Witches’ Curses on People and Livestock
The devil’s chief method of promoting witchcraft is through inflicting weariness on beleaguered people. Thus a common activity of witches in the Malleus is to cause sickness, and even death, to other people and their livestock. Chiefly, this is to fulfil the witch’s desire for vengeance on those who have wronged them, which is another apparent reason for the propensity of women towards witchcraft: ‘when she hates someone whom she formerly loved, then she seethes with anger and impatience in her whole soul, just as the tides of the sea are always heaving and boiling’ (Malleus Part I, Question 6).
Cattle-blighting was often carried out through the familiar (see above). Most commonly, witches will cause cattle to stop producing milk: ‘a witch will sit down in a corner of her house with a pail between her legs, stick a knife or some instrument in the wall or a post, and make as if to milk it with her hands… she summons her familiar… [and] suddenly the devil takes the milk from the udder of that cow, and brings it to where the witch is sitting, as if it were flowing from the knife’ (Malleus Part II Question 1 Chapter 14).
Witches blight cattle not merely for their own gratification but to cause others to bring about their own damnation: ‘devils, therefore, by means of witches, so afflict their innocent neighbours with temporal losses, that they are to beg the suffrages of witches, and at length to submit themselves to their counsels’ (Malleus Part II Question 1 Chapter 1). Kramer recounts the tale of a man from Augsburg who had lost all his horses: ‘his wife, being afflicted with weariness by reason of this, consulted with witches’, such remedies blasphemously requiring ‘that they would promise something to some spirit’ (Ibid.).
In terms of people, ‘they can bewitch them by a touch and a look, or by a look only’ (Ibid.), and ‘there is no bodily infirmity, not even leprosy or epilepsy, which cannot be caused by witches’ (Malleus Part II Question 1 Chapter 11). Witches could be blamed for everything. In Kramer’s examples, people become ill and automatically relate their sickness to an encounter with a cantankerous local, whom they recall muttered a few words under their breath (clearly a spell). It is easy to see how the Malleus, linking all misfortune to witchcraft, caused such widespread and virulent paranoia.
The root cause of people being bewitched is, of course, often fornication. ‘When girls have been corrupted, and have been scorned by their lovers after they have immodestly copulated with them in the hope and promise of marriage with them, and have found themselves disappointed in all their hopes and everywhere despised, they turn to the help and protection of devils’ (Malleus Part II Question 1 Chapter 1). Encouraging lechery was thus another important tactic from the devil for harvesting more souls to immolate for all eternity, again playing on the natural behaviour of women (according to the ever-preposterous Kramer).