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Should we believe everything we read about medieval Christianity? For example, should we believe reports that there was a disappearing penis problem among Christian men? Did fine, Christian gentlemen blame witches for "glamouring" their penises away or keeping said penises hidden in bird nests? And did they accuse witches of raising some of their penises as pets? Most importantly, did the witches feed their penis pets oats and corn? Callie Beusman addresses these concerns in her Broadly article. A number of our readers have demanded that I address these concerns with an article that employs the word "penis" at least twenty times. I will do my best as it is a very serious issue.
How was it done according to Kramer? By "confusing the organ of vision by transmuting the mental images in the imaginative faculty." Kramer (as does much of Malleus) attempts to allay superstitions of a kind. The witches weren't really keeping penises as pets, it was an illusion of the devil. See, problem solved.
But we haven't even discussed the insidious matter of ventriloquists. According to Kramer, tricking perception can be done without help of devilry. Sleight of hand and ventriloquy can cause similar delusions among upright, Christian men. Such is the danger of consorting with wicked, voice-throwing scoundrels. On this point, I must agree with an otherwise loathsome piece of literature. Ventriloquists represent a clear and present danger to our way of life. My good people, they must be stopped.
So what do we make of the story about a man who was made to climb a tree to retrieve his stolen member? I refer you to the article linked above to learn more about the myth of phallus trees common in Europe during this time. Long story short, the man climbed up to the nesting phalli and "tried to take a big one." But the witch refused him, explaining, "You must not take that one . . . . because it belonged to a parish priest."
One is left to wonder how the witch came to have access to the member of the parish priest. And with such a massive loss, was this cause for ecclesial lament? Not so much penis entropy; but perhaps penis elegy. Or perhaps the priest was actively invested in the devil's business. If so, perhaps penis equity?
The Malleus Maleficarum is a window into a Christianity driven by fear of the outsider, misogyny, and masculine insecurity. Indeed, such paranoia can cause widespread delusion and false belief. Worst of all, these vices conjure scary levels of impotency.
Feel free to share this article with your Christian friends looking for Halloween costumes.
Anthony Le Donne, PhD
author of Near Christianity: How Journeys along Jewish Christian Borders Saved my Faith in God