The kiss of shame is a homage paid to the Devil by kissing his posterior. The osculum infame, as it was called, was mentioned, in nearly every recorded account of a witches’ sabbat, most confessions of which were extracted under torture. The kiss of shame was regarded as the ultimate act of abasement, though some witches allegedly protested that the Devil had not a common posterior but a second face located there.
The kiss supposedly was given at the beginning of the sabbat, after the Devil had read the rolls of his followers. Sometimes the witches approached him backwards, in true infernal fashion, then turned, bowed and scraped and kissed his fundament. A kiss of shame was always required of new initiates (see Initiation).
Following the kiss, the witches and the Devil commenced their feasting. Witches also supposedly kissed the posteriors of lowerranking Demons. While the kiss of shame was usually an act of homage, in one case, the North Berwick Witches in Scotland in the 1590–92, the kiss was a penance levied by the Devil. In Newes from Scotland, declaring the damnable Life of Doctor Fian (1592), W. Wright reports, .
. . and seeing that they tarried over long, hee at their coming enjoyed them all to a pennance, which was, that they should kisse his buttockes, in sign of duety to him, which being put over the pulpit bare, every one did as he had enjoyned them.
Accusations of the kiss of shame were often raised in witchcraft and heresy inquisitions and trials.
The Cathars and Waldenses (see Vaudois), religious sects persecuted for heresy, were thus accused, as were the knIghts templAr in the 14th century. The Templars were said to require initiates to kiss their superiors on the anus, navel, base of the spine and phallus. Some knights also were said to worship the Devil in the form of a black CAt, which they kissed beneath the tail.
In 1303 Walter Langton, the Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry in England, was accused of sorcery and service to the Devil, which included the kiss of shame; he was able to clear himself of the charges. But one Guillaume Edeline, a doctor of the Sorbonne in France, was not so fortunate. Accused of wizardry (see Wizard), he confessed to rendering the kiss of shame when the Devil appeared in the shape of a ram. Edeline was executed in 1453.
The Devil also demanded the kiss of shame in other guises besides human and ram. Errores Haereticorum, a medieval tract, claims the Cathars took their name “from the term cat, whose posterior they kiss, in whose form Satan appears to them.” Tales from the 12th century tell of Satan appearing to his followers in the form of black cats or toads and demanding kisses under the cat’s tail or in the toad’s mouth.
- de Givry, Emile Grillot. Witchcraft, Magic and Alchemy. 1931. Reprint, New York: Dover Publications, 1971.
- Russell, Jeffrey Burton. Witchcraft in the Middle Ages. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1972.