Men are ridiculous about their penises.
In 1486, two German priests, Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger, wrote the Malleus Maleficarum, ‘Hammer of the Witches’. ‘Hammer of the Witches’ is a useful guide to the identification, trial, and punishment of witches. It is chock full of interesting tidbits. For example, did you know that, if a woman fails to burst into tears during her witch trial, then she is definitely a witch? Although, I will say, in half-hearted defense of the ludicrous and evil practice of witch trials, what sort of person wouldn’t be in tears at their own terrifying and arbitrary trial for witchcraft?
Another interesting fact to be gleaned from the ‘Malleus Maleficarum’: witches steal penises. Yes, they would allegedly steal the penises from human men that they knew, and store them (the stolen penises) in boxes (or bird nests) and feed them (again, the penises) oats, and maybe return them, if the men capitulated to their demands.
I feel as though they really could have nipped this whole pernicious witch hunt business in the bud if they had only employed a little empirical skepticism here:
Witness: She’s a witch!
Judge: How do you know?
Witness: She stole my penis!
Judge: How did she steal it?
Witness: With witchcraft.
Judge: Wait, what? What does that mean? What’s left?
Witness: …Uh, a nub.
Judge: May I see?
Judge: Why not?
Judge: Sir, do you still have a penis?
Judge: Case dismissed.
One cannot help but wonder how often penis-theft was actually alleged. It is hard to imagine, if men in 1486 were anything like men now, that a large number of medieval men were delighted to have their communities thinking that they no longer had penises. It is also hard to imagine that there was an epidemic of medieval penises actually falling off, unless I am dramatically underestimating the incidence and severity of medieval crotch rot (which is possible).
But whatever the prevalence of penis-shedding in the Middle Ages, one thing is certain: not one missing penis was stolen by witches.
Witch-hunting is obviously not recommended by the author, but anyone interested in further information should check out the source material itself, the Malleus Maleficarum.
Featured image is ‘Aquelarre’, [Witches Sabbath] by Francisco Goya (1798).