The ability of witches to interfere with or
destroy the fertility of man, beast and crop. This malicious
destruction was considered a common activity
among witches, and remedies and preventive actions circulated
in folklore and magic. Blasting is the antithesis
of rituals to enhance fertility, and accusations of it date
to the second century c.e. Witches also were credited
with the power to produce abundant harvests and ensure
healthy offspring of livestock and humans, but during
the witch hunts this ability was largely ignored in favor
of maleficia; witches could not be prosecuted by inquisitors
for good acts.
Since fertility was vital to prosperity, it was believed
that a witch who wanted to harm a neighbor would cast
a spell on his generative ability or that of his livelihood
(see ill-wishing). If cows didn’t calve, if the corn failed
to sprout, if the wife miscarried, then the household had
been bewitched. The bewitchment could be done with a
look (see evil eye) or touch but usually involved incantantions
and magic powders. According to the church,
God allowed the Devil to have power over the generative
act because the first sin of corruption was sex; a serpent
tempted Eve; therefore, witches—the alleged agents of
the Devil—could use snakes to impair fertility.
To blast crops, witches were said to take a flayed cat,
toad, lizard and viper and lay them on live coals until
they were reduced to ashes. From this, they made a powder
and sowed it in the crop fields. To disrupt conception
and cause miscarriages, stillbirths and the births of
deformed young, they placed serpents under barns, stables
and houses. A medieval male witch named Stadlin
in Lausanne, France, confessed (perhaps with the aid of
torture) that he had for seven years caused miscarriages
in the wife and animals of a certain household simply by
placing a serpent under the threshold of the outer door of
the house. Fertility, he said, could be restored by removing
it. But the serpent had long since decayed into dust,
and so the owners excavated an entire piece of ground.
After that, fecundity was restored to humans and animals
In a story recounted in the Malleus Maleficarum
(1486), a pregnant noblewoman in Reichshofen was
warned by her midwife not to speak to or touch any
witches if she ventured outside her castle. She did go out
and after awhile sat down to rest. A witch came up and put
both hands on her stomach, causing her immediately to
begin aborting the fetus. She returned home in great pain.
The fetus did not come out whole, but in little pieces.
Witches reportedly could blast generations of a family
with such curses as “a heavy pox to the ninth generation”
or “pox, piles and a heavy vengeance.”
With regard to humans, the Devil and witches also
were believed to interfere with fertility by obstructing the
sex act in several ways: by preventing bodies from coming
together by interposing a demon in a bodily shape;
by destroying desire; by preventing an erection, and by
shutting off the seminal ducts so that no ejaculation occurred.
These bewitchments were directed mostly at men
because, it was said, most witches were women who lusted
after men. The Devil preferred to work through witches
rather than directly because that offended God more and
increased the Devil’s power.
The “removal” of the male organ by a witch was explained
as illusion, though the Devil was said to have the
power actually to take the organ away physically. A spurned
mistress, for example, might be a witch who cast a spell to
make her lover believe he had lost his penis—he couldn’t
see or feel it. The only way to restore it was to get the witch
to remove the curse; if she didn’t or couldn’t, the effect was
permanent. One story attributed to a Dominican priest
tells of a young man who came to confession and proved
to the father that he was missing his penis by stripping off
his clothes. The priest could scarcely believe his eyes. The
young man convinced the witch who’d bewitched him to
remove her curse, and his penis was restored.
This type of bewitchment allegedly affected only
those persons who were “sinful” fornicators and adulterers.
The Devil, apparently, could not disturb the organs
of the pious.
Some witches were said to collect male organs and
keep them in boxes, where they wiggled and moved and
ate corn and oats. The Malleus Maleficarum also tells of a
man who lost his member and went to a witch to ask for
She told the afflicted man to climb a certain tree, and
that he might take which he like out of a nest in which
there were several members. And when he tried to take a
big one, the witch said: You must not take that one; adding,
because it belonged to a parish priest.
Given the prevalence of folk magic in daily life in centuries
past, and given the jealous and vengeful aspects
of human nature, it is likely that individuals cast or paid
to have cast blasting spells against neighbors and comWitches
brewing up trouble (Woodcut from Newes of Scotland, 1591)
petitors. The Inquisition used blasting to its own ends,
as one of many justifications for the crushing of pagans,
heretics and political enemies of the Church.
In Paganism and Wicca, blasting and all other acts
of harmful magic are considered unethical, a violation of
the law, “An’ it harm none, do what ye will.” According
to tenets of the Craft, Witches must use their powers for
good, to help others and work in harmony with nature
(see Wiccan Rede).
In many tribal cultures, however, such ethical distinctions
are not made, and blasting continues to be among
the acts of sorcery carried out against people, animals,
crops and possessions.
The ability of witches to interfere with or