the massa marittima mural / the malleus maleficarum

  was reading about this 13th century mural which was discovered four years ago in the town center of massa marittima a town in tuscony. quote: At first glance, the mural looks similar to dozens of other medieval frescoes dotted across Tuscany. But look closely at the spidery tree which dominates the centre of the painting and you notice something peculiar. Its branches are covered in penises. that’s right, the mural depicts a group of at least 8 women standing beneath a huge tree which bears on its branches 25 phalluses as if they were fruit. the debate concerning its intent is pretty interesting.


on the one hand there is a theory that the mural was simply meant as a fertility symbol. common enough and no big deal. on the other hand there is a theory, proposed by dr. george ferzoco, director of the center for tuscan studies, that the image in fact represents “by far the earliest depiction of in art of women acting as witches.” more than that though he believes it was intended as a warning from the guelphs, supporters of the papacy, of the anarchy and licentiousness that would befall the town if it fell into the hands of it’s political rivals the ghibellines. as he puts it It’s a message from the Guelphs, telling people that if the Ghibellines are allowed power they will bring with them heresy, sexual perversion, civic strife, and witchcraft. this reading would make the mural essentially the only surviving example of a medieval political propaganda “poster.”


what does dr. ferzoco base this reading of the mural on? as it happens it’s based on sections of an infamous book the malleus maleficarum (the witch hammer), first published in 1486. what is the malleus maleficarum? quote: It served as a guidebook for Inquisitors during the Inquisition, and was designed to aid them in the identification, prosecution, and dispatching of Witches. It set forth, as well, many of the modern misconceptions and fears concerning witches and the influence of witchcraft. The questions, definitions, and accusations it set forth in regard to witches, which were reinforced by its use during the Inquisition, came to be widely regarded as irrefutable truth. Those beliefs are held even today by a majority of Christians in regard to practitioners of the modern “revived” religion of Witchcraft, or Wicca. And while the Malleus itself is largely unknown in modern times, its effects have proved long lasting.

the sections which helped illuminate the possible meaning of the massa marittima mural for dr. ferzoco delt specifically with the witch’s proclivity for penis theft. evidently it was a common belief in the middle ages that witches collected male organs in great numbers, as many as 20 or 30 at a time, and put them in a bird’s nest for safe keeping “where they move themselves like living members, and eat oats and corn.” ...did you catch that? haha. fantastic! dr. ferzoco evidently noticed that one of the female figures in the mural seemed to be holding up a stick to the tree with a birdsnest at the end. he put two and two together and got- witches.




It may seem a cryptic message to the modern mind but Ferzoco says it would have been obvious to the average medieval Tuscan. They would have got the message instantly They considered things we consider obscene to be perfectly normal, and using a phallus as part of a political message would not have been an issue

the malleus maleficarum actually goes into great detail on the subject collecting a number of “true” accounts of the practice. as a matter of fact part 1 section 9 is titled whether witches may work some prestidigatory illusion so that the male organ appears to be entirely removed and separate from the body. the answer to which (in part) is as follows:

There is no doubt that certain witches can do marvellous things with regard to male organs, for this agrees with what has been seen and heard by many, and with the general account of what has been known concerning that member through the senses of sight and touch. And as to how this thing is possible, it is to be said that it can be done in two ways, either actually and in fact, as the first arguments have said, or through some prestige or glamour. But when it is performed by witches, it is only a matter of glamour; although it is no illusion in the opinion of the sufferer. For his imagination can really and actually believe that something is not present, since by none of his exterior sense, such as sight or touch, can he perceive that it is present.




of course that is not even the tip of the penis stealing iceberg as far as the the malleus maleficarum is concerned. part 2. question 1. chapter 7 is titled how, as it were, they deprive man of his virile member. a section of which is as follows:

In the town of Ratisbon a certain young man who had an intrigue with a girl, wishing to leave her, lost his member; that is to say, some glamour was cast over it so that he could see or touch nothing but his smooth body. In his worry over this he went to a tavern to drink wine; and after he had sat there for a while he got into conversation with another woman who was there, and told her the cause of his sadness, explaining everything, and demonstrating in his body that it was so. The woman was astute, and asked whether he suspected anyone; and when he named such a one, unfolding the whole matter, she said: “If persuasion is not enough, you must use some violence, to induce her to restore to you your health.” So in the evening the young man watched the way by which the witch was in the habit of going, and finding her, prayed her to restore to him the health of his body. And when she maintained that she was innocent and knew nothing about it, he fell upon her, and winding a towel tightly about her neck, choked her, saying: “Unless you give me back my health, you shall die at my hands.” Then she, being unable to cry out, and growing black, said: “Let me go, and I will heal you.” The young man then relaxed the pressure of the towel, and the witch touched him with her hand between the thighs, saying: “Now you have what you desire.” And the young man, as he afterwards said, plainly felt, before he had verified it by looking or touching, that his member had been restored to him by the mere touch of the witch.

A similar experience is narrated by a certain venerable Father from the Dominican House of Spires, well known in the Order for the honest of his life and for his learning. “One day,” he says, “while I was hearing confessions, a young man came to me and, in the course of his confession, woefully said that he had lost his member. Being astonished at this, and not being willing to give it easy credence, since the opinion of the wise it is a mark of light-heartedness to believe too easily, I obtained proof of it when I saw nothing on the young man’s removing his clothes and showing the place. Then, using the wisest counsel I could, I asked whether he suspected anyone of having so bewitched him. And the young man said that he did suspect someone, but that she was absent and living in Worms. Then I said: ‘I advise you to go to her as soon as possible and try your utmost to soften her with gentle words and promises’; and he did so. For he came back after a few days and thanked me, saying that he was whole and had recovered everything. And I believed his words, but again proved them by the evidence of my eyes.”


sounds suspiciously like blaming a witch for impotence dosen’t it? and you might also have noticed that priest made sure to check out his parishioners member “to be sure” a coupe of times? haha. anyhow the chapter goes on to explain in detail why satan would instruct his minions to steal penises, and how he would set about accomplishing the feat. intersting reading to be sure!

if your curiosity is peaked and you’d like to know more about what exactly satan and his witches might have in store for you or if your a man, your penis, the malleus maleficarum is available in full for your reading pleasure here


for more in depth discussion of the debate over the massa marittima mural check out three monkeys online’s coverage

for more images of witches (mostly being tested, tortured, and burned) check out this gallery or this one

for an exhibition of books relating to the history of witchcraft and demonology check out damned art from the university of glasgow.

also there is the somewhat related images of circe and discourses of witchcraft, 1480-1580

lastly how about some empathy? experience a witch hunt for yourself with this simulation.

and remember guys, beware the penis thieves, they are everywhere!

posted by jmorrison on 07/10 | lost & found - belief | (5) comments | send entry