Malleus Maleficarum, a 15th century witch hunting manual, described how witches kept ‘live’ wriggling penises as pets.
The witches were said to have kept the penises in nests in trees and to have fed them oats.
Written by Catholic clergyman Heinrich Kramer, Malleus Maleficarum is of course today regarded as misogynistic nonsense.
However, centuries ago, such books would have resulted in the gruesome murders of women accused of being witches.
Folklorist Moira Smith has highlighted some of particularly crazy rants made by Kramer in her paper titled Penis Theft in the Malleus Maleficarum.
“Many of the crimes (maleficia) attributed to witches concerned sexuality: copulation with incubus devils, procuring abortions, causing sterility and stillbirth, and impeding sexual relations between husbands and wives,” Smith wrote.
The historian highlights three cases from the book about disappearing penises. In the first two examples, the genitals simply ‘magically’ vanish. In the third case, its mentioned that witches keep the penises as pets and feed them oats and other grains.
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“[W]hat shall we think about those witches who somehow take members in large numbers —twenty or thirty, and shut them up together in a birds’ nest or some box, where they move about like living members, eating oats or other feed?” read part of an exert from Kramer’s book.
“This has been seen by many and is a matter of common talk. It is said that it is all done by devil’s work and illusion, for the senses of those who see [the penises] are deluded in the way we have said.”
Kramer also writes about one man who asked a witch if he could reclaim his missing member. He was instructed to climb a particular tree and pick a penis from the nest. Only to be told the large one he had chosen actually belonged to a priest.
Penis growing trees also ‘existed’ in the Middle Ages
Other phallic fantasies from the middle ages include various fables about trees sprouting penises.
In 2000, archaeologists in Tuscany found a huge mural from the 13th century showing a tree covered in male sex organs. Next to the tree’s roots are eight women, two of whom are fighting for a penis and one who is trying to use a stick to knock another woman off a branch.
It’s clearly all complete nonsense. Yet such crazy tales resulted in witches getting executed and allowed men to ‘justify’ their poor treatment of women as subservient beings.
Perhaps the lesson to learn here – in today’s world of fake news and media manipulation – is the power of propaganda.