Behind the witchcraft hysteria there were real witches, at least according to Montague Summers. For instance, there was the infamous Catherine La Voison, to whom eleven volumes of facts were devoted in Francois Ravaisson’s huge work, Archives de la Bastille. Behind the more-or-less innocent victims of the witch hunts were wealthy, powerful women, proficient in espionage and the occult.
Thus reads the description for my latest video, “The Witches Hammer”, published to YouTube on May 24, 2016. The clip, which clocks in at 7 minutes and 37 seconds, can hopefully be viewed at the top of today’s blog entry.
“The Witches Hammer” is usually how people translate the title of the book, Malleus Maleficarum. It is “a treatise on the prosecution of witches, written in 1486 by Heinrich Kramer, a German Catholic clergyman.”  It seems to me though that the literal translation would be, The Hammer of Evil.
In the Dover Publications version of Malleus Maleficarum published in 1971, two Introductions by Rev. Montague Summers are included: An Introduction written in 1928, and an Introduction written in 1948.  Excerpts from the 1948 Introduction show that what is called the witchcraft hysteria was not entirely a figment of people’s imaginations:
“Witchcraft was inextricably mixed up with politics. Matthew Paris tells us how in 1232 the Chief Justice Hubert de Burgh, Earl of Kent, (Shakespeare’s ‘gentle Hubert’ in King John), was, amongst other crimes, openly accused by Peter de Roches, Bishop of Winchester, of having won the favour of Henry III through ‘charms and incantations’.”
“In 1324 there was a terrific scandal at Coventry when it was discovered that a number of the richest and most influential burghers of the town had long been consulting with Master John, a professional necromancer and paying him large sums to bring about by his arts the death of Edward II and several nobles of the court.”
A “great conspiracy of 1590”, is mentioned by Rev. Montague Summers in his 1948 Introduction to Malleus Maleficarum. The alleged conspiracy was “organized by the Earl of Bothwell.” Events “amply proved” that Bothwell “was Grand Master of a company of more than one hundred witches, all adepts in poisoning, and all eager to do away with the King. In other words, Francis Stewart, Earl of Bothwell, was the centre and head of a vast political plot.”
Then there is “the ominous and terrible figure of Catherine La Voison, professional seeress, fortune-teller, herbalist, beauty-specialist,” who, along with a group of “venal apothecaries, druggists, pseudo-alchemists, astrologers, quacks, warlocks, magicians, charlatans” as well as some of the highest names in France, “were caught in the meshes of the law. No less than eleven volumes of Francois Ravaisson’s huge work, Archives de la Bastille, are occupied with this evil crew and their doings, their sorceries and their poisonings.”
Checking into this last claim, I have found there is such a work, Archives de la Bastille. Documents had been flung out into the courts of the building at the storming of the Bastille in 1789. The damaged papers were later stored and forgotten in library vaults. In 1840 they were discovered by Francois Ravaisson who arranged, edited and published them. 
As for Catherine La Voison, she is connected with “The Affair of the Poisons” (L’affaire des poisons). This was a major murder scandal in France which took place in 1677–1682, during the reign of King Louis XIV. During it, a number of prominent members of the aristocracy were implicated and sentenced on charges of poisoning and witchcraft. The scandal reached into the inner circle of the king. 
Montague Summers, in his 1948 Introduction, cites a respected source who believed “that there existed, not only in France, a complete organization of witches, immensely wealthy, of almost infinite potentialities, most cleverly captained, with centres and cells in every district, utilizing an espionage in every land, with high-placed adherents at court, with humble servitors in the cottage. This organization, witchcraft, maintained a relentless and ruthless war against the prevailing order and settled state. No design was too treacherous, no betrayal was too cowardly, no blackmail too base and foul.”
And so it can be seen, concludes Summers, that the fear of witchcraft “was by no means all mediaeval credulity and ignorance and superstition.” There are “facts, hard facts, which could neither have been accidents nor motiveless, and these facts must be accounted for and elucidated.” 
——- Sources ——-
 “Malleus Maleficarum”, Wikipedia, May 25, 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malleus_Maleficarum
 The Malleus Maleficarum, by Heinrich Kramer & James Sprenger. New York: Dover Publications, 1971.
 “Bastille”, Encyclopedia Britannica. Edited by Hugh Chrisholm.
 “Affair of the Poisons”, Wikipedia, May 24, 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affair_of_the_Poisons