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A Witch’s Secret Letter April 11, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern , trackback

This is perhaps the most extraordinary ‘witch’ source of them all. In 1628 Johannes Junius, aged fifty five, burgomaster of Bamberg was taken in by the local authorities as a witch. After days of interrogation he writes a secret letter to his daughter explaining his decision to confess to witchcraft. Here is the voice of the victim that is almost never heard in the witch trials.

Many hundred thousand times good night, my daughter Veronica so dear to my heart. Innocent I came to jail, innocent I was tortured, innocent I must die. For whoever comes to the house [where witches are examined] either must become a witch or be tortured for so long that he claims something pulled from his imagination, and, God have mercy, figures out something to say. I want to tell you how thing have gone for me…

Johannes describes being arraigned before witnesses who had named him after being tortured, a process that depressingly he would repeat.

Rather they said, I should confess voluntarily or the executioner would certainly force me to do so. I answered: ‘I have never renounced God, and did not plan to do so, and God should mercifully prevent me from doing so. I would rather endure what I had to’. And then came – God in highest heaven have mercy – the executioner, and put the thumbscrews on me, both hands bound together, so that the blood ran out at the nails and everywhere, so that for four weeks I could not use my hands, as you can see from my writing. So I put myself in the care of God in his five sacred wounds and said, because this concerns God’s honour and name, which I have never denied, therefore I will commend my innocence and all the tortures and harm to his five wounds and he will lessen my pain, so that I can endure such pain. Thereafter they first stripped me, bound my hands behind me, and drew me up in the torture. Then I thought heaven and earth were at an end; eight times did they draw me up and let me fall again, so that I suffered horrible agony.

Dear child, six witnesses have testified at the same time against me: the chancellor, his son, Neudecker, Zaner, Hoffmaisters Ursel and Hopffens Else, all falsely, through cercion as they all have told me and begged me [to forgive them] for God’s sake before their sentences were executed… they knew nothing but good and nice things about me. They were forced to say it, just as I myself would experience…

After much torture.

When the executioner took me back to jail, he said to me: ‘Sir, I beg you, for God’s sake confess something, whether it be true or not. Invent something, for you cannot bear the torture which you shall suffer; and even if you bear it all, you still shall not escape, not even if you were a count, but one torture will follow another until you say you are a witch. Not before that they will let you go, as you may see by their trials, for one is just like another’

Others gave similar sentiments.

So I made a plea, saying that I was in very bad shape, they should give me a day to think about it and send me a priest. They refused me a priest, but gave me the time to think. Now dearest daughter, can you imagine in what kind of danger I was and still am! I was supposed to renounce God for the first time, though I have never done so before. I worried myself sick day and night, and finally I hit upon a plan. I would not worry about it, as I had not been allowed to see a priest who could advise me whether I should think something up and say it. I would surely be better to say it with my mouth and with words, even though I had not really done it; and afterwards I would confess it to the priest, and let those answer for it who compel me to do it.

Now follows my statement which is pure lies, which I had to say under questioning accompanied by even greater tortures, and for which I must die. After that, I said that I was walking in a depressed state in my field near the Friedrichsbrunnen, and sat down there, and a wild girl came to me and said: ‘Sir, what are you doing, why are you so sad?’ I answered that I did not know, so she came closer. As soon as that happened, she became a billy goat and said to me: ‘See, now you see with whom you are dealing.’ It grabbed me by the throat and said ‘You must be mine or I will kill you!’ Then I said ‘God save me from that!’ So he disappeared and came back quickly, bringing two women and three men with him. I was to deny God, and I have confessed that I did so; I was to deny God and the heavenly host, and I have confessed that I did so; I have confessed that he then baptised me and the two women were the sponsors; and he gave me a ducat, but that it turned out to be a shard.

All this presumably came from the torturers’ witch book. It is instructive to see how useless ‘folklore’ evidence taken from investigated witnesses can be. There follows a heartbreaking passage in which he is forced, in turn, to name individuals: a pity he could not have named the torturer and all the rabble found there. Instead: ‘This rascal knows someone in the market place, spends time with him every day, and refuses to name him.’ Then they named Dietmeyer, and I was forced to name him too.’

And so evil begets evil. The letter ends, after advising his daughter to abscond, ‘Good night, for your father Johannes Junius will never see you again’.

Johannes Junius was executed with a sword (as became his rank) and then burnt. The source interestingly turned up in the judicial file. This means that it fell into the judges’ hands either during or after JJ was executed. His daughter may never have read it. We have no idea whether she survived those years or not: her mother had been tried and killed as a witch before her father.

Beach is struck by one strange thing reading this account and its background. This translation is taken from Apps and Gow. But they did not take a transcript from the original but from previously abridged German versions. In fact, there does not seem to be a complete German edition, all are abridged to one degree or another, which is simply extraordinary given its importance. Can this be true? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com PS Looking at this Beach has found one pdf that has a photograph of the four sides of the letter.