Thursday, November 5th, 2015...10:00 am

Witches Sabbath

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This post is part of an ongoing series featuring items recently cataloged from the Julio Mario Santo Domingo Collection.

Tableau de l’insonstances des mauuais anges et demons was published in 1612 and shines a light on the European witch trials of the 16th and 17th-centuries.  It was written by Pierre De Lancre, a magistrate, who was part of a royal commission sent out by Henry IV to “cleanse” the area of witches.  The volume is divided into six books or “discourses” in which De Lancre describes his own experiences in the Basque region of France, as well as details from original trial records which were destroyed in the 18th-century.  The volume also contains one of the more detailed accounts of the Witches Sabbath that survives.  What exactly is a Witches Sabbath?  Essentially a meeting of witches where they honor their relationship with Satan, which is displayed in this lovely engraving located within the second discourse of the volume.

Img0024I decided to take a closer look at some of the images in the engraving.  We can see a depiction of Satan who is seated in a gilded chair and has taken on the shape of a goat with five horns (one of which is lit presumably for the Witches Sabbath). Img0025

Beneath the image of Satan we can see this depiction of a sorcerer who is arriving to the Sabbath on a goat with children he has abducted, which will then be offered up to Satan.  It also states that once the Sabbath is over these same sorcerer’s who came on brooms and beasts will take to the air to excite storms and tempests elsewhere in the world.


There is also an image that might more traditionally fit our perception of witches gathered around a cauldron.  They are making a strong potion (or poison) that will kill men.  You can see one witch holds snakes and toads in her hand to throw into the pot while the third dutifully works a bellows on the fire, which is obviously fueled by human skulls.

Look out for witches, especially on flying goats!

Tableav de l’inconstance des mavvais anges et demons, ov il est amplement traicté des sorciers, & de la sorcelerie / Pierre de Lancre. Paris, N. Bvon, 1612.  FC6.L2293.612ta (B)

Thanks to Alison Harris, Santo Domingo Project Manager, and Ryan Wheeler, Rare Book Cataloger at Houghton for contributing this post.