The Werewolf of Ansbach

It is estimated that over the course of only 300 years, from the 14th to the 17th century, up to 100,000 people were executed in Europe on the charge of being werewolves .
France and Germany especially found themselves under attack by these supernatural creatures, and in both countries the lycanthropy “epidemics” caused a real collective fear.
The werewolf could sometimes be the victim of a curse, but more often he was seen as a worshiper of Satan. Since turning into a wolf was considered the result of magical arts, lycanthropy trials fell into the wider phenomenon of witch-hunt.
Among historical accounts of werewolves, there is one in particular that is absolutely noteworthy.

In 1685 the Principality of Ansbach included the surroundings of the Bavarian town of the same name; here a wolf began attacking livestock. The threat suddenly became more serious when the animal killed several children within a few months.
The idea immediately spread that this was no normal wolf, but rather a werewolf — on whose identity there was little doubt: the detested Michael Leicht, Burgomaster of Ansbach (a figure halfway between a mayor and a ruler), had recently died after subjecting the town to its cruel and fraudulent yoke for many years.

It was rumored that this much-hated public officer had actually managed to escape death by transferring his spirit into the body of a wolf. Some swore they saw him attend his own funeral; a contemporary flyer shows Michael Leicht who, in the form of a wolf wrapped in a white-linen shroud, returns to his old apartment, scaring the new tenants.

Thus hunting the fierce wolf became an imperative not only in order to protect children from further carnage, but to free the city from the spirit of the Burgomaster still haunting those places, and to avenge years of harassment.

The hunters prepared a Wolfsgrube. This “wolf pit” consisted of a hole with stone walls, about three or four meters deep, covered with branches and straw, and it was used to trap wild animals. Pieces of raw meat were placed at the bottom of the well, and often a live bait was used: a sheep, a pig or a goose. The wolf, smelling the prey, would wander around the scrubs until it fell into the trapping pit.

In this case, the bait was a rooster. The wolf fell into the hole and was killed by hunters.
But what happened next is the really interesting part.

The carcass of the animal was paraded through the streets, to show the danger was over. The men had prevailed over the beast.
But since this was no ordinary wolf, a more grotesque spectacle was staged. After skinning the animal, the men severed its muzzle and placed on its head a cardboard mask with Leicht’s features; they dressed it with a wig and a cloak, and hanged the wolf by a gibbet erected on a nearby hill, so that it was clearly visible.

A poem from the time reads:

I, wolf, was a grim beast and devourer of many children
Which I far preferred to fat sheep and steers;
A rooster killed me, a well was my death.
I now hang from the gallows, for the ridicule of all people.
As a spirit and a wolf, I bothered men
How appropriate, now that people say:
“Ah! You damned spirit who entered the wolf,
You now swing from the gallows disguised as a man
This is your fair compensation, the gift you have earned;
This you deserve, a gibbet is your grave.
Take this reward, because you have devoured the sons of men
Like a fierce and ferocious beast, a real child eater. “

The punishment reserved for this demonic beast is subtler than it might seem, because it actually serves a double symbolic purpose.

On the one hand, depriving the wolf of his fur and replacing it with human clothes meant showing Satan himself that his tricks did not work. The townspeople of Ansbach were able to recognize the man concealing under the fur; this was therefore a warning, addressed to the Devil himself — this how your evil servants end up, around here! — and it had a clear apotropaic intent.

On the other hand, there was an undeniable political aspect. This was a “by proxy” execution of the former ruler; the commoners, who had failed to overthrow their oppressor while he was alive, did so post-mortem.
One may wonder: was this a warning to the new burgomaster, so that he would keep in line? Or was the new ruler himself behind this staging? Such a striking public show could be a good way for him to earn his subjects’ trust, a way of distancing himself from the tyranny of his predecessor.
In any case, the political message was clear, even for those who did not believe in werewolves: this act was meant to mark the end of a dark era.

As this episode demonstrates, we would be wrong to see lycanthropy trials as simple and blind mass hysteria, fueled by superstition. Even though they were a product of  fear in times of great epidemics, as well as economic, political and social instability, werewolf trials sometimes involved stratified levels of meaning which were far from being unintentional.
While courts condemned hundreds of people to be burned at the stake, intellectuals debated how it was possible for a man to turn into a wolf. And they were surprisingly quite aware that the problem lied in telling the legend from the truth.

For instance one of the most brilliant treatises on the subject, the Discourse on Lycanthropy (1599) by Jean Beauvoys de Chauvincourt, traces the origins of the werewolf in Greek mythology, spending several pages to discern between which ancient stories had to be considered simple allegories, and which ones could hide a kernel of truth.

But what exactly was this truth? What was going on during a lycanthropy episode? Can we in all rationality, wonders Beauvoys, believe that a man has the magical power of changing his physical form?
And then there was a more delicate question, of theological nature. How could Satan transform what God had created, replacing the Almighty in a sort of “second creation”? Crediting the Devil with such high power was inadmissible, since only God could turn water into wine, Lot’s wife into salt, or Moses’ rod into a snake.

In his treatise Beauvoys devises an extremely ingenious solution, a true marvel of balance to get himself out of the impasse.
Since endorsing the possibility of an actual man-to-wolf transformation would lead him dangerously close to blasphemous or at least heretical positions, he opts for a double demonic illusion.

The first illusion affects the werewolves themselves: Satan, “thanks to his pure and simple subtlety, by penetrating into their bodies and occupying their internal organs, becomes their true owner, and persuades them of what he wants. Troubling their imagination, he makes them believe they are brutal beasts, and infuses them with the same desires and attractions those animals have, up to the point that they begin having frequent carnal unions with those of their kind“. Thus the werewolf is nothing but a man, who has lost his way and got tricked by the devil; his body is not really covered in fur, his nails do not turn into claws nor his teeth into fangs. Everything just happens in his mind (an extraordinary idea, if you think that something close to psychiatry will only appear two centuries later).

Then, by administering ointments, eye drops, creams and powders to these slaves, the Devil is able to create hallucinations even in those who have the misfortune of meeting the werewolf: “such is the smell and the air so infected by this filth that they not only affect his patient, but they are so powerful as to act on the external senses of the audience, taking possession of their eyes; disturbed by this poison, they are persuaded that these transformations are real“.

Therefore on a more superficial level, the werewolf represents the danger of abandoning oneself to bestial instincts, of losing one’s own humanity; it is a moral figure meant to illustrate what happens when man turns away from the divine light, and it signifies a recession to barbarism, the loss of the logos.

But the most frightening and uspetting fact is that a werewolf confuses and overturns the common categories of meaning. According to Beauvoys, as we have seen, its condition is both supernatural (Satan is behind it all) and natural (no actual metamorphosis is taking place). Similarly, Ansbach’s wolf is deprived of its real skin, which is seen as a fake, and it is made to wear a mock human face, recognized as its authentic nature.

The werwewolf’s destabilizing power lies in this dimension of epistemological mystery — the werewolf is like a magic trick, an illusion; it is both true and false.

Links, Curiosities & Mixed Wonders – 16

The wonderful photo above shows a group of Irish artists from the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin, including Margaret Clarke and Estella Solomons (via BiblioCuriosa).
And let’s start with the usual firing of links and oddities!

  • This is the oldest diving suit in the world. It is on exhibit in the Raahe museum in Finland, and dates back to the eighteenth century. It was used for short walks under water, to repair the keels of ships. Now, instead, “it dives into your nightmares” (as Stefano Castelli put it).
  • Rediscovered masterpieces: the Christian comic books of the seventies in which sinners are redeemed by the evangelizing heroes. “The Cross is mightier than the switchblade!” (Thanks, Gigio!)

  • On the facade of the Cologne Town Hall there is a statue of Bishop Konrad von Hochstaden. The severity of his ecclesiastical figure is barely surprising; it’s what’s under the pedestal that leaves you stunned.

The figure engaged in an obscene autofellatio is to be reconnected to the classic medieval marginalia, which often included grotesque and bizarre situations placed “in the margin” of the main work — which could be a book, a fresco, a painting or, as in this case, a sculptural complex.
Given that such figures appear on a good number of churches, mainly in France, Spain and Germany, there has been much speculation as to what their purpose and meaning might have been: these were not just echoes of pagan fertility symbols, but complex allegories of salvation, as this book explains (and if you read French, there’s another good one exclusively dedicated to Brittany). Beyond all conjectures, it is clear that the distinction between the sacred and the profane in the Middle Ages was not as clear and unambiguous as we would be led to believe.

  • Let’s remain in the Middle Ages. When in 1004 the niece of the Byzantine emperor dared to use a fork for the first time at table, she caused a ruckus and the act was condemned by the clergy as blasphemous. (No doubt the noblewoman had offended the Almighty, since He later made her die of plague.)
  • Also dead, for 3230 years, but with all the necessary papers: here is the Egyptian passport issued in 1974 for the mummy of Ramesses II, so that he could fly to Paris without a hitch at the check-in. [EDIT: this is actually an amusing fake, as Gabriel pointed out in the comments]

  • Man, I hate it when I order a simple cappuccino, but the bartender just has to show off.
  • Alex Eckman-Lawn adds disturbing and concrete “layers” to the human face. (Thanks, Anastasia!)
  • Another artist, Arngrímur Sigurðsson, illustrated several traditional figures of Icelandic folklore in a book called Duldýrasafnið, which translated means more or less “The Museum of Hidden Beings”. The volume is practically unobtainable online, but you can see many evocative paintings on the official website and especially in this great article. (Thanks, Luca!)
  • Forget Formula One! Here’s the ultimate racing competition!

  • If you love videogames and hate Mondays (sorry, I meant capitalism), do not miss this piece by Mariano Tomatis (Italian only).
  • Remember my old post on death masks? Pia Interlandi is an artist who still makes them today.
  • And finally, let’s dive into the weird side of porn for some videos of beautiful girls stuck in super glue — well, ok, they pretend to be. You can find dozens of them, and for a good reason: this is a peculiar immobilization fetishism (as this short article perfectly summarizes) combining classic female foot worship, the lusciousness of glue (huh?), and a little sadistic excitement in seeing the victim’s useless attempts to free herself. The big plus is it doesn’t violate YouTube adult content guidelines.

Links, Curiosities & Mixed Wonders – 13

GIF art by Colin Raff

These last times have been quite dense, in the wake of the publication of The Petrifier.
Allow me a breif summary. 1) On the Italian magazine Venerdì di Repubblica a nice article by Giulia Villoresi came out: it starts out by reviewing the book but soon shifts to the wider subject of new aesthetics of the macabre, saving some nice words for this blog. 2) I was featured on the Swiss website Ossarium for their series Death Expert of the Month, and upon answering one of their three questions I recounted a tragic episode that particularly influenced my work. 3) I also took part in The Death Hangout, a podcast + YouTube series in which I chatted for half an hour with hosts Olivier and Keith, discussing museums and disturbing places, the symbolic meaning of human remains, the cruelty and bestiality of death, etc. 4) Carlo Vannini‘s photographs served as an inspiration to the talented Claudia Crobatia of A Course In Dying for her excellent considerations on the morbid but fruitful curiosity of the generation that grew up with websites like Rotten.com.

Let’s start immediately with the links, but not before having revisited a classic 1972 Monty Python sketch, in which Sam Peckinpah, who in those years was quite controversial for his violent westerns, gets to direct a movie about British upper class’ good old days.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LeYznvQvnsY

  • The blog Rocaille – dedicated to the kind of Beauty that lurks in the dark – is one of my favorite virtual spaces. And recently Annalisa visited the wunderkammer Theatrum Mundi (I also wrote about it a while ago), which in turn is one of my favorite concrete spaces. So, you can imagine, I was twice as delighted.
  • Another friend I unconditionally admire is relic hunter Elizabeth Harper, who runs the All The Saints You Should Know website. A few days ago she published a truly exceptional account of the Holy Week processions in Zamora, Spain: during those long days dedicated to the celebration of Christ’s death, she witnessed a paradoxical loosening of social and sexual inhibitions. But is it really a paradox? Maybe not, if, as Georges Bataille pointed out, eroticism is ultimately an anticipation of death itself, which erases individual boundaries. This might be why it is so strictly connected to ecstasy, and to the sacred.

  • Since we’re talking Bataille: in his obscene Story of the Eye, there’s this unforgettable passage where the protagonist Simone slips between her legs the eyeball she tore off the corpse of a priest (the engraving above, inspired by the scene in question , is by Bellmer).
    This eyed vagina, or vagina oculata, is an extreme and repulsive image, but it has an archetypal quality and it is representative of the complex eye/egg analogy that underlies the whole story.
    Following the same juxtaposition between creation (bringing to light) and vision, some have inserted a pinhole camera into the female genitalia. The Brainoise blog talks about it in a fascinating article (Italian only): several artists have in fact tried to use these rudimentary and handcrafted appliances in a Cronenberg-like fusion with the human body.
  • By the way, one of the first posts on Bizzarro Bazar back in 2009 was dedicated to Wayne Martin Belger’s pinhole cameras, which contain organic materials and human remains.
  • Toru Kamei creates beautiful still, or not-so-still, life paintings. Here are some of his works:

  • When it comes to recipes, we Italians can be really exasperating. Post a pic of chicken spaghetti, and in zero time you will be earning many colorful and unlikely names. A food nazi Twitter account.

  • Above is a mummified skeleton found 15 years ago in the Atacama desert of Chile. Many thought — hoped — it would be proved to be of alien origin. DNA tests have shown a much more earthly, and touching, truth.
  • A typical morning in Australia: you wake up, still sleepy, you put your feet down and you realize that one of your slippers has disappeared. Where the heck can it be? You’re sure you left it there last night, beside the other one. You also don’t recall seeing that three-meter python curled up in the bedroom.

  • Everybody knows New Orleans Mardi Gras, but few are familiar with its more visceral version, held each year in several Cajun communities of South Louisiana: the courir de Mardi Gras. Unsettling masks and attires of ancient origin mocking noblemen’s clothes and the clergy, armies of unruly pranksters, bring chaos in the streets and whipped by captains on horseback, sacrificial chickens chased through muddy fields… here are some wonderful black and white photos of this eccentric manifestation. (Thanks, Elisa!)

  • There are several “metamorphic” vanitas, containing a skull that becomes visible only if the image is looked at from a certain distance. This is my favorite one, on the account of the unusual side view and the perfect synthesis of Eros and Thanatos; anybody knows who the artist is? [EDIT: art by Bernhard Gutmann, 1905, “In the midst of life we are in death”. Thanks Roberto!]

  • Country homes in Vermont often feature a special, crooked window that apparently serves no practical purpose. Perhaps they are meant to discourage witches that might be fluttering around the house.
  • My Twitter went a little crazy since I posted the photos of this magnificent goat, found mainly in Siria and Lebanon. The breed is the result of careful genetic selection, and it won several beauty contests for ruminants. And I bet this cutie would break many a heart in the Star Wars Cantina, too.

  • Finally, I would like to leave you with a little gift that I hope is welcome: I created a playlist on Spotify for all readers of Bizzarro Bazar. A very heterogeneous musical offer, but with a common denominator which is ultimately the same underlying this blog: wonder. Whether it’s an experimental indie piece, a dark melody, a tattered and frenzied polka, a nostalgic song, some old blues about death, an ironic and weird reinterpretation of a classic theme, or an example of outsider music played by homeless people and deviant characters, these tunes can surprise you, transport you to unusual soundscapes, sometimes push you out of your comfort zone.
    Each song has been selected for a specific reason I could even explain in a didactic way — but I won’t. I will leave you the pleasure of discovery, and also the freedom to guess why I included this or that.
    The playlist consists of more than 8 hours of music (and I will continue to add stuff), which should be enough for anyone to find a little something, maybe just a starting point for new research and discoveries. Enjoy!

Il Cacciatore di Streghe

The_Obscene_Kiss

Di tutti i secoli passati, il Seicento è sicuramente fra i più bizzarri, rispetto alla sensibilità moderna.
Epidemie di vampirismo, masticatori di sudari, santi prodigiosi le cui spoglie operavano miracoli, ed infine loro, le streghe, quelle donne malvagie che stringevano alleanze con il Diavolo. Il soprannaturale era parte integrante della quotidianità, e dubitare delle sue influenze sulla vita di tutti i giorni era, secondo alcuni pensatori come ad esempio Joseph Glanvill, una vera e propria eresia: tanto abbietta quanto la negazione dell’esistenza degli angeli. Il demonio, in quegli anni, si aggirava davvero per le campagne alla ricerca di anime da catturare e dannare per l’eternità, era cioè una figura concreta, che la gente credeva di riconoscere dietro ad ogni evento peculiare.

Le streghe avevano un posto centrale nell’immaginario popolare, e chiunque poteva essere sospettato di stregoneria: una lite con una vicina di casa, seguita dalla comparsa di vaghi dolori o di una malattia del bestiame, era chiaro segnale che la donna aveva immensi poteri di provenienza diabolica. In un’epoca in cui i processi per stregoneria erano diffusi, è facile comprendere come accusare un proprio nemico d’aver stretto un patto con Satana fosse un metodo facile ed economico per toglierselo dai piedi.

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In questo contesto emerse la figura di Matthew Hopkins, il cacciatore di streghe più famoso della Storia.
Nato intorno al 1620 a Wenham Magna, minuscolo villaggio inglese nella contea di Suffolk, era il quarto dei sei figli di un pastore puritano piuttosto amato dai suoi compaesani. Della vita di Matthew prima del 1644 si conosce molto poco: sembra che avesse un’infarinatura di giurisprudenza, e che avesse acquistato una locanda a Mistley con i soldi ricevuti in eredità, ma questi aneddoti sono poco verificabili.

Quello che è certo è che all’inizio degli anni 40 del Seicento Hopkins si trasferì a Manningtree, Essex, e lì nel 1644 si autoproclamò Witchfinder General. Si trattava di un titolo che voleva sembrare ufficiale (general significa “rappresentante del Governo”), ma ovviamente il Parlamento non aveva mai istituito la carica di Cacciatore di Streghe; Hopkins era comunque ben deciso a guadagnarsi fama e fortuna, e quell’altisonante appellativo non era che l’inizio. La sua carriera vera e propria cominciò quello stesso anno, quando Hopkins dichiarò di aver sentito alcune donne parlare dei loro incontri con il demonio. Da quel momento in poi, assieme al fido compare John Stearne, cominciò a viaggiare per l’Inghilterra orientale, principalmente tra Suffolk, Essex e Norfolk, disinfestando borghi, villaggi e città dalle temute streghe.

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Hopkins e Stearne arrivavano in una nuova cittadina, annunciavano di essere stati incaricati dal Parlamento di scoprire le streghe della zona, raccoglievano denunce e “indizi”, quindi passavano ai fatti: accusavano e processavano anche venti o venticinque persone, trovavano immancabilmente le prove dell’avvenuto Patto con il diavolo, e mandavano tutti al patibolo.
Bisogna sottolineare che i processi per stregoneria erano diversi da tutti gli altri procedimenti giudiziari, perché la gravità del crimine era tale da permettere ai giudici di abbandonare le normali procedure legali ed ogni scrupolo etico (crimen exceptum): la confessione andava estorta con qualsiasi mezzo e ad ogni costo. Ma la tortura era pur sempre illegale in Inghilterra.

Così i metodi di Hopkins per scoprire se l’imputata fosse realmente una strega, pur essendo fra i più crudeli, rimanevano sempre sul limite di ciò che si poteva considerare tortura: la prassi più utilizzata prevedeva ad esempio la deprivazione del sonno. Si teneva l’imputata sveglia e immobile per giorni, seduta con le gambe incrociate e impedendole di dormire, finché la poveretta non finiva per ammettere qualsiasi cosa.

Si cercava poi sul suo corpo il Segno della Bestia – che non era difficile da trovare, visto che praticamente tutto (da un terzo capezzolo, a una zona di pelle un po’ secca, a un neo particolarmente grosso) poteva essere interpretato in tal senso. Se non vi era alcun Segno del Diavolo sul corpo, significava una sola cosa: che non era visibile ad occhio nudo. Ecco quindi entrare le assistenti di Hopkins, donne che viaggiavano con lui e che svolgevano la funzione di witch prickers, “pungolatrici di streghe”. Il Segno del Diavolo era infatti immune al dolore e non sanguinava, a quanto si diceva, e per trovarlo le witch prickers utilizzavano degli spilloni appositi tormentando il corpo della presunta strega in ogni sua parte.

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In queste lunghe ore di osservazione, spesso Hopkins e altri testimoni vedevano comparire uno o più “famigli“, cioè i demoni minori al servizio della strega, che si presentavano sotto forma di cane, gatto, capra o altri animali, e che bevevano il sangue che scorreva dal corpo della strega come fosse latte. L’apparizione di un famiglio era, com’è ovvio, uno degli indizi di colpevolezza più schiaccianti.

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C’erano pochissime probabilità che tutte queste indagini fallissero nel trovare prove inconfutabili della natura diabolica della strega. Ma se proprio non si era ancora certi, Hopkins poteva sempre ricorrere alla sua trovata più clamorosa, l’infame ordalia dell’acqua. Secondo una teoria dell’epoca, l’acqua (simbolo del battesimo, elemento purissimo) avrebbe rifiutato di accogliere una strega: bastava quindi legare l’imputata a una sedia e gettarla in un fiume o un lago. Se fosse rimasta a galla, si sarebbe trattato per forza di una strega; se fosse annegata, la sua anima innocente sarebbe volata all’altro mondo nella grazia di Dio.
Quest’ultimo metodo era davvero troppo estremo, e le autorità intimarono a Hopkins di utilizzarlo esclusivamente con il consenso della vittima; così già alla fine del 1645 la pratica venne abbandonata.

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Fin dall’inizio della loro “battuta di caccia”, in virtù degli spietati processi, i nomi di Hopkins e Stearne sparsero il terrore in tutta l’Inghilterra dell’est. Una terribile fama li precedeva, e appena circolava voce che i due, con le loro assistenti femminili, si stessero dirigendo verso un determinato villaggio, la gente del posto non dormiva certo sonni tranquilli. Anche con tutta la superstizione e le convinzioni sull’esistenza delle streghe, il popolo poteva vedere benissimo che i processi di Hopkins erano solo delle farse, il cui esito era deciso in anticipo.
Ma cosa alimentava la foga di quest’uomo nella sua missione? Ci credeva veramente, o aveva qualche interesse nascosto?

Lasciando alle spalle un’impressionante scia di cadaveri, la caccia in verità stava fruttando al Witchfinder General un lauto bottino. Nonostante lui più tardi dichiarasse che la sua paga, necessaria a sostenere la sua compagnia e tre cavalli, fosse di soli venti scellini a città, i registri contabili raccontano una realtà differente: l’onorario di Hopkins era di 23 sterline a città, più le spese di viaggio – una somma altissima per l’epoca. Le spese a carico dei vari municipi erano talmente elevate, che nella cittadina di Ipswich fu necessario istituire una tassa speciale per coprirle. Improvvisarsi cacciatore di streghe freelance era senza dubbio un colpo geniale, se non ci si faceva scrupoli a mandare a morte decine e decine di persone.

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L’eco delle gesta del Witchfinder General arrivò anche al Parlamento, e diversi membri espressero preoccupazione per il degenerare della cosa. Anche altre voci, come quella del predicatore puritano John Gaule, si levarono contro l’operato di Hopkins. Fu così che si arrivò a un peculiare ribaltamento della situazione: nella contea di Norfolk, nel 1646, i due cacciatori di streghe vennero fatti sedere sul banco degli imputati. I giudici volevano assicurarsi che non fossero stati usati mezzi di tortura per estorcere confessioni; intendevano indagare sulle parcelle richieste da Hopkins e Stearle alle comunità che avevano visitato; e infine insinuarono, in un sorprendente e ironico twist, che se Hopkins era davvero tanto esperto nella stregoneria e nella demonologia, forse nascondeva anch’egli un segreto…

Dopo questo primo interrogatorio, Hopkins comprese che sarebbe stato più saggio per lui chiudere l’attività. Quando la corte si riaggiornò nel 1647, egli era già tornato a vivere a Manningtree. La carriera del Witchfinder General durò quindi poco più di un anno, 14 mesi per la precisione. Nonostante il breve periodo, i numeri sono impressionanti: tra il 1644 e il 1646 egli fu responsabile della morte di circa trecento donne, impiccate, bruciate, annegate, o morte in prigione. Se si pensa che in totale, dall’inizio della caccia alle streghe nel primo ‘400 fino alla sua fine nel tardo ‘700, in Inghilterra furono condannate per stregoneria meno di cinquecento persone, significa che il 60% del totale delle uccisioni è da attribuirsi al Witchfinder General.

Ma la sua inquietante ombra non si limita ai processi da lui personalmente celebrati: nel 1647, già “in pensione”, Hopkins scrisse The Discovery of Witches, un vero e proprio manuale per individuare le streghe. Questo libro ebbe fortuna nel Nuovo Mondo, e fu utilizzato come testo di riferimento in vari processi, fra cui quelli, tristemente noti, di Salem nel Massachussetts.

Con il tempo la figura di Hopkins divenne quasi mitologica, una sorta di orco o di uomo nero dalla malvagità senza confini. Si racconta che venne processato per stregoneria, sottoposto al suo stesso metodo inumano di “ordalia dell’acqua”, e che morì annegato in un fiume. Ma questa è soltanto una leggenda, con un confortevole e troppo preciso contrappasso. Nella realtà Matthew Hopkins, il Witchfinder General, morì di tubercolosi il 12 agosto 1647, nel suo letto.

Nel 1968 la sua storia venne portata sul grande schermo, romanzata, da Michael Reeves nel cult Il grande inquisitore che fece scandalo per le sue insistite sequenze di tortura e nel quale il Witchfinder General è interpretato da un grande Vincent Price.

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Il libro di Hopkins, The Discovery of Witches, è disponibile gratuitamente online sul sito del Progetto Gutenberg.