A ligature is a knotted loop of thread used by witches to cause Demonic castration or impotence in men, as well as barrenness in women and unhappiness in marriage. The ligature also served to bind couples in illicit amatory relationships.
Belief in impotence caused by Sorcery with Demons was not widespread until about the 14th century, when Sabbats, Pacts with the Devil, and the evil acts of witches gained prominence in witch trials. Fear of ligature increased in the witch hysteria of the Inquisition, when witches were believed to use powers bestowed by the Devil to interfere in the sexual acts of people. Thomas Platter, a physician in the Montpellier region of France in 1596, described how ligature happened to newlyweds: At the instant when a priest blessed a new marriage, a witch went behind the husband, knotted a thread, and threw a coin on the ground while calling the Devil. If the coin disappeared, it meant that the Devil took it to keep until Judgment Day, and the couple was doomed to unhappiness, sterility, and adultery.
Platter believed fully in ligatures, noting that couples living in Languedoc were so fearful of Demonic castration that not 10 weddings in 100 were performed publicly in church. Instead, the priest, the couple, and their parents went off in secret to celebrate the sacrament. Only then, Platter reported, could the newlyweds enter their home, enjoy the feasting, and go to bed. He concluded that the panic was so bad that there was a local danger of depopulation.
Other means could cause ligature: a nut or acorn split in two and placed on either side of a bed; a needle used to sew a corpse’s shroud, placed beneath a pillow; or three or four beans placed beneath the bed, on the road outside a house, or around the door.
Folk magic remedies could remove a ligature. The victim would be cured by eating a woodpecker or by smelling the scent of a dead man’s tooth. Another remedy called for rubbing the entire body with raven’s bile and sesame oil. Quicksilver (mercury) enclosed in a reed sealed with wax or sealed in an empty hazelnut shell could be placed beneath the afflicted person’s pillow or under the threshold of the house or the bedroom. The bile of a BLACK DOG sprinkled on a house would neutralize a Demon, and the Blood of a black dog sprinkled on the walls would clear all evil spells. Wormwood or squill flowers hung at the bedroom door would keep out a Demon.
- Lea, Henry Charles. Materials toward a History of Witchcraft. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1939.
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