It is certain that the devils have
a profound knowledge of all things.
No theologian can interpret
the Holy Scriptures better than they can;
no lawyer has a more detailed knowledge
of testaments, contracts, and actions;
no physician or philosopher can better understand
the composition of the human body,
and the virtues of the heavens, the stars, birds and fishes,
trees and herbs, metals and stones.
A LIST OF DEITIES BELIEVED TO HAVE BEEN WORSHIPPED BY ACCUSED WITCHES DURING THE MIDDLE AGES THROUGH THE RENAISSANCE PERIOD.
Aside from worshipping the Devil, witches were purported to have abased themselves to a bevy of other deities. Many of these goddesses, gods, devils, and demons (the classic horned devil included) were simply familiar deities of antiquity, sometimes given different names. Where an old god was deemed useful by the Church, it was simply converted into a saint.
The following did not make it into the Christians’ good books:
Abonde, Abundia, Aradia, Ashtaroth, Asmodeus, Beelzebub, Belial, Cernunnos, Diana, Fraw Fenus, Fraw Holt, Fraw Selga, Gulfora, Hecate, Herodias, Holda, Leonard, Lilith, Mephistopheles, Minerva, Perchta, Put Satanachia, Satan, Satia, Venus, Verdelet. Abonde
Intrinsically linked with the classical goddess Diana, Abonde also went by the names Abundia, Perchta, and Satia. Abonde led nocturnal hordes of witches through homes and cellars, eating and drinking all they could find. If food and drink were left as offerings, Abonde would bestow prosperity upon the occupants of the home. If nothing was left out for her and her followers, she would deny the denizens of her blessings and protection.
The Thesaurus pauperum of 1468 condemned “the idolatrous superstition of those who left food and drink at night in open view for Abundia and Satia, or, as the people said, Fraw Percht and her retinue, hoping thereby to gain abundance and riches.” The same practice of offering drink, salt, and food to Perchta, “alias domine Habundie,” on certain days had been taken note of and subsequently condemned in 1439 by Thomas Ebendorfer von Haselbach in De decem praeceptis.
According to Roman de la Rose, written at the end of the thirteenth century, third born children were obligated to travel with Abonde three times a week to the homes of neighbors. Nothing could stop these people, as they became incorporeal in the company of Abonde. Only their souls would travel as their bodies remained behind immobile. There was a downside to this astral projection: if the body was turned over while the soul was elsewhere, the soul would never return. Bibliography. (Ginzburg 40-42)
See Abonde, Diana, or Perchta.
A corruption of Herodias, Aradia was identified with Diana. Herodias was directly responsible for the death of John the Baptist. According to C. G. Leland, Aradia was worshipped by Italian witches. Aradia is still worshipped today by some neopagans. Bibliography. (King 25)
Also known as Astaroth, Ashtaroth was usually depicted as an ugly demon riding a dragon and carrying a viper in his left hand. He was the Treasurer of Hell, and was also the Grand Duke of its western regions. He encouraged sloth and idleness.
Ashtaroth was one of two demons prayed to in the Black Masses of Catherine Monvoisin, Madame de Montespan (mistress of Louis XIV), and a 67-year-old priest by the name of Guibourg. (The other demon prayed to was Asmodeus.)
In 1678, Nicolas de la Reynie, Louis XIV’s Lieutenant-General of Police, arrested these people along with 215 priests, sorcerers, and fortune tellers who had dabbled in black magic. 110 of these people were tried and sentenced. Some were hanged, some were exiled, and some were imprisoned for life. Of Guibourg, La Reynie said: A libertine who has traveled a great deal…and is at present attached to The Church of Saint Marcel. For twenty years he has engaged continually in The practice of poison, sacrilege and every evil business. He has cut the throats and sacrificed uncounted numbers of children on his infernal altar. He has a mistress…by whom he has had several children, one or two of whom he has sacrificed…. It is no ordinary man who thinks it a natural thing to sacrifice infants by slitting their throats and to say Mass upon the bodies of naked women.
It seems quite likely that Madame de Montespan was one of the living altars for Guibourg’s masses. In one such mass, “at the moment of the bread and wine a child’s throat was cut and its blood drained into the chalice. Simultaneously, a prayer was recited to the demons Ashtaroth and Asmodeus: ‘Prince of Love, I beseech you to accept the sacrifice of this child…that the love of the King may be continued…’”
Shortly before the arrest of Guibourg and his cohorts, a sorcerous attempt was made upon the life of Louis XIV. An altered consecrated wine was prepared to be slipped into Louis XIV’s food. In the wine was dried powdered bats, menstrual blood, semen, and, “to give consistency,” flour. Bibliography. (Masello 26) Bibliography. (King 110, 111)
Asmodeus was one of the busiest demons. He was not only the overseer of all the gambling houses in the court of Hell, but the general spreader of dissipation. On top of that, Asmodeus was the demon of lust, personally responsible for stirring up matrimonial trouble. Maybe it was because he came from the original dysfunctional family. According to Jewish legend, his mother was a mortal woman, Naamah, and his father was one of the fallen angels. (Or, possibly, Adam before Eve came along.) Characterized in The Testament of Solomon, the great manual of magic, as “furious and shouting,” Asmodeus routinely did everything he could to keep husbands and wives from having intercourse, while encouraging them at every turn to indulge their pent-up drives in adulterous and sinful affairs. When he condescended to appear before a mortal, he did so riding a dragon, armed with a spear; he had three heads–one a bull’s, one a ram’s, and one a man’s–as all three of these were considered lecherous creatures by nature. His feet, on the same theory, were those of a cock.
For information on a black mass held for Asmodeus, see Ashtaroth. Bibliography. (Masello 26)
Part of the Christian mythos, Beelzebub was one of the powerful seraphim first recruited by Satan. From his new home in Hell, Beelzebub discovered how to tempt people with pride. He became associated with flies because he had sent a plague of the insects to Canaan. He may also have become known as the “Lord of the Flies” because of the popular belief that decaying corpses generated flies.
Regardless, when summoned by sorcerers or witches, he would appear in the form of a fly. Bibliography. (Masello 25)
Much has been made of Belial, one of the Devil’s most venerable demons. As the demon of lies, he was immortalized in Milton’s Paradise Lost (Book II): A fairer person lost not Heaven; he seemed For dignity composed and high exploit: But all was false and hollow; though his tongue Dropped manna, and could make the worse appear The better reason, to perplex and dash Maturest counsels: for his thoughts were low; To vice industrious, but to noble deeds Timorous and slothful.
Before Satan had been the established leader of the forces of evil, Belial had been the undisputed regent of darkness. This view is reinforced in The War of the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness from one of the Dead Sea Scrolls: “But for corruption thou hast made Belial, an angel of hostility. All his dominion is in darkness, and his purpose is to bring about wickedness and guilt.”
Magician and necromancer Gilles de Rais attempted to summon both Belial and Beelzebub by using the severed body parts of a murdered child. Bibliography. (Masello 27, 28)
A Celtic god whose physical attributes came to be applied to those of Satan. Known as the Horned God and as Hu Gadarn, Cernunnos was the god of nature, astral planes, virility, fertility, animals, sex, the underworld, reincarnation, and shamanism. Bibliography. (van Hattem)
The classical moon goddess, Diana, is still worshipped by neopagans today. Long after Christianity’s triumph over classical paganism, her worship is still going strong. St. Kilian, a Celtic missionary to the pagan Franks, was martyred when he attempted to persuaded the peasants to abandon their worship of this goddess. A writing on the life of St. Caesarius offhandedly mentions “a demon whom simple folk call Diana.”
Diana was the personification of the positive aspects of lunar forces. She was also believed to have led groups of nightriders (known as the “Wild Hunt” or the “Furious Horde”) who flew through the air. The “Wild Hunt” was comprised of “people taken by death before their time, children snatched away at an early age, victims of a violent end.” The goddess would accompany her followers as they wandered at night among the houses of the well-to-do. Whenever they would arrive at a home that was particularly well-kept, Diana would bestow her blessings upon it.
Many benandanti (from the Italian for “those who go well” or “good-doers”) were followers of Diana. The benandanti were members of a fertility cult who were basically anti-witches and practicers of white magic. Nonetheless, they were tortured by the Inquisitors just the same as practicers of the black arts were.
Diana was intrinsically linked with several other witch deities, including Abonde, Abundia, Aradia, Hecate, Herodias, Holda, Perchta, Satia, and Venus. Bibliography. (Ginzburg 40-46) Bibliography. (King 24)
Fraw Selga is yet another goddess believed to have led the “Furious Horde.” A Germanic deity, Fraw Selga was said to be the sister of Fraw Fenus (Venus), and like Venus and Diana, was referred to as “the mistress of the game.” The processions following Fraw Selga “were composed of souls in purgatory, as well as of the damned who were suffering various punishments.”
Fraw Selga could impart wisdom to her followers. She knew where buried treasure intended for the God-fearing could be found.
During Fraw Selga’s conventicles (which took place during the Ember Days), followers would partake in scrying. They stared into a basin “in which the fires of hell appeared,” and they saw “likenesses of the members of the parish who were destined to die within the year.” Bibliography. (Ginzburg 51)
Gulfora, also known as the Queen of the Sabbat, was another goddess in the same vein as Holda, Perchta, and Diana. She led the Wild Hunt, which is also known as “the days of Jupiter.”
In 1519, Girolamo Folengo wrote Maccaronea, which says, Not only do old hags bestride cats and goats and pigs, but many dignitaries too, and civic officials and those who administer justice to the people in the august senate range themselves to be governed under Gulfora’s sway. They observe the days of Jupiter; they anoint their limbs, hurrying to pay court to the Mistress, who is called Gulfora. Bibliography. (Wedeck 126)
Perhaps the most notorious of all witch goddesses, Hecate was a dark manifestation of Diana. Hecate is the patron goddess of witches and sorceresses because of her skill in the arts of black magic. She is the queen of darkness, perverse sexuality, and death. Classically, she is the goddess of “roads in general and crossroads in particular, the latter being considered the center of ghostly activities, particularly in the dead of night. . . . Offerings of food (known as Hecate’s suppers) were left to placate her, for she was terrible both in her powers and in her person–a veritable Fury, armed with a scourge and blazing torch and accompanied by terrifying hounds.”
The followers of Hecate were rumored to have strange powers, such as that of being able to draw down the moon in order to employ the averse aspects of lunar forces. Followers could metamorphose into animals and birds, had insatiable sexual appetites, and had an intrinsic understanding of aphrodisiac and poisonous herbs. Witches in the service of Hecate had intense scatological interests, and in one classical account, were known to have “pissed long and vigorously” on the face of a man they captured. Indeed, one of the epithets of Hecate was “excrement-eating.”
According to Apuleius, (a classical author who once stood trial himself on charges of black magic), witches’ dens contained many questionable materials: incenses, the skulls of criminals who had been thrown to wild animals, metal discs engraved with occult signs, small vials of blood taken from the murdered victims of the witches, the beaks and claws of birds of ill omen, and various bits of human flesh, particularly the noses of crucifixion victims. Bibliography. (Morford & Lenardon 182) Bibliography. (King 16, 17)
See Aradia or Diana.
Also known as Fraw Holt, Holda became virtually synonymous with Abonde, Diana, and Perchta. Originally, Holda had been a Germanic goddess of vegetation and fertility, much like Perchta. Holda was also the goddess of spinning and weaving.
She, like her other manifestations, was the leader of the “Furious Horde” or “Wild Hunt” (Wütischend Heer, Wilde Jagd, Mesnie Sauvage)–”namely of the ranks of those who had died prematurely and passed through village streets at night, unrelenting and terrible, while the inhabitants barricaded their doors for protection.”
Holda had two forms, that of a beautiful girl dressed all in white, and that of a hideous crone with fangs, a hooked nose, and long, tangled gray hair. In the latter form, she looked just like the stereotypical image of a witch or the evil stepmother of fairy tales. As the White Lady, she was a fertility goddess who granted prosperity to home, family, and field. As the Hag, she offered those who ignored or insulted her death, illness, and misfortune. In this form, she was responsible for fog and snow.
Many animals were sacred to Holda: birds of prey, bears, horses, goats, wolves, pigs, and hounds. Along with her sometimes partner the Wood Man, she was the guardian of wild animals.
Holda may be part of the origin of the Santa Clause mythos as well. She treated children ambivalently. If they behaved themselves during the year then at Christmas she rewarded them with gifts and good luck. If they had been naughty they would be severely punished. Sometimes Holda was used as a bogey figure and mothers threatened their children that if they did not behave then she would come and take them off to the woods and teach them good manners. Holda allegedly kept the children in a well, endowing the good ones with abundant luck, health and wealth, and turning the bad ones into Faerie changelings. Bibliography. (Ginzburg 40) Bibliography. (Hilton)
Although he had a rather unlikely name for a demon, Leonard was a kind of quality control expert for black magic and sorcery. He was also the master of sabbats, presiding over them in the form of an enormous three-horned black goat with the head of a fox. Bibliography. (Masello 43)
Lilith is a kabalistic demon who appealed more to magicians than to witches. According to legend, Lilith was the first wife of Adam, and the first social feminist. Made from filth before the creation of Eve, Lilith believed herself to be Adam’s equal and objected to “missionary style” sex. She believed that sexual relations should take place with the two of them lying side by side. Adam objected to this, so Lilith left him to mate with fallen angels.
Together with the fallen angels, Lilith parented a huge family of female demons called lilim. Lilim are identical to succubi for all intents and purposes. Both seduce men and take away men’s strength in the night hours. Bibliography. (King 95)
The name Mephistopheles comes from the Greek for “he who does not like light.” Mephistopheles is perhaps most famous for being the demon summoned by Faust. Faust had summoned Mephistopheles to teach him great knowledge and to grant him immense power.
Mephistopheles fulfilled all of Faust’s desires. Nevertheless, at the end of the twenty-four year contract, it was Faust’s turn to please Mephistopheles. All that was left of Faust at the end of the contract was his torn and bloodied corpse. The soul had been consigned to Mephistopheles in Hell. Bibliography. (Marlowe)
Minerva (known by the Greeks as Athena) is yet another goddess thought to have led the Wild Hunt. Like Holda, Minerva was traditionally thought of as the goddess of weaving, spinning, and of women’s household arts in general.
Perchta or Percht was yet another manifestation of Diana and was synonymous with Abonde as the leader of the host of the dead. Perchta was originally a southern German goddess of vegetation and fertility. She had many different names (and changed her sex) depending on the geographical region. In “southern Austria, in Carintia, among the Slovenes, ‘Quantembermann’ (the man of the four Ember Days) or ‘Kwaternik’; in Baden, in Swabia, in Switzerland, and with the Slovenes again, ‘Frau Faste’ (the lady of the Ember Days) or similar names such as ‘Posterli,’ ‘Quatemberca,’” and ‘Fronfastenweiber.’ Bibliography. (Ginzburg 189, 190)
Put Satanachia was the commander-in-chief of Satan’s army of darkness. Aside from having profound power over mothers, Put Satanichia had an immense knowledge of the planets. He also provided witches with their animal familiars. Bibliography. (Masello 40)
Satan, of course, was the deity of choice during the witchcraze. Witches’ sabbats, also known as “Synagogues of Satan,” were held in dedication to him. Physical adoration and submission to the Devil were necessary parts of every sabbat. Satan most often appeared at these sabbats in the form of a black billy goat or tom cat and would copulate with almost everyone present.
This copulation was unappealing as the Devil’s genitals are not only unbearably huge, but also hard and scaly, with the semen being as cold as ice. Sometimes Satan was represented as having a two-pronged member, a characterization that would certainly have stimulated the prurient imaginations of repressed Inquisitors.
Sabbats were basically prayer meetings for Satan. At these congregations, the Devil would baptize new initiates with a smelly fluid which had, as a main ingredient, urine. He would also issue forth black sacramental bread (probably dung) and fouled water. At the Sabbat, witches would offer the osculum infame (the infamous kiss) by kissing Satan’s anus.
Another integral part of Satan worship was the trampling on of the cross and the desecration of the Holy Host. Many witches purportedly retained the wafer in their mouths after Mass and would spit them on the ground in honor of the Devil.
See Abonde or Diana
Venus was originally the Roman goddess of love, but by the time of the witchcraze she was relegated to demon status. She became synonymous with Diana in terms of being followed at night by a retinue of women. Witches knew her as Fraw Fenus, stating they visited her at night-time.
Venus could grant to these witches the power of astral projection. Witches could fall into “swoons which rendered them insensible to pricks or scaldings.” When the women revived, they said they had been to heaven and “spoke of stolen or hidden objects.” Bibliography. (Ginzburg 43, 44)
“Verdelet was something of a cross between a maitre d’ and a transportation coordinator. He was master of ceremonies in Hell, and also shouldered the responsibility of making sure witches on Earth got to their sabbats safely and on time. Bibliography. (Masello 44)