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  • Von der Häresie zur Hexerei: “Wirkliche” und imaginäre Sekten im Spätmittelalter
  • Michael D. Bailey
Kathrin Utz Tremp. Von der Häresie zur Hexerei: “Wirkliche” und imaginäre Sekten im Spätmittelalter. Monumenta Germaniae Historica Schriften 59. Hannover: Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 2008. Pp. xxix + 703.

This is a magnum opus in every sense: a big book tackling a big topic and bringing to bear a professional lifetime’s worth of research and experience. Kathrin Utz Tremp wants to reinvigorate and in some cases redefine the connections between medieval heresy and the supposed diabolical sect of witches that emerged in the early fifteenth century. Some basic connections are obvious: church authorities who conducted many early trials considered witchcraft a heresy, after all, and many elements of the witches’ sabbath (or synagogue, as it was more commonly termed in this period) are reminiscent of, if not identical to, diabolical elements of heretical gatherings imagined by [End Page 255] church authorities as far back as the eleventh century. Nevertheless, Utz Tremp argues that the details of witchcraft’s emergence out of heresy have never been explored in sufficient detail, and she sets out to correct this short-coming.

One major roadblock, Utz Tremp rightly notes, to the detailed study of the fifteenth-century origins of witchcraft hinges on the overall periodization of European history. Most witchcraft scholars are specialists in the early modern period and tend not to delve deeply into the medieval roots of their topic. The few medieval historians who have studied witchcraft, ever since the pioneering figure Joseph Hansen at the turn of the last century, have not, in Utz Tremp’s estimation, given witchcraft’s connection to heresy its full due. Certainly the numerous medieval historians who have studied heresy have never considered witchcraft an important component of their subject. One reason for this wall separating witchcraft and heresy has been that the great heretical sects of the medieval period have generally been considered to have been “real,” while witchcraft is widely held to have been an “imagined” crime. Drawing on the seminal work of Herbert Grundmann, Utz Tremp argues that most of the details we think we know about even “real” medieval heresies derive from the pens of religious and judicial authorities. When we conceive of heresies mainly as constructs, we can then all the more easily perceive relations to later concepts of witchcraft.

Although Utz Tremp structures her book in two parts dealing respectively with “real” and “imaginary” sects, from the start she makes clear that her principal focus in all cases is on conceptions and descriptions of various groups, as recorded in proscriptive literature and trial records. This approach does not inevitably mean privileging the imaginings of elite authorities. Throughout the book, she stresses how elite and popular conceptions intermingled and influenced each other. Nevertheless, she begins her account with the handful of elite sources that in large measure defined conspiratorial, diabolical witchcraft in the early fifteenth century: Errores Gazariorum, written by an anonymous inquisitor; the Dominican Johannes Nider’s Formicarius; the secular magistrate Claude Tholosan’s Ut magorum et maleficiorum errores . . . ; the Lucerne chronicler Johann Fründ’s report on witchcraft in Valais, and the French humanist Martin Le Franc’s Champion des dames (Utz Tremp co-edited the fundamental study of these texts, L’imaginaire du sabbat, in 1999). For all their differences, these texts share one essential feature: all view witches as members of organized heretical sects. Subsequent chapters then turn to the earlier histories of the “real” heresies of Catharism and Waldensianism, highlighting aspects of these heresies, or conceptions about them, reflected in later conceptions of witchcraft. In particular, Utz Tremp points [End Page 256] out how Cathar dualism fed more generalized concern about diabolism on the part of authorities. Also, Cathar rituals of consolamentum and especially the ritual greeting melioramentum prefigured notions of induction into the sect of witches at sabbaths and the concept of the diabolical kiss.

A particularly important chapter examines Waldensians in Piedmont. Utz Tremp identifies this region as a crossroads of heresy and argues for a significant amount of syncretism here between Cathar and Waldensian beliefs. This syncretism moved these heresies (or, again, conceptions...


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