Sexuality in the Natural and Demonic Magic of the Middle Ages
By Megan Pepin
Tiresias, Vol.1 (2012)
Abstract: A view of the medieval beliefs on the effects magic had on sexuality. Looks at the more agrarian ingredients used by natural magic, the corporeal methods used in demonic magic and the carnal associations demonic magic was believed to have.
Introduction: Throughout the Middle Ages – especially the later Middle Ages – ideas of magic played a large part in the formation of deviant sexual behaviours and it was believed that magic played a main role in sexual malfunctions and abilities. Natural magic formed the basis in the early Middle Ages for controlling sexual desires and behaviours. Demonic magic became the prevalent basis for sexual magic and atrocities in the later Middle Ages. Johannes Nider is credited with writing the first widespread work on demonic witchcraft – the Formicarius – in 1437, but far more influential was the Malleus Maleficarum, published in 1486.
It was believed that through demonic magic, witches could control sexual desire and abilities. Demonic magic was also suspect because tradition held that witches would give themselves sexually to demons – or even to the Devil himself – as part of a trade for their powers. The natural magic of the early Middle Ages – as a whole, but particularly in regards to sexuality – was not the same type of social threat as presented by the fifteenth century developing ideas of demonic magic, its control over sexuality, and its sexual perversions.