within,91 and on cleansing the community by finding scapegoats
and hunting for witches.
To see the relevance of Peter Browns work for our understanding of the cult
of saints in the late Middle Ages, there is one more thing that we need to keep in
mind. Throughout much of the Middle Ages, the cult of the saints was based on
miracles worked by the deceased saints relics: the charismatic holy man of
late antiquity referred to by Brown survived only as a literary construct, the
idealized subject of legends. From the twelfth century on, however, a perceptible
change set in. The movements for religious revival, the orthodox and heterodox
personifications of the vita apostolica, as well as itinerant preachers of
unimpeachable orthodoxy of the likes of St. Bernard of Clairvaux and St. Norbert
all tended to reawaken the sense of the holy mans supernatural authority in the
popular mind,92 this is well exemplified by the public miracles S t Bernard
worked in 1146-47 in Cologne.93 With the advent of the mendicant orders in the
thirteenth century, living a life of holiness became a realisticin fact a
recommendedgoal. St. Francis of Assisi was seen by his associates as no less
than alter Christus, another Christ,
The new, bureaucratized form of sanctification, the canonization trial
monopolized by the Holy See4 contributed to provide sainthood with transparent
criteria; on the other band it diminished the possibility of autogestion in this
matter. Local germs of a cult could rarely grow in these circumstances into full-*90123

*9 Edward E. Evans-Pritchard, Witchcraft, Oracles and M agic among the Azande (Oxford,
1937); Peter Brown, Sorcery, Demons and die Rise of Christianity from Late Antiquity into tire
Middle Ages, in Witchcraft Confessions and Accusations, ed- Mary Douglas (London, 1970), pp.
90 On these accusations sec A. A. Barb, The Survival of Magic Arts, in The Conflict between
Paganism and Christianity in the Fourth Century, ed. Amaldo Momigliano (Oxford, 1963), pp.
91 Witches are described as traitors within the gates by Philip Mayer, Witches," in W itchcraft
and Sorcery: Selected Readings, ed. Max Marwick (Hannondsworth, Eng,, 1970), pp. 45-64.
92 Cf. Gibor Klaniczay, Religious Movements and Christian Culture: A Pattern of Centripetal
and Centrifugal Orientations, in Uses o f Supernatural Power, pp. 28-50.
93 Historia miracularum S. Bem ardi in itinere germanico patraiorum: Epistula ad magistrum
Archenfredum, PL 185:410-16; Pierre-Andre Sigal, L'hom m e et le miracle dans la France
medievale (X le-XIIe siecle) (Paris, 1985), pp. 18-20.
"A n d re Vauchez, La saintete en Occident aux dem iers siecles du moyen age: D 'apres les
proces de canonisation el les documents hagiograpkiques (Rome, 1981); English translation,
Sainthood in the Later M iddle Ages, trans. JeanBirell (Cambridge, 1997).
224 Gabor Klaniczay

fledged, approved, canonized sainthood.95*The status of sainthood became thus,

paradoxically, more and less accessible at the same time. In consequence of all
this, during ihe fourteenth and fifteenth centuries there were more and more
candidates for sainthood who deliberately prepared themselves for this glory;
they lived as if they had just stepped out of the Golden L e g e n d And this was
not only and not even principally the aspiration of certain individuals, the saints
were surrounded by a closer and a wider group of admirers (confessors, disciples,
fellow monks, friars, nuns, whole courts or cities) who started to venerate diem
as saints already during their lives, and hoped from them miraculous protection
in the midst of natural, political and social calamities of the later Middle Ages.9"?
These self-appointed charismatic figures were more and more frequently
called living saints (sante vive)989by the community. Most of them were female
visionaries of the likes of Angela of Foligno (1248-1309), St. Claire of
Montefalco (1268-1308), St. Bridget of Sweden (1303-79), and St. Catherine of
Siena (1348-80). Living saints were the chief actors on the local religious
scene from the end of the thirteenth century on."
In Niders Formicarius, too, we find them, though the author does not
recognize them as such. And yet there is no doubt that Magdalen of Fribourg and
the stigmatized ascetic of Radolfizell could be classified as living saints. Nor is
Nider so much of a skeptic that he does not adduce his own examples of good
mystics. He recounts a conversation he heard when he was still prior at
Nuremberg, at the meeting of the German Electors and the Emperor Sigismund
in 1428. The Chancellor began to pay homage publicly to the holy memory of
Catherine of Siena who had not yet been canonized. He read aloud a part of her
legend written by Raymond of Capua, noting how many sinners this virgin had
managed to convert in Italy.100 On hearing this, the ambassador of the Prince of
Savoy started to recount the miracles worked in Gaul by the Mother General of
tire Poor Clares, Colette de Corbie (1381-1447); how this domma tantae

95 According to the statistics of Vauchez, between 1198 and 1431, 71 canonization

investigations were started by the papacy at the initiative o f local church hierarchies, and less than
half o f these, 35, reached canonization still in the Middle Ages; Vauchez La saintele, p. 71. To all
this a large number o f local cults should be added, which did not even make it to achieve an official
investigation o f their case.
"V auchez, La saintete, pp. 420-26; cf. Gabor Klaniczay, Legends as Life-Strategies for
Aspirant Saints in the Later Middle Ages, in Uses o f Supernatural Power, pp. 95-110.
*7 These utilitarian and at the same time communitarian aspects of late medieval sainthood have
recently bear stressed by Michael Goodich, Violence and M iracle in the Fourteenth Century:
Private G riefand Public Salvation (Chicago, 1995)l
98 Gabriella Zarri, Le sante vive; Per una tipologia della santita femminile nel primo
Cinquecento," Annali dell Istltuto Storico Italo-germanico in Trento 6 (1980), 371-445; idem, Le
sante vive: Profezie di corte e devozione fem m inile tra '400 e '500 (Turin, 1990); cf. Dinzelbacher,
H eilige oder Hexen? pp. 119-25.
99 Mote on the sources concerning these saints is in Vauchez, La saintet&, Rudolph Bell, Holy
Anorexia (Chicago, 1985); Caroline Walker Bynum, H oly Feast and H oly Fast: The Religious
Significance o f Food to M edieval Women (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1987),
100 Formicarius 4,9, p. 483; Raymundus de Capua, Vita Sanctae Catharinae Senensis: Legenda
maior, AA SS Aprilis Tom 3 (Venezia, 1738), cols. 584-959.
The Process of Trance 225

sanctitatis lifted her arms in supplication and converted sinners and unbelievers
for all the world to see.i01 Nider also mentions here two famous preachers of the
age, St. Vincent Ferrer101102 and St, Bernardino of Siena,103 referring to them as
Gods new prophets.104
The Formicarius also mentions several local examples: Adelheid of Mulberg,
revered by all Basel as a living sanctuary (vivo sanciuario)','05 and Buken, the
sancta foemina living the life of a recluse near the house of the Teutonic Knights,
about whom Nider tells an anecdote meant to illustrate that there are those who
use their gifts to benefit others, and it is best to heed what they say. He tells of a
churchman called Nicolaus who joined the ranks of the pilgrims from the area
who sought out Buken to solicit her advice on matters spiritual and practical.
Buken asked him where he lived; on hearing that it was by the church, she
warned him that a catastrophe was about to strike the people living in that part of
the town. The priestwho himself recounted the story to Nidersoon rued the
fact that he had not heeded her warning, for soon thereafter a great fire swept
through that part of town, and burned his house down, along with three hundred
Recently, historians have noted the cult of living saints that developed in the
High Middle Ages, and have analyzed the novelty of this form of holiness (the
motif of their mystical marriage to Christ, the extreme asceticism of their fasting,
their self-mortification, visions, and revelations),107 but have been hesitant to
assert the conclusion that we see here, in fact, a radically new form of the cult of
saints. After a hiatus of several hundred years, we again find religious
communities grouped around the person of a saint with supernatural powers and
in direct touch with God, the model suggested by the Book of Prophets, the
Gospels, and the classical legends of the saints. What is so new here is not
primarily the relationship between the charismatic leader and his/her immediate
followers: we encounter this also in the early Middle Ages, and in the monastic
communities and religious movements of file eleventh to the thirteenth centuries.

101 Formicarius 4.9, p. 484; Pierre de Vaux, Vie de Soeur Colette, trans. Elizabeth Lopez
(Saint-Etienne, 1994); Elizabeth Lopez, Culture et saintete: Colette de Corbie (1381-1447) (Saint-
Etienne, 1994).
102Cf. P. Sigismund Brettle, San Vicente F errer und sein literarischer Nachlass,
Vorreformationsgeschichtliche Forschungen 10 (Munster, 1924).
103 Franco Mormando, The Preacher's Demons: Bernardino o f Siena and the Social Underworld
o f Early Renaissance Italy (Chicago, 1999).
104 Formicarius 4.9, p. 486.
105 Formicarius 2.1, p. 163; cf. Sabine von Heusinger, Johannes M ulberg OP (d. 1414): Ein
Leben fm Spannm gsfeld von Dominikanerobservanz und Beginenstreil, Quellen und Forschungcn
zur Geschichte des Dominikanerordens, Neue Folge Band 9 (Berlin, 2001), p. 6.
106 Formicarius 2.2, pp. 183-84.
107 Vauchez, La sainted, pp. 427-46; idem, Les laics au moyen age: Pratiques et experiences
religieuses (Paris, 1987); Beli, Holy Anorexia; Bynum, Holy Feast and Holy Fast; Carolyn Bynum,
The Female Body and Religious Practice in die Later Middle Ages," in Fragments fo r a H istory o f
the Human Body, Part 1, ed. Michel Feher et al. (New York, 1989), pp. 160-219; idem,
Fragmentation and Redemption: Essays on Gender and the Human Body in Medieval Religion
(New York, 1991).
226 Gabor Klaniczay

The novelty in the High Middle Ages was a change generated by the Christian
laity of the time, who seem not to have been satisfied with access only to the
relics of their dead patron saints; they also wanted living saints in their midst.
This being so, the stage was set for the would-be saint to becomein Aviad
Klebbergs apt Biblical allusiona prophet in his own country."108109*
It is at this point that the remote analogy of shamanism becomes useful. In
both cases, the benevolent possessor of supernatural powers lives within the
community and serves its interests. In both cases, contact with the supernatural is
achieved in the form of a trance, of ecstasy, and can serve either the needs of the
community at large (with revelations, prophecies, telling the future, and the
foretelling of catastrophes), or the solution of more concrete, individual problems
(as in the case of cures). In both cases, the journey the soul undertakes during the
ecstasy can lead through the land of the dead, and can expose the entranced
person not only to good spirits, but also to die danger of attacks from evil ones.
We even find parallels among the means used by the living saint on the one
hand, and the shaman, on the other, to establish and safeguard their prestige
within the community. Both had to produce some visible evidence to corroborate
the accounts of their doings in the spirit world. Niders catalogue of the peculiar
things that he knew to have happened to people in a trancesweating, crying,
calling out, fainting, groaning, seizures, heightened sexualityshow it to have
been a phenomenon akin not only to demonic possession, but also to a shamans
public trance.
The public, the followers demanded some visible physical evidence of these
soul journeys. Shamansand their Central European counterpartswere wont to
show off the wounds received in the course of battles waged in the spirit world,
and display the bruises from the blows they had endured, uw There is some
scattered medieval evidence about the corporeal signs of what happened to
visionaries while in trance. In Bedes Ecclesiastical History, for instance, we
read of Furseus, the eighth-century abbot, whose vision of the afterlife left him
with scars on his shoulders, the evidence of bums suffered in the fires of
In Niders lifetime, around 1424, there was a female visionary living in Bourg-
cn-Bresse in France, who boasted of having saved a number of souls from
perdition, and would show the scars of the bums she had suffered in the course of
her rescue missions to Hell.11112in Niders stories, it is only Judge Peter who bore
the corporeal tokens of a supernatural adventure, but this was bus encounter with
witches, and a somewhat different matter.11! More significantly, Niders

10s Aviad M. Kleinberg, Prophets in Their Own Country: Living Saints and the M aking o f
Sainthood in the Later M iddle Ages (Chicago, 1992).
109Klaniczay, Shamanistic," p, 141.
HOBeda Venerabilis, Historia Ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum 3.19, in B edes Ecclesiastical
H istory o f the English People, ed. Bertram Colgrave and R. A. B. Mynors, Oxford Medieval Texts
(Oxford, 1981).
111 Joseph von Garres, Die christliche M ystik, 4 vols. (Regensburg, 1836-42), 3:668; Herbert
Thurston, The Physical Phenomena o f M ysticism (London, 1952).
112 See note 51 above.
The Process of Trance 227

accounts include references to stigmatization, that most original of the medieval

mystics physical manifestations.
The miraculous appearance of stigmata, the mortal wounds of the suffering
Christ, on a living saints body, was surrounded by intensive doubts and
passionate debates after the famous case of St. Francis, because this astonishing
bodily proof was usually acquired during secret, solitary meditations.113 St.
Francis received his wounds during his ecstatic vision at Mount Alvema,
accompanied only by Friar Leo, and the stigmata became known to the public
only two years later, after his death.11,1 S t Catherine of Siena was also
stigmatized during her solitary prayer in front of a crucifix in the Chapel of S t
Christian in Pisa, in 1375, and to modestly hide this privilege, she obtained the
favor from Christ to make her wounds invisible,'1315Other late medieval cases of
stigmatization were also described to have occurred during the night, secretly, in
full separation from the outside world.116
As the story of the thwarted recluse of Radolfzell shows, Nider regards such
accounts of stigmatization with considerable skepticism. Besides his own
reservations, however, the description of this unsuccessful process of
stigmatization also betrays a significant difference from earlier such events, and
offers a good illustration of the new social dimensions of the status of the living
saint. The recluse makes a public announcement of the impending mystic event,
and goes into a trance to await its comingunder the inquisitive eyes of the
assembled would-be witnesses. She challenges fate and takes the risk of incurring
public ridicule, desperate as she is to establish her supernatural status within a
skeptical community. The chance she took has much in common with Magdalene
o f Fribourgs physical disappearance for days on end while in ecstasy, her
inviting an audience to witness her self-predicted death, and finally the public
ostentation of her bleeding stigmata (if we give credit to the above quoted
hagiographic account about it). We see the same kind of motivation at work in
the case of the old woman who greased herself with witchs ointment before the
eyes of the incredulous Dominicans in order to lend weight to her testimony of
engaging in night flights with Diana. The more doubt there was in peoples
minds as to things spiritual, the more the religious public of the fifteenth century

113 Pierre Debongnie, Essai critique sur lhistoire des stigmatisations au Moyen Age, Etudes
Carmelitaines 20 (1936), 2259; Johannes M. Hocht, Van Franziskus zu Pater Pio und Therese
Neumann: Eine Geschichte der Stigmalisierten (Aschaffenburg, 1974); Andr6 Vauchez, Les
stigmates de saint Francois et leurs detracteurs dans les demiers siecles du moyen &ge," Melanges
de l 'ecolefra n fa ise de Rome 80 (1968), 595-625.
114 Ottavian Schmucki, The Stigmata o f St. Francis o f Assisi: A C ritical Investigation in the
Light o f Thirteenth-Century Sources, (New York, 1991); Chiara Frugoni, Francesco e i'invenzione
delle stimmate: Una storia p er parole e immagini fin o a Bonaventura e Giotto (Turin, 1993);
Arnold Davidson, Miracles of Bodily Transformation, or, How St. Francis Received the
Stigmata, in Picturing Science, Producing Art, ed. C. A. Jones, P. Gallison, and A, Slaton
(London, 1998), pp. 101-24; Giovanni Miccoli, "Considerazioni sulle stimmate, in A tti delta
tavola rotonda (Assisi, 1997), pp. 13-39; also published in Franciscana 1 (1999), 101-21.
115 Rainrundus de Capua, VitaSanctae Catharinae Senensis, col. 910.
116 C l Gibor Klaniczay, Le stigmate di santa Margherita dUngberia; fmmagini e testi,
Iconographies: Rivista di iconografia medievale e moderna 1 (2002), 1631.
228 Gabor Klaniczay

demanded visible and publicly verifiable evidence of the miraculous and of the
supernatural; and the ecstatic saints tried, in some measure, to satisfy this new
demand. Thus it was that the stigmata, the visible, outward signs of true bodily
identification with the suffering Christ, came to be considered as the most
convincing pledge of mystical union with Him. As such, it was something to
which most fifteenth-century living saints aspired,117 and which Niders
Magdalene of Fribourg was also proud to have attained,118
The requirement that mystical experience be substantiated with physical
evidencethe desire for that bloodiest likeness (allerbliitigiste glicheit) as the
fourteenth-century Beguine, Elsbeth von Oye, called the finality of self-
castigation in her autobiography119*was self-contradictory when related to the
traditional notions of the nature of trance. Trance, which is the most significant
outward sign of ecstasy in shamanism, as in Christianity, can be described as
follows: The soul of a person in trance is alienated from his/her body (ecstasim id
est mentis excessum, as they put it from the twelfth century on; Nider, as we have
seen, uses this same expression170); it is carried away (rapta) into a higher
sphere, where it comes into direct contact with the world of the supernatural. The
unconscious bodyusually inert, but possibly shaken by convulsions, as if
possessedis insensible to all outside physical stimuli; as for the visionary
experiences during the ecstasy, that is a secret on which the communitys only
information is his own subsequent report.
The trouble was that anyone could simulate the immobilityor convulsions
of the classical state of trance (as Nider points out repeatedly); the religious
public of the early fifteenth century wanted additional concrete proof. With
their own eyes they wanted to witness the spontaneous appearance of stigmata on
the hands and feet of the zealous nun lying inert in her cell. They wanted the
doctor to keep his fingers on Magdalenes pulse, and report whether her life
really was ebbing away at the self-prophesied time. And with their own eyes they
wanted to see the old woman ride away with Diana.
Within the framework of the traditional shamanistic system of beliefs, it
would not have occurred to anyone to simply laugh at the old witch-who, by
Niders own account, had been in a regular state of trancefor claiming that
only her soul had been away. By the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries,
credible statements or confessions of personal experiences would have been
sufficient grounds for accepting the reality of a soul journey, and for passing
sentence on a benandante, a taltos, or a devil-worshiper witch. The unsettled

117 Zarri, Saote vive, presents several such fifteenth-century saints in detail: Stefana Quinzani,
Osanna Andreasi, Caterina da Racconigi, Lucia da Nami.
I IS Oehl, Deutsche M ystikerbriefe, p. 521.
119 Peter Ochsenbein, Lcidcnsmystik in dominikanischea Frauenklostem des 14. Jahrhunderts
am Beispiel der Elsbeth von Oye, in Religiose Fruuenbewegung und mystische FrOmmigkeit im
M ittelalter, ed. Peter Dinzelbacher and Dieter R. Bauer (Cologne, 1988), pp. 353-72, esp. pp. 361-
IJ<J Hugo de Sancto Victore, In hierarchiam coeiestem 3.2, PL 175:983c; cf. Dictiormaire de
Spirituality, 4:2113; for Nider, see note 28 above.
The Process of Trance 229

climate of religious debate of the first decades of the fifteenth century, however,
called for something else, namely, the physical substantiation of such
supernatural experiences. One might think that this would have been a process
conducive to the eventual triumph of rationalism. In fact, it was just the opposite.
I am convinced that it was precisely this inordinately critical attitude that led, in
these very decades, to the rejection of the early medieval dogma formulated in
the Canon episcopi to the effect that the actual, physical flight of witches was no
longer considered to be an impossibility. It was in order to come up with
evidence Sufficient to satisfy the hypercritical that the early modem courts put
such pressure on the accused that there was little they would not confess to on the
rack. The evidence" thus extracted did much to fan the overall climate of
anxiety into the full-blown hysteria of the early modem witch hunts.
Nider himself stands on the boundary of the two traditions. His reason inclines
him to represent the skeptical, rational point of view; but time and again in
Formicarius, he confesses his uncertainty, and suspends his critical faculty. In
sum, the work as a whole is a concrete step toward bringing mystical experience
and demonic visions, sanctity and witchcraft to a new kind o f common


Since Nider was not alone with his hesitations, but very much on the contrary,
he fit very well into the set of contemporary debates concerning the supernatural;
in order to gain a better understanding of his ideas I will now briefly review the
context which follows. Two kinds of traditions need to be invoked here: the
growing animosities against late medieval living saints manifesting themselves in
visions and revelations, and the theological treatises responding to this malaise.
As for the former, the birth of suspicion,!21 the historiography of the past
decade has provided us with a series of detailed studies in this matter. A brief
enumeration can illustrate the earlier history of the phenomena described by
In the late thirteenth century, urban religious culture was tom by passionate
quarrels with heretics and unexpected fervor caused by new religious upheavals.
The trial of the Guglielmites in Milan in 1300 was the first serious blow against
the female version of the new mendicant ideal. In the course of this it was
decided to bum the earthly remains of Guglielma, a female prophet who died in
1282 and claimed to be the daughter of the Czech King, Ottacar Pfemysl I, and
the incarnation of the Holy Spirit. Her followers, lead by a female pope called
Mayfreda Pirovano were burnt as well.121122 An unusual from of mystical

121 Andre Vauchez, La nascita del s o s p e t t o i n Firuione e santita tra medioevo ed eta
moderna, ed. Gabriella Zarri (Turin, 1991), pp. 39-51.
122 F. Tocco, II processo dei Guglielmiti, Real Accademia del Lincei. memorie della classe di
scienze morali, storiche e filologiche, Rendiconti 5, series 8 (Rome, 1899), pp. 309-42, 351-84,
407-32, 437-69; Marina Benedetti, ed., Milano 1300: lp ro cess! inquisitoriali contro le devote e i
devoti di santa Guglielma (Milano, 1999); Stephen Wessley, The Thirteenth-Century
230 Gabor Klaniczay

betrothal was claimed by Margherita, the companion of the North Italian heretic
leader, Fra Dolcino, burnt at stake in 1307, who asserted that she was pregnant
by the Holy Spirit (sui asserunt earn esse gravidam de Spiritu Sancto). A similar
claim was voiced by Prous Boneta, the southern French Beguine during her trial
in 1324.123 In 1310, the Vallonian Beguine, Marguerite Porete, author of the
Miroir des simples drnes, was burnt at the Place de Greve.124 In 1318-19, in the
canonization trial of Saint Clare of Montefalco a Franciscan friar voiced severe
doubts concerning the arma Christi miraculously found in the heart of Clare
after her death. His accusations sound familiar: simulated piety, disguised
gluttony behind the ascetic fasting, the heresy of the Free Spirit behind the
apparent exemplary orthodoxy, mental illness and epilepsy behind the mystic
raptures.125 The widely known presence of these suspicions is also attested by
some of the spiritual leaders of these religious women: Henry Suso (1295-
1366}126 or Venturino da Bergamo (130446)127 who had serious worries that the
extreme practices of self-torture and flagellation could eventually lead to
simulated sanctity.12829
The most acclaimed mystical saints of the second half of the fourteenth
century, Saint Bridget of Sweden12? and Saint Catherine of Siena13? had to

Guglielmitcs: Salvation through Women, in M edieval Women, ed. Derek Baker, SCH Subsidia
(Oxford, 1978), pp. 289-304; Dinora Corsi, Dal sacriGcio al maleiicio. La donna e il sacra
nelleresia e nella stregoneria," Quademi medievali 30 (l990), 8-62; Marina Benedetti, lo non
sono Dio: Guglielma di M ilano e i F igli dello Spirita santo (Milano, 1998).
123 Raniero Orioli, Venit peijidus heresiarcha: II movimento Apostolico-Dolciniano, Istituto
Storico Italiano per il Medio Evo, Studi Storici (Rome. 1988), pp. 193-96, 284-87; Bernard Gui,
M anuel de 1TnquLsitew (Paris, 1978); the testimony of Prous Boneta was edited by William Harold
May in his article, The Confession o f Prous Boneta, Heretic and Heresiarch, in Essays in
M edieval Life and Thought: Presented in Honor o f Austin Patterson Evans, ed. John H. Mundy,
Richard W. Emery, and Benjamin N. Nelson (New York, 1955), pp. 3-30.
124 Romana Guamieri, Il movimento del Libera Spirito: I. Dalle origini al secolo XVI, II. II
Miroir des simples antes di Margherita Porete, III. Appendici, Archivio italiano p er la storia
della pieta, 4 (Rome, 1965); Peter Dronke, Women Writers o f the M iddle Ages: A Critical Study o f
Texts from Perpetua (d. 203) to M arguerite Porete (d. 1310) (Cambridge, 1984); Giovanna Fozzer,
Romana Guamieri, and Marco Vannini, eds., Lo Specchio delle anime sem plici (Milano, 1994).
125 H processo di canonizzazione di Chiara da M ontefalco, ed. Enrico Menestb (Perugia, 1984),
pp. 435-36; cf. Vauche2, La nascita del sospetlo.
125 Henry Suso, The Exemplar, with Two German Sermons (New York, 1989); cf. Ochsenbein,
127 Dinora Corsi, La crociata di Venturino da Bergamo nella crisi spirituale di m eti Trecento,"
Archivio Storico Italiano 147 (1989), 697-747; Jefficy F. Hamburger, The Liber miraculorum of
Unterlinden: An Icon in Its Convent Setting, in The Sacred Image East and West, ed. R.
Ousterhout and L. Brubaker (Champaign-Urbana, 111., 1995), pp. 162-70, as well as idem, The
Visual and the Visionary: Art and Female Spirituality in Late M edieval Germany (New York,
1998), pp. 279-315.
128 Oehl, Deutsche M ystikerbriefe, pp. 183-96.
l29Auke Jelsma, "The Appreciation o f Bridget o f Sweden (1303-1373) in the Fifteenth
Century, in Women and Men in Spiritual Culture, XIVX V II Centuries: A M eeting o f South and
North, ed. Elisja Schulte van Kessel (The Hague, 1986), pp. 163-76; Tore Nyberg, Introduction,
in Birgitta o f Sweden: Life and Selected Revelations, ed. Marguerite Tjadel Harris, trans. Albert
Ryle Kezel (New York, 1990), pp. 13-51; Dinzelbacher, H eilige oder Hexen? pp. 26-28.
The Process of Trance 231

confront this set of suspicions as well. All this was in their case, however,
supplemented by a much more important conflict, the Great Schism, where both
living saints used their charismatic authority to put pressure on the pope to return
to Rome.13' The amplification of such mystical interventions into ecclesiastical
politics made the debates concerning the authenticity of revelations a central
problem in the times of the Great Schism (1378-1417). In two, then three,
concurrent papal courts the weapons of biting polemics had been directed mostly
against the prophets and visionaries of the other party, A good example in this
respect is Ursula of Parma (1375-1408), subsequently beatified, who made an
attempt to mediate between the two popes, and thus end the Schism. She first
made a pilgrimage to Rome and visited Boniface IX, then she paid a visit to
Clement VTI in Avignon. The cardinals of the latter accused her of witchcraft.
Ursula answered with dignity, 1 do not rely upon the malefices of the devil, but
implore heartily the blessing of Lord Jesus Christ to your souls, and a sudden
earthquake also helped her to be cleared of the infamous charges.1301132 Nider also
begins the series of false apparitions in the third book of Formicarius by
deploring that Petrus de Luna, i.e., Benedict XIII, one of the three rival popes
before the Council of Constance, put a crazy confidence into the prophecies in
his favor.133 All this is well summed up by Bernardino of Siena: We are filled
with prophecies up to being sick of them ( Vaticiniis usque ad nauseam repleti
This background provides some explanation for why the revelations of Saint
Bridget stirred such a debate even after her death.135 After three popes (Gregory
VI, 1377; Urban XI; Boniface IX, 1391) declared them orthodox, they became
the subject of a lengthy discussion at the Council of Constance (1414-18), again
two popes (John XXIII, 1415 and Martin V, 1419) declared them to be canonical;
but the debates were stirred up again at the Council of Basel (143143). A
commission headed by Cardinal Juan de Torquemada had to clear Bridget of the

130 Timoteo M. Centi, Un processo inventato di Sana pianta," in S. Caterina fra i dottori della
chiesa, ed, Timoteo M. Centi (Florence, 1970), pp. 39-56; cf. Bell, Holy Anorexia, pp. 23-25, 194;
Vauchez, La nascita del sospetto, p. 44.
131 Peter Dinzelbacher, Das politische Wirken der Mystikerinnen in Kirche und Stoat
Hildegard, Brigitta, Katharina," in Religiose Frauenbewegung, ed. Dinzelbacher and Bauer, pp.
265-302. Cf. most recently Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski, Poets, Saints, and Visionaries o f the
Great Schism, 1378-1417 (University Park, Penn., 2006); F. Thomas Luongo, The Saintly Politics
o f Catherine o f Siena (Ithaca, N.Y., 2006).
132 Simon de Zanachiis, Vita, 1, 225, in AA SS, Apr., 1, col. 727: Maleficiis diaboli non utor,
sed beneficiis Domini nostri Jesu Christ! pro animnnim vestrarum salute fungor; cf. Gftrres, Die
christlicke Mystik, 1:45354; Richard Kieckhefer, The Holy and the Unholy: Sainthood,
Witchcraft, and Magic in Late Medieval Europe, The Journal o f M edieval and Renaissance
Studies 24 (1994), 360; Dinzelbacher, H eiiige oder Hexen? p. 112.
133 Formicarius 2.1, p. 287: in praedictam Prophetiam fatue confidens; cf. Andr6 Vauchez,
LBglise face au mysticisme et au prophetisme aux demiers slid es du Moyen Age, in Les laics,
pp. 259-65.
134 D e inspirationum discretions sermo 111, in S'. Bem ardini Senensis Opera Omnia, 6 (Florence,
1959), p. 267.
135On these debates see Rosalyn Voaden, God's Words, Women's Voices; The Discernment of
Spirits in the Writing o f Late-M edieval Women Visionaries (Woodbridge, Eng., 1999), pp. 73-107.
232 Gabor Klaniczay

charge of having made 123 statements of heretical nature. Although the

sainthood and the revelations of Catherine of Siena, patronized by the mighty
Dominican Order, were much less problematic, her canonization still met
unexpected obstacles. Tommaso Caffarini tried in vain to provoke an official
investigation {Processo Castellano). It was only the patriotism of the Siennese
pope, Pius II, which in 1461 superated the adversities concerning her
Around the turn of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, holy women like
Dorothy of Montau (1347-94)137 0r Margery Kempe (ca. 1373-1439)138 had to
face continuous harassment, imprisonment, and charges of heresy. In France
debates were stirred by the visions of Constance de Rabastens (1384-85) and
Marie-Robine (1398), and these debates had been renewed around the strange
prophecies of Jeanne-Marie de Maille (1331-1414) at her 1415 canonization trial
in Tours. 139 Having contemplated all this, one should not marvel at the success of
Joan of Arc (d. 1431). She relied upon the charismatic power of female
sainthood, which she used as a real weapon of war. At the same time she had to
face charges of heresy and witchcraft besides being revered as a prophet and a
saint. The whole of contemporary Christianity was divided over the question of
whether her revelations were of an angelic or diabolical nature, iw
These debates gave a new vigor to a theme of theology traditionally discussed
since New Testament times, the discernment of spirits (discretio spirituum).lA[ If
one examines the medieval cases, one can see very well that the topic itself36178*4

l36M.-H. Laurent, ed., II processo Castellano (Milano, 1942); Thomas Antonii de Senis,
Caffarini, in Libellus de supplem ent, Legende prolixe virginis beate Catherine de Senis, ed.
Iuliana Cavallini and Imelda Foralosso (Rome, 1974); Sabine von Heusinger, Catherine of Siena
and the Dominican Order, in Siena e il suo territorio net rinascimento (Renaissance Siena and its
territory), ed. Mario Ascheri (Siena, 2000), pp. 43-51.
137 Elisabeth Schraut, Dorothea von Montau: Wahmehmungsweiscn von Kindheit und
Ehelcben einer spatmittelalterlichen Heiligen, in Religiose Frauenbewegung, ed, Dinzelbacher and
Bauer, pp. 373-94.
138 The Book o f M argery Kempe, Fourteen Hundred & Thirty-six; a modem version by W.
Butler-Bowdon (London, 1936; New York 1944); Clarissa W. Atkinson, M ystic and Pilgrim: The
Book and the World o f M argery Kempe (Ithaca, N.Y., 1983); Rosalyn Voaden, Beholding Mens
Members: The Sexuaii2ing of Transgression in The Book o f M argery Kempe," in M edieval
Theology and the Natural Body, ed. Peter Biller and A. J. Minnis (Woodbridge, Eng., 1997), pp.
175-91; idem, G od's Words, pp. 109-54.
D9 Vauchez, Les laics, pp. 278-79; Hblene Millet, coute et usage des propheties par les
prelats pendant le Grand Schisme dOccident, in Les textes prophetiques et la prophetie en
Occident (XHe-XVIe siecle), sous la dir. dAndre Vauchei (= M elanges de I ecole fra n fa ise de
Rome 102) (Rome, 1990), pp. 425-55; Renate BIumenfeld-Kasinski, Constance de Rabastens:
Politics and Visionary Experience in the Time o f the Great Schism, M ystics Quarterly 25 (1999),
147-68. '
4 Marina Warner, Joan o f Arc: The Image o f Female Heroism (New York, 1981),pp. 96-116;
William A. Christian, Jr., Apparitions in Late M edieval and Renaissance Spain (Princeton, 1981),
pp. 188-91; Sabine Tanz, Jeanne d'Arc: Spdtmittelalterliche M entalitat im Spiegel eines Weltbildes
(Weimar, 1991); Deborah A. Fraioli, Joan o f Arc: The Early Debate (Woodbridge, Eng., 2000).
141 Andre Vauchez, Les theologians face aux propheties a Idpoque des papes dAvignon et du
Grand Schisme, in Les textes prophetiques, pp. 577-88; cf. Dinzelbacher, H eilige oder Hexen? pp.
The Process of Trance 233

became popular whenever the guardians of ecclesiastical dogma were confronted

with external, marginal or even lay authorities who tried to make reference to
independent sources of the divine wisdom, that is, prophecies, revelations,
visions and apparitions. The validity of these new sources of divine authority
could not be adjudicated by traditional arguments of authority or rational
reasoning. It had to- be decided upon by a complicated casuistry mixed with
intuition: Alii datur per spiritum sermo sapientiae, alii sermo scientiae, alii
discretio spirituum" (1 Cor. 12.8).142143After the solidification of early Christian
dogmatics in the work of Origen, this type of problem presented itself with the
visions of Egyptian monks and hermits of the third and fourth centuries, the
reason why Johannes Cassianus (ca. 360-430) devotes such attention to the
problem of the discretio spirituum (and his relevant writings kept on being used
until the late Middle Ages). '4J The problem was again discussed by two founding
fathers of medieval Latin Christianity, Augustine and Gregory the Great,'44 and
became a frequently debated topic among various representatives of twelfth-
century religious reform movements who had a mystical sensitivity, such as
Bernard of Clairvaux145 or Richard of St. Victor.146*148
These traditions gamed a new vigor at the beginning of the fourteenth century,
and the newly founded university of Vienna (1365) became one of the principal
centers of these discussions.142 Nider does mention these debates: vidi magnos
Theologie Doctores fecisse de instinctibus, vel de discretione spirituum
tractatus,'48 referring in fact to two of the most famous works written in this
subject, that is, the De IV instinctibus of Heinrich von Friemar'49 and the treatise
of the leading intellect of the new theological faculty of the Vienna University
founded in 1384-85, the De discretione spirituum by Heinrich von Langenstein
(Henricus de Hassia) (1325-97), who moved to Vienna from Paris and finished
his treatise in 1388.>5

142 Francois Vanderbrouke, Discernement des esprits, Dictionnaire de Spiritualite 3:1254-66;

Gunter Switek, D iscretio spirituum : Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der SpiritualitSt, Theologie und
Philosophie 47 (1972), 36-76.
143 Cassianus, Conlationes 1.16-22,2.
144 Augustinus, Confessiones 9.24, idem, De civitate D ei 4.122, 11.8, 16; idem, De doctrina
Christiana 5.8,10.19; Gregorius Magnus, Moralist in lob 4.162.
145 Bemhardus Clarevaliensis, Sermo de discretione spirituum, PL !83:602.
146 Richardus de Sancto Victore, De gratia contemplationis ("Benjamin minor) 4-5, PL
156:155-83; the medieval evolution of the concepts is well presented by Elliott, The Physiology
of Rapture, pp. 15156.
142 Franz Gall, Alma M ater Rudolphina 1365-1965: D ie Wiener Universitdt und ihre Studenten
(Vienna, 1965); Tschacher, D er Formicarius des Johannes Nider, pp. 280-82.
148 Formicarius 2.5, p. 210.
4QD er Traktat Heinrichs von Friemar iiber die Unterscheidung der Geister, ed. Adolar
Zumkeiler and Robert G. Wamock, Cassiciacum 32 (Wurzburg, 1977).
iso Konrad Josef Hcilig, Kritische Studicn zum Schrifttum der beiden Heinriche von Hessen,
RSm. Quartalschr. 40 (1932), 105-76; Heinrichs von Langenstein Unterscheidung der GeisteP'
lateinisch und deutsch; Texie und Untersuckungen zu Oberselzungsliteratur aus der Wiener Schule,
ed. Thomas Hohmann (Zurich, 1977), pp. 21-26 (MSS); Caciola, Discerning Spirits, pp. 346-53;
Anna Morisi Guerra, 11 silenzio di Dio e la voce delTanima: Da Enrico di Langenstein a Gerson,"
Cristianesimo nella storia 17 (1996), 393-413.
234 Gabor Klaniczay

The popularity of the treatise by Heinrich von Friemar, and its early German
translation can be credited to its simple and easily perceivable structure. He
distinguishes four instincts or rather dispositions: 1) divine; 2) angelic; 3)
diabolical; 4) natural. Each one of these is to be recognized by further
combination of triple or quadruple clusters of indices. The divine instinct, for
instance, is to be detected in 1) the sequel of Christ, 2) humility, 3) the turning
from the outside towards the inside, internal values, and 4) the inclination for the
wealth of virtues. The four angelic indices provide similar positive drives,
whereas the twice four indices of the diabolical instinct represent a systematic
negation and antithesis of the divine and the angelic indices. Finally, the
ambivalent group of natural instincts is characterized in itself by a similar
antagonism (divided into two triads) between the opposed tendencies of natura
and gratia w Even this short outline can indicate that it was Friemars popular
classification which served as a point of departure for Nider in the development
of his own taxonomy of dreams and apparitions.
Heinrich von Langensteins work, however, apparently made an even a bigger
effect upon him, Nider mentions his name with the true reverence of a disciple:
recolendae & sancte memoriae Mag, Henricus de Hassia, sacrae paginae
professor. *1525
1The starting point of Heinrich von Langenstein was fairly similar
to that of Nider; his treatise, written in 1382-83 had been provoked by
contemporary debates concerning prophecies and revelations which convinced
him decide to compile and analyze a list of the relevant ecclesiastical authors on
the discretio spirituum. A decade later, in a pamphlet written in 1392 against the
most controversial visionary authority of his age, Telesphorus of Cosenza
(Invectiva contra quemdam eremitam de ultimis temporibus vaticinantem nomine
Telesphorum), he could make a more concrete use of these arguments,151
The treatise of Heinrich von Langestein consists of fifteen chapters, beginning
with a lengthy scholastic taxonomy of spirits (five internal, seven external, four
substantial spirits, the effects of which are complemented by five farther
dispositions which take their origins from the natural or moral condition of the
individuals). We hear of the disturbed balance of body humours (excessus
humoris), of the impact of the stars, of marvelous imagination originating
from the excessive workings of fantasy. As we have already seen, this set of
categories was nearly completely adopted by Nider in his Formicarius, as well as

,sl I rely in this outline o f Friemar's treatise on the account of Heinrichs yon Langenstein, ed.
Hohmann, pp, 59,
152 Formicarius 1.10, p. 123,
153 If one tries to measure the impact of the work of Heinrich of Langenstein, it is worth
mentioning that two out o f its four oldest manuscript copies belonged to the Dominicans at Basel
and Nuremberg, i.e,, precisely those two convents where Nider had been prior for some time. It is
in the Carthusian monastery of NOrdlingen that an early German manuscript was preserved,
containing the oldest translation of the treatise by Heinrich von Langenstein as well as that of
Heinrich von Friemar. Furthermore, this same MS also contains a popular German language work
by Johannes Nider: 24 goldene Harfen. Cf. Heinrichs von Langenstein, ed. Hohmann, pp. 27-31;
Brand, Siudien zu Johannes Niders deutschen Schrifien; Morisi Guerra, II silen2io di Dio, pp.
The Process o f Trance 235

the following warning of Heinrich von Langenstein: We should be on our

guards and not believe immediately and easily those homines spirituales, who
plunge into their fantasy and contemplation while working, and perceive in
anything that occurs to them, even unwillingly, the supernatural operation of
good or bad spirits. 15* Heinrich von Langenstein could be at the origin of the
triple distinction made by Nider of natural causes or influences stemming from
good or bad spirits. In connection with this, the Vienna theologian mocks with a
sarcastic tone the crazy and credulous people who suspect with every natural
occurrence the supernatural manifestation of God or that of good or bad spirits.
He protests against this attitude, and he admonishes with passion reliance upon
humaha ratio. For it is very hateful in the eyes of God, if the man proceeds in a
foolish manner, rationally and indiscreetly, because man denies thus his human
condition, since God gave him reason... , 15 155 still, when he comes to a more
concrete distinction between good or bad spirits we have to observe with some
embarrassment that he is still a child of his age. His strategy for the evaluation of
supernatural phenomena seems to be rather naive. He suggests, for instance,
basing our interpretation upon the type of things and animals appearing in the
visions: if it is a snake, a scorpion, a pig or a raven, the vision certainly came
from an evil spirit, but if it were a dove or fire, a cloud, or a lamb, we can be
sure that it originated from a good spirit 156
The treatise provides a detailed interpretation of the various manifestations of
visionary and prophetic religiosity. He deplores various errors of the recently
converted, such as intolerance, exaggerated asceticism and overdone eagerness
for supernatural signs (cap. 3, 101-20), a desire for fame (cap. 4, 19-27), and
consequently the danger of pride (cap. 4, 32-39). He labels the striving for
revelations and unusual miracles is labeled as modus temptandi dettm (cap. 4, 81-
82), and he suggests approaching God in a human manner rather than with the
will or the belief of falling into ecstasy.157
In the second half of the treatise Heinrich von Langenstein aligns a number of
authorities from Aristotle, Saint Paul, Cicero (hinted at with reference to the
Somnium Scipionis), Cassianus (named erroneously Cyprianus), passing through
Augustine, Gregory the Great, to Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, Hugh and Richard
of Saint Victor. After reviewing these varied and interesting arguments, however,
the conclusion he arrives at is rather meager: If we have any doubts, whether a
vision or a miracle is coming from a good spirit, we should above all consider,

154 Heinrichs von Langenstein, ed. Hohmann, pp. 58-60: Patet ergo non esse cito et leviter
credendum homini spirituali, qui laborat continue phantasiando et contemplando, quod in omnibus
impulsibus quos sentit vel in omnibus, quae ei quasi inopinatae occurmnt, a bono vcl malo spiritu
supe rnatural iter moveatur.
155 Heinrichs von Langenstein, ed. Hohmann, pp. 62, 68: ne homo in fatuam deducatur
credulitatem et aestiinationein de se et de continua circa se superaamrali actione dci et spirituum
bonorum vel malorum;. . . Quia hominem fatue, irrationabiliter et indiscrete proccdcre est deo
valde odibile; cum hoc sit maxime repugnans condition! humanis, cui deus dedit rationem . . .
156 Heinrichs von Langenstein, ed. Hohmann, p. 62; cf. Caciola, Discerning Spirits, p. 349.
157 Heinrichs vonLangenstein, ed. Hohmann, p, 76: aliqui tam volunt vel credunt rapi in deiun,
ut in far.tis eorura obmittant viazn et modum procedendi humanum ..
236 Gabor Klaniczay

which degree of the ecclesiastical hierarchy it is coming from ... .'58 This
conclusion provides a good illustration what great difficulty contemporary
theologians encountered whenever they had to decide such questions.
After the treatises discussed in Vienna we should turn to the debates at the
University of Paris, where two important theologians, both chancellors of the
University, contributed to this subject. First it was Pierre dAilly, who wrote a
passionate treatise against the false prophets (where he essentially aimed at the
vogue of astrological prophecies, so it is somewhat outside of our consideration
8 0The most prolific writer in these matters was his successor as chancellor
of the University of Paris, Jean Gerson ( 1 3 6 3 - 1 4 2 9 ) .His first treatise
concerning the subject, the De distinctione verarum visionum a falsis, was
written around 1401.161
Gerson provides an acute exposition of the problem: the reason why one
should pay so much attention to whether a prophecy or revelation has angelic or
diabolical origin is that Satan himself goes disguised as an angel of light (2
Cor. 11.14). The theologian must find the golden middle way between two
negative extremes, that is, skepticism refusing revelations altogether and
credulity accepting dreams and fantasies of the mentally disturbed. According to
Gerson, those who profess true revelations should be adorned by the same five
virtues that were possessed by the Virgin Mary, that is humility, discretion,
patience, truthfulness and love. On the other hand it is highly suspicious if
visionaries publicize their revelations with curiosity and pride instead of
humility. It is also to be observed attentively whether the said seers are willing to
accept the advice of the more experienced with discretion, or whether they have
the patience to wait without grumbling and rebelling until the Church gives full
credit to the message received by them. And, finally, there should be a careful
investigation, whether the revelations in question are in accordance with the

158 Heinrichs von Langenstein, ed. Hohmann, p. 114: Cum ergo de visionibus alicuius aut
miraculis dubitatur, an a spiritu bono sint, considcrandum est, quem statum aut gradum in
ecclesiastica hierarchia habeat vel habuerit. . .
159 Petri d'Ailliaco de falsis prophetis tractatus I-Il, edited as an appendice in Opera omnia
Johannis Gersonis, 1, ed. L. Ellies du Pin (Antwerp, 1706), cols, 489-510 and 511-603. On this
series of debates at the Paris University, also extending to the problem of superstition, see
Tschacher, Der Formicarius des Johannes Nider, pp. 270-273, The treatise is probably not from
the period between 1372 and 1395, as was conventionally held, but from between 1410 and 1415;
see Francis Oakley, Gerson and d Ailly: An Admonition, Speculum 40 (1965), 74-79.
160 Cf. James L, Connolly, John Gerson, Reformer and Mystic (Louvain, 1928).
161 Opera omnia Gersonis, 1, ed. du Pin, chap, 1, pp. 43-59; newer edition: Jean Gerson,
Oeuvres Completes, ed. Palemon Glorieux, 10 vols, (Paris, 1960-73), 3:36-56 (in the latter, chapter
numbers are not preserved); English translation and analysis in Paschal Boland, The Concept o f
Discretio Spirituum in John Gerson's "De Probatione Spirituum " and "De Distinctione Verarum
Visionum a Falsis (Washington, D.C., 1959); new translation in Jean Gerson: Early Works, ed.
and txans. Brian Patrick McGuire (New York, 1998), pp. 365-78; cf. Christian, Visions and
Apparitions, pp. 192-97; Dyan Elliott, "Seeing Double: John Gerson, the Discernment of Spirits,
and Joan of Are, American Historical Review 107 (2002), 26-54. This insightful recent analysis
goes many points further and deeper than my description here, written six years ago, which
constitutes an alternative approach o f the same perspective. Still more recently see her book, Dyan
Elliott, Proving Women (Princeton, 2004).
The Process of Tranee 237

fundamental verities of Catholic faith, whether true divine love transpires through
them.1 .
Reading the complex argumentation of Gerson, one feels that his theological
awareness is struggling with an undeniable attraction to mystical sensibility; it is
not by chance that he dedicated so much polemical attention to the works of
Ruysbroeck.16 163 What may have disturbed Gerson was the frequent reliance upon
bodily metaphors within mysticism, for such associations may have seemed to
him to limit the infinity of God. This is why he grumbled with so much insistence
about those naive women, who turn towards God or the saints with sensual
passion rather than real sincere love.' 64
Gersons specific attention to female spirituality may have been motivated by
various factors. His close relationship with his five sisters, his supervision of
their religious careers and the eventual anxieties concerning his own role might
have been some of these.15516Another motivation could have been provided by the
contemporary debates concerning the revelations of a pious woman, Ermine of
Reims (d. 1396), about the authenticity of which Gerson was personally asked by
the prior of the abbey of Saint-Deny of Reims, Jean Morel, around 1401 or
1402.166 Gerson wrote a cautiously positive assessment on Ermine, but he
changed his mind in the subsequent decades. In later writings he demarcated
himself from his earlier fascination with such mystic women.167 Besides the
theological and biographical reasons, however, one can also detect in Gersons
writings the cliches of a well-routinized animosity against women; he was the
first theologian to introduce the topoi of misogynous discourse into the debate on
revelations, so popular in French literary circles of the age.
To illustrate the unreliability of false apparitions, his examples always target
the typical mistakes of religious women. One of these is the non-acceptance of
expert advice, where he exemplifies the case with an arrogantly stubborn
female visionary, a certain married woman in Arras. Gerson narrates that
ultimately she became worn out by her extreme ascetic practices and after having
finished her severe fasting she always started gluttonously devouring food. But
what was even more scandalous for Gerson is that she did not allow herself to be

162 Gerson gives a synthetic overview of these considerations at the end of his treatise, De
distinctione 6.98, p. 56.
163 Mgr. A. Combes, E ssaisurla critique de Ruysbroeck par Gerson (Paris, 1945-48).
144 De distinction 6.75.
>65 Brian Patrick McGuire, "Late Medieval Care and Control of Women: Jean Gerson and His
Sisters," Revue d'histoire ecclisiastique 92 (1997), 5-37.
166 Judicium Joannis Gersonii, doctoris et canceilarii, de vita sanctae Erminae, in Opera omnia
Gersonis, 1, ed. du Pin, pp. 8386; English translation in McGuire, Jean Gerson, pp. 244-49 (Brian
Patrick McGuire dates the letter to 1408); Fran?oise Bonney, "Jugeincnt de Gerson sur deux
experiences de la vie mystique: Les visions dErmine et de Jeanne dAic, Actes du 95e Congres
national des socieles savantes, Reims, 1970, Champagne et Pays dc la Meuse, Philologie et
Histoirc 2 (Paris, 1975), pp. 187-95; Entre Dieu et Satan: Les visions d'Ermine de Reims (d. 1396)
recueillies at transcrites par Jean le Graveur, ed. and trans. Claude Amaud-Gillet (Certosa del
Galuzzo, 1997), pp. 21-27.
167 For an analysis of the complex background o f Gersons hesitations concerning female
mystics, see now Elliott, Seeing Double, pp. 39-44.
238 Gabor Klaniczay

dissuaded from this practice by any kind of wise arguments.168 The errors of the
Beguines and Beghards were also exemplified by die writings of a woman, the
subtie books of Marie de Valenciennes (who might be identified with Margaret
of Porete).169170
Gerson was asked to take positions again during the debates around the
revelations of Saint Bridget at the Council of Constance. In his new treatise, De
probatione spirituum (1415),*70 after proposing a catchy little verse about the
rules of circumspect investigation (Tu quis, quid, quare, cui, qualiter, unde
require>7i), and after retelling again the scholastic quadruple classification of
revelations coming from God, good spirit, evil spirit and (in a rational or in an
animal way) from a human being,172173he arrives again and again at the problem
represented by religious women. In connection with the kind of persons
professing revelations he stresses that sudden religious passions may lead to
specific dangers especially with adolescents and women, whose ardor is
excessive, wanton, capriciously changing, uninhibited and therefore utterly
suspect. 177 As for the public of those revelations, Gerson warns about the
responsibility of confessors and spiritual directors. Do not applaud such a
person, do not praise her, do not venerate her as a saint worthy of revelations or
miracles. Stand in her way rather, scorn her heavily, show her disdain. 174 And
finally, when the way of life of the visionary comes into question, it is again the
relationship of women and confessors which remains the only problem to be
discussed, with some vicious remarks on women who can have no satisfaction
to their eagerness for seeing and talking, not to speak of touching. 175*Speaking
with Apostle Paul: Women. . . led on by all kinds of desires, who are always
wanting to be taught, but are incapable of reaching a knowledge of the truth. (2
Tim 3.7).

168 De distinctions 6.45-47. We can detect here an allusion to Catherine of Siena; cf. Vauchez,
Les laics, p. 273.
169 See Vauchez, Les laics, p. 273; MacDonnell, Beguines and Beghards, pp. 367-68; Lemer,
The Heresy o f the Free Spirit, pp. 68-84.
170 Gerson, Oeuvre doctrinale, in Gerson, Oeuvres completes, ed. Glorieux, 9:177-84, 458-76,
Dyan Elliott argues convincingly that Gerson is basically reworking the treatise defending the
inspiration of Bridgets revelations by her confessor Alphonse of Pecha, and reversing its
arguments with an ad feminam twist; see Elliott, Seeing Double, p. 36.
171 De probatione 6.19; p. 180. Dyan Elliott explores the origins of Gersons investigating
techniques, Le., the inquisition concerning sanctity in canonization trials and the questions
suggested for the confessions, as described in Raymond o f Penafort's Summa de paenitentia; see
Elliott, Seeing Double, p. 43.
173 De probatione 12, p. 184. ,
173 De probatione 7.22, p. 180; praesertim in adolcscentibus et foeminis, quarum ardor est
nimius, avidus, varius, effrenis, ideoque suspectus.
174 De probatione 9.32-33, p. 181: non applaudas tali personae, non obinde laudes earn, non
mireris quasi sanctam dignamque revelationibus atque miraculis. Obsiste potius, increpa dure,
speme earn . . .
175 De probatione 11.50-51, p. 184: habet insatiabilem videndi loquendique, ut interim de tactu
silentium sit, pruriginem.
The Process o f Trance 239

The De examinatione doctrinarum (1423),176 Gersons third treatise on the

matter, is the most sarcastic about uncultivated, illiterate women (idiotas, ac
sine litteris mulierculas): Teachings coming from women, especially sayings
and writings concerning higher things, are much more suspect than those coming
from men---- Why, because they are more easily seduced, they themselves are
restless seducers, and they ignore divine wisdom. For it is a different thing to
chat about things coining into ones fantasy, and again a different thing to preach
about the Holy Scriptures. 176
177 According to Gerson already Jerome disapproved
of those who wanted to learn from women what is originally taught by men. For
what would happen. . . if these women would start adding visions to visions, and
start professing as great miracles or divine revelations, those things that are
merely the product of a disturbed brain, troubled by epilepsy, congelatio, or by
other kind of melancholy.178
Gersons qualifications seem to follow the general line of the negative
judgments and misogynous topoi of medieval ecclesiastical public opinion
concerning women.179* Yet, in the turmoil of early fifteenth-century Parisian
debates, stirred up by the querelle des femmes in connection with the Roman
de la Rose, this classification becomes somewhat blurred: instead of joining
the misogynous party, Gerson made here a nicely argued statement supporting
Christine de Pizan.181 Considering this, his antiwoman statements need to be
evaluated strictly in the context of the discussions concerning the evaluation of
female visionary sanctity; and here it can be observed that the arguments of
Gerson really brought about an important transformation.182 His concern with
feminine mystical spirituality was a will to control and contain. His importing
misogynous arguments into the field of spiritual discernment (which he may not
have endorsed in debates on vernacular literature) could rather be characterized
as a strategic rhetorical device. In any case he brought about an influential
setback to the general tendency of late medieval Christianity which saw in the
saintly female mystics the most appropriate mediators of divine and supernatural
messages. As we have seen, Nider represented very similar opinions to those of

176 Gerson, Oeuvres completes, ed. Glorieux, 9:458-76.

177 De examinatione 2, pp, 468-69: . . . omnis doctrma mulierum, maxime solemnis verbo sen
scripto, reputanda est suspecta . . . et multo amplius quam doctrina vironim . . . Quare? quia Ievius
seductibiles, quia pertinacius seductrices, quia non constat eas esse sapientiae divinae cognitrices.
Aliud etiam est ganiie quae venerint ad phantasiam; aliud, de Scripturis sacris proferre sermonem.
178 De examinatione 2, p. 467: Culpat Hieronymus eos, qui, proh pudor, a foemmis discunt quod
viros doccant Quid si talis sexus apposuerit. . , visiones quotidie super visiones adders, laesiones
quoque cerebri per epilepsiam vel congelationem aut aliam melancholias speciem ad miraculum
tefetre, etc., nihil denique dicere nisi vice Dei sine medio revelantis. . .
m Marie-Thertse DAlvemy, Comment les theologieos et les philosophes voient la femme,
Cahiers de civilisation medievale 20 (1977), 105-31; R. Howard Bloch, Medieval Misogyny and
the Invention o f Western Romantic Love (Chicago, 1991).
ISOChristine de Pizan, Le debat sur le Roman de la Rose, ed. Eric Hicks (Paris, 1977).
181 Contre le Roman de la Rose, in Gerson, Oeuvres completes, ed. Glorieux, 7.1:301-16;
McGuire, Jean Gerson, pp. 378-98.
182Dyan Elliott also underlines that we cannot find this same adfeminam attitude in the writings
o f Heinrich von Friemar, Heinrich von Langenstein and Pierre dAilly; see Elliott, pp. 30-31.
240 Gabor Klaniczay

Gerson on this matter. Though he did not directly refer to Gerson in the
formicarius,m there was a copy of the Deprobatione spirituum in the library of
the Basel Dominican convent;18 184 and the spiritual kinship between the works of
the two theologians is also illustrated by the fact that their works are frequently
linked in fifteenth-century manuscripts. For instance, in a manuscript compiled
around 1440, presently kept in Budapest, three treatises by Gerson, among which
is the duodecim consideraciones super spirituum probacione, are bound together
with one of the most misogynous writings of Nider, titled De lepra morali.185
There is another point where the treatises of Gerson give a new direction to
debates concerning apparitions. He provides a theoretical formulation to late
medieval objections against recent cults of sainthood and revelations:
It would be onerous and vain, if the visions upon visions immensely
multiplying in our age would all be considered truthful divine
revelations. For like this our feith and religion, which God intended to
keep according to Augustine in a short and concise form, would
become even lengthier than the Old Testament. Already Master
Henricus de Hassia186 of venerable memory has warned us that the
number of canonisations should be limited. And another reason should
also be mentioned: die multitude of Christian believers, who turn their
curious eyes and ears towards these apparitions which are all the more
attractive as they are recent, meanwhile omit the study of the Holy
Scripture. Speaking with Seneca, they do not learn the necessary, they
study only what is superfluous.187
These arguments, formulated in the context of the debates over the canonization
o f Saint Bridget, are still counterbalanced in Gersons writing by circumspect and
cautious final conclusions concerning the apparitions of St. Bridget; It would be
as dangerous to approve them altogether as to disapprove. 188
The ambivalence of his judgment, already exemplified by his changing
opinion on Ermine of Reims, is again epitomized by one of his ultimate writings,
shortly before his death. Suiprisingly, he defended, despite all his previous

183 This curious lack has been pointed out by Tschacher, D er Formicarius ties Johannes Nider,
pp. 166,454.
184 Gerson, Oeuvres completes, ed. Glorieux, 9:xii.
1*5 Budapest, Hungarian Szechinyi National Library, Cod. la t 379, fols. 94-183, 198v-206.
185 Clear reference that Gerson knew Heinrich von Langenstein well, who might have been one
of his teachers when he was still in Paris.
1*7 Gerson, Deprobatione 8.28-29, p. 181: Onerosum quippe esset, ne dicamus vamrm, visiones
super visiones in immensum multiplicatas debere reciperc tamquam ah ore Dei prolatas, ac pioinde
certissima fide credendas. Sicquc demum nostra tides nostraque religio quam Deus, teste
Augustino, voluit sub paucissimis contineri, rcddcretur plus, absque ulla comparatione, quam lex
vetus onerosa, Hinc clarae memoriae magjstcr Henricus de Hassia comprimendam esse tot
hominum canonizationem scripsit. Hinc alia ratio sumitur, quod omisso divinarum Scripturaram
studio magna christianorum pars ad has visiones, ideo placentiores quia rccentiores, converterent
culos et aures pruriences; sicque necessaria nescirent, quia juxta Senecac verbrlm, supervacua
188 Gerson, De probatione 5.11-12, p. 179: est autem utrobique, vel in approbatione, vel in
reprobatione, periculum.
The Process of Trance 241

reservations concerning female revelations, the prophecies of Joan of Arc. It

might have been precisely this ambivalence which led to the lasting debate: was
it really Gerson who wrote the short treatise on De mirabili victoria cuiusdam
puellae in 1429 (or an earlier treatise titled De quadam puella), or were these
writings forgeries from the times of the 1450-56 rehabilitation trial? 189* if we
assume that the De mirabili victoria treatise was really Gersons own work, the
trap-like nature of the discernment argumentation becomes apparent from its
effects. However much Gerson would have desired to apply his criteria for
arriving this time at a positive judgment, his expert opinion was, apparently, not
respected. While there is ample evidence that the judges of Rouen made use of
his three former treatises in this matter, there is no trace of the use of the two
positive treatises. 190 More than this: Gersons cautiously positive argumentation
was triumphantly turned upside down, the defense was inverted into attack by
the treatise o f an anonymous Paris cleric, titled De bono et malino spirito, also
written in 1429, classifying Joans revelation as clearly originating from the evil
spirit 19119
In the list of the sources of the ideas of die Formicarius one should mention as
well several Swiss or German promoters of Dominican observance in order to
gain a fuller panorama. While an important group from among the Dominicans,
led by their general Master, Raimund of Capua (who was actually one of the
initiators of die Dominican observance) was striving to get Catherine of Siena
canonized, another group of die Dominicans formulated a similar or even harsher
judgment regarding the phenomena of female religiosity. An example of this was
the activity of the famous Dominican inquisitor of Basel, Johannes Muiberg
(1350-1414), the brother of the saintly woman Adelheid Muiberg mentioned by
Nider,'92 who started such an intensive series of preaching in 1400 against the
large local community of Beguines (numbering approximately 350 or 400
members) that it soon led to severe debates about them and ultimately in 1411 to
their complete expulsion from the city. 193

189 Gerson, De puella Aurelianensi, in Gerson, Oeuvres completes, e d Glorieux, 9:661-65; cf. J-
B. Monnoyeur, Traite de Jean Gerson sur la Pucelle (Paris, 1930), p. 19. Doubts an his authorship
are voiced by Dorothy G. Wayman, The Chancellor and Jeanne d Arc, Franciscan Studies 17
(1957), 273-303, who considers, rather, an earlier treatise on Joan, titled De quadam puella,
generally attributed to Heinrich von Gorckheim, as Gersons own work (both texts are appended to
this article, pp. 296-303); these doubts are shared by Fraioli, Joan o f Arc, pp, 2244. Against this
assertion, see Georges Peyronnet, Gerson, Charles VII et Jeanne dArc: La prapagande au service
de la guerre, S e m e d'hhtoire eeclesiastique 84 (1989), 343-48; ef. convincing additional
arguments in Elliott, Seeing Double," pp. 50-53.
iso Karen Sullivan, The Interrogation ofJoan o f Arc (Minneapolis, 1999), pp. 33-34.
191 NoBl Valois, Un nouveau temoignage sur Jeanne dArc; RCponse dun clcrc perisien 4
lapologie de la pucelle par Gerson (1429), Anmtaire-BuIIetin de la Societe d'kistoire de France
43 (1906), 161-79; cf. Fraioli, Joan o f Arc, pp. 159-72. Dyan Elliott has analyzed the antiphonal
nature o f the treatise; see Seeing Double, pp. 48-50.
192 See note 104 above.
192 Georg Boner, Das Predigerkloster in Basel von der GrCndung bis zur KloSterreform, 1233
1429, n. Teil, Busier Zeitschrififur Geschichte md Altertumshtnde 34 (1935), 107-259; Brigitte
Degler-Spengler, Die Beginen in Basel, Busier Zeitschrifi fu r Geschichte und Altertumskimde 69
242 Gabor Klaniczay

In the 1420s it was the Saint Catherine convent of Dominican sisters in

Nuremberg which became one of the centers of the Dominican observant
movement. Between 1425 and 1428 its spiritual director was Eberhard Mardach.
One of his preserved epistles, written in 1422 to one of his spiritual daughters,
titled Sendbrief von wahrer Andacht, provides an authentic picture of the
hardening judgment concerning female religiosity. He thinks those nuns are on
the wrong path who constantly fall into ecstasy (gezuckt werden), constantly see
the suffering Christ, and lose all external senses, so that they do not see, nor
hear, nor feel anything {oft also ingezogen von alien aussem sinnen, das sie
nihtz sehen, nock horen, noch empjinderi). One should not constrain divine grace
in such a manner, one should not believe in the apparitions seen under such
conditions. >94 The immediate successor of Mardach as the prior of the
Nuremberg convent, as we have already mentioned, was no other person than
Johannes Nider himself, so he certainly had first-hand knowledge of these
4 Dominican observance kept its concern for the discipline of female
visionary religiosity throughout the first half of the fifteenth century; we can find
an ample series of references to this problem and to the initiatives of Nider and
his predecessors in the representative overview by Johannes Meyer (d. 1485),
prepared in 1468, titled Buck der Reformatio Predigerordens.196*
We have already touched upon the biggest scandal which occurred in the
history of female visionaries, in the years immediately preceding the birth of the
Formicarius: the apparitions and the military victories of Joan of Arc in 1429 and
1430 and her capture and condemnation in 1431. Whatever the evident political
biases of the infamous Pierre Cauchon and the other judges of the Pucelle could
have been, it is obvious that they were acting according to the circumspect logic
of the skeptical point of view outlined above. They wanted to hear about signs
(signa) that were also accessible to others besides the visionary herself. This is
how Joan came to describe the scene where Saint Michael was allegedly also
seen by Charles VII when he leaned to him (Sire, vela vostre signe, preney lay)
and offered him the crown, to convince him ultimately of the truthfulness of
Joans apparitions.>97 And these signa were judged to be very contradictory:

(1969), 5-83, and 70 (1970), 29-118; Schmitt, La mort d une heresie, pp. 152-61; Hans-Jochen
Schiewer, Auditionen und Visionen einer Begine: Die Selige Schererin, Johannes Mulberg und
der Baslet Beginenstreit: Mit einem Textabdmck, in Die Vermittlung geistlicher Inhalte im
deutschen Mtitelaher, ed. Timothy R. Jackson, Nigel F. Palmer, and Almut Suerbaum,
Internationales Symposium, Roscrea 1994 (Tubingen, 1996), pp. 289-317; von Heusinger,
Johannes Mulberg.
194 Williams-Krapp, Dise ding sint dennoch nit ware zcichen der heiligkeit, pp, 61-71.
>95 He describes several anecdotes concerning the reform of the S t Catherine convent. Cf.
Formicarius 3.3, pp. 307-10; Tschacher, Der Formicarius des Johannes Nider, pp. 51-54; Bailey,
Battling Demons, pp. 18-19.
136 Johannes Meyer, Buck der Reformacio Predigerordens, ed, B. M. Reichert, Quellen und
Forschungen zur Geschichte des Dominikanerordens in Deutschland 2-3 (Leipzig, 1908-9);
recently analyzed by Jeffrey F. Hamburger, The Reformation of Vision; Art and the Dominican
Observance in Late Medieval Germany, in Visual and the Visionary, pp. 427-67.
>97 Jules Quicherat, Proces de condamnation et de rehabilitation de Jeanne d'Arc, 5 vols. (Paris,
1861); new edition, Pierre Tisset, Proces et condamnation de Jeanne d'Arc (Paris. 1960-71),
The Process o f Trance 243

Has the archangel ever made a bow in front of a human being be it even the
Virgin Mary?19* From the fact that Saint Catherine and Saint Marguerite
allegedly embraced and kissed her, they drew the conclusion: It could only be
disguised evil spirits with whom she made a sacrilegious pact.i " This is why
her accusers tried to inculpate her with invocation of spirits and magical activities
(which they had to subsequently drop);*200 then they insistently tried to obtain her
confession concerning the fairy tree where she used to play as a child in
Domremy, hoping to extract from her a kind o f statement concerning witchcraft
or women riding in the air. Joan asserted that she had heard of such things, and
said that this witchcraft (sorcerie) generally happened on Thursdays, and she
even joked about it: Dont be afraid, I will not fly away....201
The diabolic origin of Joans apparitions seems to have been confirmed by the
fact that the prophet self-consciously opposing her judges could not be qualified
as humble, and her leaving home without permission, her Amazon-like
behaviour, male attire, and of course the obscene English gossip about her
showed her morals in an unfavourable light. Good morals and humility are
completely missing here, the two characteristics of those who are filled with the
Holy Spirit, according to Gregory the Great, we hear from Philibert, Bishop of
Coutances,202 a very similar way of approaching apparitions to Heinrich von
Langenstein and Jean Gerson.
The Council of Basel, where Joan would have liked to appeal, naturally knew
quite a lot about her trial, in fact, not less than nine judges or other participants of
her trial took part for shorter or longer periods in the council.203 Based on the
report of one of them, Lie. Theol. Nicolaus Amici, i.e., Nicolaus Lami, Rector
of the University of Paris between 1426 and 1429, Johannes Nider gives us a
detailed account on Joan deifying herself and appearing in male attire; but,
significantly enough, he does not speak about her in the row of false
apparitions, but rather in the chapter dedicated to witches and their
deceptions.204 Joan would have stated of herself that she has Gods angel as
her familiar, but according to a large number of interpretations and examinations
of most learned men, this was judged to have been rather a malevolent spirit, and
consequently secular justice had been instructed that the spirit and the witch

1:136, 2:56, 74, 123. Cf. Christian, Visions and Apparitions, pp, 188-94; Henry Ansgar Kelly,
The Right to Remain Silent: Before and After Joan o f Arc, Speculum 68 (1993), 992-J026;
Sullivan, The Interrogation.
158 Tisset, Proces, 2:214; Sullivan, The Interrogation, pp. 61-81.
1,9 Tisset, Proces, 2:92, 208-10; Sullivan, The Interrogation, pp. 33-41.
200 These charges are enumerated by Kieckhefer, The Holy and the Unholy, p. 382.
201 Tisset, Proces, 1:178,2:85-86, 163; Ginzburg, Ecstasies, p, 97; Warner, Joan o f Arc, p. 111.
Cf. also Madeleine Jeay, Clercs et paysans au XVe siecle: Une relecture de 1episode de larbre
aux Kes dans les proces de Jeanne dArc, in Normes etpouvoirs au Mayen Age, cd. Marie-Claude
Despoez-Masson (Montreal, 1989), pp. 146-63; Sullivan, The Interrogation, pp. 1-21.
T2 Tisset, Proces, 1:318.
203About the intention to send an appeal, see Quicherat, Proces, 2:4-5. On the testimony of
Isambard de Pierre, see Heinz Thomas, Jehanne la Pucelle, das Basler Konzii und die Kleinen
der Reformatio Sigismundi, Francia 11 (1983), 319-38.
204 c f. Formicarius 5 (de maleficis et eorum deceptionibus).
244 Gabor Klaniczay

(maga) under its influence should be burned.2 This was perfectly in lbe with
the conclusion of the treatise agabst Joan by the anonymous Paris clerk, who
spoke about heresy with sorcery involved b her case.2 206
The judges of Rouen did not manage to prove the charge of witchcraft or the
alliance with the devil, so Joan was finally sentenced with the charge of heresy.
The infamous inscription on her stake summarized b e stream of bsults of b e
English party raber ban b e results of the bquisitorial bvestigations: Joan,
who called herself b e Maid, a liar, pernicious deceiver of b e people, sorceress,
superstitious, blasphemer of God, defamer of b e fa ib of Jesus Christ, boastful,
idolatrous, cruel, dissolute, bvoker of demons, apostate schismatic and
heretic.207 In any case, four years later one of b e opbion leaders of b e Basel
Council, Johannes Nider, does not hesitate to call her a witch.
This could have become a generally accepted opbion at b e council, where
Nider read out several passages from b e stories of the Formicarius to b e
participants.208 A similar opbion is echoed by b e secretary of Amadeus VIII,
Prince of Savoy, elected as Felix V to be the Pope of b e Council, Martb Le
Franc, who mentioned Joan of Arc in his Champion des Dames, written around
1440-42. The chapter on Jehanne la Pucelle is in b e immediate neighbourhood
of b at on the witches (Des faicturieres).209210It must have been at b e Council of
Basel b a t Nider heard b e ober two stories related to b e case of Joan of Arc. A
German imitator of b e Pucelle, initially calling herself Claude, also preached her
prophecies in male attire. She was taken into custody by b e Cologne inquisitor,
Heinrich Kalteisen, w ib the charge b a t she performed miracles w ib magical
crafts.2'0 The inquisition indicted b e two Paris prophetesses, who like Joan,
asserted to have been sent by God, also velut magae et maleficae. One of
them, who admitted to have been seduced by b e angel of Satan, got off w ib a
milder sentence, but the more stubborn one was sentenced to death by burning.2' >

205 Formicarius 5.8, pp. 600-2: fassa cst, se habere fkmiliarem Dei angehirn, qui judicio
literatissimonun virorum judicata est esse maiignus spiritus ex multis conjecturis & probationibus,
per quern spin turn velut magam effectam ignibus per publicam iustitiam consumi perraiserunL
206 Cf. Elliott, Seeing Double, p. 50.
207 Quicherat, P rods, 4:459-60; English translation quoted from Charles T. Wood, Joan o f Arc
and Richard III (New York, 1988), p. 281.
208 Cf. Pierrette Paravy, Faire Cioire: Quelques hypotheses de recherche bashes sur letude des
irocfes de sorcellerie du Dauphine au XVe siecle, in Faire croire: Modalites de la diffusion el de
Ja reception des messages religieta du XJIe au XVe siicle, Table Ronde, Roma, 1979 (Rome,
1981), pp. 119-30, esp. p. 124; Tschacher, Der Formicarius des Johannes Nider, pp. 85, 29-332,
469. Concerning the importance of the Council of Basel for influencing common opinions, see
Borst, A nfan g ein B lau ert, Fruhe Hexenverfolgungen.
209 Arthur Piaget, Martin Le Franc, prevdt de Lausanne (Lausanne, 1888), with the text of the
poem. The part on witches is also edited by Hansen, Quellen, pp. 101-4; new edition by Robert
Deschaux in L 'imaginaire du sabbat, pp. 439-52; cf. Leon Baxbey, Martin Le Franc, prevdt de
Lausanne, avocat de I'amour et de la femme au XVe siecle (Fribourg, 1985); Blauert, Fruhe
Hexenverfolgungen, pp. 30-32, 148-49.
210 Formicarius 5.8, p. 599: "mira . . . fecisset, que magica arte videbantur fieri. Cf. Hansen,
Quellen, p. 458; Andre Vauchez, Jeanne d Arc et le prophetisme feminin des XlVe et XVe
siecles," in Les laics, pp. 285-86; Elliott, Seeing Double, pp. 52-53.
211 Formicarius 5.8, p. 602.


The Process of Trance 245

The borderlines between heavenly and diabolic apparitions were becoming

more and more uncertain, to the point of vanishing completely. Let us examine,
how this evolution was influenced by the early witchcraft prosecutions which
occurred precisely in the vicinity of the Council of Basel, in the Swiss and Alpine
valleys, in the first quarter of the fifteenth century.

T h e L i v i n g S a in t and the New M ythology of th e W it c h e s Sa b b a t h

There is a consensus in historical research that scattered medieval maleficium

accusations had been exchanged for massive and epidemic witchcraft
prosecutions from the moment when, sometime in the first quarter of the fifteenth
century, traditional witchcraft notions amalgamated with the more recently
coined mythology of the diabolic witches sabbath. This dangerous set of beliefs
presented witches (who were suspected until then principally of solitary evil
activity) as members of a new organized sect (novas sectas et prohibitos ritus, as
Pope Alexander V called them in 1409).212 Joseph Hansen gave the following
definition of this new kind of witchcraft: They are principally women, who
make a pact with the devil, to harm humankind with his help, they are organized
into heretical sects, they participate regularly with his help in the witches'
sabbath; presided over by the devil during the night, they fly through the air with
the help of the devil, committing there infamous sexual acts with the devil.2!2
Since historical research has recognized the importance o f this early fifteenth-
century mutation, there are recurrent debates concerning the relative importance
of the various factors that have contributed to this change.
It remains a widely-held view that witches inherited the principal elements of
the witches sabbath from the inquisitorial stereotypes formulated in the
persecution of medieval heretical movements, and later on the Knights Templars,
also accused of infamous black masses and pacts with the devil.214 The
relationship of the Waldensians with witches also seemed evident from the fact
that in the fifteenth-century vauderie became one of the well-diffused
designations of diabolic witchcraft.215 The influence of these factors has been
considered recently on a wider historical scale, taking also account of the
possible sources of diabolical witch-beliefs in fourteenth-century stereotypes
formulated during the persecution of other late medieval scapegoats such as
lepers or Jews 216 Though one can no longer share the idea of a linear descent of

212 His letter to Ponce Fcrugeyron, inquisitor in Southern France, is in Hansen, Quellen, p. 16; cf.
Ginzburg, Ecstasies, pp. 68-69.
215 Joseph Hansen, Inquisition und Hexenverfolgung im Mittelalter, Historische Zeitsckrift 81
(1898), 385-432, atp. 386; cf. Blauert, Keizer, Zauberer, p. II.
214 Most recently see Cohn, Europe's Inner Demons,
2,5 As in 1459, in Arras, during one of the most dreadful early persecutions. C f Hansen,
Quellen, pp. 467,476, 556, 569; Ginzburg, Ecstasies, p. 72; Francois Mercier, L 'enfer du decor: La
Vauderie d'Arras (1459-1491) ou 1emergence contrariee d une nouvelle souveraineti autour des
dues Valois de Bourgogne (XVe siecle) (Ph.D. diss., University Lyon Il-Lumiire, 2001).
215 Important recent works in this respect include Robert L Moore, The Formation o f the
Persecutive Society: Power and Defiance in Western Europe, 950-1250 (Oxford, 1987); FrantiSek
246 Gabor Klaniczay

witch beliefs from the antiheretic inquisitorial stereotypes, unexpected support

was recently provided for the older thesis. The detailed analysis of several
hundred of early fifteenth-century witch-trials in Switzerland, Dauphbe and
Savoy, and their comparison with trials in the same region against Waldensians,
who withdrew to the Alpine region in the later Middle Ages, or other heretics in
these places, provided a large new set of data as to what effect these latter had
upon die emerging new type.217
Another important source of the concept of the witches sabbath could have
been that in the trials, which started to multiply towards the end of the fourteenth
century. Traditional accusations of malejicia were increasingly interpreted
according to the language of demon invocations of black magic, as represented
in the proliferating genre of exotic magical handbooks.218 And finally, as a
third factor b the evolution of the diabolical elements in the witches sabbath,
various popular mythologies are taken into account, like the hypothesis of
shaman and fairy beliefs that we have already dealt with.
The information provided by Nider is especially valuable for two reasons. It is
b his accounts that we can find one of the first descriptions of the secret
meetings of the infant-devouring, witch-grease-fabricating, sacrilegious and
devil-worshippbg witch sect. And, on the other hand, the broad panorama of the
Formicarius allows us to place these phenomena bto the broader context of other217*

Graus, Pest-Geifiler-Judenmorde: Das 14. Jahrhundert als Krisenzeit, Ver6ffentlichungen des

Max-Planck-Institut ftir Geschichte 86 (Gottingen, 1986); Hanna Zaremska, Les bannis au Moyen
Age (Paris, 1996); David Nirenberg, Communities o f Violence: Persecution o f Minorities in the
Middle Ages (Princeton, N.J, 1996). These factors are brought into contact with the problem of
witchcraft stereotypes by Ginzburg, Ecstasies, pp, 33-86.
217 Jean Marx, L 'inquisition en Dauphine: Etude sur le developpement et la repression de
I heresie et de la sorcellerie du XlVe siecle au debut du regne de Francois Ier (Paris, 1914); more
recently Grado G, Merlo, Eretici e inquisitori nella societa piemontese del Trecento (Turin, 1977);
Borst, Anfange, in Blauert, Fruhe Hexenveifolgungen; Andenmatten and Utz Tremp, De
lheresie a la sorcellerie: LinquisiteurUlric de TorrentA OP (see note 15 above); Pierrette Paravy,
De la chretiente romaine d la reforme en Dauphini: Eveques, fideles et deviants (vers 1340-1530),
2 vols. (Rome, 1993); Kathrin Utz Tremp, Waldenser, Wiedergdnger, Hexen und Rebetien (cf. n.
15); idem. Quetien zur Geschichte der Waldenser von Freiburg im Uechtland (1399-1439), MGH,
Quellen zur Geistesgeschichte des Mittelalters 18 (Munich, 2000); Wolfgang Behringer, How
Waldensians Became Witches: Heretics and Their Journey to the Other World, in Demons, Spirits
and Witches, vol. 1: Communicating with the Spirits, ed, GAbor Klaniczay and va Poes (Budapest,
2005), pp. 155-92. See also various articles included in the Cahiers Lausannois d'histoire
medievale, edites par Agostino Paravicini Bagliani: Catherine Chene, Juger les vers: Exorcismes et
proces d 'animaux dans le diocese de Lausanne (XVe-XVIe s.) (Lausanne, 1995); Martine Qsterero,
Folatrer avec les demons," Sabbat et chasse aux sorciers de Vevey (1448) (Lausanne, 1995); Eva
Maier, Trente ans avec le diable: Une nouvelle chasse aux sorciers sur la Riviera lemanique
(1477-1484) (Lausanne, 1996); Sandrine Strobino, Frangoise sauvee des flammes? Une
Valaisanne accusee de sorcellerie au XVe siecle (Lausanne, 1996).
71* Kieckhefer, European Witch Trials, pp. 10647 (with a detailed series of data of European
witch trials until 1500); idem. Magic in the Middle Ages (Cambridge, 1989), pp. 151-200; idem,
"The Specific Rationality o f Medieval Magic, " American Historical Review 99 (1994), 833-36;
idem, Forbidden Rites: A Necromancer's Manual in the Fifteenth Century (Stroud,
Gloucestershire, 1997); Claire Fanger, ed.. Conjuring Spirits: Texts and Traditions o f Medieval
Ritual Magic (Stroud, Gloucestershire, 1998).
The Process of Trance 247

religious manifestations of this age; indeed, this is also Niders own purpose, One
might expect that the first group of explanations of the origins of witches
sabbath, that relying upon antiheretical inquisitorial stereotypes, would find
considerable support in his descriptions. Indeed, the descriptions of the ecstatic
orgies and feasts of the heretical libertine sect, depriving the sixty-year-old virgo
of her virginity, though Nider does not relate them to the witches sect described
in another chapter of his book, could provide as many interesting insights to the
creation of the new image of the witches sabbath as the alleged accounts of
Judge Peter of Berne, or the Dominican inquisitor of Autun.2192 5Nevertheless, it is
hard to understand why Nider, who provides a lengthy account on the
Hussites,220 the Adamites and the Brethren of the Free Spirit, does not dedicate,
other than a passing mention,221 a single line to the Waldensians. It is all the
more curious, because in Fribourg, in the year of 1430, i.e., exactly at the same
time, when the spectacular ecstasies of Magdalene Beutler were followed with so
much attention by Nider, there were great persecutions and trials against the
Waldensians, directed by the same inquisitor, Uldry de Toirente, who later
became reputed for his relentless persecution of witches around 1438, in the
region of Vevey and Neuchatel).222
If one scrutinizes Niders explanations from the angle of the second
hypothesis, that of ritual magic leading to the new diabolical mythology of the
sabbath, one can find useful indications as well. The witch figure presented in the
greatest detail, Scaedeli, also subjected to torture, does not confess the newly
coined stories of the witches sect, but rather the traditional ones of the lone
sorcerer operating through black magic: lizards buried under the threshold
causing sterility, the prince of the demons conjured by incantations, a black
chicken, the neck of which is cut at the crossroad, which is subsequently thrown
in the air.223 Nider also mentions another magician, a strange monk of the
Schottenkloster of Vienna, who conjured up the devil with the help of libras
daemonum de Necromantia, and later repented of this horrible sin.224 One can
read here equally different recipes for love-magic,225 even concrete attempts at

219 See note 46 above. As to the identity of the Dominican inquisitor of Autun (inquisitor
eduensi) designated erroneously as the inquisitor o f Evian by Ginzburg, Ecstasies, p. 69, sec
L imaginaire du sabbat, pp. 231-32; Tschacher, Der Formicarius de Johannes Nider, pp. 175-77.
2201 cannot enter into the discussion of the complex relationship of Nider with Hussitism (he
was the Hussites specialist, legate of the Basel Council, who dedicated several treatises to them).
See Schieler, Magister Johannes Nider, pp. 269341; there is a detailed discussion o f this issue in
Bailey, Battling Demons, pp. 57-64.
221 Formicarius 3.10, p. 386.
222 Blaueit, Fruke Hexenverfolgungen, pp. 36-50; Andenmatten and Utz Tremp, De PhAresie;
Utz Tremp, Waldenser and Quellen.
22s Formicarius 5.5, p. 560: certis verbis in eampo principcm omnium Demoniorum imploro, ut
de suis mittat aliquem, quia me designahim percutiat Deinde veniente certo Daemone, in eampo
aliquo viartun pullum nigrum immolo, eundem in altum projiciendo in aercm. . . "
224Formicarius 5.4, pp. 551-52; L'imaginaire du sabbat, pp. 164-66; Tschacher, Der
Formicarius de Johannes Nider, pp. 173, 401-2; Bailey, Battling Demons, pp, 39-41.
225 Formicarius 5.5, pp. 567-69.
248 Gabor Klaniczay

its exercise.226 But the descriptions provided by Nider on the witches sabbath
are in no relation to all of these; they stand apart rather by virtue of their
shocking otherness.
As for the third hypothesis on the origins of the new witchcraft mythology,
that of the impact of traditional motifs of folk beliefs, one can also discover in
Niders book an episode which offers an authentic description of the operation of
the workings of the traditional village opponents of witches, diviners, the
cunning folk named by Nider, in characteristic manner also malefica. They
divine from melted lead, and by to make the alleged witch suffer by symbolic
means. Nider, however, does not recommend this forbidden, superstitious
manner to confront the witches harm, one should rather die than turn to such
practices, or rather one should turn to licit means of the mediation by the
saints.222 One can also discover traditional sorcery, related to promoting or
diminishing fertility, in the accounts of Scaedeli.2 *228 As for the most important
such element, the shamanistic motifs of metamorphoses into animals or the
ecstatic flight, other than the isolated episode of Scabius turning into a mouse, or
the spurious story of the foolish old woman imagining herself to ride with
Diana, one can find no such accounts in Nider concerning the witches
All in all, Nider provides no decisive proofs for either of the competing
explanations of the origins of the witches sabbath. Let us now examine whether
the rich array of new sources recently explored on the witchcraft prosecutions in
early fifteenth-century Alpine regions can give us more information. The most
important of these new sources is the treatise of a secular judge, Claude
Tholosan, titled Ut magorum el maleficiorum errores manifesti ignorantibus
fiant, which is dated to around 1436,2292301and is based on the several hundreds of
witch trials in the region of Briampon, in Dauphind.230 The treatise tided Errores
Gazariorum, written by an unknown Savoy cleric, has been known for a long
time, but it turned out only recently that it was written earlier than Hansen
supposed, i.e., around 1450; in fact it was produced exactly during the period in
question here, around 1437.231 And finally, there is a third important source that

226 Formicarius 1.2, pp. 65-66.

22VFormicarius 5.4, p. 548; Lea, Materials, 1:268; L 'imaginaire du sabbat, pp. 158-64.
228 See notes 46-47 above.
229 Edited by Pierrette Paravy, A propos dc la genese mediivalc des chasses aux sorcieres: Le
traite de Claude Tholosan, juge dauphmois (vers 1436)," Melanges de l icole franfaise de Rome 91
(1979), 333-79 (German translation in Blauert, Keizer, Zauberer, pp. 118-59); reprinted in
L 'imaginaire du sabbat, pp. 355-437; an excerpt in English in Kors and Peters, eds., Witchcraft in
Europe, 2nd rev. ed., pp. 333-79.
230 A part of these trials is edited by Hansen, Quellen, pp. 539-44, and analyzed by Marx,
L'inquisition, pp. 32-43, and Paravy, De la chretiente, pp. 783ff., with the statistic evaluation that
between 1424 and 1446, out o f 258 accused (83 men and 175 women), 151 were sentenced to
231 Hansen, Quellen, pp. 118-22. The date was modified with the recent discovery of a new MS
in Paravy, A propos," pp. 334-35; cf. Blauert, FrUhe, pp. 62-65. The denomination gazari"
refers probably to Catharists; cf. Ginzburg, Ecstasies, p. 72; new edition by Martine Ostorero and
The Process of Trance 249

gives a report of the same phenomena, the report of the Lucerne chronicle writer
Johann Fritad over the witch-hunts in the Wallis between 1428 and 1430,232
Finally, Carlo Ginzburg has recently argued for the inclusion in this same
dossier" of a remote contemporaneous source, which would relate the evolving
witch beliefs of Central Italy to the Alpine region. The witchcraft persecutions
stimulated by the fervent preaching of Bernardino of Siena in 1428 can be proved
to have taken information about this new sect precisely from the rumors
originating from Piedmont.2332 5
From these documents, which have recently been compared with the
statements of Nider in various excellent analyses,2J4 one can get a much more
detailed picture of the frightening features of this emerging witches sect.
The judge Claude Tholosan regularly extracted conJfessions from the accused
regarding die alliance with the devil, i.e., about their apostasy. His description of
the rite of swearing allegiance to the devil (a rite to which Nider, too, refers) is
gleaned from these confessions: They stand in a circle and put a pot in the
middle. The devil urinates in it, they drink it, and then bend backwards for the
purpose of totally abjuring their faith in Christ." The novice then draws a cross
on the ground for the purpose of dishonoring Jesus Christ. . . he stomps on it
three times with his left foot, spits on it thrice, urinates on it, and then defecates
on it; he then turns his bared bottom toward the east, thumbs his nose, and
spitting once more, says: I deny you, prophet!233 The obligations that a witch

Kathrin Utz Tremp, in L 'imaginaire du sabbat, pp. 267-337; an excerpt in English in Kors and
Peters, eds., Witchcraft in Europe, 2nd rev, ed., pp. 159-62.
232 Bericht des Luzemer Chronisten Johann Frflnd Qber die Hcxenverfolgung im Wallis," in
Hansen, Quellen, pp. 533-37; new edition by Kathrin Utz Tremp in L'imaginaire du sabbat, pp.
233 San Bernardino da Siena, Le prediche volgori, ed. P. Bargellini (Rome, 1936), pp. 607-8,
758, 784; Cohn, Europes Inner Demons, pp. 49-50. Ginzburg argued Bernardinos reference to
Piedmont rumours in Ecstasies, pp. 299, 3)0. For the most important document o f this trial, see
Domenico Mammali, Processo alia Strega Matteuccia di Francesco. 20 m ono 1428 (Todi, 1983);
Marina Montesano, "Supra acqua et supra ad vento "Superstizioni," malefizia r incantamenta
nei predicatori francescani osservanti (Italia, sec. XV) (Rome, 1999), pp. 132-52; Mormando, The
Preacher's Demons, pp. 52-107. See important critical corrections to this work by Lctizia
Pellegrini, Predicazione osservante e propaganda political A partire da un caso di Todi, in La
propaganda politico net basso Medioevo, Atti del XXXVHI Convegno. . .Todi, 14-17 ottobre
2001 (Spoleto, 2002), pp. 511-31; cf. Dinora Corsi, Figlia di un demonio tninore La stregoneria
nei processi toscani del Quattrocento," in Scrivere il Medioevo: Lo spazio, la santita, il cibo: Un
libro dedicato a Odile Redon, ed. Bruno Laurioux and Laurence Moulinier-Brogi (Rome, 2002),
pp. 249-61.
234 paravy, A propos; Blauert, Friihe Hexenverfolgungen, pp. 50-70; Ginzburg, Ecstasies, pp.
69-73; Bailey, The Medieval Concept; idem, Battling Demons-, L 'imaginaire du sabbat, Martine
Ostorero, The Concept of the Witches Sabbath in the Alpine Region (1430-1440): Text and
Context, in Demons. Spirits, and Witches, vol. 3: Witchcraft. Mythologies, and Persecutions, ed.
Gibor Klaniczay and Eva Poes (Budapest, forthcoming).
235 . . . et subvertendo aliquod vas quod ponunt in circulo facto per cos in tens, ubi ecUm mingit
dyabolus, de quo bibunt, et demum suppinant, intencionc quod sic totaliter recedunt a fide
Christi. . . ; facial crucem in terra in dispectu Jesu Christi. . . et super crucem ter ponat pedem
sinistrum et ter expuat de super et mingat et extercoret et culunt nudum ostendat versus Solis Ortum
et faciat figam cum digitis et expuendo dicat ego te renego prophets . . . The first half of the
250 G abor Klaniczay

incurred with this iuramentum fidelitatis are detailed in seven commandments in

the Errores Gazariorum (murdering children, putting an evil spell on all
marriages, etc.).23fi
The devilTholosan tells usappears at these rituals in the form of a man
and/or a number of animals 237 From the more verbose documents of the witch
trials that Tholosan held in Brianpon after 1436, we learn that the devil is a man
dressed in black, whose eyes bum like coal and are as big as a calf s; his tongue
hangs to the ground, his legs are bowed, bis toes are black. He is a Saracen with
red hair, a young white man, a white child, a black cat, a black dog, a black pig
or a black cock.*2
In the same collection of documents, we find one instance when the various
demons were arranged into a sophisticated symbolic system. Jubertus de Bavaria,
who was sentenced in 1437, had three devils appear to him regularly: Luxoriosus,
who appeared in the form of a lovely twelve-year-old virgin, and slept with him
and had her pleasure of him at night; Superbus, a middle-aged man dressed in
black; and A varus, an old man dressed in tattered clothes but whose purse was
full of gold.239 Johann Friinds account mentions not just black animals, but
bears and rams as well.240 We leam that witches meet with the devil not just at
the ritual gatherings, but whenever they conjure him up; he also appears on his
own initiative as well. He visits the witches imprisoned in dungeons, and
punishes them if they betray him. There were some whom he promised to get
pregnant, on the odd chance that they would be set free; in reality, he blew
them up with the wind until they died.24*
While Nider tells us very little about how the devil actually conducted the
witches sabbath, the contemporary sources give the new mythology in all its
variety. Tholosans account is a unique balancing act between the skepticism of
the Canon episcopi,242 and the folkloristic wealth of confessions that he himself
had had a hand in extracting under torture. On the one hand, he emphasizes that
the witches notion that they have physically (corporaliter) gone off to an
assembly (synagoga) is an illusion suggested by the devil in their sleep; on the
other hand, he puts every bit of information available on the matter in his tract

quotation, comes from the treatise Ut magorum, tbc second part from a trial staged by Tholosan in
1438; but the treatise itself also contains a very similar description. Cf. Paravy, A propos, p. 355;
as well as L imaginaire du sabbat, pp. 365-67, 400-1 Almost the same description is to be read in
the sentence o f a trial presided over by Tholosan in 1436 (see Marx, L'inquisition, p. 36) and a
third trial in 1437 (see Hansen, Quellen, p. 541).
234 Hansen, Quellen, p. 119.
237 Paravy, A propos, p. 356; cf. L 'imaginaire du sabbat, pp. 364.
238 Marx, L inquisition, p. 34; habebat occulos gross os, admodum occuli bovis, scintillas igneas
emittentes, et habebat linguam extra hoc longam versus terram . . . et habebat dbias curvas et
articulos pedum nigros. The other references are from ibid., pp. 3336.
23V Hansen, Quellen, pp. 540-41: "cum illo de node dormiebat et delectabatur et habebat rem
240 Hansen, Quellen, p. 534.
241 Marx, L inquisition, p. 41; et inflavit earn vento sic quod credidit crepaii
242 Sec note 40 above. This aspect is analyzed with resped to Tholosan by Paravy, A propos,
p. 357.
The Process of Trance 251

He describes how on Thursdays and Saturdays, the witches go off to their

conclave on magic wands greased with the ointment made of children; though at
times they ride on a broom or on the backs of wild animals. Once at the witches
sabbath, they kneel to the devil, kiss him on the lips, and have intercourse with
him. His body is as cold as ice (frigtdum sicut glades). They have intercourse
with demons and with one another, sometimes in an unnatural way (contra
naturam). Then they kill childrenat times their ownwho have been brought
there to make ointment of, cook them and eat them, or make maleficent powders
and ointments out of them. The devils then open all kinds of dwellings to them,
where they can eat and drink, make music and dance in circle.243
The court records of confessions made in Tholosans presence are even more
detailed. Witches, we leam, use black or chestnut horses and rabbits to get
around. They fly as swiftly as the wind. Sometimes they gather on Tuesdays as
well. The devil has been known to place his stamp on a witchs body. When they
dance in circles, the head devil keeps time on a drum; their merrymaking comes
to an end when the cock crows.244*In Frilnds chronicle, we have the devil bear
them from one place to another throughout the night.243
It is the Errores Gazariorum that echoes most precisely the century-old topoi
about the Black Mass of heretics. Here, the pledge of fealty to the devil is sealed
with a kiss on the devils behind (in culo vel ano),246247and the orgy takes places in
the ritual form familiar from the old sources: The presiding devil cries out that
the lights be extinguished and yells 'Mestlet, mestlet. After they had heard this
command they join themselves carnally, a single man with a woman, or a single
man with another man, and sometimes father with daughter, son with mother,
brother with sister, and the natural order is little observed.243
So we have here, the suddenly crystallizing imagery of the witches sabbath,
and we know many more details (Iran those gained solely by reading Niders
treatise. Let us now examine, whether we have been provided with new elements
which could be put in relation with the above-mentioned threefold explanation of
the origins of the witches sabbath.
Besides the topoi of the Black Mass, a few additional instances advocate the
relationship of this new mythology with the inquisitorial stereotypes used in
fighting medieval heresies. Such is the secrecy of the witches sect, underlined
not only by Tholosan, FrOnd and the Errores Gazariorum, but also by Nider 248
as well as by the heretics who come to mind when we hear of the school of

J43 Paravy, Apropos," pp. 356-57; cf, L 'imaginaire du sabbat, pp. 364-66.
244 Marx, L 'inquisition, pp. 36-39.
243 Hansen, Quellen, p. 536: der bGs grist sy nachtes umbe trug von einem berg uff den andcm.
244 Hansen, Quellen, p. 119. See the same motif with Martin Lc Franc in Hansen, Quellen, p.
102; "yeans le dyable propremcnt / An quel baisoient franchemewnt / Lc cul cn signe
d obrissance.
247 Hansen, Quellen, p. 119; I 'imaginaire du sabbat, p. 290; Kors and Peteca, cds., Witchcraft in
Europe, 2nd rev. ed, pp. 160-61,
24 According to Nider, Formicarius 5.3, p. 545; "if they can, they kick into the cross; Bailey
justly stresses this aspect
256 Gabor Klaniczay

the mythology of the witchs sabbath. In the fifteenth century, hagiography and
demonology grew on the same tree. The interest relating these two poles can be
clearly observed in the work of the late medieval theologians discussed here. In
addition to Nider one could also refer to his important precursor, Jean Gerson,
who, next to his works related to mystical theology, and to cautiously acceptable
or suspicious female visionaries, dedicated several treatises to the problems of
superstition and witchcraft [De diversis diaboli tentationibus, Contra
superstitiosam diem observationem, Contra errores magicae).267
Let us, in conclusion, consider once again the issue: how far can we credit
Niders Formicariusand the cults, disputations and persecutions of the first
half of the fifteenth centurywith the fact that the scales were perceptibly
tipping to one side in the saints-witches dichotomy?
While in medieval times, the saint had been the main actor on the religious
scene of Europe, the ambiguities of the first half of the fifteenth century led to
half of Christendom completely repudiating this cult. Witches, on the other hand,
gained in significance right up to the seventeenth century; the witch was, without
a doubt, the star of early modem Europes supernatural pantheon. Let us recall
the functional similarities and differences between the cult of saints and witch
hunts from the point of view of their explaining and/or warding off misfortune.
We might say that while in the Middle Ages the saints power to protect the
community seemed the more attractive solution to misfortune (witness the
mushrooming of local cults and of living saints), early modem Europeans
preferred to try to ferret out from their midst those who, for personal gain and
with diabolical help, had caused them harm, and tried to turn the scales by
burning the scapegoat at the stake.
We have here two very different, though by no means exclusive systems. We
know that witch trials were not unknown in medieval times,268 and many a saint
was credited with having protected the faithful from the spells of magicians and
witches.269 On the other hand, the cult of saints lived on in modem times, and
grew more vigorous, and in Catholic countries people continued to turn to the

267 Fran9oise Bonney, Autour de Jean Gerson: Opinions dcs theologiens sur Ics superstitions et
la sorcellerie au debut du XVe sietle," Le Moyen Age 77 (1971), 85-98; Wolfgang Ziegeler,
MSglichkeiien der Kritik am Hexen- and Zauberwesen im ausgehenden Mittelalter (Cologne,
1973); Jean-Patrice Boudet, Lea condamnations de la magie a Paris on 1398, Revue Mabillon, njs.
12 (73) (2001), 121-57; J. Veronese, Jean sans Peur et la foie secte des devins: Enjeux et
circonstances de la redaction du traite Contre les devineurs (1411) de Laurent Pinon,1Medievales
(Spring 2001), 113-32.
268 Cf. Jeffrey Burton Russell, Witchcraft in the Middle Ages (Ithaca, N.Y., 1972); Kieckhcfer,
European Witch Thais; Cohn, Europe's Inner Demons.
269 H. J. Magoulias, The Lives of Byzantine Saints as Sources o f Data for the History of Magic
in the Sixth and Seventh Centuries A.D.: Sorcery, Relics and Icons, Byzantion 37 (1967), 228-69;
Dorothy of Montau heals maleficia in two of her posthumous miracles; see Richard Stachnik, Die
Akten des Kanonisationsprozesses Dorotheas von Montau von 1394 bis 1521 (Cologne, 1978), pp.
108-9, 473-74; cf. Kieckhefer, The Holy and the Unholy, p. 359.
The Process of Trance 257

saints and their relics to counter the works of witches.270 it was a conflict-fraught
moment indeed when, at the end of the Middle Ages, a time when belief in
witchcraft was on the rise, a living saint was called upon to deal with the new
kind of witch. In the canonization proceedings of St Bridget of Sweden, we read
that it was her prayers that freed a priest on the verge of madness from a love
spell (and from the witch herself, who committed suicide).2 271
The two systems of accounting for misfortune coexisted in villages in late
medieval and early modem times. Among the traditional removers of a witchs
curse we find archaic, shamanic magician figures such as the benandante and the
tdltos, patrons of the community with supernatural powers, who, as I have tried
to show,272 resorted to the same mechanisms of averting misfortune as the saints.
But when they were seduced into taking part in the fight against witchcraft, when
they, too, were expected to help unmask the traitors within the community, rather
than dealing with distant evil spirits, when they began themselves to join those
who accused the witches there was a change in their supernatural authority. Soon,
they would hear the accusation: Whoever has the power to cure, has the power
to harm.
We have come full circle. If we can accept my contention that the late
medieval living saints were the heirs to whom the white-magic-making
shamanic functions had passed, and if we also recall that all this happened at a
time when the fear of diabolical witches was on the rise, then it will be evident
why the late medieval visionaries achieved such an equivocal reception. The
same process of reevaluation led to the rise of both living saints and witches.
This, however, was true only with respect to their credibility as supernatural
operators. As for the historical processes, we can observe that saint and witch
moved in two diametrically opposed systems. The system of the former, for all
its last moments of glory, was on the verge of disintegration; the system that the
latter, the witches, moved into say nothing of the witch hunterswas on the
rise. More and more often, the living saints met the fate of Joan of Arc; they
found themselves pushed from one system into the other. One mans miracle is
another mans witchcraft.
Niders Formicarius balances precariously on the verge of this transformation.
Although he is skeptical of false, simulated visions, he seldom mentions the
matter of their Satanic origin, and turns with veneration to real visions and
real, living saints. He derides his contemporaries for believing in the flight of
witches, but believes that witches murder children. He does not rule out the

270 Such cases are analyzed by Jean-Michel Sallmann, Chercheurs de tresors, jeteurs de sorts:
La quite du sumaturel a Naples au XVfe siecte (Paris, 1986); idem, Naples et ses saints e I'&ge
baroque (1540-1750) (Paris, 1994).
21^ Acta et processus canonizatlonis beatae Birgilte. ed. Isak Coilijn (Uppsala, 1924-31), p. 513;
cf. Goodich, Violence, pp. 64-66.
272 Tekla DOmOtSr, The Cunning Folk in English and Hungarian Witch Trials, in Folklore
Studies in the Twentieth Century: Proceedings o f the Centenary Conference o f the Folklore Society,
ed. Veneria Newall (Woodbridge, Eng., and Totowa, N.J., 1980), pp, 183-87; Willem de Bl&ouit,
Witch Doctors, Soothsayers and Priests: On Cunning Folk in European Historiography and
Tradition," Social History 19 (1994), 285-303.
258 Gabor Klaniczay

possibility that the Viennese Benedictine who had practiced black magic would
be pardoned, like Theophil. And he still has not made the connection between the
orgiastic ecstasy of heretical sects and the orgies of witches. His close successors
will.273 He is unable to create order on the chaotic and conflict-riddled late
medieval religious scene, but his considerable efforts already pave the way to the
synthesis on witchcraft that the Malleus Maleficarum of two generations later
would be. All this goes a long way toward explaining why Niders tract is more
successful and more popular than the more colorful and sensationalist accounts
of his witch-hunting contemporaries.

C e n t r a l E u r o p e a n U n iv e r s it y , B u d a p e s t

n s New light has been shed on this process by the monograph o f Walter Stephens, Demon
Lovers: Witchcraft, Sex, and the Crisis o/Be/ie/(Chicago, 2002).
Wissenschaftliche Abhandlungen Musicological Studies
Band LXH/8 Vol. LXU/8

Claremont Cultural Studies

Procession, Performance,
Liturgy, and Ritual

Essays in Honor of Bryan R. Gillingham

edited by
Nancy van Deusen

general editor
Nancy van Deusen

The Institute of Mediaeval Music

Ottawa, Canada

How unusual to have a book dedicated to a publisher and subsequently

published by that same person! 1 can only say that the relationship with
Nancy van Deusen, and her intelligently diversified stable of authors who
have contributed to this series, has been most congenial. The surprise of
receiving a book dedication, even if reflexively published, is a great honour
and very flattering. I thank Nancy for her kind words in the Acknow
ledgements below, and can reassure readers that there was no solicitation on
my part behind this publication, nor any editorial interference with the end
product which follows.
Bryan Gillingham

lis t of Illustrations
List of Contributors
Acknowledgements NANCY VANDEUSEN
From Theatre to Magic: The Legacies
of Homeric Performance Derek COLLINS 1

Hugh of St. Victor: The Performing Body

and Moral Conduct in the Middle Ages MARIA DOBOZY 33

Telling Liturgical Times in the Middle Ages RICHARDW. PFAFF 43

Codex 173, Biblioteca Alessandrina, Rome:
The Pontifical of the Gregorian Reform? UrA-RENATEBLUMENIHAL 65
Lctudes regiae: In Praise of Kings
Medieval Acclamations, liturgy, and the
Ritualization of Power Nancy VANDeusen 83

liturgy and Political Legitimization in

Schismatic Avignon JoELLEROLLO-KOSTER 119

Blood, Law, and Medieval Venery WILLIAMPERRY MARVIN 137

Law as Dance, Theater, or Music:

Legal Procedure and Ritual RAFAELCHODOS 157
The Role of the Dream in
Thirteenth-Century Hagiography MICHAELGOCDICH 175
Iacobus Carthusiensis [James of Paradise]
and Ecclesiastical Reform in Fifteenth-
Century Cracow and Erfurt PAULW, KNOLL 191

The Process of Trance:

Heavenly and Diabolic Apparitions
in Johannes Niders Formicarius GABOR KLANICZAY 203