An Anthropological Study of the European Witch-Hunts- Second Printing
Torture: The Proof of All Proofs 117
Chapter Five Torture: The Proof of All Proofs When prosecuting people accused of witchcraft and sorcery the authorities were confronted with the problem of producing evidence: acts of witchcraft took place unseen, at night, or in faraway places. For this reason, Bodin advised that, "one accused of being a witch ought never be fully acquitted and set free unless the calumny of the accuser is clearer than the sun, inasmuch as the proof of such crimes is so obscure and so difficult that not one witch in a million would be accused or punished if the procedure were governed by the ordinary rules." 1 Witchcraft was considered crimen exceptum [an exceptional crime], a crime so horrendous that it was excluded from the customary process of law. All legal safeguards were denied the suspect, and the broadest latitude of evidence was permitted: children of irresponsible age were admitted to testify against their parents; perjurers, felons, and individuals of disrepute were invited to offer testimony; even defense lawyers could be forced to give evidence against their clients.2 Ultimately, in cases of witchcraft, torture was considered probatio probatissimi, "the proof of all proofs." In this chapter I describe the judicial torture system in great detail so that the reader may obtain a precise understanding of the force of torture in bolstering demonology and fueling the persecutions. Large-scale witch-burnings took place only where torture of the most brutal sort was employed to extract the names of accomplices. According to the historian Burr, "No confession...
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