Magic & Witchcraft
For an account of the magical beliefs of the early Teutonic
peoples, see the entry on Teutons. Magic as formulated and
believed in by the Germans in the Middle Ages bears, along
with traces of its unmistakable derivation from the ancient Teutonic
religion, the impress of the influence brought by the natural
characteristics of the country upon the mind of its inhabitants.
Deep forests, mountains, limitless morasses, caverned rocks,
and springs all helped to shape the imagination which may be
traced in Teutonic mythology, and later in aspects of magic
and in Christian fears of witchcraft, which first arose in Germany
and obtained ready credence there.
As the clash and strife of Teuton and Roman, of Christian
and others left records in folklore and history, they have also
characterized the magical belief of the Middle Ages. Earlier
monkish legends are replete with accounts of magic and sorcery,
indicating how ancient deities became evil following the
introduction of the newer religion. Miracles were recounted in
which these villians were robbed of all power in the name of
Christ, or before some blessed relic, then chained and prisoned
beneath mountain, river, and sea in eternal darkness. At the
same time, tales were told of how misfortune and death were
the consequence to those who still might follow the outcast
Again, the sites and periods of the great religious festivals
of the Teutons were perpetuated in those localities said to be
the place and time of the witches’ sabbat and other mysterious
meetings and conclaves. Mountains especially retained this
character. The Venusberg, the Horselberg, and Blocksberg
now became the devil’s realm and an abode of the damned.
Chapels and cathedrals were full of relics to exorcise the spirits
of evil, along with the bells that had to be blessed, as ordained
by the Council of Cologne, in order that ‘‘demons might be affrighted
by their sound, calling Christians to prayers; and when
they fled, the persons of the faithful would be secure; that the
destruction of lightnings and whirlwinds would be averted, and
the spirits of the storm defeated.’’
Storms were considered to be the work of the devil, or the
conjuration of his followers. The trampling heard was thought
to be his fury, his fiery train above the tossing forests or holy
spires. In that way, Odin and his associated deities transformed.
The Valkyries, the Choosers of the Slain, riding to places of
battle, became the medieval witches riding astride broomsticks
on their missions of evil in much the same manner. Castles of
flames, where the devil held wild revels; conclaves of corpses
revivified by evil knowledge; unearthly growths, vitalized by
hanged humans’ souls, springing to life beneath gallows and
gibbets; little people of the hills, malicious spirits, with their
caps of mist and cloaks of invisibility. It was possible to trace the
origins of the belief in dire consequences from these stories.
For those who believed in magic were doomed as the pagan
and Christian stories of the Middle Ages merged to form one
Witchcraft was first derided as a delusion by church leaders.
Belief in it was forbidden by some of the earlier councils. It was
Gerhardie, William (Alexander) Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
in the fourteenth century in the form of sorcery (malevolent
magic), and then in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries as
witchcraft that it attained prominence. This was especially true
when the practice of witchcraft was declared a crime in the eyes
of the church (heresy and apostasy) in 1484—a crime punishable
by confiscation and death. In their deliberation on witchcraft
the inquisitors first systematized and formulated an understanding
of black magic. Under such authority, belief in
black magic flourished, filling people with either an outright
fear or unholy curiosity.
Once placed on the books, the motives for charging a person
with sorcery or witchcraft were numerous. In addition to
the care for their souls, individuals otherwise involved in personal
feuds, political enmities, and religious conflict, not to
mention rulers facing empty treasuries, found the charges of
black magic an unfailing and sure means of achieving their
ends. For several centuries, the charges were hurled at high
and low. Death was the consequence.
The Council of Constance (1414) began with its proscription
of the doctrines of Wyclif and the burning of John Huss and Jerome
of Prague. Less known, at this time, too, a multivolume
work was published by one of the inquisitors, called the Formicarium,
a comprehensive list of the sins against religion. The
fifth volume contained an account of sorcery. The list of crimes
accomplished by witches was also detailed second sight, the
ability to read secrets and foretell events; the power to cause
diseases and death by lightning and destructive storms; the
ability to transform themselves into beasts and birds; and powers
to bring about illicit love or barrenness of living beings and
crops. Finally, it detailed their enmity against children and
practice of devouring them (a crime often brought against socially
proscribed groups).
Witchcraft Persecutions
Papal bulls appeared for the appointment of inquisitors,
free of any interference by the civil authorities. The emperor
and reigning princes took them under their protection. The
persecutions rose to level unparalleled in other countries until
the following century. Hundreds of alleged witches were
burned in a few years. Immediately after the redefinition of
witchcraft in 1484, two inquisitors, Jakob Sprenger and Heinrich
Kramer, compiled the Malleus Maleficarum (first published
in 1486), a complete system of witchcraft, along with a
detailed method of how to prove any accused capable and
guilty of any and every crime.
Persecutions in Germany were intermittent throughout the
fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Germany was more concerned
with the split brought about by the activity of reformers
Martin Luther and John Calvin. Still persecution broke out
with renewed vigor in the seventeenth century stimulated by
the increasing strife between Catholics and Protestants. The
country had also been devastated by wars, plague, and famine.
Two cities in particular, Bamberg and Würzburg, attained notoriety
for trials and the number of victims.
In Bamberg, Prince-Bishop George II, and his suffragan
Frederic Forner, prosecuted the holy inquisition so intensely
that between the years 1625 and 1630 over 900 trials took
place, and approximately 600 people were burned. Confessions
were extracted from the victims under extreme torture.
Rich and poor were gathered into the jails—often to such a degree
that names were never taken nor recorded. The prisoners
were only noted anonymously as numbers.
In other parts of Germany, Lutheranism was gaining
ground. Here the charge of sorcery was brought against its followers.
Protestants had no disagreement with Roman Catholics
on the issue of witchcraft. At Würzburg, the bishop, Philip Adolph,
in 1623, did not prosecute them openly, but nevertheless
acted against the accused. In Eberhard David Hauber’s Bibliotheca,
Actaet Scripta Magica (1738–45) is a list of 29 burnings
from the 1620s. Each burning consisted of several victims, the
numbers ranging from two up to ten or more, which included
old men and women; little girls and boys and infants; noble ladies;
washerwomen; vicars; canons; singers and minstrels. Also
among the accused were Bannach, a senator; a wealthy man; a
keeper of the pot-house; the bishop’s own nephew and page;
a huckster; and a blind girl.
At Würzburg, in 1749, the last trial for witchcraft took place.
Maria Renata of the Convent of Unterzell was condemned and
burned in June that year for consorting with the devil and for
being the focus of bewitchments and other infernal practices.
Toward the end of the seventeenth century, disbelief in the
truth of witchcraft and criticism of the wholesale burnings
began to be heard, although earlier than this some had dared
to speak against the injustice and ignorance. Before 1593, Cornelius
Saos, a priest in Mainz, had stated his doubt of the whole
proceedings, but suffered for his recklessness. Johann Weyer,
physician to the Duke of Cleves, Thomas Erast, another physician,
Adam Tanner, a Bavarian Jesuit, and Frederick Spree,
also a Jesuit, all attempted to put forward rational views about
witchcraft persecution.
Alchemy and Occultism
Alchemy, one medieval form of Gnosticism, was seen as operating
from the realm of magic. Many believed it was satanic
in origin. Though few were charged unless caught in fraud for
trying to make gold, alchemists were liable to the charge of sorcery
and the death penalty if found guilty. Yet alchemy attracted
emperors and princes who took up the study themselves, or,
more frequently who hired well-known practitioners of the art.
For example, Joachim I had Johannes Trithemius as teacher
of astrology and ‘‘defender of magic,’’ and the Emperor Rudolph
employed Michael Maier as his physician.
Germany has supplied numerous names famous for their
discoveries in magic—men who were open to suspicion because
of their philosophical pursuits. Among those were Paracelsus—who
in his search for the elixir of life discovered laudanum,
a form of opium distilled from poppies; Cornelius Agrippa;
Basil Valentine, prior and chemist; Henry Khunrath,
physician and philosopher; and a host of students, all searching
for the mysteries of life, the innermost secrets of nature.
Some people believed the activities of these men to be nothing
more than pacts with the devil. The knowledge that the alchemists
gained could be acquired only by evil means. Religious
people reasoned that the soul of the magician was the
price promised and demanded by the Evil One. These myths
and imaginings centered around one magician especially, and
in the Faust legend we may find the general attitude and belief
of the Middle Ages regarding the interaction of learning and
supernatural beliefs.
Mystical Societies
While the alchemist conducted rudimentary scientific research,
they were Gnostic mystics, as their writings testify. Their
work fits into the larger Gnostic world whose exponents were
Rosicrucians and theosophists. Among the more notable mystics
was the shoemaker, Jakob Boehme, the son of peasants.
During the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648), many preachers,
seers, and fanatics appeared, exhorting and prophesying. It is
believed the condition of the country contributed towards producing
the hallucination and hysteria. Reportedly there are accounts
of ecstatics absorbed in supernatural visions, such as
Anna Fleischer of Freiburg, and Christiana Poniatowitzsch,
who traveled throughout Bohemia and Germany relating her
visions and prophesing.
At the end of the seventeenth century the old tenets of
magic were undergoing a gradual change, except alchemy. The
Gnostic magical beliefs found new expression in secret societies,
many of which were founded on those of the Middle Ages.
Freemasonry—whose beginnings are attributed by some to a
certain guild of masons banded together for the building of
Strasburg Cathedral, but by other authorities to RosicrucianEncyclopedia
of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. GERMANY
ism—formed the basis and pattern for many other secret societies.
In the eighteenth century, occultism flourished. There were
stories of Frederick William who worked with Steinert in a
house specially built for evocations; Schroepfer, proprietor of
a café with his magic punch and circles for raising the spirits
of the dead; the physiognomist J. K. Lavater, said to have two
spirits at his command; the Mopses, a society whose rites of initiation
were said to resemble those of the Templars and witches’
sabbat in a mild and civilized form; and Carl Sand, the mystical
fanatic who killed the dramatist August Kotzebue.
The Illuminati, whose teachings spread to France and underlay
the French Revolution, was banded together as a society
by Adam Weishaupt and fostered by Baron von Knigge, a student
of occultism. This society reportedly originated as an attempt
to circumvent the authority of the Jesuits. In its development
it absorbed mysticism and supernaturalism, finally
becoming political and revolutionary as it applied its philosophies
to civil and religious life. Although the Illuminati was disbanded
and dispersed in 1784, its ideas continued through
other occult groups and reappeared in the democratic wave
that swept Europe in the next century.
Mysticism and Animal Magnetism
In the transition from occultism to a more scientific view of
the paranormal largely accomplished in the nineteenth century,
many occult elements reemerged in the development of animal
magnetism and Spiritualism. Some of the significant
names of the period included Johann Heinrich Jung
(1740–1817), better known as Jüng Stilling, a seer, prophet,
and healer; Franz Anton Mesmer (c. 1733–1815), the discoverer
and apostle of animal magnetism; the Marquis de Puységur,
magnetist and spiritualist; Madame von Krudener, preacher of
peace and clemency to monarchs and princes; Heinrich
Zschokke, the Gothic novelist; and Dr. Justinus Kerner
(1786–1862), believer in magnetism and historian of two cases
of possession and mediumship, the ‘‘Maid of Orlach’’ and
Frederica Hauffe, the ‘‘Seeress of Prevorst.’’ Also during this
period, the poet, playwright, philosopher and novelist, Johann
Wolfgang von Goethe whose own story of Faust made his name
synonomous with the struggle between good and evil, showed
serious interest in the occult, particularly dreams. His grandfather’s
dreams seemed to be prophetic, and Goethe served as a
witness to the truth of them. Goethe himself was considered
The cures said to be affected by Prince Hohenlohe, a dignitary
of the church occured early in the nineteenth century. He
was led to believe in the power of healing through the influence
of a peasant named Martin Michel. Most of these cures took
place at Würzburg, the scenes of former witch-burnings, and it
was reported that more than 400 people, deaf, mute, blind, and
paralytic, were cured by the power of prayer.
About this time the case of stigmata with Catherine
Emerich, the nun of Dülmen also rose to prominence. Supposedly
there was an appearance of a bloody cross encircling the
head; marks of wounds on her hands, feet, and side; and crosses
on her breast that frequently bled. Again in Germany,
around 1918, a twenty-year old Bavarian woman named
Therese Neumann underwent a series of ailments following a
fall while helping to fight a fire. Within two years she was totally
blind and paralyzed. Three years later in 1923, Neumann believed
she had a vision of St. Therese of Lisieux, known as the
‘‘Little Flower’’ and her blindness disappeared. Supposedly,
she took no food or drink from that time until her death in
1962. It was in 1926 that her stigmata began to appear during
a weekly series of visions and trances from Thursday at midnight
to early Friday morning. She became a worldwide celebrity.
Every Catholic school child throughout the time until her
death knew her name as well as those of the saints. In 1932 the
Catholic church had attempted to conduct its own investigation
of her claims, but could not agree on the terms with Neumann’s
father. Neither did psychical researchers ever investigate.
In nineteenth-century occultism we find, as in the earlier periods,
stories of hauntings and spirits existing side by side with
learned disquisitions, such as that on the ‘‘fourth dimension in
space’’ by Johann C. F. Zöllner in his Transcendental Physics
(1880) and another on the luminous emanations from material
objects in Baron Karl von Reichenbach’s treatise on od or odylic
force, similar to some aspects of the magic of the Middle Ages.
It was some years after the original Rochester Rappings in
America before the Spiritualism movement surfaced in German-speaking
lands. Several intellectual leaders made note of
the movement, including the philosopher J. G. Fichte, a proponet
of Spiritualism; Edward von Hartmann, author of Philosophy
of the Unconscious (1869), who gave the phenomena a place
in his philosophy; and Carl du Prel, who, in his Philosophy of
Mysticism (1889), held up Spiritualistic manifestations as evidence
of a subconscious region in the human mind. Du Prel
also founded a monthly magazine, The Sphinx, devoted to the
interest of Spiritualism, and Alexander Aksakof, the Russian
Spiritualist, published the results of his research in Germany
and in the German language because he was not permitted to
publish them in Russian. Baron Lazar De Baczolay Hellenbach,
integrated Spiritualist teachings in his hypothesis that no
change of world or ‘‘sphere’’ occurs at birth or death, but merely
a change in the mode of perception.
Psychical Research and Parapsychology
German psychical research owes much to the work of Baron
Albert Schrenck-Notzing, who conducted investigations of
such mediums as Eva C., Stanislawa Tomczyk, Franek Kluski,
Linda Gazzera, Willi and Rudi Schneider, and Eusapia Palladino.
His book Phenomena of Materialisation (London, 1920)
reports on the claimed phenomenon of materialization.
The engineer Fritz Grünewald (d. 1925) was a pioneer of
scientific testing of mediums, and maintained a laboratory in
Charlottenburg, Berlin with various recording instruments.
With the British investigator Harry Price, he tested such psychics
as Jan Guzyk and Eleonore Zügun.
Other German researchers include Karl Grüber
(1881–1927), who investigated the Schneider brothers, Traugott
Konstantin Oesterreich (1880–1949), who published a
comprehensive study of possession; Rudolph Tischner
(1879–1961); General Josef Peter (1852–1939); Dr. Albert Moll
(1862–1939), a psychiatrist who contributed a study on hypnotism;
Max Dessoir, who first used the term ‘‘parapsychologie’’
in 1889; and Hans Driesch (1867–1941). Graf Carl von Klinckowstroem,
even though skeptical regarding some psychical
phenomena, wrote on water-divining and published a history
of the divining rod. In 1874, Alexander Aksakof founded the
journal Psychische Studien in Leipzig, published until 1934. It
was superseded by the Zeitschrift für Parapsychologie. Another
prominent German professor of philosophy, Trangott Konstantin
Osterreich was especially well-known for investigating
mediums. When the Nazis rose to power, he was stripped of his
position and did not regain it until after the war. He died in
Parapsychology was largely destroyed during the Nazi era,
but quickly rose again. Hans Bender, a post-war German researcher,
was instrumental in founding the Institut für Grenzgebiete
der Psychologie und Psychohygiene (IGPP–the Institute
for Border Areas of Psychology and Mental Health) in
Freiburg in 1950, and held the chair for Border Areas of Psychology
established at Freiburg University. The institute, located
at Wilhelmstrasse 3a, D-79098, Frieburg i. Br. Germany, or
through their website at IGPP was scheduled
to be host for the worldwide Parapsychological Association
Convention during August of 2000.
GERMANY Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
One of Bender’s more famous investigations involved the
Nickelheim Poltergeist that first became apparent in the Bavarian
village in 1969. On the windows and doors of the house
of a couple who lived with their teenaged daughter, strange
knocking sounds began sounding. Further strange occurences,
such as stones thrown against the house, dolls and toilet articles
flying across rooms, water poured in shoes and eggs broken in
visitors’ hats, escalated. Soon after, while a priest was blessing
the house, teleportation, (the penetration of matter through
matter) phenomena began occuring—a stone fell from the ceiling
with all of the windows and doors shut. No further reports
of later investigation were available.
In 1966, a Department for the Border Areas was established
at the university’s Psychological Institute and in 1968, the 11th
Convention of the Parapsychological Association was held. The
institute has conducted investigations into psychokinesis, poltergeist,
electronic voice phenomenon, and qualitative and
quantitative extra sensory perception research. As of 1991
Eberhard Bauer, was a German historian of parapsychology
and managing editor of Zeitschrift fur Parapsychologie und Grenzgebiete
der Psychologie, the only journal of parapsychology in
Germany. He has had the distinction of being the leading European
authority on the history of parapsychology and the contemporary
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Grüber, Karl. Parapsychologische Erkenntnisse. Munich Drei
Masken Verlag, 1925.
Gulat-Wellenburg, W. von et al. Der Physikalische Mediumismus.
Berlin Ullstein, 1925.
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Moll, Albert. Hypnotism. London W. Scott, 1901.
Oesterreich, T. K. Possession, Demoniacal & Other, Among
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London, 1930. Reprint, New Hyde Park, N.Y. University
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to the Vital Force. London, 1851. Reprint, New Hyde Park,
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