Professor Hans Hoffenkamp

I am on a journey and I invite all seekers of truth to join me as I investigate the historical realities and influence of occult practices and belief in American history. I must warn you, it is not only my understanding of history that has been altered by my research, but increasingly my understanding of reality itself.

Troubling Messages

October 31, 2013

I always welcome communications from professional scholars as well as everyday interested parties on the topic of witchcraft, particularly reports of its occurrence in the modern world. (I am intrigued by both the unexplainable and the all-too-clearly fraudulent: What does it say about a place that such clear hoaxes can still gain a foothold?)

I was especially excited to see what additional contacts and conversations I might be able to gather as Halloween approached, particularly since I had elected to make a research trip up to Salem.

But while I expected a spike in messages and I expected many of these offerings to be of questionable benefit to my studies — Halloween inevitably brings out both pranksters and the apparently insane — never before I have seen so many that, for lack of a better word, frightened me.

There were two reasons for why these, far more so than any I received in the past, are so disturbing:

1. The effort that went into them. Quite simply, if this is a joke, it is a bizarrely committed one: the messages show no sign of stopping and they only grow stranger and more menacing.

2. The knowledge of me. While we live in a time when no one can expect complete privacy, there is still an expectation that we

have some space of our own. And my space has been invaded.

While I am reluctant to share these works to further encourage (or enrage) those sending them, I will offer a couple of samples in case others have a different interpretation of them than threat:

Whether or not you believe witches are real, there is no denying that the fear and violence associated with them throughout history have all too often proved to be authentic.

To those responsible for these messages, whatever you may think of witchcraft or my work involving it, I ask you to respect my privacy and my safety. All others, I thank you for your continued interest and support.

I am headed out tonight to meet with an amateur scholar and descendent of one of the accused Salem witches who purports to have some very interesting information on the true nature of what his ancestor was involved in — come back tomorrow for the full report!

Leaving for Salem

October 28, 2013

A historian, by definition, engages in a supernatural act: he attempts to bring the dead back to life. This is particularly true for me, since I have devoted myself to exploring the history of witchcraft. Understandably, I am drawn to the moments when the past feels a bit more alive, which is why I am braving the crowds to head to Salem, Massachusetts for Halloween this year.

Obviously this will not magically transport me back to 1692, so I can personally witness the trials of the 19 doomed souls soon to be hanged (as well as others who would be convicted and condemned).

But there is always value to returning to the actual location of an event, even if we are now centuries removed from the tragic occurrences: when trying to understand the long-since-departed, why not walk in their literal footsteps on the same paths they used to trod day in and day out?

Beyond this, while obviously historians strive to ground all our work in irrefutable fact, witchcraft is unique because so much of it involves questions of belief:

Did the people of Salem truly believe that witches were among them? (Or were they afraid to speak up, lest they be accused themselves?)

Did the accusers believe that accused were genuine witches (whether or not they

served their own interests by issuing these charges)?

Did any of the accused believe themselves to be true witches (whatever they may have said as confessions or denials)?

On Halloween, even the most rational person is a bit more receptive to the idea that there are forces at work in this world that are beyond our understanding, but affect us nonetheless.

I expect to see many of the most open-minded among us gathered in Salem, including some people who already believe in the seemingly unbelievable and others who, one night a year, become converts.

Accordingly, while I won’t be returned to 1692, I do hope to get a better understanding of our nation’s continued fascination with the tragic events, and maybe a sense of what it must have been like back then: a world where the blackest night was never far away… and no one knew for certain what that darkness concealed.

Witches and Seduction: Appearances Deceive

October 19, 2013

The potential for dark magic to trigger sexual misconduct is continually documented in the Malleus Maleficarum. One passage on the powers of the devil specifically notes his ability to make “things appear to be otherwise than they are,” with the result that “matters which are earthy and dry seem to be fire or water: as some people make everyone in the house strip themselves naked under the impression that they are swimming in water.”

As anyone who has read about witch trial knows, witches have long been one of history’s great scapegoats.

Crops failed?  Blame a witch.

Cattle are sick? Must be witchcraft.

It should be noted that witches were also singled out for blame on matters that occurred not just with the family business, but in the bedroom as well.

Why is that man unable to produce children? His ex must be a witch.

Why did I stray from the bonds of marriage? The witch and her magic were too powerful for me.

When we think of witches, we should remember that they were dreaded not because they were hideous, but because they were beautiful. They weren’t just sexually desirable, but sexually aggressive (they engaged in intercourse before marriage) and sexually powerful (the man who

stopped having intercourse with them might find himself literally emasculated). The punishments were cruel for convicted witches, but – if we choose to believe the accounts are accurate – we can see why a young woman, particularly one poor and ostracized, would have looked at a life of loneliness and hardship and found herself irresistibly drawn to the devil’s depravity.

Witches and Seduction: Bodily Lusts and Pleasures

October 24, 2013

When many people hear the word “witch” they think of the Wicked Witch of the West: from her misshapen head to her green skin, she barely resembles a human being, much less an attractive one. In fact, many accounts of witchcraft describe witches as looking more like Glinda the Good or even the horror hostess Elvira. For while witches are associated with terror and destruction, it is worth remembering that historical accounts noted their real power often came because they were sexy, not scary. It was through their intense allure that they brought others over to the dark magic, not because of fear or intimidation.

The seductiveness of witches can be seen by exploring the Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of the Witches), a text by Heinrich Kramer published in 1487 to prove witches were real and, subsequently, guide the faithful in first finding and then punishing them. The work notes that witchcraft tended to be prevalent among the female gender: “this kind of perfidy is found more in so fragile a sex than in men.” It then observes that some potential witches aren’t interested in “carnal vices but concerned for worldly profit” but when devils pursued young girls who are “more given to bodily lusts and pleasures, they observe a

different method, working through their carnal desires and the pleasures of the flesh.”

Indeed, one of the prime targets for the devil were young women who had been sexually active before marriage. As is written in Malleus Maleficarum:

“…or when girls have been corrupted, and have been scorned by their lovers after they have immodestly copulated with them in the hope and promise of marriage with them, and have found themselves disappointed in all their hopes and everywhere despised, they turn to the help and protection of devils; either for the sake of vengeance by bewitching those lovers or the wives they have married, or for the sake of giving themselves up to every sort of lechery. Alas! experience tells us that there is no number to such girls, and consequently the witches that spring from this class are innumerable.”

My next post will explore how sexuality was also reflected in their powers…


Witches and Seduction: Secret Desires

October 26, 2013

With the devil making a point of pursuing women who are young, intrigued by “carnal desires and the pleasures of the flesh”, and often ostracized due to premarital intercourse, it should come as no surprise that the powers taken on by these witches could be decidedly sexual in nature. Witches were credited with having not only the ability to steal male virility, but in some cases the male organ itself. A particularly memorable one of these accounts begins:

“In the town of Ratisbon a certain young man who had an intrigue with a girl, wishing to leave her, lost his member; that is to say, some glamour was cast over it so that he could see or touch nothing but his smooth body.”

The story quickly veers into sadomasochism, as the man is advised the only way to regain his member is to find his former lover and demand she restore him, if necessary through violence. He goes to her and proceeds to choke her with a towel:

“And when she maintained that she was innocent and knew nothing about it, he fell upon her, and winding a towel tightly about her neck, choked her, saying: ‘Unless you give me back my health, you shall die at my hands.’

“Then she, being unable to cry out, and growing black, said: ‘Let me go, and I

will heal you.’

“The young man then relaxed the pressure of the towel, and the witch touched him with her hand between the thighs, saying: ‘Now you have what you desire.’

“And the young man, as he afterwards said, plainly felt, before he had verified it by looking or touching, that his member had been restored to him by the mere touch of the witch.”

The witch had the power to take away the male essence… then give it back with a touch.

No wonder men feared them.

Finding a balance between faith and science

September 17, 2013

Cotton Mather was anything but a scientist. Wasn’t he? The famed witch hunter was a Puritan, a God fearing preacher, a man of deep faith. But Mather’s philosophy shifted during the smallpox inoculation movement of the early 1700s.

At the time, the majority of New England – even scientist Benjamin Franklin, until his son died of the disease in 1736 – was against smallpox inoculation. If thousands of people died, it was God’s will. God plagued the boat that brought the disease to the colonies. It was meant to be.

Mather took a more logical approach. He argued that God created man with the ability to reason, study and problem-solve that which causes illness and death. He spearheaded inoculation studies and sent his findings to several physicians in Boston. One doctor tested the theory on his son and two slaves. All recovered within a week. Inoculation worked.

If Mather was such a man of science in this regard, why then did superstition prevail when it came to witchcraft? There has never been a scientific method for proving witchcraft. Take the well-known “sink or swim” method for instance – it’s inherently flawed.

Furthermore, Mather was known for his strong opinion on the use of spectral evidence in

witch trials. Spectral evidence allowed people to claim that the spirit of the defendant (accused witch) was tormenting them. This so-called evidence (which I would consider a falsifiable claim, at best) could be used to help prosecutors make their case. Mather was in favor of this practice.

Tony Williams, a high school history teacher and author, wrote about Mather’s involvement with smallpox inoculation in his 2011 book “The Pox and the Covenant.” He’s of the opinion that Mather’s philosophies on inoculation and spectral evidence do not contradict each other. I would argue the contrary – that one is scientific and testable, and the other is not.

I remain in London, shuffling through the Royal Society archives. Recently, another link between Mather and the scientific world came to light – his supposed sighting of a UFO.

In his 1702 book, Magnalia Christi Americana, Mather references an incident in which he saw, “apparition of a ship in the air.” He also wrote a letter to the Royal Society in November of 1712 recounting, “…in the month of November, 1668, there appeared a Star, below ye Body of ye Moon, and within the Horns of it.” This letter now lives in the MassachusettsHistorical Society library.

Men of faith, like Mather, saw these incidents as workings of the Lord – much like Benjamin Franklin’s initial reaction to the Smallpox outbreak.

I don’t claim to be an expert on infectious disease or extraterrestrial theory, but I do believe both scenarios beg the question: Was there room for both science and faith during the Salem Witch Trial era? And where, if at all, did the two cross paths?

Livestock and witchcraft, a running theme

August 30, 2013

I don’t often take time to read the latest witchcraft headlines from around the world. (maybe add a link here) My interest in the topic lies mostly with 17th century New England, Europe’s Middle Ages and the likes.

Press coverage of the “modern day witch” focuses predominantly on petty financial spats, unfaithful women and other such small-town drama in rural Africa or unindustrialized regions of the Caribbean. A woman sleeps with her husband’s brother, the husband accuses her of witchcraft, then demands reparations from the brother.

But a recent headline caught my eye, if for no other reason than its intriguing irony.

A band of self-proclaimed witch hunters in Seke Rural, a small constituency in Zimbabwe, has forced villagers to surrender livestock as a payment after accusing them of witchcraft and wizardry. According to Nehanda Radio (link), a Zimbabwe news group, villagers have lost upwards of 20 cattle, several goats, chickens, sheep and some crops.

Could these new dogs be duplicating old tricks?

A common accusation pointed at witches during the 16th and 17th centuries was maleficium having to do with animals, such as intentional killing of livestock.

Ann Hibbins, a Boston

widow who was hanged for witchcraft in 1656, was accused of killing cattle. Grace Sherwood of Virginia, otherwise known as the Witch of Pungo, was accused of casting a spell on (and killing) a bull in 1697. A year later, she was accused of bewitching pigs. Elizabeth How was found guilty and executed in 1692 in Salem after a number of her neighbor’s animals were found dead or injured.

Witchcraft fluctuates from decade to region to belief system, but livestock has maintained a constant presence throughout. When witchcraft peaked in the 1600s, livestock played the role of victim. Today: Payment.

Is there undeniable proof these modern Zimbabwe witch hunters are purposely implementing, or even aware of, the connection between witches and livestock? Doubtful. But themes that have remained consistent throughout the long history of witchcraft are, in my opinion, at least worth discussion.

An investigation into the historical realities and influence of occult practices
and belief in American history.