Four centuries ago, by his celebrated Bull proclaiming death without mercy against witches, sorcerers, and all dealers with Satan, Pope Innocent VIII. plunged Europe into a state of social distraction and delirium. One half of the people were said to be bewitching or bewitched. The crime of witchcraft or devil-dealing—a token of heresy—was held to be the precursor of antichrist, and there was no lack of propitiatory sacrifice. “The seats destined for criminals in our courts of justice are blackened with persons accused of this guilt. There are not judges enough to try them. Our dungeons are gorged with them. No day passes that we do not render our tribunals bloody by the dooms which we pronounce, or in which we do not return to our house discountenanced and terrified at the horrible words we have heard. And the devil is accounted so good a master that we cannot commit so great a number of his slaves to the flames but what there shall arise from their ashes a sufficient number to supply their place.” So says Florimond, the historical mouthpiece of the time. In Germany they burned them at the rate of 500 a year, bringing the total for the whole period of persecution for witchcraft up to more than 100,000 human beings. It is said that in France, about the year 1520, fires for the execution of witches blazed in every town. People had to be busy smelling Satan in others lest they themselves should be suspected and taken in hand.
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