Martin Luther’s Complex Views on Witches & Devil
Luther on the Devil’s Role in Society
“Out of special hatred for our faith, the devil has sent some whores here to destroy our poor young men. Such syphilitic whore can poison ten, twenty, thirty, or more of the children of good people, and this is to be considered a murderer, or worse, as a poisoner.” Luther firmly believed in witches and the work of the devil, but his ideas about them were portrayed by what he thought about each one individually. Luther did not directly come out with any treatises that referred directly to witches or witchcraft, but instead, he would speak through his Biblical references in order to get his ideas across.
Luther’s attitudes toward women practicing witchcraft were influenced by his thoughts on women and their role in the family, the devil’s impact, and superstitions that are tied to witchcraft. Martin Luther believed that the role women played in the family had a significant impact on whether they became witches or not. Women were more likely to become witches in the sense that they were usually more sexual than men, which was because their sex drive increased throughout their lives. This would cause the menopausal stage of their life to become the most susceptible to when the devil would force himself upon them.
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Martin Luther King on Women’s Roles and Mysticism in 16th Century
Women in these early Modern European communities would often have jobs as cooks, midwives, or even healers. These jobs, in turn, would lead people to believe that they were practicing magic, specifically as a cook and having access to herbs for magical purposes. Luther’s earliest sermons would focus solely on the sexuality of women, specifically those who were older. “During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries between 100,000 and 200,000 people were officially tried. Of these, about 80-85 percent were women, though this percentage varied throughout Europe.”
Women during the 16th century were extremely convinced that they could gain power so much that they would be able to actually practice magic, but this would be an illusion put forth by the devil himself. Luther responds to I Peter 3:1-7 by stating that God created women in order to become the wife to men, and not only that, but they are weaker than men, so they should not be able to deal with problems that occur in life. The husband must also treat the woman like a child in the sense of having to educate her and that her only role in life is to provide offspring for the male.
Women’s Roles as Per Martin Luther
Women have the ability to seduce and humiliate men in such a way that one would think it was witchcraft. Luther begins to develop the idea that women only have one true calling, and that is marriage. He replies to the comments on I Peter, 3:6: “As Sara obeyed Abraham and called him Lord whose daughters you are as long as you do well and not give in to shyness” by stating, “It is commonly the nature of women to be timid and to be afraid of everything. This is why they busy themselves so much with witchcraft and superstitions.” Women practice witchcraft in order to lessen themselves from the notion of fear, but without realizing it, they are only setting themselves up to be more fearful.
Luther continues by advising women to overcome their fears and to not give into witchcraft.” He believes that women should simply accept their fate of being housewives and that becoming a good Christian or falling into the hands of the devil is strictly up to her. Luther does not think that a woman becomes bad because of nature but simply because she refuses to become a good housewife. The ‘bad’ women who become witches deny their role in society and religion.
“The incidents of witchcraft he related often involved food preparation or the care of animals and children, all areas of life over which women had control.” Luther preaches in his sermon on Exodus, “You shall not permit a female sorcerer to live. None of them should take advantage of the holy things of Christians. If you should see such women look away, for they have diabolical faces. Therefore, let them be killed.”
Luther’s Personal Encounters with Evil
Martin Luther, during his time, was convinced that the devil exists and that the devil himself is the reason behind witchcraft. The devil is almost always described as a male rather than a female. Christian thinkers during this time in certain parts of Europe would often view witchcraft as making a pact with the devil and completing tasks that he wanted to be done. Devil worshipping became the default implication rather than doing evil deeds for the devil, but this would eventually be put to rest, and instead, people would believe that witches would engage in a sexual orgy with the devil and fly to meetings called sabbats. Some demonological theorists would come to believe that witches were forming a conspiracy to overthrow Christianity, which would eventually lead to witches becoming an enemy of God.
When it came to the devil and Christ, Luther believed in both of them. One would resemble Christianity, while the other would be more of a disease to society. Martin Luther would consider the power of the devil to be extremely serious and would eventually comment on the matter in his commentary on Galatians in 1535 by stating, “For it is undeniable that the evil lives, yes, rules, in all the world. Therefore, witchcraft and sorcery are the works of the devil, by which he not only injures people but sometimes, with God’s permission, destroys them.” Luther had been known for reporting physical encounters with the devil. He would report about everyone being subject to the devil, and the devil is considered the whole world. Luther told a story about how the devil torments people through witches, and his mother would come in contact with a witch, her neighbor, whom she remained nice and friendly at all times. He claims that the witch cast a spell over children so that if they were to scream, they would be close to death.
Luther’s Stand against Witches & Evil
According to Luther, Satan would be dangerous to a person both physically and mentally, which is how he would be able to get into the minds of these older women and convince them to do his tasks for him. At one point, Luther would say that all witches were whores and that they should all be burned. Luther believed that Satan could take the form of either a man or a woman, and in his Lecture on Genesis, he states that “If with God’s permission, the devil can take possession of an entire human being and change his disposition, what would be so remarkable about misshaping the body and bringing about the birth of either blind or crippled children?”
The devil is known to have sexual relations with his witches, but he is unable to have children with them for the reason that God is the sole creator of human beings. According to Luther, weather witches like to confuse women who have just given childbirth by lying down in the place of the child and acting worse than the normal child by crying, eating, etc. Luther claims to know an example of this, where the devil laid down in the place of the child and began to cry. The mother was sucked dry, so she could no longer feed him, and the father found another woman to nurse the child (devil), and so till a fifth nurse came. The parents were so confused about what to do with their child that they were told to bring him to Halberstadt. The father proceeded to take the child to the city when he came across a bridge. A devil in the water shouted, and the son replied, which shocked the father, so he threw his son into the water, and the two devils began to laugh at the man.
The 1520s were some very dark and stressful times, and Luther began to realize that this was a time in which he struggled with the devil for Christian truth and accepted that maybe the role of the devil should be used as a teaching of truth. He continued by saying that if anyone struggles with the devil and gives up in battle, they would have given themselves peace with the devil. Many of the prosecutions that were occurring during this time were occurring after the maleficent witchcraft had ended. Much of these prosecutions involved white magic and superstition, and the courts believed that the ones being accused had been involved with the devil. In Luther’s Sermon on the Ten Commandments, he states, “For the devil holds the female sex organ as his servant, so that he admits it to his holy rites, proclaims his laws and sows his superstitions through it, in every way contrary to God.”
Luther on Superstitions & Truth
Of almost all of Luther’s works, there is one in particular that discusses his attitudes toward superstitions, and that would be his Exposition of the Ten Commandments, in which he spoke to the people of Wittenberg. Luther would begin his movement toward superstition by dividing by age groups, enumerating superstitions that were typically practiced or believed in, for example, young adults and older people. Young adult superstitions would be involved with things such as the enchantment of weapons so that they would not hurt their owners. These young adults would also carry amulets, which would protect the wearer from injury or misfortune. They would also participate in love magic, which would allow the person to keep their partner, which included seeing the final results of their relationship.
Luther’s second category of superstitions would belong to those who were married and had children. He would continue to talk about how these children would eventually come down with illness or disease and that they would then be cured by superstitious beliefs. Luther has dealt with superstitions in so many different ways, including old women engaging with the demons and the devil, which classifies them as a witch. He would begin to blame older women for putting bizarre ideas into the minds of others, which in turn would cause them to go insane.
Protestants believed that all Christians should strive for extraordinary lives while at the same time being able to learn all of the Christian faiths and proper forms of worship. The main reason they believed in this was they hoped to eliminate all the superstitious beliefs and practices. They wanted to rid their lives of magic and paganism, which included exorcisms, amulets, or charms to protect themselves. The protestants would eventually lead to an increase in witch prosecutions, which would develop into two different ideas.
The first idea was based on witches who practiced white magic would also have engaged in maleficent witchcraft. These witches would usually be treated in such a way that they would be classified as more forgiving. In the 1580s, the courts increased their attention toward superstitions, magic, and sorcery, which would lead to an increased amount of persecutions of witchcraft. The second way would involve the attack on superstitions and how it increased significantly due to amount of victims that were deprived of sorcery or weapons that they used in order to protect themselves from witches.
According to Luther’s sermon on the Ten Commandments, he stated that “feminine priesthood had prevailed and it had filled these lands with innumerable superstitions, charms, and frivolous teachings, which for a long time people have feared more than the laws and rights of the masculine and divine priesthood.” These women who practice such methods would sometimes be even more feared than men. Luther refers back to the superstitious ideas that perceive women and states that the only one who can list all these ideas would be the first woman, Eve and that she is the one who should be made fun of.
Devil, Women & Witchcraft: Luther’s Take
Martin Luther, over the years in his sermons, would constantly refer back to witches, the devil, and even superstitions. All of which played a significant role in the life of the witchcraft. Every single one of these ideas in witchcraft ties into one another in such a way that you cannot have one without the other. The devil was often portrayed as a man and would become known for manipulating women into doing his dirty work for him, and it was often said that these women would engage in sexual activities with the devil.
The devil was the type of being that could do virtually anything and shape into anything from animals to people. The devil would usually focus on women due to them being more submissive than men, which included them being weaker, less intelligent, etc. The devil would also have an influence on the way women saw themselves. They were sometimes confused about what they should be doing, so they wanted to keep themselves busy, which often led to witchcraft. The superstitions that came tied to witchcraft were very far-fetched and would lead Luther to believe that they were not really true, some of which included children becoming ill and then magically being cured. Martin Luther believed that witches should be burned for their actions, but over time, as he realized the influence the devil had on them, he tried to convince women not to give into devilish activities and to accept their role as a housewife.
- Brecht, M. (1993). Martin Luther: His Road to Reformation 1483-1521. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
- Erikson, E. H. (1958). Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalysis and History. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
- Luther, M. (1526). Sermon on the Ten Commandments. Wittenberg: Johann Grünenberg Press.
- Oberman, H. A. (1989). Luther: Man Between God and the Devil. New York: Doubleday.
- Roper, L. (1994). The Witch in the Western Imagination. Virginia: University of Virginia Press.
- Russell, J. B. (1972). Witchcraft in the Middle Ages. New York: Cornell University Press.